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"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole

Teaching/Sermon Article

The Apocalypse

What does "shaking in our boots" prophecy mean?

Copyright © 2009 Dorian S. Cole


All prophecy, including apocalyptic, is local in time and place. The intent is hope for the local people. The prophets, including Jesus the Christ, all talked about events happening "soon," even if they were cosmological in scope. In studying prophecy in depth, we need to understand what the local situation was, how heavily it was veiled in symbolism or abstract language, and what fulfilled these events. But these apocalyptic prophecies are also timeless. They show us patterns about people, situations, and events that are likely to recur throughout history. To guard against them, all we have to do is watch for the patterns.

The Apocalypse

The word apocalypse is not from the Bible. It's just a word that describes a certain type of literature, such as "wisdom literature." The Book of Daniel is the first book of prophecy that we consider "apocalyptic," or dealing with end times, although God's role in the beginning and end of humanity (eschatology) is foreshadowed in earlier books like Isaiah.

We learn something very important about predictive oracles from the Book of Daniel. That is, prophecy may be local (involving local times and conditions), but it can be extrapolated to other times. Basically the events predicted in the Book of Daniel came true, we know from history. In the last chapter, 12, Daniel describes a day of judgment and deliverance for the dead and alive. It will come when the power of the faithful is worn out. It was local in intent in that the Temple functions would be stopped and an abomination that desolates the Temple would be set up.

What was the abomination that was so devastating? The Seleucids, who conquered the country, branded the Temple as their own, and began doing sacrifices in the Temple. The abomination whose result is desolation of the Temple in Daniel's time was done by Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The name Epiphanes meant "the god manifest," that is, the presence of god in person. Antiochus was thought by his peers to be the visible manifestation of Zeus, the god of the Greeks. He is the "contemptible person" spoken of in Daniel 11:21.

Ultimately Antiochus probably set up an altar to Zeus in the Temple, an abomination, and he outlawed Judaism and destroyed copies of the Torah. His actions caused desolation of the Jewish Temple and religion. Yet he originally seemed peaceful in purpose. Antiochus foreshadowed Nero, who persecuted the Christians. Both of these men are a pattern that warns of the types of people to watch out for: anti-God, anti-Christ.

Eventually the Temple as given back to the Jews and they rebuilt. Daniel's prophecy seemed to have implications beyond just the local situation and events. Jesus also referred to the coming desolation and abomination described by Daniel, in Matthew 24. In Matthew 23 and 24, Jesus described the house of those who turned away from God (rejected Jesus teachings) as "desolate" and said that every stone in the Temple would be thrown down. Hadn't desolation and destruction already happen? Yes. But it was to happen again. In AD 70, The Romans again destroyed the Temple.

The patterns are there for us to watch out for. Pattern 1: Leaders like Antiochus come proclaiming peace, but their idea of peace is destruction. Pattern 2: The people of God reject the path that is the way of God. Both are abominations. There is desolation of the heart and the Temple.

God's presence is symbolized by Temples of stone and Temples of flesh

In ancient Judaism and the ancient world, God was symbolically found in a place. Often it was a place where people had mystical experiences and erected an altar to God. From the time of King Solomon on, the Temple in Jerusalem became that place. It was thought to be the place where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son. The Temple became a large symbol of God and the Jewish religion.

The Temple could not be a symbol of God, yet also be a symbol of injustice and evil in people's hearts. When people's behavior toward their fellow people became devoid of justice and kindness, God left the building. What we can take from this and look for, is that when people are predominantly evil, the Spirit of God is not in them, so not in the world. Then the end of something is near.

As God was near to leaving the building, the Prophet Jeremiah met the people at the Temple gate with this stern message. "Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'this is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord.'" Would they (paraphrased) steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, and worship other gods, and then come and stand before God in his house and say "we are delivered" only to go on doing these abominations? "Has my house become a den of robbers?" - Jeremiah 7: 1-5. They had hardened their hearts with evil deeds, and so were blind to God in the Temple. Babylon attacked and destroyed the Temple. Abominations by the people. Desolation.

The old covenant (an agreement with rules and conditions that defines a relationship) given by Moses was broken, and the Temple was destroyed. There would now be a new covenant, according to Isaiah, and the Temple would be rebuilt. The new covenant between God and people would be with the individual, universal to all. (See Isaiah 56:1-7). In Christian terms, the people became the Temple. Everyone was accepted. The spirit of God would be in His followers.

Temple history: The Persian King allowed Ezra and Nehemiah to return and rebuild the Temple. By 170 BC the political situation had changed as the Seleucids rose in power, and the Seleucids were determined to spread their Greek culture throughout the region. In 169 BC, King Antiochus, ruler of Judea, plundered the Temple and destroyed copies of the Torah. The Maccabees revolted, recaptured Jerusalem, and cleansed the Temple in 164 BC, and the Jews regained religious autonomy for a while. They then battled for political independence from the Seleucids. The Roman High Senate gave them religious independence in 129 BC. In 63 BC there was a struggle for power between the Maccabeus brothers. Rome interfered, conquered the area, and entered the Temple. The Jews hated the Romans, and in 70 AD the Romans destroyed the Temple. It has not been rebuilt, and a Moslem Mosque stands on the site.

Prophets didn't carry the same authority as the Law contained in the first five books of the Bible (Torah). Open the religion to others as Isaiah foresaw? No. Those who rebuilt the Temple felt compelled to enforce the rigid rules found in the book of Deuteronomy - rules they believed they broke and for which they were punished with captivity in another land. They understandably enforced these rules with much greater determination and rigidity, but did they miss the point. It was not broken rules that were the problem, it was what was in their hearts.

By the time of Christ, the Jewish religion was very split. For some, rules reigned supreme over any other consideration. Many had become as heartless as an uncaring bureaucracy.

The Sadducee sect was the priesthood of the time. Their reign (religious philosophy) resulted in the desecration done by Antiochus. Unlike the prophets, the Sadducees didn't care much about evil in people - they simply believed that God wanted them to follow certain rules, and their behavior - good or evil - was irrelevant to God. As representatives of the priestly class, they were the ones sent back to rebuild the Temple during Ezra's time. Their philosophy didn't change, and they became even stricter about following rules. By the time of Christ, they were still the priestly class in the Temple, and they would argue about such things as whether it was legal on the Sabbath to rescue a person who was drowning - that would be considered work. It was these people who Jesus spoke against. After the destruction of Temple in 70 AD, the sect faded from history. See Sadducees on

Christ said of the Temple in his day, "Destroy this Temple, and in 3 days I will raise it up." He referred to himself as the Temple, and he would rise 3 days after being crucified.

The new Temple is interesting in its implications. Ezekiel described it in Ezekiel chapters 40--48. He saw flowing from the Temple a river that grew wider as it went farther from the Temple. It nourished the lush vegetation growing on its banks. Christ provided a similar description. He said in John 7: 38-39 (NIV), "'Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.' 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified."

The words and patterns of Ezekiel and Christ are in harmony. Christians represent Christ's body on earth. All of God's followers, who have the spirit of God within them, represent the Temple of God. The love of God is in their hearts, and they give that love to others. They are rivers of living water that nourish others in an ever-widening stream.

In the Book of Acts (Acts 7:49), when people were about to stone Steven to death, he quoted Isaiah 66:12 (NIV) to them: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be?"

God can't be contained in any Temple. He can't be found in any place but the heart. But His spirit is found in his followers, who reveal God through the good things that they do. It is when his followers are exhausted from the wickedness around them that His spirit will not be present here, and the end will come.

The revealing

Daniel foretold that a day of judgment, and deliverance for the dead and alive would come when the power of the faithful was worn out. Jesus also describes a time of darkness both in men's hearts and in the conflict that comes from them, when most men's love will grow cold. In that day, few people are good people - most are wicked. And as the floods came without warning and consumed those in Noah's day, so will the end come quickly. But when is not to be measured in days and years. "When" is a time for God to decide. (Matthew 24.)

The Book of Revelations, the "revealing," was intended to be local in time and place, yet it revealed a pattern for which we should watch. In chapter 6, the six horsemen come one at a time. One takes peace from the earth. This might be the time spoken of by both Daniel and Christ when the power of the faithful is worn out, the love of God is no longer in people's hearts, so the spirit of peace, the spirit of God, is no longer in the world.

By the sixth horseman, every person great or powerless goes into hiding to hide from the day of wrath. Then we get the message of hope. The wicked are punished, the good are saved and rewarded, wickedness (Satan) is banished forever, and there is a new earth. The book was written in veiled symbols about the Roman persecution of the Christians. It was a message of hope to them. It was a message about enduring difficult times and even persecution. Christ is coming for them soon.

There is a pattern. For religious people, history tends to repeat itself over and over again. The pattern is: growing wickedness among the leaders and the people, and growing intolerance of religion. People are persecuted. Peace leaves the scene. There is war. Eventually God prevails over the wicked and religious freedom returns.

This pattern has happened repeatedly to the Jews in Europe and the Middle East. It has happened to Christians in Europe, England, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. It has happened to Muslims in various parts of the world, but especially in the Christian/Muslim wars in Turkey (Ottoman Empire) and Southern Europe. It has happened to Hindus in various parts of the world. It has happened to Buddhists in various parts of the world. There have been many genocides, but Hitler was the worst aggressor of all in numbers of innocents killed. Hitler's actions have often been rivaled by other leaders past and present who destroy populations because of their religious or ethnic background. There is a pattern if we will watch for it. See: - Ethnic_cleansing.

Patterns and intent

Do we have the keys to interpret prophetic messages, predictive oracles of doom and hope, and apocalyptic messages?

Prophetic messages, those that give a moral warning of doom because of people's wickedness, are not predictive oracles. They are warnings about what can happen if people allow themselves to mistreat others. They are local in time and place, and as in Jonah's prophecy will come true in "44 days." But God is merciful and doesn't destroy.

Predictive oracles are messages of warning and hope, and they are primarily local in time and place, intended to happen soon or in the near future.

Apocalyptic messages are local and soon, yet timeless.

Prophetic messages and predictive oracles can be seen as patterns to watch for in the future. Prophetic messages are sometimes mixed in with predictive oracles of hope, so they are confusing. They can be applied to any time and any people. They follow the prophetic pattern: Warning, If you do this, that will happen. Predictive oracles offer hope: In the end, the bad people will get their reward, and the good people will prevail and get their reward.

You can easily get lost in all of the small details presented in prophetic and apocalyptic literature. If what you want to believe is that God is vengeful, and people are predominantly evil and the world is lost, and God's destructive power is the most effective use of God's force in the world, then you can build a case for it. You can stack Biblical verses up and interpret them in any way to fit your scheme of things. But I question if those "the world is lost" schemes reflect a loving God that compels us into action, that most of us know.

What is really important is the intent of the literature and the character of God that we have been shown. In the final analysis, it is doubtful that God ever uses natural disasters to punish people in any way. Punishing the wicked is simply an interpretation - an object lesson about what may ultimately happen to people who don't watch their ways. Why put it in this way? It's simpler than what we think. People in the ancient Middle East had few beliefs about anything beyond the grave - life ended there, or there was some mythology about a gray place in the underworld where people went. The Jews did not have a formal theology on an afterlife, but popular opinion was undoubtedly influenced by the Greeks and others. For the Jew, there was no eternal life and no ultimate punishment or reward. The Sadducees (priestly sect) took no firm stand against evil. If punishment or reward was to happen, then it must happen quickly in this life. The immediacy of punishment seemed more real. Belief in a vengeful God who acts through nature was both natural and effective.

We know now, told to us by people in the Bible and by our own observations, that nature does what it does to both the good and the wicked. Attributing natural events to God's actions says what some ancient people believed about God, but in the same Bible, people question that premise and rule out that God's vengeance happens in this world.

Apocalyptic messages grew out of the rich background of prophetic messages and predictive oracles of hope. They are local and soon, yet timeless. They happened, and there is no certain time that an event will again take place. These prophecies are rich in symbolism and patterns that can be interpreted for any time and place. They tell us, if people become predominantly evil, they will be destroyed. They tell us about dire consequences for those who do evil, and about rewards for those who stay strong and are good. They are warnings, mixed with messages of hope.

When will the end come? Like Job, we ask, "Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?" Over and over in the Bible we see that God does not destroy people who are good nor civilizations that can be redeemed. He is merciful. He forgives. We are told that Noah's civilization was destroyed for pervasive violence. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for pervasive "wickedness," or mistreating others (literally had nothing to do with homosexuality). To know the time of destruction, we can only look for signs.

The world is always preoccupied with signs and omens such as calendars and interpretations of specific dates, and natural signs such as earthquakes. The signs we should actually look for are when love has left people's hearts so that they ignore other's suffering, they cause suffering for their own gain, they are pervasively violent, and a great many people are wicked and no one stops them. We should watch for leaders like Anthiohus, Nero, Hitler, Idi Amin (the Butcher of Uganda), and Slobodan Milosevic who supporters say claimed to bring peace but instead lead a murderous campaign against opponents and ethnic slaughter. They claim to offer peace, but in the end they cause great suffering and war. They sometimes openly oppose God and Christ, but more often their ways are in opposition to God, betraying their peaceful intentions.

It isn't the sky and the earth that we should be watching for signs of the end. It is ourselves that we should be watching.

Perhaps the signs we should be looking at are our inability to resolve world hunger, our inability to control violence done in the name of religion or greed or control, our inability to prevent oppression, and our inability to provide financial opportunity to lift people out of debilitating poverty. (I think we are making progress in all of these.) God asks us to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with Him, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Those are the signposts we should be fixated on. (Micah 6:8, Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:36-40.)

In the next part of this short series on prophecy, we explore modern prophecy.

Yours in Christ,

- Dorian Scott Cole

Author's Books

The Prophetic Pattern: Discussion Guide for Ancient and Modern Prophecy

Are we all going to die on Friday, December 21, 2012? My new book critically examines that question. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.

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On Friday, December 21, 2012, are we all going to die? Are there really signposts to the world's end? Does modern prophecy really merge with ancient prophecy? Will all of the Christians suddenly disappear? The answers may surprise you.

Millions of Americans are anxiously waiting for December 21, 2012 to see if the world will end. Despite the fact that signs seem to be everywhere in all ancient and modern prophecy and even science, the major sign pointed to by both Daniel and Christ is overlooked by prophecy interpreters. And interpretation of modern prophecy overlooks intent. Like a scary movie, prophecy is great fun until it starts affecting people's lives.

This book explores how to distinguish the intent of various types of prophecies and oracles, both ancient and modern. The five chapters in this discussion guide are rich in information, providing one legitimate point of view, and are intended to encourage discussion and additional research. A ten meeting discussion group is the minimum recommended.

Subjects to explore include:

  • History, and the situations surrounding prophecy
  • Types of prophecy
  • Other interpretations of prophecy
  • Are faith and prophetic belief blind?
  • Societies that go bad - are they destroyed?
  • Social change - saving ourselves
  • The challenges of the 21st.Century

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

Reading type: Mainstream, nonfiction.

Ontology of God: The voices of the ancients speak.

My recent book, Ontology of God, looks at what we can learn through the ages regarding the history of several aspects of religious development as affected by the ancient societies they were in, including law, mercy, and love. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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Echoing through time are the voices of ancient people telling us about God. From Mesopotamia and Egypt 5000 years ago, often from even earlier oral traditions, every civilization has been inspired to tell us about God. Their voices vary widely and even conflict. Is there a common message that they thought was so important that they had to pass it on? In this book, the ancient voices speak.

This study follows the thread of the basic religious concepts of law, mercy, and love that are prominent in many religions. Major religions around the world are investigated up to the launch of the Common Era when most religions had been developed, including religions that later developed independently such as the Mayan.

These are messages refined by the fire of experience through the ages. The repeated messages collectively bear the tests of validity.

This study also looks at the many methods we use to try to understand God and religious literature. Is the nature of God reflected in what he asks of us? The premise is that it is.

By understanding the nature of God, perhaps we can filter out the many competing voices that tell us that God stands for such things as the murder of innocents and destruction.

The very nature of religion is illuminated in the light of the voices from the ages. But is ancient religion a path that we have lost, or does history hammer out newer voices to bear the truth of new experience as people try to understand their relationship with God?

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

Reading type: Mainstream Scholarly Specialist

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