Will There Be an Antichrist?

Excerpt from …
“Things I Never Learned in Sunday School”

Chapter 8: ANTICHRIST: The Master Deceiver

Within the Christian scenario of the final days is a figure known as the Antichrist. It is believed by many that he is an actual human being who will one day become the leader of a nefarious worldwide empire. He will advance his cause surreptitiously and only the “elect” will recognize the wickedness behind his actions. Eventually he will face Jesus in an epic battle for the faithful.

[ … ]

The appearance of the Antichrist has long been associated with the book of Revelation, yet nowhere does the author mention a personage by that name.

[ … ]

The key questions then become: Where did the concept of an in-the-flesh Antichrist originate? And how did it become central to the way the story of Revelation is interpreted in later centuries, all the way down to the present?

[ … ]

The fascination with the eventual end of the world choreographed by a powerful “Satan-like” figure continues to thrive in the lives of both Christians and non-Christians. Events and personalities are scrutinized using the Bible, the shifting currents of popular culture, and portentous acts of nature in an effort to determine how close we are to John’s so-called divine prophesies described in Revelation.

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How Do You See God?

Excerpt from …
“Things I Never Learned in Sunday School”

Chapter 9: GOD: The X-Factor

In the Western world, whenever anyone speaks of “GOD,” they nearly always are referring to the Judeo-Christian God, a “Super Being” (male) with transcendental powers that created and rules the universe. This entity is believed to exist “up there” (witness the number of people who look skyward when referring to God) or “out there,” beyond the heavens, somewhere in the universe, separate from the world “He” made. Some see Him as being seated on a throne, clothed in snow white, with hair like pure wool (Daniel 7:9).

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Many consider Him to be the Big Judge in the sky who watches every move we make, hears every word we speak, and knows every thought we have. In addition, He is seen as the Supreme Commander who has total control over a person’s eternal destiny.

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Paul Tillich, a Christian existentialist philosopher, used the term “Ground of Being” to describe God. In his opinion, humans need something to overcome our existential angst, i.e, our fear of death. We need something “out there” to save us, to help us overcome the dread of our demise. To Tillich, God is this 
“Ground of Being,” the agent that helps us deal with our finitude.

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Paul’s People: The Gentiles

Excerpt from …
“Things I Never Learned in Sunday School”

Chapter 4: PAUL: A Man with a Mission

Today, the primary meaning of the word gentile is “non-Jew” – people that are not part of the Jewish covenant with God. However, in the days of Paul, it also referred to pagans, those who worshipped Greek or Roman gods and goddesses.

The early pagan religions were many and varied and numerous shrines, temples, and statues were erected to honor the multitude of gods. Most of the religions were earth-based, which meant the followers had a high respect for nature. Worshippers regularly performed seasonal rituals and ceremonies to persuade the gods to ensure plentiful crops. They also sacrificed assorted domestic animals to appease their deities, and then shared a communal meal to enjoy the remains of the slain creature.

These were the Gentiles that Paul had been instructed to turn from “darkness to light.” He faced a difficult task because none of these people had any use for the Jewish Torah or its purity and dietary restrictions. And even though they may have heard about Jesus, they certainly had no use for him or his teachings.

As a self-proclaimed strict follower of the law, I can imagine Paul feeling somewhat overwhelmed. How was he ever going to get these people to accept Jesus as the messiah? They had no stake in the future reestablishment of Israel as a nation. Not only that, they did not live by any moral codes, many believed in reincarnation, and they certainly did not believe in male circumcision!

How, in God’s name, was he going to change their thinking? Yes indeed. Jesus had given Paul a very difficult assignment.

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How Will the World End?

Excerpt from …
“Things I Never Learned in Sunday School”

Chapter 7: END TIMES: Famines, Earthquakes, Wars, Oh My!

People have been obsessed with how the world will end for generations. Multiple individuals have advanced multiple scenarios about what might happen in the last days. Some accounts are so outrageous the average person just shakes their head in disbelief. Others have a hint of potentiality (think colliding asteroids or other cosmic disasters).

As I write this, December 21, 2012 is fast approaching and thousands believe a catastrophe of immense proportions will occur on this date. In fact, some fear the earth will be destroyed. The belief is based on stories surrounding an ancient Mayan calendar, which doomsayers are certain predicts such an apocalypse. However, when the facts are thoroughly investigated, there is little evidence that anything calamitous will occur.

The Christian world has its own end-time scenario. It involves the rise of an “Antichrist,” a horrific period of tribulation, a final battle between “Satan” and Christ, a city that floats down out of the sky, and the establishment of a utopian world. The faithful believe all of this is outlined in the book of Revelation … the final entry of the New Testament (a fitting placement).

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The majority of Christians believe this final book of the Bible is an end-time prophecy that describes a chilling view of humanity’s future. Few believe, or even want to believe, that John’s statement of imminence were intended for first century readers, not for Christians of today. In fact, many point to passages in the New Testament and assert that even Jesus predicted the end-of-the-world. But did he? Or have his words been flavored by teachings that arose several decades after his death?

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The Burning Fires of Hell?

Excerpt from …
“Things I Never Learned in Sunday School”

Chapter 6: HELL: How Hot Is It?

The burning fires of hell?

From my research, it seems the idea of a burning gehenna was first advanced during the 12th century CE by Rabbi David Kimhi. In his commentary on Psalms 27:13, he wrote:

“Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgment of the wicked is called ‘Gehenna.’”

In 1926, two German theologians, Hermann Strack and Paul Billerbeck, wrote a commentary in which they disagreed with Rabbi Kimhi. They stated they were unable to find any archeological or literary evidence in earlier intertestamental writings or later rabbinic sources to support the Rabbi’s claim. Several other scholars concur.

(References included in original text.)

Nevertheless, based on numerous publications and commentaries over the years, it is apparent many theologians do agree with the Rabbi and are convinced gehenna was a smoldering rubbish heap and therefore, a fitting metaphor for “hell.”

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The Reality of Hell

Excerpt from:
“Things I Never Learned in Sunday School”

Chapter 6: HELL: Hot Hot Is It?

[…]

In a pluralistic, post-modern world, it is difficult to understand why people continue to believe in hell – in whatever form they visualize it. Or that preachers, pastors, and priests continue to propagate a doctrine rooted in myths and legends formed long before Christianity was born.

Of course, I cannot deny that I followed suit during my years within the Christian environment. If it came from the pulpit, then it must be true. It has taken years of research, along with an open and curious mind, to overcome the doctrines that I accepted without question. I find it sad that so many of today’s churches prefer to picture God as a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies, rather than a God who loves, who forgives, and whose greatest desire is to have a relationship with humankind.

Jesus came to share a message of God’s love and mercy. The few occasions where he is said to mention “hell” were to warn an unrepentant people that God was not happy with their disobedience and unfaithfulness. Nowhere did he refer to it as being a place of everlasting torment for those who didn’t swear allegiance to him.

Life is not an ordeal during which the soul struggles to get to heaven and avoid hell. Rather life is an ongoing process by which the soul seeks to know God. Why do we spend our time on earth always keeping an eye towards what awaits us in the afterlife? NOW is the only time there is.

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Leaving Christianity

Excerpt from:
“Things I Never Learned in Sunday School”

PREFACE

[…]

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I started to feel different about my Christian experience; it was a very gradual process. One of the first things I recall is asking myself how following the strict rules and regulations of the church would help me draw closer to God. I also began to wonder why there was so much emphasis on sin and guilt instead of God’s love.

Then I began noticing the judgmental attitude exhibited by some of the more “respected” members of the congregation. This probably disturbed me more than anything. Didn’t Jesus say not to judge? And didn’t the Bible say that God looks on the heart?

As time passed, I began to reflect upon other things:  Is Jesus truly the only way to God? How can we be sure the Bible is “God’s Word”? Is there really a “hell”? Where did the idea of Satan come from? If God is omnipresent, why are we taught that He lives somewhere “up there”? And why is God always referred to as a male?

Occasionally, I would turn to church leaders for answers, but invariably, all they would do is quote scripture or tell me to “pray about it.” In other words, as Celsus [2nd Century Greek Philosopher/Writer] wrote, “Do not ask questions; just believe.”

This wasn’t enough. I wanted to know the whys and wherefores behind the beliefs I had faithfully lived by for so many years.

[…]

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