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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Futurologists and their vision for the future

Pentecost 24C     Luke 21:5-19  
Advent 1C           Luke 21:25-36

Today’s sermon is focuses on the second coming of Christ and the end of history.  At my adult instruction class, a person asked me, “What does the Lutheran Church teach about the second coming of Christ? What does this church teach about the end of the world?”

Another person in the class chimed in, “There is so much talk today that the world is coming to an end soon, that the Biblical prophecies about the end of the world are coming true in the near future. Is that true? What do you think?”

Today’s sermon is essentially a response to those questions.

Throughout the history of the world, there have always been futurologists. Futurologists are those people who have an uncanny ability to look into the future of the human race. We have a futurologist in the Lutheran Church and his name is Dr. Ted Peters who teaches at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. Dr. Peters attends futurology conferences with other futurologists, and he comes back to report to us in the church. He is a futurologist. He looks deeply and intensively into the future.

These futurologists do two things: One. They look at human history; past and present and therefore they make observations about the future. Secondly, the futurologists look at human nature, especially the warring quality of human beings. So futurologists intuitively understand history, past and present, and also human nature.

Futurologists are not clairvoyant people. We are not talking about Jeanne Dixon and those people who predicted the assassination of President Kennedy. Nor are we talking about those people who do horoscopes and practice astrology. We are not talking about these people either.

Rather, futurologists are usually historians, poets, novelists and scientists. They are people like Aldus Huxley who wrote a famous book, BRAVE NEW WORLD. In the BRAVE NEW WORLD, the future was controlled by science and technology. Babies were bottled in test tubes. I couldn’t believe that babies were bottled in test tubes when I first read that book as a fifteen year old. Now today, it seems that babies are being bottled in test tubes. In that book, scientists broke the genetic code and could control DNA particles and soon there would be human beings with no genetic defects. The book was incredible.  Do you remember from that book that they had invented “chastity belts?” With chastity belts, women were protected from pregnancy. The chastity belts were forerunners of “the pill.” 

What amazed me most about this book is that when Mr. Huxley was interviewed twenty years later, he was utterly surprised that all those things that he had prophecied for the distant future had already come true. He thought he was writing about things that would occur a hundred years into the future, and they had already come to fruition within a mere twenty years.

Common to the vision of many futurologists is the awareness of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Common to many of these futurologists is the vision of a future nuclear nightmare.  The inevitability of the nuclear nightmare is in our future. Somewhere, sometime, some place, this green planet, our Mother Earth, will be incinerated by nuclear fire.

Today, we are increasingly worried that nuclear material and nuclear bombs may get into the hands of terrorists who could create unimaginable damage with nuclear devices hidden in suitcases. We know that soon the film industry will be producing horror movies about nuclear devises hidden in suitcases and ready to explode in stadiums that seat 100,000 people. Yes, we can imagine that such horror movies are on the drawing boards today.

For me, one of the most interesting films about the future was T.B.X. 1138, 4.E.B. by George Lucas when he was a student at Stanford University. In that film, you don’t see any blood, gore and guts like you would in movies today. The film is not a “scare-you” thriller. In the film, what you see are thousands upon thousands of miles of tunnel. The human beings are now living like ants, living in tunnels underneath the earth. One person comes up from the tunnel, out from the ground, peeking through a metal lid. He peeks his head out into the air, and the Geiger counter on his helmet goes “tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.” The crust of the earth has been incinerated by nuclear fire and is radioactive. With the crust of the earth being radioactive, the human race has gone underground and is now living in tunnels, like ants. George Lucas was/is a brilliant futurologist.

Another example of this is a film you may have seen years ago. Some of you who are older may have read the book and then seen the film called ON THE BEACH. This story is also about a nuclear holocaust that has just happened. The only human life left on the planet is in Australia. In Australia, there is one sailor who wants to return to the United States. The survivors put him on a submarine, and he goes under the ocean and then comes up in San Francisco Bay. He pushes up the periscope and he looks around. There is nothing. Totally silent. Nothing moving. An eerie emptiness.  In the last scene of the movie, the young man gets out an inflatable rubber raft, a fishing pole, and sits there in San Francisco Bay with his fishing pole as he is absorbs radioactivity into his body. The future has come. The earth is finally silenced. Human history is over. That is the end of the movie.

Recent lunar explorations of the planet, Mars, reveals that at one time, there was life and water on Mars. Now, Mars is silent, totally silent. It is now a dead planet. In the minds of our futurologists, this is vision of the future for planet Earth. The Earth will become another Mars.  Mother Nature silenced the planet Mars and human nature will silence the planet Earth.

In spite of their pessimistic conclusions, these are good films. These are powerful films. Common to many futurologists is the fear and the expectation of a nuclear holocaust.  It was Albert Einstein, perhaps one of the most brilliant genius’ to live in American, who said, “”The unleashed power of the atomic bomb has changed everything, except our way of thinking.  Because human beings have not changed, “this earth drifts towards unparalleled catastrophe.”

So futurologists are those people who have this uncanny ability to understand both human history and human nature.  Understanding both human history and human nature, they are able to look deeply into the future.

The Bible also has futurologists. They are called seers, spelled S E E R S. These seers are quite different from the prophets. The prophets were those who foretold the coming of the Messiah. The prophets also foretold the coming destruction of the nation of Israel. But in the Old Testament, we have another group of people called, the seers, spelled S E E R S. The seers were people like Ezekiel, Daniel and the Revelation of St. John in the New Testament. These three seers looked very deeply into human history to the very end.

The gospel text for today also focuses on the end of human history, and I would like to summarize for you some of the visions of the future as understood in the New Testament, especially in Mark 13 and its gospel parallels. Mark 13 is called “the little apocalypse.” The Book of Revelation is the “big apocalypse.” Apo=off. Calyse = cover. Off with the cover. Off with the cover on the pan and you look into the contents of the pan. Off with the cover and you see the contents of the future.

First, a consistent theme in these Biblical futurologists is the awareness that the future is not going to be happy for the human race.  The future seems to be a foretaste of awful suffering. Much of the imagery of these futurologists are symbols of massive suffering, massive starvation, massive wars, and massive earthquakes. They also envision a time of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you will be incinerated.”  During this time, there will be an intensification of evil.  If you have seen wars in the past, you have seen nothing as awful as the future wars. If you have seen starvation in the past, you have seen nothing compared to future famines and future starvation. These futurologists see an intensification of evil in the future and the Bible says, “Pity the poor people who are alive in those days.”

Nowadays, futurologists would say that the curve of our population trends will continue to expand upward until these trends burst …  like a bubble. If and when the planet Earth has ten or twenty billion people, this population explosion will finally burst like a bubble in the air. The starvation and the wars will be so enormously catastrophic, we cannot imagine how awful the suffering will be.

The Bible often uses symbolic language at this point. It is called “apocalyptic language.” There will be earthquakes, falling stars, the moon will turn red in color, the color of blood. This apocalyptic language is not to be taken literally but artistically.

So, the Biblical visions of the future suffering are consistent with the contemporary futurologists who wrote T.H. X. 11438 B and ON THE BEACH.  There is a similarity between Biblical futurologists and contemporary futurologists. Both groups see the inevitability of cataclysmic suffering. Both groups see the end of human history as we know it. Both groups see a similar future.  Why? Because human nature has not changed. If you are forever optimistic about our future history and think that the future is going to get better and better and better and better, you do not understand what the futurologists in both the Bible and contemporary civilization are saying.  Both groups agree with Einstein who said, “Since human nature has not changed and we now have the atom bomb, civilization drifts towards unparalleled catastrophe.”

The second point that we learn from these Biblical seers is that no one knows when the end of human history is going to occur. No one. Not even Jesus. One of the most radical statements in the Bible is Matthew and Mark’s account of the gospel for today.  Both Matthew and Mark say, “Of that day and hour, no one knows. Not even the angels. Not the Son of God. But only the Father.” Not even Jesus knew when the end of human history will come, but only the Father.

Then, there is that little interesting phrase in Luke 21:32, in which the Bible says, “The present generation will not pass away before all these things take place.” I couldn’t believe it when I was a teenager and read those words, “The present generation will not pass away before all these things take place.”  The author of the gospel of Mark actually believed that he was living in the last generation on earth.  As did Matthew.  As did Luke. Matthew was wrong. Mark was wrong. Luke was wrong. The Apostle Paul was wrong. All these Biblical authors thought that they were living in the last generation on earth, and they were all wrong. But Jesus was right. Jesus was right when he said, “Nobody knows the hour. Nobody knows when the end of the world is going to come. Nobody knows. Not the angels. Not even me the Son. Only God knows. We will all  be caught by surprise, like a thief in the night, like a trap that suddenly and unexpectedly snaps shut.”

A contemporary example of being led astray by false prophets and false teachers were the teachings of Hal Lindsey in the early 1970s. In the early 1970s, Hal Lindsey was the most popular “fanatic” on the globe. Lindsey was a tugboat captain from New Orleans who attended Dallas Theological Seminary. He wrote the book, THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH in 1971. It was THE rage of that era, as I distinctly recall.  That book sold over 28 million copies and was made into a movie narrated by Orson Welles. THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH interpreted the Book of Revelation as pre-written history from twenty centuries ago, that the Book of Revelation and the Bible specifically prophecied about Lindsey’s time in history. The beginning of the End began on May 14, 1948, when the land of Israel was officially established. By reading closely and carefully the Book of Revelation and other similar prophecies in the Bible such as in Mark 13, Lindsey and similar “fanatics” thought that the End was coming soon, that there would be a final battle of Armegeddon fought in the Middle East between Russia and Western Europe, that Russia was “Gog and Magog,” that the ten horns in the Book of Revelation represented the ten nations of the common market of Western Europe, etc. He also thought the swarms of 30 million Chinese soldiers swarming the Middle East was prophecied in the Book of Revelation.  The book, THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, was the rage in the 1970s, and people actually thought the contents of that book were true, that it was an accurate interpretation of the Book of Revelation and other similar prophecies. The popularity of the book, THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, was so great that you could not say a word against it, without offending the enormous horde of true believers who believed Lindsey’s interpretation of the End Times.

Hal Lindsay, so I am told, is a fine person, a good human being; but it is his ideas about the end of the world that are all messed up.  For me, Hal Lindsay represents the current wave of American fundamentalism which says that the end of the world is near, that it began in 1948 with the establishment of the nation of Israel. … By the way, when 1988 was passed, we didn’t’ hear much about this book. The conclusions of the book were not declared erroneous but they simply needed adjusting.

People like Hal Lindsay are found in every generation of human history. During the time of Martin Luther, there was a man (Melchior Hoffman) who was convinced the end of the world was occur in his lifetime, and he wanted to be in jail when the end came. He spent the rest of his life in jail, waiting for the end of human history to come. Every generation has people who think like that.

In today’s world it is the erroneous thinking of Tim LeHaye and his LEFT BEHIND SERIES. LeHaye’s novels are “good reads” and have sold 17 million copies since their inception in 1995. Timothy LeHaye replaces Hal Lindsay from twenty years ago when his LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH sold 28 million copies. There is a huge market out there in America for people who believe Linday’s and LeHaye’s interpretation of the End Times in the New Testament. 28 million books sold. 17 million books sold. I think these books sell to the same people. There is a whole bunch of people out there in America who think like they do. The End of the World started in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel and “things are falling into place” in our lifetime.

If Jesus didn’t know when the end of the world was coming. If Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul didn’t know when the end of the world was coming, why would Hal Lindsay know?  Why would Tim LeHaye know? In every generation, there are “scare books,” that want to scare people into believing or they will be left behind. (Such people commit the heresy of chiliasm.)

The first point of the sermon was that both groups of futurologists see an increase of cataclysmic suffering at the end of human history. The second point is that no one knows when this will occur, but many people guess wrong. The third point is that Jesus will come at the end of history.  Christ will come to be the final judge. Christ will separate the wise from the foolish, the doers from the talkers, the righteous from the evil. Christ knows the hearts and actions of all people on earth, and it is Christ’s role to be the final judge. To be the judge is not our role as human beings.

This is also another say of saying that time and history are in God’s hands. Human history has a goal; human history will have an end; and that God will be present and ruling at the end of human history, just as God was at the beginning of human history. God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of time.

Cosmologically, all the Biblical references to angels and angel’s choirs and angels blowing their trumpets are saying the same thing: God will be in control at the end of human history, just as God was in control at the beginning of human history. God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of human history.

You see, God who created the heavens and the earth in the first place, who created the evolutionary cycles and processes over billions of years, will be the same God who is working at the end of history. By analogy, the artist who began painting his landscape will finish his painting his landscape. The musical genius who began composing his symphony will finish composing his symphony. The sculptor who began working with the marble rock will finish working with artistic composition in marble rock. Likewise with God. God, who began human history, who began the painting, who began the composition, who began the sculpture will finish his work of art. That is what the Bible says. When the Bible says that Jesus will come back on the final day, the Bible is saying that God will finish time and history, because time and history belong to God. As the spiritual says, “The whole world’s in his hands.” Time is in his hands. History is in his hands. God is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. God is at both ends of time and history before there was time and history.

So the important question is this: how are we to live today? We are to live our lives as if Jesus Christ were coming back tomorrow. We are to live today as if the end of history was tomorrow morning. We are to live today as if we were going to meet God face to face tomorrow morning at 8:30 and have breakfast together. If you believe that; if you believe that human history is going to end tomorrow and you are going to meet God face to face and have breakfast together, it will affect the way you live today. You won’t have this attitude that is so prevalent nowadays, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Wind is at my back. My sails are full. I am sailing fast into my future of this planet.”  In such an attitude, there is no thought of God but only to live fully every day. It is pure secularity. Nor would your attitude be, “Eat, drink and be merry, because my time will soon be over.”  That attitude doesn’t work if you are going to meet God first thing tomorrow morning for a cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa. Nor would your attitude be, “I have only one time around. That’s all there is for me, one time around.”  What a cynical attitude. One time around; it is over and into the grave. I won’t be meeting God tomorrow morning.

Now, if it is true that you and I may have breakfast with God first thing tomorrow morning, what will you do today? Wouldn’t it be a time of loving? Wouldn’t you gather your loved ones around you? If you had a conflict with your mother and father, wouldn’t you be on the telephone today trying to patch up that old quarrel? If you knew for sure that you were having breakfast with God face to face tomorrow morning, I am sure that there would be much prayer today. It would be a prayer of thanksgiving for knowing you were having breakfast with God tomorrow morning. What confidence in the future.  I bet not too many people would watch the Seahawks on television or go Christmas shopping.

Besides, the way that life happens so quickly and unexpectedly, I just may have breakfast with God tomorrow morning.  And so may you. Amen.

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