It's all too easy to make fun of the extreme examples of prophecy belief that we encounter on bumper stickers and best-seller lists. When people talk breathlessly of the dangers of Universal Product Codes and automated teller machines as signs of the impending Tribulation, giggles and head shaking are hard to repress. But in many ways, adherents of premillennial faith in the Second Coming of Jesus and the battle of Armageddon show themselves to be more astute analysts of our times and exhibit more trust in God than many who fancy themselves "liberal" Christians.
It is important for people committed to the gospel to come to grips with the phenomena of apocalyptic literature so popular among premillennialists, and with the social realities to which their sometimes absurd interpretations respond. We need to examine the roots of apocalyptic Christianity, as well as some of the offshoots of apocalyptic thinking in our own day, including the powerful reports of near-death and alien abduction experiences. Throughout, we should hold before ourselves these questions: How do we know that God is good and truly reigns over our evil-infested world? What expectations do we have that God can and will act to conquer injustice, oppression, and poverty?
When we ridicule apocalyptic interpretations of bar codes and the European Common Market, we are saying a number of things about our attitude toward scripture and about our faith. First, we are properly rejecting an interpretive method that posits a one-to-one correspondence between biblical events and symbols and our own daily lives. When people identify the Antichrist with specific living persons or decipher the code of 666 to refer directly to Ronald Wilson Reagan or Saddam Hussein, they fail to take seriously the scriptural writers' intentions to speak to their own world situations, and suggest that parts of the Bible have had no meaning until our particular generation.