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When Is The Beginning Of The End Times? – OpEd

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A decade ago (May 2, 2012) a Reuters Poll reported that “nearly 15 percent of people worldwide believe the world will end during their lifetime. “Whether they think it will come to an end through the hands of God, or a natural disaster or a political event, whatever the reason, one in seven thinks the end of the world is coming,” said Keren Gottfried, research manager at Ipsos Global Public Affairs which conducted the poll for Reuters. Among Evangelical Christians three out of four felt we are living in the End Times of Gog and Magog; Ya’juj and Ma’juj End Times (AKHIR AL-ZAMAN) for Muslims.

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In 2021 more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses over a 12-month period, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of American adults who are unaffiliated religiously has risen from 16% in 2007 to 29% in 2021. Microscopic air pollution caused mostly by burning fossil fuels shortens lives worldwide by more than two years, researchers reported in June 2022. And data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives.

And drought is killing trees all over Western North America. British Columbia lost 80% of its mature lodge pole pine in 2006 and 2007 and has gone from being a carbon sink to a carbon source. A few years ago 129 million trees died in California. The bottom line is that hot droughts, which are becoming more frequent and hotter, stress trees world-wide to the breaking point.

According to the both the Bible and the Qur’an, since the days of Adam and Eve, many chosen humans in the distant past have heard the One God speaking to them. These people are titled as Prophets or Messengers in the Abrahamic religions. And the Hebrew Scriptures, the Greek New Testament, and the Arabic Qur’an all agree that in the distant future, in the Era of the End of Days-Judgement Day; there will be a few chosen humans who will express, by words and deeds, God’s glory to all humanity.

These future Messengers usually have a special name or title like: Messiah son of Joseph, Messiah son of David, and Elijah in Judaism, Jesus’ second coming in Christianity, or the Mahdi in Islam.

As a Reform Rabbi and Messianic Age scholar, I say that the world is not going to end in this century; but the world is going to be positively transformed according to predictions made by the Prophets of Israel, as explained by past and present rabbinic sages.

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Human society has changed more rapidly, violently and fundamentally in the last century of the second millennium than ever before in history. Doctors saved the lives of millions. Dictators sacrificed the lives of millions. Populations are exploding in Africa and birthrates are declining in Europe. Technology produces both worldwide prosperity and pollution at the same time. And the climate grows hotter and hotter world wide.

Knowing all this, should we look upon the first century of the third millennium with optimistic hope or with fatalistic trepidation? Is the world and our society heading towards a wonder-filled new age, or toward a doomsday? Or are both occurring almost concurrently because breakdown is always a prelude to breakthrough?

I believe that there will not be a startling worldwide increase in the number and impact of enlightened masters. Nor will earthquakes, floods and other plagues occur in much greater intensity or numbers. But the way people react to varying kinds of predictions is usually influenced by the long tradition of trying to foresee the eventual goal of human history. This tradition started with the Prophets of Israel about 3,000 years ago.

This Biblical vision of a Messianic Age uses the insights of the Prophets to provide guidance in understanding the social, economic, scientific and cultural upheavals that will sweep society as we approach the prophets visionary goal. Often it is the dramatic dangers of the pre-Messianic upheavals and massive tribulation that are emphasized but I focus on the positive signs developing throughout the world that accord with the Messianic vision of the Biblical Prophets.

In most religious traditions, redemption is defined in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation. However, the Prophets of Israel conceived redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of the transformation of the Jewish community. This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age.

The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah. The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labor. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religious tradition, our own religious inspiration would enable us ourselves bring about the Messianic Age.

But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts and generation gaps. The Messiah (Madhi in Islamic tradition), refers to an agent of God who helps bring about this transformation. The Jewish tradition teaches that this agent of God (with several forerunners and many disciples) will be a human being with great leadership qualities similar to Prophets Moses or Mohammed.

The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer. The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run; but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails, will provide challenges to society for many generations to come.

For example, the Prophet Isaiah, 2700 years ago, predicted that someday there would be a radically new world in which Jerusalem would be fulfilled with joy for “no more shall there be in it an infant that lives only a few days.” (65:20) Before the mid 19th century the annual death rate for humans fluctuated from year to year but always remained high, between 30 and over 50 deaths per 1,000 individuals. The toll from disease among the young was especially high. Almost 1/3 of the children born in any year died before their first birthday; in some subgroups, half died

A century ago, the infant mortality rate in Jerusalem (as in most of the world) was 25-30%. Now it is less than 1%. For thousands of years almost every family in the world suffered the loss of at least one or two infants; now it happens to less than one out of a hundred. If this radical improvement had occurred over a few years, it would have greatly impressed people. But since it occurred gradually over several generations, people take it for granted.

Also, people are quick to point out that as a result of the great reduction in the infant mortality rate, the world’s population has expanded tremendously, which is, and will continue causing major social and economic problems in non-Western societies. The answer to this problem is birth control, which has already radically affected birth rates in Europe, North America, and Japan. In China during 2021 there were 11 births per 1000 people, compared with 22/1000 in 1980; in Europe 2020, 10 births/1000 people, in 1980 it was 15. The US is also seeing a declining trend in births: in 2021 the rate was 12 per 1000 people, down from 15 in 1980. Birth rates are also falling across Africa, albeit slowly and from an historically high of around 45/1000 in 1980 to 32/1000 in 2021.

In another generation populations will be declining throughout the world, but since that will occur in the future and since we suffer the negative consequences of over population now, very few people see the whole transformation as a Messianic one in spite of the fact that it is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

Truly we will be coming close to another Isaiah’s prophecy, “One who dies at 100 years shall be reckoned a youth, and one who fails to reach 100 shall be reckoned accursed.” (65:20). Such radical change will necessitate major changes in the way we think and act when faced with decisions about life and death. Yet who among us would want to return to the high mortality rates and early deaths of previous centuries? The challenges we now face are not those of survival, but of opportunity.

The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy has thus gone un-noticed and un-celebrated. But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long. The amazing 1991 covert rescue of 14,325 Ethiopian Jews in an airlift lasting less than 48 hours stirred and inspired people for a few weeks. Subsequently, the difficult problems the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000 recent Soviet immigrants) occupied the Jewish media. Now both have long been taken for granted. The miracle has become routine.

But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia a generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle. If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream. In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:

“I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (43:5-6) Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget the past. Indeed, the Prophet Isaiah himself said, “Behold, I create a new Heaven and a new Earth, and former things shall not be remembered.” (65:17)

Where does the Messiah/Madhi fit in with all of this? He will have lots to do when he arrives. Most Orthodox Jews would not commit themselves to any individual as a Messiah unless he successfully rebuilds the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah: “He shall build the Temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, he shall sit on the throne and rule, there shall be a priest before the throne, and peaceful counsel will exist between both of them.” (6:13)

Now that almost half of the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel, and resurrected a Jewish State, one might think that rebuilding a temple on the site where Solomon originally built one almost 3,000 years ago, would be relatively simple. And it would, except for the fact that a Muslim Shrine, the Dome of the Rock, presently occupies the site.

Often erroneously called the Mosque of Omar, it is not a mosque and it was not built by Omar. It was built in 691 by Abd-Al-Malik and it is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in the world. No attempt should be made to replace the Dome of the Rock.

There is, however, a lot of vacant land on the Temple Mount, and a Jewish house of worship could be built between the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock provided the Muslims would cooperate. Most observers agree that anyone who could arrange such Jewish-Muslim cooperation would really be the Messiah/Madhi Ruler of Peace (Isaiah 9:5) Christian support for such a cooperative venture would also be important.

Indeed, such Jewish/Christian/Muslim cooperation would not be possible without great spiritual leadership in all three communities. Thus, each community should consider its own leadership to be essential Messianic aids as was foretold: “Saviors [plural] will ascend mount Zion to judge mount Esau; And the kingdom shall be the LORD’S.” (Obadiah 1:21)

All of this would fulfill Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again teach war.” (Isaiah 2:4)

Thus, if each people truly follows the best of its own religious teachings the Messiah will surely have arrived, and God’s Kingdom will be established. The Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or a nation: “Abraham was a nation/community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist [hanif], not one of the polytheists.” (16:120) If Prophet Abraham is an Ummah then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided.

If all Arabs and Jews can live up to the ideal that ‘the descendants of Abraham’s sons should never make war against each other’ is the will of God; we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”(Isaiah 19:23-5

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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