End Times: How to Hope

End Times: How to Hope

Yes, we are living in the end times, says the prophet Zechariah. We are always living in the end times.

So he tells us in his prophetic book, whose last chapter (14) we read in synagogue on Sukkot, the Feast of Booths.

But Zechariah sees the end times as a good thing. Why?

God, he says, is arranging regional dynamics in our favour. In fact, God is always doing this. So, we might as well act now to create a nonviolent world. We must insist that our leaders show integrity, generosity, and concern for the oppressed. And, if they fail, we must do it ourselves. A mantra will guide us: Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit (Zech. 4:6).

Zechariah’s End Times Scenario

In the final chapters of his book,  Zechariah describes an end-times scenario. The region’s final war is waged against Jerusalem. Foreign invaders capture the city, plunder the houses and rape the women. Two-thirds of the city’s people perish. The violence is brutal; the grief is heart-rending.

Colorful drawing of a horse wearing bells that say "Holy to the Lord," drawn over a text of the prophet Zechariah's vision of the end times. At the side is a handwritten excerpt from the text that says "On that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses 'Holy to the Lord, Zechariah 14:20."

But survivors extend compassion, experience healing, and receive true prophecy. God then moves mountains, re-routes rivers, flattens deserts, and re-creates the cycle of day and night. On that day, a spirit of healing prevails. Survivors from all nations recognize their spiritual kinship. Together, they pray for rain in Jerusalem’s restored Temple. The world is so holy, even horses wear priestly sashes.

But you know and I know: this version of the end times is only a possible future. It’s not the most likely outcome of current events. So, to believe in it, we need hope. We need to see past a linear chain of cause and effect into a realm of spiritual promise. So Zechariah shows us how to look, using familiar metaphors of creation, exodus, and unity.

The End Times as a New Creation

In the creation story of Genesis 1, the world begins in darkness. God’s first creation is light. God then divides light from dark, starting an alternating cycle of evening and morning (Gen. 1:1-5). This cycle of days then gives a rhythm and stability to all creation.

Still, the world has seen many bad days in this fixed cycle. Some have come from divisions between people. These divisions can seem as fixed as the cycle of day and night. So, Zechariah sees that God could re-work this cycle any time. God could try something new, a different open-ended experiment, a beginning of wild new potentials. God could create a world without the old divisions. In that [new first] day, there shall be a continuous day…of neither day nor night, and there shall be light at eventide (Zech. 14:6).

As a New Exodus

On that new kind of day, the world might even see a new Exodus. Not the same as the old one, but one the world needs now.

At the crossing of the Red Sea, the waters were split, and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left (Ex. 14: 22). When that happened, mountains skipped like rams, hills like sheep (Ps. 114:4).

On the new day, Zechariah says, mountains and water could move in unexpected ways. They could once again provide people with what they need to survive: abundant water for an arid land, even in the dry summer season. Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives could split, leaving a huge gorge. And then, in that day, fresh water shall flow from Jerusalem, part of it to the Eastern Sea, and part to the Western Sea, throughout the summer and winter (Zechariah 14:8).

Such a flow of water could transform agricultural life, making farming more accessible to everyone. It could then lead to a more equitable distribution of work, wealth, and power. Perhaps no one would sell themselves into indentured servitude again. Thus, the water, starting as a stream as narrow as the antenna of a grasshopper could become a flowing river of healing, purifying waters (Yoma 77b-78a).

A Leader for the End Times

And, on that new kind of day, a leader could appear who has the spirit of the LORD…wisdom and insight…counsel and valor…devotion and reverence (Isaiah 11:2). Maybe this leader would not stir up familiar but bitter national and ethnic divisions. They might represent no particular human group, but only the unifying presence of God.

Then, it could be as if God will be One and God’s name will be One (Zech. 14:9) Or, as Targum Yonatan understands it, the entire would could have a shared mystical experience, and all problems of intercultural communication could end.

Radical hope? Yes. It is possible, says Zechariah, to create a sustainable society marked with justice, peace, and holiness. But something different and special will only emerge if people do the work. Zechariah speaks into his own historical time, but his words reach into our time, too. We must seize the moment; develop the spirit; let go of greed; strengthen acts of justice; imagine the impossible; and take hope seriously. This, Zechariah teaches, is the divinely revealed guide to ending the troubles of human history.

Want to read my full scholarly paper on this topic? Find it here.

2 Comments
  1. Hi Rabbi Laura,

    I hope you still remember me, I used to worked at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church. At one time, I invited you to come to speak to our seniors. I am now serving another congregation in Richmond. Just to let you know I appreciate your thoughtful postings. And yes, there are people reading it.

    Shabbat shalom!

    Alan

    1. Alan, of course I remember you! We also chatted at the opening of the Iona Pacific Centre (now Inter-Religious Studies Program). I’m glad you’re in town and I hope our paths cross again.

      Thank you for this encouraging message! Stay well. Shabbat Shalom to you.

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