As you enter the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at The San Diego Natural History Museum, you begin by walking through a stunningly beautiful display of photographs from Israel. Frankly, I never had any real interest in visiting Israel... but these photographs really piqued my interest in going there... just breath-taking.
As we were looking at the photographs, a church group - about 20 high school kids and their leader - were just in front of us. The leader had been to Israel. At each photograph he made comments. Some were helpful. Some were personal. Many interpreted the photographs in light of a specific kind of eschatology that was looking for a literal war of Armaggedon which he obviously expects any day and looks forward to with some excitement. As the leader commented that he thought that one of the photos was of the plain of Megiddo, a young man asked, "Isn't that where the blood will come up to the horse's heads?" The leader answered, "to their bridles," and held his hand at about the height of a horse's bridle. There was some excited chatter among the youth. The leader reads those scriptures as specifically refering to his time and no other. His generation of believers are somehow special in all of history and chosen by God for this particular time when good and evil will face the ultimate confrontation and evil will be destroyed. It will be violent and bloody and glorious.
As we got to the scrolls part of the exhibit and learned a bit about the community that lived at Qumran, it was fascinating to hear that they believed almost exactly the same thing. They were waiting for the same confrontation. They believed that every sign in the world, in the scriptures, in the universe, pointed out that they were the ones chosen by God for that particular time in history when the end of things as we know them would come. I could imagine a teacher from Quran saying almost exactly the same things as this youth group leader.
From my youth I remember the book, The Late Great Planet Earth, which all but guaranteed Armageddon before 1987 (one generation after the founding of Israel) as it told us all of the secrets of Revelation and Daniel and how they were meant specifically for that time, our time... if it happened, I missed it.
What is it in some theological orientations that requires that w be the most important people in all history? So important that entire sections of the Bible are meaningless for everyone else in history because they speak of specific historical events that will take place in our day, now thousands of years after the words were written? How is it that every age has folk who believe those exact same things, only for us to discover as we look back, that they were wrong in their interpretation. Why is it that folk with that particular kind of religious radicalism never ask the question, "Is there another way to interpret these texts that makes them meaningful to the folk who wrote them, the folk in the past, to us, and for all time?" Instead they look back and shake their heads and wonder how those folk missed that the words did not speak to their time. "If only they had seen us now, then they would know what those texts really mean."
Qumran did have it's confrontation with Rome. And time did end, for them, but it was not the ultimate struggle between good and evil. That struggle continues every day. In every place. It is not decided with swords on the plain of Megiddo... but in every heart, in every relationship, in every interaction, in every vote, in every purchase, in daily life. That battle is much more subtle, but also much more difficult than one between armies filled with bloodlust.