In his poem “Fire and Ice,” Robert Frost offers a brief discussion about how the end of the world will occur. In the end, he seems content with either fire or ice, but the end of planet earth is a topic many people discuss and debate today: How’s it going to happen? Who’s going to set the pieces in motion? Are we going to be around to see it happen with our own eyes? In tonight’s second episode of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman (National Geographic Channel, 9P/8C), he takes a closer look at what faith has to say about the end of days. The findings are worth taking a look at for yourself.
While Freeman takes trips in the episode to Mexico (Aztec), India (Buddhist), Jerusalem (Jewish), and New York City (Islam—and a fascinating discussion with a gentleman who was part of the group that would later become Al Qaeda), the episode has a significant focus on the Christian belief of how the world will meet its demise. Freeman talks with Jodi Magness, a professor at UNC, as she takes him to Qumran and shows him where the Dead Sea Scrolls were located. The location is pretty breathtaking, as the caves built into the rock formations offer a glimpse of where the Battle of Armageddon would supposedly take place. The folks who occupied the caves—known as the Essenes—believed the impending war would bring them redemption lasting for eternity. They got their battle, all right—but it was with the Romans, who dropped by for a visit in 68 AD and destroyed the sect.
This concept of war has always been part of the canon of Christianity—all it takes is a quick read of the book of Revelation. With all its symbolism and heavenly preparations for God to usher in a new heaven and new earth, a major focal point has involved the 13th chapter of the book. It includes a massive beast rising out of the sea, a second beast giving orders to worship the first beast, and the imposition of a mark on all people—the number 666. Horror movie directors love it and devoted followers of Jesus today are scared to have it anywhere in their sight, whether it be on a license plate or their number of Facebook friends.
Freeman visits the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome, a centuries-old library filled with ancient texts, for a discussion with Cornell professor Kim Haines-Eitzen. She shows him some writings and talks about who Revelation 13 may be referring to (hint: it didn’t involve any political candidates in America during the 21st century). Using numerology, the writings seem to show the Antichrist was Emperor Nero, a wild ruler from Rome in the first century who persecuted Christians intensely, killing them or using them as human torches. There was even speculation the number in the Bible was actually 616, not 666. But nevertheless, people of that time supposedly knew exactly who the text was talking about—and lived their lives appropriately.
If there is one point the second episode of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman seeks to make, it’s that the end of days allows people an opportunity to renew their lives. He references Hurricane Katrina’s visit to New Orleans in 2004 and talks to people who started their lives over as a result—particularly in the Ninth Ward. The apocalypse may not happen today, tomorrow, or even five years from now, but it provides us the opportunity for introspection and a chance to be renewed as we consider God and are reminded that He’s ultimately in control of the winds, waves, and the end of the world.