Today books, movies and games feed our fascination with what might happen after a global cataclysm. But what does God’s prophetic Apocalypse tell us about the real post-apocalyptic world?
I grew up in the shadow of a nuclear apocalypse. If nuclear weapons could obliterate cities and create movie monsters like Godzilla and the 50-Foot Woman, what could our elementary school duck-and-cover drills really do to protect us? Fail Safe seemed frighteningly real to me in seventh grade.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world may have breathed easier for a moment. The age of mutually assured destruction (MAD) seemed over. Yet the nuclear and other threats have only proliferated since.
The dangers we knew were terrifying enough. But they are eclipsed by the untold threats posed by terrorists, totalitarian regimes and new weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unstable leaders.
In the face of these fears, we seek escape through entertainment. But the types of fictional worlds I and many others are drawn to might seem ironic.
In our troubled world with myriad pathways to apocalypse, our popular entertainment continues to be dominated by post-apocalyptic books, movies and games.
What is such dystopian fiction all about? And why do we seek escape from present dangers through fearful futures?
Author Robin Parrish believes he has identified a common element in post-apocalyptic fiction. He writes, “You’ll see a recurring theme in post-apocalyptic fiction: the rise of the worst failings of human beings—cruelty, greed, suffering, a desire for power, self-preservation. Basic animal instincts of survival take over when people are stripped of all pretenses and facades. Writers, it seems, tend to believe that without the strictures of society, Earth’s population will quickly descend into anarchy” (“A Brief History of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction,” Mythbuilders.com).
This broad brush may miss many nuances, but it does give an interesting perspective for viewing the wildly divergent stories in the genre. The nightmarish, dystopian story lines seem endless, starting with a wide array of possible disasters.
Charlie Jane Anders cataloged these 10 types of fictional apocalypses on Gizmodo.com:
2. Slow apocalypse (social collapse or slow environmental decline).
3. Certain people die or vanish.
4. Technology fails.
6. Robot uprising.
7. Humanity abandons earth.
8. Nuclear holocaust.
9. Natural disasters.
10. Monsters and aliens.
Of course, some of these threats don’t appear on the nightly news, but the ones that do are truly frightening. So why do we want to read and watch these dystopian visions?
Why the interest in post-apocalyptic books, movies and games?
Many ideas have been floated for the popularity of dystopian fiction. Why are we drawn to these stories?
Charlie Jane Anders summed up her list this way: “Pretty much all apocalyptic scenarios are about wish-fulfillment on some level, even as they also explore our deepest fears. We all fantasize about being among the rugged handful of survivors, who immediately become the most special people in the world purely by virtue of still being alive.”
Robin Parrish believes post-apocalyptic stories fascinate us “because the real danger doesn’t come from the end of the world. It comes from the people left behind in it.”
Charley Locke sees the answer in a morbid escapism: “Part of the appeal of these classics [like George Orwell’s 1984], of course, is a morbid strain of escapism: Dystopian fiction enables readers to taste a darker timeline, albeit one that a protagonist invariably triumphs over. The world could be a lot worse, you think while reading” (“The Real Reason Dystopian Fiction Is Roaring Back,” Wired).
Matt Donahue, a popular culture instructor at Bowling Green State University, makes a similar point:
“It’s a way for the public to perhaps escape their everyday world and make them feel good after seeing how [bad] things are in the future. … They walk out of the movie theater and say, the world isn’t as screwed up as it is in The Hunger Games” (quoted by Kirk Baird in “We Hunger for Dystopian Sci-Fi,” The Blade).
Justin Scholes and Jon Ostenson point to the epic quality of the good vs. evil dilemma that calls the heroes to action.
“Whatever the backdrop of the dystopia—a violent society, a tyrannical government, an over-commercialized world—the protagonists come to understand that their society has become inhumane. They are appalled by the attitudes and actions of those within their culture, sickened at the complacency and even the open coldness of others toward situations that are cruel and unjust. As protagonists awaken to the realities around them, they feel an overwhelming sense that life has lost the value that it once had in the world—respect for life has been sacrificed for comfort or security. In YA [young adult] dystopian novels, it is often this inhumanity that pushes the protagonists to action” (“Understanding the Appeal of Dystopian Young Adult Fiction,” The ALAN Review).
Epic stories and fascinating plots have propelled post-apocalyptic fiction to the best-seller lists and to box office success. But even more intriguing is the best seller written thousands of years ago that inspired the name of the genre in the first place.Epic stories and fascinating plots have propelled post-apocalyptic fiction to the best-seller lists and to box office success. But even more intriguing is the best seller written thousands of years ago that inspired the name of the genre in the first place.
Origin of the term post-apocalyptic
According to Merriam-Webster.com, postapocalyptic means “existing or occurring after a catastrophically destructive disaster or apocalypse.”
Interestingly, apocalypse was originally simply about revealing something. The Greek word apokálypsis (Revelation 1:1) meant “uncovering, disclosure, revelation,” and it became the title of the biblical book we now usually call the book of Revelation.
The book begins with the words, “The Revelation [apokálypsis] of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to his servant John” (verse 1).
This last book of the New Testament records prophetic visions God gave to the apostle John at the end of the first century. They were intended to warn the world and to encourage faithful Christians.
In the popular imagination the mysterious symbolism and destructive end-time plagues revealed in Revelation turned the word apocalypse into a synonym for cataclysm and calamity.
But there’s more in the book of Revelation—the Apocalypse—than war and destruction. God also revealed what would happen after the violent and disastrous end times.
What does the Apocalypse really say about the future?
Revelation definitely earns its reputation as apocalyptic literature. Much of the book focuses on the last days of humanity’s sinful rule on the earth. The plagues and cataclysms will be every bit as bad as Hollywood can imagine.
As violence and evil spin out of control and mankind approaches self-destruction, God will intervene.
You can learn about these end-time apocalyptic prophecies in these and related articles:
- What Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
- Who Is the Beast?
- What Is the Great Tribulation?
- What Is the Day of the Lord?
- What Are the Seven Last Plagues?
- What Is Armageddon?
Thankfully, God’s intervention will bring mankind from the brink of annihilation to a point where people are finally willing to listen to God.
After the defeat of the evil end-time forces—Satan, a powerful civil leader called the beast, the false prophet who supports the beast, and the armies of the earth—our loving Savior Jesus Christ will rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords over the earth (Revelation 11:15; 19:11-16).
A Millennium of peace
Christ’s righteous rule will expand and bring peace and prosperity to the entire planet. Revelation 20:4 shows that this phase of God’s plan will last 1,000 years. This is often known as the Millennium, from the Latin for thousand years.
Though the book of Revelation doesn’t give many details of this period, the apostles proclaimed the good news of these “times of refreshing” and “restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21).
For example, the prophet Isaiah describes:
- A government of justice and education in peace (Isaiah 2:2-4).
- Unprecedented prosperity (32:15).
- Healing of land and people (35:5-7).
As God said, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
Read more about this wonderful world in our articles “1,000 Years—the Millennium” and “What Is the Kingdom of God?”
“Books were opened. And … the Book of Life”
Revelation 20:7-10 shows that after that 1,000 years, Satan will be released for a short time. He will again instigate rebellion and bring destruction on the earth. But after that, a much-misunderstood part of God’s merciful plan will be unveiled.
The rest of the dead—the dead from all times in human history who never had the opportunity for salvation—will be raised to be judged by God.
But this judgment will be different from what most imagine. The biblical concept of judgment is much broader than just the pronouncement of sentence. In fact, Peter said the house of God—the Church—is being judged now (1 Peter 4:17). This doesn’t mean Christians are being condemned, but being given their opportunity for salvation and spiritual growth.
Our merciful and fair God desires for all who have ever lived to come to the knowledge of the truth, to repentance and to be saved (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4). This second resurrection to judgment before God, who will sit on a “great white throne,” will provide that opportunity (Revelation 20:11).
“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened”—referring to the understanding of the books of the Bible. “And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life” (verse 12).
Another description of this second resurrection explains that God will make His Holy Spirit available (Ezekiel 37:14). As Paul wrote, “He who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:8). Those who do will be written in the Book of Life. Perhaps billions more people will be added to this book and become children of God (Revelation 21:7).
Learn more about this aspect of God’s plan in our articles “Is God Fair?” and “The Book of Life.”
A new heaven and a new earth
The Apocalypse of the Bible ends with a most incredible description of the post-apocalyptic future in Revelation 21 and 22.The Apocalypse of the Bible ends with a most incredible description of the post-apocalyptic future in Revelation 21 and 22.
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:1-4).
In verse 9 one of the angels that had introduced the seven last plagues came to John. This angel who had brought death now showed him the beauty and glory of the New Jerusalem with its tree of life and water of life (Revelation 21:10-11; 22:14, 17).
This post-apocalyptic world without pain or sorrow, instead filled with beauty and the glory of God, will be a future beyond our wildest dreams. There will be no hidden dangers or deceptions. The dystopias of today will truly be replaced by a utopian system of peace and joy, creativity and accomplishment.
As in the plot of a work of post-apocalyptic fiction, those who resist the evil and stand for good will have the chance to change the world. A better world is coming, and God is offering you a part in it.
At the end of the Apocalypse, Jesus says to us, “Surely I am coming quickly.” We can say, along with John, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
Read more about this mind-boggling future time in our articles “New Heavens and New Earth” and “The Gift of Eternal Life.”
And learn more about what God reveals throughout the Apocalypse by downloading our free booklet The Book of Revelation: The Storm Before the Calm.