Jesus Might Not Actually Want to Kill You

Will Jesus come after us with atomic artillery shells? Or drop his bombs on us directely from heaven?

Someone was telling me yesterday of a new religious “prophecy” involving nuclear catastrophe to occur sometime next month. What else is new? There’s always at least one afoot.

Whenever actual nuclear war looms, I get nervous about the inexplicable longing for ultimate destruction that many American Christians hold dear, that often seems to get inflamed in response to heightened nuclear tensions. What is it about the Jesus of the New Testament that makes people think he wants to come back and nuke us? Or do so through what so many of them weirdly believe to be his divine representative on Earth? Truman, the inveterate nuclear warrior, declined to nuke Korea—yet God’s own Trump threatens it openly, with horrifying bravado. He and his handlers think it’s what Americans want, and they might not be far off the mark.

Here is an excerpt from an article in The Harvard Theological Review, however, from 1919, on The Book of Revelation, indicating that homegrown American religion has not always been about Jesus returning to inflict a nuclear apocalypse upon the world as punishment for liberal toleration of homosexuality and Islam.

“According to your politics it was possible to direct the thunders of the Holy Bible against Napoleon Bonaparte, or the liberal movement of 1848, when Satan was loosed, or the power of the Slavic and German Empires, concealed under the names of Gog and Magog. The appalling catastrophe of the Great War of today has called forth similar interpretations.

“And the numbers in the book, the thousand years, the forty and two months, the 1260 days, the mystic 666, lent themselves to endless fascinating calculations of just how long these various powers of evil should be permitted to exercise their baneful sway, and how soon the people of God might hope for final divine intervention.

“This method of interpretation was obviously useful, but as obviously unsafe and unconvincing. It contained the seed of its own destruction, and could only lead to the abandonment of all use of the book. As a heaven-bestowed eternal calendar, the book proved a failure; as a philosophy of modern history, its point of view was indeterminable.

“Throughout Christian history, however, and in recent years with great seriousness a wholly different and far more sober mode of approach to the book has been followed, and has been advocated with vast learning. In this majestic picture, it is said, the author is not prophesying the historical future now known to us, but reflects the events and conditions of his own time as he knew it.”

I got to this article this morning through simple, idle web surfing, by the way: search “Book of Revelation” on and you’re in like Flynn. Bob’s your uncle. You da caaaaa[t].

This brings to mind a couple of things:

First, anyone with the Internet can pull up mountains of stuff like this, from time immemorial till right now, on every subject, from every point of view, literally in a couple of keystrokes. So why don’t they? Is it all fake news and evil government conspiracies?

And all this stuff, from World War I, to the Bomb, to the Korean War, to the Cold War, rings with uncanny relevance. It might have been written right now. Except that after a hundred years, The Book still has not gone out of style with a few unfortunate, frighteningly populous sects that cling to their “literal reading” of it slavishly, beyond all reason, to all our peril.


Excerpt from “The Reasonable Appeal of the Book of Revelation,” by James Hardy Ropes. The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 12, p. 404-426, 1919.

See also Bernard Gwertzman, “U.S. Papers Tell of ’53 Policy to Use A-Bomb in Korea.” New York Times, June 8, 1984.

And see Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Korea, Volume XV, Part 2. Memorandum of Discussion at the 173d Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, December 3, 1953. (“top secret, eyes only”).


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