Message Supplement for 6 November 2016–“The End is Dear?”
Posted On October 3, 2016
What about Jesus’ return at the end of history? This controversial question has arisen ever since Jesus departed. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 and Luke 21: 5-19 (two consecutive weeks of lectionary readings) address this. The traditional view is that Jesus’ return signals the closing of history (with the unfolding apocalypse), and the final judgment of each person, the righteous for heavenly bliss and the evil for eternal hell.
Prophecy about end times swirls dizzingly in the book of Revelation but is sprinkled throughout the Bible. In today’s Luke passage, Jesus outlines a chronology of wars, persecutions, natural disasters, arrests, trials, and betrayals. It’s all worth it, Jesus claimed, because “. . . not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls” (Luke 21:18-19). So the stakes are enormous. Jesus gave the clearest, unambiguous answer about when all this was supposed to occur: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Matthew 24:34). Jesus declared that those standing there listening to his words in first-century Israel would not die their natural or antagonistic deaths without experiencing all this. Now what? If we’re honest, then we face the biggest possible prophecy problem because Jesus didn’t return. Early Christians became despondent, Jerusalem and its great Temple were destroyed, and all seemed lost.
Enter Paul the Apostle, the most prolific New Testament author who knew the problem but who encouraged readers to not give-up. Like Jesus, Paul wanted Christians to know a certain order of events, that a great rebellion would happen followed by the rise of an evil and lawless leader (another of the ancient Roman emperors most likely). This vague itinerary was supposed to occur prior to everything crashing in the apocalypse. Paul wanted his friends to remain focused and not relinquish daily living for the uncertainty of Jesus’ return. Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, Greece that the day of the Lord had not come, but that they shouldn’t be alarmed. Instead, Paul pragmatically advised that they go about their lives.
How does thinking about the end of history impact you? Some interpreters suggest that we take current events in one hand and hold a Bible in the other hand, shouting Jesus’ return based on natural disasters and political events. The cries of these apocalypse profiteers exploits peoples’ dark curiosity and life frustrations. This popular formula is so addictive that the “end is near” hawkers conjure elaborate schedules, some set a precise date, and all feed a frenzy distracting from a healthy spiritual life. Scripture overwhelmingly suggests that we prepare for our redemption at any moment. This means that we have enough to do as we live in the present. Creating a circus sideshow with bluster of “He’s coming!” scandalizes the more serious message of spiritual life and vitality.
Still other Christians embrace the opposite extreme, throwing-out the spiritual baby with the apocalyptic bath water. Critics scandalized by the abuse of prophecy tend to ignore all God’s promises. Some outright deny that Jesus can or will return and pronounce Christianity a sham. This approach is almost as destructive as that of the apocalypse fanatics because it undercuts personal transformation. Rejecting any notion of God’s living Spirit feeds a fatalistic mentality and a skeptical detachment from spiritual awareness. We may never know why Jesus failed to return as promised, but he suggested we keep watch, which entails high expectation and awareness. The danger in dismissing Christianity is that if we think that God is totally silent then we’ll miss the divine voice calling each of us. We must stay awake and alert, but not caught mud-slinging about antichrists and forked demons.
It’s not the best use of our time and blessings to yearn for and therefore encourage earth’s destruction. There are many threats to human existence such as nuclear proliferation, pandemic viruses, religious terrorism, global flooding, rising pollution, and the toxic cocktail: fear, prejudice and anger. If you add to this the feeding of peoples’ fascination with ultimate destruction then we may become our own worst enemy. Aside from satanic leaders and demonic conspiracies, we face all sorts of bad scenarios percolating up from peoples’ contaminated imaginations. Those Christians anxious for the apocalypse agitate for and ironically contribute to the very disasters they’ve come to cherish. That sort of self-fulfilling prophecy is not what we want foisted upon our children as yet another crime against humanity.
People on either side of the prophecy debate shouldn’t become haters about when or if Jesus will return. There’s so much more that Christians in common, such as the blessings of redemption through our spiritual awakening. Living in the present is superior to obsession with the future. We have everything we need for a meaningful life—now! God indwells us with the magnificent Holy Spirit. We don’t need preoccupation with past regrets or fascination with a future catastrophe. It is tempting to be distracted by rousing imagery, which sideshow authors have taken to the bank while degrading scripture into a grotesque Hollywood script. It’s more helpful to emphasize our status as God’s blessed heirs, that we’re empowered by a love that surpasses feeble fantasies. God loves us through all of life’s stages, including past, present, and future. Be mindful of the God who seeks you now and don’t get caught in a web of unrealized expectations.
The end of history and its cataclysms do tantalize, similar to amazed and entertained spectators gazing from ringside seating. We mustn’t succumb to false comfort contemplating universal disaster. Focusing on the ruin of people who don’t meet our religious criteria is neither loving nor productive. The drama of a fiery earth with epic battles between sci-fi monsters makes for alluring imagery (and populist book series), but it stymies progress toward embracing the living, loving God, the one who invites us to share blessings each moment with every living creature.
Instead of voyeuristic revelry over annihilation, we seek encouragement through a joyful spiritual journey. The appeal of our Christian faith transcends any violent dénouement and rests upon the timeless presence of God’s love and truth, here and now. Instead of bizarre creatures causing unspeakable mayhem, we instead ignite our spiritual mojo by helping people connect with God. The apocalypse may be dear to some, but better still is God’s joyful love.