Have you ever thought about Jesus’ return to earth at the end of history? This question has proven itself a popular one ever since Jesus departed our round rock in the first century AD. Indeed, in one of the first letters written by the New Testament writer Paul (cf. today’s reading in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5), the issue of Jesus’ second appearing looms large. “What’s up with it all?” you may ask. Quite a bit, actually. A popular belief is that Jesus’ return hails the final age and the final judgment of each person, the righteous for heavenly bliss and the evil for condemnation.
What happens to people when they die is a perennially popular topic. Yet, Paul encouraged his readers to avoid standing around looking up into heaven. Paul seemed to believe that his readers should remain focused, and that there wasn’t much good to come from giving-up their daily lives for the uncertain timing of the apocalypse. In Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonika, Greece, he wrote that the day of the Lord has not come, and that it is not good to be alarmed or shaken in anticipation of Jesus’ return. Paul’s pragmatic advice is evident because he doesn’t think Jesus will return anytime soon and during the delay people still have much to accomplish.
How does thinking about the end of history motivate Christians? Some Christian denominations specialize in taking current events in one hand and holding a Bible in the other hand, with the admitted goal of trying to predict or prognosticate Jesus’ return based on natural disasters and political events. And while it is true that we are to be prepared for our redemption at any moment, we have enough to do as we try to live in the present and meet today’s responsibilities and challenges.
Still other Christians embrace the opposite extreme, wherein they ignore any thought of future spiritual events by pushing them into a meaningless obscurity. Unfortunately, this approach can be equally limiting in that it tends to underestimate the significance of what we are striving for in the Christian life.
Rather than argue about Jesus return we can celebrate the fact that we serve a living God—NOW! Living in the present is a superior choice because we have everything we need for a meaningful life as God indwells us with the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to be preoccupied by either past regrets or by a future redemption. It is tempting to be distracted by apocalyptic imagery reminiscent of a grotesque Hollywood movie. A better aspect to emphasize is the certain fact that we are empowered by a God whose love surpasses time. God loves us through life’s moments, including past, present, and future.
Sure, the thought of the end of history and its cataclysms can tantalize us, similar to the way we would face amazement as if we were spectators gazing from our heavenly, ringside seats. Yes, we could succumb to a self-satisfying feeling as we contemplate and even witness the universe’s ultimate disaster.
Focusing on the destruction of our enemies isn’t likely to be productive. The drama of a fiery earth and all the epic battles between spiritual beings makes for alluring imagery, but it may stymie our progress. Instead of our falling into a voyeuristic revelry over destruction, we can instead be encouraged by the life God gives. The appeal of our Christian faith transcends any violent dénouement and rests instead upon the timeless presence of God’s love and truth, here and now. Our interest in spiritual matters can be ignited by our sharing of the gospel with every living creature. The end may be dear to some, but better still is how we now cherish God’s presence. –Reverend Hoxey