Come on, children/
You’re acting like children/
Every generation thinks it’s the end of the world/
It’s the end of the world
All you fat followers/
Get fit fast/
Every generation thinks it’s the last/
Thinks it the end of the world
– from Wilco, “You Never Know”
This week I was having coffee with someone who asked me if I have any friends or family who always seem to be consumed with the second coming of Christ. I couldn’t think of anyone in particular so this person told me about an acquaintance who mentions it almost every conversation. This person comes across as a bit depressed and defeatist. There is no hope for this world. It is corrupt beyond worth. Jesus must be readying his return right now!
There is a tension here. At one angle we want to join with the end of the Book of Revelation (22.20) saying, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”. It seems to me that the apostolic church lived in the expectancy that Christ could return today. If we are watching and waiting as people of the day we will not fall into the evil of the night.
Oh, then there is that other angle: it’s 2011.
Jesus has been gone for a very, very, very long time now. In one sense this can be disturbing. Of course, there is an irony. If Christ would have returned in 557, 791, 1211, 1784, or any of the hundreds of years between the ascension and now there is a likelihood that we would not be experiencing the inaugurated Kingdom and we would not be one of the many in history awaiting the Parousia and the resurrection where the Kingdom is finally and fully established.
So who are we to be? Are we to be like the person who thinks every day about the Second Coming? Are we to be more realistic than that? How to we avoid being just another generation with apocalyptic hopes that go unfulfilled (unless, of course, Christ returns)?
How do you live with this tension of anticipating Christ’s return while acknowledging he may not come back in your life time?
Brian, I take my comfort in the belief that the apostolic church was right about the timing and that Jesus came when and as He prophesied that He would. (http://bit.ly/fuuGkM)
I take comfort in the fact that there was an eager expectation amongst the earliest Christians that Christ would return in their lifetime, yet we have no record that their faith was destroyed when their lives ended sans parousia. I take comfort, also, in the fact that I am prepared for the day of resurrection, should that be tomorrow or 10,000 years from now! Μαρανα θα!
I often wonder if it’s a fanaticism over the “Second Coming” or this ridiculous notion of being “raptured” from a world that God is going to kick into the cosmic trashcan. Living in expectancy of Christ’s return, in order to establish his kingdom forever on the earth, is a very healthy “New Testament” reality. Adhering to a “Left Behind” eschatology, that has Christians flying off away from suffering and evil to the other side of the galaxy, is the cause of many griefs. Christians should view the future with hope that God will indeed bring heaven to earth, ultimately with the bodily second coming of Christ.
I can’t wait for Jesus to come back! I tire of that old attitude of folks — like my parent’s age [the Hal Lindsey era] — who say “I used to think He was coming back in the day [like the 60′ 70’s], and He didn’t;” so now they use that as a cipher to engage the present. In other words, they live a guarded life, they hedge; so they don’t feel that sense of disillusionment they once did. I find that to be really self-centered, and non-Biblical, “fleshly,” uniformitarian perspective that is at odds with the clear call of Jesus and Scripture to be ready for His return; to be excited about that fact and reality, and to allow that to shape the kinds of lives — Holy cf. I Jn 3.1-3; II Pet 3; etc. — that we should be living in light of the fact that today could be the day!
Not only that, I think people easily forget that everyday millions of people experience personal raptures, or people “die,” and enter into the presence of the LORD (or not) right now! Whether we’re alive when he bodily returns — the historic and orthodox hope of the Church — or if we get hit by a bus or die from cancer, we’re going to enter eternity (on one side or the other); so we ought to live like that’s true.
two cents . . .
Bobby: Correct you are. I think of the one unfortunate side effects of rapturism is this breeding of escapist theology. I think it plays into our subconscious desire to be like Superman and fly–who wouldn’t want to do that?!? 🙂
Ah, you speak in English as well 😉 . I don’t really have a problem with the idea of escaping this world system and entering the presence of the LORD (getting out of this body of death), but I do resonate with what you’re terming with “escapist theology.” You’re at DTS, right? So you’re right in the epi-center where “escapist mentality” has been articulated in “academic” forms. I’ve grown up with this whole culture myself (educationally as well). My concern, though, is that people think it strange when someone talks about the Lord’s return; like the person in Brian’s post. Why would any Christian think it strange that someone be excited about Jesus’ return? The reality is, is that things aren’t just like they were in 1784; we’re that much closer to the Lord’s return, and in fact the moments we’re living in right now are only intensifying as the Lord prepares His return. If people can look out at the world today (of all days, Egypt and the Middle East) and think today is the same as yesterday or any other day; then I just have to wonder. If Christians can’t get a hold of the idea that God is working, even now, towards bringing all of history to Himself in consummate form; is highly problematic.
Anyway, I think these kinds of discussions only happen in America or the comfortable West. Ask our brothers and sisters in underground China or impoverished Africa, and ask them about “escapist theology.”
If you believe He’s coming back tomorrow
Then live like He is coming back today (Allies, Virtues, 1986)
What a great post, and a great song! I had no idea you liked Wilco Brian. They are one of the best live bands, period!
For the longest time I’ve considered myself a bit of an eschatological agnostic. But I’m realizing that what I believe about the future directly influences how I’m behaving today. A question I’ve been asking people for several years is, “do you think things in the world are getting better or getting worse?” You can argue convincing either way.
I was struck recently by what N T Wright said in “Surprised By Hope”:
“The early Christians did not believe . . . the world was getting better . . . .neither did they believe that the world was getting worse . . . . Since most people who think about these things today tend toward one or other of those two points of view, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that the early Christians held a quite different view. They believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter.” p93
Wright helps me be more hopeful.
i used to have “millennial fever” real bad in highschool and early (community) college but soon after that I went into YWAM and then in college (University) and started read G.E Ladd and others and began to see how tragic it all was – now, I have been in a sort of “end times detox” for quite a while.
I think too we need to be reminded of the difference there is between immediacy and immediately – they are not the same – I do believe the return of the Lord is imminent and that we should live with a sense of immediacy but in a way that won’t stress us out thinking it will be immediately. 🙂
Sorry that I am only now responding to these comments. I was out-of-town yesterday and I still hate the WordPress app. Anyways, let me see if I can get back to everyone:
@Mike: Are you suggesting there will be no bodily return of Christ? Are you one who holds to something like Christ “returned” via the Spirit at Pentecost? If so, what does that do to your overall eschatology? What is the future in God’s plan?
@Jason: That is a good observation. While there was eager expectation the movement did not die when Christ did not return after the first few generations. That makes me think that there was an anticipation, but no guarantee. I think the first chapter of Acts lends itself to such balance.
@David: Rapture dogma is problematic. It does seem to degrade the resurrection and God’s redemption of this created order. Also, it does lend itself to escapism, but as Bobby notes, we American Christians must be aware that we have less that we want to escape so it may color our eschatological expectations.
@Bobby: Thank you for bringing balance. While I am one who often thinks of resurrection, even Paul himself saw being with the Lord in a disembodied state as better than being in this life in an embodied state. Of course, being with Christ in an embodied state in the age to come trumps both of those!
@Brian R. : I’d agree, but what would you say this “living” entails? Does it lend itself to moral uprightness, the desire to escape, the desire to be free of temporal things like worldly politics, more spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting? How would you say that quote has impacted you?
@Josh: Honestly, I don’t know if I like Wilco in general, but I do like that song. It is the only Wilco song I know. I will need to listen to more to make a verdict.
@Jeff: Wright’s book greatly impacted me as well. It breathed new life into my eschatological studies. I would say I was a bit of an eschatological agnostic as well. Now I find richness in subjects like resurrection, the purging and renewal of the cosmos, judgment over evil, Christ’s kingdom on earth, etc.
@Brian F.: That is a good distinction to make.
No (rather after, but not too long after, 70 A.D.).
We’re living in it.
More kingdom of God (Isaiah 9:6-7; Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 13:31-32).
Thanks for the questions.
Yes, “full embodiment” in Christ will be a great day (understatement)! So I am assuming that you hold to the idea, then, that when someone dies in Christ “now,” that they live in a disembodied (in between) state (II Cor 5) until the “not-yet” becomes realized at the “Resurrection” (I Thess 4; I Cor 15 etc) (or Christ’s second advent)? I hold to this view, but I know some who believe that folks receive their resurrected bodies immediately; or at the moment they die and enter the presence of the Lord. Which I think II Cor 5 undercuts.
@Bobby: I assume some sort of intermediary state. Along with Paul we have the imagery of the souls of martyrs pleading for God to judge the wicked in Revelation. I know the Apocalypse can be tricky, but it seems to assume some sort of belief about life post-death and pre-resurrection.
Brian, in every era since the church began, believers have been convinced that the signs were right for Jesus’ return. I suppose that’s the mystery of how prophetic Scriptures work. They have been fulfilled; they are being fulfilled; they will be one day fully fulfilled.
What took place in the first generation of Christians has also taken place in future generations and will climax before Christ returns.
@David: True, prophetic Scripture is complex, poetic, and often multi-layered.
ahem- u dont get Wilco.. Not a good opening
[Near Emmaus, I saw this while on the web. Interesting?]
Christ’s return is NOT imminent !
by Bruce Rockwell
(Pretrib rapturists claim that Christ’s return is imminent, that is, capable of occurring at any moment. Theologian and pastor Norman MacPherson, in his excellent book “Triumph Through Tribulation,” offers proof that the Bible has never taught an any-moment return of Christ. Here are the points brought out and discussed at length by MacPherson:)
1. Great Commission fulfillment implies a long period of time.
2. Seed growth in Matthew 13 is a time-consuming process.
3. Paul expected death, not rapture, in II Timothy 4:6-8.
4. Jesus predicted Peter’s martyrdom in John 21:18-19.
5. Matthew 24 teaches that signs must come first.
6. Many passages speak of a large interval between Christ’s ascension and return: Jewish dispersion into “all nations” (Luke 21); “man travelling into a far country,” “after a long time the lord of those servants cometh” (Matthew 25).
7. Apostasy of last days takes time to develop.
8. Bridegroom tarried in parable of virgins.
9. Pastoral epistles teach Church’s continuing ministry, which involves time.
10. Paul says Christ’s coming is not imminent (II Thessalonians 2:1-3), for apostasy and Antichrist must come first.
11. View of seven phases of church history (seven churches of Revelation) involves big lapse of time and imminence difficulties for pre-tribs; could Christ have come before the last phase?
12. Exhortations to watch and be ready are tied to what pre-trib teachers regard as the second stage (which is necessarily non-imminent) in Matthew 24 and 25, I Corinthians 1:7, Colossians 3:4, I Thessalonians 3:13, II Thessalonians 1:7-10, I Peter 1:13 and 4:13, and I John 2:28.
(How can an “imminent” return of Christ have a greater practical effect on us than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit already has, or should have, on us? Acts 2:34-35 and Acts 3:21 are further proof that Christ’s return is NOT imminent! For more info on pretrib rapture beliefs and history, Google “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy,” “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty.”)
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