I remember the world-wide frenzy generated by the “Left Behind” series. I don’t happen to share the hermeneutic stance of the authors, so I don’t have those books in my library. That doesn’t mean, however, that I reject either the significance or the value of the book of Revelation.
Quite the contrary. I believe that book is critical to a Christian understanding of the way we live our faith. The central message of the book of Revelation is that we must cling fast to Christ and live in faithful relationship with him no matter what is going on around us. That message is timeless, and that message has value in all eras for all people. What’s more, the urgency of Revelation is that we should always live and speak of our faith as if time were about to end. Why? Because for every one of us, time is about to end. Whether it ends for all people is irrelevant. The end of time is imminent for every human being, because none of us gets out of here alive, as somebody so famously said in some pop song. God has written it in our souls and we all know it is true that this life, this time, this place is temporary.
That is why I can’t get very excited about an attempt to find a timeline to eternity in Revelation. I don’t think it matters, because the message of Revelation is to be steadfast in faith at all times. Be ready for rejection. Be ready for persecution. Be ready to give the answer as Peter told us (1 Peter 3:15) because somebody will need to hear it. You don’t know if the heavens are about to be rolled back, or if you will be hit by a bus on your way to church. You do know as surely as you know your own name that time will end for you, one way or another.
In the letters to the churches, Jesus cried out for people to live their faith wherever they were. He pleaded for people to reclaim the enthusiasm and energy of their first profession. He reminded them that the gift of his love is not something to hide in a closet; it is something to share in our faithful testimony. He warned people that we will be so filled with regret if we don’t live our testimony that the day will come we will wish rocks could fall on us.
This is what I learn from Revelation. I have a few thoughts about the similarity between the world I live in and the world of the author of Revelation. I have seen calls to worship the state that closely parallel the call to worship Roman emperors. I see all sorts of temptations in daily life to substitute human accomplishments for God’s grace and glory. But I am not able to discern any clear timeline in either Revelation or my own era that say that the final big bang is imminent. However, remembering that Christ said we never will know these things, I don’t worry about these things very much. I have something bigger to worry about.
Myself. What? Am I the most self-centered person you ever heard of? Maybe I am. I pray daily to topple SELF off the throne of my heart, but to date, I am unsuccessful at making that commitment stick. Every time I think for even a moment that I have successfully denied SELF, I am filled with such pride at the accomplishment that SELF climbs right back up on that throne. My faithful testimony is shredded by my complete inability to deny SELF once and for all and follow Christ faithfully in a life of love and service.
So I don’t worry much about the end times. I worry about these times. I worry that I will fail to give my testimony in a way that provides salt and light to a culture that is disintegrating. I don’t worry that time will end. I worry that my time will end before I ever serve Christ for even one minute in faithful testimony. It is always the end times, and I need to act like it.