Tag Archives: end times

The End of Time Doesn’t Matter

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jo...
Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s readings:
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36
 

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Luke 21:33 

As the day of Jesus’ death approached, he packed a lot of guidance and instruction into the time he had left in the flesh. The gospel for today includes comments ranging to the end of time. A lot of people spend a lot of time trying to figure out when that moment will come, but that is not the reason Jesus said these words. When he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” he meant to be lifting the concerns of the disciples out of the rut of prophetic decoding.

It is easy for people to be lured into attempts to sort out the prophecies in an attempt to put the date for the end of the world in their calendars. People like calendars. The popularity of organizers and self-help books about time management attest to human fixation on taking control of the flow of time. Yes, I said control of the flow. Human beings do not like the fact that we can’t get a grip on time and slow it down or speed it up at will. Time is completely beyond our reach. Yet humans organize and prioritize and multi-task endlessly in an attempt to control time, anyway. The fact that nobody knows when it will end is distressing. How will we ever get everything done by then? Jesus wanted people to know that his message transcends time. If time is out of control, his word is true. If time is over, his word is true. We don’t need to know when time will end. It is irrelevant to his claim on us and our faith in him.

Those words have two additional values for Christians.

First, no matter what is going on in our lives, Jesus’ words do not lose their power or their relevance. When we become physically ill, we take medicine. There are many different medicines to take, and it is important to use the right one for each disease. Sadly, it is also important to use them with discretion, because some medicines lose their effectiveness with repetition. The words of Jesus apply in all places at all times, and they never lose their effectiveness. His words are true, always.

Second, even if everything in time and space dissolves into eternity, the words of Christ continue to be true and relevant. Nothing that happens now or in eternity changes the message of Christ. Human project management is big on deadlines and milestones. Work must be done as required. We love projects that come in on time and under budget. For that accomplishment to have any meaning, we need to know the point at which the project would be considered a failure. Yet Christ tells us that it doesn’t matter when time ends. His call to us, his claim on us, his words to us do not change just because time ends. When John was given the vision he recorded in Revelation, the crucial element in the vision was the presence of the slaughtered lamb at the right hand of God in the heavenly throne room. Christ and his words are as relevant after history ends as they are today.

Then why did Jesus even bring up the “end times?” His point is not to send us into a calculating tizzy. His point is to remind us that there is no time to waste. We need to be doing his will and living his way right now. We need to get started. We need to be busy doing it right now. His point was not to tell us that we have some certain amount of time to share his love with the world so we can organize our time in little packets and meet some milestone. He wants us to start sharing his love right now and keep doing it till we go to meet him through the doorway of death or until he does, in fact, return.

When Jesus burst on the scene, the gospel writers record that the Holy Spirit fell on him at baptism, and after that, as he roamed the cities and countryside, he talked about “the kingdom of God” coming near. Jesus the Messiah was God in the flesh, and when he came near, the kingdom did, indeed, come near. After Christ’s ascension, the Holy Spirit fell on his followers, and in Paul’s words, their bodies became temples for the Holy Spirit. The first century Christians, and twenty-first century Christians and Christians in the future till the end of time bring the kingdom with them wherever they go because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Our work is to be the kingdom in the midst of humanity, sharing the love of Christ with everyone we meet. We don’t look in our organizers to see if today is a “witness to Christ” day. Every day is a day for our testimony, because every day Christ’s words are true and Christ’s love is relevant.

It isn’t easy to be faithful. People resist Christ’s words. People resist Christ’s love. People actually become angry when we bring the kingdom of God near. Jesus had the same experience. He brought the kingdom near to the scribes and Pharisees, and they conspired to crucify him. We risk the same fate. Sometimes the resistance is mild, as when someone told me recently that I should not be talking about religion in a conversation about what government ought to look like. Sometimes the resistance is fierce, like when Nigerian church members were ambushed as they left church one Sunday; some were killed, and many were wounded, just because their Muslim neighbors resented the existence of a Christian church in their neighborhood. We must be prepared for people to be upset or even violent in reaction to our faithful testimony.

Jesus told about the way the world will end, and told us he would return, so we would have that truth to build our hope. That information prepares us for the way things really are. The fact that we can’t possibly know when or where to expect to see the end should take the panic away. We don’t have a deadline or a milestone to worry about. All we need to do is be faithful every day. One day he will come again, and when he does, nobody will fail to see it. In the meantime we simply do the one thing he has asked us to do: share his love with everyone we meet. His message will always be timely and relevant, because, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but [Christ’s] words will not pass away.

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It’s Always the End Times

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.