Sunday, August 21, 2016

If You Think . . . (12)


Ch.12: You’d Like (Hate) Living in the End Times

          If you think you’d like to live in the end times, or if that scares the hell out of you, I’ve got really great or really bad news for you! YOU DO!

That’s right, you and I live in what the Bible calls the end times. That’s the whole period from Jesus’ resurrection to his return. It is his resurrection that demonstrates this. For Jews, who expected a general resurrection of the dead on the day when God intervenes to set all things right, the inescapable meaning of the resurrection of a Jew in the middle of time was that the Day of the Lord had arrived and the end times were upon them. This is certainly how the Jews who wrote the New Testament documents took it.

-in both the gospel and letters of John “eternal life” (the life of the age to come) is a reality Christians can experience in the here and now as well as the then and there.

-Paul describes the Corinthians as those “on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1Cor.10:11).

-the author of Hebrews tells his readers that in contrast to the many various ways God has spoken to his people in the past, now “in these last days” God has spoken through his Son (Heb.1:1-2).

          Jews expected a linear unfolding of history. There was the present evil age which God would end by his intervention which would inaugurate the new creation God had long promised. Christians, under the impact of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, realized it was going to be more complex than that. With Jesus’ resurrection bringing in the last days which were also the dawning of God’s new creation, yet with the defeated and decaying old age continuing on, there is an overlap that characterizes the time in which the church lives.

Both the old age and the new intermingle in this time between Christ’s resurrection and his return. This is the like the period between D-Day and V-Day for Allied forces in the European theater. Victory was assured on D-Day (Christ’s resurrection) but the hostilities did not cease until about a year later when treaties were signed on V-Day (Christ’s return). In this in-between time, full of ambiguity and complexity, the church is called to be God’s Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement. That’s chief among the reasons life as God’s people is difficult.

But that’s also why it’s crucial for us to know what time we live in. Though the old age continues on, winding down, as it were, we already inhabit the new age, God’s realm (Colossians 1:13). We occupy the same space and history but see it and respond to it out the new life already at work within and among us. We are a “back from future” people who know and experience here and now in part the life we will experience in full and forever then and there.

John’s language for this is being “in” the world but not “of” it. Christians don’t escape the world and its struggles, nor do they segregate into “holy huddles” and let the world go by. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this:

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared' (Luther).”                                                            

And again he writes, our life as Christians is

“. . .living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”

There are good times, then, living in the end times. But there is also much distress, sadness, struggle, and loss that goes with living as God’s SCRM, his “back from the future” people. But in the strange alchemy of divine love such struggle and loss are the ingredients of God’s victory. Jesus even blesses his followers who “mourn” with the promise that they shall be comforted (Matthew.5:4). Paul captures this beautifully in his “Christ Hymn” in Philippians 5:6-11 where he says about Christ:

“who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

          Paul’s own report on his and his associates life and ministry reads like a transcript of his description of Christ:

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
          So there you have it. Whether you want to or not, as a Christian, you live in the “end times.” This conflicted and confusing time as the old age decays and the new age moves toward its noontime of Christ’s return, we remain in the struggle of implementing and expanding the victory of Christ throughout the world in the strange and paradoxical way we’ve seen it played out in Christ and Paul. This is the way of victory however unlikely that may seem.

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