“Putting Eschatology in its Place,” Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, May 16, 2010

Eschatology is the study of end times. The word comes from the Greek, Eschatos: last, farthest. (Gen.) It is a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind; (Spec.) any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment (Webster).
As world events continually rattle us we may wonder what the future holds. From volcanic ash to raging floods, from earth quakes to oil slicks, our world seems to be on shaky ground (no pun intended).
So, what’s the going rate for predicting the future? Your local fortune teller will gladly swipe your VISA and tell you what you already know, or that the time is propitious for a financial investment, or that a “mystery stranger” is about to enter your life.

But if you’re a Christian, visiting a spiritualist is out of bounds.

Unless, you call it “prophecy.”

Not surprisingly, there are lots of websites available predicting the end of time by biblical literalists under the guise of Biblical Eschatology. I do not deny the second coming of Christ or the coming of a new heaven and a new earth. But Jesus himself said no one knows the time or the season, only the Father.
Nevertheless, much of American Christendom teaches, preaches, and focuses inordinate amounts of time and money on questions such as:

• Are we living in the end times?

• Could the events of today signify that the Rapture and Tribulation will occur during our generation?

• Are ATMs, credit cards, and global banking foretelling The Mark of the Beast?

• Is the U.N. a precursor of One World Government?

If you Google “Leftbehind.com,” you can find the answers all in one place.

The site is maintained by self-proclaimed “prophecy scholar” Tim LaHaye and writer Jerry Jenkins. They created the popular Left Behind series. To date, LaHaye and Jenkins have sold over 50 million books, spawned a less-than-stellar movie, and have become two of the most popular speakers and authors in evangelical Christianity.
The franchise includes 12 best-selling novels, tapes, CDs, and even a kid’s Left Behind: series of 26 books. In a post-9/11 world, the series has become even more popular; showing a “fictional” account of what the authors predict will be end-time events.

LaHaye and Jenkins’ expound their particular view of the end of time — the Rapture (when “true Christians” are all instantly taken up into heaven), the seven years of Tribulation for those “left behind,” the creation of one evil world government ruled by the Antichrist, and so forth. LaHaye makes no bones about his political/theological predictions.

For example: “I wouldn’t be surprised in today’s geopolitical situation — and I address this in my new book Babylon Rising, where the United Nations and the European Common Market will gradually grow together and join other countries of the world against the United States, and gradually they will move the center of government to Iraq.”

No matter what the world event, the Left Behind franchise has an answer to today’s toughest questions. All it takes is a credit card.  
A lot of this is old news, but it bears repeating because of the misunderstandings that come up in various, and local, conversations.
Before Jenkins and LaHaye, Hal Lindsay had cornered the market on prophecy in the 1970s with his book The Late Great Planet Earth and its many and varied sequels. That had me scared to death!
For Lindsay, writing in the midst of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and China were the agents of the Antichrist. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, “prophets” like Lindsay had to reconfigure their apocalyptic calendars.

What Lindsay, LaHaye and Jenkins are selling isn’t all that new. For centuries Christians have been making predictions, interpreting world events, and making preparations for the return of Christ. The most recent ‘Left Behind’ wave has such an impact because of 9/11.

The truth is that it’s the “sensationalism” in “premillenial dispensation” that really sells. Many Christians seem to love the idea that the trials of this world can be escaped with one split instant in the form of the rapture—being whisked away in an instant-leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself. (Could we call that escapism?)  

It’s the stuff great thrillers are made of. Good wins out in the end and enemies are left smoldering in the ashes. It’s no wonder that these doomsday prophets are making a profit (financially).

But, is this really the point of the whole witness of Scripture? That we simply fly off to heaven in the end and too bad for you if you’re not on the plane? Is that all there is to human life on God’s green earth? No validation to this life other than as a torturous preparation for the life to come? ( I don’t think so. )

Consider this: If the Christian life is merely about going to heaven, then why is the Bible so thick? – Think about it. -- Are not those who claim to literally believe the Bible leaving out much of God’s teaching in other parts of Scripture?
Why does it take 66 books to give us all that stuff about loving neighbors and enemies, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, being stewards of the environment, and taking up our crosses? Is it merely something to do while we await the trumpet sound, or is there more to it than that?

It’s time for people to get their noses out of the novel and get back into the Book: God’s book.

The point of John’s vision in Revelation, and the reason that it’s at the end of the Bible is that it brings full circle what God has been doing from the beginning. In Genesis, God creates the world, the humans in it, and calls it “very good.”
Humans have tried for their whole history to make it less than good through their sin, their corruption, and their own imaginative ways of messing up what God so freely gave them. The biblical prophets constantly called people back to God and back to the work of being God’s people. And they did it without a book deal.
The Old Testament prophets saw it, and so will we if we’re looking close enough — that despite our repeated attempts to the contrary, God is constantly renewing, remaking, and reforming God’s creation. God cared even to the point of coming himself in Jesus Christ to give us a lesson on how to properly live in that creation with God and with each other.
Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead is (really) a validation of that creation — a foretaste of what’s to come, a renewed and resurrected life in a new and resurrected world, the way it was meant to be from the beginning.
The church’s role is to be the agent through which God is already at work bringing in the kingdom. John’s revelation simply announces to churches struggling with the task, with opposition on every side, that the work will eventually be completed, whether it’s tomorrow or 10,000 years from now.

Although the book of Revelation is filled with mysterious messages and magnificent visions it remains at its heart a letter. In its most basic form, Revelation is simply a letter sent out by a prisoner-preacher, intended to be read aloud to the small and struggling churches scattered throughout the Asian region.
As Revelation ends, John returns to the opening refrain of his concluding doxology. “The one who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (v.20; cf. Rev. 1:1,3; 3:11; 22:7) The content and verbal cues within this final chapter further remind us that like the letters of other Christian leaders, Revelation was intended to be read during worship services, probably as an introduction to celebrating the Eucharist.

As information for the church, these concluding verses also suggest their liturgical use by the churches. (The word ‘Liturgy’ merely means “for use in public service.”) In verse 16, the declaration of Jesus' messianic identity affirms the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic expectations (see Isaiah 11:1).
In verse 17, the content and structure suggest a kind of Eucharistic litany. Moved by the inspiration of the Spirit, the bride (the church) offers up a threefold "Come." This is the familiar cry of marana tha, "Our Lord, Come," This incorporates the early church’s expectations of Christ’s 2nd coming into a liturgical form of worship.
In the final invitation, / to the "one who thirsts" and is urged to "come" / may serve as an invitation to the Eucharistic table (The Lord’s Supper).  
In direct response to this earnest three--fold invitation for Jesus to "come," Jesus himself affirms for a third time that he is coming soon (22:7, 12, 20).
Jesus' ringing "yes" ("I will come") is answered by the only appropriate human response, "Amen." And with a sense of liturgical finality, the text closes with one more marana tha, "Come, Lord Jesus."
Jesus certainly is “coming soon” (22:7), no doubt about it.  Not to take us away, but to take over. The coming of Jesus is assumed. When is not the critical issue; let’s get past that.

In the meantime, we need to quit looking up and start looking at the world around us — the world that you and I are supposed to be working to change, not escape. Instead of spending money and valuable time trying to interpret the signs of the times in order to predict the future, why not invest it in local or foreign mission or your church’s ministry.

World events will continue to stir things up, and there’s little we can do to prevent or provoke them. Better to focus on what we can do — what we’re called and commanded to do: Forget about escaping the world and get on with engaging it with the grace and love of God.

When Jesus returns, in whatever way that’s going to happen, what will he find us busy doing? Will we be caught looking up aimlessly, scanning the latest newspaper, or reading a Left Behind novel?
Or, will we be found doing the work of the kingdom here and now, making this world more and more into what God created it to be in the first place? In Genesis, God commands mortals to nurture and cultivate Creation: animal and mineral; flora and fauna; but especially each other; humanity. Taking care of this world in the here and now is an eschatological action.
What we do now moves us into the future. Don’t worry about tomorrow—God is already there! Really, that’s all we need to know. God had this world’s future and our personal future in His loving, caring, protecting Hand.

Rev. Rosemary Stelz, First Presbyterian Church, Bastrop, Louisiana

  June 2021  
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