One night this past weekend, as my wife and I were putting the kids to bed, our 4 year old daughter looked at me and said, “Daddy, I can’t wait for Jesus to come back, ’cause I want to see him.” Not long ago she made a similar declaration that she wanted Jesus to come back so she could give him a big hug. You see, for Janna, getting the chance to actually see and feel Jesus is one of the greatest joys she can imagine. She wants to know him the way that she knows her family. She loves him, and knows that he loves her. In some ways I think Janna has a better grasp on eschatology, on living forward, than many theologians, myself included.
In the last few weeks I have had a number of conversations with Christians that indicate there is a great amount of fear in their lives. Sometimes this fear is centered around world events, sometimes around things that are misunderstood or mysterious, and sometimes around everyday concerns about finances, health, and the like. The most pronounced fear, however, concerns the return of Jesus or for lack of a more identifiable phrase ‘the end times’.
I have commented elsewhere on my disdain for ‘Left Behind’ theology, so I won’t go into much detail here. But the main reasons that I disagree with the idea that we should expect a rapture, great tribulation, and years of intense despair before the return of Christ are three-fold. In summary, they are:
1) This reading of Revelation is inconsistent with the history of Christian interpretation. The idea of ‘rapture’ or escape from the present world in advance of Christ’s coming is a fairly recent notion, surfacing just a couple hundred years ago, during a time of great distress. Throughout the vast majority of Church history, this has not been the way that Revelation is read or interpreted. Only in recent years have we come to the conclusion that we are more informed than the early church about such things, and therefore more qualified to interpret passages like Revelation. Such arrogance is devastating to both Christian witness and practice.
2) A ‘left behind’ reading of Revelation creates a huge distraction in the lives of Christians (the Church). The fear-mongering that comes as a direct result of this interpretation of scripture takes the focus off of Christ, and places it on temporal events. Any reading of scripture that misdirects the reader from Jesus to something else is an errant reading.
3) As mentioned above, this interpretation of Revelation generates fear in the lives of believers.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippian church, spends a few moments talking about his imprisonment for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He acknowledges that he might be martyred for his faith, and makes the following declaration. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (http://bible.us/Phil1.21.NIV84) This isn’t just a flippant statement mad in the midst of despair. Paul was stating his true belief that the greatest goal was to be with Christ in eternity. Yet he was also acknowledging that he had God-given work to do as long as he remained in this life. Paul was not interested in escaping the present, even if it meant the immediate realization of his goal. For him, living now was an important step toward final glory. He was living forward.
Scripture has a lot to say about fear and about how Christians are not called to live lives consumed by it (Just a few notable passages are listed below in the ‘further reading’ section). Rather, as children of the living God, we are called to live as those who have been liberated from fear, sin, and the ways of the world. We are called to live in light of Christ’s imminent return; not anticipating it with dread and worry, but with joy and excitement.
We are called to live as little children, who trust their loving Father to give them good gifts, not fear.
So I ask you this morning, when you think about the return of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, do you become fearful? Are you anxious? If so, cast your worries on the Lord, and he will renew your strength. Ask Christ for the his peace, so that you can begin living forward, looking toward the return of our Lord and Savior with great joy.
For more on eschatology and the use of Revelation in the life of the church, check out my good friend Chad’s blog:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27-30 – http://bible.us/John14.27-30.NIV84)
Psalm 56:11 – http://bible.us/Ps56.11.NIV84
Matthew 10:23-32 – http://bible.us/Matt10.23-32.NIV84
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.” (Luke 12:4-10 – http://bible.us/Luke12.4-10.NIV84)