‘This is that’ declares the present relevance of what God has previously done, while ‘then is now’ does not abolish the future but declares the present relevance of what God will assuredly do.
James McClendon (Doctrine, 69)
Eschatology. A word that looks intimidating and ‘scholarly.’ It means what comes last…in the end. In the New Testament, eschatology is made up of ‘end pictures’ that portray what will happen at the end of time—to the created world and to God’s people:
The Final Judgment
Jesus Christ Returning
Death, Hell and Heaven
A new heavens and a new earth
The stormy clouds of heaven
The thief who comes by night
A recurrent, naked human figure
A great dragon
A certain thousands years
The keys of the kingdom
A trumpet sounding
THE RULE OF GOD
These scenes tend to evoke a mixture of excitement, intrigue and fear in even the most faithful of Jesus’ followers and they are pictures that have had a long history, with one picture being emphasized over against the others during different periods of history and different contexts on the globe.
McClendon refers to them as…
the pictures, the true, glinting, dancing, awesome, God-given visions that, collected, constitute promise and warning to God’s people. [Doctrine, 91]
The New Testament is most adamant, however, about the ‘rule of God’ as a present reality in the world today. Like the next President of the United States beginning his ‘rule’ on ‘Inauguration Day,’ January 20, 2009, we live in a time of ‘inaugurated eschatology,’ beginning on the first Easter Sunday. God has inaugurated his rule through the life, death and shocking resurrection of Jesus and communities who follow Jesus today have a unique mission.
What comes last is at hand now.
The ‘end-pictures’ are compressed so that we experience this reality now, impartially. God’s rule has broken into this world and the people of God offer a foretaste of the end to the world. It is an ‘overlap’ of the ages: the ‘new age’ of God’s rule has broken into the ‘old age’ of sin and death. We are an ‘eschatological people’ who are not fulfilled by the drama of our own lives, but instead the adventure of what God is doing in the world—transforming it and restoring it with love, compassion, humility, obedience and service.
God’s rule, according to McClendon, is represented by the ‘master picture’ of Revelation 4-5 that hovers over all the other ‘end pictures’: the Lamb who was slain-—Jesus the crucified and risen One! With this master picture before us, each community lives out the ‘politics of the Lamb’ until the End.
Christian communities have had quite an obsession with The End Times and many Christians are quite confident that they know exactly what is going to happen in those final days. However, if so many of God’s people, Israel, were quite shocked and scandalized in 1st century Palestine [to the point of unbelief] by what Christian communities believe to have been God’s very action in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, then is it not reasonable to think that many, many Christians will be utterly shocked and scandalized by what He, in fact, will do ‘in the end of the Great Story’?
Our goal, then, living in a time between the times—with God’s actively present rule in the midst of other ideas of power, domination, and manipulation—is to live accordingly to the ‘politics of the Lamb’: forgiveness, enemy love and service to the broken world. An authentic Christianity rejects any form of arrogant or dominating claims to truth [about the End or anything else] but instead lives out this ‘master picture’ of the Lamb who was humbly, obediently slain for the world. God’s election of a people for himself [Israel, Jesus Christ, the church] does not focus on favoritism, but instead ‘as opportunity for suffering service’ [Doctrine, 97].
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
I Cor 13:12
In the first coming of Christ, a new age was inaugurated, but the old age and its evil have lingered on, defeated but menacing, so that our present is still a time between the times, in which there is a necessary struggle between the two realms until the consummation in Christ’s last coming [Doctrine, 96].
1. How have the ‘end times’ been taught to you in the past? What significance has it had in your life of faith?
2. Have the ‘end pictures’ been portrayed differently in this meeting than you have understood them in the past? How so?
3. Why should the scene of the ‘Lamb who was slain’ in Revelation 4-5 be the ‘master picture over all other ‘end pictures?’ Has one of the other ‘end pictures’ been a ‘master picture’ for you in the past? Explain.
For Further Reading:
Doctrine, McClendon [Chapter 2]
The popularity and success in North America of the Left-Behind series of novels [including the video game recently released] is utterly shocking. Many Christians who have never laid hands on the books or movies, let alone the video game, have truly been influenced by the powerful message of the Rapture. This message is what McClendon calls ‘eschatology without peace.’ The consequence of this questionable reading of Revelation and other End Times passages has been an increasingly diminishing concern for the future of the earth and a complete disregard for any quest for peace. ‘The Rapture’ versus ‘the Lamb who was Slain’: how dramatically different are these ‘master pictures’ of the End Times? This competition of end pictures clearly forces us to choose which will master our lives. We simply cannot underestimate the effect that these images have on the lifestyle of Christians in our culture!