Springfield Heights Mennonite Church:
Y2K Ready! - 1 Peter 4: 7-19
We are in the Advent season, which is a celebration of Christ’s first coming into the world, and during which we also celebrate our hope that Christ will come again. The topic of today’s message has to do with the End-times, the coming of God’s Kingdom. And the question that we want to contemplate is whether we are ready for this coming kingdom? The big word for the study of the end-times is Eschatology.
As we approach the new Millennium there is a lot of hype about the Y2K problem. (What are some of the things that you have observed in connection with the Y2K issue? What is the issue?)
[For several years already many companies have worked around the clock to find a solution for the Year 2000 computer bug. The “Y2K Bug” is a computer related issue that has many people speculating about what could happen if computers should produce the wrong date on January 1st, 2000. This all comes in an age of fear, uncertainty and much speculation about the future.
In Hollywood too, Christian filmmakers are jumping on the End-times bandwagon by producing multi-million dollar Films with titles such as Left Behind, Apocalypse, Revelation, Tribulation, The Omen, A Thief in the Night, The Omega Code, The Book of Life, End of Days, and, no doubt many others yet to come (Christianity Today, October 25, 1999 26f). (By the way I noticed a lot of similar titles in our church library).
The films, as well as countless books by popular “Eschatologists” (that is, people who write about the end–times), show a violent picture of the end of the world. The true Christians, they claim, will be raptured out of this world so that they will not have to suffer the tribulation and disaster to come.
I do not for a minute deny the possibility that some people will live in eternal separation from God because of their evil ways. Some will cut themselves off from the eternal presence of God. But, these popular eschatologists overstep their bounds when they make predictions with “pin-point precision” on the basis of some highly figurative passages in the books of Daniel and Revelation.
Let me illustrate: Nelson Kraybill, the president of AMBS, says in a Christianity Today (Oct. 25, 1999)article that, “If you read a telephone book as though it’s a novel, you’re likely to be confused. Something like that happened to Revelation in the church.” Furthermore, “Don’t get trapped with wooden literalism – unless you really expect to get to heaven and find that Jesus is a sheep.”
But, speculation about the furniture of heaven and the temperature of hell has always been a fascination for the church. If we take a 2000-year look back into the rearview mirror of Christian history we come up with some interesting facts:
1. Would you believe that Jesus himself, when he sent out his disciples to preach, made an end-time prediction? He said to them, “You will not have gone through all the town of Israel, before the Son of man comes” (Matt. 10:23).
Again, in Luke 17 20 “Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
Furthermore, we must heed Jesus’ warning not to speculate about the date and time when “all these things will take place”, 36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36).
2. Paul also expected to be alive when Jesus came as Lord. He believed that the dead in Christ would be raised incorruptible, while those still alive would be given new (‘spiritual’) bodies in order to ‘inherit’ the Kingdom of God, which he visualized as a heavenly community up ‘in the air’ (1 Cor. 15:35-53; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:13-18) (HBD Eschatology).
3. Many other New Testament writers like Peter, James, the writer of Hebrews, and of course the Book of Revelation also have things to say about the end times.
4. Christians from the beginnings of the Christian church onward have had a fascination with end-time prophecy.
· Cyprian, the church father, agreed with some Stoic writers that the poor crops and famines in his day gave indication that the earth was getting tired and needed renewing.
· Irenaeus believed that Christ’s return would soon bring in the millennial reign of God with unspeakable blessings (Kraus 132).
· An apocalyptic monk named Joahim of Fiore set the date for the end of the world for 1260, which was to coincide with Fredrick II’s planned crusade to Jerusalem (Erb 153).
5. The Reformation in the 16th Century took place in a Zeitgeist (Spirit of the Age) of end-time speculation . Martin Luther, for instance, found the Book of Daniel to be a real “comforter in these last days.” To many Reformers the institution of the papacy was the anti-Christ predicted in the Book of Revelation. Countless works of art as well as printed materials depicted the pope and his Cardinals as the “whore of Babylon”. The Pope, of course, returned the favor and said that Luther was the anti-Christ. Those who thought that they were living in the last days read the apocalyptic literature with great interest. “The end of history, judgment day, the fulfillment of time, the parousia (second coming) and the kingdom of God – this sequence of events was alertly anticipated as God’s plan now” (Friedmann 102).
6. William Miller, an Adventist, revised his earlier date for the great day of judgement from 1843 to 1844.
7. “Jehovah’s Witnesses first announced 1874 as the end of the present world system. They later made it 1914, 1915, 1975. A new date will probably be set soon!” (Erb 154).
8. An early Anabaptist by the name of Bernhard Rothman calculated from numbers in the Bible that the Reformation would bring Christ to Germany in 1533.
Among Mennonites the most notable date-setting fiasco came in Russia, when Claas Epp Jr., influenced by the German pietist Heinrich Jung-Stilling, “built up a following which was persuaded to look to the East to Turkestan, east of the Caspian Sea, where they expected Christ to come and… to set up a spiritual-economic-political reign”. On March 8, 1889 his congregation, dressed in white clothes, fasted and prayed on the churchyard waiting for Christ’s return. Two years later he conceded that the Lord had forgotten him and delayed his return.
“The complex tragedy of [Claas Epp’s] life and the Great Trek to an Eastern wilderness was due largely to a controversial and fanatical end-time speculation. It is a chapter of Mennonite history which should not be forgotten, because it has much to teach us about what a biblical and spiritual eschatology should be” (155).
Jesus does not call us to escape the pain of the world into a quiet dessert where we selfishly sit and await his return. Christ calls his church to mission.
One has to wonder, Why do millions of Christians, including Mennonites, continue to buy into this kind of apocalyptic end-times mania?
Donald Wagner makes the point that, “Hal Lindsey’s, Late Great Planet Earth in 1970 began to satisfy a growing appetite in North America for speculation about the end-times. Although over 90 percent of Lindsey’s predictions have proved false, his volumes have sold over twenty-five million copies, more than any book in history other than the Bible. An industry has been created by certain Christian [writers], TV Evangelists, and authors who continue to meet the hunger for predictive prophesy” (Klaassen 9).
Mennonites, like so many other people, have a spiritual hunger to know what is going to happen in the future. We want to have some assurance that we will be OK when we stand before our Maker. And so, in our quest for the meaning of our lives we look for neatly packaged answers from these doomsday prophets. After all, twenty five million people who buy this stuff hook, line and sinker can’t be wrong.
I would like to suggest that all the speculation and the preoccupation about the end-times is a clever diversion of the Devil. It takes our minds off the real agenda of living the life of discipleship in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is within you, that is in our midst right here and now! The beginning of the end has already come. But it is not yet fully realized. There is more to come. And in the hope and anticipation of that which is still to come, the faithful church is called to mission.
Mennonite End-times theology has always been strongly linked to Jesus teaching about the Kingdom of God. Waiting for the full manifestation of God’s Kingdom when Christ comes again does not mean sitting and waiting to be snatched out of this world just before the tribulation comes and the rest of the world goes to hell. The Anabaptists knew that they were living between the times. …that God had already revealed himself in Jesus Christ, but that there was more to come. “Noch ist die Gnadenzeit,” they would say. (We are still in a time of grace). But, this time of grace is a time of passionate activity when the Spirit of God works through the church, extending God’s love and grace to those that are still outside of the church. It is a time of lovingly binding up the broken-hearted. To give sight to the blind. To feed the hungry. To give freedom to the prisoners.
We are invited to look into the future in faith. As we confront our Zeitgeist (the Spirit of our Time), the negativity about the state of the world on the eve of a new millennium, we are challenged to be a prophetic voice in the world. As members and friends of the SHMC we are called to step into the next millennium with evangelistic confidence. Not by looking into a crystal ball and proclaiming “see the earthquakes, hurricanes and airplane crashes – there it is! The end is near.” But rather, by following the down-to-earth wisdom of Peter and Paul, who learnt a thing or two about the Kingdom of God from the Master himself.
Let’s look at the advice of 1Pe 4:7-19. The Kingdom of God is at hand (the end of all things is near), so:
· Fear not! “I am with you always until the end of the world,” says Jesus.
· Be clear-minded: evaluate what you see and what you hear, not on the basis of popular opinion, but on the basis of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
· Paul says in 2 Thess. 2:1 “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter… saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way…
· Pray that many more would be added to the number of those who are being saved.
· Above all, love each other deeply: By this the world will know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for the other.
· Stop gossiping and talking negatively about others, but lift each other up out of reverence for Christ.
· Love covers a multitude of sins.
· Offer Hospitality without grumbling.
· Use your gifts freely to serve one another, as God has given you the gifts: speaking, serving, financial.
· The Kingdom of God will be fully realized when the lion sleeps with the lamb; when a young child plays by the nest of the rattle snake; when the traditional patterns of hierarchy, power and position are fully changed into equal, communal, and mutual relationships (in Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew or Greek, slave or free).
· This picture is the total opposite of the violent end of the world that is characteristic of much end times speculation.
As SHMC we are ready for God’s kingdom of peace and justice as we learn to live in peace with a passion for others. The question that we are left with is: “Are we Y2K compatible?” “Are we ready for God’s eternal Kingdom of peace, justice and mutuality?”
Nelson Kraybill leaves us with this challenge, “Evangelicals have been distracted long enough with debates about the sequence of Christ’s return, the Tribulation, the millennium, and the New Jerusalem. Jesus warned against such speculation and instructed his followers to get on with mission work (Acts 1:7-8). The main intent of Christian teaching about the future is to call God’s people to holiness and bold allegiance to Jesus in our present life and witness. We need Holy Spirit guidance and full trust in the God who was, is and forever will be.
Then we will be ready for whatever challenges come our way.