Message: “The Time is Near”
The revelation of Jesus Christ,
which God gave him to show his servants
what must soon take place.
He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
2 who testifies to everything he saw —
that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy,
and blessed are those who hear it
and take to heart what is written in it,
because the time is near.
20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
21To him who overcomes,
I will give the right to sit with me on my throne,
just as I overcame and sat down
with my Father on his throne.
22He who has an ear,
let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
A little boy came downstairs one day
and heard the clock begin to chime.
It chimed thirteen times.
“Mom,” he said excitedly,
It’s later than it’s ever been before!”
Reading the Book of Revelation
can easily make us a bit paranoid or anxious
because of the many cryptic messages
and some of the hidden symbolism.
Many of the popular End Times prophesies tell us,
that we better brace ourselves for the “rapture”
and for the “tribulation”
because “the Beast” has been set free…
And if you don’t believe that this is so,
then just look at how the European Union of Nations
is forming the alliance of 10 World Powers
that will march into the final battle over Jerusalem…
and on and on.
I have read only one of the Books by Jenkins and LaHaye
in the “Left Behind” series…
but, it sometimes frightens me when I hear
how many Christians gobble up that stuff as “Gospel Truth”.
I checked out the “Left Behind” Web page
to get an update on the End times… (forgive my sarcasm)
Listen to this add:
“We've got exciting news!
In March, Tyndale will release
a special 10th Anniversary edition of Left Behind.
And that's not all we have in store for you in 2005!
No, there won't be one book for every year of the millennium,
but instead of a single "prequel"
there will be a "Countdown to the Rapture" trilogy
describing the background of the characters
and events you already know from the series.
The first of these, The Rising,
will be on store shelves on March 1,
along with the 10th Anniversary edition of Left Behind.
The next book in the Countdown series
will come in November,
and the final one is slated for June 6, 2006
(That’s right, for those of you are keeping track
of the sign of the beast, that’s 6/6/06!).
Right now, a single sequel is planned for March 2007.
(I guess that’s just in case the calculations were wrong).
Popular eschatology (that’s a technical term for
the study of the last things or final events)
and much traditional Christian thinking about heaven
and the end times
have taken a literalistic approach
to interpreting the apocalyptic or “end times”
literature of the Bible.
the president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries,
says in a Christianity Today article (Oct. 25, 1999 31ff) 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.”
When our “end-times-thinking” is separated
from the Good News
that we are already living in the Kingdom now
and that we catch glimpses of “heaven”
as we reach out in love and reconciliation to others,
we end up with a distorted and fanatical view
of the end time.
Heaven is more about living out God’s grace and justice
in our everyday lives
than about waiting for an angry God
to destroy the earth in his wrath
and to bring in the eternal Kingdom at the end of time.
Throughout the history of Christianity
there have been periods of great emphasis,
if not hysteria, about the end times.
Albert Schweitzer points out that this
goes back to Jesus himself.
The formula “The Kingdom of God is like…”
is characteristic of Jesus’ parables and sayings.
According to Schweitzer,
Jesus believed that the end of the world
was just around the corner.
We see this in many passages;
for instance, when Jesus sends his disciples to preach,
he says to them,
“You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel,
before the Son of man comes” (Matt. 10:23).
Another important passage is Luke 17:20-21,
“The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs
to be observed…
for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you”
(or within you).
C. H. Dodd claimed that the Kingdom of God
had indeed already come with Jesus.
In Mark 1, we read about the events that followed Jesus’ baptism:
14After John was put in prison,
Jesus went into Galilee,
proclaiming the good news of God.
15“The time has come,” he said.
“The kingdom of God is near.
Repent and believe the good news!”
The early Christian church proclaimed the message
that the Kingdom of God was not just a future hope,
but something that had already begun in Jesus Christ.
The new age of God’s victory over death and sin
was realized in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Jesus warns us not to speculate about the date and time
when all these things will come to pass.
“No one knows about that day or hour,
not even the angels in heaven,
nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36).
Rather we must live as citizens of the Kingdom now
in anticipation of its full manifestation.
But, speculation about the end times
has always been a fascination for the church.
Cyprian, the early church father, agreed with some Stoic writers
that the poor crops and famines gave indication
that the earth was getting tired and needed renewing.
Irenaeus, another early church father,
believed that Christ’s return
would bring in the millennial reign of God
with unimaginable blessings (Kraus 132).
Gregory the Great, who became pope in 590 AD,
saw an immanent end of the world
because of the “unspeakable Lombards”,
a germanic tribe
that caused all kinds of chaos for the pope.
An apocalyptic monk named Joachim of Fiore
set the date for the end of the world for 1260,
which was to coincide with Fredrick II’s planned crusade
and conquest of Jerusalem (Erb 153).
The period of the Reformation also
was a time of intense apocalyptic expectation,
like many other periods in history.
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 and printed materials
depicted the pope and his Cardinals
as the “whore of Babylon”.
Those who thought that they were living in the last days
read apocalyptic literature with great interest.
“The end of history, judgment day,
the fulfillment of time, the parousia (Christ’s 2nd coming)
and the kingdom of God…
was alertly anticipated as God’s plan now” (Friedmann 102).
Most Reformers, however,
did not speculate about the date of such a catastrophic event.
But there were some:
The Anabaptist Bernard Rothman
calculated from numbers in the Bible
that the Reformation would bring Christ to Germany in 1533.
William Miller, an Adventist,
revised his earlier date for the great day from 1843 to 1844.
Paul Erb states with a note of sarcasm that
“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!” (154).
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 waiting for Christ’s return.
Two years later he conceded
that the Lord had delayed his return.
Erb's commentary on this episode is sobering:
“The complex tragedy of [Claas Epp’s] life
and the Great Trek to an Eastern wilderness
was due largely to a controversial and fanatical eschatology.
It is a chapter of Mennonite history
which should not be forgotten,
for it has much to teach
about what a biblical and spiritual eschatology should be”
In the Preface to his book
Armageddon and the Peaceable Kingdom,
Walter Klaassen reports,
“In 1873 my great-grandfather Martin Klaassen
published a book of Mennonite history…
In the final chapter,
he sketched out his conviction
that world history was rapidly moving toward its end,
at the return of Christ for salvation and judgement.
He was so sure of his forecast that,
with a group of Mennonites
who saw themselves as the church of Philadelphia
he left his home near the Volga River in Russia.
He and his family trekked to Kazakhstan in Central Asia. There they sought a refuge
during the time of tribulation
that was about to come over the earth,
and awaited the early return of Christ” (12).
One has to wonder why millions of Christians,
continue to buy into this kind of apocalyptic end times mania.
Donald Wagner offers this explanation
in the Foreword to Klaassen’s book:
“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 publishing houses,
TV Evangelists, and authors
who continue to meet the hunger for predictive prophesy” (Klaassen, Armageddon 9).
Mennonites, like so many other people,
have a spiritual hunger to know
what is going to happen in the future.
We crave for 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
can’t be wrong.
Today, in the beginning years of a new Millennium,
apocalyptic speculation is again on the rise.
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 26f).
In today’s popular view of eschatology
we see a violent understanding of the coming of God
as a vengeful judge
and cosmic disaster of the magnitude
the world has not seen before.
Over against this view,
Anabaptists offer a perspective of a quiet eschatology
also referred to as the coming of the peaceable kingdom (Klaassen).
Let’s take a look at an Anabaptist view of the End Times:
Paul Althaus (Lutheran Theologian)
first drew attention to an element of quietness
in Anabaptist eschatological thinking
in his book Die Letzten Dinge (The Last Things):
In their zeal for mission
they believed that Christ’s return
and our responsibility to invite others into the Kingdom
are closely connected.
While we wait for Christ’s Kingdom to come,
We must accept full responsibility in the here and now
for concentrating all activities on the coming kingdom.
On the one hand,
there was an emphasis
on the expectation of Christ’s 2nd coming.
Rather than becoming fanatical about date-predictions,
and mathematical sequences of events,
they emphasised a quiet or inner preparation and readiness.
On the other hand,
the Book of Revelation, Matthew 24, Mark 13,
Luke 21, the Book of Daniel,
and several apocalyptic writings from the Apocrypha
(such as the Fourth Book of Esdras)
gave them hope in their waiting.
The majority of Anabaptists
preferred a quiet approach to thinking about the end times.
They withdrew from the world
into a small community of saints
ready for the kingdom whenever it might come.
And, they engaged in intense mission work
to increase the number
of genuine disciples for the kingdom” (105).
“This kingdom of God is already among us
in the small brotherhoods…
where hatred and violence are absent
as far as humanly possible,
and where sin is fought as well as possible”
The imminent coming of the Kingdom
requires preparation and watchfulness
(Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21).
“The time is later than it has ever been before.”
Only the pure of heart will enter the Kingdom.
Citizenship in the kingdom of God
is marked by participation
in a close community of committed disciples.
In Anabaptist writings the “Gemeinde” (Community of Faith)
is the best description
of what the Kingdom of God looks like.
It is a community of grace, love, and forgiveness
that is actively involved in calling men and women
out of the world and into communion with God’s elect. “Nachfolge” (lit. “following after” or discipleship)
is the mark of childlike obedience to God
and participation in God’s Kingdom.
In response to the apocalyptic frenzy
of popular eschatology
we are invited to take a serious look
at the early Anabaptist vision
of quietly yet actively waiting for Christ’s return.
We are summoned to holy living as a people of mission.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5, 6, and 7)
gives us a picture
of how men and women are to respond to the Good News
that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Citizenship in God’s Kingdom requires an attitude
of passionate service and love of others.
Dorothee Sölle suggests that (106)
all the speculation and the preoccupation
about the end-times is a clever diversion
that takes our minds off the injustices in our society
as in the time of Jesus.
“The Kingdom of God is within you,” Jesus said.
For that reason, we cannot just sit and wait
to be snatched out of this world
just before the tribulation
while we watch how
the rest of the world goes to hell in a hand basket.
We live between the times with a firm conviction
that God’s revelation has already come in Jesus Christ,
but that there is more to come.
“Noch ist die Gnadenzeit”
(“We are still in a time of grace”).
The hour is later than it has ever been.
And, 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 who are still outside of the church.
It is a time of lovingly binding up the broken-hearted.
A time for giving sight to the blind;
food to the hungry;
clothes to the naked;
freedom to the oppressed.
We are invited to look into the future with faith.
Our challenge is to wait for Christ’s coming
not with fear and anxiety,
but with evangelistic confidence.
Not by looking into a crystal ball and proclaiming,
“behold the earthquakes, tsunamis and train crashes -
there it is! The end is near.”
in view of the coming of God’s Kingdom,
to be clear-minded (1 Peter 4:7-19).
We must evaluate what we see and what we hear,
not on the basis of popular opinion,
but on the basis of the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s caution in 2 Thess. 2:1 is good advise,
“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our being gathered to him,
we ask you, brothers [and sisters],
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…”
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.”
Morgan, Robert J. Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook : 2004 Edition, Page 271. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004.