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Rev 1,1-3 Rev 22 Eschatolgy, an anabaptist perspective (05)

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Message:   “The Time is Near”

 

Revelation 1:1-3

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.

Revelation 3:20-22

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,

“something’s wrong.

It’s later than it’s ever been before!”[1]

 

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.

Nelson Kraybill,

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”

(155).

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

(Rev. 3:7-13),

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,

including Mennonites,

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

(Friedmann),

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.

(Friedmann 103).

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”

(Friedmann 110).

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.”

But rather,

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.”


----

[1]Morgan, Robert J. Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook : 2004 Edition, Page 271. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004.

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