End Times? Then what to do with the risen Lord?

This world has been invaded by the other-worldly. In fact, that is what Easter is all about! Jesus was really dead, but when he came back he was more than just resuscitated, he was resurrected. And because He is alive Jesus intends that this world never be the same again now. The resurrection isn’t just the evidence that death doesn’t win – it is the evidence that Jesus’ life wins – and that life is to matter in the here and now.

Easter week is unquestionably the most significant time on the Christian calendar and rightfully so. I wonder – do we just do it by rote? I mean, have we thought about the implications of those few short days in AD 1st century? N. T. Wright is correct, I think, in saying that we often so focus on the cross to the exclusion of the resurrection. Not that the cross isn’t of primary importance of course; but Paul seemed to think that the resurrection has a paramount place, “if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Whoa.

We are in the middle of another spat of “end times mania.” I say another because church history is chockfull with seasons where the church became almost obsessed with Jesus’ return. Church history is littered with crazy theories, flaky theology and just plain unscriptural thinking about the end. Oh, I know, all those end time/prophecy teachers seem to make it so plain. But so have many others over the ages – and guess what? They were patently wrong.

Jesus wasn’t nearly as bold as some TV preachers who seem to have it all figured out.[1] He said, “I don’t have any idea, only the Father” (Matt. 24:36). And when His own disciples were overly concerned about the “end,” the consummation of the kingdom, He told them to get their heads and acts together, quite focusing on the wrong things, and get ready for the work they were called to be about (Acts 1:6-8).

The worst thing about all of this is that it leaves us critically unprepared for what we may soon face in our culture. Many are so busy studying their end times charts looking for the escape route out of here that they are woefully unprepared to stand when times come that are more difficult than the present. Many are preparing to exit, but Jesus told his followers to prepare to bear witness – and it wasn’t necessarily going to be easy. I have heard it said that the Chinese church of the mid-twentieth century was swept up into end times fever – and instead of the rapture they got a ruthless, godless communism, for which they were totally ill prepared.

The resurrection is about the end times. (Bet you wondered how I was going to tie all this together didn’t you?) The resurrection marks the end of the old age of the dominion of death, sin and suffering and the beginning of the new age, the inbreaking of God’s kingdom that brings life, purpose and closeness with God by the Spirit’s presence and power. We live in between, where death, suffering and difficulties still exist, BUT where the life, power and reality of Jesus is to be expressed in and thru us – all to a watching world.

After all, that first resurrection day, there He was – not just resuscitated (like Lazarus), but resurrected. He stood there with the new resurrected body – evidence and proof that the new age had arrived and that someday God would fully bring about His newness and wholeness into this world (Phil. 3:20-21).

Some are so busy preparing to escape and exit that they have failed to understand that like Jesus’ own disciples, we are not called to exit, but called to be clothed with His power and immersed in His life – all so that we can bear witness to the fact that all of this Jesus talk is real.

I would add this. There is a sense in which we do find ourselves in the “end times.” As American Christians we may be at the end of the time when the Christian worldview was accepted and served as operating foundation and framework of the land. We now live in a “post-modern” and “post-Christian” America. Yes, we are at the end of things the way we liked them – being able to live a lifestyle of relative ease and complacency, insulated from the prevailing culture in our happy go lucky Christianity. Yes, those days are gone – we are at the end of those things.

Is this all a reason to quit, despair? Hardly! But instead of preparing to exit (because I don’t believe for a minute that we are going anywhere), we should be preparing to bear witness. Now, I don’t mean “share your testimony” about Jesus,[2] I mean reveal in our personal lives, in our life together as God’s people what real, authentic Christianity is. We are to show a watching world what God and His love and grace are really about. It is our time and our opportunity. So, you can practice your “rapture jump.” Better yet, you can spend that time seeking God and asking for His power, love and light to equip you to reveal God to the hurting world that surrounds you.

Instead of condemning societal ills, we need to offer to our culture intelligible, well thought out and well lived out, alternatives. The early church exploded numerically into the first century world not because it threw stones at those who disagreed (early Christians were too busy ducking from the stones thrown at them), but because they showed to one and all the authenticity and love of their risen Lord. They modeled resurrected, new life; better they embodied it in their daily life.

[1] Be very clear: most of today’s “end times” teaching didn’t exist in church history before the mid-19th century. And we can trace where that teaching started precisely. Also, the 19th century contemporaries of this innovative dispensational view considered it error.

[2] It is incredible how really far away we are from what the NT describes. We think “witnessing” is sharing a tract, it is really sharing our lives in a radical, meaningful, costly way with those around us.

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