Forget the End Times

Forget the End Times October 17, 2023

 

 

Imagine with me for a moment that Jesus won’t return in your lifetime. Take some time to really let that sink in, imagining the unfolding of your life without the return of Christ. How does that make you feel? What have you lost? What has changed? What have you gained?

 

Since the ascension of Christ over 2000 years ago, believers throughout the ages have been convinced he was about to return. The unavoidable truth is that all of them were wrong. I know Christians who are obsessed with speculation about Armageddon, thinking they have the genuine interpretation of the Bible’s most mysterious book, Revelation. How many hours have gone into this esoteric pastime? How much emotion has been spent? In my view, these are resources that would be far better invested in our families and communities.

 

As a young man, I used to discuss these matters with a zealot’s gleam in the eye, but I lost all interest after being filled with the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, I didn’t have time for endless conversation about what might or might not happen in the future, or how current events might be interpreted in the context of an obscure and ancient prophecy. Life as a Christian had become too awesome for all that, packed with tangible encounters with the Lord. Romans 14:17,

 

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit

 

Righteousness (wholeness, freedom, victory, growth), joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit! What a feast! I was richly satisfied and had much to do in service of the God of Love. Previously, my faith had been dry and dull, hemmed in by conservative Christian doctrine and devoid of living encounters with Jesus, but once I’d drunk from the Well, everything was different. My faith was alive, invigorating, energetic, exciting, and purposeful. It was like going from black and white to colour TV, from a ZX Spectrum to a PS5. Suddenly I understood – this was what the life of faith was always meant to be like, and the walk of faith I’d known previously was the poorest facsimile.

 

This is bound to offend some, but for me, fascination with the End Times is much like Biblical numerology – a pastime for dissatisfied believers who need a hobby. In the absence of a dynamic journey of righteousness and a flood of joy and peace, some kind of substitute is needed. For some it is a focus on sin and self-loathing rather than Christ – ‘whoa is me, my righteousness is as filthy rags’ – while for others it is rigidity and ritual, and for yet others, peculiar hobbies with a faint whiff of spirituality about them, such as numerology and End Times speculation. In the years before I found true satisfaction in my walk with God, I even toyed with Calvinism, which was brooding, pseudo-intellectual, and offered false humility as a narcotic. Thankfully, encountering the Living God put a swift end to all that nonsense.

 

How to prepare for Christ’s Return

 

If we want to be ready for the End Times, Jesus told us all we need to know. Matthew 25:1-13,

 

‘At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

 

‘At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”

 

‘Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”

 

‘“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”

 

‘But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

 

‘Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!”

 

‘But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

 

‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.’

 

I should clarify, I don’t believe the Wedding Feast of the Bride and the Lamb has anything to do with Heaven and Hell, but rather Christ’s celebration with those who have walked with him. The same could be said of the other two parables in this chapter – the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. These three parables each offer us a lesson about what walking with God looks like, and the outflow of that when Christ returns:

 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins – that we ought to keep out lamps full of oil, meaning that we choose to remain continually full of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Parable of the Talents – that we ought to take that which God has given us for service and invest it in others.

 

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats – that the true friend of Christ reaches out to the needy, the broken, the lonely, the marginalised, loving them as they love Jesus.

 

Nowhere in this list of exhortations is a requirement to obsess over the exact unfolding of End Times events. In fact, Jesus was clear that nobody will know the day or the hour.

 

Forget about the End Times

 

Let’s not waste time, energy, and emotion obsessing over the return of Christ, or any other aspect of the End Times such as the Rapture (a recent human invention rather than a long-standing Biblical doctrine) or a literal interpretation of Revelation’s ‘Thousand Years’ – 2 Peter 3:8

 

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

 

Instead, let’s busy ourselves drawing deep on our connection with the Spirit of God, and use the gifts entrusted to us to love and serve others.

 

One of the saddest symptoms of End-Times obsession is that it gets in the way of compassion and basic human decency. Currently, believers the world over are failing to court the compassion of God for the innocent people of Palestine (I am not referring to the terrorist group behind the recent, heinous attack in Israel), choosing instead to hope that when Israel has seized the entire territory (an act that would lie somewhere between mass displacement of people and genocide), Jesus will return.

 

I want to ring a short, sharp warning bell – this is a profound mistake and a grave sin, requiring that we forget the teachings and inclusion of Jesus and return to Old Covenant narratives where entire people groups can be counted as enemies. This devolution of Christian faith is an abandonment of Christ and a return to barbarism. I want to challenge all readers who are viewing the events in Israel and Gaza through an End Times lens to abandon their obsession and embrace compassion instead. Compassion for all innocent citizens, whether Israeli or Palestinian.

 

Instead of burying our heads in the theological sand, let’s stick with the three parables about preparation for the End Times – live full of the Holy Spirit, invest ourselves and our gifts in the service of others, and reach out to the marginalised and broken. This is all that’s required for those who want to celebrate at the Wedding Feast of the Bride and the Lamb.

 

 

 

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