When Is the End Not “the End”? (7)
This post begins the second part of my series on eschatology (the end times). In the first part we looked at some of what the Bible has to say about “the End” (“the” Day of the Lord, “the End,” Christ’s return) and clear up (hopefully) some common misconceptions about it.
In this second part we will look at the end as the definitive influence on our perception and behavior in the present. This is actually the most important aspect of “the End.” We know “the End” is coming, even if we do not known just when or exactly how. We can count on that. But its impact is not just on what we have to look forward to, but even more powerfully on how that hope sustains and changes us now.
The New Testament signals this by insisting that with the event of the coming, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the “end times” have dawned (1 Cor.10:11; Heb.1:2). The church lives through the end times. God’s final, climactic, decisive act toward and for us has been done in Jesus Christ. And even though we tend to think the really important stuff is what will happen at “the End,” the New Testament points us to what happened in “the middle of time” in Jesus Christ as the really important moment in the whole human experience. Not even his return in glory eclipses the cosmos-changing power and scope of his life. We are certain of his return and “the End” because he rose from the dead on Easter morning! Everything revolves around this person and that moment in which he lived, died, and was resurrected.
Nevertheless, the “blessed hope” of Christ’s return is an important element of our life as God’s people. I remember a story of a man who lived in Hawaii. He was a big football fan. One week his favorite team was playing on Monday Night Football. Because of the time difference between the east coast and Hawaii, the game came on in the middle of the afternoon in Hawaii. This man was recording the game to watch it in full when he got home from work. He did his best to avoid all sports reports on his way home so he would not know how the game came out before he watched it. In spite of his best efforts, however, he did hear the score before he got home – his team had won!
He reflected on the difference knowing the result made in his watching of the game. Victory secured he watched the game in confidence. Even though some things went wrong – fumbles, interceptions, penalties, sub-par performance, injuries, the other team scored – these disappointing events were not ultimately dispiriting or defeating because he knew the outcome. Somehow, someway, his team would overcome the bad things that happened in the course of the game!
I assume the analogy here is obvious. Christ has won the victory! The game is decided, though the outcome at any particular moment may go against us. His victory energizes our hope to inspire and motivate us to “keep on keepin’ on” with the struggle. We labor in Christ “with the grain of the universe.” Martin Luther King, Jr. put it with his usual eloquence: "The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice." Knowing the outcome makes us even more avid participants in the struggle because we know we are, to put it crassly, “on the winning side.” And because our side, God’s side, has already won, this means that ultimately everyone wins!
This is how “the End” energizes our hope, which is faith in the future tense, and shapes our lives in the direction of God’s original intentions for us.