When Is the End Not “the End”? (8)
The impact of eschatology (“the End”) understood as the reality of that End already exercising its power in the present is at the heart of the understanding of discipleship in the New Testament. Here’s a diagram of what it looks like.
Resurrection (New Age) Return
_____present evil age______________________
The present evil age continues until the life, death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus which inaugurates the new age/new creation of God. However, in the patience and mercy of God this does not mean the judgment and destruction of evil and the ungodly (as in standard Jewish thought). Instead, the new age and the present evil age intermingle as God continues to woo and win his wayward creation back to him. At the return of Jesus, the present evil age will be judged and destroyed, God’s kingdom established finally and fully, and the new age will fully flourish.
The church lives in this in-between-time as what I call God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement, demonstrating the new life Christ gives us in our personal and social life and contests the ways that sin and evil have insinuated themselves into the lives and structures of the present evil age. We do battle nonviolently, practicing the “violence of love” (Oscar Romero) to do God’s will and work in our world. We struggle on in the confidence that Christ’s victory at the cross and resurrection have already won the war even though battles remain to be fought to implement Christ’s victory everywhere.
Long ago, the great New Testament scholar Oscar Cullmann gave a great analogy for the church living in through this –in-between-time. He likened this time to the time in the European theater of World War II when the Allies landed at Normandy with their victories there sealing the ultimate victory of the Allies in Europe (D-Day). Even though the outcome was clear, the Axis forces battled on and it was nearly a year before the hostilities actually ceased, weapons were laid down, and peace treaties signed (V-Day). During this period between D-Day and V-Day the already victorious Allies had to continue to fight, to exercise vigilance, keep their skills sharp, and their courage up for the situation was as dangerous as ever until the fighting actually stopped.
Similarly, the church rests and rejoices in Christ’s victory over evil, sin, death, and the devil at the cross and resurrection. Yet, it understands that even though this war is won, battles remain to be fought, pockets of resistance rooted at, and the victory of Christ implemented around the globe.
This awareness of both our hope and calling depends on grasping the reality and power of “the End” which has already been vouchsafed to God’s people, which, indeed, fires and steels them for work ahead. To fail to see this structure of discipleship as the template for Christian existence today is to cut the nerve of faith from its source in the reality of God’s victory in Christ. It leaves us either complacent and inattentive to what is going on around us in the world as we bask in Christ’s victory and wait for its full realization “in heaven” or as social activists consumed and finally burned out (if I can mix metaphors) as we assume victory rests with us and depends on our efforts alone.
Thus, we need “the End” both as our source of hope (our last post) and action in the present as God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement against sin and evil in persons and structures as we seek to embody and implement Christ’s victory which is already ours and is the world’s destiny (whether it knows it or not).