When Is the End Not “the End”? (9)
We noticed last time how the New Testament’s view of “the End” restructures the way we understand the flow of history and our place and role in it as God’s people. We live between the D-Day of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the V-Day of his return as God’s subversive counter-revolutionary people. In this post I want to spell out the implications of this a bit further.
Since the “end times” or the “last days” began with Jesus (especially his death and resurrection) and span the period of time till he returns to establish God’s kingdom fully and finally forever, we live between the ”already” of God’s kingdom inaugurated and achieved by Jesus and the “not yet” of its universal reality and acceptance. This tension of living between the “already” and the “not yet” constitutes the context in which we live out our faith.
This means that the pull toward a greater experience of God’s rule in our life and our world and, at the same time, the frustrations both within and without that hinder that experience will be the matrix of our lives till Christ returns. This tension both fires our hope and feeds our longing. It drives us deeper into an experience of the crucified and risen Savior.
The church living in this tension serves its Savior and God’s kingdom as a movement which is a sign, a sacrament, and a steward.
-the church points beyond itself as a sign pointing to Christ and the fullness of life that can be found only in him;
-the church lives as a sacrament of that fullness of life, a community where people can experience a taste of that fullness of life to come; and
-the church works for the kingdom as a steward of the gifts and graces of that kingdom, the very vocation that God created humanity for in the first place.
Without the “already/not yet” tension we would either sit contentedly waiting for the full arrival of the kingdom we area promised since we “already” have our place in it reserved through faith. Or, we would frantically work ourselves into exhaustion and uselessness haunted by the “not yet” of a still hurting and broken world and driven to try and fix it ourselves as best we can.
Within this tension, we are nurtured and sustained by God’s gracious gift of a foretaste of his kingdom, a real experience of the life to come in the community of faith, and yet, at the same time, hungering and thirsting for the full flourishing of that life in and around us in God’s new creation. This is the agony and ecstasy of life in Christ in between the times in which we live.