By Ralph Tone
(Eschatology -- any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state, etc.)
NASHVILLE, TN -- Most people wouldn't know what eschatology is if it blazed across the sky and swept them off their feet. But that doesn't keep them from talking about it.
A Newsweek cover in April blared, "Apocalypse Now. Tsunami. Earthquakes. Nuclear Meltdowns. Revolutions. Economies on the Brink. What the #@%!Is Next?"
The popular movie "2012" takes a spin around the ancient Mayan calendar which stops at 2012. Will the world end in 2012? Not according to a billboard in Nashville that predicts the end of the world on May 21 this year.
The end is near. But no one really knows how near "near" is. While some people look to tea leaves and ancient stone calendars to nail down a date, the answer is as close as the small print in your side-view mirror. It is "closer than it appears."
When talk turns to last things I often think of a man who, if my memory serves me, was Jeff. He was a physicist I met soon after I got saved in Woodbridge, Va., on July 16, 1979. (Now that's a date worth remembering!)
It's funny the things we remember about people. The little I recall about him after these 32 years helps me to keep a proper perspective on the Lord's coming.
Two flashbacks come to mind when I remember Jeff. In one, he deftly flipped a magazine with a scantily clad woman on the cover face down on the coffee table as he sat on the couch. In the other, I was riding with him as he drove the busy freeways around Washington D.C. Unexpectedly he thrust his head out of the window and gazed upward for what seemed an eternity toward the cloudless Northern Virginia skies.
It's true what they say about time right before an accident. It screeches to a creep. Thankfully Jeff, like a turtle, drew his head into the safety of the chassis before he prematurely sent us to heaven.
"We have to be watching", he said. "Jesus could come back at any moment."
Theologically speaking, Jeff was right on. His hermeneutics were terrible though -- downright dangerous.
These two snapshots of Jeff's life taken together lasted less than a minute, a blink of an eye, really. But taken together they say a lot about how we should live given the imminent return of Jesus.
On the one hand we are to watch. On the other hand we are to live holy lives today. They are not mutually exclusive, but the emphasis should be on the latter.
It is infinitely more useful to flip an offensive picture face down than to drive with our head stuck out the window like a dog.
The second coming of Christ is in the exclusive realm of God's sovereignty. The decisions you and I make today are in the exclusive realm of our responsibility.
Of first importance, to quote Jim Morrison, is to "keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel." God kept the second coming open ended for a reason. There's work to be done today.
We are to be about the task at hand: bringing light to those groping in darkness, giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty, and even changing the website or movie that has us so titillated.
The knowledge that Christ will come again in power is not an abstraction. The reality of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah's imminent appearing should infuse with holiness every aspect of our day -- today. Here are just a few examples of how God's sovereignty percolates down to our responsibility:
-- How we treat each other. "But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God" (Romans 14:10).
-- Our character. "[I]t is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God" (2 Peter 3:11b-12).
-- Urgent concern for our neighbors, coworkers and family members. "Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and one left. Therefore be alert, since you don't know what day your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:40-42).
-- Our priorities, motivations and stewardship. "A nobleman traveled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king and then return. He called 10 of his slaves, gave them 10 minas and told them, 'Engage in business until I come back'" (Luke 19:12-13).
Scripture has some truly funny moments. One of my favorites takes place just after Jesus ascended to heaven. The disciples were so enthralled by the experience that they continued gazing upward for heaven who knows how long.
Eventually God sent two angels to prod the disciples back to earth. "Men of Galilee, why are you gazing heavenward," the angels asked. My translation? "Men of Galilee snap out of it and go to Jerusalem. There's work to be done."
Soothsayers and prognosticators from ancient Mayan calendar chiselers to modern day billboard prophets have confidently and erroneously predicted the end. They should forever be relegated to the realm of entertainment.
Jesus will soon come back. But when He does, may he find you and I busy about our daily tasks of being salt and light in an increasingly dark and tasteless world. Maranatha!