Or, everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to live (to borrow from Crowder).
That's the question that has been repeating through my head since reading the blog entry by Keith Giles on Patheos. What if Jesus isn't coming back anytime soon? Not that he's never coming back, but that it will not be during my lifetime. What if it's not for another 100 years? Another 1000 years?
Believers have been looking for Christ to return since the moment he left. Early Christians expected Jesus to return within a generation of his death. Christ himself had told his disciples "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." Matthew 24:34 Further, "there are some standing here, which shall not taste death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16:28. They took those statements to mean that Jesus' return was imminent and the non-occurrence of the second coming surprised the early Christian communities. "Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour." 1 John 2:18
In the interim period from that time to now, there have been many moments when the Christian community had to believe that the end had finally come. When Nero began persecuting the followers of the Way. When Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in AD 70. During the Spanish Inquisition when believers were tortured for disagreeing with the Catholic Church on their doctrines. During the Black Plague. Certainly during World War II with the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust. That would seem straight out of Revelation.
For over 2,000 years, there have been proclamations of Jesus' imminent return and each of them have been wrong.
This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life. We both have to live like Christ's return is happening tomorrow and as if it will never happen in our lifetime. We have to be prepared to meet our maker at any moment and be prepared to continue to run the race, to fight the fight, and continue the task He has appointed us to, as if there were no end.
I, like Giles, wonder if too many Christians are clinging to the hope and promise of an imminent return of Jesus, allowing them to coast into their end. To be able to continue to pray, "come Lord Jesus," so they can escape this wicked world and their obligation to it. They want to be vindicated for their belief, rescued from this pagan culture, and whisked to heaven where they will be comfortable for eternity.
Think about it. How many sermons have you heard that have some component of how wicked the world is becoming and how the day of Christ's return just has to be so much sooner now. Or people that say that they wish He would just come already. That latter wish always sounds more like a wish to be rid of a perceived or actual evil than a wish to actually be in Christ's presence.
We are even given specific warnings about the consequences about not continually being in active service to Christ.
"Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their portion at the proper time? Blessed is the servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But suppose that servant says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and he begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day he does not anticipate and at an hour he does not expect. Then He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
That servant who knows his master's will but does not get ready or follows his instruction will be beaten with many blows. But the one who unknowingly does things worthy of punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from him who has been entrusted much, even more will be demanded."
As believers, we have been entrusted with much. What we bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, what we loose here will likewise be loosened. We have been given a supremely important commission "All authority in heaven and one earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." We still have responsibility for stewardship of the earth, not something we often talk about. "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over..." We are to care for the least of us. "For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me." "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
Christianity should be at the forefront of making this world a better place, not watching go to Hell in a handbasket. We should be in the process of addressing every social ill that this world can create. We, together, should be ending world hunger, ending poverty, ending homelessness, adopting orphans, and rehabilitating the prisoner.
If the world around us is not becoming more like the Kingdom, if it's not becoming a better place, isn't that our fault?
Let's take an easy example. What would the world look like if everyone who claimed to be a Christian tithed? I know, the tithe is not arguably required under the new covenant, but let's just assume what if everyone that claimed to be a Christian would give away 10% of their income for ministry and charity. Rough estimate is that would represent an increase of $160-300 billion that could be put to good use. And that could do a lot.
For starters, assuming all the additional is used properly and goes to specific causes, it could:
- Add prison ministry to the roughly 1,800 prisons in America.
- Add 5,500 new family counseling centers
- Give $10 billion to people facing financial crisis
- Provide support and housing for every homeless person in America
- Eliminate the financial burden from adopting from foster care $14,000 a year per family
- Train 20,000 new pastors
- Raise their salaries
- End global hunger and starvation in 5 years
- Provide clean water and eliminate deaths from preventable diseases in 5 years
- Eliminate illiteracy in 5 years
- Solve the world's water and sanitation issues
- Free 27 million people living in slavery, AND
- Fully fund the Great Commission, bringing the Gospel to everyone
And that's just with an increase in a monetary donation. What would if we gave more of our time, our talents, our strengths and weaknesses in such a fashion? What would it look like if we cared for each other and the world around it like the early church?
The early church worked diligently at these assignments and saw much fruit. The Lord added daily to their number those being saved. And they enjoyed the favor of all the people. The community around them recognized that there was something better about the way these Christians lived.
People noticed what these Christians did. In the ancient world, children who were orphaned usually met one of three fates: death, slavery/prostitution or Christian “adoption”. Of the followers of the way, it was said, “Falsehood is not found among them; and they love on another; and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he who has, gives to him, who as not, without boasting. And when they see stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother.” Apology of Aristides the Philosopher 15, c. A.D. 125
We are called to live like this because it shows a better way. It provides a glimpse of heaven here on earth. "The whole point of all this is to demonstrate that Jesus really is a better King than any other ruler on this planet. Our mission is to point people to another way of living and another code of ethics that rivals anything this world has to offer."
But are we? Or are we just waiting on Jesus to fix it?
Let's personalize it.
Am I about my master's tasks, working diligently at the tasks He has entrusted to me? Making an impact on the community around me?
Or am I waiting for Him to return to fix it?
What would change if I believed He wasn't coming back in my lifetime?
If your answer is anything other than "nothing," it's time to get to work.