August 20, 2015
12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter,19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
This passage of Scripture we find ourselves in the midst of these past couple of days and the next couple to come is extremely challenging to understand.
As a result, I will not attempt to speak beyond my own understanding of the text at this point in my life and discipleship. I will handle such things as “the abomination that causes desolation” when I gain a better grasp on it.
Here’s what I understand and the kind of application I think the text of recent and future days has for us today. At the risk of over-generalizing, I will be short and to the point.
From the first century to the twenty first century and every year of every century in between we have witnessed the people of God moving in one of two directions with respect to the future. They gravitate toward either an apocalyptic or an eschatological outlook on the future. So what’s the difference?
Apocalypticism tends to focus on doom, destruction and disaster. Eschatology tends to focus on ultimate outcomes and the framework of the last things. Apocalypticism breeds fear and anxiety. On the other hand, good eschatology fosters the fruit of hope. Let’s be clear. Good eschatology does not mean optimism. Eschatology must be truthful about the future. It will not be easy. There will be hardship and pain and difficulty, but there is a greater reality being born right in the midst of it all. Apocalypticism keeps our focus on all the signs of impending doom. Eschatology focuses our vision on God and the glorious things to come.
Jesus gives his disciples the truth about the challenges that lay ahead but he paints a much bigger picture of the greater things in the making. In fact, he commands us to fix our eyes on the future in such a way that it impacts every decision we make in the present. He is leading us toward a future that inspires nobility, faith, courage and love in the face of despairing conditions and seemingly impossible scenarios.
In every age, many God fearing Christian voices spread their apocalyptic anxiety like a cancer among the people. It fosters fear-mongering and it brings out the worst in the Church. They tend to be the louder voices. In every age there are unfortunately fewer followers of Jesus who catch a glimpse of the “beatific” vision—the beautiful and glorious vision of the coming Kingdom of God. These tend to be the quieter yet more powerful leaders of the faith. Apocalyptic anxiety sells books and blockbuster movie tickets. Eschatological hope steels faith and emboldens holy love.
When I think about the great creeds of the Church, they are filled with eschatological hope. Yes we confess a final judgment but also the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting!
So draw a horizontal line and on the left end of the spectrum write “Apocalyptic Anxiety” and on the far right end of the spectrum write, “Eschatological Hope.” Now, where do you land on the spectrum? Can you identify people or personalities on either of the ends? Who do you want to become more like? The only way our anxiety can be starved is to feed it with real hope. What might that look like for you today?
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J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the Daily Text delivered to your inbox fresh every morning. Subscribe HERE.