[un]conscious-stream[ing]

Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now image courtesy of www.filmdetail.com

There is, I think, an interesting and possibly myopic traditional view of both the biblical text of Revelation and of the Christian understanding of the ‘return of Christ’ or the ‘second coming’ and the “Kingdom of God”.

Let me explain:

I’ve been brought up in a community that, broadly speaking, believes and preaches that at a finite, fixed point in time, Jesus Christ will appear on planet earth in physical form once more. At this point, (and there’s plenty of debate about when, how, where…) a series of events will ensue, culminating in the complete restoration and renewal of the earth to the original potential that God intended. The people who haven’t rejected God and his vision will then live eternally in paradise – “The Kingdom of God”.

That’s all well and good and I think that to a greater or lesser extent, I do believe that the physical presence of Christ will once again walk the dust and dirt and soil and tarmac of Gods good earth.

However when you say a definite concrete “yes” to one thing, you inevitably have to say “no” to another and there are some things that I’m not willing to say “no” to quite so quickly when grasping at some future ‘nirvana’.

Return of Christ

Firstly, there’s the words of Jesus himself from Luke 21.

“Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. His answer was, “The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’; because the Kingdom of God is within you.””

Luke 17:20-21

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This probably raises more questions than it answers, but in my mind, Jesus is suggesting that the “kingdom of God” is not only a specific future for the world but also something that requires current, present participation. It is not just an event but a state of existence. It is something that we can actively be involved with now, not only a thing to be looked forward to.

Here’s where I’m going to suggest something probably not new, but it came to me as I was listening to my dad present some ideas at a study day, so it’s new to me.

There’s a passage in John that on the face of it can be a bit confusing.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
John 14:15-18

In summary, Jesus is saying “I’m going but I’m not going because I’m coming back but someone else is coming but you already know them because they’re already lived with you and will be in you.”

I think the simplest explanation is often the best and to me, the simplest view of this is that Jesus was physically leaving the disciples. He was also leaving the physical so he could become part of the spiritual domain. In becoming spirit as opposed to physical flesh, Jesus becomes able to be more effective. He can be with all believers simultaneously, he can “live in” all believers. This was something that had not yet been encountered in quite this way before, thus the verse about the world not being able to “accept him because it neither sees him or knows him.”

This opens up the possibility of the return of Christ being progressive and gradual in part, before a full-blown ‘big event’ return. If we accept that Jesus returned as spirit to enable believers to do great miracles and works as it says in John 14:12;

…”whoever believes in me will do the same things that I do. Those who believe will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father”.

then in some ways, Jesus has already returned and his life is in those who believe in him and they are the ones that act out the love and grace of God.

I suppose I’m saying that in a way, there could be a first part of the second coming that has already happened and there’s a second phase that will happen some time in the future. I might be wrong and it probably isn’t new but it gives us another possibility to think about, something that refocusses us on the present and the continuing work of God in this world today. Hopefully, with that grounding, we aren’t constantly avoiding our responsibilities, just waiting for some unknown day in the future.

Revelation

Secondly, there is the vast array of angles on Revelation.
In my experience, my community has, in the past, put forward an interpretation of revelation that is known as “continuous historical”, where the book provides a narrative of Church history from the first century to the return of Christ. Historical continuity is the focus and the numerous judgment stories have been aligned with a pantheon of historic wars, revolutions, socio-political and religious movements. This approach has often caused much consternation and debate and not a little re-calculation of numbers, dates and inconvenient changes in interpretation as world events pass without quite the same results as the careful predictions.

I firmly believe that Revelation had to be relevant and meaningful to the people that first read it in the first century. If it was just about some future time 2000 or more years on from their position, that’s not going to be something useful or comforting to them.

With that in mind, I believe that Revelation is a huge apocalyptic metaphor designed to be relevant to every generation, designed to wake up the people of God who have become comfortable and somnolent within the ’empire’ of their age. It is a book aimed at encouraging God’s people to become like a refreshing, icy cold drink on a hot day or a superheated coal from a fire ready to ignite passion and fervour for God. It is a call to be distinctive and contrasting from the bland monotone offerings of assimilation into empire.

Why so I particularly think that?

Because I see apocalypse for many people today. There are the big, obvious ones like the situation in Syria where people have had lives, family, homes, communities, food, water, shelter towns, cities, communications torn from their every-day and they are destitute, wounded, homeless, starving and cold.
And Syria isn’t the only one, one day viewing the news on television or in the newspapers will highlight many, many more big apocalypses going on right now on planet Earth.

Just because it isn’t happening in my own cushy neighbourhood, just because it isn’t affecting me directly doesn’t mean that the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ – Conquest, War, Famine, and Death aren’t currently riding, unchecked somewhere else on this planet. Indeed they are.

And there are the less obvious apocalypses happening in individual people’s lives daily. The marriage blown apart by an affair. The family decimated by terminal cancer. A car crash. A fire or flood.

And also the mini ones; exam results not being what were wanted, a falling out with a friend etc.

The book of Revelation covers them all if you have open eyes to see it. It’s my story and your story as well as the story of the fall of Jerusalem and the Vietnam War and possibly the story of the end of the world in it’s present condition. It is the story of human suffering and loss throughout all the generations and it is written in such graphic language to make people see the world around them for what it is and do something different.

What’s that then?

Well… I’ve run out of space here, so that will have to wait for part 2.

Image rights filmdetail.com used without permission but credit attributed!

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2 responses to “Apocalypse Now

  1. richardjbenson 28/09/2015 at 16:04

    Hi Alex,
    Thanks for your thoughts – lots to say, but I’ll keep it brief 🙂
    * Definitely agree that the kingdom of God has past/present and future aspects – already, but not yet. This seems to be made pretty clear by Jesus’ parables about the kingdom in Matthew 13 – all of which are about the preaching of the good news and the life of the church.
    * I agree that Revelation must have had some relevance to its initial audience. I don’t think that means that everything in Revelation must have been directly relevant. God reveals Scripture in bursts rather than as a continuous progression which means sometimes it covers stuff not directly relevant to the people of the day. The clearest example of this seems to be Daniel 2, 7, 8, 9, 11 which covers a lot of ground about stuff which happened long after Daniel’s generation were dead. The middle of Daniel 11 might have seemed a bit pointless to Daniel’s contemporaries, but as relevation was scant for the following 500 years, the details of the unfolding story of God’s plan would have assured God’s people that they were not forgotten and that God was still at work. There’s other stuff in the Old Testament which really only makes sense when Christ comes. You can imagine people in OT times saying “Why does it say that? Why do we have to do this?” and only now in retrospect can we see the reason. Conversely, there are parts of the Bible which are less relevant to us today – Leviticus and Chronicles are two examples. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read them, or that we can’t get anything from them, but I think it is realistic to say that their purpose was predominantly for earlier generations. So, we always need to think about the relevance of Scripture for the original recipients, and the relevance for us today; but we also need to acknowledge that some parts may have had limited relevance for the initial listeners, or may have limited relevance for us today.
    Oops, that wasn’t brief…

    • Alex Green 28/09/2015 at 16:25

      Yeah, good points bro.
      I suppose that if we take the knowledge that people wrote the bible, as a way to document their encounters with the divine and sometimes as a direct revelation from the divine it does that some of it may not be obviously relevant all the time.
      That said, I can see relevance in Revelation for every generation since it was written so it does work as a masterpiece in the disruption of the status quo and the stirring up of God’s people when and if they have begun to stagnate within the ‘comfort’ of their culture’s ’empire’.

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