Awaiting the End Times
For too many Christians, the purpose of our eschatological belief is largely relegated to the realm of conspiracy theories, discussion of scorched-earth fantasies, and fear of a coming world dictator. Those are all the trappings of a Nic Cage summer flopbuster.
Yet, more than providing fodder for Hollywood, Christian eschatology serves a specific purpose that ought to consume every inch of our souls. The purpose of our eschatology shouldn’t be voyeuristic fascination with destruction, but rather hopeful anticipation of restoration. Russell Moore says that our hope for restoration and redemption includes “table fellowship, community, culture, economics, agriculture and animal husbandry, art, architecture, worship—in short, life and that abundantly.”
Christian eschatology ought to cause us to think about the future. But it has more to teach us about our lives here and now than whether Blackhawk helicopters are in Revelation.
Simply put: Because Christ is present among his people—in an already-not-yet kind of way—we must live like it.
The story of humanity and its relationship to God began in the garden of Eden, and it ends with a return to Eden. The entire story of redemption is about getting us back to paradise. Our hope is not based on decoding the current news cycle; it’s about living now as we once did and as we one day will live again. All of Christian eschatology is building toward a resolution inaugurated by Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Our hope is not based on decoding the current news cycle; it’s about living now as we once did and as we one day will live again.
The Story of the Bible
The narrative of Scripture opens with creation, when God placed the first man and woman in Eden. Eden was not just humanity’s place, and it was not exclusively God’s place. It was the place on earth where God’s place and our place converged. It’s the place where God and people freely enjoyed one another.
While our interaction with God is different than what Adam and Eve experienced, not every aspect of life in Eden is foreign to us. There are a number of things in common—two specifically: work and relationship.
God made mankind to work in the garden (Genesis 2:5, 15). We were created on purpose for a purpose. Some wrongly assume that work is the result of being in a fallen world, but work was God’s original intention for mankind. Don’t get the idea that in Eden humans were to lay around and be fed grapes by orangutans or have chinchillas awkwardly massaging our feet for hours on end. God made us for work. God created us to bring order to the world by expanding the place on earth where God and humans could meet (Eden). Work began as something good and enjoyable; difficulty and displeasure in work came after the fall (Genesis 3). (As a result, Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs could only occur in a world marred by sin.) We were made for work, and we enjoyed it.
God made humans to be relational. Shortly after creating Adam, God said that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). After Adam named the animals, he realized that he had no equal to engage in relationship—as fun as his hypoallergenic golden doodle was. Thus, God creates Eve and brings her to Adam, and they are both overjoyed to have one another (Gen 2:22–25). God made us to be relational and communal beings.
We were designed to enjoy relationships and purposeful existence in his presence. You and I only experience our humanness to the fullest when we are living out our humanity in the presence of God. The garden of Eden was a convergence of God’s place and humanity’s place in such a way that we lived before the face of God.
We were created to live in heaven on earth with our God. Then Adam killed the world. For a few pages humanity lived as we were created to live; everything falls apart in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve grasp for the throne of God by disobeying him, and in so doing they bring sin and death into the world (Genesis 3:1–7). For the first time Adam and Eve were afraid of God’s presence in the garden (Genesis 3:8) because the garden was no longer the place where God and humans could be together. They were now on enemy soil (Romans 1).
God’s pronouncement of judgment in Genesis 3 makes clear that the world has now changed. Now work would be difficult and toilsome. Because of sin, Adam and Eve’s relationship would be difficult. Death is now inevitable, and God’s place no longer overlaps with humanity’s place. Humans are expelled from the garden of Eden. We have been separated from God.
Throughout the Bible, the temple and tabernacle descriptions nod to what we had in Eden. Through the temple system, God’s place is accessible to humans but with extreme limitations. Because of sin, humans could only go so far toward the presence of God, hidden behind a veil in the temple.
Until God invaded our place in the person and work of his Son, Jesus! The incarnation of Jesus marks the beginning of the end of humanity’s separation from God. Jesus appearing in human flesh put the world on notice that these days are the final days of separation (Hebrews 1:2).
Restoration is coming. God’s place and humanity’s place will no longer be separated. Therefore, in Christ our relationship with God is restored already, but we are still awaiting physical restoration. That restoration is the point of our eschatological expectations.
The End is the Beginning
The restoration of all things, including humanity’s place and God’s place being reunited, is consummated in Revelation 21–22. In Revelation 21, the apostle John records the moment when heaven (pictured as a city) descends from the sky to formally and finally invade earth. God’s place, heaven, is once again overlapping with humanity’s place (earth).
Notice the similarities to the garden of Eden. In both places, God has provided a tree that ensures eternal life, rivers of life, and land littered with gold and onyx, and death is nowhere present. However, the key similarity is that God’s presence and humans’ presence are once again together. Because there is no longer sin and death, humans no longer need be terrified of God.
Christian eschatology points us to Eden restored. We get so caught up in the drama of Jesus returning on a warhorse (Revelation 19) that we forget: he gets off his horse. When he dismounts, he reunites with his people (Revelation 21). The same Jesus who comes on a warhorse against his enemies brings a home for his friends. Jesus gets us back home to heaven (God’s place) on earth (our place): he gets us back to Eden. He gets us back to the place where we are truly human while wiping away the very things that make being human so hard: pain, heartache, regret (Revelation 21:4).
Does your heart ache? One day it won’t! Is your body failing you? One day it won’t. Does sadness mark your life? One day, only joy will define your existence. What you and I are awaiting is this moment that heaven returns to earth. According to Jesus, it will happen soon (Revelation 22:7).
How Does That Help Me Now?
If the purpose of our eschatological hope is the restoration of all things, our own resurrection from the dead, and the reunion of humans and God, what does that mean for our here and now? We should live out the ethics of the coming kingdom in the present world.
The kingdom of Christ is already here through his church. Our churches are outposts or embassies of Christ’s rule and reign. And yet we are still waiting for the return of the king with his kingdom in full.
For the believer, knowing that Jesus will come back and that he wins ought to drive us to live differently and distinctly from the world around us—to do for others what Jesus has done for us. In so doing, we are reminding one another and giving the world a glimpse of what it will be like when heaven returns to earth. No one will be hungry, no one will be thirsty, no one will be naked, no one will be in bondage. This is the very thing Jesus did in his earthly ministry. Every time he healed someone, he showed us a world where sickness is no more. When he raised the dead, he was telling us that in his kingdom, death is defeated.
Christian eschatology should be marked by awe-inducing adoration.
Living Christ’s Triumph
Jesus has won, is winning and will win (all he does is win!). To live like this is the true means to recognize your present identity in Christ. In our baptism we are identified with the victory of Christ in his resurrection (Colossians 2:11–15). Jesus has canceled the debt we owed to the Father by nailing it to the cross.
We live now as if the kingdom of heaven is on earth, because through God’s people it is. And yet when Jesus returns, the kingdom will appear fully. Therefore, we must put to death our sin and put on the ethic of God’s victorious kingdom people. Knowing that Jesus will return and will win changes not just your future but your present (Colossians 3:1–17). We live knowing that we will one day get back to the garden when heaven comes to earth. Not only will death, sin, and Satan be defeated once and for all time, but we will again find our place and God’s place overlapping. We will one day know what it is like to experience humanness to its fullest form when we do so in the presence of the Creator. Christian eschatology should be marked by awe-inducing adoration. Jesus is coming back, and he wins. So live like it.
This article is a modified excerpt from Dayton Hartman’s new book, Jesus Wins: The Good News of the End Times.