…And I feel fine.
*This is not meant to be an in depth review of eschatology, just some thoughts as I pray for God to move on college campuses and across the nations.
“So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking Him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
Speculating about prophecy and end times can seem very spiritual. But it can also be a distraction from focusing our ministry resources, conferences, personal time, money, etc. on obeying what God wants us, as His people, to do on this planet.
As I mentioned in my last post, I sometimes get the impression that much of the Christian youth movement in America seems to associate the power of the Holy Spirit with helping us attain “secret knowledge” or “spiritual insights” about the end times, rather than being given to Christ’s followers to advance His purposes for the planet.
Distraction from our mission as God’s people in the name of “spirituality” has been commonplace throughout history. In the early church, there were several groups collectively known as the Gnostics. They considered themselves very “spiritual”. At first it seemed the Gnostics might fit in nicely with this new movement of Christ followers who spoke of spiritual things and said they followed a man who was actually God and now was risen from the dead and in heaven, leading them. The Gnostics often had visions and claimed to possess secret knowledge given to them through angels. They would fast and attempt to force legalistic rules on other young Christians, with the lure that those who would practice their suggestions for bodily discipline would attain great spiritual insight. They would practice rituals in secret communities. They subtly held on to the belief that the world was bad, and the spiritual realm was good. So, to be spiritual, you tried to ignore the world around you and go after truly spiritual things. The Gnostics were a tricky group to contend with, because they seemed really disciplined. They took the Christian teachings of self-sacrifice, visions/supernatural leading from the Holy Spirit, fasting, etc. and twisted them into a tainted, out of balance view of the world and God’s kingdom.
I think Paul was referring to some of the Gnostic-influenced teachers as dangerous to the church when he addressed the Colossians:
“Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things… These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desire.” (Colossians 2:18,23)
A lot of Gnostics claimed to follow Jesus. But many of them started denying the actual physical deity of Jesus, and that he was a physical being. That may sound kind of pointless to many of us to sit around and debate today, but at the time it was a really big deal. At issue was a belief that our bodies and everything in the natural world is “bad” or “lesser in value” and only the “spiritual, invisible” world should be sought after. Therefore, it was believed that surely a divine being (Jesus) couldn’t have actually been mortal flesh.
I’m not trying to point fingers at anyone and say they are influenced by “Gnostic” thinking. But I do want to point out that there is a tendency in our human nature to get out of balance or out of focus with the things Jesus said were important.
“Go make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you.”
Do we value obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission as our highest goal?
Do we value the sending out of apostolic teams to go preach the gospel and start new communities of believers (churches)?
Or is the bulk of our thought and energy spent trying to discern things that – perhaps – are “not for us to know?”
I’m asking weighted questions, more than I’m trying to give a definitive answer. But you may be able to figure out what I’m thinking.
“Yes. I think much of the Christian youth movement today in America almost completely misses out on a primary aspect of the historic Christian faith – preaching the gospel and making disciples among non-Christians with the long term goal of seeing our entire planet full of communities of disciples who follow our risen Lord Jesus.”
I’ve been to major Christian conferences with young leaders standing up on the stage who it’s quite possible have never led a person to Christ. From their stories, it seems they have never walked a non-believer through the scriptures and into a growing, maturing walk with Jesus. I don’t want to condemn or criticize anyone or any ministry. As individuals and as varying ministry streams, we all have different particular strengths as well as (mis?)understandings about non-essentials about God, the Bible (and “Life, the Universe, and Everything.” as one of my favorite authors put it.)
My point is that whatever new revelations come, whatever new ministries rise in the body of Christ, whatever cataclysmic events come, we must maintain a focus, our obedience, and an optimism that God’s plan is to see every nation (people group) on earth discipled and come under his authority as they learn to obey Jesus’ commands.
I think Jesus is telling His disciples: “It’s finished. The kingdom of God has come. I’m sending you power. It will help you spread this message everywhere until people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation have become my disciples” — in their city (Jerusalem), in other cultural groups (Samaria), and everywhere else on this planet that people were scattered after the tower of Babel incident caused people to wander to the ends of the earth in their distinctive linguistic and, I would assume, rapidly evolving cultural distinctives. The Jews, the Samaritans, the Chinese, the Tajik people, the Native Americans, the Mayan peoples, Kurds, the Hutus and the Tutsis, white pagan kids from the urban centers of Europe… you get the point.
When you look at the world through this lens, it seems like we have a lot of work to do before any “end” comes. It’s a task so big, I need to teach my children to teach their children that this global vision of the kingdom of God coming to every cultural, linguistic, and ethnic group on earth is worth giving our lives, prayers, and careers to. We need to tell young people everywhere to start preparing to go into politics, go overseas, train to become doctors and research scientists, study to become professors a generation from now who will shape the minds of young leaders.
We’ve got a planet full of problems, full of people, full of needs. Jesus has given us power to be his witness and sent us into the world to make disciples of every nation. Despite what changes may come, we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a promise of eternal life ahead of us, and a mission on this planet that is worth living and dying for.