• Going Deeper: Growing in Faith and Knowledge

Eschatology, the Second Coming, and the Book of Revelation

The Rev. Dr. William Rich
May 5, 2016

 

Related Forum Video

 

I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Revelation 20:11-15; 21:1-7, 22-27; 22:1-21

 

Reflection

Eschatology and the Second Coming

Eschatology refers to thoughts about the end times, the end of history as we know it, and the coming of the day of God and of Christ. Scattered throughout the New Testament are references to the “day of the Lord,” which was understood to be the day when history as we know it would end, when God would judge the living and the dead, and when Christ would come for a second time to bring to resurrection those who had been faithful to him and the ways of the Gospel.

Before the coming of Jesus, Hebrew Scripture had also looked for the coming of the “day of the Lord,” though for Jews then and now, that day was not, of course, associated with the second coming of Jesus. The “day of the Lord” was understood to have two aspects wrath for the enemies of God and of God’s people, and blessings for the people of God. In the many ups and downs that the people of Israel experienced during their being conquered by large empires that overran them, and then their restoration after such times, the coming of the Lord was understood to be God’s way of righting wrong, and bringing blessing to those who had been wronged. 

But there was a third dimension to the understanding of what God would bring about through the “day of the Lord.” That day would be an opportunity for Israel itself to repent of its own sins and injustices, and to join God in the restoration of a world of justice and peace.

In Christian understanding, the waiting for Christ’s second coming draws to itself the concepts of the “day of the Lord” that were present in Hebrew Scripture, while adding new dimensions. The New Testament understanding of Christ’s second coming seems to have two major dimensions to it. The first is the full establishment of the Kingdom of God that Jesus has proclaimed in his earthly ministry, especially in his many parables about the coming of the Kingdom. In this way, the waiting for Christ’s second coming is also an eager anticipation of the healing of all earth’s troubles and the coming of a new age of blessing and goodness.  The second aspect of the New Testament’s understanding of Christ’s second coming is that it will be the time of the resurrection of the dead, and the time of judgment of the living and the dead, in which all Christians – and perhaps all people – are judged according to the standards of the Gospel and how their lives either conformed to that Gospel or did not.

The Book of Revelation – also known as The Revelation to St. John the Divine or The Apocalypse

The Book of Revelation, the final book in Christian Scripture, is the strangest book in the entire New Testament. It is an example of what is known as apocalyptic writing.  (The Book of Daniel in Hebrew Scripture is also an example of this sort of writing.)

Apocalyptic writing springs up during times when God’s people are in crisis, due to war, persecution, or some other sort of terribly threatening circumstances. It is often written in strange code language, a language that cannot be understood by those who persecute the people of God, but will be readily understood by the faithful. It is written to accomplish two major purposes: (1) to assure the faithful that the forces oppressing them will not win out in the long run; and (2) that God is with them, and will strengthen them to persevere through the dire times they are in.

The Book of Revelation, most scholars agree, was written during the persecutions of Christians under Nero. Nero reigned from 54-68 A.D./C.E., and it is believed that he set fire to Rome so that he could clear land to build himself a great palace. Nero blamed the fire on Christians, and several Roman historians accuse Nero of dipping Christians in oil, and using them as living human torches for his garden parties. The number 666 (the number of the beast) is a coded numerical form of Nero’s name. It is almost certain that both St. Peter and St. Paul were executed during the persecutions of Christians that Nero undertook.

The imagery of Revelation – full of violence and seemingly merciless judgment – is distasteful to many people of modern sensibilities in the first world. But if you can imagine yourself into the place of early Christians being persecuted under Nero, you can – perhaps – understand why the violent and vindictive images and texts of Revelation were sources of comfort and strength to those being persecuted. In our own time, to Christians under various threats in other parts of the world, the imagery of Revelation is often received with great joy, as a comfort and strength for the difficulties they are experiencing. As in the reading of all Scriptural texts, the context of one’s personal life – as well as the context of one’s time and culture – will have a huge impact on how one reads and understands the Book of Revelation. To those of us who feel frightened and under various threats, Revelation and the Jesus who suffers but conquers will provide solace and strength, helping us to persevere. For those of us who feel largely satisfied with life, and who do not want our lives turned upside down, Revelation’s images of a world destroyed to make way for a new world may feel threatening and repugnant.

The Book of Revelation portrays Jesus in varied ways, as a sacrificial lamb, but also as a conquering hero. Depending on our specific life contexts, we may be drawn to some or all of the images of Jesus in Revelation, or we may find some or all of  them strange, or even repulsive. The imagery of a new heaven and new earth in Chapter 21, however, appeal to most of us at one time or another in our lives.  Whenever the present time and circumstances of the world – and/or of our individual lives – make us feel less than sanguine about the direction things are headed, we may well yearn for a new heaven and earth, and the coming of the Lord Jesus who will be God’s instrument for the remaking of things, for a starting-over that promises things will be better.  If we feel desperate, then we may even yearn for Jesus to come quickly and soon (Revelation 22:20), and for this present vale of tears to be superseded by a world in which:

“[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” (Revelation 21:4)

– The Rev. Bill Rich

 

Poetry

“Jerusalem” – William Blake (1757-1827)

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England's mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land. 

 

Music

Hymn: And did those feet in ancient time

 

 

Art

Tapestries of the Apocalypse, Angers, France – “The New Jerusalem”

COM 2016 5 5 Bill Blog

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