Wednesday, November 21, 2007

For Sunday November 25th - The End of a Beginning

At last we are going to wrap up our series of messages, "Ten Truths to Live By." This week we study End Times! No, we're not going to have a prophecy seminar or pass out The Late Great Planet Earth or whatever is the latest book claiming to tell us when and how things will end. What we will do is take a look at several passages that talk about "the end" (or, in another way of thinking, a "new beginning").
The whole of scripture and history is really a testament to God's completion and wholeness. I often start things and do not finish them. Spanish lessons, guitar lessons, cleaning the garage, exercise programs. I can finish a chocolate bar, but not much else at times. I seem doomed to start thousands of things and finish only a few. When you or I fail to complete something we start, it depletes us because it either means we shouldn't have started it at all, or we haven't lived up to what we were intended to do. That's not God. He doesn't forget, doesn't get bored, distracted, tired, disgusted, or decide that maybe making you and me and all of creation was a big mistake after all. He always completes what he begins. This is good news.


  1. The end of the world. Are we talking about the telos or the termination? What do we mean by "world" - the planet earth, the cosmos of which it is a part, the current age, or the individual's ordering and giving meaning to the stimuli he receives?

    Clearly, the geo-centric categories the ancients used in addressing the eschaton no longer apply, nor does the propect a divine intervention of cataclysmic proportions. The earth as we know it may well come to an end by reason of a meteorites pelting it from without, the sun going dead, or from man-made, irreversible causes like nuclear war or unchecked global warming. The planet may endure for eons after it has ceased to be habitable.

    What is certain is that the end will come for each of us and it is given to us to live boldly, justly and compassionately in the face of that certainty.

  2. This is a fascinating passage. Many of the concepts are taken from the conclusions of Isaiah and Ezekiel. The idea of a new heaven and earth are from Isaiah 65-66; the city with twelve gates named for the tribes is from Ezekiel 48. The river from the temple with fruit trees on its banks is from Ezekiel 47.

    The vision of John contains much symbolism, as did the visions of Daniel. In both of them it is possible to err if we take literally what is meant to be symbolic. The (symbolic) bride of the Lamb is represented as the city of Jerusalem, descending from heaven. This is often taken to represent the church, but I would like to suggest that, with gates named after the twelve tribes, it more likely represents the nation of Israel. The apostles were written on twelve foundations, but in considering why there were twelve apostles, there seems to be a connection with the twelve tribes. Jesus promised the apostles that they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt. 19:28). Also, the city seems to be set over against the nations (i.e. Gentiles) in v.24,26.

    The idea of a book of life comes from the Hebrew scriptures: Deu.29:20, Dan.12:1, Mal.3:16. Malachi speaks of this scroll referring to those who feared the Lord and honored his name. He also relates it to the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. According to Jewish tradition, the ten days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are the time each year when God evaluates a person's deeds for inclusion in the book of life.

  3. Harry,

    Well written and insightful as always. But of what, in any meaningful sense, is the passage symbolic? Is it alluding to some future vindication and restoration of Israel in an historical sense with Jerusalem at its center? Or does the passage speak more to the consummation of what God had begun in Israel, now seen as the Bride of the Lamb? What is fascinating about apocalyptical writing is that it is capable of so many interpretations. I suppose its only lasting contribution is to offer encouragement to those under persecution, that, whether they live to see it or not, God's purposes, as understood and symbolized in nationalistic aspirations, will be brought to fruition. It is difficult for the modern mind to share those nationalistic understandings, symbols and aspirations and to render them individualistically and personally is to profoundly distort them.

    I love our chats. I am hoping Suzy continues to make progress.


  4. The prospect of predicting the future is always dicey, whether it's based on interpretations of computer models or biblical visions. With computer models, the issue is that we know so little about so many crucial areas that the models end up no better than a guess. With biblical visions the issues are essentially two, authority and interpretation.

    On the issue of authority, even if we conclude that Revelation is inspired, as the council at Nicea did, we still have the question of whether it's an inspired account of a vision, or an account of an inspired vision. The difference is far more significant than it first seems.

    But even when we decide on the issue of authority and inspiration, the issue of interpretation is vast. What does the vision mean? How much is symbolic? What does the symbolism refer to? What conclusions are we intended to draw from it? These are questions that would make the wisest man hesitate. It's risky to claim to have the answers, but it's irresponsible to ignore these materials.

  5. It is clear that you are using "inspired", whether vision or account, or both, as meaning given with an otherworldly or divine, therefore unquestionable and enduring authority. Inspirational insight comes in many forms, but it is always conditioned by the cultural and historical perspective of the "inspired". So, perhaps the question is not "what are we intended" (by whom)to get out of it so much as what was the author's intent for the audience for and to whom he was writing?

    To address the quest in that fashion still leaves a heavy interpretative task. To transfer that task to us today, in our time and circumstance, leaves an unnumbered, and irresponsible, array of interpretations, most of which are nonsense.

    Of course you are correct in pointing out the limiations and danger of attempts to predict the future. I am persuaded that, except in the most general sense, this literature does not have that intent or objective. In times of persecution, it is probably natural to look forward to better time in an attempt to offer comfort and encouragement. But it is not given to us to know the times or seasons or what specifics they may bring.

  6. The idea of end-times is dependent upon the notion of beginning-times. There is no consensus as to how the created order began, and especially of how the cosmic speck we call the blue planet, came to be. The Biblical creation myth presents one vision no longer supported today. There is a great body of evidence that suggests that that development of the planet and the life forms that came to inhabit it was a slow and gradual process. The idea of an ideal creation and a perfect human origin from which mankind fell in a form of original sin from which the race had to be rescued no longer is believable. This places in doubt any notion of a restoration of a state of perfection which has never existed.

    What is left, in a modern worldview, is the notion that the end times must be an evolutionary ideal, the realization of the potential that was said to exist in those earliest acts of human formation. There is an almost certain prospect that the eschaton is at least as tenuous, as developmental as the creation. That means that “the end” is a work in progress, a telos toward which the human adventure points. This means that the eschaton is a God driven human accomplishment characterized by a passion for justice, for compassion, for environmental stewardship, for peace and reconciliation.

    Only thus shall there be a new heaven and a new earth, and a Holy City descending.



Thanks for posting!