So far, Jews have been waiting for the Messiah to come for about 6,000 years. Seems a little overdue… AndChristians — who consider that the Messiah is Jesus (Who came in 4 B.C.E.) — are also waiting for Him to come the second time… and they’ve been waiting for the last 2,000 years! Still seems a little overdue as in “don’t hold your breath”… The Messiah has not come and many assume He won’t come in their lifetimes. Either way, the perennial
problem — Jewish or Gentile — is what to do in the meantime.
Back in the hippie days of the early ’70s, Gunther wrote a book called What to do Till the Messiah Comes. It may not have been all that helpful as it seemed filled with advice on physical massage and snippets of wisdom like, “It is better to give and receive”; “The mind is like a drunken monkey that has just been bitten by a scorpion”; “Some people suffer — just for the hell of it”. Or this:
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“The End Times” (or “eschatology”) is huge cash-cow in the Evangelical church market. Books and conferences and movies on “eschatology” — typically marketed as the “Rapture” and the “End Times” — are endlessly hawked in stores and churches. The importance of this supposed field of “theology” has been grossly over-rated and mis-represented in churches throughout the United States and Europe and everywhere else for over a hundred years.
Taken from the term “eschatology”, the word “eschaton” refers to several, simultaneous events: the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (the Messiah), the General Resurrection of all human beings, and the End of the World as we know it. The Eschaton is the Final Moment in human history and the history of our world. “Eschaton” will usher into our existence a dramatic transformation of reality from what we know or can even imagine it to be. Literally, “Eschaton” is the end of our universe and the creation of a new one.
Typically, eschatology is viewed as a study of things that are yet to happen. To most people, this makes sense. After all, we expect for the sun to rise tomorrow morning and to sink into the west at the end of the day — but the Day of the Lord hasn’t yet arrived nor has this world yet ended… in so far as we can tell. So, typically, anyone would think a study of the Eschaton must be a study of things to come.
But this is not true. A fundamental error is made in this manner of thinking. One way to understand that this perspective can’t be spiritually valid is that any so-called “spiritual teaching” which has no pertinence for Now, but only pertains to the future, is not a valid “spiritual teaching”. For the Eschaton to be spiritually valid for today, it must in some fashion restructure the present reality of Believers. Otherwise, it would be no more important than phony “spiritual teachers” generating fantasies about streets of gold, palaces filled with virgins or even rivers flowing with wine. Stories of some “eventual” reward satisfies nothing more than a person’s intellect.
There’s little peace or comfort in a person’s heart when reflecting on the Eschaton as some distant “Day” we must interminably wait for — but there’s joy when a Believer understands that the Eschaton is a present reality… The true focus of the Eschaton is not the End of human history; it isn’t golden streets in some heavenly city; it isn’t even the transformation of reality from all we know and understand.
The true focus of the Eschaton is the Resurrection… The bringing to life of all who have ever died. Eschatology bursts into our present existence because the Resurrection has already begun. The Day of Resurrection is already in progress, and it began with Jesus Christ on Sunday morning following his death on Friday afternoon. And (though we’ll deal with this some more, below) Resurrection Day hasn’t halted or paused; there has been no hiatus to the Resurrection of the Dead — and so true eschatological teaching is neither abstract nor theoretical, but restructures life today in the light of the immediacy of the Eschaton.
When eschatological teachings are inaccurately banished to the far, distant future, Believers don’t find in them a source of Hope. This ought not to be! The authors of the New Testament referred to the Eschaton as our “Hope” — a Promise so filled with power and life it envelops even the worst sufferings and troubles of this present experience with Significance and empowers Believers to live out their earthly lives with certainty, joy and undoubting confidence.
But if everyone’s casually “waiting for the Messiah to come”, (ho-hum) and since a mere “hope for the future” has no real power to transform Believers’ lives now, what’s the “connection” between that which is Here Now and that which is Coming Later which does transform human lives? The connection is understanding (as mentioned above) that the Eschaton — the Resurrection of the dead — has already begun and has not ceased. There is no “waiting” for years, decades, centuries, and millennia for Some Distant Day when Jesus “eventually” comes again.
Understanding the immediacy of the Eschaton lies in two key thoughts Paul, the apostle, lays out in the Bible: (1) All humans live within a created framework we call “time” — but the Creator God (Who calls Himself the I AM — the Eternally Present One) does not live within that created framework; and (2) When a person dies, insofar as this world (and the framework we call “time”), that person ceases to exist — but in the moment of that person’s death, that person passes instantly out of “time” and into the Eschaton… into the Resurrection.
Paul the apostle clarifies this in his second letter to the Corinthian Believers (2Cor 5.1ff) when he explains that he was more than ready to die in the flesh — to go from this earth to be with the Lord. He described his desire so strongly that he says he was “groaning”! and “earnestly desiring”! for this fleshly death — in order for this Transformation to take place.
Paul makes clear that what he’s yearning for is NOT what some people in his day expected.Many had been spoiled by false, Greek philosophies that the “goal of existence” was to “put off one’s body” so the “spirit” or “soul” could be “free” and “fly-off” to God or Nirvana somehow. He absolutely refuted that notion saying that he was not earnestly desiring to be “free” from his flesh because that would make him “naked”.
His argument goes like this: “We who are clothed in our flesh do groan — not that we should be unclothed from the flesh, for that would be nakedness — but that (freed from this old flesh) we’ll be clothed upon with our new flesh — the incorruptible, immortal flesh such as is Jesus Christ’s Resurrection body.”
When Paul died, his confidence wasn’t that eventually he’d somehow wind-up at the Eschaton and eventually enter into his Resurrection body. His confidence was that his Resurrection body was already prepared for him — waiting for nothing more than the death of his old flesh! He explained this:
For we know that if our earthly house, this “tent” [the temporary dwelling-place of our old flesh] is destroyed, we already have a new “house” for us from God — a “house” not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
For now, in this “house” of flesh, we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our new body which is from heaven, since indeed, being clothed anew, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this temporary dwelling-place of our old flesh, groan, being burdened, not because we want to be stripped-naked, but further-clothed — that the mortality of our old flesh may be swallowed up by immortality!
Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God Who also has already given us the Spirit as a “down payment”, proving the reality of the rest of His Promises. This helps us to be always confident, knowing that while we are at still home in this body of death, we are absent from the Lord… We are confident about putting off this old flesh — quite pleased about it — knowing that when we’re finally gone from the flesh we’ll be present with the Lord!
Here is the true message of the Eschaton, a true eschatological teaching. It has nothing to do with calendars or dates, false prophets, Beasts, or Anti-Christs; there is no need to re-build Temples or rediscover the ashes of red heifers from which to renew Temple sacrifices; there is not even any need to see “Israel restored to Jerusalem” or the Armies of the Kings of the East brought into the Valley of Armageddon.
All of these obscure the reality of the Eschaton — that it has come; that in the Resurrected Christ it is here; that in the instant of my death in the flesh or that of any Believer we enter into the Eschaton and into That Day of Resurrection.
Like a candy popular in the U.S. for decades, the Eschaton is a “Now and Later” Moment. It’s already “now” in that 2,000 years ago, the Day of Resurrection began as Jesus died and raised Himself from the dead in the first of many fully human, resurrected bodies; the Eschaton is “now” in that if I die today, in my perspective, I’m immediately raised in the “new house” of immortal, incorruptible flesh is already prepared for me in the Presence of God. But it’s also “later” in that — one day (no one knows when), the Eschaton will be completed in the reality of this universe. The Eschaton, thus, is a “Now” experience, and a “Later” realization…
I quit breathing in this mortal flesh — I find myself Breathing… Breathing… whatever rarefied atmosphere awaits me in Eternity. If you come to my (eventual) funeral and stand, staring down at my body — do not feel remorse or sadness, for the Me that had inhabited that mortal flesh will (in the very moment you stand and stare) be gloriously exulting in (and experimenting with!) that immortal flesh already prepared for me in Eternity. The corpse in the casket doesn’t deserve nearly the pity deserved by the corpses still standing around the casket, crying.
So — what do we do till the Messiah comes?
Live in the flesh and do so to the best of our understanding and empowerment, living as the Spirit of Christ leads us in the world of today. As we live and breathe and move about in our daily activities, the over-riding question will always be, “What are You doing today, God, in and through my temporal life?”
Above all, while “waiting” for the moment of our Eschaton, we remain people who seek “peace on earth, good will among men”!