taking the words of Jesus seriously

Leave it to Homer Simpson to help us understand the “end times” better. Beware, or you too may be – Left Below!

This warning filled our TV screens, our newspapers, and our digital news feeds.  The world watched as people quit their jobs, gave all their money to advertising the rapture, and traveled throughout the world to spread the message of May 21, 2011.  Through various internal mathematical calculations, Harold Camping and followers, convinced themselves that they could predict the second coming of Jesus.  On May 22, the world was unchanged except for the poor folks who had given up their various forms of livelihood for this false teaching.

When Harold Camping spoke out about his false prediction, instead of recanting, he’s convinced that God truly did come back.  Here is the explanation from the Family Radio website:

What really happened this past May 21st ? What really happened is that God accomplished exactly what He wanted to happen. That was to warn the whole world that on May 21 God’s salvation program would be finished on that day. For the next five months, except for the elect (the true believers), the whole world is under God’s final judgment. To accomplish this goal God withheld from the true believers the way in which two phrases were to be understood. Had He not done so, the world would never have been shaken in fear as it was…  Therefore we have learned from our experience of last May 21 what actually happened. All of mankind was shaken with fear. Indeed the earth (or mankind) did quake in a way it had never before been shaken. God had come spiritually to bring judgment upon the whole world.

To summarize:

  • Salvation is no longer available to anyone as of May 21, 2011
  • God didn’t reveal exactly what his “coming” on the 21st of May would look like
  • The world was to be “shaken in fear” as a result
  • God came and judged the world spiritually

The explanation concludes:

Thus we can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21, 2011, on the last day of the present five months period. On that day the true believers (the elect) will be raptured. We must remember that only God knows who His elect are that He saved prior to May 21.

So, ultimately, Camping believes that on October 21st, only a few days from now, the entire cosmos will be annihilated.  This includes the ultimate fate of the non-elect who will be permanently destroyed (interestingly, he doesn’t hold to eternal torment).  Those of us who are “left below” will be destroyed… wiped out of existence.

Obviously most of us don’t believe any of this nonsense.  The bible isn’t a complex code book, but a narrative.  In fact, it’s a story that begins in creation (Gen 1-2) and ends in renewed creation (Romans 8, Rev 21-22).  God longs, according to Romans 8, to liberate the cosmos from its bondage to decay so that the whole world experiences the freedom that the children of God will one day know.  When Christ returns, all things will be set right.  I long for the time when earth and heaven will be one.

Many Christians are against the types of theology that would predict the return of Jesus, but quickly embrace an underlying assumption that drives the impulse to know: escapism.  One mantra of the church in the world continues to be: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”

Are we simply passing through?  What about the many issues that plague this world as we pass through?  Creation is dominated by violence, ecological disaster, preventable disease, hunger, and injustice.  These things certainly could lead us to desire an escape from the darkness of the world, but the New Testament writers make clear that “escapism” is not God’s answer.  The hope of the Christian life is the renewal of all creation when God will bring the “kingdom… on earth as in heaven.”  Heaven will come here, not the other way around.

So I ask: Is there an area where escapism is looming in your life?  God invites you into the “here and now” of the Kingdom.  Is God calling you into some sort of unique kingdom ministry opportunity that you keep putting off because you find your escape in settling future issues first, such as: who you will marry, graduating, getting settled into a career, having kids, putting those kids through college, paying of loans, making enough money so you can eventually become as generous as you wish you could be now?  I wonder if God might be inviting us into the risky realization that we were “left below” for a purpose.  We were “left below” to reflect the realities of the Kingdom of God breaking into our “here and now” situations.

Any time we attempt to delay Kingdom actualization for another day, escapist views win.  October 21 will come and go just like any other day.  How wonderful it would be if Kingdom minded Christians were intentional about reflecting the reign of God on the earth, on a date marked out for evacuation.

Kurt Willems is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting next year by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.  He writes at: the Pangea Blog and is also on Twitter and Facebook.

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