Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Are we there yet?"

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 87

Read: Jude; Revelation 1:1-17:18

Verse that stood out:
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near - Revelation 1:3

The year was 1988, I was in the fifth grade, and the hot topic of the day on the playground was whether or not we thought Jesus would be coming back before we died. I don’t even remember who brought it up (I sure didn’t – my church didn’t spend a lot of time on the issue), but I do remember the general consensus – yes, Jesus was coming back before we died. Maybe someone in my class had gotten a hold of one of the hot books that year, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988 by Edgar C. Whisenant, a retired NASA rocket engineer living in Little Rock at the time. Over six million copies were either sold or handed out leading up to that year. I don’t know how many people it convinced, but the filter down affect had many in my class convinced that we wouldn’t make it out of the fifth grade. It had something to do with the Russians.

Needless to say, I was a little concerned. I personally was not ready for Jesus to come back. Don’t get me wrong. I was a believer. I was glad to have Jesus in my heart – I just wasn’t ready to see Him in the clouds. What I was ready for (or at least thought I was) was for a girlfriend. My guess was, there was no kissing in heaven, and I was pretty sure I wanted to try that out before I got there. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t come back in 1988, or 1989, or 1990, or well – it took me a while to get that first kiss. Let’s just say I’m glad we have a patient God.

While I may have eventually gotten that first kiss, there was a casualty of 1988. And I don’t mean Edgar C. Whisenant. Apparently, he was undaunted by Jesus failure to return, made a few adjustments to his calculations and released a new version – you guessed it, 89 Reasons Why the Rapture will Be in 89. I don’t think it sold as well. I sure wasn’t buying. For the casualty of 1988 was my interest in the book of Revelation. From about that time period onward I just didn’t pay any attention to prophesies or predictions. And I didn’t ever open my Bible to the book of Revelation. “Why bother?” I thought. It’s like asking “Are we there yet?” on a long trip only to have your dad yell back at you, “We’ll get there when we get there.”

I’ll be honest with you, that was pretty much my attitude until just a few years ago when thanks to Dr. David Garland, my New Testament professor at Truett challenged me and my classmates to question our basic assumptions about the basic purpose of the book. What if Revelation wasn’t meant to answer the question, “Are we there yet?” Most of us didn’t think that was a question that could be answered in the first place. Jesus, himself had said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). So, my professor asked, “What’s Revelation there for? Why’s it in the Bible? Is God just trying to confuse us?” I certainly didn’t think that. I remembered a saying of Elisabeth Elliot’s that went something like, “Don’t you believe the shepherd wants to get the sheep where they need to go even more than the sheep want to get there?” God loves us. He’s not trying to trick us.

Now, Revelation obviously speaks something of the future. It speaks repeatedly of the second coming of Christ, of the coming of a new heaven and a new earth – all future events. But if the purpose isn’t to ask “Are we there yet?,” what’s all that future talk there for? Just maybe, like all of the prophets of the Old Testament, John’s prophecy is meant to be less of a fortune telling and more of a forth telling. Yes the prophets give glimpses of God’s future plans, but they do so that they might give a relevant word for today. John tells us about Christ’s return, not so we can mark it on our calendars, but so that we might live more faithfully today. Maybe the question Revelation seeks to give an answer to is, “What are we here for, till we get there?”

More tomorrow . . .

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