Clichés become clichés in large part because they tend to be true. And perched atop the precipice of the great mountain of clichés is this old philosophical ditty: True wisdom is knowing that you do not know. This little morsel of Western cultural inheritance takes many different forms, with a minor variance here or there, but the sentiment remains the same regardless of the chosen syntax. One should be slow to pronounce absolute knowledge in any area and quick to admit ignorance.
Yet, it is with full foreknowledge of the truism stated above, that without reservation, I make the following claim: We are now in the last days!
This topic, when will the last days come? When will Christ return? these questions are of great intrigue for Christians, and in some ways rightfully so. It is understandable that it would be. How could the coming of Christ to usher in the eschaton, to end the normal space time continuum not be intriguing? It is inherently interesting, and we can’t get enough of it. The History Channel seems to trip over itself, rushing to produce their next tedious special feature on it. Even non-believers like to watch movies about it. It’s a topic that sells books, ups TV ratings and is great internet click-bait.
There is a deep longing to know when Christ will return. However, a look at 2 Peter 3 gives us some bad news in regards to our desire to garner this understanding.
2 Peter 3:8 reads, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
It is wildly important to understand that God’s Time is not like your time. In fact it’s slightly misleading to speak of God’s time at all. And that is because God is infinite. He has always been and always will be. A better way of saying this might be to state that God is outside of time. You see, time is a human construct, it is not independently real. It is a way for us to view and order the world. It is a way for us to make sense of our reality, but time is not an eternal principle and hence is not part of God.
Time is part of the created order which means it is not timeless. Let that sink in for a second (I know, weird, right?). And since time is part of the created order, it is in a sense fallen, it is deceitful, it feels real when it is not, and it lulls us into thinking that it is constant, dependable, eternal, but alas it is not. Time only started with the creation of the universe. This concept led one of the great church fathers, Augustine’s students to ask him the following: “Well, if God is outside of time, what was he doing before he created the heavens and the earth?” To which Augustine famously responded, “He was making hell for people who ask stupid questions.” Augustine would latter go on to answer the question with much less snarkiness, asserting that God was in an eternal, complete, and perfect relationship with himself (See Augustine’s De Trinitate if interested).
For our purposes, what is important to note here is that our time doesn't coordinate, isn't analogous, and can’t sync with the timeless nature of God. Because of this basic ontological and metaphysical principle, it is important to not try and judge, pick or predict the end times based on the events of our time-oriented and time dependent-world. Christians ought not to try and decipher God’s providential plans in their day-to-day lives or worse yet, in the world news.
But yet, this is what many of us do. We live in a sick world, a perverse world, a world gone mad. That is true. And because of this, I often here Christians wanting to claim that these are the last days because of the great evil and suffering we see. I mean look at the world’s geo-political scene: Russia, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East is on fire. Isis is raping children in front of their parents, cutting the heads off of Christians, burning them alive, drowning them in cages, and throwing them off of buildings.
Here, at home, we witness a continued genocide, as mothers under the guise of healthcare, and women’s rights, slaughter their unborn children to the tune of 60 million dead babies. We have blood on our hands and nations should tremble and shake in fear because they stand under the Judgement of a righteous God, a God who demands Justice and purity.
Looking at this monumental suffering, this great evil, our own perverse culture, one can see how some Christians would predict that these are the end times, but take a step back, call on your maturity, try to transcend the moment. Don't you think the martyrs of the early church thought the same thing as they were dipped into wax and made into human candles to serve as lights at the Roman garden parties? How about when they watched their friends torn to shreds and eaten by ravenous lions? Don’t
you think that the Christians of Europe, as they were being wiped out by the black death, had an inclination that they were in the last days? What about the 6 million Jews shoved into Hitler’s ovens? Or the 30 million men in women ripped apart by the bullets of Stalin in the Russian gulags? I’m sure they felt the same way.
This should teach us something. Stop trying to predict when Christ will come! Christ is bigger and grander than all the world events, and he is certainly bigger and grander than America and American events.
Admittedly, it is hard for Americans to think of these things, the end times, while neglecting their American bias. We bring American baggage into the way we see everything. This is a part of the fall, part of the curse. It is a “Babelic" deficiency. That is to say it is a deficiency relating to the tower of Babel, the scrambling of languages, the cluttering of cultures, and the rampant individualism that flows from it.
American individualism is a wonderful thing, but it is quite dangerous when it gets mixed up in our theology. And this mixture of the two, Americanism and Christianity is a toxic combination that needs to be torn out of our lives. It is a cultural cocktail, the consumption of which keeps us from having big eyes, clear focus, and proper vision. This political theology is something that has deep roots in our culture and is so prevalent that we have become largely immune to it.
This strange conglomeration of Americanism and political theology finds its foundation all the way back in the early colonists. It was quite a common thought amongst early American settlers to believe that they were the chosen people of God, that they were the new Israel. You see, their story seemed to mirror the story of God’s chosen people enslaved in Egypt.
The early settlers had escaped a mighty empire, England, just as the Israelites had escaped one in Egypt. To escape they had to cross a large body of water, the Atlantic, just as the Israelites had to cross the Red Sea. Once crossing the Atlantic, they reached the Promised Land, America, just as Israel reached the Promise Land, Canaan. Many settlers even referred to the Native American tribes as “the modern day Canaanites.”
This strange conglomeration of nationalism and theology wasn't quarantined to the American experience. It is quite prevalent in Machiavelli’s great political treatise The Prince. Machiavelli dedicates an entire chapter to Lorenzo De Medici, claiming that Lorenzo would unite Italy because: “A sea had parted for him.” “A pillar of fire had guided him.” And “Manna had fallen from the sky for him.” I.E. Lorenzo was God’s chosen leader and in turn, Italy was God’s chosen nation.
This should bring us to a pertinent question. How can we have advent eyes, how can we have kingdom vision, if we are theologically American, or theologically Italian? My father often says whilst preaching, we must remember Jesus can’t be Scandinavian. Well that is true, and he certainly can’t be from Jersey!
We need to cease asserting that the end is here because this terrible thing or that terrible thing has happened or is happening. 2 Peter 3 tells us that the Lord comes like a thief in the night! But, and this is a big preposition, but, with all that being said, we ARE in the last days. That is because since God took human form, since the incarnation, by the baptism of Christ, by the kingdom building of Christ, by his death and resurrection, Christ has brought about the beginning of the end!
The end of history began, when the author of history became man. We have seen the dawn’s early light. The bright morning rays of the sun are already piercing through the cold bleak winter’s night. The sun just hasn't fully risen yet. When it does, when the eternity of the kingdom of God meets us, many ages vanish away like a moment of time (Calvin).
Because remember, time isn't real. So, if we ascend to heaven in our thoughts and mind, if we have advent eyes time is neither long nor short and we can say with certainty that we are in the last days.