So what difference does it really make to our lives, to our struggles and ambitions, if Yeshua has indeed already returned to gather together His Church? How does that incident affect our lives today? Well, it affects us a great deal, indeed, it changes everything.
We have all been taught that the Return of Christ is our great hope. And further, that His Return is close at hand, very close. And that the closer it becomes, the worse things are going to be here on earth. Every calamity and disaster, every war and atrocity, is just further proof of Yeshua's ever nearing approach. We fully expected the world to fall more into ruin as His Return drew near. In truth, some of us even felt a sort of smug satisfaction in seeing society unravel.
Yet if He has indeed already returned and gathered together His church into His kingdom, where then does that leave us? We are forced to change our entire outlook. The catastrophes of this world have nothing whatever to do with some approaching apocalypse. No longer are we to simply endure the cruelties of our existence and persevere until some Rapture takes us all away. So What then are we to do? And further, What are we not to do?
First, we must get out of the routine of reading scripture as if it is addressed specifically to us. We must allow the inspired writers to encourage and comfort their own fellow citizens of their own time, their own disciples, helpers and laborers, and quit trying to steal their message for ourselves. We can read and learn a great deal from their inspired writings, but we must quit interpreting them as if they were written to us, personally. We must instead find out and become the kind of vessels the Lord would have us to be and quit trying to dress in the garb of two thousand years ago.
Thus, the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the saints of old may not necessarily be for us. Their hope was Christ's speedy return and thus they moved about the cities and villages warning of the ever nearing day of judgment. Many of them sold their houses, quit their jobs and hit the dusty trail to spread the news that the kingdom of GOD was finally upon them.
But alas, if that day has come and gone, if the impending calamity is indeed passed, then we live under entirely different circumstances. Of course we will all no doubt be judged some day for how we lived our lives here on earth, but we are no longer under the gun, so to speak. No longer is our ship taking on water, about to sink into the abyss.
Having said that, what are we then to do? Surely, we are to do our best to make this world a better place. We should endeavor to improve our neighborhood, our community and our country. Indeed, even our planet. We should improve, if we are able, our schools, our hospitals, our governments. We should seek out new cures and inventions so as to improve our lot and that of our neighbors.
We have a wealth of talent that is being wasted because the possessors of those talents too often walk away from society thinking that it is all pointless if the end of the world is indeed upon us. They question and argue, Why polish the brass on the Titanic?
Thus lesser men and women, even dishonest and corrupt men and women, fill the void left by the exodus of the strong and courageous. This is not unlike what happened in the fourth and fifth centuries when Rome needed her best and brightest to help her stave off the invading hordes of barbarians. Many of her most capable had withdrawn into the monasteries and convents, leaving their nation to fend for itself.
Instead, we today should be decidedly involved in the affairs of this world and not detach ourselves from those in need, as we passively await our rapture. There is an unhealthy tendency in the Christian community to seek to withdraw from this wrecked and wicked world and wall ourselves off from every immoral influence. We have too often been taught that the closer His Return is, the more evil the world will become. Many have even sought to shelter themselves in private communities where they hope to be protected from the so called dredges of society.
But it is our calling to help and serve our fellow man. Not just our fellow Christian or fellow believer, but all of mankind. Indeed, all of GOD's creation is our proving ground, from our pets to our planet. Do we move about our daily routines motivated by the spirit of love or are we driven by a faithless religion?
That the Day of Christ has already come and gone is perhaps why the Creator tolerates so many different kinds of religions and persuasions in our communities. It is now apparent that many of our peculiar doctrines and traditions matter little to HIM. HE is instead profoundly and ultimately concerned with how we treat one another daily and not so much where we might congregate on Sunday mornings. It matters not in the least upon which membership rosters our names are written here in this life. It only matters if they are written there, in the Book of Life.
Perhaps we would do well to remember Peter's realization in ACTS 10,
- Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
No doubt this is why Yeshua didn't return to His earthly ministry after His resurrection, so as to set up an earthly kingdom. His kingdom was always to be a heavenly kingdom and He never had any intention of laying a corner stone for an earthy kingdom. The Church He intended to build was there, in His kingdom, not here on earth.
Thus, no longer should it be our hope, our motivation or our goal to see the Word Over the World. It should no longer be our quest to see our particular denomination in every community, or even in every nation. No longer should we be striving to witness in order that every individual can hear the gospel of our particular persuasion.
Now it is a question of whether or not GOD's word is over us as individuals. Does HIS word dwell in our hearts? Does the word rule our lives? That is where we stand today, if Christ has already returned. We are no longer moving to a final conclusion. Planet earth is not pressuring up to an exploding crescendo.
This new hope, this new pursuit, to see the word over ourselves, crosses all barriers, knocks down every door and pulls down all walls. It really makes little difference whether we are male or female, rich or poor, Catholic or Protestant, orthodox or un-orthodox. Now what matters is do we hurt and hate or do we love and help? Do we reach out a helping hand to those in need or do we clinch our fist with obdurate intolerance?
Yeshua elucidated upon this coming day of judgment in one of His final discourses, which I think is well worth relating in its entirety as it bears greatly upon our subject.
- MATTHEW 25:31-46 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations [ethnos, the multitudes]: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
- Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
- Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
- And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
- Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
- Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
- Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
I think that Yeshua's message is clear and powerful. Below His judgment seat an examination will be made as to how each subject conducted the life which was given him. Did he spend it giving, or did he spend it getting? Did he help those he came in contact with, or did he with reckless abandon hurt those closest to him? Did he love or did he hate? These testimonies won't have to do with which Church he faithfully attended; nor will they have to do with how successful was his business ventures. There won't be any testimony as to his courage on the battle field nor concerning his ability in the sports arena. It will all have to do with how well he learned to love.
The heavenly jury has been chosen and appointed. The Judge has arranged HIS courtroom. The great cloud of witnesses have been assembled. Everything is awaiting our day in court. The verdict will hang on how we live our lives today, in this life, in this world. The size of our bank account matters not in the least. What Church or religion we have been members of matters little if at all. It makes no difference whatsoever if we are an Ivy League Professor or the late night janitor, whether we are homeless or affluent. What matters now is how we live our lives. What is now of the utmost importance is that we learn to love.
Two well written and thoroughly researched studies relating to this subject might be suggested to the interested reader; The Parousia by J. Stuart Russell and The Apocalypse Fulfilled by P. S. Desprez.