Thursday, 16 February 2012
Throughout history, the eschatalogical beliefs of apocalyptic communities have affected the way they interpret older prophecies because they believe that, in some way, God had revealed a hidden message in the older prophecies to their particular community. Each of these communities believe that they are special and that God is using their community to communicate to the world that they are in the last days. This, of course, often times leads these "special" communities to forget that the older prophecies being reinterpreted had an original meaning that fit the situation and the context of the particular period of time in which the prophesy was written.
An example of this taking place in the New Testament can be found in Matthew 1:18-25. In this passage, Joseph, the "father" of Jesus had a dream where an angel explained to him the significance of the child that he would raise. The angel quoted Isaiah 7, which states, "Look, the 'virgin' shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him 'Emmanuel' which means 'God with us'."
This verse had it's own meaning in the time Isaiah spoke this word. In that day, the Syro-Ephraimite war posed a threat to Ahaz, king of Judah because Israel and Aram had allied with each other and tried attacking Jerusalem. This eventually led Isaiah to console the king by speaking a word from the Lord, which is now referred to as the "Immanuel" prophecy, found in Isaiah 7:10-17.
"Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 'Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.' But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.’"
Here, Isaiah comforts Ahaz with the idea that "God is with them".
The prophecy was originally meant to be taken by Ahaz, in his situation at his time, but the prophecy had later been reinterpreted by the writer of Matthew to refer to Jesus as "Emmanuel", the Messiah.
This is not saying that the prophecy concerning "Emmanuel" is meaningless. In fact, I believe it shows that scripture is full of meaning. Another important facet it teaches us, too, is that we shouldn't get too hung up on "End Times" timelines. The fact is, throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity, believers have been trying to predict when the end will come. Many people tend to believe they are in the last days because the world couldn't possibly get any worse.
We see signs all around us -- earthquakes and other natural disasters, wars, ungodliness all around -- we look at these and forget that these have been going on since the beginning of time as we know it. We want to believe we are a special people that God has revealed a secret to, and only through us, can the world be saved from Armageddon. And to a certain extent, that's correct. The problem is not in thinking that God made Christians to be a special people, but rather in the idea that we often get too caught up in the "end times" theology that we forget our identity as a special people.
I believe the answer to this is in the way we live. The church in Acts 2 is a great example. They literally believed (as many do today) that they were in the last days and that Jesus Christ would return at any moment. Because of this, their grudges, their possessions, their money, anything they had, meant nothing to them. They were able to sell everything and live peacefully with one another, in a prayerful attitude of thanksgiving and charity. This is a utopia of sorts. A "Heaven on Earth", if you will. And it is this that should be on our minds as Christians; that we join with God in His Kingdom coming on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Our Christian religion isn't about waiting for heaven. It's about waiting for Christ as Heaven is being manifested on Earth. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It's the joy of being a Christian. And it is this that makes the Christians a special people -- not in what is hidden in scripture, but what is bluntly before us: a very sick and desperate world in need of atonement with God.
Do you think we get too caught up in end-times theology that we forget who we are and who we are ministering to? Is there a balance we can reach between forward thinking and present day ministry?