Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The First Coming of Christ

The Baptist church in which I was raised and reared had a very pronounced interest in The Second Coming of Christ. I recall hearing about it as far back as I can remember. There seemed to be a preoccupation with books, sermons, articles and studies focused on the imminent return of Jesus. This sweet and very working-class congregation seemed to be cheering on this event and I became both fascinated by and afraid of this looming, end-of-the-age spectacular.
As early as 1962 I was being introduced to the very intricate grids and timelines that seemed to show a pattern of dates and circumstances that had been predicted by the Old Testament Prophets – circumstances, I was taught, that had to be in place prior to the Second Coming of Christ. They seemed to revolve around lengthy, peculiar and cross-referenced passages in Daniel, Joel and The Revelation of John. There were lots of angels, strange beasts, pronouncements, an Antichrist, a Whore of Babylon and a host of armies, demons and bizarre happenings. My mind embraced these fantastic images and new interpretations of these ancient, prophetic writings seemed to keep tumbling forth into the landscape of the 1960’s. An early zenith for this apocalyptic fascination seems to have been the 1970 publication of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth – the biggest-selling book of the 1970’s having sold, at this writing, over 25 million copies. Lindsey presented one of the first overviews of the pre-millennial return of Christ for the ordinary reader. It is a wild and plodding projection of the complicated conclusions Lindsey (and others) reached while poring over the aforementioned sacred texts. These projections span (roughly) from the time of Daniel’s prophetic writing (about 600 B.C) making a few historic stops along the way until they reach the prime and pivotal moment of the modern day formation of the State of Israel in 1948. From that point forward LGPL details many events in our current era that Lindsey links to specific, Biblical passages, not the least of which is the creation of a European Union of governments. Significant events still yet to occur are the rising up of this Antichrist (predicted to be a political figure who will serve as the leader of the European Union,) the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple on its original site, the rapture of believers (wherein the righteous are mysteriously transported into the heavens,) an international war on the Plain of Megiddo (Armageddon) and the triumphant return of Jesus to the earth.
As a young person – a child, really – all of this made me shiver to the bone. For instance, what if my Mom and I got raptured while Dad was out playing golf? What about my best friend, Rick and his Mom, who were Catholics and pretty much considered to be on the side of the Antichrist? What about the dreams I had about going to college, teaching school and having a family? Why does Jesus have to come back now right as my life is beginning? Selfish? Yes. Real thoughts? Absolutely.
As I’ve matured I’ve kept a more than curious eye on the development of this worldview. In some corners of Christendom the preoccupation with the topic has increased; bookstore shelves are full of reinterpretations but they all basically rehash what Lindsey laid out in his 1970 watershed volume. (Lindsey, himself, continues to write books and has appeared on countless radio and television shows further defining and updating his views.) But mercifully, I have come to a certain peace about the last things. I suppose that I have perceived in my spirit that it is the message of Christ’s first coming that needs to be honored. And, when His feet once again touch the Mt. of Olives, God forbid that we be found reading a copy of Left Behind.   Let us, rather, be caught in the act of giving a cup of water in His Name.


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