Living in Anticipation (1 Peter 4:19)

More than a few writers have observed that anticipation is sometimes its own reward.  Maybe.  It’s certainly true for a few things in life.  If you go to the movie theater, you’ll most likely be subjected to several minutes of “previews” before the film you paid to see.  They’re called “trailers”—longer than a television commercial, each trailer is a work of art unto itself, highlighting the basic contours of an upcoming film without giving away too much. It’s the fine art of building anticipation, making you yearn for the day you plunk down more money to be enveloped in the film’s story.

Eschatology—the study of the so-called “end times”—is like that.  The resurrection of Jesus testifies to a coming reality, and believers actively anticipate the day when we get to experience this glorious event for ourselves.

As we’ve mentioned, God’s future Kingdom is a major theme that runs throughout Peter’s letter.  After addressing the hurts of a persecuted Church, Peter says this:

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19)

Don’t miss the “therefore.”  Peter had earlier said that those who suffer are sharing in what Christ experienced, and we receive the blessing of God’s presence through it all.  Because of that, Peter says, we can “entrust” or “souls” to God.  The word for “trust” here is an unusual one—the same Greek word that is used of Jesus “entrusting” His spirit to God on the cross (Luke 23:46).  Its meaning is something like “to give to someone for safekeeping.”  Peter assures his readers—and us as well—that God can be counted on for our preservation.  Preservation?  For what?  The answer can only be God’s new heaven and new earth.

I have to confess that I don’t much look forward to heaven—at least not as much as the idea of God making the earth new again.  See, the Christian story of the end times is of God remaking all of creation, and we get to enjoy this new world with Him.  The Bible speaks of Heaven as a very real place, of course—it seems that until this new earth is made that God’s people inhabit Heaven even as they, too, await the day that Christ returns to set things right.

The point is simply this: any Christian focus on the “end times” must be focused on the whole story—and the story must be an emphatically earthly story.  Our final destination is God’s renewed earth.  This is why we must be cautious in how we approach our understanding of the end times.  Too often evangelical Christianity has exhibited a strange preoccupation with an event known as the Rapture.  The Rapture refers to the day that the Church is rescued from the present world prior to a seven-year period of intense tribulation.  Now, the Rapture is an idea worthy of our attention and even our devotion.  But we must be clear about two things.  First, not everyone agrees on the nature and timing of the Rapture.  Second, the Rapture is not the end of the story.  We must be more focused on resurrection than Rapture—and by resurrection I mean the final end of the story when God’s people inhabit a new earth.  Again, it’s hardly wrong to learn about and evaluate the Rapture, but the danger is that we might start to think that our goal is one of escaping the earth instead of caring for it, or that our good deeds are motivated by fear of the Lord’s return rather than loving a created world that groans for completion.  Telling the whole story—a story that ends not with Rapture but a resurrected world—that builds a greater anticipation and care for our earth.

This, then, is what Peter means when he speaks of trusting God “while doing good.”  The gospel, of course, cannot be reduced to good works.  The gospel is the powerful story of God’s plan to renew all of creation—and our immediate response is to come to Jesus’ cross for personal forgiveness and transformation.  Good deeds, then, reflect this inward transformation; they become a means of participating in God’s future kingdom even though it has yet to be fully realized.

In the first few centuries of the Church, this became the key to the Church’s success.  Even a non-Christian historian pauses to remark:

“By 250, Christianity had spread from Palestine across the Roman empire….The impact of Christian faith was palpable in the lives of ordinary men and women, who had embraced sexual continence, willingly set their slaves free, and in martyrdom displayed the highest form of courage.  Again, was this coincidence, or was it a sign that man’s divine nature had finally truly been awakened?”[1]

But, of course, it had nothing to do with “man’s divine nature,” but everything to do with ordinary people who found confidence in knowing that even in the midst of suffering, they could entrust their souls to a faithful God.

And so can we.

Our challenge, then, is to “do good” in the lives of our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers.  We “do good” because—like a movie trailer—we live in anticipation when all things will be made good again.

 

 

[1] Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light, p. 161-2.

Advertisements

One thought on “Living in Anticipation (1 Peter 4:19)

  1. Thank you for the great job of explaining about what our focus needs to be about! Not escaping but being about the kingdom work and inhabitating the new heaven and the new earth. That is something I have seen for a while and you are the only pastor I have ever heard to teach that from the pulpit!! Praise God for the revelation!!! The ministry that I am a part off has been focusing on the kingdom now for 10 years!!

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s