The Christian in the World, Part 4- Ending

Posted: December 9, 2012 in The Christian In the World
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Introduction

So far in this series we’ve learned that Christians are foreigners in this world.  And that we’re foreigners because God has chosen us through a process involving His foreknowledge, the Holy Spirit’s sanctification, and our entering into covenant with Jesus Christ.

But not only did Peter call us foreigners, he also called us “exiles”.  Exile is a powerful concept implying that we’re forced to live away from our homeland, that we have a purpose in being here, and that someday we anticipate going home.

Then last week we were reminded that as foreigners and exiles in the world, we can expect persecution.  Suffering can take many forms, with some of it coming as part of the natural order of life.  But if we’re Christians, we must expect to suffer because of our association with our Lord.

Today we’re wrapping up this series, The Christian in the World.  And to start today’s message off, I’d like to introduce you to a fancy theological word.  (I know, I know…that’s just how you were hoping this message would start!)  Still, it’s a word you should know because it describes what should be the focus of a Christian.

That word is eschatology. 

Eschatology

Eschatology is the study of last things, coming from the Greek word eschatos, meaning “last”.  Specifically, eschatology is that branch of theology that deals with the Second Coming, the Resurrection, and the Last Judgment…things of that nature.  So, for example, a study of the Book of Revelation would fall under the heading of eschatology...it’s about last things.

Eschatology has always mattered to the Church…from the very beginning.  That doesn’t mean there was always a branch of theology specifically devoted to the study of last things…no.  But what it does mean is that Christians had the end in view from the start.  The New Testament is full of references to the Last Judgment, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Day of the Lord, and such like.  And not just in the Book of Revelation, either.  In fact, even if Revelation wasn’t in the Bible, there are still enough references to last things in the New Testament to let us know that the end was on the minds of early Christians from the beginning.

This series is drawn from 1st Peter.  Before this series began, how aware were you of this epistle, really?  Probably not very.  It’s just a short little book written to an obscure group of persecuted believers living in a few backwater Roman provinces.  It’s not a book of eschatology.  It’s not a book of prophecy.  Yet five of the six verses of our text contain direct references to the end, to judgment, and the return of Christ.

Peter’s audience was far more aware of the end than we are.  Their eschatological view tended toward soon; the end was coming soon.  To them, judgment was a good thing.  The end meant Christ on earth, and the New Kingdom ruling the affairs of men.  It meant the end of oppression, the end of persecution, the end of suffering, the end of lack, the end of injustice, and the end of torment.

So they looked forward to the end with joy, with happy anticipation.  The thoughts of last judgment, of Christ’s return, or their own deaths weren’t frightening or sorrowful to them.  They were persecuted, so the next life offered something better than the one they were living.

The End

Peter specifically mentioned three things that The End would bring for those persecuted believers, and those three things would have been incredibly significant to them.

Inheritance

First, in verses 3 & 4 of our text he said that at The End faithful believers would receive an inheritance.

Keep in mind that an inheritance is a possession that’s received because of relationship.  Because they were children of God, they could expect an inheritance. And he describes that inheritance using three words; imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  It can’t be destroyed, it can’t be corrupted, and it never loses value.  Then he added, “It’s reserved in heaven for you.”  Essentially then, no one could steal it from them or cheat them out of it.

All of this would have been greatly encouraging to people who had little or nothing in this world.  Early historians recorded Christianity as being the religion of women and slaves…two of the most dispossessed population groups of the ancient world.  The New Testament paints a picture of most the early saints as poor, often lacking in daily food.  So for people who were used to having nothing, who were used to being oppressed and cheated, Peter’s words would have provided a beautiful hope; “An inheritance waits for you at The End.”

Deliverance

The next thing he described as waiting at The End was deliverance.

Well, actually the word used in the Scriptures is “salvation”.  When we think of salvation, we think of being saved from sin; it’s a spiritual experience, and the word “salvation” is theological in meaning.  But when Peter used the word “salvation” here, he used it in a way unfamiliar to us…but it was a usage that was as familiar and meaningful to them as the idea of salvation from sin is to us.

Peter’s meaning here is salvation in the sense of a people being freed from the oppression of a foreign ruler.  The one who freed them would be referred to as their “savior”.  The Greek word Peter used here, soteria, expresses the idea of deliverance from captivity, from bondage to a foreign government.

We’ve already established that Peter’s audience considered themselves to be foreigners and exiles in the world.  We’ve already established that they were suffering because of their association with Jesus and His followers.  And if you’ve been reading 1st Peter, you’ve read the open hints at what they were enduring.  Christian slaves were being physically abused, beaten, for no other reason than being Christian.  Christian wives were being mistreated by unbelieving husbands.  Christian husbands were dealing with family chaos caused by unbelieving wives and children.  Christians in general were being falsely and maliciously accused of causing all sorts of problems, and of believing all sorts of strange things, and of practicing all sorts of evil.

The word oppression doesn’t even begin to express what they had to endure.

But Peter told them that all of this would change at The End; because they would be deliveredTheir King was coming, and He would free them from their bondage, their captivity, and lift their oppression.  This idea was so important that he repeated it three times over the course of four verses!  At The End they would be free.

Vindication

The third thing Peter said that would happen at The End was that they would receive vindication.  The exact wording he used in verse 7 was that at The End their tested faith would result in “praise and glory and honor”…and by this he means “praise and glory and honor” for them…for the believers.

The idea that Christians will receive praise, glory, and honor is strange to our ears.  We’re used to those things being ascribed to our Lord; we give Him praise, glory, and honor!  “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”  But Peter said that they…the believers…would receive them!  Why would he say such a thing?

Well, you have to try to understand how Christians were viewed in the pagan world.  Christianity was foolish, based on the foolish idea that the Christian god had died for all peoples’ sins then had risen from the dead.  It was a faith that taught foolish ideas of morality, which practiced strange rites that sounded like ritual cannibalism, and whose adherents would not take the loyalty oath to the government.  So then, it was a faith both foolish and dangerous…and because of this could be mocked and maligned freely.

But all this would change at The End.  Peter said that these believers who were being mocked, abused, and persecuted for their beliefs…who were being accused of all kinds of horrible things…would at The End receive praise, and glory, and honor.  In other words, they would be vindicated in the sight of all those who had thought them foolish.  They would be vindicated in the sight of all who thought them dangerous.  At The End the whole world would look at them and say,

“You were right.”

Where We Are

I mentioned early on that Peter’s audience was far more aware of the end than we are.  But what’s also different is our view of the end, what we see when we peer through the fog of the book of Revelation.  And that’s part of the problem; we usually only consider The End through the fog of Revelation, in light of the sensational, apocalyptic language of John…and through the even more sensational interpretations of the prophecy “experts.”

We’re fascinated with Revelation, but it’s the kind of fascination that we have with the mysterious, the unknown.  Our imaginations are fired by images of a world gone mad, of global catastrophe, of a popular yet demonic ruler loosing death upon the world, of stars falling from heaven, of computer chips in hands and foreheads bursting open into sores, of one world government plunged into world war, and of a piece of bread buying a bag of gold.

We’re fascinated as we are by dark science fiction, by horror from the stars.  We’re fascinated as we are by zombies, by plague run amok among humankind.  We’re fascinated, but nervous.  The End is about fear for most Christians, and it’s because we’re focused almost entirely on the wrong things.

Do you realize that the Christians Peter was writing to didn’t have the book of Revelation?  And that most of them had probably died before Revelation was even written?  So when they looked toward The End, it wasn’t with our strange fascination with the horror of it.  No.  They looked toward The End with hope…with joy.  They didn’t need to be horrified by frightening images of persecution, war, famine, and death…they were experiencing those things.  When they thought of the end, they thought of things being better…which is why Peter talked to them about inheritance, deliverance, and vindication.

But generally, Christians in the west don’t look toward the end with hope, with joy, and here’s why; life’s too good.  We’re mostly comfortable.  We’re well fed.  We look nice.  We smell nice, too.  We’re making a living…maybe even a good living.  We’ve got careers, paid vacations, and retirement.  All in all, life’s pretty good.

Oh sure, Hollywood mocks us…but who cares?  We have the respect of our neighbors.  Oh sure, the government seems kind of anti-Christian…but not in the kick-the-doors-down-and-drag-you-away sense.  Our community appreciates who we are and what we do.  And even if our co-workers give us a hard time once in a while, underneath there’s usually the grudging acknowledgement by our superiors that we’re the most dependable & trustworthy people on the job.

Yes, life is good.  For now.

Closing:

I’m not going to waste a lot of time trying to get you to view the end differently…life’s too good for that. I could preach an entire series of messages about looking at The End the way early Christians did, and when the sound of the last syllable had died away, you’d still be thinking about The End with fear and nervousness…and that’s because this life is just too good.  But that can change.

So if the day comes that life becomes hard, and you lose your good job, your paid vacations, and your retirement because of your faith, just remember…your inheritance comes at The End.

If the day comes that you are oppressed, abused, mistreated, and even imprisoned for your faith, just remember…your deliverance comes at The End.

If the day comes that you are mocked, maligned, and viewed as foolish, simpleminded, or even dangerous because of your faith, just remember…your vindication comes at The End.

And view the end with hope.

Comments
  1. Cameron says:

    I admit that I often avoid the book of Revelation when teaching home Bible studies specifically because of the fascination you describe people having with it. I can’t tell you how often someone has babbled on and on, telling me how to survive an apocalypse, and forgetting everything I told them about the new birth. It becomes a distraction, and it shouldn’t. I think we have done ourselves a disservice by using Daniel and Revelation to try and scare people into obeying the gospel.

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