Recently I saw a video that was supposedly an interpretation of Revelation 17. The speaker covered a variety of topics (After all it was an hour and a half of two guys sitting in a park, talking). The main thrust, however, was this: using the “prophecies” of Revelation one would see that we’re in the last days. In short, Pope Francis is the last pope, and when he dies John Paul II will appear. I mean, clearly John’s seven-headed beast was a reference to the most recent events in the papacy.
While I was watching all I could ask myself was this: why are we Christians so addicted to such teachings about the end of the world?
This video isn’t the first time nor will it be the last that a pope or some other well known figure will be equated with one of the beasts of Revelation or the antichrist. Christians for centuries have been preoccupied with knowing exactly when and how Jesus is going to return. Almost always such misplaced priorities have led us to abandon our primary objective as Christians: namely, proclaim and live the cross of Christ.
I’m currently teaching Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, so Paul’s words were rattling around my head while I was watching this video. At one point in the letter, Paul points out that the Jews of his day always looked for signs while the Gentiles looked for wisdom, but we Christians should be satisfied with the foolishness that is the cross of Christ. In the crucifixion, Christ renders useless all our desires for signs and for wisdom, because, in the cross, Jesus decisively terminated the systems of power, prestige, and prominence. In their place he established humility, sacrifice, and servitude. What Paul calls the foolishness of God, the foolishness that shames the wise.
Yet we Christians still seek signs. Almost every year we see more people seeking out signs or proclaiming that they know when Jesus will return, when the judgment will begin, where the antichrist will be revealed. Even if we don’t follow those who claim to know such specifics, it is not uncommon to hear people talk about the end of the world, the signs of the times. Just the other day at church someone asked me this very question, “We could be in the end times, couldn’t we?”
They clearly were asking the question rhetorically and expected my answer to be “yes”.
“Surely you’ve seen the signs; certainly you’ve heard of the wisdom that has deciphered that biblical code. Obviously you can see the world is falling apart at the seams.”
We keep looking for secret codes, hidden signs, occult truths. Signs and wonders.
I can’t help but ask myself how much the church would change if we began imitating Paul in his emphasis on knowing nothing more than our crucified Lord. Would we be more faithful in imitating Jesus? Would we focus more on self-sacrificial service for those outside the community of faith than on trying to pinpoint the day in which they will slip into the lake of fire?
What is our response? What will our focus be?
Will we continue looking for signs and wonders?
Or will we focus our energy on knowing, imitating, and proclaiming Christ crucified?