The jokes are pinging around social media and the television networks about the so-called Mayan apocalypse, based on a reading of a Mayan calendar ending on December 21 of this year. Of course, no one but the most obviously gullible people actually worried about this. And these were the same people who still had stored-up water and canned goods for the Y2K apocalypse from 1999.
I think there’s something we ought to pay attention to here that can help us read why Christianity seemed so incredible in the first-century, and why it still seems so incredible now. Our forefathers, the apostles of our Lord Jesus, looked to the world like the Mayan apocalypse hawkers.
The Apostle Peter wrote to the churches that scoffers would come, saying “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). The ongoing normalcy of the world seems to be an indicator that everything has always been this way, and always will be. The expectation of a returning, triumphant Christ seemed to be just as ridiculous as the Mayan calendar.
Peter acknowledged this, but pointed to the same event our Lord Jesus pointed to earlier: the flood of Noah. Unlike the prophecy charts of all the pagan nations and the Christian television evangelists, the kingdom of God doesn’t come with, as Jesus put it, “signs to be perceived.”
Jesus said this age will whir on and on, seeming as though God has forgotten the just and overlooks the wicked. As in the days of Noah, we’ll have weddings and funerals, and on and on it will go. Until, suddenly - everything changes (Matt. 24:36-44).
There’s something embedded in the human conscience that knows there’s a day of reckoning. In the heart God has implanted a witness to the coming judgment (Rom. 2:13-16). I think that’s why we take note of old prophecies of the end, wherever they come from, and why every culture tells stories, sings songs, makes movies and television shows about the end of it all.
The Mayans were wrong about the calendar. But they weren’t wrong that the arc of history is headed toward something cataclysmic. That’s a word of judgment. God sees and knows and will call to account. But it’s also, for the people of Christ, a word of promise. God hasn’t forgotten you. Jesus hasn’t left you as an orphan. Yes, it seems to have been a long time from the Roman empire to the digital age. But a thousand years is as a day, and a day as a thousand years (2 Pet. 3:8).
And even the delay is a sign of God’s goodness and kindness. Every morning the sun comes up is another opportunity for the lost to be welcomed home by the God who is “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
Today’s probably not the end of the age, and we ought to have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, the coming of Jesus isn’t the end of anything, but the start of a new earth liberated from the reign of death. So we ought to groan, “Come Lord Jesus.” On the other hand, the delay means there’s still room for more.
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About Russell Moore
Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, May 2009).
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