Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Train Kept A-rollin'...

One Rail
As the old man huddled over the scroll something sparked his interest. It had been 67 years since he had left his beloved city as a youth. He had not left for fortune and fame, but in captivity and uncertainty, thrown out of Jerusalem by God himself, not likely to ever return. Regardless, he made up his mind to stay faithful, and God had been gracious through it all. Now, huddled over that scroll, nearing the final stretch of his days, his melancholy could not be masked. How he ached for the Jews and Jerusalem: God's chosen people, God's chosen city, would both be abandoned forever? From the barren ground of such longing, unexpectedly, a shoot of hope sprang forth from the words of Jeremiah: 70 years, not eternity, had been assigned for the desolations of Zion. Daniel began to pray for the Jews and Jerusalem.

In answer to Daniel's confessions and supplications for the future of the Jews and Jerusalem, the angel Gabriel was dispatched with God's response to Daniel's pleas. In typical God-like fashion, the answer went beyond what Daniel thought or asked. In a nutshell, God said to Daniel, "I'm not done with the Jews or Jerusalem, just yet. In fact, it will take 490 years for me to complete my work with and in them."

For all of us, studiously looking back at what was given to Daniel for clues to the end-times, we can never lose sight of the most salient feature of this vision: it's not that there are 70 weeks, but the fact that they were decreed for the Jews and Jerusalem. If one does not understand this point, I see no way for him or her to have a biblically coherent eschatology.

Rail Two
An old man walks across a rocky landscape alone. Though he's not paying attention to where he walks, he navigates perfectly, lost in thought in God's presence. He remembered all that had transpired since his days as a youth traveling with Jesus. So much had happened since then: the gospel had spilled out of Palestine and was now well on its way to the four corners of the earth, drawing in every kindred, tribe and tongue as it went. All the old gang had died and were buried, martyrs for the cause, and John, himself, the last eyewitness of Christ, walked these isolated crags in exile. I wonder, did he have a Truman moment as he walked, wondering how it would end?

A trumpet blast ended his pondering, heralding the appearance of the First and Last, who arrived, ripely, with some answers. In the prologue of the Apocalypse, we are told those answers were not just to satisfy John's curiosity, but also yours and mine (if in fact you are Christ's servant). The salient, but oft overlooked, feature of this prophecy is its stated purpose of telling what soon must take place. In fact, it is reiterated at least twice (Revelation 1:3 and 22:10) that its coming is near. No one could argue, at least not without doing injustice to the text, that the Revelation covers a lengthy period of time that actually extends into eternity, and yet the initiation of the period was to be near 95 AD.

The Train
What we have in the figures of Daniel and John are two handpicked messengers of God who were both given a vision, at a critical time of transition, of what would happen from their time to the end of time for the people on their heart. Daniel's concerns were about the Jews, so God's revelation to him was specifically about the Jews. John's concerns were for the church (which encompassed every tongue, kindred and tribe) so God's revelation dealt both with the Gentile church age and the last 7 years of Daniel.

From Daniel's time to the end of time, God would work specifically with the Jews for a total of 490 years to bring them to redemption. The only proviso not readily apparent is that 483 of those years would pass in succession, but the last seven would be split off and follow much later than the rest at the very end of time. From John's time to the end of time, God would work through a series of periods which would culminate in the removal of the Gentile church and the final seven years of Daniel, and then the millennium and eternity.

What these two figures represent, is the parallel tracks of a train. They are tied together, but are absolutely distinctive. To cross the rails is to invite disaster and turn one's eschatology into a train wreck. The train of God's presaged history will keep on a-rolling, but not all night long, and hopefully not over any of us.