There is no shortage of big and small talk regarding “apocalyptic themes,” “end times scenarios,” and the “anti-Christ” in North American Christian circles. It is an interesting phenomenon, to say the least. Perhaps Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have something to do with it? Maybe it is all of those late night Cable TV “prophets?” I really can’t cite one reason for the subject matter’s popularity in the United States. There are probably many reasons. I do know that there is plenty of contextual material to seriously consider before jumping willy-nilly into apocalyptic conclusions and preaching them as if they were the gospel itself (e.g., Jewish and Christian Sacred Texts, Culture, etc.). One example of this sort of material consideration follows:
Something Happened On The Way To Luke
The overarching Lukan concern with the delay of the second coming of Jesus of Nazareth is the literary catalyst of much of the Gospel’s eschatological material. The Lukan concept of salvation is distinctive from Mark and Matthew. Jesus is presented in Luke as an “Immediate Savior,” or one offering “salvation now.” Why? The concept of salvation is different in Luke. Lukan soteriology is immediate and future oriented. This immediacy is emphasized to a greater degree than it is in Matthew and Mark. Why? Lukan soteriology is salvation articulated by an author who stared through a new and evolving theological lens shaped by the passing of time and a consequent “eschatological adjustment.”
The author of Luke is not as influenced by an immediate apocalypse because the kingdom is now understood as an already/not yet event prefaced upon real-time accessibility and an ultimate culmination to come at a later time. Luke is spiritually pragmatic. A salvation completely tied to the return of Jesus may never be realizable in real-time. Luke understands this; Luke’s audience understands it too. Jesus’s Kingdom of God is so much more than a mere chance in linear calendar time. Jesus’s Kingdom of God is so much more than the disappointed expectation of a beleaguered constituency too. The author of Luke seems to think so; he consequently works hard to journey deeper. Biblical scholars popularly refer to this developing understanding and deeper journey as an “adjustment of his sources” (i.e., Matthew and Mark). Is this an adjustment of sources or honest dedication to the evolving journey that is the Christian faith? The later seems more realistic, apart from enlightenment strapped critical methodologies of Biblical interpretation. The earliest Christian communities were not exempt from maturing understanding and authentic spiritual journey. We are not either!
Journey, What Journey! The Gospel Authors were on a Journey!?!
Luke, for example, carefully diverges from his Markan source (Mark 9.1) at Luke 9.27, by presenting his readers with a Jesus who prophesizes that some standing with him would not die before witnessing the coming kingdom of God, but discards the Markan claim that they will actually see the kingdom come with power.
Luke also adds a specific clause to his “kingdom/end of the age” scenario which would have been too future oriented for the earliest Christians who believed the end was immediately near. Matthew 24’s apocalypse is imminent and the length of these days would be shortened so at least some - the elect - will be saved (Matthew 24.22). Luke, however, adjusts Matthew’s apocalypse to fit the community’s obligatory delay by couching the entire Matthean scenario within the “fulfillment of the time of the Gentiles” (Luke 21.24). The author of Luke presents us with a Jesus who does not envisage the end of the age happening immediately. In fact, Luke’s Jesus could not do so! Why? The Christian Church had to be fully accessible to the Gentiles first, and this fulfillment would take a bit of time.
The delay of Jesus’s return and the kingdom of God is a priority Luke and his community were forced to face. Thus the journey.
A Word To The Wise Re: Apocalyptic Themes and Journey
Apocalyptic scenarios and end times schemes can be quite convoluted and have often proven themselves to be very unhealthy. There is so much to consider when discussing these issues. Take your time and do the hard work of investigating things for yourself. Avoid the hook, line and sinker most “end times evangelists” use to pad their pockets. Make your faith your own; don’t settle for second hand nonsense or garage sale theology. Too, don’t petrify the Scriptures in a vain effort to make yourself feel more secure. Christianity isn’t about that sort of thing, at all. Let the Bible be the amazing, evolving book it really is. It is a collected record of journeys, not adjustments. It’s all a journey, to this very day. Dive into it!