This past Sunday's sermon was a response to all of the second coming noise on the TV news since the violence between Israel and Hezbollah erupted. It seems everyone from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, to Paula Zaun have been courting the 'Left Behind' demographic which caused me to look again at the second coming, something I rarely preach on.
Popular Christian 'Second Coming' talk is troubling and dangerous for a variety of reason, most notably the violence that is assumed. Pat Robertson actually stated on his program that Iran, Syria, etc. Would be destroyed by God and that God would glorify himself. This notion that God is glorified by destruction is perverse and dangerous. How far removed from glorifying ourselves with destruction if the primary image of God's glory is destruction.
Having said that I am troubled by the destructive rhetoric of popular second coming talk, how does one deal with all of the destructive imagery in Revelation? First, sociologically, I think it is helpful to remember that much of early Christianity lived in a Roman culture in which they were not respected as a religious group, many (although not all) had lived under Roman oppression, and if the work of William Herzog is accurate, many were living in poverty because of this oppression. It is open to debate as to whether Christians at this time were attacked by the government, but many converted Jews would have lived through the destruction of the temple. In short, I can understand the violent imagery in Revelation as a longing for justice. I do not understand the plagues, fire, and blood of Revelation to be the revealing of God actual plan for remaking a new heaven and earth. I do think that the early Christians believed that a new heaven and earth were a part of God's plan and because of their own social location, they chose battle as the over-arching metaphor.
What seals my own non-violent interpretation of revelation is the crucifixion. On the Cross God began the redemption of creation. 1 Cor 15:20-22 'But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.' In the Christ event both justice and mercy were shown and the beginning of a new world was revealed. And in that event Jesus rejected violence 'put away your swords.' Viewing the second coming through the event of the cross suggests to me that God's way of recreating will not involve wanton destruction. WE may cause wanton destruction and from that God may rebuild, but I do not believe that destruction is God's way of working in the world.
Is this the time? who knows? Jesus said 'no one knows,' but televangelists who LOVE to quote scripture always seem to forget that one. In Matt chapter 25 Jesus instructs the disciples that what is important about the second coming is not to spend (waste) time looking for it, but instead to use our time to live into that second coming. If Jesus return means justice, peace and plenty for all humanity, we should spend our time seeking justice, making peace and providing plenty.