Shawn Ragan points to a wonderful two-hour video by Fr Thomas Hopko called “When is Armageddon?” I converted it into an audio file and listened to it yesterday during my commute to work. I’ve always enjoyed Fr Hopko’s teaching and this gem of a lecture encapsulates a lot of why I enjoy him. In many ways, a lot of what Fr Hopko teaches in regard to the Gospel, the Incarnation and eschatology aligns with what I enjoyed in N.T. Wright’s teaching, but from a distinctly Orthodox perspective. Here is a nugget from the first half of the lecture:
“This world, as we know it, is not destroyed and the New Creation is not made out of nothing. The renewed creation is this world saved, redeemed, sanctified, deified, glorified by the risen Christ, who in the Apocalypse is the Son of God, the Son of Man, and 38 times, the Lamb of God who is slain, who is dead and is alive again and is fighting against the Beast, which is the symbol of Babylon, this world that is not only against God, but in place of God.”
That one quote alone is absolutely awesome. One of the major popular evangelical doctrines I abandoned years ago (with N.T. Wright’s influence) was the distorted eschatology that God will one day destroy this world. This doctrine is intimately linked with the popular doctrine of the rapture, which I also abandoned years ago, and contributes to the false idea that God is only interested in saving souls, which he would someday extract from this creation that was destined for destruction. But that’s not the biblical image. God created this world and placed humans as the caretakers of this world to govern and nurture this world as his image-bearers. As humanity goes, so creation goes. When we plunged ourselves into disobedience and distortion, we dragged creation with us. And as St Paul says in Romans 8: 19-21:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
Creation isn’t yearning for its own destruction. It’s yearning for its freedom and renewal that will be realized through the life of Christ in and through God’s children. That’s because creation isn’t an afterthought nor simply the backdrop to the human drama. Look at the relationship between Christ and creation that St Paul describes in Colossians 1:15-16:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him.”
Christ is the firstborn of all creation. This world is his and is not destined for destruction. This world was created in him, through him and for him. And it will be re-created in him, through him and for him.
As Christ renews humanity, creation’s caretakers, he renews creation. That’s why I love the words Fr Hopko uses to describe the renewed creation — saved, redeemed, sanctified, deified and glorified by the risen Christ. Those words are normally associated with humanity, but he uses them to describe the renewed creation. And ultimately, when we jump to the end of Revelation, it is this renewed earth that finally becomes the place where God’s throne dwells. Jesus’ prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is finally fulfilled in the renewed creation.
Eschatology is extremely important to me. Christians are to be eschatological people. We are to learn how to live in the present in anticipation of God’s future. So how we understand God’s future determines how we live right now. If we believe that God is going to destroy this world once he’s extracted all of his redeemed people from it, ala the Left Behind series, then we don’t need to live with any kind of impulse toward issues such as environmental responsibility and social responsibility since “it’s going to burn anyways.” But if we believe that we are truly God’s ordained stewards of his creation and that he is saving, redeeming, sanctifying, deifying and glorifying this world by Christ and through us as Christ’s people and followers, then we will live very differently right now.
I’ve been thrilled to discover that the Orthodox Church is very eschatologically-aware. The Divine Liturgy is eschatological. Here’s a quote from a recent blog post by Fr Stephen Freeman:
“Christianity is inherently eschatological – it is precisely about the end of things and about a very specific end. The meaning of Orthodox worship is found in the fact that we believe ourselves to be standing in the very end of all things as we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Even the Second Coming is referred to in the past tense. The End has come and Christ is victorious and as His people, Baptized into His death and resurrection, that End is our hope and our own victory.”
In Orthodoxy, eschatology shapes everything — our worship, our daily living and our mission. We follow Christ, obey his commands, wait in vigil, participate in the Divine services, ask for intercession from the saints, and pray in anticipation of the eschaton — the age to come when the world is fully renewed in Christ and flooded with God’s glory as God’s throne is finally established on earth as it is in heaven.