By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
Discerning the Time
As we approach the end of another calendar year, people will buy new diaries, make resolutions, glance ahead to plan the next year. We are time bound pilgrims, moving forwards moment by moment – and how we view the future shapes us in the present.
The apostle John was told in Rev. 22:10 ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.’ The implication is that our Lord Jesus will return to complete all that is predicted of him – in the near future. John is being told to live with the present appreciation that all we see around is temporary. The future kingdom of joyful reunion with Christ and the final judgement of all God’s enemies is near. Live as a pilgrim in this word knowing and feeling that the future is not far off.
To seek to discern the calendar years or weeks till the near return of Jesus is to miss the point. Our Lord himself declared the time was not his to know – it is certainly not ours. Bold declarations about the nearness of Christ’s return are specious and unspiritual if they are tied to international politics, crypto currency, covid or the internet. The point is that every generation of believers over the past 2,000 years has been told to live with the sense of the nearness of Christ’s return. We all live in expectation, awareness and passion for that which relativizes all of this world. Whether Christ returns next month or next century or then thousand years beyond that – we will always live with the nearness of his return.
When Christians try to calculate dates and seasons of his nearness, faith is placed not on revelation but on human insight. The inevitable result is pride, secrecy and disappointment.
A pilgrim must live this day and next year with the willingness to see out a normal human lifespan on earth – and yet each day sense that Christ is more near than the business plans for the next quarter. This is part of the tension, challenge and joy of a pilgrim’s journey.
May the sadnesses and trials of your pilgrimage the past year be forgotten about in comparison with the nearness of Christ’s return. May your plans for the next year be made with the humility and joy that comes from knowing He is near.
The Revd Dr Peter Sanlon is rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells. www.emmanuelanglican.uk