By Fr. Dn. Stephen Holley, St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church , Whittier, CA
And He spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
According to the Epistle [Romans 15.4-13], the theme of today’s liturgical celebration is the joining together of the Holy Scriptures and Hope. Two things that are very precious to us as we wait for Christ’s return, are both Faith and Hope. They both have their foundation in the Holy Scriptures. The believer in Christ walks by Faith and, at the same time, rests in Hope. To show how these two great comforts interrelate as we move through our pilgrimage here on earth, let us look at an illustration that will, hopefully, make their relationship clear. Let us say we are in a dark tunnel, surrounded by darkness and things potentially dangerous to our lives. We see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, very faint but also very distinguishable to us in this darkness. That light gives us direction and we move toward it slowly and cautiously. There are no tracks in this tunnel so the light is not an on-coming train! It gives us direction and also incentive to move toward it, out of the darkness and fear. This is Hope.
It is difficult to move forward, however, because, although the light gives us direction, it is not bright enough to allow us to see the individual steps we must take to reach it. Therefore, we use a flashlight to shine just a few feet ahead of us. It allows us to see our individual steps that we take walking toward the light of Hope. It also illuminates a bit around us so as to see that we are safe from harm from all sides of us. If we try to shine the light too far ahead of us, it diffuses and becomes useless. It must illumine only one or two steps ahead of us and to each side of us. This is Faith. We rest in Hope, but we walk by Faith. The rest of Hope is a resting in confidence that we are headed in the right direction; our walk of Faith rests in our Hope.
Both Faith and Hope have their origin and foundation in the Holy Scriptures and so it would be very wise on our part to have a working knowledge of the Scriptures in our minds and hearts. The Collect points out the Scriptures as the basis of our Hope: “Blessed Lord, Who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Thy Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast, the blessed Hope of everlasting life, which Thou hast given us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.” From the Epistle to the Romans, we know that Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. In today’s reading from Romans also, we hear: Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have Hope. And so, both entities, Faith and Hope, are intertwined with each other and have a common foundation.
Today’s Epistle speaks of the promises by the Prophets of the O.T. which are intended to give us that light of Hope which we need in a world of darkness. We live in a world that has sold itself wholeheartedly to the Evil One and lies in his lap. Everywhere we look we see the forces of evil in control and things only getting worse. Living in the most powerful single nation in the world does not give great comfort any more as we see evil men and women making decisions all over the world that affect us daily and make us feel less and less secure. We want to hear again how God is in control and He knows what He is doing as we see freedom and security, even the whole world headed to oblivion. God and His people are the victors in the end, but sometimes it is hard to see that when one is surrounded by evil and corruption! That comfort we need can only come from the Scriptures: Faith, and Hope. And so the Epistle reading ends with the words: Now the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in Hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This brings us to the Gospel reading which focuses on end-time prophecy with the key sentence being: And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. As we remember from Ascension Day, the Son of Man ascended to His Heavenly Father in a cloud and the attending Angels said to the concerned disciples, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven. He left in a cloud and He will return in a cloud at the appointed Day! There are signs and wonders in the heavens that point to the coming of that appointed Day, the exact time of which no man knoweth, no not even the Son of Man, but only the Father Who is in Heaven.
It is the issue of time and the end of the age about which I wish to speak for the remainder of my time today. This has always been a huge issue in many modern generations. It was a major theme in St. Paul’s day because we get the certain feeling that he believed that the Lord would return in his own lifetime. Eschatology was an issue in the very early Church until it became evident that the Lord Jesus was tarrying longer than expected or anticipated. Therefore it became a forgotten issue for many centuries.
It was the Protestant traditions that took up the mantle again with the rise of millenarianism in the late seventeenth century. It continued to gain some adherents through the eighteenth century, but the nineteenth century saw it rise to a more prominent position until the doctrine of eschatology became a major division of theological study. With the World Wars and the restoration of the nation of Israel, it began to really flourish. During W.W.II, men wrote books on seeing Hitler as the Anti-Christ and Mussolini as the False Prophet. They began to see fulfillments of individual prophecies from the Book of Revelation in events of the war: one man wrote that the putting of a tail-gun into the B-17 Flying Fortress was a fulfillment of the scorpion-like creatures with stingers in their tails in Rev. 9:10! He quickly bought up all of those books himself after the war ended in an effort to reduce his embarrassment!
If no one knows the time or the hour but God Himself, then why does He tell us there are signs which point to it? Why are we asked to be observant of them? The answer lies in understanding the difference between the two Greek words for “time” in Scripture.
The first word is the word χρονος which is time in the sense of minutes, hours, days, etc. From this word we get our words, “chronology” and “chronic” (a “chronic illness” is one that endures over time). History moves in a chronological fashion, year after year, decade after decade and century after century. Χρονος “time” marches on. God lives outside of time (and space) but He enters into it continually so that we might be saved and come to know Him. God lives in the eternal present; there is no past or future with God. He lives in and sees everything from beginning to end at the same time. Mankind, however, lives only in the past and future, i.e., in his memories and in his aspirations; as soon as we say, “now,” it is already gone! The philosophers tell us that we cannot step into the same river twice because it is constantly moving past us; so it is with time chronologically. This word occurs fifty-three times in the N.T. but is not always translated “time” as it should be; we see in the KJV the words “while, space, season” employed for it but, for clarity’s sake, “time” should be used always.
The other word we find in the N.T. is the word καιρος which should be translated “season.” This word appears eighty-three times in the N.T. and is often rendered “time” (twice it is translated “opportunity”) but “season” is how it should be understood. This word refers to recurring times, times that repeat themselves on a regular basis. Every year the farmer knows planting season, growing season, harvest season and fallow season. They recur regularly and he relies upon their recurrence for his living. If they did not recur and were haphazard or continuing in a line (as χρονος does), where would we all be?
How do these two words interrelate? The seasons (καιρος) would be like a giant slinky toy coiled and stretched out throughout all of time and χρονος would be a straight line running through the middle of the slinky toy. In two passages, Ac. 1:7 and 1Thes. 5:1, the two words occur together. In Acts, the Lord Jesus mildly rebukes the disciples for their preoccupation with the end times: It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. In 1Thess., however, where St. Paul is addressing the end times, the tone is much different: But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that Day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. We are children of light because we have the lights of Hope and Faith in the darkness of the world!
The eschatologists have errantly based their study and research more on χρονος than on καιρος, as they should have done. If one does not see that eschatological signs are recurring from generation to generation, as the seasons of nature recur, then one does not understand prophecy, neither in its content nor its intent. If one grasps the intent of prophecy, then the content will become clear.
What, then, is the intent behind prophecy? It is to give Hope and comfort to those who trust in God and His Omnipotence over the arm of the flesh and the spirit of this world. There is short-term prophecy, designed to give immediate comfort in seasons of trial and tribulation. One such example of this is found in 2Kgs. 6 and 7, wherein there was a great famine in Samaria in which the people perished. The King of Israel sent to Elisha the Prophet for help and he prophesied, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. The messenger from the King refused to believe it and, due to his unbelief, Elisha further prophesied, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof. The next day it came to pass that, the people went out, and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD. And the king appointed the lord on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate: and the people trod upon him in the gate, and he died, as the man of God had said, who spake when the king came down to him.
The short-term prophecy, Faith, and it fulfillment then gives confidence in the other type of prophecy, long-term predictions, Hope. One example is Isa. 11:6, The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. This is yet to come to pass. Isaiah 11:1-5, however, another long-term prophecy, has been fulfilled: And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of Wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make Him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears: But with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: And righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins. That this has been fulfilled gives us who live in this generation, further comfort and Hope that the verses following will also come to pass in their time.
The prophetic seasons repeat themselves so that each generation experiencing them will be motivated to believe in Christ and give his or her life to God in Faith and Hope. This is why St. Peter tells us: The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. No one knows when this generation (the last recurring season) will come upon us as a thief in the night, so we are to be watchful as the Lord said, But know this, that if the Goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. If the Lord Jesus will return as a Thief in the night, then we need to by just as wary in seasons of peace and safety as in seasons of strife and unrest! No one knows the season of His return, i.e., this generation.
Therefore, the ultimate intent of prophecy and signs and wonders is to encourage God’s people to live like God’s people should live and present “living hopes” to those who are without hope in the world. As St. Peter writes: sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.