In the study of eschatology it can be seen that the forty year period between the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the return of Christ in the Fall of Jerusalem was a transition period, one in which the Old Covenant was phasing out and the New Covenant was coming to completion. This period is identified as the “last days” (Hebrews 1:1). At the end of that forty year period we entered the mature spiritual state of the Eternal Day (Romans 13:11-12).
As we consider the results of human history over the subsequent two thousand years, one can perceive a period of additional transition that extends to and beyond our current time. During this period mankind has very gradually grown in his spiritual enlightenment. It has been far from steady progress and the growth rate has varied dramatically from age to age and place to place. Many times progress has been followed by digression rather than more advancement.
While we recognize a completed redemptive process and the restoration of all things in the spiritual realm, we ponder the implications of that completeness and wonder about the intended effect on our physical existence. Several questions present themselves in this regard. How did God intend to impact society and its culture, economics, governance, education, etc., through the fulfilled salvation? And how can we nurture the changes that a completed redemptive process implies? Or do we even have a part in bringing about or promoting such change?
Perhaps the transition period that ended at AD 70 was always intended to be followed by an extended period in which mankind grew to realize the true message of God. It seems evident that the lack of this full realization has influenced much of the religious effort, in at least western societies, over the last two millennia.
Certainly, the work of Christ and the whole unfolding story of the Bible were aimed at a spiritual issue. In that sense the accomplishments of Christ, including those associated with the second coming, were achieved in the eternal, unseen realm. Yet, how can a complete reversal of man’s relationship with God happen without man’s physical perception and existence being completely changed? Can a man hear and fully understand his renewed spiritual state without being correspondingly transformed in his interactions in the physical state?
For us who perceive, at least to a point, the magnitude of God’s achievement in redemption, it seems inconceivable that our lives cannot be dramatically altered afterward. The old question of “What would Jesus do?” now becomes one of what should I do as a result of my new understanding of what Jesus already did.
This is question of “what now” accounts for the emphasis on the subject of “transformation- covenantal, personal, organizational, and societal” as sponsored by Presence International (www.presence.tv). They see transformation as both the purpose and result of a more complete understanding of God and his redemptive work. In their “Transformation” courses, we learn that transformation begins with the individual first and extends then outwardly to society at large. As we have learned from our personal experience, we can only control and change one person, ourselves. All other changes must stem from personal change.
One might rightly ask how changing myself effects change in society at large. This is not unlike asking how the gospel was ever supposed to be effective in the first place. The Great Commission was always about converting people through teaching and personal example. This conversion was perceived as preparatory to tremendous change in the state of mankind and his relation with God. A changed people should create a changed world.
We know that the “Gospel” message has not been hugely effective, especially in our day. Given our current understanding of the true message, we rightly conclude that the efficacy of the Gospel was lost both because of a misunderstood, subverted message and a subsequent misdirection of the actions of the religious advocates of that message. Men who should have set an example based on a clear perception of God’s love and mercy were instead motivated by a sense of continuing, unresolved conflict between God and humanity. Man perceived an on-going mandate from God to seek out and destroy evil and thereby to promote a revival of righteousness and the establishment of God’ kingdom on earth. Endless conflict has resulted.
The transition from the Old Covenant way of thinking about conflict to the New Covenant way of thinking about victory, freedom, and the rule of love never took place in the minds of many. Since our way of thinking defines our perception of reality, mankind has been mentally stuck in the transition age, recognizing something new in Christ but not knowing exactly what this newness entailed.
Logically we still have a role in working toward a better world here on earth. In accordance with the angelic proclamation of “good news”, it is definitely a teaching role, one which involves modeling a new worldview, a new way of thinking, and which projects a new reality. Perhaps when James proclaimed that faith without works is dead, he was envisioning our day and age when faith equals realization and works mean applying what that realization demands.