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Continuation to the End

With the end of John’s gospel, there is still a continuation of the story and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Underlying all of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ in John’s gospel is a preparation for the church to participate in Christ’s ongoing mission to testify to the truth, i.e. be a gospel witness, to the ends of the earth. The final words of John’s gospel remind us that just as the past works of Christ cannot be contained by a world-wide library, so also the continuing works of Christ must not be thought of as small, occasional, and only tangential to the progression of history. Instead, we the readers of John’s gospel are implicitly encouraged to make much of Christ as we fulfill the church’s corporate calling according to our individual gifting.

But we do not continue a mission without an endpoint. John’s gospel certainly points us to a continuation of Christ’s work, but the whole of Scripture also testifies that Christ’s work has a definite end, a fixed time at which Christ will come back, deliver the kingdom of the Father, and God will be all in all. That is to say, the continuation of Christ’s work, and our participation in it, is temporary and not endless. There is a definite future state to which we are headed, and it serves as an impulse for us to continue today. It is the hope of an eternal inheritance, and unfading crown of glory in the new heavens and new earth. We don’t continue with only past landmarks to point us in the right direction; we continue with our eyes on a fixed destination. And the hope of reaching that fixed future destination is a potent encouragement to carry on for Christ. Truth be told, though, Christians are not the only ones who have hope. Bavinck writes,

Humanity as a whole has always lived, and still lives, in hope, notwithstanding all empiricism and realism. Men paint the future state in very different colors; and according to the different conceptions each one has of the highest good, represent that future state as a kingdom of morality (Kant), or humanity (Herder), as the kingdom of liberty, in which spirit fully penetrates nature (Hegel), or as the Johannine church, which will at the end replace the church of Peter and Paul (Schelling); as a world in which ideal or material possessions are the chief enjoyment. But such a future is expected by everyone; all religion, all philosophy, and all views of life and the world issue in an eschatology. And not only so, but all systems have in common that they finish the world's history with today, and hereafter expect only a world era wherein the hope and the dream of humanity will be realized; all eschatology which lives in the heart includes the belief in a speedy parousia.

And yet, at the same time, and in part because of this ineradicable hope, humanity as a whole is convulsed with fears about the future. Climate change, low birth rates, nationalism, a breakdown of the rule of law, regional conflicts escalating into world war, all of these threads are frequently woven together to threaten total environmental and/or societal collapse. The darker (sinful) tendencies of humanity threaten the future state. And as so often is the case, just as there is a belief in a speedy parousia, so there is a belief in an imminent and world-ending cataclysm. Therefore, humanity as a whole is tossed between hoping for a redeemed future state and fearing the loss of any kind of future.

What the revelation of Christ does is unite past, present, and future into his reconciling work. Christ’s earthly ministry was not a new work but the culmination of the long-prophesied future restoration. Christ’s ongoing mission is one with his past work, so that there is certainty that all of God’s will will be accomplished before any kind of world-ending cataclysm happens. That is the hope that we have; that is the truth to which we testify. God is reconciling all things in Christ, and no matter how bad things might seem, the hope of a future blessed state will never be dashed. Only in Christ, though, who has all authority and power and is with his church to the end of the age, can this hope continue. And our task is to bear witness to the hope of the reconciling work of Christ until the end.

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