Someone wrote recently, “We cannot understand the end times by only focusing on the end times. That is like trying to understand a movie by only watching the final ten minutes.”
This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite movies, the 2000 film Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe. We saw the movie with dear friends, and I still remember that we entered the theater just a few minutes late, finding seats in the back row. It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 20 years since it was released!
There’s a scene near the end of the movie (**Spoiler Alert…never mind. It’s been two decades!**) where Commodus—portrayed brilliantly and creepily by Joaquin Phoenix—stabs Maximus in the back before sending him to the arena to fight to the death. The brief remainder of the movie depicts Maximus, who is losing blood and struggling to breathe, overcoming his weakened condition to kill Commodus before he himself dies. It was a powerful movie which I’ve rewatched many times from beginning to end, each time picking up dialogue and background that I’d missed in previous viewings.
But what if I watched the beginning of the movie to the moment when Commodus shows up, skipped around to a few scenes here and there to find some action, and then fast forwarded to the scene which I described above? This describes me exactly when I watched The Princess Bride (put me out of my misery already and apologies to those who’ve memorized it), except I couldn’t even get to the end. This type of movie-watching is what we Christians tend to do when reading or studying the Bible.
Here’s how we generally “read through” the Bible: read the first few chapters of Genesis, then skip around to some of the juicer parts of the OT (e.g. Jael and the tent peg), skim the Gospels for a good Jesus quote or healing, highlight a few verses from one of the letters by Paul or James, and then finally—if we ever read the last section at all—finish it off with a quick reading of the last chapter or two of Revelation, because well you know, Jesus wins!
We might have a fair idea of what the Bible (or the movie) is about—how it all started, some major and minor characters, and how the last few scenes conclude. But would we really understand why Commodus wants to kill Maximus in the last few minutes if we only caught bits and pieces of the movie?
The Bible begins with the well known phrase, “In the beginning…” and wraps up by showing us a New Heaven and a New Earth and with Jesus saying, “Surely I am coming soon.” We know how the story starts, because we learned about it as kids. We even know some of the most famous stories: Noah and the Flood, Ruth and Naomi, David and Goliath, Jonah and the whale. Definitely the Gospels and Acts. Maybe even Ephesians (gotta have that armor) and Hebrews (for bragging rights). But the major and minor prophets? Snooze.
Yet it is exactly the books which put us to sleep that we need to be reading.
The problem we have is systemic. We’ve been told for so long that we belong to a “New Testament Church,” and “we do Bible things in Bible ways (meaning: New Testament).” We also hear, “Jesus came, and we’re no longer under the law,” so we ignore the scriptures that Jesus himself studied, memorized and quoted during his ministry. When he was walking on the road to Emmaus, he didn’t quote Paul. He was giving his fellow travelers a deep dive into the wonder that we call the Old Testament. Jesus’ Bible WAS the Old Testament. We would do well to remember that.
As I write this, the world has experienced more than 144 earthquakes in the past seven days, around 70 of which have hit the Ring of Fire surrounding the Pacific rim. Jesus said that we would experience earthquakes and more, but “the end is not yet.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that we are long—or short—on time (as we count time). But based on Jesus’ parables adjacent to his comments about the end of the age, it would seem that many are caught by surprise when events quickly unfold. Do we want to be one of the prepared bridesmaids? Only half were ready when the groom arrived. To which half can we honestly say we belong? It’s not a rhetorical question.
To be prepared for what is coming, we need to get our “houses in order.” That means spending time in ALL of God’s word to understand what we are seeing and what is coming. Just like in school, the Cliff’s Notes version is okay for getting an overview, but is insufficient for an in-depth understanding of the important details. Thanks for joining us in the front row seats, but remember…you’re responsible for bringing your own glove to the game.
“…for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Acts 20:27 ESV