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Do I have to Wait for Heaven?

For early Quakers, heaven wasn’t a far-off kingdom floating in the clouds. It wasn’t a distant time and place, standing in stark contrast to present-day, historical reality. When Quakers said that Christ is here to teach us himself, this was just a new way of saying, repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near to you.

The genius of the Quaker movement was that they understood that all of these holy words that Christians like to throw around aren’t what is truly essential. The institutional church of their day was saying all the right words but failing to connect with the heart of the gospel. They were mouthing the words of Scripture to justify all sorts of human agendas – but their hearts were still far from God. Their lives did not bear the marks of Christ’s transformation, self-giving love, and humility.

For the early Quaker movement, the Day of the Lord, is today. Jesus’ triumphant return is not a theoretical possibility to be hoped for in the future; it’s a present reality that can either be embraced or resisted. The early Quakers experienced Jesus as literally alive, present, and teaching them directly. Standing in the power of this relationship, they were given courage to go out and radically impact the world around them.

Today, most Quakers – and many Christians of all denominations, in fact – would intellectually agree with the statement that Jesus Christ is present, able to teach us directly through his indwelling presence in our hearts. Yet, for the most part, we don’t really live as if this indwelling power has the ability to fundamentally transform us in the present tense.

In a lot of Christian circles – including Quaker ones – I often hear the phrase, now but not yet. This is the idea that, although the kingdom is present, and we can experience a foretaste of it in our lives, we’ll have to wait until some unspecified future time – probably after we’re dead – to participate in the full transformation that we are called to in Christ.

This popular meantime theology makes a whole lot of sense. After all, how many holy people do you personally know? Our world is fundamentally fallen and broken, and this life will always be characterized by a personal and collective struggle with sin and death. The gospel gives us hope for a future, but in the present all we can do is seek to lead slightly less alienated lives, to mitigate the effects of sin.

Meantime theology is a thoughtful, rational, sensible theory that jives with what we observe in the world around us. And it runs totally counter to the radical, apocalyptic, fire-breathing witness of the early church and the later Quaker movement.

A meantime ideology might make us feel better about our failure to address the brokenness of our own lives and the systematic injustice and oppression that we see in our culture. We don’t have to feel personally responsible for the way things are going; there’s nothing we can really do about it. Christ will return and take care of this mess eventually. But for now, our role is to keep telling the story of Jesus and try not to sin too much.

The tragedy of this world view is that it misses Christ’s return in the present tense. The Day of the Lord is happening right now! There is no time but this present time. The kingdom of God has come near to us, and each one of us has a choice whether we want to participate in this new reality.

When we banish the kingdom of God to an unspecified future time, we flee from the living beauty and power of Christ. We choose to dwell in the darkness just a little longer, because we can’t quite imagine what it would be like to live as children of the day.

The word of the kingdom is good news. The gospel is not a promise that we can escape the fires of hell by accepting certain doctrines and minding our Ps and Qs while we wait for Jesus to come back. The gospel is an invitation to walk into the flames willingly, to experience the cleansing fire of the light of Christ, and to accompany others in this process of transformation.

The kingdom is an organic reality, alive and in our midst whenever we turn to follow Jesus. The Holy Spirit is present with us, not merely to comfort us in our sin, but to show us where our darkness lies so that we may be liberated from it once and for all. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.

Is this the kind of gospel that you’ve been waiting for? Do you want to experience the life and power of the early church for yourself? Do you want to know the transformation that Jesus brings, not just as a religious theory for the by-and-by, but as a lived reality in the present time? This is the promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not fear, only believe.

Related Posts:

The White-Hot Gospel

Gathered As In A Net

  • Marsha Lynn

    Thanks for this. It took me back to something I shared in a Bible study group recently. I am sometimes amazed by the influence my deep Quaker roots have on my thinking, even though I have never been part of a Quaker group. (My father and his sisters were raised as Quakers but became Wesleyans as adults.)

    • Thanks, Marsha! I hope that you’re able to spread this good news in whatever community you’re a part of now! 🙂

  • Susan Chast

    Powerfully expressed. Thank you! How wonderful that Jesus is here now, teaching and I am with him.

  • BicycleThief II

    St. Mark and St. John have much to teach us on this fundamental question! I believe it is known as the problem of the delay of the parousia?

    • That’s right. There’s a paradox going on here, because the experience of the radical church (including Quakers) is that Jesus Christ is alive, resurrected, and present in our midst. The day of the Lord is at hand.

      But we’re also clearly living in a time of transition; the full restoration of the cosmos has not taken place yet. This has tempted much of the church to discount the living, present-day resurrection power of Jesus, postponing “heaven” off into a distant afterlife.

      But that’s not the faith that I receive when I read the Bible and interact with Christ today. I feel invited into a much more life-giving and exciting reality of a present-day, real-life kingdom that we can participate in together, on this side of the grave.

      • charlesburchfield

        …from glory to glory. i think this means in stages, phases, the recovery goes in cycles that spiral upwards. william blake made a picture of this!

  • Dorlan Bales

    This post pulses with the spiritual energy of the early church and Quaker founders, Micah. Thank you for the challenge and encouragement.

  • Shasta4737

    Thank you for this wonderful message! Intellectually I know this, but I need to frequently remind myself that Jesus is here with us now, even at this moment!

  • Philana Danceforth

    Thank you, Micah, I enjoyed reading your thoughts. But I’m wondering if they’re a unique expression, of your own views, and/or those of your local community? If the global community of Friends truly believed this, why aren’t we hearing about it?? I had to do a search to find a Quaker gathering, and was so surprised to find one in our own, small, town! And the contact information is out of date 🙁

    • Hi Philana!

      Quakers worldwide are an extremely diverse collection of communities, so I really can’t speak to what any particular local group would be like. I do hope that the views I express on this site accurately represent the faith and aspirations of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.

      I hope you’ll check out the FOJF website (fojf.org) and/or send me an email (micah@micahbales.com) for more information. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking and feeling, and how we might support one another in following Jesus.

  • Diane Benton

    This is definitely the good news I know and the only way I have of preaching it is by living it. Then, when people ask, I can follow the advice “to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)

  • I have always wondered if this was the case…..the kingdom is ushered in by our actions. Thanks for putting it so clearly

  • Mark Walker

    Micah please please call me I can’t get on facebook right now my phone number is 903 373 380 6 ASAP please

  • charlesburchfield

    I feel I have stepped thru a curtain some time ago. For me the introduction to eternity coincided w/ my first major trauma at age 9. A psalm says it for me: tho I make my bed in hell thou art there.

  • Rob Hampton

    Yes! I am coming to know this reality only now. The kingdom is within us, and in our midst…we just have to see it. It took the death (and spiritual resurrection) of someone very dear to me for me to see this….but now I do. Everything we need is within us..but in a very real sense we have to die in order to see it.