Hoping for a Better World Than John Lennon Ever Imagined

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Hoping for a Better World Than John Lennon Ever Imagined

Looking for Jesus

 

Hankow, China, mid–1930s. A missionary family is having their morning devotions. Little Billy Clark listens with rapt attention as they read about the second coming of Christ in the Great Controversy:

Soon there appears in the east a small black cloud, about half the size of a man’s hand. It is the cloud which surrounds the Saviour and which seems in the distance to be shrouded in darkness. The people of God know this to be the sign of the Son of man. In solemn silence they gaze upon it as it draws nearer the earth, becoming lighter and more glorious, until it is a great white cloud, its base a glory like consuming fire, and above it the rainbow of the covenant. Jesus rides forth as a mighty conqueror.[1]

After devotions, Billy sits by the window, staring out over the city of Hankow, his eyes trained on the clouds. His mother, Phyllis, notices the seriousness of her youngest son and asks, “What are you doing, Billy?” He turns his earnest eyes to meet hers. “I’m looking for the cloud.”

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My Grandfather, Richard “Billy” Clark, still waits in eager anticipation for that cloud. He is now 90 years. But where is Jesus? Hebrews 11 lists a number of faithful people who believed the promise of “a better country.” However, as Hebrews 11:13 notes,

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar.

Where, where is Jesus?

Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:3–4,

scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’

Where is Jesus?

Finding Jesus

If we want to know something about the end of time, about the coming of Christ, what is the book we typically turn to? There are passages all over the Bible about the second coming, but we usually turn to Revelation. It is important to understand that John describes four different places in Revelation: heaven, mid-heaven/sky, earth, and the sea/abyss. Revelation has three passages that allude to the second coming of Christ, in which Jesus appears either in heaven, mid-heaven, or earth.

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By paying attention to the description of Jesus’ whereabouts, we can detect movement from heaven to earth and see Him getting closer to earth before He takes His followers to heaven. The first of these second coming allusions is in Revelation 6:12–17:

When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?

Where is the throne? Revelation 4:2 says that, “a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.” The throne is in heaven. In Revelation 6, “the sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up . . .” (Revelation 6:14). This apparently exposes the throne of God for all to see. The people then see “him who is seated on the throne”[2] through a rent in the sky, like Stephen saw Jesus in heaven right before he was stoned.[3]

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Who is it that is seated on the throne? Revelation 3:21 says,

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Thus, Jesus and the Father share the throne.

While the passage in Revelation 6 sounds a lot like the second coming, it isn’t quite. Where is Jesus? Jesus is sitting on the throne in heaven. There is no description of movement from heaven to earth. He still needs to come down here!

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand (Revelation 14:14).

Here, Jesus is called “Son of Man.” This scene describes part of the judgment—it is not yet the second coming—but where is Jesus?  He is not in heaven any more, seated on the throne. He is seated on a cloud in the sky. He is getting closer to earth. He is on His way.

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Finally, Revelation 19:11–16 says,

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Jesus is sitting, this time on a white horse. And where is Jesus? He is riding out onto earth to make war with the “beast and the kings of the earth.” He is here!

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Revelation makes it clear that Jesus is not wasting His time. Throughout the book, we see His gradual movement toward earth, toward the final moment when evil is defeated, toward us, His people. Jesus is not wasting His time. But what are we doing?

 

Waiting for Jesus

Ascot, Berkshire, England, May 1971. John Lennon sits at a Steinway piano, working out the chords and words to what would become his most beloved song. Yoko Ono, whose poem “Cloud Piece” inspired the words, watches as he works.

Used as an anthem of peace and unity around the world, the song calls for listeners to

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today.

Later in the song,

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.[4]

 

Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.

Remember 2 Peter 3:3–4?

Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’

It is easy to forget about heaven, to live as though earth is our only home. It seems like we have been waiting for so long. But Peter continues:

with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

He is coming and we dare not imagine that there is no heaven, because heaven is drawing steadily nearer. We need to live like Jesus is already on His way!

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 Imagine all the people living for today.

John Lennon hits on an interesting idea with these words. He supposes that heaven takes away from daily living, that the idea of eternity interrupts our ability to live in the present. This is not true!

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It is because we live in the shadow of the coming cloud that we live for today, because how we live today is a reflection of how we will live for eternity! We may not take our possessions to heaven, but we will take our characters. Praise the Lord, they will be perfected, but sanctification is not reserved for heaven. It is a work begun in us here on earth. At the end of 2 Peter 3, Peter writes,

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (2 Peter 3:10–14).

 

Since you are waiting. What are we doing while we wait? Peter tells us that we must be diligent to be found without spot or blemish and at peace, living lives of holiness and godliness! This is not accomplished by staying away from society and avoiding people or by putting our heads in the sand and pretending that injustice does not occur. We do not need to become political, but we cannot be blind or inactive. We need to live like Jesus is already on His way!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.[5]

I am not advocating a social gospel. What I am advocating is a lived Gospel. If we believe that Jesus is coming soon, then we, of all people, should be living for today so that we can live for eternity. Every moment counts. Every interaction is a chance to show someone the love of God. We need to live like Jesus is already on His way!

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Living for Jesus

My grandfather, Richard “Billy” Clark, has lived with the second coming in mind. After graduating from Loma Linda with a degree in medicine, he worked in Nepal in a small missionary hospital in the Nepali foothills. Later, he became a pastor and served in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for several years.

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When they were in their seventies, my grandparents went back to Nepal as missionaries and, just a few years later, went back to Ireland. It is the knowledge of Christ’s soon return that prompted my grandfather’s life of service. Because Christ is coming soon, my grandfather helps others.

 

The world that John Lennon imagined will never exist, at least not on this earth. We cannot cure greed and hunger, but as Christians, we have a duty to fight against them. When Moses spoke to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land and gave them God’s “statutes and rules”[6] by which they should live, he said

Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Deuteronomy 16:20).

If every day choices and actions mattered for the Israelites entering the Promised Land, don’t you think they matter for us who want to inherit a better land? In the first chapter of his second epistle, Peter writes,

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1: 5–8).

We Live as if Jesus is Already on His Way!

Jesus is not wasting His time. He is coming soon. What are we doing? What are you doing? I would like to challenge you to imagine, not in the way that John Lennon did, imagining a world without heaven, but to imagine the reality of heaven and to let that reality shape how you live your life from day to day.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (2 Peter 3:14).

Let’s live as if Jesus is already on His way!

______

Notes.

[1] White, GC, 640–41.

[2] Revelation 6:16.

[3] Acts 7:55.

[4]Laurie Ulster, “The Legacy of John Lennon’s Song ‘Imagine,’” Biography, February 28, 2019, https://www.biography.com/news/john-lennon-imagine-song-facts.

[5]Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 484.

[6]Deuteronomy 12:1.

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About the author

Sarah Burton

Sarah Burton holds an MA in Religion from Andrews University. She currently works as a freelance writer and editor in Tallahassee, Florida where she lives with her husband, Kevin. (Photo taken by Jennifer Shrestha)