They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. ~ Acts 2:45
I woke up this morning with this thought:
The early Christians were SO convinced that Jesus was returning soon, the same way he left in Act 1, that they liquidated their assets (like land).
The expectation of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus was their main motivation for this radical behaviour, not necessarily the Infilling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) as I’d previously thought.
A straight-forward reading of the New Testament gives you the impression they thought Jesus was returning (in the same way he left) within 2-3 years, max. And when He returned, he would liberate Israel, set-up heaven on earth, and/or take them to a heavenly mansion he had prepared for them.
Whatever your eschatology (study of end times) looks like, it’s pretty clear the early Christians felt like owning property didn’t matter any more, so they sold everything, lived in radical community, shared material possessions (like lawn mowers), and were intense about “being witnesses” for Christ, even unto death.
Early Christians lived life through filter that Jesus was coming again, and very soon.
They were looking intently into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two [angels] dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee, they said, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven. ~ Acts 1:10-11
Think about this: what do you think they thought was happening when the Holy Spirit came in Acts 2? Do you think some of them thought Jesus was coming again at that very moment? Guaranteed some did. And when they realized they were experiencing the Promise of the Holy Spirit instead, it would have reinforced their hope that Jesus was indeed coming soon afterward. I mean, if one promise comes to pass (wait till the promise of the Holy Spirit) then why not the second (he would return the same way he left)?
It was shortly after the receiving of the Holy Spirit, that the early church gets extremely radical, and that Christianity spreads like wildfire. Yes, the Experience of the Holy Spirit played a major role, but don’t underestimate the immense power of their Expectation of the Second Coming of Jesus.
They are both equally important to remember, though church history has not always given them equal importance. In fact, in my church we talk about the Holy Spirit often, but seldom the second coming. Yet it’s this expectation of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus that makes sense of almost everything you read about in Acts 2 and 3. How would you live if you knew you had 2-3 years before any of the following would happen (take your pick):
- Jesus would return, establish His kingdom, heaven on earth
- Jesus would evacuate you off of this planet to heaven?
- You would die, naturally or unnaturally, and go to heaven?
Doesn’t really matter which of the three options you choose (or chooses you, better put), heaven happens in 2-3 years. That’s it. I think you’d liquidate assets. I think you’d liquidate asset really fast.
Now, how do you and I live, here in 2016 in our Canadian small-town? In my circle, people regularly encounter the Holy Spirit and even in this, we continue to live like we have forever on earth. We live a generally safe, insurance-heavy, lifestyle. Clearly, we mindlessly expect to live out our full days on earth. We spend like that. We save like that. We plan for retirement like that. We “witness” like that. We do almost everything in life like we have another day, another year, another decade. We are passive. We are chillaxed. We are not driven. We are not radical. We are not dying for what we believe in.
And I wonder if it’s because in our rush to Acts Two (the Experience of the Holy Spirit), we missed the precursor to that in Acts One: the Great Expectation of Jesus Return?
Could it be that Acts One (expectation of Jesus return) PLUS Acts Two (experience of the Holy Spirit) EQUALS explosive and radical faith?
I think so.
I know this doesn’t even touch on how to live in a spirit of expectation after 2,000 years with no sightings of Jesus in the clouds, but I think we have to get back to expecting His imminent return. At least if we want to see the kind of radical faith that causes people to liquidate assets.