Between the first and the final

A friend asked me a question from his church weekly bible study materials: “How does your present experience of the Spirit affect your time of waiting for Jesus to come back?” And I answered him that actually I have planned to write a post on mission and the time between the first and the final coming of Jesus — and of course naturally I’ll talk about the Spirit. And perhaps you could have guessed how it would go after reading the last post on mission and the Trinity. I have argued that (1) the mission of the Son is paradigmatic for the mission of the church and (2) the mission of the church has a trinitarian character. And now we’ll see how these two will help us in answering the question (although perhaps in an indirect way).

The time for the mission of the church is the time between the first and the final coming of Jesus (I deliberately use ‘final’ instead of ‘second’ since it would emphasize better its eschatological character). As Luke put it in the beginning of the book of Acts, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up…” (Acts 1.1-2) Thus it follows that in the book of Acts he dealt with all that Jesus continued to do and teach after he was taken up. And he continued to do that through the apostles. What the church does is an extension of what the Son did. As the Father sent the Son, now the Son sends us. And since the Son was sent under the guidance of the Spirit, the church then was sent under the guidance of the Spirit as well.

Hence, the ‘experience’ of the Spirit between the first and the final coming of Jesus at least comes in the form of mission and witness of the church. Indeed, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1.8) If Jesus was sent to Israel, the disciples were sent to the whole world.

The proper language to characterize the relation between the church and the Spirit then perhaps is not so much on the existential basis, since here the Holy Spirit is understood to ‘come upon you’ like when he came upon Jesus in the form of a dove as a symbol of anointing. The anointing confirmed that Jesus was sent by God. And the church is anointed by the Spirit as well, confirming its identity in the Son, i.e., ‘in Christ.’ The church is equipped by the Spirit to witness to the end of the earth. The experiential nature comes from receiving the Spirit who will guide us to witness (Acts 1.8, Joh 20.21-22). Hence the question posed by Paul to the disciples in Ephesus: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19.2) Experientially, then, we would have a sense of being sent into this world to extend the kingship of Jesus to the end of the earth. And that’s one of the works of the Spirit.

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