As people living in this time in history, we have many reasons to let fear rule our hearts. Nations, economies, moral norms, and weather patterns have been somewhat unpredictable of late! Many Christians I talk to take these as signs we are approaching the end of the age. And given popular Evangelical Christian ideas about the end of the age, there are plenty of reasons to fear! When we have the idea that God's will is that the saints will be subjected to an evil, one-world dictator to be beheaded, it is no wonder that we start to feel nervous when we think about this time approaching. In fact, popular eschatology has it that the Church will become more lukewarm (distant from God and mingled with the philosophy and lifestyle of this world), many will fall away from the faith (the love of most will grow cold...), evil will increase its reign on the earth, and there is no hope except to be rescued by the King of Kings at the culmination of the Great Tribulation. This is a very hopeless view of the world to have! It may make the most logical sense of a selection of Scriptures (but even then I am not sure), but it surely doesn't capture the essence of God's plans for His Kingdom and His people that I see throughout Scripture.
Let me tell you a few reasons why I think the common "Left Behind" Christian eschatology with all its hype doesn't capture the spirit of what God is planning and preparing for the world and especially, for His people. The first reason is found in Isaiah's prophecy about the coming Messiah and His Kingdom:
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.... The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:7, KJV)We should be expecting that God's Kingdom has been advancing all over the earth and that this will not stop! And we know that wherever God rules, there is peace. Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that will grow into the tallest plant in the garden (see Mark 4:30-32)! Plus, when He modeled prayer for his disciples, He prayed to the Father, "May Your kingdom come, may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). It seems strange to think that Jesus would tell his disciples to pray that "God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven" while the only result we should expect in the meantime is that evil will prevail more and more as history progresses.
Sometimes I get the idea that we expect things to get really bad, and of course we can't really do anything to stop it; but at the end, Jesus will return and fix everything for us (instantly, of course). If we think of this world view in terms of Jesus's parable of the mustard seed, we would see the seed grow as follows:
- The mustard plant shoots up (with the initial growth of the early church)
- The plant grows slowly over time, but it becomes weak and sickly as history progresses
- The plant is overcome with weeds (false teachers) and disease (false teaching)
- Whole branches begin to fall off as they die, and bugs eat holes through the plant (as Christians, and even whole fellowships of Christians, fall away)
- Finally, when it looks as if there is no hope left for the plant's survival, the gardener comes by with miracle fertilizer that instantly causes the mustard plant to become whole, healthy, and to shoot up into the sky (kind of like Jack's magic bean stalks).
Does this really fit the spirit of how Jesus described the growth of God's Kingdom? It seems like a stretch to me.
Common Evangelical thinking about the future also leads to the thought that God has determined that world peace will diminish greatly as time goes on, especially as we enter into the last of the last days. Often cited is the passages in which Jesus says there will be "wars and rumors of wars" (Matthew 24:7) before the end comes. Also commonly cited is Jesus's statement that he did not come into the world to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Combine these statements with common interpretations of passages in Ezekiel, Revelation, Daniel, and other prophetic books, and many Christians get the feeling that God's plans for the world boil down to judgement, destruction, bloodshed, and violence! And often Christians do not distinguish between the fate of the world and their own fate, and they begin to believe that God desires to destroy them and all they love (or that He wants to "give them over" to the antichrist to be beheaded). Now let me say right here that I am not claiming that God is or is not going to allow a time of tribulation on the earth in the future. There is a more important issue at the heart of this worldview that I want to make sure Christians remember and cling to. This verse captures this foundational issue in a simple sentence: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to bring you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). My main point, if you don't draw out anything else from this post, is this: If you are a child of God and you have a feeling of impending doom looming over your future, then you are not fully entering into the thoughts and plans that God has for you!*
*Note: Even the Apostle Paul, who was called to suffer for the name of Jesus and for the preaching of the Gospel, did not sense impending doom. Rather, he was anticipating great things! He caught God's vision and understood the significance of his role in God's plan, and he counted any earthly pleasures and comfort as loss in comparison! He was excited to see all that God was going to accomplish through him, even though he would have to suffer along the way. That does not mean he enjoyed suffering. Even Jesus didn't like suffering. He endured the cross for the joy set before Him of gaining billions of brothers and sisters in God! The pain was worth the gain. Think of this: no woman enjoys the pain of childbirth (at least none that I know of!), but most mothers would say that the reward of a child was worth the pain! Thus, even if we suffer persecution for the name of Jesus, if we catch a glimpse of the significance of our role in God's plan, then we will be equipped to step up to the challenge. It is the enemy who brings calamity with no good return, not God. The enemy piles pain and injustice upon people. God's role is to bring blessing to repay double, triple, or quadruple (or more!) of what the enemy stole from us. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. He is always seeking our welfare, and He has more extravagant plans for us than we can imagine! And He doesn't want to wait to bless us until after we die. He wants to pour out some of His blessings in this earthly life. He wants the benefits of heaven to invade earth! God is truly aiming to make earth more and more like heaven!
I think that God's plan for His people is to put them up for display so that the world might see their glory and be drawn to God. As one preacher put it, "It takes a dark backdrop to see the stars shining in their fullness!"
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,If nations will come to the light of God's people when they display the glory of God, then it is no wonder why Paul says that the whole creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed (see Romans 8:19)!
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." (Isaiah 60:1-3, NIV)
"For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." (Romans 8:19, NIV)
Creation is waiting for mankind to see the awesomeness of God and turn to Him so that creation itself might be set free from bondage (see Romans 8:20)! In fact, we are looking forward to the day when all the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God's glory (see Habbakkuk 2:14).
"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." (Habbakkuk 2:14, NIV)According to Scripture, we should be anticipating the triumph of the saints and the dominion of God spreading across the world! Sure, the enemy will resist with the best he's got, but remember that all authority on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus (see Matthew 28:18), so that means that the enemy has none! We are called, just like the 70, to "trample on snakes and scorpions and all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:19). It is our job to expel evil from every corner of the earth, leaving no stone unturned.
I also believe that we should pray for peace and expect our prayers to be answered. Paul told Timothy to pray for the kings and leaders so that they all might live peaceful and quiet lives (1 Timothy 2:2). We also know that Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). So why do we expect that our lives will grow more and more unpeaceful toward the end of the age? Let's go back to a verse I referenced earlier in which Jesus said he came to send a sword, not peace:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34, NIV)Now, some may say that this shows that Jesus didn't intend to bring peace, period. But do you remember all the other Scriptures that we have looked at thus far that indicate otherwise? I would suggest to you that Jesus was trying to get the people off of an incorrect assumption they had about His purpose in coming as the Messiah. As many pastors have pointed out, the Jews were expecting Jesus, the Messiah, to deliver them from the rule of Rome and set up His earthly kingdom right then and there. But Jesus had a plan that was much more profound and long-lasting. He came so that we all might have unity with God and co-labor with Him to bring order to creation. Jesus also wasn't aiming to just pat everyone on the back and say that they were fine to carry on with life as usual. He was aiming, ultimately, to invite the people to know, to think like, and to act like God. He didn't want to come just to bring peace (that would be far too low of a target). He was aiming to win the whole hearts of men. When God's Kingdom is first invading a household, or a city, or a nation, the people who choose to become citizens of that Kingdom will be the "odd ones out", and they will be forced to choose. Thus, Jesus says that those who love their father, mother, son, daughter, or even their very life more than Him aren't worthy of Him. That is because Jesus is calling us all to come out of the ways of the world completely. If we aren't willing to do that because of someone (or something) we love in the world, then we are guilty of idolatry! It would be logically impossible to enter into God's Kingdom (and God's rule) when we won't let go of another god's rule in our lives! We belong to the kingdom of the god we serve! The sword of truth pierces into the hearts of men to test their hearts and change them (see Hebrews 4:12). This is the sword that Jesus is talking about bringing into the world! Remember that God sent Jesus into the world to save the world, not condemn it (see John 3:17)!
In the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah concerning the last days, we also see that peace spreads across the earth. This is not the same "peace" that people declare when there is actually no peace at all (see Jeremiah 6:14). This is peace that flows from the nations coming to the mountain of God to seek His ways.
In the last daysAnd Micah also tells God's people God's plan for them when the nations rise up to destroy them:
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Excerpts from Micah 4, NIV)
But now many nationsGod always provides us the weapons we need to fight our adversaries! It is His will to prosper us and not to harm us, and to give us hope and a future (see Jeremiah 29:11).
are gathered against you.
They say, “Let her be defiled,
let our eyes gloat over Zion!”
But they do not know the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
that he has gathered them like sheaves to the threshing floor.
“Rise and thresh, Daughter Zion,
for I will give you horns of iron;I will give you hooves of bronze,
and you will break to pieces many nations.”
You will devote their ill-gotten gains to the Lord,
their wealth to the Lord of all the earth. (Excerpts from Micah 4, NIV)
If we trust in God and seek His Kingdom first, God will send provisions for all our needs (see Matthew 6:33). When we see instability and fear invading the world, we should not worry, but instead we should pursue God all the more! God is faithful to His promises! He desires our good, and He will bless those who seek shelter in Him. God never changes in His love and plans for us, even when world events bring change. Let us not be shaken with the world. Instead, let the shaking of the world reveal the greatness of God all the more through our lives.
This is a year to prepare yourself for something new. Be strong and courageous as the rest of this year unfolds. If God is for you, who can be against you?