While we do not know when Jesus will return, the way scientists describe the challenges humanity will face toward the end of this century and into the next sound very similar to the Biblical prophecies concerning the time before the second coming of Christ.
The Church is already under significant pressure from both external forces as well as internal struggles. So, a question I have been asking myself is whether there is a Biblical strategy for the Church, one that helps local churches think about the part they play in serving Christ the King in these times of increasing peril, as well as increasing opportunity.
A key scripture to keep at the forefront of our thinking when addressing this question is, I think, a letter of St Paul to St Timothy, 2 Timothy, and in particular chapter 3:
‘You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!
For among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth. But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.
Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.’
So, from this passage, let us draw out the key actions the church should prioritise, if indeed these are the ‘distressing times’ that St Paul spoke of. Some 260 million Christians around the world suffer from severe persecution and this is increasing, roughly doubling every twelve years or so if current trends continue. By 2090 that should include everybody, then.
Let us begin with the key verbs in this passage, grouping them by theme:
- Belong, Avoid
- Observe, Understand, Know
- Instruct: teach, reprove, correct, training, equip
Belong and Avoid
If a healthy Church were an economy and an economist was interested in its principal product, he would discover the main output of the Church is, or should be, loving relationships. Bonds of association and affection are created between individuals and God, mediated through Jesus Christ, ‘who brings us to God’. He has given Himself to us, and in return we learn to give ourselves to Him. He has loved us, and we respond by loving Him, and learning to love as a develop.
We also grow bonds of association and affection with other believers, so that we love one another as Jesus has loved us and belong to one another.
Jesus prayed that we ‘would be one’ as Jesus is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This unity is as critical to the Church as is the need for a country to have allies when facing a powerful foe. Every Christian is an ally of every other Christian. The challenge of the 21st century is to make this operationally true. This unity is not the organisational unity of ancient church denominations; rather it is the operational unity of Christians who love: Christ, each other and their neighbours, especially the poor and unloved.
St Paul commands us to avoid those who are brutish lovers of themselves, pleasure and money rather than God. Inevitably this means there is conflict within the Church as it must continually deal with sin within its ranks. This makes the Church unconditionally loving to those who choose to humbly obey the teaching and example of Christ and the Apostles, but actually quite stern and exclusory with those who live and proclaim a different lifestyle to the one taught in Scripture, and necessarily so.
Sometimes the only way forward is: ‘Avoid them.’ Loud cries of faux anguish and crocodile tears on their behalf is no reason to stop obeying God. Let them weep before Him.
This is particularly relevant to the Western church of all denominations, which has compromised its standards of Christian practice in favour of organisation survival. Organisations come and go. It is the standard of holy living, living as though God and Jesus meant what He said (because He did) that matters.
Too often the Church has absorbed the latest politically correct-ism or movement to ‘appear relevant’ rather than be challenged by that movement’s existence into reviewing the Church’s own shortcomings, rediscovering the right Biblical understanding (often found in Apostolic practice and correcting poor translations that led to poor theology, for example) and then generating a renewed vigour that greatly improves on the very ‘ism’ that caused it such difficulty in the first place.
We will come back to these ‘isms’ that are a threat to the Biblical understanding of the Christian faith in a later article, and how they arose from the Church vacating the space tit should have occupied had it stayed true to the eternal covenant of God.
Observe, Understand, Know
St Paul tells us to understand that the cause of these distressing times, the real cause of the Great Tribulation, lies in human beings loving themselves rather than God. It may seem hard to say this when the world is being smitten with pestilence, but the way people react to such dangers makes them all the more distressing. Consider the wars, the economic crises, the environmental crises, the collapsing family, the takeover of world manufacturing and trade by China and its resulting impoverishment of the rest of the world: all have their fundamental cause in what people value most.
St Paul tells us to know the truth. He refers to the bad example of ‘Jannes and Jambres’, names traditionally given to the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses when Moses was saying to Pharoah, ‘let my people go!’
Every government today is employing lobbyists or advisers of the ‘Jannes and Jambres’ school, using the powers of the state to raise up fortresses of ignorance in the minds of the people, so that they can be kept from hearing and believing the Gospel. They oppose the Gospel, hating it and claiming it is ‘hateful’, when in fact it is both truthful and loving. Instead they lie, often stating things that are provably false, but refusing to be corrected. Why? Because they are on a mission, a mission to scrub Christianity from the face of the earth. Our response must be to know the truth and keep proclaiming the wicked folly of what they propose, such as gay marriage, gender transitioning, child sexualisation. It won’t be long before pederasty is being promoted and anyone opposing it will also be losing their jobs. Anyone who has been involved in pastoral work for any length of time will know the catastrophic effect such practices have, turning children into lifelong victims.
St Paul encourages us to observe the example of the Apostles, including himself, in the conduct and their fearless presentation of the Gospel, however much they were persecuted. And yes, it hurt. It still hurt. And like them, place the Scriptures at the front and centre of how we understand the issues and the world around us, the people we are and most importantly the character of God and His eternal covenant.
God has made seven covenants in Scripture, each one enfolding into the subsequent one, the whole being known as the Eternal Covenant. Breaking that Eternal Covenant is why humanity is in the mess it is in. Do you know these covenants? Do you live by them? Do you believe that God abides by them faithfully and absolutely? If you want to understand what God has done and who He really is and how He operates, start there, I suggest.
Instruct: teach, reprove, correct, training, equip
St Paul instructs us to understand that Scripture has the unique power to do these things ‘so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.’ God does not want useless and pathetic Christians, He wants grown up people who know they belong to Him (it’s in His Covenant that you do belong, if you believe!) and be proficient and equipped to work to achieve good things in this world. Yes, we know we are ‘unprofitable servants’ who cost more than we achieve, but nevertheless, God has entrusted His plan to us, and we have been given the astonishing privilege of being involved in His plan. Know the Bible and live it out. Do good.
I worry that many Christians will see the distressing times and think that this gives them divine licence to do harm, even great harm. Unlinked from the whole counsel of Scripture, and maybe just taking one little bit and stripping it of its wider Scriptural ‘location’, they convince themselves that God wants them to do works of evil, to the harm of others, themselves and God’s people, in God’s name!
If what you are planning does not look like the example of the Apostles, then you need to correct your thinking. Teach others to do the same.
Jesus spoke of times of distress, as did St Paul. The Bible gives us a roadmap of where history is going, so that, like lost travellers who come across familiar signs and landmarks, we are able to recognise the ‘signs of the times’ and realise that we are in charted waters, however the turbulent the seas may be.
In the middle of the worry and chaos, don’t stop now!
Here is a very quick summary of the roadmap, given from the perspective on one who is observing at this time in history. (I apologize for any predictions I may have misinterpreted from Scripture – I am not the first and won’t be the last!)
From after the times of the Apostles the Christian world has gone through a number of overlapping epochs: the rise of Church power, the rise of nation states, the rise of corporate empires, the rise of cataclysmic wars, famines, pestilences (such as the one we are in right now!) and at times local depopulation. Recently we have had a rise in persecution on a global scale, the last epoch before the world suffers a global earthquake and Jesus returns. You can read this in Revelation chapter 6.
The start of the modern epoch of persecution seems to coincide with the start of a series of major cataclysms, ticking away like a countdown: World War 1, World War 2, the Cold War culminating in Chernobyl reactor disaster, the economic rise of China to be the dominant economy. These you can read about in Revelation 8.
Then the Scriptures assert that the times of the Three Woes is upon us, the Great Tribulation (though that should more properly be reserved for the last of the three woes. These woeful cataclysms are first: the Mark of the Beast coupled with a major global nuclear reactor disaster and fallout coupled with massive number of small drones attacking those with the Mark, cause intense suffering. (Whatever else you do, DON’T take the Mark – you treasonably reject your salvation by doing so.) The second is the rise of a China-led axis attempting world conquest, the centrepiece of their force being a mechanised rocket-firing auto-cannon cavalry numbering 200 million vehicles. The war that follows this Eurasian land battle kills a third of the world’s population, and is triggered, it seems, by the West’s weakness and division because part of it accepts being run according to Sharia Law, with all that entails. The end result of a series of battles that ebb and flow is an army of global unity attacking Israel twice, finally conquering it but only after Israel mourns for Christ. (Revelation 9, Zechariah 12 to 14, Revelation 16).
In the course of all this mayhem after the Mark of the Beast, the sea turns increasing anoxic, national water suppliers have to stop treating their water (it turns out chorine limits the lifetime of polyethylene municipal water pipe), the earth’s temperatures shoot up because the planes stop flying (due to a failure of petroleum supplies, probably), and across parts of the world the grid fails and therefore water supplies fail completely. Revelation 16).
And then, once Jerusalem has been taken, a world leader emerges promising everyone peace and then goes into a reconstructed temple in now-conquered Jerusalem and declares himself god. At that point there is the last and final woe, the Great Tribulation, involving a global earthquake, possibly a nuclear war and darkness covering the earth, just as Christ returns with all his heavenly army with him and promptly kills the entire (largely Muslim) international army that occupies Israel.
He then sets about gathering the saints, the reconstruction of the earth and gives it the civilisation that it could have had if only people had loved God rather than themselves, with Jerusalem as its global capital, to which all people go every year to celebrate the Feast of Shelters with the Great King, Lord of lords and King of kings, Christ himself, the Lord of glory.
One the way to this momentous climax, we have the usual round of pestilences, wars, famines, storms, tornados, earthquakes and volcanoes that go on anyway.
Given all this, do not stop trusting God because there is suffering all around us. Suffering is not a surprise to God, and there is no depth of suffering He is not familiar with, both the acute and the chronic. God created evil (Isaiah 47) and He did so in order that good may triumph and in order that people may have the ability to freely choose the good, even if it is a path that involves denying ourselves and taking up and cross and following him, as the Apostles so clearly did, as we can see from their example.
So, don’t give up. Give life to those around you instead.
In Wuhan, the epicentre of the Cov19 virus, Christians are voluntarily helping in the life saving efforts, despite risks to themselves. This, at a time when the Chinese Communist Party is trying to control what they believe and displace God with the Party. If Cov19 tells us anything, it is that God, not man, is ultimately in charge and calls the shots. I salute my Chinese brothers.
I pray for you all, that you will know His love and mercy, that He will deliver you from the ‘arrow that flies by day and the pestilence that stalks by night’ (Psalm 91 worth a read at this time, along with Psalm 78), and that He will receive you into His presence for now and all eternity, for such is His desire to do so. Trust him. If it is time to leave this earth of woe, you are safe in His everlasting arms if you place your faith utterly in Him. If you believe in some other god or none at all, then I can only invite you to consider Jesus, and leave you with your thoughts.
Please look out for part 2 of this article when it is published on the JCM website. God bless you all,
President – Jesus Christ for Muslims