Facing the Future - Part 2
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
5. ‘With Joy Unspeakable’
This is the victorious outlook of the persecuted Christian. The apostle Peter in his First Epistle says much concerning the subject of Christian suffering, especially undeserved suffering at the hands of persecuting authorities in the world around us. God allows His people to endure unjust suffering as a kind of discipline which, under His sovereign overruling hand, curbs the workings of our old nature, the flesh. And Peter says that, if judgement first begins with His people, the house of God, so that they are only saved with difficulty, then whatever will be the fate of those who are openly ungodly!
Some believers suffer for practising righteousness, according to 1 Peter chapter 3, while others suffer just because they confess that they are Christians, according to chapter 4. All are only following the steps of their blessed Lord and Saviour, who, according to chapter 2 did no wrong, neither was guile found in His mouth, yet He suffered the death of the cross. He is our supreme example of innocent suffering. Because He, our Lord and Master, suffered unjustly, then we, His disciples, cannot expect different treatment at the hands of the world which first hated and crucified Him. Christians are identified in every way with Christ. But, in 1 Peter chapter 1, the apostle exclaims that persecuted Christians can rise victoriously above their sufferings in their pilgrimage through this hostile world, and even turn them to good account in terms of spiritual growth.
Our present sufferings are really intended by God to be a trial, that is, a testing of our faith, which should produce Christian character in us. In the crucible of our suffering, He makes us more like His Son by refining away the dross and impurities of our old nature. This will bring us greater reward when we meet our Lord at His second coming in glory to reign. And, even now, we shall experience an inexpressible joy in Christ while we are enduring suffering for Him. This enables us to continue to live triumphant and victorious lives for Him, as we think not of our present painful sufferings, but of the coming eternal glory which will soon be ours when we enter heaven with Him.
6. ‘Looking for that Blessed Hope’
This is the practical Christian’s constant outlook. For there is nothing quite like the blessed hope of our Lord’s imminent second coming to stimulate us to personal holiness, the continual practice of good works, and to engage in vigorous evangelism.
All three of these beneficial effects are emphasized in various passages which refer to the coming of the Lord. If we are really expecting Christ to come back for us at any moment, as we profess that we are, then will we not be constantly concerned to rid our lives of all unworthy thoughts, words, and actions which would displease Him? Above all other aspirations in life, we will wish to become more like Him in every way. Also, will we not desire to identify and pursue all kinds of good works which will benefit those around us, both fellow-believers and also unbelievers? Truly, we will not only love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, but also love our neighbours as ourselves, thus fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law, the law of Christ Himself. How urgently, too, we will seek by every legitimate means available to us to warn the unsaved folk who live all around us of the coming wrath of God, which will soon be poured upon this rebellious world! Yes, the doctrine of the second coming of Christ, rightly held, is anything but purely academic, impractical, and irrelevant to our lives. The anticipation of Christ as ‘the Vision Glorious’, whom we most earnestly and certainly hope to see in the near future, will motivate us all, like nothing else, to greater heights of spiritual experience and endeavours for His Name’s sake in this world.
7. In the Light of Fulfilled Scripture
Finally, this is the prophetic student’s deeply interested outlook as he sees in the circumstances and events in the world around him various unmistakeable indications that the scriptures concerning the end-times are probably soon to be fulfilled. Coming prophesied events do cast their shadows before them. Today, as never before, Christian believers are witnessing trends and movements in the world at large which point to the fact of the Lord’s coming. Even a century ago, believers confessed that they were not seeing these expected indications, although they had read concerning them in the scriptures and believed that they would one day happen. But, since about 1945, the end of the Second World War, more pointers to end-time events have arisen than ever before. These may be summarized as follows:-
This is perhaps the most significant pointer to the imminence of end-time events. The early assembly writers of the mid-nineteenth century taught from scripture that Israel would be re-established in their land. Towards the end of that century, secular Zionism began to campaign for a Jewish homeland, though not necessarily in Palestine. The First World War led to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration by Britain in 1917, which promised the Jews their desire. Then, the dreadful Jewish Holocaust at the hands of Hitler during the Second World War led directly to the creation of the modern state of Israel in their Promised Land in 1948. Ever since then, Israel has been the target of the enmity of their Arab neighbours, part of whose territory was granted to them. Against overwhelming odds, the Israelis have won four major wars designed to drive them out of the region, in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, clearly with divine help, and have strengthened their hold upon the region. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been the most intractable international problem in world politics ever since 1948, thus fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah chapter 12 verse 3 that Jerusalem would become a ‘burdensome stone’ to all nations right up to the second coming of Christ.
The stage has certainly been set for the commencement of the prophesied end-time events, which necessitate the presence of Israel in their land, largely in unbelief, as has happened. It remains only for the Man of Sin to enter the scene and set the whole programme in motion by making his seven-year covenant with Israel in accordance with Daniel chapter 9 verse 27. Since this will not happen before the rapture of the one true church to heaven, how very near must that event be now? Surely, only God’s great longsuffering towards mankind, which is permitting a prolonged period of world evangelism to save as many people as possible from the coming awful judgements, and the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit in the church upon the full development of the mystery of lawlessness can be holding back the tide of events to come. Seeing these things around us, Christians can say with ever-increasing fervour, ‘Maran-atha!’ The Lord is coming!
(ii) Significant Contemporary World Power-Blocks
Another pointer to the probable imminence of the end-times is the gradual emergence during the past century of world power-blocks very similar to those envisaged in the many biblical prophecies of the Day of the Lord. Consider, especially, the growth of the European Union of nations in the West from small beginnings in 1957, when the Treaty of Rome was signed, even to the present day. How easily it could develop with some realignment of national boundaries into the ten-kingdom empire of the coming world dictator, the Man of Sin, the first beast of Revelation chapter 13. Consider, too, the now independent Arab nations in the Middle East surrounding Israel and constantly threatening her, probably the precursors of the end-time ‘Kings of the North and the South’. They are backed by the great northern confederacy of Russia, who is also to feature in end-time events, since Russia is probably the far northern power referred to as ‘Gog and Magog’ in Ezekiel chapters 38-39. Finally, the Far Eastern nations, such as China, India, and Japan, have recently developed rapidly both in population and influence on world affairs in a way reminiscent of the ‘kings of the east’ spoken of in the Book of Revelation chapter 16. Yes, God appears to be overruling the development of the world powers which will feature prominently in the events of the Day of the Lord.
(iii) The World now a ‘Global Village’
Increasingly, through the past century, and with accelerating speed in the past few decades, the world has by means of vastly improved communications technology been artificially shrunk to a small ‘global village’, which is completely interdependent. It began with colonialism, which led to two world wars, and continued with the development of television, computer technology, and the internet. Now a would-be world dictator could easily take over and misuse this situation to gain absolute worldwide power for his own evil ends, as scripture says the Man of Sin will. How long will it be, therefore, before he does emerge from the nations? Surely, not very long!