The State of the World and the End of the Age
Well over a year ago a series of crises in banks and lending institutions gave us reason to believe God was at last beginning to judge our nation for a century of decadence and moral decline. Soon it was clear that financial institutions and national economies all around the world were also drastically affected. Many of us now believe that God is doing exactly what he said He would do. He will shortly send His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, back to this planet to forcefully set up a kingdom of justice, righteousness and peace on earth. Jesus is, after all, the Owner and Heir of planet earth. Sadly the vast majority of people on the earth today do not know Jesus and do not wish to know Him. His return will therefore involve a bloody invasion by force.
The New Testament tells us that the "church age," now drawing to a close, has been a 2000-year interval in which the message of God's love and forgiveness has gone out to the entire world, over and over again. The invitation has been a call for all peoples to know Jesus Christ as Lord and to become members of His family. The Bible says that when the "full number" of gentiles has come in (to the church), Israel would once again be placed at center stage as chief of the nations, with Jesus ruling all the earth from Jerusalem as His capital. Ancient promises made to the patriarchs of Israel will then at last be fulfilled. Then and only then will man's dream of world peace come to pass.
Although the historic land of Israel sat empty for most of the past two millennia, Jews began to return to their land exactly as the Old Testament foretold, until statehood was declared in 1948. About half of the Jews in the world now live in the nation which has always historically been called Israel -- but almost none of them know their God or God's messiah Jesus. The restoration of Israel among the nations of the world means that ultimately every one of the surviving Jews will live in Israel and everyone on earth will know Jesus as King.
Though the number of people who profess to be Christians in the world today adds up to a sizeable fraction (about 2 billion people out of a total of almost 7 billion) the number of true Christians who actually know Jesus and who follow Him is a tiny minority. One out of three Jews died in World War Two during the Nazi holocaust. The prophet Zechariah tells us that 2 out of 3 Jews in Israel will perish in the coming world war which will center around Jerusalem. Many more millions of people will become followers of Christ in the coming final years that mark the end of the age. The invitation to know the God of Israel will remain open until the very end, yet the majority will be lost.
The daily news from Europe and the Middle East this past year sounds as if it was written by the Old Testament prophet Daniel or by Jesus' Apostle John. Scores of Old Testament (and New Testament) prophecies are lining up to be quickly fulfilled as Jesus draws near and is about to set foot once more on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem.
There are many clear indicators in the Bible that give Christians sound reasons for believing the return of Christ is on the immediate horizon. A year ago while teaching through the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament I was struck by an earlier judgment on Israel when God quietly said He would remove truth from that nation's daily life. "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, And from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, But shall not find it." (Amos 8:11-12)
The prophet Daniel has told us that an explosion of knowledge would be one indicator that the time of Messiah's coming was near. That prediction's reality should be abundantly clear to us today. Vast libraries of knowledge are at our disposal on the Internet, but God has evidently quietly been removing truth from our churches, from schools, from government, from our daily lives. Knowledge is of no use to us if we lack wisdom to apply what we know. We are in big trouble now because the widespread rejection of God's rule over us has caused Him to begin to withdraw His protection from us.
The Bible not only insists that absolute truth does exist, but "true-truth" is to be found only in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote that "in Christ are to be found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3), echoing what Solomon said 3000 years ago. "For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God..." (Eccles. 2:26)
Throughout the Old Testament it can be seen that God does His greatest work through ordinary individuals or small groups. One example is that of Gideon who routed 135,000 Midianites with only 300 men. (God pruned Gideon's original army of 35,000 down to 300 to make it perfectly clear that it is He who fights our wars for us). The God of the Bible is the God of remnants. Billions of people drowned in the Flood of Noah after rejecting God's pleas to join Noah on board the Ark. At the end of a hundred years of ark-building on dry land, the rains came. But only eight people were onboard the Ark. In many of today's churches only a handful are living in daily fellowship with Jesus, yet God will continue to do great things when even a few of His people come together to make themselves available to Him.
It is one thing to imagine the coming time of glorious world peace which will prevail under the reign of Jesus in Jerusalem. Meanwhile it is heartbreaking for most of us when we see how sinful we are, how unworthy. The human condition is sad and tragic but no matter how long God pleads with mankind only a few have ever responded. Jesus Christ has already paid in full for the sins of all who have ever lived, His offer of forgiveness and new life is freely offered to everyone--but the majority are not to be persuaded. If we grieve, God's heart of love grieves more.
In his commentary on the book of the Revelation, Ray Stedman comments on how God's coming judgments will affect us.
"What we are seeing here in the judgments of the last days is really nothing new. It is simply commonly experienced penalties for evil increased in amount to an incredible degree. God has been sending judgments like this all through the history of mankind. There have been volcanic eruptions, meteors falling upon the earth, red rain from the skies, poisoned waters, etc. All these terrible disasters have struck before, but now they grow to a climax. Yet we must not misunderstand them, for they are for our own good.
I list for you five effects of judgment upon us since we are all being judged in some degree, more or less. Hardships, trials and difficulties are all a part of the judgment of God upon human evil, and we all experience it.
1. First of all, judgments frighten us. They are intended to. They are sent to arrest our attention. They chill our blood. They alarm us. They scare the living daylights out of us. Like children at a horror movie we are fascinated by them but we want to hide our eyes from them and not look fully at them. That is the first effect of judgment. It arouses fear.
2. Then, because it terrifies us, judgment also sobers us. How many people in the Bay Area immediately rearranged their priorities five minutes after the earthquake hit on October 17? We heard many testimonies during that time of people saying, "I'll never take life as lightly again. That taught me a lot. I began to see what is really important." That is also what judgments do. They help us reassess our lives. They change our priorities. C. S. Lewis well says that fear or pain or judgment is "God's megaphone to reach a deaf world."
3. And so judgments correct us. They force us to face unpleasant facts about ourselves. We do not like that. We do not like to be told that we are not perfect. We know we are not, but we do not like anyone else to say so. We are uneasy at having these things pointed out. But judgment strips away our illusions. It restores us to reality. We begin to think accurately, clearly, as God thinks. We plan more carefully. We live more thoughtfully. That is why God sends judgment.
4. And fourth, judgment humbles us. We begin to see that we are really not in control. We do not run everything about our lives. We are not autonomous creatures. We are not little gods, capable of making anything we want to of ourselves, as the media keeps trying to tell us. We are not in charge. We see how foolish we have been in the past, that we have made many mistakes when we thought we were right. We begin at last to welcome guidance, to listen to others, and especially, to seek out the wisdom of the Word of God.
5. Finally, judgment reassures us. It comforts us. It answers Habakkuk's great prayer, "In wrath, remember mercy," (Hab 3:2). We learn that God does not like judgment either. He calls it, in Isaiah 28:21, his "strange work." He keeps it as brief as possible. He gives ample warnings before it gets unbearable. He sends anticipations of it, forceful reminders, that this kind of thing can happen so that we might pay attention and act before it gets out of hand.
All this supports the view that the Bible gives everywhere of a loving God, "slow to anger and plenteous in mercy," (Psalm 103:8 KJV). Is it not strange that people who do not read the Bible very much almost invariably say, when you talk about judgment, "Well, the God I worship is a loving God; he would never do anything like that!" My friend, it is the very love of God that makes him judge! God must judge in order to eliminate evil once for all from his creation and bring about the world of universal blessing which men have longed for throughout all of human history. (From God's Final Word, http://www.raystedman.org/revelation/4200.html)
Take heart! Cling to the great promises of God. With eagerness, let us act in faith trusting the living God who can not fail.
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
(Charles Wesley, 1707-1788)
Excellent Book: Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must be Challenged, by Barry E. Horner.
Current Class: I am teaching Genesis, Chapters 1-11, on Sunday mornings in the Forum Class at Peninsula Bible Church Palo Alto. For audio mp3 files go to http://ldolphin.org/genesis.html.
Finances: Most people are feeling the effects of the current disastrous national and international economic realities. The forecast is for more to come. My own retirement check has been reduced by over a third – well below current monthly expenses. Through it all, your faithful gifts have been sent of the Lord to sustain me, and they are needed now more than ever! I continue to thank my God for my every remembrance of you all. Your ongoing contributions may be sent to me through PayPal, or for a deductible receipt, mailed to Ray Stedman Ministries, P.O. Box 615, Mount Hermon, CA 95041 (checks should no longer be sent through Peninsula Bible Church). Be sure and mark your check, "Lambert Dolphin ministries." I am very grateful for generous support late last year and in January. Thank you again for your friendship and support. Our God is a sustaining God!
Contact Me. My disorganized collection of articles on many subjects is found on this page: http://ldolphin.org/asstbib.shtml. Previous newsletters are here: http://ldolphin.org/news/. To ask a question to our email team at the Paraclete Forum, write mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. As much as I'm able I answer all my email, mailto:email@example.com.