Did you hear the news? The earth on a slow inexorable march towards destruction. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Extremism is on the rise around the world and terrorists are spreading fear like a plague. World governments are crippled by corruption and bureaucracy, societies are crumbling. The west is becoming more and more secular and bringing the south down with it. Division between people is growing, not shrinking.
It’s hard not to get discouraged at the state of the world. We do our little bit to make the world a better place, putting our buckets to work against the oceans of injustice and unbelief. It seems that for every student who comes to know Christ in university, many more walk away from faith. Every soul delivered from slavery reminds us how many more toil in bondage: spiritually to sin, and physically to evil men.
But rest assured: God has not abandoned us. Christ is still at work in the world, and He is the source of our hope.
Near the end of Jesus’ ministry, His disciples came to Him with a question as they often did. “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” We know at some level that You will usher in Your kingdom in Your timing, but how will we know it’s coming?
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. – Matthew 24:4-8
Jesus essentially replies, “Things are going to get bad, and that’s just the beginning.” I confess I don’t read this chapter often; it’s not a feel-good read. There are many promises in scripture: some of prosperity, answered prayers, deliverance, peace, etc. This is a promise of tribulation.
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. – Matthew 24:9-13
It gets worse for Christians especially. We will suffer because we follow Christ. We may be nice, caring, and compassionate, but the odour of Christ on us will overpower all that. We will be those people: The ones who believe there is only one way to God, that our bodies aren’t ours to use as we please, that everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is destined for hell. Yes, those people.
And more and more, we will become less tolerated. It’s illegal to be a Christian in many countries, and difficult to evangelize in many more. In university, a friend of mine had a poster in his room with a picture of a cross and Galatians 1:16 printed on it. The caption read: This message is illegal in 52 countries.
All this was promised by Jesus. But instead of being discouraging, this was intended as an encouragement. According to protestant theology, the coming of Jesus was preceded by 400 years of silence from God. In that time the world went through massive geo-political changes and God’s chosen people suffered without direct guidance from the Lord.
Jesus knew He was leaving His disciples soon, and it would be a long time before He returned. Because of the Holy Spirit, the church would never be left without direct guidance from God. But we would still be tempted to doubt in the face of rising evil, and so He gave us a heads up. It’s going to be hard, and this isn’t because I’ve abandoned you.
God is still working on the earth. In the midst of darkness, He is bringing light. The light of the gospel is being opposed but not destroyed. Many have predicted the death of Christianity through history, and so far it’s refused to go away.
But more than just surviving, God’s people are flourishing. Millions are coming to faith in Christ every year, including in states which- whether through persecution or growing pluralism- oppose the message of the gospel. Christ’s promise to His disciples still stands: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
God is still sending labourers into the harvest as He promised. Men and women are responding to God’s grace in their lives by going out in radical sacrifice to draw others to Christ. Missions Conferences are packed; University graduates are taking on missions internships around the world and at home; Bibles and theological resources are being translated into more languages and exported to more ethnic groups around the world.
We are a people of hope, because we hope in Christ. When we see evil growing and the world moving further away from God, rest assured that God has not abandoned us. He is still at work.
Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it – 2 Timothy 3:13-14
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. – Matthew 24:13-14