A Certain Kind of Hope

 
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God sometimes confounds the mind to reveal the heart.” Nowhere is this saying more apparent than in matters relating to end-times. It is abundantly clear that human nature is very prone to think in terms of the end of the world whenever significant dates are approaching or terrible catastrophes have happened. The imminence of each new millennium has consistently drawn their unique variations of millennium-mania, only to settle down with the passing of time and a few red-faced or belligerent rationalisations. Similarly, churches throughout the USA were packed following the gut-wrenching events of September 11, 2001, only to return to normal after a period of time.

Even Christ’s own disciples made the same mistake when shortly after His resurrection they asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

Despite Jesus’ clear warning that “it is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (verse 7) people have continued to set dates for His second coming.

In comparatively recent years, devout preachers such as William Miller stirred much of the world with his fervent preaching that Jesus would return in 1844. The followers of Charles Taze Russell believed the same thing of 1914.

The humanistic mindset of current secular thinkers has become increasingly blasÈ, indifferent and case-hardened to these prognostications, which follow the next atrocity that happens in the world. They are disdainful and sarcastic about devout people crying wolf too often at each manifestation of society’s disintegration.

As a result of these religious forecasts that never seem to happen, there is a growing dissonance developing in the minds of many people against any supernatural intervention by God in history.

With uncanny insight, the apostle Peter described this age prophetically when he said, “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3, 4).

But, in so doing he warns that they knowingly overlook the one stark event of history that advises all of us not to dismiss the certainty of God’s intervention when circumstances reach a certain condition. “They deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed [the flood of Noah’s day]. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (verses 5-7).

Jesus was explicit about the endtimes.

In the great sermon preached during the last week of His life on the Mount of Olives, He outlined the exact nature of His return to earth at the end of time. It will be the climax of history, a denouement that happens visibly before every inhabitant of the earth (see Matthew 24:27). It will be accompanied by enormous upheavals in the geo-physical and spiritual world (see verse 28). He will descend from heaven enveloped in clouds and accompanied by every single one of his angels in an overwhelming manifestation of power and glory (see verse 30). There will be a “huge lament” (verse 30, The Message ) from those who have not accepted Him as Lord and Saviour at that time.

A piercing trumpet will call to life again those who have previously died believing in Him. Together with believers who are still living at this time, they will be gathered up by the angels and taken with Him to the place He has been preparing for them in heaven since he left this earth after His resurrection (see verse 31; John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

And even though He made it abundantly clear that “no-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36), He was nevertheless specific about the events that would precede His return.

The increasing global political unrest and warfare in the world and the upheavals in climate and geography are not the really imminent signs. In Jesus’ words they are just “birth pains,” increasing in their intensity and duration before the final birth of the kingdom of God in open reality (see verses 4-8). The final scenes, however, will centre around a spiritual struggle that will polarise every person on earth into one of two groups.

On the one hand there will be those who, under the compelling power of the Holy Spirit, will respond positively to the proclamation of what God has done for them through the birth, life, death, resurrection and intercession of Jesus to make us right with Him (see verse 14; Revelation 14:6, 7). And on the other hand, there will be those who settle intellectually, emotionally and spiritually into a hardened rejection of God’s grace as it has been displayed in Jesus.

They will manifest an increased opposition and hatred to everyone and everything that is like Jesus (see verses 9-12).

What happened to Christ in the final days of His life will happen again to the body of Christ, His people, at the end of time. The hatred of the existing church and state will combine to destroy the followers of Jesus as they did Christ Himself. This will be reinforced by the supernatural manifestation of demonic signs and wonders designed specifically to deceive those who have rejected Jesus’ teaching at this time (see verses 21-26; 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10).

In one stroke Jesus negates the popular teaching being taught by many these days that His people will escape this time of trouble before it happens by being raptured to heaven.

So what is it that enables people to go through this experience at this time? It will be a love of truth (see 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12). This is not primarily propositional truth that is described here. It is the truth about Jesus, as revealed in the one who said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6).

Amid all the conflicting things happening at that time, God confounds people’s minds to reveal theirs hearts.

Hearts that have been surrendered to the compelling love of Jesus will trust Him even when their minds tell them this doesn’t make sense. Just as Jesus, feeling the absence of His Father while hanging on the cross could still trust Him in His final words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), so the followers of Jesus do the same.

The one difference is that at that final moment, the Lord delivers His own. There is no need for them to die a sacrificial death like His. Their life and loyal commitment has demonstrated by contrast the final results of Satan’s rebellion manifested in the hearts of those who have been filled by his demonic spirit (see Revelation 12:10-12).

The second coming of Jesus is the consummation of the gospel proclaimed at His first coming. Because of our sinfulness, we could not go to Him, so He came to us. He comes at the end of time for the same reason.

For Christians, however, a living relationship with Jesus in their present life ensures them of a foretaste of life in the ultimate kingdom of God as they wait for His coming. Along with faith in Jesus comes the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is the first instalment of eternal life with God (see John 3:16; Ephesians 1:13-14).