"For many shall come in my name, saying, 'I am Christ'; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kindgom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." Matt. 14:5-14
Not exactly the most encouraging set of verses you've ever read! I haven't posted in several days, partly because I've been busy, and partly because I just haven't had anything to say. But today, I'm going to speak on this passage, both discouraging and encouraging in the same breath.
All of us have heard people say that we are living in the end times. I've always been skeptical when pastors say that, since they've been saying that for the last two millenia (1 Jn. 2:18). Jesus lists several of the common reasons for this statement that we hear frequently: wars and rumors of wars. His response; the end is not yet. You're not even close yet. Wars don't even fit on the chart!
Okay, next we're at nation and kingdom against nation and kingdom. I think this reflects a larger scale war; not a small, inter-city conflict, but empires rising to crush each other. Combine that with famines and earthquakes, and you get what Jesus calls the "beginning of sorrows". Wow, talk about encouraging! In the face of world war, food shortages, and natural catastrophes, your sorrows are just beginning!
Finally, at least we're getting close to the end! After the previous list comes persecution. All nations will hate the followers of Christ, causing certain brothers to turn against each other, prompting hatred and rage between even many Christians. From the looks of v. 9, this is not going to be a medium persecution, where fines and imprisonments are handed out. It's going to be bloody; the Christians will be executed.
So where's the encouragement I mentioned at the beginning? It's right here in the last prophecy. I'm going to read it one more time, because it's impressive. "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
In the face of world war, chaos, famine, and persecution, we see the gospel of Jesus Christ expanding. Not desperately struggling to hold on to the last vestiges of Jesus' teachings, but instead, missions spreads like never before. Think of it; the entire world hearing of Jesus Christ!
This is why I read these verses and wind up encouraged. Revelation 7:9 states, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands." After this chaos on the world stage, followed by catastrophe, famine, and mass persecution (in every single nation), we see the church expanding, growing, and evangelizing, to the extent that before Jesus returns every nation will have heard, and before Jesus' throne will stand someone from every single language, tribe, and family group.
You know why? Because our God is greater. I think sometimes we get it stuck in our heads that our God is running around trying to fix all the catastrophes happening around the world, and the Devil is just laughing his head off controlling everything. We see the opposite here. We see the Devil use every tool at his disposal to crush the church, from war, to persecution, to famine, but instead we see church growth!
That is the future of missions. That is why men like C.T. Studd and Jim Elliot did what they did. Because in the end, when time finishes, every single one of us will die. Death is the only certainty in life. There is a 100 percent chance of your death. And when earth's clock winds down, all that will be left are those souls gathered around the Lamb's throne, from every people group, to praise Jesus! Is that a beautiful thought or what?
That is what missions is. It's the initial, penetrating work of Christ's church to the unreached. It's the adding of souls to the innumerable mass of humanity gathered around Jesus' throne, all clothed with His grace, to praise His name forever! It's the expansion of the gospel throughout a world of sin. It's the outward scattering of light through darkness; the act of a firefighter rushing against the clock to save people from hell.
Don't ever get stuck with the idea in your head that God is somehow confused and running behind, trying desperately to catch up. Everything is falling into place according to His plan, according to His timing. And He deigns to stoop down into the dirt, pull us out, and use us for His purposes, through circumstances unimaginable. All these things God directs to further His plan. Have faith in our God. Trust Him.
Persecution will come. World war, famine, and chaos will occur, and there's nothing you or I can do to prevent it. However, we can instead be willing tools to fulfill God's purposes until His return, both during persecution and during freedom; on a Sunday at church or at school on a weekday; on a battlefield or a sportsfield. That is Christianity. That is submission to Jesus Christ. That is a Christ-follower.