The Apocalypse is coming and we are not ready.
I woke up last night (Susan says I have old man sleeping syndrome); I noticed Stephen McAlpine was writing about the great toilet paper crisis, a tornado was hitting Nashville, and then without warning our street suddenly had a blackout.
Morning finally came, and while our power had returned, the toilet paper crisis had worsened, and a real tragedy had unfolded in Nashville.
Firstly, I just want to say to all the panic buyers around Australia, thanks for nothing. Quite literally, nothing! I had tried to convince Susan that while there was no problem with the supply of toilet paper, people don’t always react with good measure. Thank you media for ramping up the scare levels. I heard this morning that one of the country’s major supermarket chains has begun rationing its toilet paper supplies thanks to those Aussies who couldn’t hold on for a little. While I sit around and hold on for the foreseeable future, let me share some thoughts about the Apocalypse which I was preaching last Sunday at church.
Talk about the end of the world was once associated with religious mania, but today throngs of irreligious people have amped up the chorus, ‘the end is nigh’, while others are following on social media, quietly pondering the possibility.
I’ve already responded to a piece by Geoff Dawson on the ABC, where he argues that perhaps humankind will become extinct and it doesn’t really matter because people are not special. Dawson may be following the logic of his own Zen Buddhism, which sounds almost identical to atheistic naturalism, but most of us don’t buy it. People do matter. We are not the same as animals. Prospects of mass eradication of human beings trouble us because surely we have inherent and great worth.
Then we have our Climate Change alarmists who are going around and warning us that the world only has 10, 12 or 20 years remaining on the clock. Before we roll our eyes at this new era of apocalyptic mania, I can understand people being swept up rhetoric and tales of disaster. Indeed, for those who have survived personal trauma, such concerns are not merely hypothetical.
Global warming isn’t a phantom, Australia has just experienced a frightful bushfire season, and there are geopolitical uncertainties, and now, of course, there is the potential global pandemic with the Corona Virus.
Instead of thinking that maybe Hollywood was right, with its constant stream of disaster movies, there is another word that’s worth consideration.
Matthew ch.24 records the famous ‘Apocalyptic’ sermon of Jesus. You can listen to my exposition of Matthew ch.24 on the Mentone Baptist website. For now, I want to make note of four salient points from Jesus’ discourse on the end of the world.
Firstly, Jesus is describing how life in the world will be.
Jesus isn’t giving us a linear description of history, but a Divine interpretation of history and what we ought to expect in the world before the real and physical return of the creator King. There are 3 characteristics that mark this age.
One, there are global catastrophes and uncertainties,
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. (vv.6-7)
When we see a disaster, it makes us pause and ponder. When the sky darkens and the thunder rolls, we often ask, what of the end? These things are not the end but serve as reminders that the world has not yet finished.
Second, there are attacks on the Church, from outside and from within. Jesus speaks of persecution, false prophets, and apostasy.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Again, we are not required to read these verses as though Jesus is describing a not yet time in the future or as though there will necessarily be an escalation of these things prior to the coming of Christ. Rather, throughout this age Churches will experience this trifecta.
Thirdly, world evangelisation will take place. The good news of Jesus will be preached and reach every nation, and people from every tongue and tribe will respond and believe Jesus is Lord.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (v.14)
Second, we are not the first generation to face significant crises.
Last month I wrote an article criticising legislation that the Victorian Government is planning to introduce this year. Thousands of people were reading, with hundreds and hundreds of comments made on social media. One of the more popular responses came from Christians who said things like, “this proves Jesus is coming soon….this is a sign of the end times….the anti-Christ has appeared in Melbourne…”
This reminded me that not only do we let our imaginations disconnect from the Bible, but also from history. I wanted to post an emoji with a screaming face, saying, “no, you have misunderstood me”!
The problem with our apocalyptic manic Christians is that they always believe that ‘now’ are the last times, whereas yesterday wasn’t. If only we listened to our history classes at school. Ours is not the first generation to experience massive issues and seen terrible evil. The world has faced staggering mountains of trouble and uncertainty before. What of Jews living in Poland in 1939 as the Nazis destroyed everything in their wake? What of a Jewish family in hiding, as the SS hunted down neighbours and friends, either shooting them dead on the spot or throwing them onto a train bound for a death camp? Could things be any worse? Or what of those living 14th Century Europe as the Black Plague killed 1/3 of the continent’s population in Europe? What about the people fleeing from Genghis Khan who killed population after population across Asia and Europe? Could things be worse than that?
Most Aussies live in a luxurious bubble that few people in the world today enjoy, and even fewer in history. There are however issues of major consequence facing us. At the very least, reading Jesus’ words should cause us to rethink our assumptions about our own security and dependencies in life.
Third, Jesus gives only one sign for his impending return
The word apocalyptic simply means, unveiling. It is to make known something that was previously unknown. The great unveiling concerns the time and manner in which the world will wrap up and the new creation revealed. As Jesus speaks to this question of the apocalypse, he explains that there is one sign, and that sign is his return.
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (vv.30-31)
This one sign will be visible, unavoidable and unmistakable. As Jesus adds, people will mourn. Why? Because we have spent our days denying and explaining away the reality of Christ. To those whom he describes as the elect, he says, stand firm (v.13) keep watch (v.4; v.42), don’t grow cold (v.12), don’t get sucked in by false teachers (vv.23-24).
Fourth, God is Sovereign
When will the final hour strike? No one knows the time or hour when Christ will return. Jesus tells us that only God the Father knows, and yet people press for more information and our imaginations get drawn into all manner of crazy theories and speculations.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
And Jesus also says,
“see to it that you are not alarmed.”
We should not be alarmed or surprised by events that take hold of people, nations, and the natural world. We can be appalled and grieve these sharp reminders of a world that is cursed and cannot redeem itself. Alarmism, however, isn’t befitting for the one who trusts in a God who is Sovereign.
Jesus’ apocalyptic sermon reinforces one of the Bible’s great themes, that events in our time are not beyond God’s knowledge or control. He isn’t reacting to events in the world as though he’s playing catch up. He knows what will happen tomorrow. He knows the outcome before the event. He is omniscient and omnipotent. Surely, this can be of great comfort? We may not know what lies tomorrow, whether it’s a virus or the weather, our work or exams. God has it all under his control and it is all pointing to the return of our Lord and Saviour.
The Apocalypse is coming and we are not ready.
And yet, here we are, religious and non-religious Australian alike are beginning to talk and to contemplate the potential. As talk about the apocalypse intensifies here are two simple things Christians can do: 1. Don’t contribute to the mania, 2. Take on board the encouragements and admonishments Jesus gives to the apocalyptic generation.
Susan has just returned from the supermarket….there was no toilet paper!