Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, once told a parable about a theater where a variety show was taking place. Each show was more exciting than the previous one, leading the audience to applaud after every act. But without warning, the manager of the theater steps onto the stage. He apologizes for stopping the show but wants everyone to evacuate the theater. It turns out the theater itself is on fire. Everyone is asked to leave slowly, orderly and carefully. At this, the audience begins to roar with applause—thinking that this was part of the act (and the most amusing one at that)! No matter how much the manager begs the people to leave, the audience applauds louder. Finally, he gives up. The fire destroys the theater, and the oblivious audience with it. “And so”, determines Kierkegaard, “Will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators.”
Today, we are faced with the daunting reality of what could be the end of the age.
As Pastor Ray Bentley says, “The world is not falling apart; it is falling into place!” For the last 2,000+ years there has been in every Biblically-informed generation an eschatological hope. That simply means that with every generation that longs for the return of Jesus Christ, there has been a sense of expectation that perhaps our generation could be the one that sees the coming of the Lord Jesus on the clouds and with great glory. Do you and I long for His appearing?
Throughout church history we have sung lyrics in our hymns that anticipate it:
"And Lord haste the day when our faith shall be sight.” “When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh may I then in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless stand before the throne.” “When with the ransomed in glory His face I at last shall see, ’Twill be my joy through the ages To sing of His love for me.” “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, And there proclaim: ‘My God, how great Thou art!’”
Jesus' return is imminent.
All orthodox Christians agree on a few things (thankfully!). We all agree that at some point, Jesus is coming again. We disagree a lot about when that exactly will happen, but we all have settled that Jesus indeed will be coming again. And some things will accompany and precede His coming—there will be some tell-tale signs that He is near.
Jesus describes them in Mark 13:5-11, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of Me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations."
Notice that Jesus warned us up front that the world will be in disarray before He returns. There will be false Christ’s, there will be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and there will also be persecution. So for more than 2,000 years Christ followers have been waiting, watching and hoping. Do we hope for and long for the return of Jesus? I sure hope so! But in the meantime, how should we then live?
In the midst of persecution and difficulty, as the world seems to be in disarray, what should our response be?
In the midst of persecution and difficulty, as the world seems to be in disarray, what should our response be? The writer of Hebrews offers a compelling answer:
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).
The writer of Hebrews encourages you and I to keep our eyes on Jesus. How did Jesus persevere? The text tells us: He endured the cross. He scorned the shame. He endured opposition from sinful men. He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus didn’t sit down until He had endured the agonies of Calvary. Too many of His followers want to take a seat when they need to be taking a stand! When we face opposition from sinners, this verse exhorts us to persevere, not to grow weary and lose heart, but instead to take heart.
Jesus promised in advance that any of His followers would be persecuted.
“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15:18-21). In John 16:33 He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12 “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Do we really believe these verses? These are as sure promises as any other we quote from Scripture.
More Christians were persecuted in the last century than in any other since the days of Jesus. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity reports that as many as 100,000 Christians die every year because of their faith (11 every hour). Presently, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments for their beliefs, according to the U.S. State Department. This could be the greatest single human rights issue in the world but is the least reported on, talked about or protested against.
Persecution is happening today, and I believe a large wave of global persecution against Christians is coming. But I also believe another wave will accompany it: a great move of the Spirit of God in our day. I believe it will be like nothing we have seen since the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 70s and will be primarily driven by and among millennials. God is already at work in this generation and is about to do something even greater than we can imagine.
Jesus said that the gospel will be preached to all nations, and then the end will come.
I believe we will be the generation that sees this, and I want to be a part of it! Even so, come Lord Jesus! In the meantime, we fix our eyes on Jesus. Don’t lose heart. Don’t grow weary. Fight the good fight and look ahead for “...The crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).