|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
We may be the last generation before the return of Christ, or many generations may yet follow in the plan of God. In either case, the same truths apply.
May 2021 - Often, believers talk together about the state of world and the Second Coming of Christ. Such conversations usually revolve around predictable points: the economic crises, wars and rumors of wars, the ongoing horror of abortion, the immorality of politicians both liberal and conservative, the latest news from the Middle East, past and upcoming elections, or the decline of the church. Invariably, at some point in the conversation, someone will say, "The Lord must be coming back soon. It certainly can't be much longer, can it?"
We live in a time of growing evil. In the United States alone, more human beings are killed by abortion each and every day of the year than were killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The rulers of the nations seem helpless to stem the tide of economic chaos, and some, in partnership with corporate oligarchs, even encourage it for their own evil ends. There can be no question that the COVID-19 phenomenon has been used to such ends. It has also been used (and continues to be) as a weapon against Christ's church. The vehemence and even savagery of the enemies of Christ and His people finds new and ever more horrible expression in many parts of the world, including America. The world at large is becoming one great Sodom and Gomorrah. If you stand for the truth of the Word of God, you are the enemy of society, government, and of organized religion. The visible church, with few and precious exceptions, is unplugged from the Word, uncertain of what it believes, and ineffectual in spiritual warfare - and often even fighting on the wrong side. "Lord, how long?" is the cry of true believers.
The Cry for Deliverance
This sentiment not only expresses Christians' longing for deliverance from this present evil world, but also, frequently, from our own personal troubles. Often our cries of "Lord, how long?" express Christian parents' hopes that their children and grandchildren will be delivered from what they see as the gathering storm of God's wrath.
Such thoughts can have a sound, Biblical basis, or they can be unsound. Doubtless such thoughts motivated many of the deluded - later disillusioned - followers of cult leader Harold Camping, whose predictions of the end of the world in 2011 proved to be lies, just as were his predictions concerning 1994.
Thoughts of deliverance also no doubt motivate the followers, many of them sincere, of end-times charlatans like the late Tim LaHaye and the still-active Hal Lindsey. These men have led millions astray - and made millions of dollars - extrapolating the false assumptions of Dispensationalism into sensationally un-Biblical eschatologies that change with the latest news headlines. Lindsey's personal life (married four times, divorced thrice) and his many failed predictions should be a scandal to the church, but are not. He is still active at age 91 (as we write this) and has been duping a new generation with the help of the online news site WorldNetDaily.
People and churches vary in their eschatological views. As long as they remain within the bounds of Scripture and do not assume cultic dimensions, we have no right to make such views a test of Christian fellowship. But on this much Scripture is clear and all true believers must agree: Jesus Christ will come again, visibly and bodily, to culminate the redemption of the long line of believers that began with our first parents and will end with the last soul who repents of sin and receives the gift of saving faith in Him. All believers in Christ, from beginning to end, will be delivered from "the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Christ's coming will also mark the culmination of His final judgment upon this wicked world, and on all who have rejected Him, from rebellious Cain to the last soul who refuses the Gospel.
But still the cry of our hearts is, "Lord, how long? How much more evil can this world get?" And, "Will God deliver His people?"
God's Dealings With Abraham
We can learn much from God's dealings with Abraham, our father in the faith, in this regard. In Genesis 15, when He instituted His gracious covenant with Abraham, God told him this:
Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve will I judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete (Genesis 15:13-16).
This, of course, was God's great promise of the captivity, affliction, and eventual return of the nation of Israel. Notice several things in these verses.
First, notice that although God told Abraham of things that would happen over a period of 400 years, he did not tell Abraham when those years would begin. Three more generations - Isaac, Jacob, and then Jacob's sons - would be born and grow to adulthood before God's time clock would begin to tick.
Secondly, notice that God assured Abraham of his own eternal destiny no matter what the future might hold, an assurance that was based on the fact that Abraham "believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6, cf. Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23).
Thirdly, notice that God promised not only to bring His people out of the other side of tribulation and into the land of promise "with great possessions," but also to execute judgment on those who would afflict them, the Egyptians.
Finally, notice the reason that God said this would all take so long, in human terms: "for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."
Parallels in Prophecy
As we look at Bible prophecy two thousand years after the Cross, we see many parallels to these things. We see indications of events commencing at a specific point in time of which no man knows the day nor the hour (Matthew 25:13), and then lasting for a predetermined period, just as was the case with Israel's captivity in Egypt. In all of this, it is clear that the destiny of the saints of God is secure and beyond doubt, just as Abraham's was. Just as Israel would experience hard persecution in Egypt, we also find indications that during the coming period of final tribulation many will be martyred for the faith. In Revelation 6:10 these themselves cry out, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
We also know that, just as God promised Abraham deliverance of his descendants from Egypt into the land of promise, so also on the other side of God's future outpouring of wrath on this world lies an eternity of unspeakable glory for His people:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:1-2).
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).
We also have many indications that, just as Israel's coming to the Promised Land awaited the time when "the iniquity of the Amorites [would be] complete" so also the wickedness of this world at large has not yet reached its peak:
After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury."
And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, 'I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.' Therefore her plagues will come in one day - death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her." (Revelation 18:1-8)
Iniquity "Not Yet Complete"?
My parents, now with the Lord, thought He must certainly return during their lifetime. My father's parents, and their parents before them, thought the same. Many Christians in our generation think the Lord must certainly return during our days. But it may well be, to paraphrase Genesis 15:16, that the iniquity of the Muslim world - and Russia - and China - and post-Christian America - is "not yet complete" and has generations yet to run its course before God steps in.
It may be that nations yet unknown will arise, as the United States did a relatively short time ago in the grand scheme of history. Such nations, should they come, doubtless will have their time of ascendancy on God's great stage, but will eventually, as all the others, collapse under the weight of their own evil - just as Western civilization, founded on the Bible but today far removed from it, seems now to be collapsing.
We must also remember that God's Word teaches a final in-gathering of the Jews "after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (Romans 11:25), and tells us plainly that Christ will return "at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24:44). Also, Jesus asked the probing and telling question which reads, literally, "The Son of Man, having come indeed, will He find the faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).
Trust God and Be About His Business
What are believers in Christ to think about these things? How are we to behave?
We, like our father Abraham, dwell as foreigners in this world. We must never forget that as "he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10), so must we. "For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come" (Hebrews 13:14). Truly, "our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21).
Paul follows those words immediately with these: "Therefore my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved" (Philippians 4:1). And so, while not losing sight of the ultimate prize which God shall give us, let us be about our King's business until He comes - evangelizing the world and edifying the saints with the message of the One "who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age" - notice - "according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever. Amen." (Galatians 1:4-5).
In the perfect will of our God and Father, we may be the last generation before Christ comes, or many more generations may yet follow. But for all, however few or many, the same truth applies:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:31-39).
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