Where is God in all this mess? News accounts daily tell us of one horror story after another someplace in our nation. Even more incredible events are happening elsewhere in the world.
The amazing thing about the Bible is how relevant it is. It alone presents answers to our most basic questions. It's not that we will understand all mysteries by reading the Bible. But we will have a perspective that sets our minds at ease regarding the ultimate outcome of world events.
Maybe you are like some people who read a book by first looking at how it ends. The Bible in its final book – the Book of Revelation -- tells us there will be a very good ending to the mess we see around us. Biblical prophecy gives us a godly perspective in our lives and in looking at world events.
Eschatology is a fancy word for the study of end-time events. The New Testament shows that teaching about end-time events was central in the preaching of Christ and the early Church. It's a hot topic today among some Christians.
Unfortunately, the understanding of end-time events is often wrong. But, that's no reason we need shy away from it. In fact, it's the very reason we need to be grounded in basic, biblical teaching about the end-time. We should seek to understand what the Bible says Christ is doing now and what it says He will be doing at His return and thereafter. What difference did Jesus' life make in a world filled with hatred, tragedy, war, bloodshed, and death?
James Moorhead, a Princeton Theological Seminary professor, made this astute observation:
"In its eschatology, main-stream Protestantism has suppressed the blood, the chaos, and the terror of the Apocalypse [that is, the Book of Revelation]; and these have leapt out like the bogey [man] from under the bed. If the mainstream churches cannot give a satisfactory account of the end, is it surprising that many people will choose to go elsewhere where those needs can be met and addressed?"
So then, how, does the Bible "put it all together"? How we can begin to make some sense out of the senseless actions we see happening about us in the world? Is God still in control? Is He anywhere around?
St. Paul was the great apostle to the Gentiles. Acts 17 tells us of his visit to the city of Athens, Greece. It was, the Bible tells us, a "city…full of idols" (v. 16).
On a hillside near the Greek god of thunder and war, Paul found an altar with the inscription addressed "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD." Paul used this unusual altar as a way of reaching their minds with God's Word. He would inform them about this "unknown God".
What was St. Paul's basic message to these pagans in ancient Greece? It's very important that we understand and believe that what St. Paul said is true. It is the truth –when joined with faith -- that will set us free from fears and doubts and misconceptions.
Here, in summary, is St. Paul's message of 2,000 years ago. It's preserved in Acts 17:24-31:
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth…." Here some very basic truths are given. First, the knowledge that there is a God. Once you lose sight of this fundamental truth, you can never arrive at other ultimate truths. And this God is all powerful, for He is the One who made everything! He now rules all heaven and earth! He's the Supreme Authority over everything in the universe!
"…[God] does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else." This God is beyond His physical creation. He has always existed. He doesn't need help from us or his creation. Rather, He is the One who originated it and still upholds it! Now when you have this perspective of God, you will begin to see that no problem – no "mess" -- is too big for him to solve, whether in your private life or in the whole world!
"From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live." Here St. Paul affirms the Genesis record is true when it says the human race began with Adam. And then Paul goes on to tell us that God determines the outcome of the nations – when they will be powerful and when they will become weak. Yes, even where they are located, where they should live. He's active in his creation. He hasn't gone off somewhere and forgotten about us. Rather, God is the One who formed the earth. Through his actions since Creation He has molded the continents and prepared them through his divine power to accommodate the various peoples. Many national borders are drawn by rivers, mountains, and other geo-physical barriers. God is the One in charge of geology and geological change. The rocks and fossils are not due to blind chance over billions of years. They are due to His creative powers and divine will. Things are not being left to chance.
"God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being' [This is a quote from a poet named Epimenides from the island of Crete who lived about 600 years before Paul's time. History records that this very poet from Crete had ordered this altar placed on this hillside.] As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'" God designed the world so that nations would see their limitations and when the need arose, cry out to him. Our lives also witness the need for God's outside help. He's not far away!
"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man's design and skill." Our ultimate origin is divine. St. Luke's genealogy of Mary ends by telling us that Adam was "the son of God" (Luke 3:38). We are all sons of God by creation. This God of Creation is not a fairy tale of our imaginations. He is. He exists. He has always existed. He always will exist.
Now, St. Paul gives the punch line! Because of all he just said, this is what matters. "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent." God is gracious. He overlooks ignorance. But, now when these fundamental truths are revealed, repentance is commanded. Before one can receive salvation, one must repent. Repentance involves a sorrow for what has been done wrong and a willingness to turn around and go the right way. Repentance has been the message of God's Church for nearly 2,000 years. "Repent and believe the Gospel.""Repent and be baptized."
"For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed." Here, St. Paul is speaking of God the Father giving Jesus the authority to judge the world. This authority was given to Jesus at His Ascension and coronation in the heavens. Just before He ascended back into heaven, Jesus said: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore [for this reason] go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-19). Jesus has been ruling for 2,000 years from heaven. Before His Return, He is trying and testing the nations. The Gospel is being preached so that all men may come to repentance and receive forgiveness and eternal life through Him. It is God who makes and unmakes nations. This gives us great confidence as we see world events in chaos. God's plan will stand. He brings together the unrepentant wicked to destroy them. Yes, His desire is that all repent, but those who do not, He judges and brings to ruin. He has promised to be with His faithful people – His Church -- to the very end of the age. The Bible clearly shows that the end of the age will be very frightful and dangerous (II Timothy 3:1-9).
And, finally, St. Paul concludes his message to the pagans on the hillside in Athens by showing how he knew all this was true. "He [God the Father] has given proof of this to all men by raising him [Jesus] from the dead." The resurrection of Christ from the tomb that first Resurrection Sunday is the evidence that God's plan will stand. Nothing will or can prevent it. To human eyes it had seemingly come to an end with a dead Jesus hanging on the cross that first Good Friday. God has shown himself more powerful than any of our enemies, even our greatest enemy, death, itself!
The Bible speaks of salvation in three different ways.
First, we are saved by Christ's perfect life, His sacrificial death on the cross in our place, and his conquest of death through his resurrection. This is the means by which believers have been delivered from eternal death (Titus 3:5-7). We are saved from eternal condemnation by belief that Jesus took our place. He died so that we may not suffer what the Bible calls the "second death" (Revelation 20:6).
Secondly, we are saved daily by God's forgiveness of our sins. We continue in a saved estate through continued faith in Him (I John 1:8-9). This faith is a living faith, one where we confess our sins and seek His will in our lives. Good works are produced through the work of the Spirit as evidence of that faith. And even though we fall short, His mercy sustains us.
And, thirdly, the Bible speaks of believers being saved – delivered – at His return (Romans 5:9). God pours out His final wrath upon an unrepentant world that has continually refused to accept Him. These are the three aspects of salvation the Bible uses.
There are also three aspects of God's wrath spoken of in the Scriptures.
First, God's full wrath fell upon Jesus on the cross for all humanity (Isaiah 53:4-8). Because of this, His wrath will not fall upon believers. Christ paid the penalty for the sins of all the world so we would not have to pay it.
Secondly, God's wrath comes upon the unbelieving world in their lifetimes (Romans 1:18-32). The Book of Revelation often speaks of this wrath that has come and will continue to come. It is a wrath that is meant to bring people to their senses. It's a punishment meant to turn people back to the living God.
If this divine "shot across the bow" doesn't bring people to repentance, then the third type of God's wrath comes into play. The third type of wrath is the final wrath of God that comes at His return (Revelation 6:15-16).
The present-day rule of Christ from Heaven was prophesied 3,000 years ago by King David in Psalm 2. The meaning is clear. God is still very much in charge. But, at this time He allows rebellion among individuals and nations. The "mess" we see in the world today is the result of man's rejection of God's way. Psalm 2 is a prophecy of the reign of Christ, written about a 1,000 years before His birth.
King David and his earthly Kingdom of Israel was only a type of the coming Kingdom of God, ruled by the ultimate and final King in the line of David. The angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that her first born would be given "the throne of his father David and…his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32-33).
When Christ accomplished His mission on earth, He told His disciples that: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18). And when Christ ascended into heaven He began His rule over all the earth. St. John recorded the Book of Revelation. Revelation 1: 5 says:
"Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth."
Psalm 2 tells us what began after Christ's earthly ministry was over. It tells us what Christ has been doing the past 2,000 years. It's an apt description of the interaction of the world and its leaders with Christ's rule.
1 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, 3 "Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us." 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 "As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill." 7 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, "You are my Son;
today I have begotten you. [St. Paul tells us in Romans 1:3-4 that Christ Jesus "…was a descendant of David, and through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead…."] 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." [And to the Church, Jesus promises co-authority with Him over the nations after our death, ruling with him in the heavens (Revelation 20:4-6). Jesus says in Revelation 2:26: "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations," and then Jesus quotes from Ps. 2:9 – "'He will rule them with an iron rod, he will dash them to pieces like pottery' – just as I have received authority from my Father."] 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him."
May you also take refuge in him, knowing that God promises to be with you always, even to the end of the age.