“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry out to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned:
that she has received from the LORD’S hand
double for all her sins.”

 

These amazing words, which echo through all generations, are ultimately addressed to the Church. Here Christians receive a command to comfort the people of God. But how are we to do so?

First, we are to speak tenderly to Jerusalem. God has in view the Jerusalem above, the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of the Living God: His chosen people who presently are, or soon will be, seated with Christ in heavenly places (Gal. 4:26, Heb. 12:22, Eph. 1:3, 20). We are commanded to speak tenderly to them: to speak in such a way as to make known God’s love for them all.

Secondly, we are to cry out that her warfare is ended. Because Christ Jesus went to war for us, we can now lay down our arms. Because Christ loved us, God is no longer angry with us, nor should we be angry at him, or hostile to him. In Christ, the warring parties—God and his elect—are reconciled at last.

Thirdly, we are to cry out that her iniquity is pardoned. By his atoning death the Lord Jesus paid the penalty for our sins; by the Spirit’s effectual call we were brought to repentance and faith, with the result that our sins were forgiven once and for all. Do some of God’s children still groan under a burden on guilt and shame for past transgressions? If so, we must comfort them: “There is therefore now now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Your iniquity is pardoned, your warfare ended. Arise and go forth in the joy of the Lord!”

Finally, we are to cry out that Jerusalem has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. This is a difficult verse. What does it mean? And why is it comforting?

Here is what it does not mean. It does not mean that Jerusalem received twice as much punishment as she deserved. Nor does it mean that God will give her twice as much blessing to compensate for all the punishment she received. Nor indeed does it mean that Jerusalem herself received the punishment she deserved!

What it does mean can only be seen beneath the light of the Gospel. Viewed from there it means that in the Person of Christ, and at the Cross of Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem received punishment from the LORD’S hand, for Christ stood in for her as a substitute. And it means that the punishment Christ endured exactly matched the punishment that she deserved. An actor’s “double” perfectly corresponds to the actor. Just so, God’s just judgment perfectly corresponded to Jerusalem’s sins.1

This is difficult for us to understand, and painful for us to contemplate. But we must do both, lest we fail to receive the comfort God is offering his people. Our sins were infinitely culpable, and therefore worthy of eternal punishment. But on the Cross a divine and infinitely capable Christ received double for them all. That is, he perfectly endured the just punishment for them all, thereby paying for them all. God’s anger and retribution towards us were perfectly poured out on him, so that God’s love for him might be perfectly poured out on us; so that we might be pardoned and reconciled forever; so that our warfare might be ended; so that an eternity of peace, love, and joy might begin.

It will take us an eternity to understand these things, and an eternity to thank God for them. But let us begin today. And as we do, let us make it our ambition to obey the good word of God: Let us speak comfort to all Jerusalem!

 

  1. See the note on Isaiah 40:2 in The Reformation Study Bible.

April 26, 2020

Dear Members of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors,

My name is Dean Davis. I am a 72-year-old retired pastor. My wife and I have lived in Sonoma County for nearly 40 years. We love our home and our community. I am writing to thank you for your efforts to protect our county during COVID-19 epidemic, but also to express some deep and growing concerns.

Let me begin with the thanksgiving. The coronavirus was indeed “novel.” Back in January we knew little about its behavior or degree of lethality. Reports from Wuhan, Italy, and later New York, were alarming. It is understandable that leaders at all levels of government would turn to epidemiologists and public health officers for counsel, and that, at least for a season, they would follow their advice implicitly. I believe all involved acted in good faith, seeking to protect the citizenry. In the absence of better information, stern protocols, including SIP guidelines/orders, made sense. Having some personal experience with the challenges of leadership, I am well acquainted with “the lonely howl of the top dog.” So I sincerely thank you for leading us as diligently, patiently, and conscientiously as you have sought to do.

That said, my primary purpose in this letter is to express a deep concern. Stated simply, it is this: I now believe that the continued shuttering of small businesses, the closing of schools and parks, and the prohibition of gatherings for worship, service, and recreation, is doing great harm to what the Bible refers to as the shalom of our community: its overall physical and spiritual well-being. In other words, I believe that there is more than one way to sicken and die, and that lasting victory in this battle will only be secured if we constantly keep this crucial fact in full view.

Permit me to unpack that last paragraph a little further.

While I make no claim to expert medical knowledge, it seems clear enough now that the COVID-19 virus—as opposed, say, to the Spanish flu, the Asian flu, or the Hong Kong flu—is not especially lethal. Yes, it definitely poses a serious threat to the elderly, and to younger victims with certain underlying conditions. Such persons should, of course, be conscientiously protected. But again, nationwide, and certainly in California, well over 99% of those who contract this virus will recover. Most will experience mild to moderate symptoms, and some will not even know they have it. As the young and healthy recover, herd immunity, our best defense against future epidemics, will be established; indeed, it is now clear that in California this has already been achieved to a significant extent. Happily, hospitals are now well equipped; a number of treatments are already preventing deaths and mitigating symptoms; others should soon be on line, including, we hope, a vaccine. Importantly, a comparative study of world and national data shows that we cannot necessarily ascribe low death rates to early lockdowns, or high death rates to late lockdowns. Other factors, such as weather, air quality, age of the local populace, the overall health of the community, and the extent of herd immunity, appear to be involved. On this score, California and Sonoma County seem especially blessed. We should take good advantage of this mercy.

More could be said on this point, but here is my conclusion: There may indeed be an occasional pandemic of such severity as to justify a severe and protracted economic lockdown, but this is not one of them. Accordingly, many are now asking, “In locking down the economy as we have, did we overreact?” Well, given that we knew so little about the virus, perhaps not. But now that we know so much more, we dare not continue down this path.

Permit me, then, to share a few personal thoughts about how we might best preserve the temporal shalom of Sonoma County. In sharing them, I will refer to some of the basic teachings of the Bible. This will give you a window into the thinking of the thousands of Christians living in our area. It will also reveal how sweetly biblical teaching accords with common sense notions of human flourishing.

Shalom requires work. God himself worked when he created the universe. In Paradise he gave mankind work to do. In the Mosaic Law he ordained that his people work for six days of the week, then rest on the seventh. Christ entered the world to work for our redemption. The message of Scripture is: Work is essential for human flourishing. The implication is: Forcing people to remain idle at home can only undermine their shalom.

Shalom requires commerce. God created mankind to be a family, and each family member to have gifts and talents that the others need. The health of the family depends upon the free exercise of these gifts, and also on the free exchange of goods and services that results from them. If an entrepreneur or proprietor follows his dream and starts a business which contributes in any way to the shalom of his community, who is to say it is “nonessential”? Most assuredly it is essential to him and his family, and may well be to others as well. God means healthy commerce to create wealth, security, and peace of mind for one and all. Therefore, to forbid commerce is to destroy personal and corporate shalom.

Shalom requires freedom. God has created us with the gift of freedom and personal responsibility. In our hearts we know that we are, and should be, ultimately accountable to him. Sensitive to this important truth, our founding fathers affirmed that the Creator has endowed us with an inalienable right to liberty. Accordingly, they gave us a constitution and social order that sought to maximize human freedom, while minimizing the possibility of soul-crushing tyranny. All across the country people are now resisting the heavy hand of government as experienced in these shutdowns. They feel, correctly, that draconian regulations are depriving citizens of their personal freedom and responsibility to make wise, balanced, and loving decisions in response to this virus. In curtailing our freedoms, such regulations injure our shalom.

Shalom requires recreation. The Bible teaches that God graciously reveals himself to us in nature, thereby refreshing our spirits. It also states that we need time away from work in order to eat, play, celebrate, and otherwise interact so as to be renewed for further work. Such recreation is essential. You cannot close parks and beaches, eliminate sporting events, or forbid the various forms of social gathering, and hope to preserve shalom.

Shalom requires worship. This is, of course, of special concern to Christians. The Bible instructs us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. It tells us to receive Holy Communion together. It brings us together to celebrate baptisms. It encourages leaders to practice hospitality, and to lay hands on the sick and pray for them. It even tells us to greet one another with a holy kiss! Christians cannot believe that God would cancel his own holy ordinances by means of a virus. Nor can they believe that government has the right to do so. Indeed, the Bible tells them that from time to time they may be required to practice civil disobedience; to “obey God rather than man.” Already, Christian leaders around the country are challenging local governments in court over this issue. Other people of faith will surely do the same. Christians cannot allow a virus or an ordinance of man to deprive them of the unique species of shalom that flows to them through the corporate worship of God.

I am mindful that some of our leaders, and many of the citizens of Sonoma County, do not share my faith. However, the purely secular and scientific literature, as well as common sense, affirms the point I am making here: Shutting down the economy destroys personal and corporate shalom. Objectively, it entails the loss of employment, income, health insurance, savings, pensions, investments, property, and access to such basic necessities as food, water, electricity, medical care, and safe transportation. Subjectively, it leads to fear, loneliness, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, crime, and suicide. This is why I fear that in the end the consequences of a protracted economic shutdown will prove more lethal than this virus itself. And as time passes, the destruction will increase exponentially. For multitudes there will be little chance of a swift recovery; for many there will be no chance of recovery at all.

Here, then, based on the concerns listed above, are some recommendations that make sense to me:

1. In your deliberations, seek balance. By all means remain attentive to protecting citizens from the virus, but also consider how to protect them from the dangerous consequences of a protracted shutdown. For every one (older) person who dies from this flu, there are now nearly a thousand (younger) persons who are unemployed: I would urge you to remember them all. Accordingly, I recommend that you set up a Coronavirus Recovery Task Force that will include not only health officers, but also businessmen, economists, psychologists, teachers, law enforcement personnel, and clergy. Wisdom and victory come with a multitude of counselors.

2. Avoid edicts and threats of punishment, but instead issue recommended guidelines. Give individuals, businesses, churches, and other voluntary associations the liberty to embrace, modify, and/or implement these guidelines as they think best. Trust in the wisdom and good will of your fellow citizens as much as you do in your own.

3. After publicizing reasonable guidelines, reopen the parks, beaches, and golf courses to the public.

4. Given that Sonoma County is in an excellent position to reopen its economy, join together in asking Governor Newsom to give greater freedom to each county to do as they think best for their own unique situation.

5. Consider asking all county employees to take a cut in salary, in order to express solidarity with the unemployed.

6. Consider the possibility that in allowing a pandemic to visit our community, God is calling us not destroy our shalom by shutting down our life together, but rather to examine our hearts, behavior, priorities, and public policies, to see if they have been infected by sin.

7. Consider also the possibility that one of the great privileges and responsibilities of governmental leaders is to call the citizenry to personal soul-searching, prayer, repentance, and a deeper relationship with God as best they understand him. Our forefathers did this for generations. Should not our city fathers do so today?

I want to close by saying yet again that I am are grateful for your service, praying for you daily, and eager to help in any way I can. Thank you so much for hearing my heart and considering my thoughts.

Shalom,

Dean Davis

 

Note: I would like to thank Calvin Beisner for vetting this letter and making helpful suggestions. d

Note: Here are several links to articles and video clips that I have found helpful in sorting out a Christian response to this epidemic

Dr. Scott Atlas on the Priority of Herd Immunity 

Suppressing Speech Obscures the Truth 

Eight Reasons to Reopen the Country

Mapping the Mortality Maze

“Let not your hearts be troubled.”
–John 14:1

 

It is Sunday, March 22, 2020. Here in Santa Rosa, California, we are “sheltering in place,” seeking to avoid contact with the coronavirus that, for many, has proven deadly. In portions of Africa a terrible plague of locusts is currently devouring harvests and threatening famine. In Utah, just days ago, there was an unusually strong earthquake. In Australia, just weeks ago, there were unusually destructive fires along the densely populated coasts.

How are Christians to understand such things? How are we to avoid debilitating fear and panic? How are we to comfort our non-Christian neighbors, as they—who are sitting in darkness, and in the land and shadow of death—secretly endure existential dread? How are we to quarantine our minds against doomsday scenarios that prompt us to quit our jobs, move to another country, stockpile rations, or buy up guns and ammunition? In short, in the midst of calamity, how are we to keep our cool till the end of the world, thereby fulfilling both our ministries and our highest calling, which is to glorify the Lord?

I am so grateful that the Lord himself has anticipated all these things: the earth-shaking events, the unique temptations, the unavoidable questions, and the special evangelistic opportunities they represent. And I am grateful for the provision he has made for us to face them with a wise, calm, compassionate, and God-honoring spirit. In this post I would like to consider his provision at some length. My focus will be on two biblical larders that are filled to the brim.

The Shepherd and His Apostle on Keeping our Cool

Our first text is Matthew 24:1-8. Here we have the opening lines of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, our Lord’s definitive teaching on the end of the world, the events that will precede it, and everything we need to know to keep our cool and glorify our God until that Day comes. Listen carefully to the voice of the Good Shepherd:

Now after departing from the temple, Jesus was going his way; and his disciples came up to him and called his attention to the temple buildings. But he said to them, “Don’t you see all these things? I tell you the truth: Not one stone in this place will be left on another: Every one of them will be thrown down.” So as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us: When will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In reply, Jesus said to them: “See to it that no one leads you astray, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will lead many astray. You will also hear of wars and rumors of wars: See that you don’t give way to fear, for these things must take place, but the end has not yet come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these are only the beginning of the birth pains. –Matthew 24:1-8

Our second text was written by the apostle Paul to the Thessalonian Christians. Like the first, it too gives us the voice of the Good Shepherd supplying his people with wisdom and urging calm:

Now in regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to our being gathered together to him, we urge you, brothers, not to be alarmed or suddenly shaken from your presence of mind, whether by a spirit, an utterance, or a letter supposedly from us, claiming that the Day of the Lord has arrived. Let no one deceive you in any way, for that Day will not come until . . . –2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

It is important to note at the outset that both of these texts really do deal with the end of the world. So do dozens of others found in the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, more than any other book ever written, it is the Bible that has planted in the minds of people everywhere an expectation of the end of the world, however little they may understand what the expression actually entails. This special providence supplies Christians with an excellent platform for Gospel testimony in troubled times. It also requires that they know for sure what the end of the world will involve!

When the disciples questioned the Lord Jesus, they already had definite views on this subject, views that the Lord would have to correct and supplement. In the Olivet Discourse he made a fulsome beginning; after Pentecost, his holy apostles and prophets would make a fulsome end. With their passing and the closure of the biblical canon, divine revelation about the last things would be complete. Henceforth, all that people know or ever can know about the end of the world will be found in the pages of Holy Scripture, and especially in the New Testament. May the Spirit of illumination help us to understand these precious revelations, and to explain them clearly!

I believe we can do so by coming to grips with one of the great themes of biblical eschatology: the Consummation. When Jesus taught his disciples on the Mount of Olives, this was his ultimate theme. Notably, they inquired about three of its central elements: The Coming of Christ, the signs of his Coming, and the end of the age. Concerning these subjects, we now know that the disciples had one thing in mind, and Jesus quite another. They expected Jesus to rise up in the power of God as a national deliverer and king, even as David of old. Jesus, however, expected something very different and vastly greater: that he would die for the sins of the world, rise again to eternal life, ascend into heaven, sit down at the right hand of God as Prophet, Priest, and King, pour out the Holy Spirit upon the Church, send her out into the world to preach the Gospel, and, at the end of the age, come again in the power and glory of his Father, with all his holy angels, to effect the Consummation.

Good Bereans, who search the Scriptures daily to discover God’s eschatological truth, know these things (Acts 17:10-11). They also are familiar with the various elements of the Consummation: The Second Coming of Christ, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Glorification of the Living Saints, the Great Assize of All Sentient Beings before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the air above the Earth, the Last Judgment, the Destruction of the present Earth and its Works by Fire, and the Creation of New Heavens and a New Earth, the eternal home of the redeemed. When Christians hear talk of the end of the world, they think of all this; they think of the Consummation, and they rejoice. When unbelievers hear talk of the end of the world, they really don’t know what to think; yes, some may mock, but deep down all shudder. Christians have a precious balm to pour into the trembling hearts of their neighbors. God grant us the grace to offer it, and our neighbors the grace to receive it.1

This brings us back to the subject at hand: keeping our cool till the end of the world. Both Jesus and Paul know that the Consummation is coming. They know that certain things must happen before it does. They know that in the midst of those things there will be a great potential for deception, misunderstanding, and panic. Their burden is identical: to protect the flock of God from them all. And what is their prescription? I would sum it up in three exhortations: avoid deception, anchor to truth, and keep on keeping on. Let us take a moment to consider each one.


Avoid Deception: It Only Leads to Fear

Note carefully the very first words on Jesus’ lips as he responds to his disciple’s questions: “See to it that no one leads you astray!” Note also those of Paul: “We urge you, brothers, not to be alarmed or suddenly shaken from your presence of mind, whether by a spirit, an utterance, or a letter supposedly from us . . . Let no one deceive you in any way.”

Again, these shepherds know their sheep. They know how easily sheep are deceived. They know how swiftly deception leads to fear. And they also know how in days ahead the prince of the power of the air will flood the atmosphere of the world-system with fear-inducing lies and errors. Accordingly, from the very outset they urge upon the saints the greatest possible caution: “Avoid deception. Be careful about the voices you listen to. When popular notions about the dreadful course of current events knock insistently at the door of your mind, think twice before opening. Test all things, hold fast to what is good. It is easier than you imagine to be deceived and shaken from your steadfastness of mind.”

In a season of world history when electronic floods of “knowledge,” “expert opinion,” and “scientific consensus” sweep over us daily, we must take these words to heart. We must, of course, beware of distortions of biblical teaching about the Consummation. But if we are to walk without fear, we must also avoid non-biblical forms of deception. Other faiths have their own beguiling eschatologies. Secularists have their own doomsday scenarios and intoxicating panaceas. Whether intentionally or not, philosophers, scientists, and politicians can fill our minds with lies, errors, and half-truths, thereby flooding our hearts with doubt, confusion, and fear. We all have heard their trumpet blasts: man-made climate change, eco-disaster, overpopulation, economic collapse, gun violence and anarchy, aliens ominously streaking through our skies. The list goes on.2 But as deception and dread beckon, the saints must hear again the word of the Lord: “See to it that no one leads you astray . . . See that you don’t give way to fear!”


Anchor to Truth: It Always Leads to Peace, Confidence, and Eager Expectation

First the Lord and his apostle tell us to avoid deception. Then they tell us how to do it: Anchor yourselves to truth, for it always leads to peace, confidence, and an eager expectation of the return of Christ, who will replace the present evil age with a glorious World to Come.

Each of us will have to develop a case-sensitive strategy for honoring this command. Nevertheless, speaking broadly, I cannot doubt that it will involve saturating ourselves with the Scriptures. God has granted his people to be born from above. He has given them the Spirit of Truth. He is eager to guide them into truth, and to anchor them to truth, if only they will dig deep into the Word of Truth. The Good Shepherd identified himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Once the flock has heard his voice in the Scriptures, they will have an ear for the truth, and so become deaf to deception. Then, when they hear the voice of a stranger, they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10:5).

To walk steadfastly at all times, we shall have to be mastered by all of God’s truth. To keep our cool till the end of the world, we shall have to be mastered by a certain species of his truth—eschatological truth: truth about the Consummation, and in particular, truth about the historical signs that point ahead to it. Again, each of us must study these things for ourselves. By my lights, they fall into two categories: signs of the beginning of cosmic rebirth, and signs of the imminence of cosmic rebirth. Let us take a moment to look at them both.

1. Signs of the Beginning of Cosmic Rebirth

In our first text, the Lord himself prepares and steadies his disciples by teaching them about “the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:8). This is a fabulously rich metaphor. He has in mind certain signs—signs that will recur throughout the entire remainder of the present evil age. As we shall see, many of them are judgments of God. For this reason the signs could aptly be called “death throes,” since they signal the death of the world as we now know it. Jesus, however, prefers to call them birth pains. That’s because, at a deeper level, the signs point, not simply to judgment and death, but also and ultimately to redemption and eternal life. Thus, he likens the world to a pregnant woman. The disciples are to know that because of her sin, painful judgments will indeed come upon her. But more importantly, they also are to know that the judgments herald a great blessing: the return of Christ, the Consummation, and the birth of a new and glorious World to Come!

Once again, these particular signs are unique in that they appear throughout the present evil age, an age that began with the fall of man in Eden, but which now has been invaded by Christ and the Gospel. Accordingly, these signs reflect the clash of the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Satan, a clash that will continue throughout the entire era of Gospel proclamation (Rev. 12:1ff). All past generations of Christians have seen them; all future generations of Christians can expect to see them. Jesus tells us that they are indeed signs of the end: of the Consummation. But he also tells us that they are signs that the end has not yet come (Matthew 24:6). More on this in a moment.

The beginning of the birth pains is itself twofold. On the one hand, it includes what are manifestly judgments of God: wars, rumors of war, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, and other such calamities. Yes, the decisions of sinful men often contribute to them. But like the events themselves, those decisions are also under the control of Providence. Because of men’s sin, rebellion, and idolatry, God hands them over to a debased mind. Professing to be wise, they become fools. As a result, they make foolish decisions, all of which lead to the judgments of God (Romans 1:18f). I live in California, where thousands of abortions occur daily, where suicide is legal, where sexual immorality is rampant, where “gaming” is widespread, and where marijuana production and distribution is currently classified as an “essential industry.” Not surprisingly, our state is also the site of all manner of disasters: crumbling infrastructure, gang warfare, homelessness, deep pockets of poverty, destructive fires, and now the spread of the coronavirus. Politicians try to blame their opponents and their policies. Christians know to ascribe them to human sin, divine providence, and the judgments of God.

Very importantly, these particular judgments are not final. They do indeed point to the Last Judgment, but they are not the Last Judgment itself. They point to the end of the world, but they will not accomplish it. Rather, as the apostle John saw, they are trumpets of God, warning of the coming Consummation (Revelation 8:1f). Therefore, alongside the judgments, and mitigating the judgments, there appears another sign, a sign of God’s great mercy and love: the preaching of the Gospel. Believers must take this to heart. It is only through the ministry of the Church that terrified sinners, staggering under the judgments of God, can behold what the judgments portend. And it is only through this same ministry that they can behold the God-ordained City of Refuge, to which they may flee for safety (Numbers 36:6f; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

The Lord also warns that the beginning of the birth pains includes what are manifestly acts of Satan: the emergence of false Christs, false prophets, and false teachers; the apostasy of false believers; and the persecution of the true spiritual Church at the hands of an unbelieving world (Matthew 24:4-14). The latter is especially significant in the economy of the present age. Persecution elicits the urgent prayers of the saints, who plead with God to grant them justice against their adversaries. Jesus assures them that though God seems to delay in answering, he will not do so for long (Luke 18:1-8). Though silence seems to reign in heaven, it is only for half an hour. Moreover, throughout that half hour the cries of the persecuted are mingled with his grace, and rise like incense before his throne. Soon the angel will cast fire upon the earth. Soon there will be claps of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and shakings of the earth. Soon the trumpets will sound again. Soon there will be more judgments in the earth: signs and warnings of a Consummation that will not sleep, and that has long been on its way (2 Peter 2:3; Revelation 8:1f).

But again, if the saints are to keep their cool till the end of the world they must hear well the Lord’s warning: “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6). Yes, the beginning of the birth pains tells us that the end is fast approaching (Revelation 12:12). But these same signs also tell us that the end is not yet here. In other words, the Church is to understand that the Consummation will not come by means of these signs. It will not come by ordinary providence, and it certainly will not come at the hand of man (e.g., man-made climate change, germ warfare, nuclear holocaust, etc.). Rather, it will come at God’s appointed time, and in God’s appointed way. It will come at the return of the High King of Heaven, and it will be effected by his Word, his Spirit, his angels, and his people (Daniel 7; Revelation 19). Until then, the signs that point to cosmic rebirth will continue. Like a woman in labor, the world will groan, then rest, then groan again. Judgment will fall, blessing will follow, and judgment will fall again. Turmoil will explode upon the scene, business as usual will ensue, and turmoil will again explode upon the scene (Genesis 8:21-22; Matthew 24:36-41; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). So shall the cosmic labor continue throughout the remainder of this age, with the contractions increasing both in strength and frequency, until at last the World to Come is born and the Bride of Christ is filled with everlasting joy (John 16:21, Revelation 21:1f).

In all of this the mission of the Church is clear. The judgments of God are meant to lead the world to repentance and faith. The blessings of God are meant to lead the world to repentance and faith. And the Gospel preaching of the Church—in which both the judgments and the blessings are interpreted and applied—is meant to lead the world to repentance and faith (Romans 2:4). Accordingly, the Lord’s disciples must never allow themselves to be distracted or unsettled by the beginning of the birth pains. Rather, they must anchor to the truth, keep their cool, and occupy till their Lord comes. In particular, they must seize every God-given opportunity to advance the cause of Christ; and as they do, they must make wise use of “the signs of the time” (Matthew 16:3).

2. Signs of the Imminence of Cosmic Rebirth

There is a second category of signs: signs pointing to the imminence of cosmic rebirth. We see this in the further words of Christ and Paul. Blending predictions of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem with predictions of the Consummation, Jesus speaks of several of these signs (Matthew 24:15-28). In 2 Thessalonians 2 the apostle Paul speaks speak of two in particular: a final world rebellion against the Law and Gospel of God, coupled with a final world leader: an imitator and opponent of the true Christ, who is therefore called the Man of Lawlessness and the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; 1 John 2:18, 4:3). Other New Testament texts give us a few more.

These signs are different from the beginning of the birth pains: They do not appear throughout the entire era of Gospel proclamation, but only towards, or at, its end. Yes, they are birth pains, but they are the final pains. Here, the cosmic birth process reaches transition. Here there is great agony, but also great ecstasy just on the other side. Awareness of these signs is of great value to the pilgrim Church. Until she sees them come to pass, she knows that the end is “still to come.” When she sees them come to pass, she knows to endure bravely and with great expectation: the shout of the Bridegroom will soon be heard ringing throughout the universe!

By my lights the following biblically predicted events fall into this special category of signs:

  • The completion of world evangelization (Matthew 24:14; Rev. 5:9)
  • The conversion of the great mass of world Jewry (Genesis 45; Luke 21:23-24; Romans 11:11-32)
  • Extraordinarily deep and widespread spiritual darkness (Matthew 24:12; Luke 17:26-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3)
  • The rise of a satanically controlled and empowered personal Antichrist; the advent of a one-world government, religion, and economy, all of them more or less completely under his control; and a brief but fierce persecution of the true spiritual Church at his hand (Matthew 24:15, 21; 2 Thessalonians 1ff; 1 John 2:1; Revelation 11:7-10, 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10)
  • Extraordinary disruptions in the heavens, on the earth, and in world society (Daniel 12:10; Matthew 24:21-22; Luke 21:25-26).

Yes, when the Church sees all these things coming to pass, she may confidently say, “He is near, even at the door!” But will that be a license for her to panic? Far from it! For in that day, by the Spirit of grace, she will find herself doing exactly as her heavenly Husband instructed: Despite all her suffering, she will straighten up, lift up her head, and know that her redemption—even the Consummation of all things—is drawing nigh (Luke 21:28)!

Keep on Keeping On

Why have the Lord and his apostles given us all this trustworthy eschatological truth? The answer is clear: to provide an anchor for our souls, so that when we see the beginning of the births pains—things like the coronavirus, or a plague of locusts in Africa, or raging fires in Australia, or severe earthquakes in Utah—we will not give way to fear, or be shaken from the peace, confidence, and eager expectation that is ours in Christ.

Rather, watching carefully for the true signs of the imminence of the Lord’s Return, we will keep on keeping on. We will faithfully take our nourishment as we journey through the wilderness of this present evil age (Revelation 12:14). We will resolutely abide in the Vine (John 15:4-5). We will diligently follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Revelation 14:4). We will patiently exercise our spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8). We will prayerfully and practically love one another (John 13:34; James 2:16; 1 John 3:19). And as we do all these things, we will make every possible Spirit-led effort to love our neighbor, calm his fears, anchor him to the truth, and—God willing—give him a hand up into that great Ark of eternal safety, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus shall we keep our cool till the end of the world, and thus shall we glorify the Lord.

 

NOTES

1. For a closer look at the Consummation, please click here.
2. Here is a short article illustrating how long the list can be.

Note: I recently submitted this letter to the Press Democrat, our local newspaper. Please join me in praying that they will publish it. Also, please feel free to send it to your own local newspaper in any form you are comfortable with. Let us together redeem the time, for the days are evil, but full of opportunity.

_______

Editor,

I would like to offer a Christian perspective on the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 3500 years ago God spoke through Moses to a despotic Pharaoh in Egypt, telling him, “Let my people go.” Nine times Pharaoh refused, until at last God sent a final plague by which all the first-born sons of Egypt died. God’s people, however, were safely quarantined at home. When the angel of death saw the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, he passed them by.

This story speaks comfort to us today. Ever since Adam’s rebellion in Eden, all are infected with the virus of sin. Most freely do we display its ugly symptoms, and spread the disease wherever we go. But in love and mercy, the holy God withholds his final judgment. Instead, with one hand he sends lesser plague after lesser plague, warning of the greater one to come. With the other, he sends the Lamb of God, whose righteous life and atoning death provide the one house into which we may safely flee. If we are quarantined there, the final plague will pass us by.

The coronavirus is but a prod to enter the house. The risen Jesus Christ is the house. In love, he bids us all, “Come home.” And most truly, his home is a glorious place to live!

 

Look, I’ve been standing at the door, knocking!
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him;
and I will dine with him, and he with me.”
Revelation 3:20

                           
                          LOVE (III)
 
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d a single thing.
 
“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here.”
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
 
“Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

—George Herbert