Category Archives: Faith and Suffering

Messing with your head

This post has the potential to mess with your head. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In this post I want to focus on something you may not have thought about in concrete terms before. I want to talk about the return of the Lord Jesus to earth to rule as king.

Yes, you may have heard that Jesus is coming back. But if you’re anything like I used to be, you have only a very foggy idea what this means. I used to picture Jesus meeting risen believers in the air and being king in the sky somewhere. But the Bible not only says he is coming back, it says he will reign openly as king on the earth.

This isn’t just something I made up. Isaiah 11 clearly describes an earthly reign of the Messiah on an earthly throne. This is one of many prophecies in the Old Testament which point forward to the end of the age.

In case you need to be convinced, the expectation that Jesus will reign in Jerusalem on an earthly throne is not just an Old Testament idea. Don’t just take it from me. Take it from Jesus himself. He should know. According to His own words, at the end of the age he will return to Jerusalem by invitation of her leaders to be their king. “You (Jerusalem) will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’ ” (Matthew 23:39).

I realize that at this point some of you may think I’ve really lost it. For years, even after I gave my life to Jesus, I was reluctant to talk in detail about the end times. There are many reasons for this but probably the most honest one is that I did not want to be thought a fool. There’s a word for that. It’s called pride. Well, now I am repenting of my pride and coming out of the closet, so to speak. Yes, I am one of those people. Yes, I take the Bible at face value when it talks about the end times. Yes, I believe Jesus, John, Paul and the others actually meant what they said about these things.

I used to think people who focussed on the end times were weird. It’s true enough that much of what has been taught over the years on the end times is overly complicated and sort of flaky. The pre-tribulation rapture theory that was popularized by the Left Behind series is an example of a complex, contrived theory that consists of Scriptures stitched together into a sort of patchwork quilt that doesn’t hold together if you examine it carefully. People like Harold Camping who predict the return of the Lord on a specific date are likewise not very helpful because they indulge in baseless speculation and violate the clear word of Jesus that no-one can know the exact day or hour of his return. People get disillusioned by this sort of stuff and conclude that anyone who takes end-times teachings seriously is a bit of a nut case. But if you just take the Bible at face value, it’s not that hard to understand, especially with a little help from scholars and teachers who follow some basic principles of straightforward interpretation. The first time I ever heard someone teach on God’s prophetic time clock I only listened to him because he was my friend, but I have to admit he was pretty convincing. It helps if you combine Bible study with a discerning look at the signs of the times as Jesus advised (Matthew 16:2-3).

Here’s a very brief overview of what I have come to believe about the end times. All of this is quite clear and straightforward in Scripture though it is not always taught this way. Although in a sense you could say the last days began when Jesus rose from the dead and the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, the New Testament writers were unanimous that a final crisis was coming, and that this would bring about the end of the present age and the beginning of a new age when God’s Kingdom would come to earth visibly. The Bible plainly teaches that at the end of the age, there will be three and a half years of peace followed by three and a half years of intense tribulation and struggle culminating in a final attack of the nations on Jerusalem. Israel will turn to the Lord (Romans 11:15,25-26), Satan will be cast into the pit, those who have died in faith during the great tribulation will be raised up, Jesus will reign as king in Jerusalem for a thousand years, and his reign will be glorious (Revelation 20:1-6). This will be followed by the final rebellion of Satan, ushering in the last great battle, the Great White Throne judgement, and the coming of the new heaven and new earth.

This helps to explain why Satan hates Israel so much. He hates the plan of God, because it means his doom, and he knows the Jewish people are crucial to that plan. If he succeeds in killing all the Jews, there will be no nation of Israel to welcome Jesus back to Jerusalem, and Satan won’t have to go into the pit. Of course that’s not going to happen, because God is going to have the victory, but He wants our participation. It is so crucial for the people of God to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), especially as the final crisis draws near. Those who love Jesus need to ask the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of Orthodox and secular Jews and turn their hearts to their Messiah, to bless and protect the rapidly-growing Messianic remnant (Jews who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah), to give wisdom to Israel’s leaders, and to prepare our hearts and wills to stand with Israel when the storm of her final desolation comes, as it surely will. I believe that it will be in the midst of the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), when Spirit-empowed Christians are offering sanctuary to Jewish refugees and praying for Israel in power with signs and wonders during a time of great hardship, that Israel will finally be provoked to jealousy in large numbers, and will at last recognize her Messiah and be saved as prophesied by Paul in Romans 11:25-26.

So why do I have to be difficult and address such a controversial issue? So many of my Christian brothers and sisters think that Israel has no further significance in the plan of God. Couldn’t I have written a nice blog post on some non-controversial topic?

Let me ask you a different question. Why is it that Islamic leaders around the globe – when speaking in Arabic, to their own people – call for the destruction of Israel, call the Jews apes and pigs, blame all sorts of evil on them, and speak openly of their intent to capture Jerusalem, kill all the Jews and make Jerusalem the centre of a new Islamic Caliphate? Doesn’t that send chills up and down your spine? If it doesn’t, it should, because these Islamic leaders are deadly serious. This hatred for Jews is not a feature of some extremist version of Islam. This is mainstream Islam, preached openly in mosques around the world, coming straight from the Qur’an.

People who say they love Jesus need to love the nation from which he came. Gentile Christianity has a very spotty history in this regard. There have been some – like the ten Boom family in the Netherlands in the 1940s, featured in the book and film The Hiding Place – who stood with the Jews of Europe in their hour of need. Sadly, a much greater number down through the ages have participated gladly in the persecution of Jews, labelling them Christ-killers, forcing them to convert to Christianity (though how a forced conversion can have any value is beyond me), and stereotyping them as sinister schemers who were responsible for all manner of evil.

It is true that Israel is not innocent. Her rejection of the Messiah, added to a history of other sins, has left her subject to the wrath of God. If we take Scripture at face value, it is clear that God has both prophesied and enacted judgments against Israel because of her rebellion, and those judgments are not yet complete. Yet when God warns his people of impending judgement, it is because he loves them and wants to see them return to Him so that judgement can be turned aside. All the more reason to pray for Israel and stand with her in her hour of coming trouble, that all who love Jesus may see Israel come through to glory, and share in that glory with her as the one people of God.

Well, this has been longer than I intended, and there’s a lot I didn’t say. Feel free to challenge, or contact me with questions or feedback. Israel is not all that matters to Jesus. He calls those who belong to him in every nation to share the good news of Jesus in word and deed with our neighbours. But salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22), and as a Gentile believer in Jesus, I am so grateful that I have been grafted into the vine of Israel and made a partaker in the covenant promises. I’m also very grateful that Jesus is coming back to reign as King from Jerusalem. I want to be among those who greet him with joy when he appears on the clouds of heaven. My choice to love and pray for Israel is one of the choices (not the only one) that I can make now, so that when he appears I will be able to greet him with joy, with no need to be ashamed (1 John 2:28).

God bless you.


Of whom the world is not worthy

Asia Bibi is a forty year old mother of two. She has been in prison in Pakistan since 2009.  Her only crime was telling her coworkers about Jesus. For this she was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death. Although she remains alive up til now, one of her jailers recently tried to strangle her, and an Islamic cleric has offered a reward of $8000 to anyone who kills her. Her husband and two daughters miss her terribly. She is allowed to see them once per week for an hour. In a recent interview, Asia Bibi stated that she spends her time fasting and praying and has forgiven her accusers.

In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities and the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, was assassinated.  Prior to his assassination, he had been working for a softening of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which mandate the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.  The Taliban claimed responsibility for his death, stating that it was his punishment for blasphemy.

Youcef Nadarkhani is a thirty four year old father of two.  He is the leader of a network of house churches in Iran.  He was imprisoned in 2006, released for a time because of international pressure, and then imprisoned again in 2009. Raised a Muslim, originally he was charged with apostasy for renouncing Islam. As Iran’s constitution officially guarantees freedom of religion, and does not support a sentence of death for conversion, the charges against him were later changed to rape and extortion – allegations that both he and his church members strenuously deny.

On several occasions Pastor Nadarkhani has been offered release if he will recant his conversion to Christianity, or declare that Muhammad was a prophet sent by God.  He has consistently refused to make any such confession. Reportedly, Iranian government officials, who want Iran to be a monolithic Islamic republic, are quite concerned about the spread of Christianity in their country through the house church movement.

Kim Sung Min, a former propaganda officer for the North Korean Army, is now fighting for the freedom and faith of his home country. According to the Voice of the Martyrs, “once a diehard socialist, Mr. Kim became disillusioned when he saw the lack of freedom and opportunity in North Korea while serving in the military. After defecting, being arrested and escaping again, Mr. Kim began spreading a new message of hope and liberty”.  He is now part of a team that broadcasts messages of freedom in Christ into North Korea.

Recently, Al-Shabaab, an Islamic terrorist group based in Somalia, sent a letter to Christian missionary groups operating out of Kenya that were working among Somali refugees.   The letter warned missionaries to stop infecting Somalis with what it termed “the cancer of Christianity” and threatened to attack and kill them.

These are just a few of thousands of cases of Christians who have been imprisoned or otherwise persecuted for their faith.  While some of this persecution is at the hands of radical Hindus in India, or Communist governments in North Korea, Vietnam and China, by far the majority of cases of persecution are at the hands of Islamic governments or mobs. But all persecution, whether at the hands of radical Hindus, Communists, or Islamists, can be taken as a sign that the oppressors fear the spread of the gospel because it represents a power that they cannot control.

Satan is the source of the rage that fuels these attacks. He hates the spread of the gospel in totalitarian regimes because it is a sign of his impending doom. He knows that the Lord will not return until the gospel of the Kingdom has been proclaimed to every people group on earth, and the Bride of Christ is prepared for her husband.

In 2003, two Chinese house church leaders were asked what the church would be like without persecution.  They responded that it wouldn’t grow. They said they saw persecution as a gift from God to the church, to bring about the purification of our faith. So, ironically, the very persecution that Satan incites in his rage and fury is turned by God into an instrument to bring Jesus’ bride to glory.  This has been happening for a long time.  During the days of the Roman Empire (AD 197), Tertullian famously wrote in his work Apologeticus “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. But even though these periodic storms of hostility against believers are nothing new, we can expect them to become more frequent and more intense as Jesus’ return draws near.

This is not the kind of talk that tends to make Western Christians comfortable.  We like our freedom, our prosperity, and the relative peace and safety of Western societies. While it is undoubtedly true that freedom, prosperity and peace are great blessings, they can also tend to make us forget our dependency on God.

There is a wonderful chapter in the letter to the Hebrews that recounts stories of some of the martyrs and heroes of faith among the people of Israel. Towards the end of the chapter, the author describes these heroes as people of whom the world was not worthy. I feel the same way when I read stories about believers who are suffering torture, imprisonment and separation from their families for the sake of the gospel. What especially moves me is the testimony of the love that Jesus frequently deposits in the hearts of these suffering ones towards their captors. It makes me want to pray for them.  And when I pray, although I do ask God for their deliverance, I ask Him even more passionately to grant them a revelation of His glorious presence with them in their suffering. We are told in the book of Daniel that when the three young men were in the fiery furnace in ancient Babylon, the king saw a fourth man with them. I believe the fourth man was Jesus who had revealed himself at their time of need. We are told in the book of Acts that when Stephen was being stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, ready to receive him. My prayer is that those who suffer for their faith in our times will have a similar experience, and that if they have to die, their blood will be the seed of the church as Tertullian prophesied long ago.

We are sometimes tempted to feel helpless, hopeless and fearful when we hear stories of persecution. The best antidote for such gloomy feelings is prayer. All of us who believe in Jesus can pray for our brothers and sisters in prison. We can also write simple letters of encouragement to them. Such letters and prayers may seem like weak tools, but that is because we do not think the way God thinks. Words of encouragement are powerful. Prayers are even more powerful. They have power not only to bless others but also to change us. If you want to know more about what you can do to stand with persecuted believers world-wide, the following links would be a great place to start.  God bless you.

Voice of the Martyrs Canada

Open Doors Canada

International Christian Concern