In the Gospels, Jesus has long predicted the signs of the end of the age (Mt 24:4-14; Mk 13:3-13; Lk 21:7-19). And we witness these signs in the current events that surround us.
Most recently, nations across the globe are being destabilized by outbreaks of the killer virus, SARS, and the conflict between the US-led coalition forces and Iraq.
In fact, the disorder and plagues that the world faces today realize Jesus¡¦ answer given to the third question that the disciples posed on Mount Olives:
Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ¡§Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?¡¨ (Mt 24:3)
It requires great faith on our part to remain calm at the rising severity of conflict within the family unit and that between nations (Mt 24:6-7, 9-10).
We trust in the mercy of God to help us get on with our lives, even as the spread of pestilences further compounds the already-chaotic global situation (Mt 24:7).
As the Bible predicts, the world is heading toward a complete conflagration. Devastation will culminate at the release of God¡¦s full wrath on the whole of humanity. Such is the finality of the world.
Is there a way out of this?
The sixth seal provokes readers into thinking seriously about their destiny at the coming of Christ: ¡§For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?¡¨ (Rev 6:17)
The question is posed at the scene of unprecedented chaos on the day of God¡¦s fury. It is, at the same time, rhetorical.
But take heart¡Xthere is an escape route in the midst of utter destruction.
THE ONLY TRUE CHURCH FROM THE EAST
Chapter 7 of Revelation is one part of the answer to the soul-searching question. In a vision, Elder John saw an angel from the east holding the seal of the living God (Rev 7:2), and the angel was given the authority to seal His servants (Rev 7:3).
Based on some clear indicators, this angel represents the church. He is unique, for, unlike the others, he ascends from the east. When he spoke he did so in a collective sense: ¡§¡K till we have sealed¡K¡¨ (Rev 7:3). The church, the redeemed believers, is the channel through which the Spirit is given to those who come to believe and obey (Acts 5:32).
In the apostolic age, people received the Holy Spirit by coming into contact with the apostles and workers in the faith. The Lord did not confer the Spirit to Paul until he met Ananias (Acts 9:17). This was the same with Cornelius and his family, who did not receive the Holy Spirit until they assembled with Peter (Acts 10:44).
In the messages to the seven churches, the leaders of the churches are each addressed as an angel of the church. This prophecy is more relevant to us than to the disciples in the apostolic time, because Jesus will come immediately after the days of tribulation (Mt 24:29ff).
The prophecy was given to strengthen our faith in the end times, especially for us who are still alive before the unfolding of the seventh seal¡Xright before the outpouring of the complete wrath of God.
We must recognize that only those who are sealed through the true church can find protection in Jesus (Rev 7:14). The explanation is accurate and biblical: ¡§For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be¡¨ (Mt 24:27). Luke provides a similar account but does not indicate the direction of the flashing lightning (Lk 17:34).
The verse in Matthew serves two purposes. First, it serves to guard against arbitrarily believing in anyone who purports to be Christ in a time of great deception (Mt 24:26). The deception can be so serious that even the elect could become ensnared (Mt 24:24f).
Second, the verse is a similitude used to denote the pace and unpredictability of the time of His coming (Mt 24:27).
To explain it in relation to the appearance of the true church in the end times, we have to focus on the first pointer. It is a sign which the disciples and we today use to identify where Jesus is, so that we may not be deceived.
Jesus, after His resurrection, was no longer in the flesh. He promised His disciples, however, that He would come in the Spirit (Jn 14:17, 23; 16:7, 16ff). If the Spirit lived in them, they would know where He was (1 Jn 3:24).
So the church that has the seal of God must fulfill the prophetic requirement of coming from the east.
A NEED TO REPENT
Coming back to the US and Iraq conflict, be it out of curiosity or interest, some of us may try to find scriptural passages to correspond with the event. One passage that has been quoted is the sounding of the sixth trumpet (Rev 9:13-19), since the great river Euphrates, which is a key element of the prophecy, is within Iraq (cf Rev 9:14).
Assuming that such an interpretation is accurate, what can we learn apart from knowing that the prophecy has come to pass? What is even more important here is to understand the reason why God would permit such an event to take place.
But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. (Rev 9:20-21; cf 16:9, 11)
There are two things we need to consider.
The first is to realize that there is an urgent need for us to change ourselves for the better. Our top priority should be to improve our spirituality, our service to the Lord, and our worship of God in Spirit and in truth.
Regardless of how biblical events unfold, His divine purpose is for us to foster an even better relationship with Him.
To some, repentance is a matter of the past, but its necessity and function continue to take effect long after our conversion. It is a reference point by which we ponder over our relationship with God, so that we might conform to His requirements.
Often in the Bible, whenever a sign of the end of the age appears, we are reminded not to focus on the event alone.
The other thing we need to consider is our obligation toward the unbelieving world. If the world is to repent completely, to change its wicked ways, the true church has to bring the complete gospel of salvation to it.
When it comes to preaching, the church must not neglect the importance of having the correct evangelistic attitudes, addressing the issue of backsliding in faith, and turning to biblical solutions to work out incongruent views of the truth.
And this change could motivate the entire community of faith to accomplish the commission entrusted to us.
IN SEARCH OF THE LORD
The mark of genuine repentance is seeking the Lord in humility. Zephaniah prophesied how, in doing so, we can be hidden in the day of the Lord¡¦s anger (Zep 2:3b).
In Zephaniah¡¦s call of repentance to God¡¦s people, the people assembled together to seek the Lord (Zeph 2:1). Seeking the Lord requires great resilience in any individual attempt, but we must also come together as one body of Christ for our efforts to be effective. Our own effort is no doubt essential but is often insufficient. For that reason, the writer of Hebrews stresses stirring up faith and love together as we prepare for the coming of the Lord (Heb 10:25; 3:12-14).
We must recognize that we are inseparable from the body of Christ, and all of us must work on our relationship with one another to make searching the Lord a reality. And reality means applying our faith in our lives so that it is not merely knowledge.
"Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility¡K" (Zeph 2:3)
The Bond of Faith
There are three steps to strengthening the mutual bond of faith among the members of the church.
First, we need to be just. This means that we do not wrong others and that we are sure what we do is for the benefit of everyone at large. The underlying principle is to treat one another in a fashion that discloses the nature of God in a world desperately in need of justice. We must also maintain an upright stance before God¡Xa righteous status¡Xbecause this will enhance our mutual bond in Christ with others. We have probably experienced during our Christian journey that when our faith is strained, our relationship with others is also strained.
Justice and righteousness should direct our hearts. We can achieve this by welcoming with humility the word of God to be the sole guiding principle in every aspect of our life. And it is this humility in the truth that builds up our relationship with others. The life of the 144,000 in Revelation 14 sums up the process of seeking the Lord: They are together with the Lamb. They share a common name on their foreheads. Wherever the Lamb goes, they follow. They pursue the same course of action in perfecting themselves (Rev 14:3-5) with the same objectives in minds. They are fully prepared for the coming of the Lord. Their personal effort to be with the Lamb is perfected by gathering in unity on Mount Zion¡Xthe true church (Rev 14:1).
ARE WE IN THE TEMPLE?
We should not seek the Lord as a last resort, for our search begins with the acceptance of Christ. The Old Testament Scriptures uses the analogy of meeting God in His temple to illustrate the close divine-human relationship. The ancient saints revealed their deepest longing to see the face of God in the temple, and they expressed their unquenchable desire to remain in His temple.
When the earliest form of the tabernacle was erected, it consisted of three rooms: the outer court, the holy place, and the holy of holies. The ark of covenant was located in the holy of holies; the golden lamp stand, altar of incense, and the table of showbread were placed in the holy place.
The author of Hebrews describes a slight variation in the temple after the first coming of Christ, where the altar of incense is moved into the holy of holies (Heb 9:3-4), indicating that the New Testament is an era of priesthood for all.
In Revelation, there are only two noticeable sections of the tabernacle¡X the outer court and the temple (Rev 11:1-2). Before the outpouring of the complete wrath of God, the outer court is left out for the gentiles to trample on (Rev 11:2).
A careful consideration is needed here to understand the drastic measure God has taken to leave the outer court out, because the significance is great. It portrays the unchanging divine principle that God searches the heart.
Befriending the world severs our bond with Christ, and compromising the truth with extra-biblical views in worship infuriates Him. Assimilating secular values into service undermines the essence of servitude.
When the final wrath comes, God will not give any regard to those who are not in the temple. He will save only those who are in it.
Christians and gentiles alike will suffer the full brunt of His fury if they are caught in the outer court or beyond on the great day.
Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever. The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the plagues inflicted by the seven angels were completed. (Rev 15:7-9)
Jesus tells us that the day of great tribulation will come on us unexpectedly (Lk 21:34) if we do not take heed to ourselves. It will come as a snare to all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Everyone in this world will be affected, with the exception of those who are not weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life (Lk 21:34).
While going about with our normal life, we must not forget to be watchful and prayerful (Lk 21:36). We need to remain in the true church and constantly build a better relationship with God by continually seeking to grasp Him in full.
By doing so, we distinguish ourselves from the world. Though we live in this world, our existence is in Christ, and we will unshakably remain in His temple till He comes again.