Some of the “prophetic” words of Jesus sound eerily similar to the daily news coming from around the world these days, which gives many of us a pause. Yet we shouldn’t pause too long because He also had words of encouragement and a message of hope. In a moment, I’ll get to what Jesus said precisely, but for now, I think it’s worth noting that the entire Christian belief system is built on a hope, an assurance from God, that He will provide during the toughest of times.
Some interpret the Bible, or insist philosophically, that God should rescue us from these tough times in the first place. Isn’t that what a loving God would do? And if He doesn’t, He’s either not loving, or not real. It’s the same argument used by one of thieves crucified next to Jesus. In one moment, that guy was hurling insults at Jesus, and in the next, he was demanding Jesus prove Himself by rescuing them all from death.
In the Bible however, hope wasn’t for this life or how easy we can have it here. (Every person Jesus raised from the dead, still died later.) The story instead was about Christ coming down into the midst of our trials and hardships, and promising to be with us through all these things. The story was about a Savior who was crucified between two thieves, and went through pain and agony with them. And of course, the one thief who did look to Jesus for hope, still died. But not until after Jesus had promised him, “…today you will be with me in paradise.” An eternal God, promising that in the end, it will be ok if you’ll trust Him.
Better than ok.
It’s sometimes hard to adequately explain the depth of confidence which comes from believing God is with you, and will be with you to the very end. It’s been a source of courage for people facing all sorts of dire circumstances throughout the ages. It has always been the light that shines in the darkest of moments.
The apostle Paul demonstrated this strength. He wrote:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? -Romans 8:35
And keep in mind, this is a man who went through these things. It’s easy for me to write words of encouragement while safe in my office in America. My home is still standing. My wife and children are still alive. But these words from Paul, were written by a man who faced death and hardships daily. In fact, he identified with a verse from the Old Testament (Psalms 44:22) so he quoted it next:
As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” -Romans 8:36
Paul wrote in another place that he felt like God had put him and the other apostles on display, like the condemned men at the end of a procession of gladiators, the ones who were thrown out to fight the lions with nothing. Their main purpose was simply to be a spectacle to the crowds as they died. Paul said he felt like that sometimes. And here in Romans he wrote that he was like a sheep condemned to be slaughtered.
Considering what they’ve been through, it would be understandable if the people recovering from tsunamis and earthquakes felt like they’d been abandoned to death as well. For Paul, however, he was in that position as a direct result of following Jesus. Of all people, he had reason to be mad at God. He had reason to conclude that God was anything but a loving God. Of all people, he had reason to throw away hope and encouragement and conclude that following God was a waste of time. Of course, he didn’t though. Instead he wrote this:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Words from a man who went through suffering and agony, but was convinced that Jesus was right there with him, and would carry him through to an eternal reward.
You can hear the same hope, and the same assurance, when Jesus was speaking about events which sound awfully similar to what is going on today:
When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
-Luke 21:9-11 [NIV]
In the midst of these things, “do not be frightened. These things must happen…” Words that don’t promise everything will be easy, but promise that God knows what we’re going through, and that He’s in control. Then He says:
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. -Luke 21:25-26
And if you’re playing at home, you know that things haven’t gotten THIS crazy yet, but even if it did… here comes the reassurance:
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. -Luke 21:28
Even when speaking about the fearful circumstances surrounding the end of the world, even when speaking of a time when people on earth are overcome with terror, Jesus encourages us to stand up and lift up our heads. Redemption is coming. Regardless of what happens on this earth, regardless of what we go through in this life, eternal salvation is coming.
You know, I think that’s why the people who believed in Jesus throughout history, have shown so much courage and strength in the face of death and hardships. And I think they are an example, a reminder, for us. We can face the circumstances of today, regardless of how dire they may be, because Jesus is with us to the very end. He was with that thief on the cross and He was with Paul, and He will be with everyone who trusts in Him.
And that’s pretty cool.