By Andrew Edmiston
With the Christmas and New Year period now firmly behind us, thoughts turn to 2023 and what it might bring. My own personal thoughts have been a little occupied with something from late last year though. Each year I fully read through the bible using a plan on the app YouVersion. Invariably December sees me read through the book of Revelation.
This is a complex and frequently misunderstood book. It’s the only book in the bible where God confers a specific blessing to anyone who reads it (and also a curse to anyone who tries to change it). It’s almost humorous; perhaps the most difficult to understand body of writing you can find anywhere on the planet, yet you are specifically blessed when you read it!
This article is not about the details and disagreements that we associate with Revelation. Instead, it is about how we should think about something that Christians should look forward to and is clearly promised by God in Revelation – the return of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. I think it could be very soon.
Most generations have thought similarly, so why should now be any different? Today, there are numerous things happening in the world that should put us on high alert. For example, Ezekiel 38 predicts war between several nations and in a way that could not have happened at any point in history since Jesus walked the earth, yet all the pieces now seem to be falling into place for that to possibly happen where there was no possibility before. You could check out some of the more reliable content on YouTube if you want to understand more.
The book of Revelation also talks about a ‘falling away’ within the church immediately before Jesus’ return. An apostasy. This means that things that the church has agreed on for centuries will suddenly start to become points of disagreement. In fact, the church did not just agree on these things but stood firmly on them. For the church to lose its footing on previously settled issues within Christianity can only serve to breed confusion and weakness. A falling away.
Christians within business or charity work and any kind of leadership, despite their busy-ness, ought still to be churchgoers. This means that an apostasy within the church will affect us too. Now, more than ever, we need to know what scripture says and be prepared to stand up for it – and that includes with the endeavours we are engaged in. Society has been working very hard to put things we have known and believed from scripture into a very different context, now with much success. The church today seems in more disagreement than at any point in history. Divisions in society over climate, race, gender have all found their way into churches and not only impact what many say but how they say it.
It’s true, church disagreement is no new thing. Henry VIII caused quite a bit of disagreement within the church, but this was mainly for political reasons. The Catholic Church would not allow him to divorce and remarry in his quest to furnish the throne of England with a male heir, so he decided to invent a new church. A disagreement at least as significant as today’s you could argue. Yet the resultant Church of England, scripturally, believed fundamentally the same things as the Catholic Church of the day. It believed that all scripture was God-breathed and therefore dependable. It believed God created the universe, heaven and earth, all nature and mankind and that Jesus was the Son of God, who came, died and was resurrected. It believed that the promise for believers was eternal life in the presence of God and that those who use their God-given free will to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Saviour would receive that promise without exception.
But what is happening today in terms of society challenging Christian beliefs seems unprecedented. It is no longer just a question of whether people adhere to what the church says – today we want to allow popular opinion to decide how we interpret scripture and what churches should preach. As a society we are, for the first time in history, challenging some things scripture lays out clearly, such as gender. Everyone possesses the authority from God to exercise free will and decide these things for themselves – this is not in question – but many seem to want to make scripture say what society decides it should mean. This cannot be. If it is only God who inspired scripture, then it can only be He who we listen to when trying to work out what it means. The moment we can self-determine what God means in scripture we reduce faith to a thing that can only be as large as our feeble minds. I already know I could never give my life to that. Either God wrote it, and it is truth despite not always being comfortable, or I should just play golf on Sunday mornings.
You might be surprised to learn this is not actually the main thrust of what I want to say! Instead, it is the context. Because the Book of Revelation predicts exactly the thing I am talking about and I believe we are now seeing, immediately before Christ’s return. Meaning that if Christ’s return were soon, it would not be a surprise to me. Yet the bible itself says we are to live our lives as though He will return tomorrow or in many years from now.
In other words, don’t be so casual in the way you live that you leave no room for His return this very hour, nor should you use that thought as a reason to make no plans for the future. You have to think about both.
But why? Why would God want it so that Christians who happen to be around at the moment Jesus actually returns should have well thought out, long-term plans in place? Isn’t that a waste of energy? If time is so short, why bother with business?
In Luke 19 Jesus says “occupy until I come”. He said this in the context of His parable of the ten Minas where ten men were each given a Mina (money). The first two got busy while the master was away and returned him ten and five Minas respectively, the next one was so afraid that the master was a tough man to please that he wrapped up his Mina and did nothing with it. Upon his return it was this last man, who took no risk at all, in fact didn’t even deposit the money in a bank to gain any interest, who received the wrath of the master. At no point does scripture say that they knew when the master was going to come back. They had no idea, only that he went to be anointed King in another country. When He did come back, he asked for a report on what they had been doing. The master’s return therefore interrupted their ongoing plans.
When Jesus returns it will be like this.
Notice though, that this was a business transaction. There was no talk of what they did with the money to invest, whether the endeavours they pursued were of noble intent or just purely money-making ventures. It just says they made money. When Jesus talked in the same chapter about occupying until He comes, I think this is related to being busy with what God has placed in our hands. There are so many places in scripture where it talks about life being an experience in which we are supposed to thrive, for example the famous words of John 10 v 10 – “I have come that you may have life, and life to the full”. We are designed in the likeness and image of God. When I think about some of us, it’s clear He is the original risk taker! In Genesis we read that God even reached the point where He regretted creating the human race! (How can an all-knowing God regret anything?) Why would He have allowed things to get that bad? Because the personality of God is to create things that are wonderful and otherwise impossible, and His heart is to love and give – He is the perfect altruistic entrepreneur! He gave us our own free will, despite the danger to Himself. If things go wrong, He always works to provide a solution to the problems created by others.
He is an overcomer and so, therefore, are we. When Jesus returns, as promised, we should be found thriving.
This will include making money, building great churches, raising good, fun and faithful families, doing helpful and positive things, creating beautiful and insightful art – all the things humans can do that bring joy to ourselves and others. And overcoming is an essential part of that. That means that thriving doesn’t always feel like it. Sometimes it feels downright difficult. If we are in a situation where we can see no way forward, that just feels stressful. But when we invite God to walk with us and help us, there is always a way forward. Suddenly challenges have a solution to be found and the process of overcoming feels inspiring.
We know that humans learn well when observing others. If we want to show what it means to be a follower of Jesus, others need to see us thriving, overcoming, loving, being joyful and faithful. Right up until the point we can no longer be seen whether that is tomorrow or further away than that.
On the Lions programme we recognise that delegates’ long-term plans are not the main issue. It is the process of getting there that is so significant and walking with God as we move forward is what He truly wants from us. One day He will return and interrupt those plans. What account will we give?
As a final thought, while we await Jesus’ return and pursue our business, let us be guided by Philippians 4 – “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”