Earlier this month, my wife, daughter, and I traveled to Chihuahua, Mexico to visit our oldest son, his wife, and their three children. It was our first ever visit to that country. Even though we only spent a week in this large city in the north central part of the nation, I learned a few things there, mostly things that contrast with life back in my home country of Canada.
Let me begin with some observations of physical and cultural things:
9. This particular mission has been around for more than eighty years. It is well-versed in what it does, namely, bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to remote indigenous people groups around the world, groups that do not have the Bible in their own language. They send missionaries, singles or families, to live in remote regions, usually lacking some of the modern conveniences of life, in order to work among these people groups. They have to learn the tribal language and culture. Then they create a written language for the people, teach them literacy skills, and translate the Bible into the peoples’ heart language. Finally, they labor to evangelize the community and establish a viable local church there, one that eventually will not be dependent on the missionaries any longer. What a fantastic, God-honoring goal (see Matt. 28:18-20). And our son and his wife and family are pursuing this. But it takes a tremendous amount of patience, hard work, persistence, and team-work to make it happen. I spoke with one missionary couple who appeared to be well into their sixties, and they were about to fly into a remote village yet again, a place they’d been working for thirty-five years. Wow! This is so counter-cultural from a Canadian or American twenty-first-century perspective. Here we want everything fast: fast food, fast internet service, fast results. We hop from job to job, from one amusement to the next, and even from church to church. We have little stick-to-it-iveness. But the ways of God are not our ways. God sees the big picture stretching out over centuries and millennia. And He would have a people given to His Son that is representative of “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). To make this happen, God uses godly, dedicated servants, laboring in the quiet, unseen places of the planet among people He cares about. They labor without fanfare or applause. I find this inspiring. One day, such laborers will be brought before their Lord and hear Him say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). Everyone has to serve someone. Most people serve themselves with as much comfort and personal self-esteem as they can muster. But God is still calling people to serve Him for a greater and higher purpose. As Jesus shockingly said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). And it will be worth it to serve Him. Those who faithfully do will not be disappointed with their lives, even if others have declared they’ve wasted them. Instead, they will be rewarded, both in this life, and in the world to come (Mark 10:30).
Last, I have a personal incident to share from which I draw a simple conclusion:
10. I enjoy hiking new trails and areas. I spent a lot of time inside the city of Chihuahua on this one-week trip. On Tuesday morning, however, most of us got out and climbed a hill called, “Fish Mountain,” that overlooks the city. It was not too strenuous. We were at the top in about a half an hour. Then a friend of my son’s offered to take me on a longer, somewhat more strenuous excursion up a higher mountain in the early morning hours on Thursday. We agreed to meet at 6:00 in the morning at the base of the stairway outside my accommodation. This man, an avid hiker, would meet me there, presumably with his vehicle. I even pointed at the spot we would meet, so I presumed we had a mutually-well-understood arrangement. I was up at 4:50 AM. I freshened up, did my Bible reading and prayer, and ate breakfast. I was eagerly anticipating this hike, partly to see new territory and get exercise, and partly to spend time with another man who I’d met earlier, a man who led a Tuesday morning missionary prayer meeting. I was sure we’d have lots in common to talk about. I love to talk. And I perceived he loved to do the same. At about 5:54 AM, I heard the sound of a vehicle pull up outside my living space. I thought that that must be him. I’ll just brush my teeth and go down to meet him at the bottom of the stairs at 6:00. But when I opened the door to go outside, no one was there. I walked to the bottom of the stairs and look around. No one. I checked my watch. It read 6:01. Did I miss him? Did he leave without me? The man, I found out later, when he did not see me outside at 5:55, assumed I might not have been staying at this residence but that maybe my son would be driving me over here from his house. So, the man drove outside the compound where I really was staying, parked in the street, and waited for my son’s vehicle. When it did not show up by 6:05, he concluded that maybe I changed my mind. He then proceeded to leave without me. He went and climbed the mountain on a beautiful, cool Mexican morning, with the sun showing glimpses of its presence over the horizon. I texted the man. No reply. I emailed him. No answer. We did really miss our connection. I was very disappointed. When the man did show up at my dorm at 8:30, after climbing to the top of the mountain, we discovered what happened. He was very diligent about being on time, but made the bad assumption about where I was residing. I was likewise very diligent about being on time, which for all intents and purposes I was. But somehow, we were like two ships that passed in the night. We never saw each other. What conclusion do I draw from this? It is this. We humans often do not know why things work out the way they do; even with things that grieve us, disappoint us. But if we are Christians, we have the comfort of knowing that God knows exactly what He is doing and He always has good reasons for directing and allowing things to unfold the way they do. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). I can only chalk up this experience to this reality: God knows what I do not know, and I need to put this little disappointment, like so many other disappointments, behind me, rejoicing in His love and goodness. Maybe you’ve had some similar disappointment in your own life recently. Maybe it’s one that you cannot explain any other way than: God must have had another plan for me in all this.
So, there are my ten things I learned in Mexico. Most of them are just little observations that underscore the variety that exists in different cultures on planet Earth. But a couple of them are lessons that I needed to be reminded of. God has a big purpose on this earth to save a people for Himself, using human laborers to help accomplish it. And unexplained disappointments are a real part of life. Most of us are used to them by now. But God is good and wiser than we are. We have to let some things go and continue to trust Him.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d pray for guidance. I’d thank the Lord often for everything. And I’d ask Him to help me worry less. Better yet, to worry not at all.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d visit friends. I’d call them up and agree on a time. I’d sit, and listen, and sip on a tea. And tell them with all the gentle love I could muster what was really on my mind.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d visit former friends. I’d sit, listen, and smile. Maybe I could disarm them. Maybe not. I don’t really know what that would take. Maybe I’d tell them of my own failings. And my longing for things to have been different between us. Maybe they would speak to me. Maybe not. Maybe they would listen and smile in return. And if not, that would be okay. I will have tried to make amends.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d write a lot. I would turn at least some of my ambitious projects into fleshed out realities. And then post them somewhere for others to read; publish them for others to have access to. I have things I really want to say, and much of it needs to be in writing.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d take one trip somewhere with my wife. Some place we’d both like to see. Somewhere far away. Somewhere beautiful. A chance to remind us of the blessings of this life we’ve shared together, as well as the better world to come that we’ll share on some distant day.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d speak to my own children often. But first, I’d listen to them. Pray for them. And tell them I love them.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d speak to my own remaining siblings, my two sisters. I’d listen too, and hear what they were feeling and thinking. Maybe I’d seek out a few old friends and relatives as well.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d play five more rounds of golf and not worry about what others thought about my game. I would play the freest golf of my life and truly enjoy every minute of it, with thanksgiving. I’d be the best of playing partners for whomever I got to play with.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d preach a few more times. I’d accept whatever open doors the Lord would give me. I’d preach more from my heart than ever before and probably not worry so much about how polished my outline was or whether or not I bled every ounce of meaning from the text. I’m confident they’d be some of the best sermons of my life. Not necessarily for their astute content or theological depth, though I trust some of that would be there; and not even for their complete grammatical correctness. But more for their simplicity, sincerity, and urgency.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d worship with all of my strength in the presence of other saints, especially the ones I’ve grown to cherish. I’d visit some other churches too, and soak in their worship of our great God.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d touch people a lot. I’d hug my wife and family as much as I could. I’d touch and hug others too, with propriety, of course. I’d especially hug the children in my life and not worry what others thought about it.
If I had a year, and not an hour more, I’d spend a month at a cottage on a quiet coast. I’d have a few good books to read, and my Bible. It would have a fireplace and I would use it, even in the summer. I’d bike and hike the trails in the woods. I’d paddle in the early morning hours when the mist was still on the water and listen to the loons. I’d laugh at the squawking gulls squabbling over scraps on the rocky shore.
That’s what I’d do if I had a year, and not an hour more.
Remember how the writer to Ecclesiastes bemoaned the fact that life appeared futile and kept repeating itself. “Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’?” (Eccl. 1:10). Today, I wish to conclude this series on harbingers by considering two new things.
The Resurrection of Christ
It is not unusual for people to seek to divide up history into eras, ages, periods, epochs. Those who believe in biological (macro) evolution certainly seem to enjoy doing so.(1) Christians like to do so too based on Biblical history as they understand it. One such breakdown delineates seven major periods or dispensations,(2) beginning with the age of innocence. If I might simplify things even more, I suggest we could divide up human history into two major periods: the old creation and the new creation.
The old creation, of course, began when God created the heavens and the earth in six days as described beautifully and succinctly in Genesis 1. But after a period of Edenic bliss, that age of innocence was disrupted by the fall. The corruption of creation ensued (Gen. 3, Rom. 8:20, 22). The entire physical universe began to wear out, to break down (Heb. 1:10-12). It’s getting old.
I mentioned in my third post in this series that when the Son of God was crucified, mankind reached the bottom of the barrel. It was the most despicable thing that man could do, killing the only sinless person to ever walk the earth. But we all know that that was not the end of the story. Something new happened three days later that marked the beginning of a new creation.
People are people. They tend to be skeptical of that which they’ve never seen before or heard of before. Thus, some of the most learned people of the first century living in the Greek culture prided themselves on their wisdom (I Cor. 1:22), and mocked the messenger when he preached to them the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We read in Acts:
A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some
of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems
to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the
good news about Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:18)
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave three days after His death is the foundation of Christianity. It’s also the hope of the world, regardless of the skepticism that people have had and continue to have concerning it. If God can make the entire universe out of nothing (Heb. 11:3), then He can miraculously bring a dead body back to life again. In fact, some people had already been raised from the dead even in Old Testament times (see I Kings 17:17-22; II Kings 4:32-35; 13:20, 21), but they eventually died again. By contrast, Christ’s resurrection was so new that He was raised up in a glorified, imperishable body, never to die again. Now that’s new!
It was also the breaking in of the new creation into the old, a sort of overlapping of the two great ages. While this current creation still exists and continues to decay and wear out, God in His goodness has interjected a harbinger of the future which is almost beyond belief. Someone has overcome death in an ultimate sense and thereby provided the hope that all will not finally end in death and destruction. This old creation will pass, and our mortal bodies with it. Plus, the wicked will be wiped off the earth (see Part 1-3 of this series). But a new humanity will arise modeled after the resurrection of Christ. Consider these verses:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who
have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the
dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be
made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then when he comes, those
who belong to him. (I Cor. 15:20-23)
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
(I Cor. 15:53)
Friends, this is good news, unless you have a particular fondness for death. The term, “firstfruits,” refers to the idea that the first fruit picked after planting and waiting is the promise or guarantee of a harvest of fruit to come. Christ’s rising from the dead is the promise or guarantee of others rising from the dead later on. That we can have life after death --- not just soul life, but physical life --- is amazing. And it is guaranteed to be so because of that glorious harbinger of the future given to us by God in the bodily resurrection of Christ.
Finally, I want to talk about the harbinger of Eden itself. What is Eden? It is that garden of beauty and joy where God placed our original parents, Adam and Eve, so they could enjoy Him and their life experience on the planet made for them. What was it like? Consider these verses:
Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put
the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the
ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of
the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river watering the garden flowed from Eden . . . The LORD God took the man
and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Gen. 2:8-10, 15)
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking
in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8)
Of course, God also made the creatures for mankind to enjoy and gave him dominion over the earth. It was an idyllic environment. God and Adam and Eve enjoyed close communion. But sin ruined it all. Nevertheless, Eden was not forgotten. The beauty and joy of that place would be restored someday in the mighty redemptive plan of God. We read of the new earth in Revelation and hear echoes of what was long ago:
Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with
them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their
God . . . (Rev. 21:3)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing
from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the
city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit,
yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the
nations. No longer will there be any curse . . . They will see his face, and his name
will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night . . . And they will reign for
ever and ever. (Rev. 22:1-5)
Eden will be restored and be more glorious than it first was. The paradise that was lost, as John Milton poetically wrote about, shall be regained. What was will be.
I began this series of five blog posts with the thesis that “God is good by giving us a record of past events that act as harbingers of future events, thereby helping us to prepare for them.” There are other similar harbingers I have not spoken of. But I trust that these nine I’ve discussed will suffice to support my thesis. These harbingers were: the days of Noah, the days of Lot, one language, the routing of the Canaanites, the glory of the nations, the antichrist, the coming of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and Eden. These past events act as forerunners or previews of yet future events. By taking serious note of them, we have time to prepare ourselves spiritually with repentance and faith in Christ before these events overtake us --- “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Finally, God is not only good but also very great in order to be able to orchestrate history and carry it out as planned. Because of this, what was will be.
(Bible verses quoted are from the NIV.)
My thesis in my first post in this series of five stated that “God is good by giving us a record of past events that act as harbingers of future events, thereby helping us to prepare for them.” The harbingers I wish to discuss today uphold that thesis and nicely offset each other: antichrist and Christ.
In all of these Biblical, historical harbingers, two things are happening which accentuate God’s goodness to mankind. One, the historical event (or reality, like the glory within nations) is actually revealed to us in the Old Testament. And two, that event is either clearly spoken of in the New Testament as a harbinger or there are strong intimations to that effect. Thus, God is not trying to trick us. He is actually giving us plenty of information and it’s up to us to pay attention and connect the dots.
In the Scriptures, the actual term antichrist is only used five times, all by the Apostle John in his first two epistles. It refers to one who opposes Christ; who desires to replace Christ. He wants all the glory that only Christ Himself is worthy of. And most of the time, it refers to one specific person yet to come in the history of the world.
By John’s one use of the term in its plural form, we understand also that there have been, and yet will be, many persons who embody the spirit of that one great antichrist to come. They will act like him in many ways, and so are considered antichrists. John writes: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (I Jn. 2:18).
It is also important to understand that many characters in Scripture have more than one term used to identify them. Hence, the antichrist is also described as “the man of lawlessness [or sin]” (II Thess. 2:3), “the lawless one” (II Thess. 2:8), and “the beast” (Revelation).
This character is, of course, most despicable. We know he is coming because God has told us so in the New Testament. But to add to that testimony, He has given us at least one harbinger in the Old Testament; a real character in history who resembles the antichrist. He was a ruler in the Seleucid kingdom in the second century B.C. and his name was Antiochus IV Epiphanes.(1,2) He is revealed to us in the book of Daniel as follows:
Out of one of them [one of the four horns of the goat representing the Grecian
kingdom] came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south
and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. It grew until it reached the host of
the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled
on them. It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the LORD;
it took away the daily sacrifice from the LORD, and his sanctuary was thrown
down. Because of rebellion, the LORD’s people and the daily sacrifice were given
over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.
A few chapters later, there is even a more detailed description of this king --- see Daniel 11:21-45. It is really amazing because Daniel revealed these detailed historical snippets a few hundred years before they actually took place. One section described Antiochus like this:
The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every
god and will say unheard of things against the God of gods (Dan. 11:36)
He was notoriously wicked and blasphemous. And in this, he pictures the great antichrist(3) to come whom the Apostle Paul described in II Thessalonians as follows:
He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God
or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming
himself to be God. (II Thess. 2:4)
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works.
He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve
the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing.
(II Thess. 2:9, 10)
What can we say? Not the sort of guy anyone would want moving in next door. Thankfully, the Lord Jesus will destroy him at his coming (II Thess. 2:8). And thank God we know this evil one is coming so we have a chance to prepare ourselves and not be deceived by him.
The Coming of Christ
Now, on to my second harbinger for today, the coming of Christ to this earth. The point here is simple. God coming to earth in the person of the God-man, Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago, is a wonderful harbinger of Him coming back to earth again. Not only do the Scriptures plainly say He is coming back, but the whole concept of the earth being made as a habitation for man (Is. 45:18) and Christ becoming a man forever (Rev.1:13; 14:14), bodes well for the idea that He will spend eternity very much attached to us humans on the new earth. He, the God-man, will be the wonderful Lord of the new creation.
The first coming of Christ was not only the most amazing thing that ever happened in human history --- God taking on human flesh (John 1:14), the incarnation as it’s called --- but it also culminated in the lowest point in human history. There was a popular song which played on the radio many years ago entitled, “One of Us.” It asked the question three times, “What if God was one of us?” Well, it was a provocative song and amazingly the question has a definitive answer. God not only made all humans in His image but He, Himself, in the second person of the Trinity, took on the robe of humanity. And to my understanding, there is no hint in Scripture that He will ever take it off. Therefore, when He comes back --- and He will --- He’ll be coming to earth as the God-man. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). That point of His return will be the high point in human history where the restoration of all things will be at hand. But the low point had to come first, and that we saw when human hands crucified the Lord of glory, the One who became one of us. Can you imagine? He comes here and all He does for His thirty some years on earth is always please His heavenly Father (Jn. 8:29) and goes about doing good constantly (Acts 10:38). And yet hateful people contrive a reason to kill Him, and they succeed. What a story! And of course, I’m not making this up nor could I have made it up. This story could only be concocted by the divine mind. It was what He needed to do to redeem fallen mankind and a broken world.
So, there we have it: two more harbingers. The ultimate antichrist to come is foreshadowed for us in a notoriously evil king who reigned on earth before the time of Christ. And the coming of the God-man, Christ, to walk the earth the first time bodes well for his returning again to do the same thing. What was will be. God is good.
(Bible verses quoted are from the NIV.)
3 The great antichrist to come, as I understand it, is also directly spoken of in the book of Daniel. He is part of the fourth great kingdom that arises on earth. See Daniel 7:15-27. It seems to clearly be the time of the end of the world because it’s the time when this ultimate antichrist is finally judged and when the saints will receive the kingdom --- see vs. 18, 22, 26, 27.
When I embraced this topic, I realized that the Bible says a lot about types, shadows, and figures, things in the Old Testament Scriptures that picture for us the person and works of Jesus Christ, particularly in His first coming. For example, Moses leading Israel out of its bondage in Egypt is a type of the spiritual salvation found in the greater Moses, Christ, who leads His people out of their bondage to sin (Jn. 8:34-36; Rom. 8:2; Gal. 5:1). There are many such foreshadowings of Christ, and books have been written addressing this glorious topic. My topic here, however, is narrower. I am focusing on historical, Biblical events revealed under the Old Covenant that are harbingers, forerunners, of events that are still future to our time in the twenty-first century. I’ve discussed three such harbingers already in my previous two posts: the days of Noah, the days of Lot, and the one language of the earth before Babel. Today, I wish to focus on nations: one harbinger being a predominantly negative contemplation dealing with judgment; the other is positive.
The Routing of the Canaanites
It is a Biblical fact that the fledgling nation of Israel which came out of Egypt long ago was led by God through the wilderness for forty years. After that, under the military leadership of Joshua, it entered the promised land and routed the seven Canaanites nations living there, taking possession of their land. We read in Deuteronomy:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess
and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites,
Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger
than you – and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and
you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. (Deut. 7:1, 2)
Many people today may revolt at this account. How could God allow such a thing, or command such a thing? It seems atrocious to our modern way of thinking, at least those of us who live in so-called civil, democratic nations. But the context of this historical event makes it clear that it was a judgment of God upon the wickedness of those seven nations. God found their idolatry so deplorable that He decided to do something about it.
This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred
stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. (Deut. 7:5)
…it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to
drive them out before you. (Deut. 9:4; cf. 18:9-12)
Maybe the worst practice was the literal sacrificing of children to their gods: “They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods” (Deut. 12:31). Hence, we read many warnings by God to Israel not to practice such a detestable thing: “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek” (Lev. 18:21).
God could have wiped out these evil nations without the help of Israel, if He wanted to. But He chose to use the army of Israel to do this unpleasant, but necessary, job.
How is this a harbinger of our future? In the previous two harbingers of future judgment, the global flood and the fire on Sodom, it was God Himself who was the executioner. I think it will be so in the final judgment as well, but with this caveat. It seems that somehow the saints of God will participate in the routing of evil people from the earth. In Jude we read:
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming
with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones [saints] to judge everyone, and to
convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness,
and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 14, 15)
The Apostle Paul writes: "Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?" (I Cor. 6:2)
And Jesus Himself speaks of a reward for his faithful servants being this:
To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority
over the nations --- that one will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash
them to pieces like pottery (Rev. 2:26, 27)
The image of Jesus the warrior judge on the white horse is depicted as not coming alone but with his army:
The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in
fine linen, white and clean. (Rev. 19:14 cf. Rev. 17:14; 19:19)
Again, this is scary stuff. It’s supposed to be. It should wake some people up to get serious with God before it’s too late. But in the process of contemplating this future event, we should not lose sight of the goodness of God. He is telling us ahead of time what is coming. Israel destroyed the wicked Canaanite nations long ago and the saints of God (believers in Christ) will participate in some way in the routing of the ungodly from this world when the Lord returns.
The Glory of the Nations
On a brighter note, let me finish this post with some positive thoughts about nations. Though there is plenty of evil to go around among all the nations, there is also beauty. Every nation or ethnic group brings something glorious to the table which is honorable in God’s sight. John’s vision of the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven to the new earth includes this:
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor
into it . . . The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. (Rev. 21:24, 26)
I recall watching a music video not long ago of a group of Nigerian singers who were praising God on the rocky shore of some waterway. It was beautiful. It was like things should be, people stopping to praise God where they are, even out in nature. My folks’ homeland of Estonia is famous for their huge nationalistic music festival which takes place in Tallinn every five years. The country only has a population of 1.4 million, but the festival gathers together over 100,000 people to dance and sing about their national heritage, wear Estonian outfits, and wave Estonian flags. I don’t speak Estonian, unfortunately, but I am moved watching this even on video. I think it portrays the best kind of heart-felt nationalism. Won’t some of this glory be carried into eternity as part of “the glory and honor of the nations”? I think so. And finally, which one of us isn’t moved when we watch the opening ceremonies at the Olympics and see the beauty and diversity in the nations of the world as they march into a stadium decked out in their national uniforms and carrying their national flags. God created all these people groups, and there is a distinct dignity, beauty, and glory in each one.
So, this harbinger then is the beauty in the nations which has existed even before the time of Christ (see Is 60:1-13; Mat. 4:8) and continues on after Christ. It is a glory that will not be lost. It is a harbinger of what life on the restored, new earth will be like. What was will be.
(Bible verses quoted are from the NIV.)
I pick up now my series on how God in His goodness has given us a record of past events that act as harbingers of future events, helping us to prepare for them. The first was “the days of Noah” (Lk. 17:26), when the great flood destroyed the earth. Jesus’ coming again will in many ways mirror Noah’s days and that flood event.
The Days of Lot
The second harbinger is likewise one of judgment and comes to us in the same context of Jesus’ words in Luke 17. He tells his disciples that the full manifestation of His kingdom will happen when He returns. And that can only happen after He suffers first and is rejected of men (Lk. 17:25). But when He returns, human society will also be like “the days of Lot” (Lk. 17:28):
People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But
the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed
them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. (Lk. 17:28-30)
What was will be. Most people on the earth before Christ returns will be busy about their daily lives doing seemingly acceptable things, productive things: eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, and building. But as they do, they’ll be oblivious to God; they’ll lack any fear of Him. On top of that, they’ll add outright wickedness to their conduct, like Sodom did. Hence, judgment will fall dramatically upon them in one day, just like the day the two angels dragged Lot and his immediate family out of the city and “the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah” (Gen. 19:1-29).
The days of Lot are a harbinger of a future day:
…the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying,
“Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a
pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (I Thess. 5:2, 3)
This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with
his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey
the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (II Thess. 1:7, 8).
This is scary stuff, granted. But the goodness of God is revealed in all this because He is telling us plainly ahead of time what will be. That means you and I have time, while we are still living, to decide to escape what is coming on the earth. That’s why the Apostle Paul urges people, “Be reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20), and do it now; for “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2).
The next harbinger is more positive in nature. But there is a mixture of judgment even in this one. It’s the harbinger of one language.
After Noah came off the ark with his family, God reiterated to them the creation mandate to “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). As people began to spread out on the earth, something happened to deter this progress. It was called the tower of Babel. We read about this seminal event in Genesis 11:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,
they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make
bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens,
so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face
of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:1-4)
In their sinfulness, they disregarded God’s command to spread out and fill the earth; but probably worse, their pride moved them to want to become big shots. With the strength of their numbers and their common language, they built a huge tower, surely higher than any other building on earth at the time. God was not impressed.
You probably know what God did. He confused their language. “That is why it was called Babel – because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world” (Gen. 11:9). God forced them to spread out through the frustrating societal feature of inability to verbally communicate to each other. This Babel event was the root of not only the languages of the world being formed but also of all the tribes and nations developing as people spread out over the world.
How is this event a harbinger? I suggest it’s a positive harbinger in this way. Man is a social being. Language is an integral part of human society. Being able to understand others is a beautiful and beneficial thing. Before Babel, the whole earth had “one language.” Judgement caused confusion and the multiplication of languages. But God, as part of His magnificent plan to “restore everything” (Acts 3:21), will at some future point bring back man’s ability to communicate with everyone else. What was will be.
The brief scattered descriptions in our Bibles of what life will be like on the new earth to come tell us little about spoken languages. But author Randy Alcorn, who wrote a book on Heaven, stated: “Once mankind is made righteous and entrusted with stewarding the New Earth, God will likely restore a common language.”1
I think that what happened at Pentecost with respect to languages provides us with a hint of what is to come. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, which I’ll speak of directly as a harbinger in a future post, was the beginning of what the Bible calls the new creation. When people in this age become born-again Christians by believing the gospel, they as individuals are also said to be a “new creation” (II Cor. 5:17). So, at Pentecost, when the gospel was preached by the Apostles at Jerusalem, the Jews, who were gathered there from all the nations, experienced a language miracle. They understood what the disciples were speaking though the disciples did not speak their language. We read:
All of them [the gathered disciples] were filled with the Holy Spirit and began
to speak in other tongues [languages] as the Spirit enabled them. Now there
were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.
When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because
each one heard their own language being spoken. (Acts 2:4-6)
This, I believe, is a little harbinger of things to come. There will be a time when Babel is reversed and people on earth will again understand each other perfectly no matter what their native tongue is. At Pentecost, there was a momentary breaking into this old creation of something belonging to the new creation; a glimpse of a time when people from all nations will again understand each other's speech. Whether or not there will be one common language in the new earth or all its inhabitants will somehow be able to understand each other no matter what earthly language is spoken, it will be wonderful. I think it will be a necessary feature of the new earth.
God, therefore, shows us His goodness by recording what was, the one language of the earth in times past; as well as what will be, the blessing of full understanding throughout all of redeemed humanity speaking to each other on the new earth. Are you looking forward to what will be?
(Bible verses quoted are from the NIV.)
The writer of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes spent considerable time and effort observing the realities of life. He bemoaned the fact that so much of life seemed utterly futile and repetitive ---
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one
can say, “Look! This is something new”? (Eccl. 1:9. 10)
What’s the point of working so hard to get ahead; of accumulating wealth, or wisdom, or pleasure? Because we are all going to die some day anyway; and who knows, maybe what you’ve gained will be left to a fool who squanders it all (Eccl. 2:17-19).
Most of the book is a depressing look at life. But amidst the gloom, he gives glimmers of hope --
He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart. (Eccl. 3:11)
Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time,
I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him.
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil. (Eccl. 12:13, 14)
I say all this as an introduction to a series of blog posts on a very specific topic entitled: What Was Will Be. A suitable subtitle would be: Historical Biblical Harbingers of Our Future. My posts will touch on several of the key things the writer of Ecclesiastes has spoken about: judgment, eternity, and the advantage of fearing God. But mostly I wish to put a different spin on his idea of “What has been will be again.” My thesis is this: God is good by giving us a record of past events that act as harbingers of future events, thereby helping us to prepare for them.
Jonathan Cahn wrote a best-selling fictional book a few years ago entitled, The Harbinger. It espoused the idea that the United States of America appears in Old Testament prophecies and some of the recent calamities which have come upon our neighbor to the south are fulfilments of these prophesies. I’ve not actually read the book, so I will not criticize it. What I can say, however, is that not everyone agreed with his take on the fulfilment of prophecies. Though it sold well, it received mixed reviews --- nothing shocking there.
A harbinger is defined by Merriam-Webster as “something that foreshadows a future event: something that gives an anticipatory sign of what is to come.” My goal in this series is to demonstrate from the historical Biblical record how God has provided for us many harbingers of our own future. We can have a pretty clear idea of certain future events based on similar events that have already happened in the past. In these things, we see that God is good to us humans by giving us a heads up. It’s almost always good to know what’s around the corner. This information, then, gives us a better chance to be properly prepared for our individual and corporate futures.
Many of the harbingers I’ll be speaking of are negative in their flavor; they are not happy things to talk about, like judgment. But I promise I’ll speak about some positive harbingers as well, even providing an answer to the lamenting question above: “Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’?”
The Days of Noah
My first harbinger is one provided by Jesus Himself. In answering his disciples’ questions about the future, Jesus tells them:
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying
and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew
nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all
away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Mat. 24:37-39)
Back in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we have the inspired record of this actual historical event, the world-wide catastrophic flood. The only people spared were the eight on the ark. I have heard that many cultures have a global flood story in their oral history, which is good, because it actually happened. But I doubt any of them provide the details that the Bible does, especially with regard to the theological reason for the flood ---
The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on
the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was
only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings
on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will
wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created…” (Gen. 6:5-7)
Jesus plainly tells us that there will be a very similar time coming in mankind’s future. People will become complacent; absorbed in their daily activities with no fear of God whatsoever. They will become so evil in His sight that He’ll wipe them out again. This time, however, He will do so with fire ---
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with
a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done
in it will be laid bare. (II Pet. 3:10)
What would you think of God if He gave you no warning whatsoever of the future? You might conclude that He is mean. But the record God has left us in the Bible of past events that He even tells us are harbingers of future ones, leave humans without excuse. Therefore, we can prepare for our future, where judgment individually and corporately is sure to happen. Peter challenges his readers with these words:
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?
You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God…”
(II Pet. 3:11, 12)
What was will be. Fear of God in our hearts is a great place to start by way of a proper response to what He has revealed. And then repentance for our sinfulness and faith in the only Savior, Jesus Christ, is where we must end up. May we all get ourselves safely into that state.
(Bible verses quoted are from the NIV.)
A couple weeks ago I perused a post by the master blogger, Tim Challies, entitled, “Thankful for God’s Gift of Government.” Tim’s main point was that we Canadians should be thankful for the institution of human government which has been ordained by God for the well-being of society. Governments in Canada are working hard these days to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. And we should be thankful despite the fact that governments on all levels are going to make mistakes and yes, even commit sins. Nonetheless, citizens have a divine obligation to respect the powers that be (Rom. 13:1-7) and Christians are to pray for them (I Tim. 2:1, 2).
But thankfully, we also live in an open, democratic society. That means all citizens are free to express their views and concerns on all topics not only at polling stations with their ‘x’ every three or four years, but every day in conversations and in writing. It is part of what helps to keep a check on things, including government initiatives that at times appear to be more about promoting the party than about the welfare of the people. With that thought in mind, I’d like to share three areas of concern I’ve had over our federal governments, be they Liberal or Conservative.
According to the debt clock of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the federal public debt for Canada today stands at about 743 billion dollars and it’s growing at a rate of 690 million dollars per day. This terrible downward trend has been going on for years. And it’s not good. Every Canadian citizen should be concerned. How can we be so gullible as to keep voting for political parties who promise fiscal responsibility but fail to deliver? And how can we be so naïve as to think that public debt doesn’t matter? Pay day will arrive some day, and it may be very soon. I am not an economist but I like to think I have a bit of common sense. I perceive that all the goodwill of our government in these days of crisis is going to come back and bite us big time. They are “compassionately” giving out tons of government money to help out businesses and workers right now. But they have no money to draw from. Something has to give.
Approximately fifteen hundred years before the time of Christ, the famous Hebrew, Joseph, ruled Egypt as the right-hand man of the pharaoh. God enabled Joseph to perceive that seven years of famine were soon coming to the land and so he advised the king to make suitable preparations. During seven years of plenty, one fifth of the food produced by the country was stockpiled against the seven years of famine yet to come. And it worked. Lives were saved (Gen. 50:20). Oh, how I wish our current leaders would imbibe some of the ancient wisdom. Wouldn’t it be great if we, the affluent, hard-working Canada, would get itself out of debt and save a little for a rainy day?
We Canadians pride ourselves on our supposed high values as we compare ourselves to other nations in the world. We are welcoming. We are peace lovers and peace keepers. We are generous in our giving to other countries. Yet the fact remains that we kill one hundred thousand innocent children in our land every year. Yes, these are preborn children; but human children nonetheless. Something doesn’t jive here.
When the first male human born into the human race rose up and killed his brother Abel thousands of years ago, God took notice. In fact, God confronted Cain and said to him: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). Fellow Canadians, the voices of the slain innocents in our land must be rising as a very loud chorus of screams in the ears of their Maker. And shall we not pay a heavy price for our crimes against humanity in this regard? When will Canadians rise up and say, enough is enough, and vote and demand accordingly?
Leaning on others is a good thing. I don’t think it’s healthy for people to isolate themselves to such a degree that they feel they don’t need anything from anyone. God made us social beings and community is a good thing. My concern here, by using the word “dependency,” is a matter of looking at ourselves in the mirror as citizens and asking: who am I dependent on and to what degree? Are my current dependencies a good or bad thing?
When kids are growing up in their families, they are dependent on their parents to look after them in many ways, physically and emotionally and so forth. But the goal of parents is to see their children grow up and be healthy, independent, contributing members of society. As a Christian, I want to be that. I like to think (though I may be deceiving myself, granted) that my dependencies rank in the following order: God, myself, family, friends, businesses/organizations/institutions, government. (Okay, government sometimes ranks higher, especially when that hernia really aggravates me and the trash is piling up in the back yard.)
God is still alive and owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10). The great Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low,
and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him [God]
who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11-13)
There is a courageous brand of holy dependence on God in his words combined with a fierce independence: “I can do all things.” A few verses later he tells them: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
I am afraid that a huge swath of our Canadian society has, in hard times and maybe even in good times, imbibed a poor order of dependency. We have replaced God with human governments. They’ve switched places on my list of ranked dependencies. Therefore, we no longer pray to God as Jesus encouraged us to: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mat. 6:11). Instead, we look to the governments to meet our every need. And our governments seem to be happy to play that ever-increasing beneficent role. Sorry, this may sound a little harsh; especially in a time of crisis when people from many walks of life are really suffering and could use some government assistance. I am not wanting to eliminate governments off the list of ranked dependencies. I only want to challenge each and every one of us, including myself, to seriously consider what is and should be the proper ranking of our dependencies.
So, what about our Canadian government, eh? I am thankful for the institution of government and their efforts when they are wisely working for us. But I have concerns. I want all citizens to contemplate at least these three big areas in which I believe our federal governments are not doing well at all --- debt, death, and dependency. Is this really how we want our country to be?
(Bible verses quoted are from the ESV.)
As a writer, I’ve been musing over the enigmatic verse tagged as the first one of Psalm 45 ---
My heart is overflowing with a good theme;
I recite my composition concerning the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
I’ve been wanting to emphasize to my fellow Christian writers the importance of speaking the gospel of Christ in our writing, of communicating the Word of God, and always having our content be in accordance with the Scriptures. If we don’t do it, who will? But instead of me jumping into this topic directly and writing a personal exhortation, maybe it’s better to simply reflect on the Scriptures as an example of what I am talking about. Thus, Psalm 45:1 seems like a good place to camp out for a few moments.
An overflowing heart
The heart is the place where our real selves exist. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (ESV). If you’ve ever listened to a speaker rattling off dull facts or a politician regurgitating his well-scripted party line ad nauseam, you know how unimpressive it is. But when someone speaks from their heart, we usually know it. They may stutter and stumble, but we are all ears. That’s because we sense they are speaking from a deep place. This is where the writer of this psalm found himself --- in a good contemplation, like the “burning fire” (Jer. 20:9) in the prophet Jeremiah’s heart that could no longer be contained.
A good theme
This psalm is one of many which are said to be messianic. They speak much of the person of the coming king, the Anointed One, Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself stated dogmatically that the Old Testament Scriptures were about Him, including the Psalms (Luke 24:27, 44). But certain psalms seem to speak of Him more poignantly than others. Psalm 45 is one of them. The writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews quotes this psalm as he begins his letter, seeking to convince his audience that Jesus Christ is all that the Scriptures portray Him to be. He is better than angels and the One they should unabashedly worship and adore:
But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter
of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness
and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil
of gladness more than Your companions” (Heb. 1:8-9; cf. Ps. 45:6-7).
It was the Spirit of Christ within the Old Testament writers who stirred them to write of Him even though they themselves had little comprehension of the full magnitude of what they were writing (see I Peter 1:10-12). The good theme is the person of the great King, King Jesus.
I recite my composition
This good theme naturally became the subject of his writing and his speaking. “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mat. 12:34). The psalmist felt compelled to recite, to speak verbally, of his “composition concerning the King.” There may have been a more immediate reference to King Solomon and his glorious wedding which was unfolding. But the Bible does not allow us to stop there. This king was “fairer than the sons of men” and God has blessed Him forever (Ps. 45:2). The praise goes far beyond the royal King Solomon for “the people shall praise You forever and ever” (Ps. 45:17). King Jesus was a man, but also more than a man. He was the unique God-man, the only Son of God. Is there a fairer person in the universe for us to speak and write about?
My tongue is the pen
Here lies the strange intermingling of verbal and written communication. Is one method better than the other? I say, no. Both speaking and writing have their advantages and weaknesses. There is a dynamic in oral speech which cannot be fully manifested in written speech. It can be the dynamic of immediate, Spirit-filled, human personality (see I Peter 1:12). The speaker’s entire body is often used to project the meaning intended. Voice intonation can parlay the exact emphasis needed. But even the best oral messages can be lost on us not long after they are received. Our memories are faulty. But with writing, though intonation and use of non-verbal cues are absent, there is nonetheless a certainty and permanence to the communication. The Apostle Peter referred to Scripture as being more stable, firm, reliable than even the audible voice of God from heaven (see II Pet. 1:19). One can mull over written words often and garner benefit from them. And one can spread them to others. Hence, the beauty of the Scriptures themselves as they’ve come to us in such varied form in sixty-six books. But even now, our creative writing can have this power of certainty and permanence. Our writing will not rise to the level of being divinely inspired, of course; but nevertheless, our penned or typed words can have a lasting impact, especially when they are built on the everlasting truth of Scripture.
Of a ready writer
The word, “ready,” here has the meaning of quick, skillful. The psalmist was ready to not only speak words of the king but to write them down for the benefit of others. My fellow Christian writers, I hope you have obtained a sense of how great our calling is. We have the privilege of thinking deeply about our great Lord Jesus and then allowing our hearts to overflow onto our papers and screens. God has given us creative abilities and there is an infinite number of ways we can utilize these skills in our writing. But at the end of the day, may our compositions contain much of the King, the One who is “fairer than the sons of men.”
(Verses quoted are from the NKJV unless indicated otherwise.)