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.)