A church leader reflects on the connection between prophecy and the new year.
Ever since I can remember, my grandfather used to take me to one side, open his Bible, and tell me about the prophets, Daniel and John in particular. By the time I was a teen, strange images and beasts were central to my consciousness. The stories, reinforced by my parents, Sabbath School teachers, pastors, and evangelists, developed a conviction about the Bible and ‘time’. Not least, that in the light of what the Bible says, today’s news is history.
My grandfather hoped for the end of the world to be soon. With others, he vigorously examined Bible time charts in the greatest of detail, outlining what is to take place between now and when Christ returns. Without a doubt, in the post-war years, it gave him hope during uncertain times.
Living Time Sensitively
It would be easy to dismiss my grandfather’s faith in the Bible, as perhaps bordering on the fanatical. Sure, I am convinced his focus on the world’s troubles, created at times, more personal fear than hope. But I can’t dismiss his sincere intent, to live ‘time sensitively.’ As a Seventh-day Adventist, he very much believed that the literal first Advent of Christ would be followed by a literal, imminent, Second Advent.
Which brings me to Paul’s one-liner in 1 Thessalonians 5:20, “Do not despise prophecies.” Sound and balanced advice on many counts, since there have always been those in the church, both back in the days of Paul, and more recently, who over-literalize, and sensationalize prophecy. Others, all too easily sidestep study of prophecy, for fear it is too complicated to understand. A third group reacts negatively to the first group, shunning any prophetic utterance because quite simply, they are embarrassed. No wonder Paul advises in his very next words to “test everything.”
On the Edge
As we head into 2018, what’s the state of the world? “Teetering on the edge,” says the Dec. 29 Financial Times illustration of the week drawn by Ingram Pinn.
It seems a little ironic that it takes a newspaper like the Financial Times to remind me so vividly that the world is in deep trouble. Below the radar of the news headlines, 1.25 million people currently risk starvation in Sudan. Hundreds of thousands face starvation in the Congo, while more than 400 children were killed in Afghanistan this past year. And then there are the children in war-torn Yemen and the Rohingya refugees. Echoing this picture of a teetering world, John Simpson, BBC World Affairs editor, recently reflected about the leadership void on planet earth, describing it as a plane in flight, but with no pilots in the cockpit.
The Lamb Wins
In contrast to Simpson’s and Pinn’s teetering world, the Christian’s belief in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ offers solid rock security and genuine reasons to be optimistic. The disciple John described Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Many decades later, the very same John was shown a vision of the future, recorded in what we know as ‘Revelation.’ Throughout these visions, John again sees the ‘Lamb’ among a whole load of other strange, monstrous looking, beasts. But guess what? God is in control because, in the fight between good and evil, the Lamb wins!
Yes, the Financial Times echoes what the preachers have been going on about for years. While the world seems to teeter on the edge, its destiny is not determined by Trump, May, Putin, or even Kim Jong-un, but by a God who promises that in the end, everything will be all right, and all because of the Lamb of God who ended up at Calvary.
Perhaps taking Paul’s words to heart in 2018, might just be the very help we need.
David Neal serves as director of Stewardship for the Trans-European Division of Seventh-day Adventists.