The Greatest Terror

Introduction

Fear has become a part of our everyday life.

This time last year I was in a meeting with some older people in our area whose primary concern was street crime. One had recently been bashed by a young refugee outside the neighbourhood shops.

If you live in the bush you will have fears of fires, if you enjoy a swim you will be on the lookout for sharks.

Domestic violence is in all the news.

Parents won’t allow their kids to ride/walk to school for fear of sexual predators.

Many Christians are alarmed that the push for same-sex marriage will rob us of our religious freedoms.

Thousands marched in the last week to demand action at the UN Climate Change conference in Paris.

The fear of global warming touches people at all levels.

Here is a story told by a friend; “Hi John, The incident you mention was about 2007 when Alannah McTiernan was a Minister in the labour government. Whilst at a large pastoralist conference she walked up to the Department of Agriculture Climatologist and I and asked without any introduction “Are you afraid?” I assumed she had been reading a climate change book by Tim Flannery…. This reminded me of the words of Jesus that in the last days men’s hearts will fail them for fear of those things that are coming on the earth (Luke 21v26).”

Finally there is the terror of Islamic State.

The sheer ruthlessness of this group and its intense publicity machine seems to have left people feeling very uneasy.

Schools now have “lock down” drills to prepare for terrorist attacks. In the wake of the Paris attacks our own Prime Minister was exceptionally blunt; “protecting freedom….. is a global struggle …against those who seek…seek to assert some form of religious tyranny; a threat in the name of God but is truthfully the work of the devil”.

I expect most Christians responded to Malcolm Turnbull’s theological commentary positively because our thinking has not been sufficiently radicalised by the Holy Spirit in the way of the cross.

The word “radical” simply means “from the root”, a Christian who thinks things through from the roots recognises that “the devil is God’s devil” (Luther) and every theologian of the cross knows that it is the Lamb standing as slain who opens the scroll of heaven releasing the full range of physical and spiritual forces which terrify the inhabitants of the earth (Rev 5:6; 6; 13:7).

Today’s climate of fear provides a unique opportunity for the Western Church to renew her witness to this Jesus; but this will require a radicalisation of our spirituality by death and resurrection far deeper than that which can be achieved by any human power (Rom 12:1-2).

The Origin of Terror

Generally people treat fear as a bad experience, but Man was meant to fear God from the beginning.

When the Lord warned Adam, ““In the day that you eat of (the tree of knowledge) it you shall surely die”” his tone indicated the punishment of death was inconceivably horrible (Gen 2:17).

So when after their sin Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden…the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD” (3:8) they subsequently reported to God, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”” (3:9-10).

God’s presence was no longer delightful but excruciatingly painful.

Every awareness of the lost glory of God fills sinners with a deep sense of shame (Rom 3:23).

We can best understand what was lost through sin by looking at some scriptures which speak of the recreation of Paradise.

One such prophecy is in Isaiah, “[2] In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious….[5] the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. [6] There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” (Isa 4:2, 5-6 cf. Rev 7:15-17).

At the End God’s own glorious presence will protect his people from all possible harm.

The restoration of insight into “the beauty of the Lord” fills the people of God with safety and security (Ps 27:4; 90:1). This is the exact opposite of what was lost in Eden.

When God sentenced Adam and Eve for their sin he proclaimed a future of hard work, extreme pain in childbirth, conflict with wild creatures and finally the futility of death; “dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:15-19).

In our comfortable Western countries shielded by the benefits of the welfare state, with access to excellent health care and having lived in one of the most peaceful periods of world history we have forgotten our urgent need to be covered by God’s presence from the material and spiritual terrors of this world.

The radicalisation of my thinking about how God uses terror began with my conversion.

As a 20 year old I was suffering such severe paranoia that I could not walk down a public street so great was my fear of people.

Then the Lord sent a Bible into the house and I started to read it endlessly.

Soon I came under the most terrifying fear of hell; the words of Jesus became incredibly real to me; “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28).

Every day I would wake up thinking that if I was to die I would deservedly go to hell; it was terrible. But worse was to come. One day I was in such desperation I tried to enter a Christian meeting on the university campus, suddenly it was like there was a paralysing wall of terror between me and the meeting. I had to turn back.

The next week came around and the same demonically inspired wall of terror was there but the sheer terror of the Lord’s retribution and my need for urgent forgiveness got me through, and the rest is history.

There is a final/Apocalyptic terror from the Lord to end all finite terrors; it was the terror of not finding forgiveness that scared the hell out of me.

When Jesus prophesied of ““people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”” he meant the intensity of their fears would be so overwhelming that could see no purpose in the state of the world (Luke 21:26). This is the condition of our media and much of the Church today.

Evil’s Purpose

Secular commentators find radical Islam almost impossible to understand.

After the Sydney siege people rushed to redefine the terrorist as mentally ill.

After the Paris attacks media described the killers as members of an unintelligible insane death cult.

But scripture tells us, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12).

Only from our position seated in the heavenly places in Christ can we see that both militant Islam and aggressive Western atheism/secular humanism are in fact equally controlled by the same evil power which hates the glory and beauty God has destined for humanity in Christ (Ps 8; Eph 2:6, 9; Col 1:15; Heb 2:5-9).

To destroy the image of this glory and beauty is evil’s purpose.

When the Muslim armies conquered the Middle East and turned churches into mosques they first tore down the crosses then whitewashed all the images Jesus.

Islam most hates the notion that God the Word became a real flesh and blood human being and died on the cross (John 1:14).

This is the work of the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:1-3).

In the spiritual realm the power behind Islam that veils the beauty of the face of a woman is not simply patriarchal/misogynistic but understands that since “the woman is the glory of man” her beauty as a sign of the Bride of Christ must be covered (1 Cor 11:7; Eph 5:32).

Understanding Islamic terrorism as a means to deface the image of divine beauty in the world is straightforward; but how does satanic power work to destroy God’s glory and beauty in our Western world?

Abortion in our nations is defended on the grounds of a woman’s right to choose, but in the spiritual realm it represents a satanic desire to end development of the glory of a human life in the likeness of God. (Lev 18:21; Deut 32:17; 1 Cor 10:21).

The most effective way to oppose terror is through the true revelation of beauty.

In sponsoring TV ads showing the wonder of the emergence of the unborn child in the womb the Church in Toowoomba has had considerable success in bringing down the abortion rate in their city.

Light casts out darkness.

Same sex marriage activists portray Christians as “homophobic” terrorists opposed to the rights of gay people.

This campaign however is really about an attack on a deep spiritual mystery.

The author of Proverbs says, “[18] Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: [19] the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.” (30:18-19).

The mysterious sexual relationship between men and women implanted from the beginning of creation uniquely images something of the glory and beauty of the eternal marriage of Christ to the Church.

This is the spiritual beauty being attacked by the devilish forces promoting gay marriage.

The depth of spiritual crisis in Western culture first came across to me walking along the streets of Lausanne Switzerland some years ago.

The shops were full of such beautiful things but spiritually I felt as if I was surrounded by “beasthood” i.e. in the presence of the spirit of the antichrist (Rev 11:7; 13:1ff).

I was in great grief of heart as I could sense the destruction of souls all around me blinded by the material blessings of God apart from the saving knowledge of Christ the Blessed One (Mark 14:61; Acts 17:16; Rom 9:5).

Finally I saw something that nearly sent me out of my mind; I came across a fashion store called “Christ”.

I wrote in my prayer journal, “They have taken all that belongs to you, all your glory and beauty, even your name, FOR THEMSELVES. Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

This is Jesus’ great prayer from the cross; and it is to the cross we must go if our minds are to be radicalised concerning God’s purposes for terror in this world and the next.

Terror of the Cross

Since “fear has to do with punishment” as a sinless person Jesus had no earthly fears (Heb 4:15; 1 John 4:18). He went about destroying the works of the devil that inspire terror (Acts 10:38; 1 John 3:8).

Sickness, demonic powers and death itself were abolished (Matt 4:24; Mark 5:10; Luke 8:50) in his glorious covering presence where the weakest found shelter (Matt 11:28; John 1:14; 11:4, 40).

When men tried to kill him he walked unperturbed through their midst for his hour had not yet come (Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59; 10:31, 39).

Everything however changes in the shadow of the cross.

The Lord’s prayer in the Garden, ““if possible take this cup from me”” and his terrible cry,““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 14:36; 15:34) have only one explanation, the cross is the terror of God (Gen 35:5; Ex 15:16; Deut 4:34; Ps 53:5; Jer 49:5; Ezek 32:32 cf. Gen 18:12).

The cross is the place where the gloom and darkness of the Day of the Lord, the great End time/Apocalyptic judgement of God on the wicked, descends upon Jesus dying in our place separated from the all-covering presence of his Father’s glory (Amos 5:20; Mark 15:33).

All the terrors of hell are concentrated in the sacrifice of the Son of God.

As Isaiah prophesied, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isa 53:10).

This is a grief beyond measure.

The terror of terror is not suffering, it is suffering without a good or noble purpose, the terror of hell is not suffering forever, but suffering forever without a purpose. Cut off from the presence of his Father’s good, pleasing and perfect will this is the terror Christ must endure for us (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 5:21).

Jesus however was never passive, the deeper he entered into the terror’s humanity deserves at the hands of God the more powerfully he prays; ““Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”” (Luke 23:34 cf. Luke 6:28).

Before mortal eyes, citing Isaiah again, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa 53:2); before mortal eyes the great satanic ambition of destroying the beauty and glory of God in his image in man seems finally accomplished.

But in the eyes of the Father this love so pure and beautiful that it is indestructible, immortal and triumphant. The death of Jesus issues in the beginning of the End of the world.

The soldiers who crucified Jesus were state terrorists commissioned to flog, mock, abuse and prolong the sufferings of their victims, but Jesus is no victim (Matt 27:26, 30-31).

When “Jesus…breathed his last… The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many …who had died were raised… 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Matt 27:50 ff.).

The terrorists have become believers in Jesus (Matt 14:33; 1 John 4:15) as the one through whom God has commenced the beginning of the End of the world by raising the dead.

This fear from heaven comes with the discovery of Christ’s empty tomb; “And they (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them…” (Mark 16:8; cf. Matt 17:6; Luke 24:5; 37).

The resurrection of the crucified Christ induces an awesome holy fear whose dimensions leave no space for any earth inspired terror.

I believe this explains the response of the crowd to Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost; “[23] this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. [24] God raised him up… [36] God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.[37] Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,”” (Acts 2:23-24; 36-37).

When the covering presence of God in Christ crucified-and-risen becomes real to sinners their greatest terror is that they might fail to find forgiveness in him.

Every other thought in the minds of the crowd, whether they would be rejected by their countrymen, as Jesus was, persecuted by the Romans, as Jesus was, went out of their heads.

Their preview of the End (cf. Joel 2:31 = Acts 2:19-20), their experience of God’s Apocalyptic terror, scared the hell out of them. What a glorious day!

The Terror of the Coming King

Spoiled by centuries of occupying a privilege the Western Church has lost sight of how radically threatening to the powers that be the Kingship of Jesus truly is.

Psalm 2, says this about Christ; “[1] Why do the nations rage…. [2] and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, [4] …the Lord holds them in derision. [5] Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, [6]…I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. [7] …The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. [8] Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession….[12] Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:1-2, 4-8, 12 ESV).

Jesus ruling presence naturally terrifies the rulers of the earth (Matt 3:17; Acts 13:33; Rom 1:4; Heb 1:2 cf. Rev 11:18).

This is his presence in the gospel; when the apostles entered Thessalonica the city was in uproar, ““These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”” (Acts 17:6-7).

The readers of the New Testament understood that the spiritual and material worlds could not be separated.

They understood that the blind rage of Herod in slaughtering the little boys of Bethlehem was supernaturally inspired over who was king of the Jews (Matt 2:1-8; 16-18; cf. Acts 4:25-26).

The early Christians knew that by refusing to bow the knee to Caesar they would stir up the demonic powers behind Roman rule who would work to annihilate them (John 19:12, 15; Acts 17:7; Rev 12 – 13).

The demonic forces driving Islamic State have no fear of the secular forces running the nations of the West.

Their great ambition is to drive the Christian witness from the Middle East forever and move on from there. Likewise the persecution of Christians in Europe and America over gay rights issues has one goal, to diminish witness to the glory of God in Christ. Where however the Church is faithful persecution empowers the testimony of Jesus.

Unafraid

After Islamic State drove many Christians from their homes in northern Iraq a reporter asked 11-year-old refugee Maryam: “What are your feelings towards those who drove you out of your home and caused you hardships?” She replied: “I won’t do anything to them, I will only ask God to forgive them.” She said: “In the Bible Jesus said to us, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am with you.’ And also, He said forgive others no matter who they are hating you. You have to forgive them.” “Jesus is my father, and He is my creator. I have no one else better than him. When ISIS drove us out of our home, His hand was on us and He saved us.” “The Holy Spirit gave me these words to tell you.” “The only story in the Bible is the story of the resurrection of Christ Jesus the Lord because through that story, we can have hope.” “When I pray, I pray that God might help us to go back home. And also that the peace of God might come all over Iraq and also, may God forgive ISIS.

For the Church, times of terror should be times of great illumination.

Terror brings a message from heaven that only the beauties and glories of another world can last. When the city of Rome fell to the barbarians in 410 A.D. many Christians were traumatised. (“If Rome can perish, what can be safe?” (Jerome)).

But as St. Augustine aged, he increasingly thought of the world, its politics, culture, and institutions, as a tottering old man whose days were numbered: “You are surprised that the world is losing its grip? That the world is grown old? Don’t hold onto the old man, the world; don’t refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you: ‘The world is passing away; the world is losing its grip; the world is short of breath. Don’t fear, your youth shall be renewed as an eagle.‘” (Sermon 81, 8. Citing Ps 103:5).

Let me pick up this scripture; “your youth shall be renewed as an eagle.”

The Western Church does not show the beauty of spiritual youthfulness.

Everyone thinks the traditional denominations are headed for the grave; but the more contemporary trendy churches are so tied to prosperity in this passing world (cf. Your Best Life Now) that they cannot reflect “the unfading/imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Pet 3:4).

Whatever the chronological distribution, our churches lack the awe-filled apocalyptic presence of God that always threatens the status quo and cannot be intimidated by any earthly concern (Acts 5:11; 1 Cor 7:31; 14:25; 1 John 2:17).

Once no terror kept the Western Church from sending missionaries across the globe many who would never return.

But like the church in Ephesus we have lost our youthful spiritual passion for Jesus; “you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Rev 2:4).

The fountain of eternal youth is the gospel; “v.2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, v.3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, v.4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, v.5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Ps 103:2-5).

A Church that walks in the continual cleansing of the forgiving word will always feel young and beautiful; “a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. (Eph 5:27). The beauty and glory of such a church is her refusal to compromise the cause of Christ.

Peter counsels the wives of unbelieving husband with words that fit the Church today; “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” (1 Pet 3:6). “do not fear anything that is frightening.” alludes to be Proverbs 3:25 “Do not be afraid of sudden terror”.

If you are walking in forgiveness you have passed through the Apocalyptic terror of the great trial of divine judgement, free from the fallen fear that something will suddenly overtake you as a punishment by God, the promise is yours in Christ.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…. will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at noonday.” (Ps 91:1, 5-6).

With lives “hid with Christ in God” what can we fear (Col 3:3 cf. Heb 13:6)?

As a believing wife was to refuse to be intimated by anything her husband might say or do to her on account of her faith in Christ so the Church who obeys the Lord at whatever cost radiates the hidden spiritual beauty of her crucified Lord.

Later Peter puts the point more broadly, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Pet 3:14; 4:14).

Conclusion

The world as we know it is changing and no natural power can deliver the post-Christian Western nations from the terrors that confront them; and this is God’s good purpose (cf. Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11).

The right to a world enjoying climatic stability is passing away, the right to live free from the threat of religious terrorism is over and for Christians the right to religious freedom is slipping away.

In such an atmosphere the Church may perhaps be shocked into realising that our idolatries have blinded us to the real spiritual wars around us (Pss 29:2; 96:9; 1 Chron 16:29); we may perhaps recognise that the great holy fear that should grip us is that men and women daily perish without experiencing that Apocalyptic terror that can scare the hell out of them.

The ways of the Lord are radical beyond measure because they are the ways of Christ crucified.


God has always had one purpose for evil and its terror; to bring forth a beautiful and glorious Bride for his Son walking in the power of the cross and living in the forgiveness of sin which keeps her forever young.

The Lamb conquers terror by the testimony of a Bride whose unfailing witness to his gospel is her beauty (Rev 12:1, 11).

It is such a Church continually renewed in spiritual beauty and fearlessness in her suffering for Christ that will really have something to offer to a world that has no answers to the threats that confront it.

John Yates

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