by Dr. John Yates
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” (1 Peter 4:7)
This teaching is a prophetic challenge to the sleeping church. It is precipitated by prayer concerning God’s voice in the Queensland floods, but is not limited to this latest tragedy. I am not seeking to answer the question, “Where is God in this disaster?”, but endeavouring to relate the word of the Lord in a far more overall sense that will find continued application to the discipleship of nations.
The Biblical Frame
Satan is described in scripture as “the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9 cf. 1 John 5:10). This is certainly true of Australia, where both the general consciousness of God as Creator – Redeemer and as the Father of Jesus has plunged dramatically within a generation. Manifestly, our nation is not being discipled (Matt 28:19). This scandalous situation can be traced back to the failure of the Church to think and act as a community of the end-timesIn the New Testament the “last days” commenced with the coming of Jesus e.g. Acts 2: 17; 1 Tim 4:1; Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20; 1 John 2:18..
Satan’s central strategy against the traditional great missionary nations of our planet, the (previous) Christian West, is to cause us to forget that there is a coming time of universal Judgement. He successfully achieves this through cultivating a climate of overwhelming prosperity that dulls our awareness of the reality of the End. We have not merely neglected the Last Judgement in our teaching and preaching, but have forgotten how to think and live as people who believe “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet 4:7).
Our churches are comfortable with three biblical spheres of preparation:
1. A prophetic/Elijah ministry that prepares believers to receive the healing presence of Jesus (Matt 3:1-3)
2. The “preparing of the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12).
3. The preparation of the Church as intimate Bride for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb(Rev 19:7).
We have however drastically neglected the last sphere of preparation, preparing the nations of the world for the Final Judgement.
The New Testament is saturated by such teaching. The message of the gospel of the kingdom of God, preached first by John the Baptist, then by Jesus and his apostles (Matt 3:2; Matt 4:17; Acts 28:31) is essentially a word that the “present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31) because the King is coming back “soon” (Rev 21:20). The apostles preached a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1)with an intense realism because the awareness that this current cosmos is due to be “dissolved” (2 Pet 3:10) burned within them. In contrast contemporary Western Christians lacking a thorough eschatological (end-times) consciousness. This brings us to the eternal significance of the Queensland flood disaster.
The Current Queensland Crisis
Throughout the New Testament the flood of Noah is used as a prophetic sign of the breakdown of world order before the return of Christ (Matt 24:37-39; 1 Pet 3:19; 2 Pet 3:5-6). The wholesale destruction of property, livelihood and life in the torrents of irresistible surging waters is a clear prophetic symbol of the End that is coming upon this world. The meaning of such signs was self evident for ancient peoples, and still are for many in the Third World today.
Australians however are so insulated from the trials and tribulations of the natural world that we rarely have an opportunity to “see” just how finite and precarious is all our existence. For this reason, however painful and paradoxical it may appear, we must receive this disaster as a gift from heaven. Such a scourge can however only be seen and received from the hands of a loving Father through the lens of the cross which opens our minds and hearts to the new world of resurrection life. Only through the prism of the gospel can we possible believe that the many prayers of Australian believers are being answered through the mechanism of unparalleled disaster.
In this catastrophe lies a message for the church which may activate it to disciple our country so that many receive eternal life. If the floods are a gift, then the church must answer the call, and the call is to rethink our whole way of “doing religion”. The Spirit is saying to the churches that the only way to be a Christian in the present is to be prepared to be a Christian at the End. This means to hang loose of all worldly possessions, privileges and perks, this is exactly what Jesus taught us about discipleship (Matt 16:24-26). It is impossible to image the coming end-and-rebirth of the universe (Matt 19:28) apart from a personal lifestyle of radical discipleship that openly challenges the Satanic stupor of endless success.
A Parable for this Hour
The Lord is speaking through the parable of the sheep and the goats of his return as Judge of the nations. The climax of his teaching is dramatic, “And these (“goat nations”) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous (“sheep nations”) into eternal life.” (Matt 25:46). The critical factor in determining the eternal fate of each people group is how they have treated “the least of these my brothers” (Matt 25:40), folk who were imprisoned, hungry, thirsty, naked and estranged. In Matthew’s Gospel these “brothers” are impoverished Christians who endure a flood of human and satanic wrath (Matt 10:23, 42; Matt 12:48-50; Matt 18:6, 10, 14) and whose desperate state of affairs brings the same revelation of a perishing world as a natural disaster.
Unlike us, the suffering church does not need torrential torrents to awake in them a desire to image Christ to a perishing world- their precarious state and gospel lifestyle impresses upon them the urgency of the last times in which we live. This is why the Lord works the miracles of his coming kingdom in their midst (Heb 10:5), and not in ours. Let us hear the warning of the Lord, if we continue to be ignorant of these “least brothers” both the Australian church and nation will remain under the blinding discipline of God.
Jesus is running out of options to get our attention and to realign our priorities. If natural disasters do not awaken us to the fact that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet 4:7) we are hard hearted people indeed. If we will not listen to the Lord speaking to us through our suffering brothers and sisters our state is almost irremediable. The final gift that he will be constrained to send in order to call the church to the task of discipling the nations will be serious social persecution, even in laid back Aussie-land. There will come to pass Christ’s prophetic words, “you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” (Matt 24:9).
These are some of the lessons sent down from heaven with the rains that caused the Queensland floods, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7).
|↑1||In the New Testament the “last days” commenced with the coming of Jesus e.g. Acts 2: 17; 1 Tim 4:1; Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20; 1 John 2:18.|