One of my favorite questions written in the entire Bible is in Acts 1:11, where as the disciples are still “looking intently up into the sky” as Jesus “was taken up before their very eyes” (Acts 1:9-10), it says that two men asked them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” I can just imagine the disciples looking over to the two men in white and saying, “Uh, duh! We just watched a guy float up into the sky…not exactly something you see everyday!” Now, obviously the message to them and to us is that Jesus will come back. We don’t know when and we’re not to focus on that, but instead should be about the work he’s given us to do in the meantime.
As a good Bible-believing Anglican committed to fulfilling the Great Commission in our day, I have never stared too much into the sky, wondering about when Jesus will return. I have not focused too much on the End Times. I have some grasp of pre-trib, mid-trib, and post-trib disputes, however I quickly get tired of those topics. Many people perish while thinkers in the Church try to figure out something we have no control over. Despite this, though perhaps other passages help keep us focused on the work we have right now, Jesus did teach that vigilance was important.
Go back and read Matthew 24-25 again. The parable of the ten virgins ends with this: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matt. 25:13) One of the questions I’ve wrestled with during those times, when I have thought about the end of the world, was how it will all happen, despite my desire to stay away from useless debates. I’m still curious, and I wonder. It seems that what will happen is a global government under the direction of Satan that will set itself up in the place of God and demand loyalty or death in such a way where even the Church could be deceived. In Revelation 13:15-17, it says: “Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die. He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name.” (NLT) In Matthew 24:24-25, Jesus said, “For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.” (NLT) Whether we’re talking about the final antichrist or those false prophets and antichrists who are now in the world, the warning is clear: deception is possible and temptations will come to lead the Church astray. I don’t want to be deceived. I want to know what to watch out for. I want to be ready as Jesus teaches us to be (Matt 24:42).
The Covid-19 crisis got me wondering if this was some sort of sign about the end times. There was some talk about it on the blogosphere, and it was hard to avoid thinking about it. To be honest, I didn’t think this was it, but it could be a sign that points to that final tribulation, kind of like knowing summer is coming when you see the fig leaves sprouting (Matt. 24:32). Since this crisis came during the season of Lent, there was much talk about Lenten lessons we could reflect on and repent over during this crisis. Now that season is past, and after the Feast of the Ascension, I wonder if there are also lessons for Christ’s Advent as well, focusing on his return even as we recently focused on his going away. Are there insights for us to reflect on about how events will unfold in the last days through this pandemic? I, for one, think yes.
As a patriotic independent American, I could never fathom how those global end-of-the-world scenarios could be possible. Then came Covid-19. In a matter of weeks the entire world, including the Church, was united in shutting down, getting in line with a global plan to bring an end to a serious issue. A global network of communication helped make that happen, and the reason for this kind of caution was legitimate and reasonable. But it did give me insight into the ease with which a worldwide movement could begin, and how fear can cause us to move with unity either towards good or bad solutions at a global scale.
Given an even more powerful virus than COVID-19, or some other global catastrophe, organizations like the World Health Organization can mobilize a global effort to shutdown, isolate, and medicate our lives. This would be good for us, of course, and we want to stay healthy and protected. But a few decades down the road, and it could become easier to see a humanist belief system attached to that help, a set of beliefs that those who want relief must adhere to in order to receive the government’s benefits. That kind of system could shut down churches again but without any end in sight, and the control over global economies could lead to limits on who can buy and sell. Big tech companies could create innovative ways to use cashless systems of payment, and such technologies are already being improved upon. All of it could sound like one of those Left Behind stories, but with today’s powerful technology, a global digital conversation, and talk of an increase in worldwide disasters, suddenly it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The point of this now, of course, is not to fear-monger; neither is it to make a judgment on the responses we’ve had to the current crisis. But it does provide an opportunity to gain wisdom and learn caution. The pandemic provides food for thought and a rare moment when thinking about the end-of-the-world may be helpful, not in giving dates and times but in giving a certain attitude that helps us be in the world but not of it. Like the old “frog in the kettle” idea, the Church doesn’t want to be caught in boiling water, off guard because it never thought of a growing worldwide philosophy or the implications of these increasing global disasters. The Church doesn’t want to refrain from thinking of measured approaches that show God’s love to the world but does not get swept away in the world’s humanism and repression. I certainly don’t want to be one of those “conspiracy theory” types, but I don’t want to avoid looking at how things may be, how we could be vigilant about our faith and our freedom, and then suddenly realize it’s too late; we’re being boiled and we didn’t even see it coming.
In the New International Commentary by Robert H. Mounce, I read the following on Revelation, Chapter 13: “John’s divinely revealed insights understood the end to be imminent. Although nearly 2,000 years have passed since he wrote Revelation, his understanding of the forces that will bring history to a close remains true. In the end Satan by means of his control over secular society will demand ultimate allegiance and deceitfully use every method available to gain the worship of the inhabitants of the world.” It’s interesting that Satan won’t just announce what he’s doing. He’ll “deceitfully use every method available,” including global health crises and other natural disasters, where looking to the world (and thereby to him) for help in the midst of chaos will seem like the best thing to do.
As we pass through Ascension Day and towards Pentecost, we can ask ourselves now how fear has gripped our hearts, if it has, and how the Holy Spirit can draw us closer to God in the midst of it. We can see the ways we have trusted in worldly institutions and worldly information more than we have trusted in God and in His Word. We can see if there have been, or if there remains, opportunities to point people around us, who are also afraid and looking to governments for all their security, to the Lord Jesus Christ. At their best, the healing of this pandemic, the reopening of our economy and the blessings we receive through that, and the hard work and sacrifice of those on the front lines are all windows of grace and should point us towards God’s kind providence. It’s when those good things replace the security we find in the Lord, however, that we must pause, pray, and pivot our minds back to the one who loves us most.