Are these the “last days”? In Luke 21, Jesus made three predictions.
One: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (v. 10).
Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that the Russian Navy would be armed with hypersonic nuclear strike weapons and underwater nuclear drones. Such weapons would be difficult for the US to track and intercept.
Experts say the risk of military conflict between the US and China is higher than ever. After the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “If we bend the knee now, our children’s children may be at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Two: “There will be earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (v. 11).
Regarding “earthquakes,” a magnitude 7.8 quake struck off the coast of Alaska last week. Regarding “famines and pestilences,” as of this morning, COVID-19 has infected more than sixteen million people and caused more than 648,000 deaths. Experts say the pandemic has put 265 million people at risk of famine.
Regarding “terrors and great signs from heaven,” Hurricane Hanna made landfall in South Texas Saturday afternoon, flooding streets and knocking out power. And Hurricane Douglas is brushing the Hawaiian Islands this morning, bringing as much as eight inches of rain.
Three: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you” (v. 12).
China is escalating its persecution of Christians: Believers are being jailed for praying online and even official churches are being closed. The Communist government is supervising a new Bible translation. Chinese citizens are being urged to use an app dedicated to President Xi’s sayings that gives the government backdoor access to their social media, contacts, and internet history.
What does “last times living” look like?
My purpose this morning is not to predict the return of Christ. God’s word divides history into the “former times” before the Messiah comes and the “last times” after his coming. Biblically, therefore, we have been in the “last times” since Jesus’ incarnation (Acts 2:17; Hebrews 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20).
While Christians disagree about the degree to which the “signs of the times” will intensify toward the end of history, we can all agree on this fact: we are one day closer to Jesus’ return than ever before.
In the meantime, how are we to live in these chaotic days? How are God’s people to respond to political conflict, natural disasters, and rising persecution? In other words, what does “last times living” look like?
After describing some “signs of the times,” our Lord stated: “This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:13). “Bear witness” translates the Greek marturion, from which we get “martyr.” We are to make public our faith in perilous days whatever the cost to ourselves.
Why we are losing the rhetorical high ground
Richard Rorty was one of the most influential thinkers of our time. He did much to promote and popularize the postmodern claim that all truth claims are subjective (which is an objective truth claim, by the way). There are “truths” but no “Truth.”
However, Rorty also acknowledged that it is difficult to live in a world with no certainties. As a result, societies develop pragmatic values that become their public “Truth.” As Nathanael Blake notes, such “Truth” is produced by emotion and intensity of belief more than by reason.
As a result, American evangelicals are losing the rhetorical high ground on moral issues.
“Freedom” and “equality” are examples of values held deeply and passionately by Americans. Consequently, pro-abortion advocates gain the cultural high ground when they accuse pro-life supporters of waging a war on “reproductive freedom.” Same-sex marriage advocates employ a similar strategy with their support for “marriage equality.” Generational shifts on abortion and a public reversal on same-sex marriage (60 percent were opposed in 2004 vs. 61 percent who support today) demonstrate the effectiveness of these strategies.
In response, Christians should declare and defend biblical values in ways that resonate with a public persuaded by emotion. For example, telling our personal story is vital and effective (cf. John 9:25). And we need to match the passion of those who champion ungodliness with our passionate love for our Lord and our neighbor.
The “god” that is our enemy
As we do, we should admit a second fact: evangelicals will pay an escalating price to declare unpopular Truth.
The cancel-culture phenomenon shows that it is easier than ever to attack those whose beliefs conflict with public “Truth.” (For more, see my paper on cancel culture here.) If you risk bringing your Sunday values into your Monday world, you are likely to experience what Jesus predicted: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
However, those who oppose biblical truth are not our enemies. Since “the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,” we should not be surprised when they reject “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). That “god” is their enemy and ours.
In “last days living,” however long it lasts, telling our story and promoting biblical truth with courage and compassion is the greatest gift we can give the eternal souls we influence.
How generous will you be today?