THIS week’s story is about seeing beyond earthly conflict to God’s promise of peace and just order. It’s a story of historic opposition to God and the various ways it is played out, contrasted with a vision of what God’s good and peaceful rule looks like.
It is told through excerpted Bible readings:
- a late prophecy which concludes the book of Isaiah with his vision of the recreated community of God’s people enjoying long life, peace and the joy of His presence, then
- Jesus foretelling a time when the massive temple edifice would be pulled down and and His disciples would encounter difficult times, rounding off with
- advice to a young church about recognising the divisive people who will arise, and how to avoid being led astray by them.
This is Seeing Through the Pain and into the Promise. Jesus was clear that His coming would be divisive – the best thing ever, for those who are open to Him, but a source of conflict for others.
Peter taught that believers have to learn to honour God while living as strangers on Earth – actually a phrase used by the prophets and going right back to God’s original covenant with Abram. God’s righteousness has always been a focus for spiritual attack.
But at the same time, God is always working for the salvation of those who are His. The praise of those who recognise what He is doing is a powerful weapon. With faith, we can see through the pain to rejoice in God’s promise. It’s like writing the thank-you letter for the present you know is on its way.
Here are some headline words of praise from Psalm 98. God’s judgment is inescapable – but for those who know His love, and who love Him, it is the announcement of His righteous and fair rule – that’s the “Your kingdom come” of our most familiar prayer.
The Lord has made His salvation known… all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music… for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
Psalm 98 excerpted
This final salvation and harmony between earth and heaven, is what Isaiah sees in the Spirit. In Isaiah 65 it forms the grand finale to his prophetic book. All the prophecies comes together in this view ahead, to a time when all pain and conflict have been swept away in a new creation order. A time where the people of God, symbolised by the New Jerusalem, are released to live long and fruitful lives. Even the predatory instincts of the animal kingdom is revolutionised under God’s rule of peace.
- See also The Living Word Bible Study which is a verse-by-verse look at the Bible readings set (in the interdenominational Revised Common Lectionary widely used by churches and chapels) for Sunday, November 13. The Bible study is the basis for this article.
- View or listen to the podcast ‘Seeing through the Pain into the Promise’ on video or podcast audio
“I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered…
Be glad and rejoice forever… for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy… the sound of weeping… will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days… the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child.
They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.
..”They will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants… Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
“The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox… They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
Isaiah 65:17-25 excerpted
Jesus also talked about times to come. But in this excerpt from Luke 21, it is mainly about difficulties His disciples will experience after He had risen. Some things He says are clearly close at hand, while others speak to us about a range of conflicts we experience; they affect both us as people, and the quality of the environment we live in. Let’s hear this in Jesus words:
Some of Jesus’ disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones… But Jesus said…
“As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
They asked when these things would happen, and what would be the sign.
Jesus replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.
“When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen… but the end will not come right away.”
“Nation will rise against nation… there will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
“Before all this, they will seize you, hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors… all on account of My name.
“And so you will bear testimony to Me.
“But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
“You will be betrayed… by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends. They will put some of you to death.
“Everyone will hate you because of Me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.”
Luke 21:5-19 excerpted
The temple, the priesthood and the exclusivity of its worship, have all gone. For ever. We must be careful not to try to recreate it, to satisfy a need we perceive, to experience God in a regularised and repeatable way.
What other relationship can you think of that works like that? If you can think of an answer, it’s probably robotic and artificial. And God our loving and personal Father is the opposite of that. Our experience of God is never predictable; the Holy Spirit is who He is, beyond our reach for manipulation.
The temple went because it was an edifice to man’s pride and an obstacle to the “new thing” God was doing in the New Covenant He established through Jesus. This is how we — or any comer of any ethnicity, social level or political orientation — can come to a majestic, glorious and holy God, from our low position of flawed and self centred humanness. God in His holiness cannot countenance our sin, but His Son, through the greatest self-sacrifice. has made a way for us to be made right with God, not through any efforts of ours, but through His work of redemption for us by dying on a Roman cross.
This truth has been rediscovered and relived by each generation for almost two millennia. And the spiritual battle to confuse and bury this truth has continued. It’s a propaganda war between the truth of Heaven and the falsehood and distracting accusations of Satan, the enemy of our souls. And it seems that the whole of creation has been unsettled and destabilised by this intensifying conflict, giving rise to terrestrial phenomena, pandemics, famines, and wars fought with the munitions of propaganda as well as physical destruction. There is more persecution of Jesus-honouring faith-upholding Christians now, than at any time in the past, even in the religious wars of the Reformation.
God’s truth is mightily powerful in setting us free. And the only counter to the power of this truth is the lie that it is not believable, or not entirely believable. Or that it is something else — offering a substitute with enough similarities to take in the unwary and spiritually vulnerable.
This is the essence of the warning Paul teaches the believers in Thessalonica, which we hear in this excerpt from 2 Thessalonians 3:
Brothers and sisters, keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
You know how to follow our example. We were not idle, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you — not because we do not have the right to such help, but to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.
When we were with you, the rule was “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
Yet we hear that some among you are idle and disruptive busybodies. Such people we urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.
And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
2 Thess. 3:6-13 excerpted
Wherever the kingdom of God advances, there is a spiritual counter-move, and this is being played out in the new Christian fellowship growing in Thessalonica. Churches should represent a mixture, spiritual and unspiritual, not-yet-Christians with new believers, rubbing shoulders with the spiritually mature. That’s how we grow.
But in the spiritually-conflicted ones, still bound up in the old nature rather than set free by the truth into the new nature in Christ, the leading of the Holy Spirit is replaced by the control of man and a religious mindset. Jesus pointed out the trials coming to His followers, His authority and freedom in them being challenged by man’s never-satisfied desire to rule and to regulate. And Isaiah hinted at the dark nature of “the former things” while bringing a focus on a distant salvation picture of heavenly peace and perfection.
But, believer, hold on to the vision, stand firm in faith, work for the kingdom and never tire of doing good. This is God’s message coming out of His word in this story and it is our encouragement, because this is how we experience His presence with us. We pray for His kingdom to come, knowing that its fulfilment is not yet but we can experience it in part in our worship and walk with God. And this is how we see through the pain and uncertainty, conflict and confusion, to a growing sense of the reality of His glorious promise which we know we will see clearly in eternal life.