ISIS is rapidly on the move and continues to barbarically slaughter Christians daily and destroy physical structures that remotely smell of the Christian faith. As technology advances (or digresses depending on how we look at it), the atrocities of ISIS against both innocent civilians and war combatants have caused much of the western world to graphically see the raw hatred that these terrorists have for anyone their religion defines as an “infidel.” ISIS has loudly and triumphantly declared that they are not only against Christianity, but that they are also bringing into present reality their greatly beloved and anticipated caliphate. While the rise of ISIS has not taken God by surprise, the response of many Christians has been concerning when it comes to both eschatology and to their attitude towards the persecution of the Church.
There are 2 dangers or pitfalls I see taking place in Christian circles. They are avoidable and thankfully are rectifiable. First, many Christians (or should I say the louder voices in certain Christian circles) have taken out their eschatological charts, either added new lines to these charts or brushed dust off old lines, and have begun anew another futile and ineffectual cycle of attempting to pin major eschatological events on current events. ISIS and any other perceived enemies of God (both foreign and domestic) that seem to be gaining strength and popularity are given special attention. Many have gone to great depths to speculate whether the Anti-Christ is alive and is just waiting to reveal himself in a moment’s notice (or at least most-probably in the next 15-20 years) to either squash an ISIS-like caliphate and bring world peace or possibly utilize such a caliphate for world domination. While such a pitfall gets attention, I would suggest it gets attention for the wrong reasons.
By enlisting confusion and fear in the hearts of the Church (and unsaved) through speculation, the whole goal of apocalyptic genre in Scripture to strengthen the faith, hope, and endurance of God’s people is ignored. A true understanding of God’s Word, especially in apocalyptic and eschatological passages, results in an overflow of faith and hope in God that is seen through radical trust and obedience. The caliber of Spirit-empowered obedience that causes a Christian to endure torture, mutilation, and death rather than deny the name of Jesus Christ does not come from eschatological charts or speculation. It comes from the bigger picture of resting in God’s promise that He has already overcome. Truth matters. And so do the details of eschatological revelation but only as they fit the bigger (and simpler) picture God is intending for application: trust and obey. I readily hold to a premillennial and pretribulational perspective, but that is honestly not what drives me since every eschatological perspective has holes. That is OK though, because these “holes” were created by the Holy Spirit so we really wouldn’t even try to figure it all out and get off track in our focus.
Daniel asked how everything would work out after he was given bizarre and shocking apocalyptic revelation. It was not wrong for Daniel to ask how it would all take place, but God said that was not the point for Him giving such revelation. God wanted Daniel (and His people) to be faithful, to trust, and to obey while believing that He was in control of both the big things as well as the personal things in our lives (Daniel 12:8-13). Is it wrong to study eschatological and apocalyptic Scriptural passages to discover how God wants us to live for Him while on earth? Definitely not, for they are designed to give us a clear message: trust and obey God, even if life gets extremely difficult, because God knows exactly how everything is going to take place. Are eschatological charts sinful? No, but if they detract from the message of the Text, then they are not helpful. Is it wrong to speculate about how and when God is going to work with the result that we use confusing fear tactics and eschatological charts to appeal to people’s emotions? Yes, definitely.
Everyone would agree that the “terrorists” in Jonah’s day were far more powerful, far more persuasive, far more dominating and far crueler than ISIS or any other present terrorist group has yet become. And yet, we see God sending a message of grace to the city of Nineveh. We see the rapid advance of a Greek king’s empire followed by the steel fist of Rome spread throughout the known world. History reveals God harnessing sinful dynasties and empires to both birth His Church and advance its missionary journeys by utilizing the technological and cultural tools already in place.
Suffice it to say, God does not operate on the timetable of terrorists or ornately drawn eschatological charts. God operates on His sovereign and eternal design. He has provided a minutia of special revelation concerning His eternal plan but the great majority of His eternal design will never be revealed until it progressively takes place. God does what He wants to do, when He wants to do it, in the way in which He wants to do it. Whenever God acts in power, it shocks us and surprises us, because He is the Creator and we are not. So how do we live? We trust and obey Him with radical confidence.
A second danger I see comes from the other side of the spectrum where Christians are basically apathetic to what is going in the slaughtering of their brothers and sisters in Christ. While they would say that they truly do care for and feel bad that such terrible things are taking place, their actions show that they really do not care that much. Since ISIS is not actively beheading their siblings or children, accounts of persecution are definitely concerning but do not seem concerning enough to them to really pray about. The stark reality though is that their siblings are being butchered and burned alive! It is our brothers and sisters in Christ who are dying for the faith. While ISIS has appeared boldly before our eyes due to advancement in technology, the brutal persecution of the Church has been constant since her founding. The Adversary has been doing everything he can to harm and distract the Church through the ages. But his plan continues to backfire; it has never worked and never will. As the famed phrase says, God has been pleased to use the martyr blood of His Church to water and plant the seeds of the Gospel so that His Church continues to advance and grow, even more rapidly during intense persecution.
The danger of apathy towards the persecution of the Church results in the same outcome as that of eschatological surmising: immobilization. One pitfall yields to speculation and fear while the other yields to apathy and indifference. I would suggest that both pitfalls result in misalignment with the Gospel focus that the Spirit wants us to have. The first is misaligned by trying to decipher apocalyptic writings that God never intended for us to totally understand because He wants us to trust and obey Him through making disciples instead of “playing God.” The other is misaligned because a pathetic lack of love and concern for brothers and sisters in Christ naturally causes an apathy and lack of love for the lost. This self-induced immobilization is a roadblock to Gospel advancement.
So how then should we live and how should the Church respond to terrorists, persecution, and the death of Christians? I would suggest, by quoting a brother in Christ on the front lines of Gospel advancement, that we as the Church (both foreign and domestic) should, “Pray. Find people. Tell them about Jesus.” Yes, it’s really that simple but it also is really that intense.
(1) Pray. Pray for the lost. Pray for the redeemed. Pray for God to open the eyes of the lost—like those in the satanic camp of ISIS. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are being persecuted to have boldness—don’t just pray for the persecution to stop. It’s easy to pray for the beating and beheading to stop, but it takes greater faith and trust to pray for God to give boldness and grace through the atrocities. Pray for God to bring people across your path and pray for boldness to live out the Gospel to them in word and practice. Pray for God’s Kingdom to come and for His will to be beautiful and clear to you. Pray for your eyes to be opened to the needs of the lost and the needs of the saved. Pray for truth to rule the day in the hearts of God’s Church instead of confusion and fear.
(2) Find people. They are all around you. Don’t waste time pouring over eschatological charts and diagrams to the extent that you are not telling people about Jesus. Don’t waste time focusing on your own desires rather than on the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be actively searching for people to share Jesus with and be praying for those Gospel partners (both foreign and domestic) who are doing the same.
(3) Tell them about Jesus. Jesus is returning soon—He is bringing His rewards with Him—He has already won—He calls you to be faithful in making disciples—this is the message of Revelation or any other apocalyptic passage. So tell people about Jesus! They don’t need to know about the seals, bowls, vials, or trumpets to be saved—they need to know about Jesus! Eschatology was given by God to His people to bolster trust and obedience. Do not allegorize or spin God’s Word to make it inspire confusing speculation, fear, and immobilization. Stop confusing Christians over things that really don’t matter when they are misapplied. Rather, excite Christians about the Conquering Lamb of God who is gathering people from every “tribe, tongue, and nation” into His harvest field of faith. And yes, He is doing it today right before our eyes through ISIS! When the Church sees Jesus for who He is—when He is revealed correctly before our eyes—then the Church responds with radical trust and obedience. That is why God gave us The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The Church is grown and matured through Gospel advancement, not through speculation, fear, or apathy.
Remind the Church constantly about Jesus. Preach the commands of Jesus to His Church. See the lives of God’s Church become channels of grace and love from Jesus Christ to their brothers and sisters worldwide. Also, as the Church is built up through the living out of true doctrine, rejoice as the message of the Gospel springs forth to give light and freedom to those under the blinding power of Satan (2 Corinthians 4:1-7).
Christians must not become unfocused and immobilized when it comes to the Gospel message. Do not let ISIS, misapplied eschatology, unloving apathy, or any other distraction keep you from “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-3) and telling others about His grace and glory.