In today’s Reflection I’m looking at why we can be encouraged, even as we think about ‘End Times’ and God’s judgement. We don’t know if we are in such a time, but suppose we are? Jesus described the various signs that will accompany ‘End Times’ as ‘the beginning of birth pains.’ Painful, but the pain will pass, and we’ll be in a much better situation. But what exactly do we have to look forward to?
I want to stick with the Old Testament for the moment. To find some answers I’m going to a passage that is encouraging, difficult and tantalizing. It’s Isaiah 65:17-25. It starts like this: ‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth…’ God then tells us that we have joy, rejoicing and gladness to look forward to! God is speaking of ‘heaven’, isn’t he? But as we continue, the passage gets very interesting:
No more shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed (20)
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be (22)
People dying? Sinners? Accursed? Trees live a long time, but aren’t we going to live forever? One commentator scratches his head and notes astutely, ‘The reference to death and a curse on the sinner presents some problems, for one would not expect these to be present in the new heavens and the new earth’. No, one would not! Everyone struggles and no one has a good answer. Possible answers are:
(A) Isaiah is speaking of heaven, and these words don’t mean what they appear to mean.
(B) He is speaking of Christ’s future 1000-year reign, as referred to in Revelation 20. Some Christians don’t believe this is intended literally.
(C) He is suggesting that mankind will return to the longevity of the age before the Flood. There are many parallels between Genesis and Revelation, so that is not too strange an idea.
I don’t like (A). I don’t like to assume that words in the Bible mean something other than they appear to mean. So, I’m inclined towards (B) or (C) or perhaps some combination of both. But of course, I don’t know which is correct! We are all left wondering. But I’m going to continue to wander down this path. During this 1000-year reign of Jesus (if that’s what it refers to), life on earth continues. Satan has been thrown into a pit, Jesus is in charge, and life is much, much better:
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat (21-22a)
They shall not labour in vain
or bear children for calamity (23a)
That sounds all right, doesn’t it? Well, now that I am in such a good groove, I’m going to really let my imagination run wild… We’re imagining Christ’s 1000-year reign, as described in Revelation 20. In Revelation 18 there is economic collapse and in Revelation 19 a great battle. At the end of Revelation 19 we don’t read of Mary Poppins appearing. Earth is a mess. Then Jesus starts to reign. What do we imagine he will do? To me, the idea of getting to grips with messy old Earth and sorting it out for 1000 years, with Jesus as boss, sounds like a lot of fun! OK, the Bible doesn’t say that’s what we’ll do! I’m just imagining! My big fat book on theology says, ‘there is … little theological rationale for the millennium. It seems to be somewhat superfluous.’ Well, maybe it isn’t. Maybe there will be a job to do! But please note. This is for those who stick with it. Revelation 20:4 tells us, ‘They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.’ Look at the verse to see who ‘they’ refers to. (N.B. It’s better to look at the ESV than the NIV!)
And then, heaven comes down to earth. That’s what Revelation 21 tells us. Heaven on earth! But that’s another subject entirely!
I’m excited! We have much to look forward to. And that, in turn, helps us to not be too dismayed at the prospect of ‘birth pains’.
Have a good day and God bless.