The Storm Before the Calm
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The Storm Before the Calm
Recently over a long weekend my wife and I attended a wedding. It was a lovely wedding with the bride and groom exchanging vows before God and witnesses in a beautiful outdoor setting. Friends and family came from across the country to witness the happy moment. Afterwards people mingled, ate, talked and caught up with friendships for hours over food and drink. It was all that a wedding should be, a celebration of a God-ordained institution and a blessing for the families.
Earlier in the year when we received the invitation in the mail, we thought how nice it would be in the spring to travel south and attend the wedding. Since then, a few things have changed. Gasoline prices have doubled, bumping up travel costs. Hotel room prices have increased with inflation, requiring more outlay there, yet it’s still manageable.
The nagging Covid virus still lingers. Before leaving on this trip a small outbreak of infection took place at a conference we attended, enough to remind us of that concern and all that has come with it. Russia invaded Ukraine during this period. While that war is far away from most of us, in time its impact will be felt by all of us. While millions in Ukraine go through severe tribulation, many of us are still free to move about our lands, live a normal life and go to weddings. Yet how long will that be the case?
The fact is, a severe storm is brewing. Thankfully the storm will ultimately break, but it will wreak great destruction before then. We need to pay attention.
Are we whistling past the graveyard?
Are we giving sober consideration to our world as we go about our lives? Or are we, as one expression puts it, whistling past the graveyard—putting on a cheerful demeanor while ignoring the hazard or crisis at hand?
As enjoyable as it was to attend the wedding, I admit to thoughts like, “Are we ignoring the reality of the times?” or “Do we really understand the serious moment of history we live in?” Don’t mistake my meaning. I fully believe that life should go on and that we must not put every pleasure on hold at this moment.
But Jesus did speak to just this moment when He made a well-known statement about the state of society in the days leading to His return, His second coming. Notice this in what’s known as His Olivet Prophecy (so named because it was delivered on the Mount of Olives or Mount Olivet next to Jerusalem), recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21:
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37-39).
Does this sound like today? I think it does. I thought about this verse while at the wedding. And I’m sure I’ll think about it again when I attend another wedding in a few months and any others after that.
We should all think about what Jesus said regarding the spirit of the times before His coming. Are we living in a time like that of the period before the Flood of Noah? Do Christ’s words speak to this moment, a time of great stress in world conditions that calls for vigilance? I think they do. Our time is like Christ’s description of Noah’s day. And that thought should awaken us to the dangers of the moment.
A terrible storm is coming
A lot of what I read now comes from people around the world who are trying to discern these times. I hear recognition with almost one voice that something has happened. It’s like a great undercurrent moving below the surface of world events, bringing with it vast changes in all parts of life. It brings with it uncertainty, unease and apprehension as to what will happen next.
Astute observers try to understand what’s happening and where it’s all leading. Some focus on the technology side, thinking it’s all material. Others see civilizational currents moving like shifting tectonic plates. Still others see vast spiritual forces at work and turn to religion for understanding. Scriptures are quoted. Old Testament allusions are brought out. One writer used the pagan god Molech to describe this moment as an insatiable hunger for the bodies and souls of people to be fed to its fiery presence.
The world has long known troubles throughout history, with terrible wars and other disasters rising to new heights in the world wars of the past century. For the past several decades, though, many nations have lived in relative security and calm.
But as Scripture warns us, this is a “calm before the storm.” The Bible describes a coming time of trouble unlike any since the beginning of history called the Great Tribulation (Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 30:7; Matthew 24:21).
The world will be thrown into massive upheaval. As Jesus further said in His Olivet Prophecy: “There will be . . . on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27).
He also says of this time: “It will be a time of great distress, such as there has never been before since the beginning of the world, and will never be again. If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive, but for the sake of God’s chosen it will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22, Revised English Bible).
Before Christ’s return there will occur a storm of such proportions that it will rock the foundations of civilization and threaten the human race with extinction. Do we see storm clouds on the horizon?
For more than two years we have experienced an upheaval of norms, unprecedented in our time and, when looked at in the span of history, potentially larger and more significant than any past period.
As many analysts are seeing, every component of modern society—business, education, media, technology, commerce—has been touched by recent events, and nearly everything has changed. While we might hope for a return to “normal,” a realistic assessment says we’ll likely not return to the world of just three years ago. This can be very unsettling. More than ever, we need to turn to God and His Word, the Bible, for understanding and a sane, balanced mind.
Jesus tells us to watch—to stay alert
Jesus gave His Olivet Prophecy in response to His disciples’ question, “What will bethe sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). He started with a summary list of rising trends—false Christian deception, wars and rumors of wars, famine and disease epidemics along with devastating natural disasters. He then continued into specific end-time events.
He quoted Daniel’s prophecy of the abomination of desolation, an ancient defilement of Jewish temple worship to yet be repeated in some form, and then spoke of the time of Great Tribulation already mentioned.
Common to all three accounts of Jesus’ prophecy are His statements sternly warning His disciples to watch, to pray, and to not be caught unaware by the coming events, unable to face them with courage and determination. Let’s look closely at what it means to watch and to understand so as to not be caught off guard. This is perhaps the most critical of lessons to take from Christ’s teaching.
The account in Mark 13 gives us a complete synopsis of Christ’s warning to His disciples. Understanding what His warning means for us today can provide the comfort and confidence to help us cope with these times.
After going through several signs showing the nearness of His return at the close of the age, He states: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.”
And then He gave an example to illustrate His point, comparing Himself to a man who leaves specific instructions for his servants and then departs on a long journey:
“It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (verses 32-37, emphasis added throughout).
Three times Jesus tells His followers to watch. What does He mean? The Greek word gregoreo, translated as “watch,” further means to stay alert, keep awake, pay attention and take heed. He knows well our human tendencies—that through neglect or laziness we could let down and be overcome with sin, or a sudden calamity could overwhelm us spiritually.
The watchman’s warning
The idea of watching is drawn from its use in the Old Testament period to describe what a prophet was to do for the nation, watching for danger and sounding a warning. We see this prominently in the assignment God gave to the prophet Ezekiel in warning the people of Israel. God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me” (Ezekiel 3:17).
The picture here was drawn from a watchman or sentinel on the lookout to safeguard fields or towns. In the ancient world of agrarian societies, watchtowers were built to overlook the fields. In the weeks the crops were ripening toward harvest, men would stand watch in these towers, guarding the fields from animals or thieves who would make off with the crops. With the community’s food supply at stake, the watchman’s role was critical to the townspeople.
Watchers were also positioned atop city walls in times of danger to survey the scene outside the fortifications. Perched on a spot from which to monitor the approaches to the town, a watchman would sound a warning if a threat appeared, and the town would shut and bar its gates in preparation for battle.
You can also imagine such a watcher standing vigil at other times, observing the daily life of the city. He could see much of the activity in the streets and markets. He knew the people, their work, their habits and their lifestyles. If his position was near the city gate, he could also observe the business of the city transacted by its officials (see Ruth 4:1-12). His watchfulness also served as a deterrent to crime, like a modern policeman.
In terms of the storm analogy of coming calamity, we can regard meteorologists today as modern watchmen to warn us of impending dangerous weather and direct us to take emergency steps as needed. We ignore their warnings at our peril.
Applying Jesus’ instruction to watch today in terms of societal morality and impending judgment involves an alert awareness of the trends of our world from a biblical perspective. It means evaluating cultural shifts and direction, significant political and geopolitical movements, education and religious trends from the teaching and insight of the Bible. It also involves a sound grasp of Bible prophecy, understanding how God has guided history to fulfill His purpose and where He is ultimately leading things.
Watching also means to examine our lives against the standard of the Word of God to see whether we meet its righteous standards and have a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son.
In telling us to watch and pray always that we may be accounted worthy to escape calamitous end-time events and stand before Him (Luke 21:36), Jesus shows that we are to be committed to living a godly life. And we are to recognize that the prime goal in life is to seek the values and life of the Kingdom of God now in a personal relationship with God and Christ so that we may live forever in the family of God (Matthew 6:33; Colossians 3:1-4).
This sacrificial role is not only about warning of calamity but in announcing when the danger is passing or when help is on the way, bringing a message of hope.
Declaring the end of the storm
When Jesus’ disciples were afraid in the midst of a raging storm, “He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). Even so, at Jesus’ return He will cause the end-time storm of destruction to cease and will bring great calm to the earth—a time of peace brought by His rule on the earth in the Kingdom of God. In this wonderful “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19-21), the whole world will at last learn and follow God’s ways.
God wants His watchmen to communicate this good news of coming rescue and salvation. Notice this in Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord brings back Zion.
“Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has made bare His holy arm [rolling up His sleeves, as it were] in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:7-10).
When Christ instructs us to watch and pray as a prophetic storm looms, He is in essence telling us to draw strength from the gospel during these dark times. The biblical truth that Christ will intervene in world affairs to end injustice, tragedy and corruption gives the visionary hope beyond all other failed promises of human institutions. The Kingdom of God is the only hope for the survival of humanity.
To Jerusalem and the land of Israel God says the watchmen will hold a constant prayer vigil for the peace of the people: “I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth . . .
“Go through, go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway! Take out the stones, lift up a banner for the peoples! Indeed the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the world: ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Surely your salvation is coming; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him”’” (Isaiah 62:6-11).
These watchmen, by their presence and prayers, seek to keep the people from suffering the ravaging effects of evil and to help them hold on to hope.
Called now to serve
These passages in Isaiah describe a group of godly people with unique insight into the world of today and the world to come. They understand the universal application of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. They see that God will bring that Kingdom to the earth and will offer salvation not just to Israel, but also to all nations. This group is God’s Church, the people who see their calling as not only to watch and to warn, but also to be a light of the coming Kingdom so others can see godly fruit and seek to develop it too.
Those of God’s Church also understand what’s fundamentally wrong with the world at the end of this age and what’s coming. They see the dark gathering storm clouds on the world’s horizon that spell the end of Satan’s reign as the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the author of all its evil. This leads them to mount the “walls” of society and shout a warning to any who will hear—to say in effect: “God is sovereign. He will bring a time of judgment on the world to prove that He alone is God. All other gods erected by people to hide His truth will be destroyed.”
Proclaiming this message includes showing any who listen the way to personal peace. The message presents the true teaching of God and the way to salvation. It’s also a message of how one can choose to escape the time of judgment God will bring on the world. Christ’s admonition to His disciples to be watching and alert points the way to understanding the times at the end of the age. This is one of the comforting aspects of the gospel message.
In a time of great distress, God lights a path forward. In the book of Amos we have a promise that God gives insight to and through His servants: “If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it? Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:6-8).
Jesus Christ was a prophet—in fact, the greatest of the prophets. He commissioned His disciples to take the gospel to the world. As part of its role the Church, the Body of Christ, understands the times as it submits to Him as the Head (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Christ tells us as disciples to watch and to pray so we are not caught unaware. He gives discernment to His people about the big events happening today, the ominous gathering storm of world-changing occurrences. Through the lens of the Bible and with the mind of Christ, a clear view of today’s world events can give us focus as to what all this means.
Jesus Christ and God the Father have committed to a purpose to bring together the diversity of peoples and cultures into the one family They are building—the family of God. When Christ tells us to watch and to pray, He is saying He will give understanding that will bring peace of mind and calm, determined strength. We don’t have to worry excessively about world events beyond our control.
We can take courage in knowing that God is in ultimate control of history and, yes, even allows the suffering and evil that happen for now within the context of His overall purpose. In fact, He has revealed to us that purpose as well as the outcome in general terms. Godly faith brings a peace that passes all understanding in the human realm (Philippians 4:7).
Why, then, does God allow a storm of evil and suffering to come on the world before Christ’s return? The answer lies in understanding the nature of man and the purpose of life. Again, God is creating a family, reproducing beings in His image, yet the current stage of humanity’s development is necessary to that supreme purpose. Each of us must choose to enter a covenant of obedience with God as a prelude to the gift of eternal life He promises. This vital knowledge is missed even by most people of faith.
Will you watch and pray?
You are likely a sincere person who believes in God, and you no doubt consider yourself on a track to receiving whatever promises of God you feel are in your future. Still, ask God to help you make sure you’re seeing the full picture. Recognize that you could be in the category of those who are deceived by Satan.
“The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19), for Satan the devil and arch-deceiver “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). The great deception Satan has placed on mankind is the reason for the great storm that is coming. He has blinded people’s minds (2 Corinthians 4:4) to the purpose for human life, the reason we were put on this exceptional planet by the Creator God. And without that vital understanding we have no context in which to place the coming storm.
Even if you are a passionate student of Bible prophecy, with knowledge of the signs of Christ’s coming, you can still be missing the important connection of why these times of trouble will come. Christ’s warning to “watch and pray” by itself is not enough. We must watch and pray within the context of broader understanding of God’s Word, especially the steps in God’s plan of salvation. These steps are represented in God’s appointed annual festivals revealed in the Bible. At these times God’s elect assemble before Him to remember and rehearse the grand meaning of human existence.
God’s biblical festivals show His plan to bring many children into His divine family. That plan, in place before the foundation of the world, calls for faith in Christ as the Lamb of God. Each of the festivals show an aspect of Christ’s work to bring eternal salvation to the world (see "The Biblical Festivals That Teach Us About Jesus Christ" beginning on page 24). When you understand and celebrate these days in spirit and truth, you see God guiding this world through the storms of trial and difficulty to the time of calm represented by the Kingdom of God on the earth after Christ’s second coming.
The worst storm ever is coming—but the storm will break when Christ returns. Stay alert and hold fast through the storm to the peace and calm God has promised!