We can scarcely describe our state of affairs better than a recent article in Britain's Independent on Sunday: "If you go to the opera you risk being taken hostage. If you go on holiday you might be blown up. If you stop for petrol you could be shot by a sniper. Open a letter—does it contain anthrax? What's going on these days? Where will the next outrage be?" The message is clear: We live in a dangerous world.
Yet these aren't the worst possibilities. As more nations upgrade their stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the likelihood of unfathomable terrors unleashed on Western countries continues to increase.
Religious fanaticism and extremist governments grow more threatening. In response, uneasy nations sense the need to build political, military and economic coalitions in an attempt to bring stability to an increasingly uncertain world.
It's no wonder people increasingly feel uncertainty and unease. In the post-Sept. 11 world, simpler and safer times seem to be gone forever.
Danger from those with little to lose
The 1,400-year struggle between Christianity and Islam is heating up in many places around the world, bringing armed conflict and civil war. Citizens in several European nations are increasingly favoring extreme-right political candidates who advocate action to alleviate their fear of foreigners. Solutions to ethnic rivalries are creeping back into politics at levels not seen since World War II.
Meanwhile, several smaller nations have attempted to expunge ethnic groups from within their borders—including Iraq, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia. In other countries the brewing confrontations between diverse populations are nearing flash points.
Historically, small underdog groups have shown that they will resort to desperate measures. Terror emanates from little groups more commonly than from larger nations because, in their view, they have so little to lose and potentially much to gain by unleashing destruction on civilization in unpredictable and inhumane ways.
Consider the potential of their exploiting the caches of thousands of chemical and biological munitions of the former Soviet Union that were warehoused near its perimeter. The breakup of the U.S.S.R. meant that small independent states inherited many of its deadly weapons. Exactly how many exist—and where they all are—is unknown. These often backward and impoverished countries are cash-poor, with many potential buyers lining up for their weapons of mass destruction. This concern doesn't even address the former Soviet Union's nuclear weapons.
Regional skirmishes and isolated outbreaks of terror may not seem to be high risks for the world's population at large. However, we're already seeing that these specific incidents may draw the larger powers into attempting radical solutions for the threats and other problems they face. Christ's end-time prophecy warns that a period of "great tribulation" will come suddenly on the whole world. The flash point will be an occurrence in the Middle East (Matthew 24:15-21).
The Bible teaches that events will mushroom into a global melee with several powers fighting for control. The loss of life from the resulting wars, famines and pestilence is forecast in the book of Revelation to include a great part of the world's population. (For more understanding of these endtime events, please request our free booklets Are We Living in the Time of the End? and The Book of Revelation Unveiled.)
Why is this happening?
The escalating collapse of ethics and morals in many countries is a symptom of a deeper sickness and out-of-control internal problems. Many in our self-centered world seem hell-bent on living any way they please. Our societies stifle anyone who opposes their self-serving appetite. People weigh in for a bigger slice of the pleasure pie. They seem willing to do anything in their lust for power, possessions and prestige. Meanwhile, traditions, customs, culture and laws based on the Bible are casually cast aside.
At almost every turn we see an escalation of brutality, violence, slander, theft and sexual perversion. In Western civilization this is matched with a determined effort to remove any mention of God and His standards from public life.
The apostle Paul warned of an age like ours when he wrote that "there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . ." (2 Timothy 3:1-4, New International Version, emphasis added throughout).
God's Word has forecast this slide into lawlessness and moral depravity since ancient times. Vivid descriptions of where it ultimately leads are mentioned widely throughout the Scriptures. More and more we live in societies that, the Bible forewarned, "parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves" (Isaiah 3:9, NIV).
Right on the heels of the prophesied degeneration of this era comes escalating worldwide violence and terror unlike anything we have ever seen. Jesus Christ warns that "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 . . ."
(Matthew 24:21-22, Revised English Bible). This devastating time will climax with the intervention of Christ's second coming- to save mankind from annihilation.
What about you?
If global turmoil escalates to such proportions in your lifetime,what will happen to you?
Don't think it couldn't happen. The last century saw two world wars that took the lives of tens of millions, not to mention countless smaller conflicts that killed and maimed millions more. Even now the seeds are being sown for the next worldwide inferno. Will you be swept away to suffer the same fate as the lawless and ungodly? Or will you summon the spiritual courage to swim upstream and uphold God's way of life?
Throughout the Bible this one theme is constant: God blesses the righteous and lets the sinners suffer the consequences of their rejection of Him. The reason involves the very purpose for which God created man in the first place. Each person, at some point, must choose one of two ways. Either we choose the way of selfishness, the mentality of Satan the devil (John 8:44; Galatians 5:19-21), or we choose and live a way of selflessness and concern for others that expresses God's mind and character (Galatians 5:22-23).
Most of humanity has chosen the way that comes most naturally to us, the way that "is hostile to God" and "does not submit to God's law" (Romans 8:7, NIV). But, while many have been offered the opportunity to learn God's way and begin living it, only a few have embraced the godly way of thinking and living exemplified by Christ and followed by the apostles and the saints (Matthew 7:13-14; 22:14).
Meanwhile, a man-made religion bearing the name of Christianity has permeated Western civilization for millennia and successfully masked many fundamental biblical truths. In addition to fostering fables and unbiblical rules and traditions, it has spawned violence, bloodshed and wars since its inception. The Bible prophesies that at the time of the end a great false religious system, symbolized prophetically as a prostitute, will sit atop an alliance of nations that will bring the world to the brink of annihilation (see Revelation 17).
But amid the political, moral and religious confusion around us are people whom God has chosen to be different. They form an early crew of "fellow workers" and spiritual children that His Word refers to as "saints" and "firstfruits" (Philippians 4:3; Romans 16:15; James 1:18). Those who have received and are guided by God's Spirit have a spiritual Father; they are spiritual children of His divine family. They are coheirs with Christ of the Kingdom of God and will rule with Him over the people of earth after His return (Revelation 5:10; 20:4).
Regrettably, terrible times will come before that day arrives. During this ominous period all who choose to live selfish and ungodly lives will face head-on the disasters spelled out in the book of Revelation and in other biblical prophecies.
But what about those who follow the will of their heavenly Father? Will they fare any better during the perilous times ahead?
The honest answer is twofold. On the one hand, Jesus warned His followers they would suffer persecution (Matthew 10:17-18). But the type of persecution He spoke of is not that of being sucked along with humanity into a vortex of war to be lost along with the masses. Rather, He described a form of courageously serving God in the face of the world's animosity (John 15:20).
Martyrs down through the ages have been singled out for persecution—primarily by human leaders (religious and secular)—for their rejection of a society in moral and religious collapse (Matthew 24:9; Hebrews 11:35-40). Paradoxically, God also promises protection for His spiritual children.
God loves His own
Throughout the Scriptures those whom God has chosen to be "His own special people" (1 Peter 2:9) have had His eye and ear on them. God calls these people in advance of the rest of humanity to be the "firstfruits" of billions whom He will ultimately include in His plan and bring into His family (James 1:18).
An example of God's care even in the midst of martyrdom is found in the book of Acts, where Stephen proclaimed God's truth to a hostile crowd (Acts 6-7). His message incited a lethal reaction from his audience, which stoned him to death.
But a closer reading of the story shows that God was supporting Stephen throughout the ordeal, from inspiring his words and actions to miraculously making his face seem like that of an angel. As Stephen died, God reassured him with a dramatic vision showing the Father and Son in heaven. Clearly, Stephen would live again through the resurrection of the saints at Christ's return. In spite of his dire circumstances, how encouraging this whole event must have been to Stephen!
Jesus and the Father are partners with those They have called to be the firstfruits of the divine family. God is faithful to His people and promises He will be with them. "For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'So we may boldly say: 'The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6).
In the Father's ultimate wisdom, some become martyrs for the sake of the Kingdom of God, to be resurrected later. Yet other believers' lives are miraculously spared now.
Either way the life of a saint is precious to God. He has a purpose for every true Christian.
Who will be spared?
Just as God warns of the consequences of unrighteous conduct, He promises blessings for those faithful to His commandments and teachings. Consider some specific prophecies of events that will happen in the coming time of the Great Tribulation:
"And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book [of life]" (Daniel 12:1).
"Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him" (Isaiah 3:10-11).
A passage in Revelation indicates that God plans to spare His people, granting them His protection during the 3 1/2 years of tribulation and wrath that will come on humanity (Revelation 12:14). This is affirmed in other prophecies (see Zephaniah 2:3; Revelation 3:10).
Jesus' dark prophecy about the climactic events that will rip the world apart just before His second coming is prefaced with a positive statement to His followers: "Pray that your flight [their escape] will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened" (Matthew 24:20-22, NIV).
Will you be spared?
At a time known only to God, this present society will complete its irreversible, selfdestructive path that will take it to the brink of annihilation. God's true followers will not be part of that process, not be part of that mentality and not be part of that society. Rather, they will identify with a different kingdom (Hebrews 11:13-16) and long for the setting up of the righteous government of Christ on earth. They are those God will be closely involved with, whatever their circumstances may be.
A passage in Luke's account of Christ's end-time prophecy highlights the primary hope of God's people: "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near" (Luke 21:28). In this context, that redemption means eternal spirit life in the Kingdom of God, the primary goal of every true Christian. (To learn more about that Kingdom, please request our free booklet The Gospel of the Kingdom.)
But will you be one of those God is using for His purpose? Will you repent of humanly devised religious beliefs and traditions purporting to please God while actually rejecting Him, His commands and His ways?
The times ahead are forecast to wake us up to the truth. We need to be deadly serious about our dedication to doing the will of God in our lives from here on!
Referring to God and His awesome power (Hebrews 12:29), Isaiah the prophet was inspired to ask: "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isaiah 33:14).
These questions impact every person alive at the beginning of the prophesied Great Tribulation. The answer follows in the next verses: "He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, he who despises the gain of oppressions, who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil: He will dwell on high; his place of defense will be the fortress of rocks; bread will be given him, his water will be sure" (verses 15-16).
Shouldn't you follow Christ's instruction in Luke 21:34-36 and ask God to bring you to a right spiritual condition, striving to yield to His guidance, so that He will consider you worthy to escape these calamitous things that are coming on the world and to stand before Him at His return? GN