Getting Ready for the End

Wisdom's Friend

Getting Ready for the End

How you view death–and life, for that matter–is going to become more and more important as we quickly progress into these last days. For we have been told by our Lord in many ways that the last days will bring to their climax both good and evil (Rev. 22:11) and that times of stress and peril will greatly increase (2 Tim. 3:1-5, Mt. 24:21-22). We must be ready to go through these trying times.

“For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7-8 NIV).

But just how does a believer in Jesus go about making himself or herself ready for the troublesome times of the end? It is not by hoarding food and having a supposedly safe hideout in the countryside, although if the Lord so guides a person in that direction, then that may be a part of that person’s deliverance (Prov. 22:3). But even more important is the spiritual and moral preparation. For a major reason for the troubles of the end time will be God’s wrath over the sin and evil in the world (Is. 13:11). Therefore, whoever would be free from those troubles must be ready to free himself or herself from sin in one’s life.

“If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work” (2 Tim. 2:21 NIV).

It is a good work to be the light of God in the ever-increasing darkness of the world in the end times (Mt. 5:14). And a light on a hill cannot be hid. Thus, if we are to show the world the one way to escape the darkness of those times (and all times), we must be willing to stay with those in the darkness and go through it with them. This will mean suffering with them, if necessary, as things descend into great trials and suffering in the world. Whether or not God chooses such a pathway for the individual believer or chooses to deliver that believer without such trials, only the Lord alone knows. But we must be ready for either possibility.

“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:22-23 NIV).

“it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20-21 NIV).

“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8 NIV).

These two possibilities await all who believe in the Lord as this world nears its end: a life of drawn-out reduction in living standards in the midst of tremendously increased hardships, or possibly more intense suffering but of shorter duration at the hands of increasingly wicked nations and peoples, followed by death. One way we ready ourselves for the end is thus to cleanse ourselves of all unrighteousness. Another is to re-examine our view of death.

Not surprisingly, there is a huge difference in how believers and unbelievers view death. This is because those who believe in Jesus have been delivered from the fear of death (Heb. 2:14,15) through their union into Jesus Christ, who has said:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25-26 NIV).

Yet, even believers experience grief and sorrow when a loved one dies, as did Jesus at the death of Lazarus (Jn. 11:35). Jesus was one hundred percent human, just as he was one hundred percent God. Therefore, in his human nature, Jesus wept at the death of a loved one. “Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!'” (Jn. 11:36).

But others witnessing this natural expression of sorrow at a loved one’s death had a very pertinent question about all this:

“But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man (Jn. 9:6) have kept this man from dying?'” (Jn. 11:37 NIV).

Indeed. This question raises yet another question: Why was Jesus crying? Was it solely the natural, human reaction to a loved one’s death? Or was there something more to those tears? Was Jesus, with his greater knowledge and wisdom and vision of God, at the same moment angry at the power of death to take away life from the precious human beings created by God to enjoy life? Was he experiencing both the human sorrow of death and the consequence of divine knowing of the deeper depths of this thing called death–a depth of knowing that only God can have of the deeper realities of existence? Was he angry that such a horrendous power should exist that could bring such sorrow and grief to human beings whom God loved so much? Perhaps he who is love as well as life (Jn. 14:6), was at that moment, experiencing a preview of what was soon to come in his own life: dying on the cross and doing battle with death and the devil in order to destroy death once for all for all who would believe in him.

So the question asked by some at the death of Lazarus is a far deeper question than may at first appear. Could not Jesus, who healed the blind man, have prevented Lazarus from succumbing to the deeper darkness of death? The answer, of course, is yes. Jesus, as the Son of God, had at his disposal all the power of the Father; he could do anything he desired to do. But Jesus always desired to do only what the Father wanted. So the answer to their question is really the same answer he gave previously to those who challenged his actions–or inactions.

“Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does'” (Jn. 5:19 NIV).

So another question now arises: What if Jesus had used his divine power to prevent Lazarus from dying? What would have been so bad about that? And again, the answer to that question is found in another incident from Jesus’ life where others questioned his lack of action. In the Garden of Gethsemane, surrounded by a hostile crowed about to take him away by force, one disciple decided that if Jesus was not going to act to protect his own life, then he would have to do it for him. So he took his sword and struck one of those who had come to arrest Jesus. But Jesus rebuked this disciple and said:

“”Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Mt. 26:53-54 NIV).

And there is the answer to our question here as well. The reason Jesus did not heal Lazarus and instead let him die (Jn. 11:6) was because the Father had a purpose in mind beyond the healing of Lazarus. If Jesus had gone ahead and immediately gone to heal Lazarus, that higher purpose would not have been fulfilled. Jesus would have been working at cross purposes with the Father. Jesus, however, saw beyond the natural human instinct to make right whatever is wrong immediately, and waited for the right time to glorify God. He saw a higher goal and purpose than the immediate righting of a wrong, such as healing a sick person.

So often, all we see is only what we see with our eyes and minds. The deeper spiritual vision that would help us understand the pain of life in this world is so often lacking. Healing blindness or any other human ailment is only a matter of degree regarding such things. Our afflictions and sicknesses are all just lesser manifestations of the real, underlying sickness of our sinful human nature, which progresses inexorably towards that final sickness, death. All healings are thus only temporary; in the end, all must die.

The people who wondered about Jesus’ lack of preventing Lazarus’ death failed to see the bigger picture that Jesus saw. They wanted Jesus to heal Lazarus’ sickness and prevent him from dying. Jesus, however, was aware of the greater purpose for which he had come to this earth: not just to heal our temporary illnesses but to give us the final, lasting victory over the greatest sickness of all, death.

This inability of others to see the greater purposes of God in the middle of sorrows is not restricted to this miraculous moment. Another example of this same unawareness occurred in the Old Testament, with the death of the son of king Jeroboam. When a child dies, it is especially hard for us to accept. Yet God graciously recorded in Scripture this death for our comfort. And that comfort is found in realizing that God has a purpose for each individual life, no matter how short that life may be.

“All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good” (1 Kgs. 14:13 NIV).

All the people could see was the sorrow of losing a child. Yet Scripture says that goodness and honor was found in that death. But in order to see the goodness there, one’s eyes must be opened and lifted up beyond our own natural, human desires and purposes (including natural, human love for our family and other loved ones), to the higher, deeper, greater family of God and his purposes and love. Only as this is done will we see the greater good accomplished even through times of sorrow and testing.

“The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death” (Is. 57:1-2 NIV).

This elevation of vision is a good thing to have, but it does not come cheaply: The child died. Lazarus died. In his case, he was brought back from the dead; the child was not but stayed with the Lord for ever in heaven. But in both cases, something higher and more profound than a “simple” healing took place. God used their death to show himself the God of love and power to save unto himself all who trust in him–something that would not have been demonstrated except those deaths occurred. In each case, God could have healed them without their dying, just as he has healed countless others over the ages. But these two were allowed to die because God wanted to use their deaths as an illustration of his love and good purposes in Scripture. Their deaths were thus recorded in God’s Word for future generations to find help and comfort in their own time of sorrow at someone’s death.

The death of a loved one is not an easy thing to deal with. But which way of dealing with it is the more costly? to open ourselves up to this higher vision, which requires costly sacrifice to our natural selfish desire to never lose anyone we treasure? or to refuse to train ourselves beforehand in this discipline because we find it too costly, only to discover in time of crisis that because we refused to do this that there is no succor when that crisis arises and when we need it most?

This is not to say that we should be insensitive to the sorrow of others and chide them for crying at the death of a loved one when they should know that God has a great purpose in all this. How horrible and opposite to the heart of Jesus who cried with Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ death!–even though he was quite aware of the full measure of God’s great purposes, in both the life of Lazarus and his own. Jesus did not preach to them just then; Jesus wept with them. The only teaching he mentioned was the comforting truth that Lazarus would be reunited with them in life that could never die again.

No, we must not make the Christian faith a bookish, doctrinal-only teaching that provides only a fantasy of false hope that collides with the real world where death still happens. Jesus knew when to speak of higher things and when simply to join his heart to the heart of those in sorrow. When speaking to the woman at the well, Jesus did not condemn her for her sinful lifestyle; he simply mentioned a truth about her to validate further truths which he would convey to her, so that she would pay heed to what he said (Jn. 4:18-19).

Neither did Jesus condemn the man he healed who had been born blind. In fact, he specifically and definitely singled out the fact that this man’s affliction had nothing whatsoever to do with anything the man or his parents had done, but was solely for the higher purposes of God (Jn. 9:1-3, Ex. 4:11).

The fact that God loves us so much that he has designed a specific purpose for our coming into being (Eph. 2:10) is a great comfort in times of sorrow.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5 NIV).

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Eph. 1:4-5 NIV).

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV).

These are all examples from Scripture of a high and noble design upon our lives from the One who created us and gave us being and life. But it is so easy to lose sight of this fact in this world of relatives and just trying to stay alive. Another instance of this loss of vision occurred as Jesus prepared his disciples for his approaching death. He told them:

“I am going away . . . and none of you seems interested in the purpose of my going; none wonders why. Instead you are only filled with sorrow. But the fact of the matter is that it is best for you that I go away, for if I don’t, the Comforter won’t come. If I do, he will–for I will send him to you” (Jn. 16:5-7 TLB).

When someone we love goes away–dies–we are filled with sorrow. This is natural and not to be made light of or disdained. Sorrow is a natural reaction to our love for the one leaving us. But as was stated at the beginning here, those who know Jesus as their Savior are saved from sorrow that can find no hope in another’s death. Jesus is our hope in sorrow and death (Jn. 16:33, 1 Th. 4:13-14).

One important aspect of this hope we have in Jesus that enables us to overcome sorrow at death is the knowledge that every single human being to whom God gives life has a purpose for that life. When Jesus spoke to his disciples about his leaving, he brought up their lack of awareness of this purpose for each person’s life, including his own:

“I am going away . . . and none of you seems interested in the purpose of my going; none wonders why. Instead you are only filled with sorrow.”

It was previously said that there is nothing wrong with having sorrow at someone’s death. It is natural and it is good to grieve. But if that is all there is, then it is not good. Amidst the sorrow is the comforting knowledge of God’s purpose for our lives, that this person’s life meant something. Jesus hints that we should look not only at our loss but at God’s gain, that is, that that life accomplished (Lk. 1:45, Lk. 12:50) that for which it was given by God. To be focused only on our own sorrow and loss is to be focused on self. And, again, there is no call here to somehow pretend to greater nobleness than we possess when we are hurting at the death of a loved one, but a reminder that the comfort we seek is available only because, as the disciples were told, Jesus had to go through the loss of his own life to enable us to be comforted in our own loss. That is why he said:

“But the fact of the matter is that it is best for you that I go away, for if I don’t, the Comforter won’t come. If I do, he will–for I will send him to you”

That Comforter is the Holy Spirit, who comforts us at the loss of a loved one, as well as in all other times in our lives when we suffer. But death holds a special place in all those times, for it is the last and ultimate such time. That is why there is an emphasis on the Spirit’s role as things in this world near their final culmination, whether it be for an individual or the world as a whole. For then, at the end, at death, be it the death of one person or of all persons in the world, we near the transition from being flesh and blood to assuming our continued existence in spirit form rather than physical (2 Tim. 4:6).

“I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me” (2 Pet. 1:14 RSV).

The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, could not come unless the death of him who gives this Spirit to us first occurred (Jn. 16:5-7). Jesus was flesh and blood; the Holy Spirit is spirit, something higher and deeper. Jesus lowered himself from spirit form with the Father in heaven to assume our fleshly form because of his great love for us (Ph. 2:6-8). God is spirit (Jn. 4:24), who became flesh and blood so we could identify with him, come close to God. This was done in the human form of God, in his Son Jesus Christ. But there is yet a closer relationship that God desires to have with us that can be accomplished only through the giving of the Holy Spirit, who is not received except that Jesus open the way for that giving through his death on the cross. It is as he then goes away from us in that death that we come closer to God and are able to worship him is spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24), “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (Jn. 6:63 NIV).

The flesh, or works of man, may count for nothing to God, but that does not stop the world from attempting to control its own destiny through this means. The world tries to accomplish what it calls the next step of the evolution of man into something more than he now is through various means, including genetic technology and bio-mechanical wizardry.

It is not by accident that we currently are seeing a number of television shows where this effort of the flesh plays a major role. Nor is it by accident that concurrently these same shows and others, along with movies in theaters, also place heavy emphasis on what the world thinks of as psychic abilities, such as levitation (ability to float or fly), telekinesis (ability to move objects by mind power, without touching them physically), and other paranormal powers. For all of these are avenues through which the devil, who is described in God’s Word as the one under whose power is this present world (1 Jn. 5:19), seeks to prepare the world for the appearance of demons, evil spirit beings, and the climax of them all, the anti-Christ. He is preparing the world to accept all these spirit beings and their powers as the new stage in the evolution of man. This is his plan for the world to follow him in rebellion against God. It is “the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2 RSV).

That such things in the cultural arena include aspects of spiritual warfare indicates that the area of the spiritual is not forgotten in the midst of all this fleshly work of man and demon. It is another sign of the importance of the spirit and spiritual things as all of history now heads towards its climax.

The spirit is set to supercede the physical. But for the world, it is a spirit of man and demon, while for the child of God, it is the Spirit of God who is needed increasingly to combat these deceptions of the world and the devil. The world may think to transform man into superman through accessing the powers of dark spirit beings, but the child of God will have nothing to do with this but relies instead upon letting the Spirit of God change him or her into the image of Jesus. Through their union into Jesus Christ, they are “being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18 NIV).

It is the Spirit who transforms man into more than just a physical being, though that physical form had to have come first.

“The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:46-49 NIV).

Those who believe in Jesus and surrender their lives to him and the Holy Spirit are those who are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:10-11 NIV).

There again is the mention of death as a critical element in becoming in our bodies and lives who God wants us to become: like his son Jesus. Death to self is necessary. That is why elsewhere we are urged to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth” (Col. 3:2-8 NIV)

It’s all in there, in that passage: The necessity for death to one’s self life, the need to get rid of sin in our lives, the higher purposes of God in this (to save us from his coming wrath because of such sins), and the precious hope we have of appearing with Christ in his glory.

It might appear strange to some that the way to prepare for the hard times coming is to let the Spirit of God cleanse our lives, rather than to store up food or seek a safe place in the country, etc. But as was said, as things near the end, not only does the physical world become more perilous and demanding, so does the spiritual. Who we are inside becomes even more important than protecting the outer form of our being. That is why there is such emphasis in God’s Word on letting the Spirit work within us to enable us to withstand these last trying days. (See also Be Holy–or Else!)

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:11-12 NIV).

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:13-14 NIV).

Huge changes are coming upon this earth. The extreme weather and climate we have been seeing is just one sign of this coming change. It is meant to warn us to prepare to be changed ourselves. There are only two ways, two changes from which we can choose: the world’s way and changes, or God’s. The world’s way promises that man will have superhuman powers and become a god. That is a deception. The truth is, these powers are demonic and of the evil one and will condemn those who take this path to eternal darkness and destruction (2 Th. 2:9-12).

But God’s way is the pathway to eternal light and glory. At his second coming to earth, he will change these lowly bodies of ours into bodies capable of living forever with him in eternal glory. As we approach the end, we must cling to his great promise that death for those in Christ is not the end but the entry way into a greater and grander existence.

“We will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:52-58 NIV).

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