27 Jan 2020

2020 has been a year that is unprecedented. The viral pandemic struck and the effects have been devastating, and continue to have a definite impact in the years to come. It has been a year when many became very sick and hospital beds were insufficient to meet the needs of those who needed hospitalisation in various contexts. Many also died from the pandemic globally; many lost their jobs; the poor and vulnerable suffered from lack of food, lack of financial support and uncertainty of even the basics; economies of nations were badly battered; political upheavals within nations and distrust between nations prevail and inequality in the world became more pronounced. Also bloodshed and conflicts came to the forefront within nations and between nations, with the background of increasing ‘fake news’, extreme nationalism, self-centredness, violence in families, mental stress and illnesses – all these becoming more prevalent.

At the same time, churches cannot meet, as previously, in worship, fellowship and interactions in the same manner. Many who look forward to ‘warm interactions and physical fellowship’ have fallen off from worship and participation in churchlife.

Revelation 6-7

The breaking of the seven seals by the Lamb is described: After each of the first four is broken, the ‘four horsemen of the Apocalypse’ appear on the scene. From the explanation given, they depict the horrors of war, civil strife and persecution, famine with rocketing inflation of staple foodstuffs and goods, and death, resulting from and accompanied by plague and diseases. It will be a time of violent disturbance and suffering with famine and death in unprecedented numbers. We need not look very closely to notice the similarity with what is beginning to take place in the world in 2020. The covid-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented number of deaths and hardship unheard of for many generations.

Revelation 8-11 ‘reveal’ a dominant message of a call to repentance and a warning of judgement to the world. Subsequent chapters describe a worsening and an increase in intensity of suffering, tragedy, the hazards of life on earth with allusions to environmental disaster, economic chaos, and barbaric and inhuman behaviour. It also points to the fact that the future will be even worse. Revelation also states that in spite of continuous divine warnings, the people of the world remained defiantly impenitent. Today we are warned of future pandemics as very likely, and the catastrophes arising from climate change are becoming more common with typhoons, hurricanes, cyclones, melting of ice caps, devastating bush and forest fires. Scientists warn that climate change has crossed over the line whereby the changes are irreversible and it is a matter of time before major disasters would appear.

In the beginning of the book of Revelation, the risen Lord Jesus reveals Himself as the chief pastor of His flock. Patrolling, inspecting and supervising HIs churches (in the seven letters to the churches), He has an intimate knowledge of them, and is able to pinpoint the seven marks that He would like every church to display: love for Him and the willingness to suffer for HIm, truth of doctrine and holiness of life, and commitment to mission, together with both sincerity and wholeheartedness in everything. As we evaluate the scene of the churches today, we have to humbly repent and confess that these seven marks are starkly absent in the life of many churches. The viral pandemic and various sufferings may serve as a call to repentance for unbelievers, but for God’s people, it is a test of our faithfulness to God in terms of fulfilling these seven marks listed. God’s people, instead of being willing to suffer for Him, complain and grumble during difficult times and tribulation; the truth of doctrine has been severely compromised; holiness has been dismissed with rationalising that God’s grace is big enough to allow us to continue in sin and still forgive us; commitment to mission and love for God are waning away. The current pandemic has revealed the ugliness of selfishness, the looking out only for oneself, the lack of respect for authority, and the unwillingness to cooperate and to follow instructions with the lack of care and concern for the neighbour. All these are features of those in the last days (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

The world and even God’s people are preoccupied with the pursuit of “Babylon” (described in Revelation 18), with her profile of idolatry (spiritual unfaithfulness, even promiscuity); immorality; extravagance and luxury; sorcery and magic; tyranny and opposition, leading to martyrdom of God’s faithful people; arrogance, deception and even self-deification. Looking at church history and the condition of the churches today, we do not have to look very far to see how badly the churches have deteriorated in terms of spiritual faithfulness, the upholding of moral standards and the preservation of the truth and doctrines, passed on from Christ and the apostles. The love of the world, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life predominate the lives of people, unbelievers and believers alike – many live for the moment, for the pursuit of pleasure and have no regard for God and His values.

Revelation also reveals Satan and his evil spirits waging war against God’s people. The evil one tried to crush the church by force (persecution). He tried to corrupt the church by planting in the church so-called believers who are hypocrites. He tried to mislead the church by false teaching. The devil mounted his assault on the church on three major fronts: physical (persecution), moral (compromise) and intellectual (false belief and teaching). On all three fronts, God’s people have failed miserably. Suffering and tribulation have caused churches to compromise morally, to give in to toleration of wrong doctrines for the sake of being open and ‘modern’, and to ‘recant’ in the face of persecution and threats.

The book of Jude highlights the onslaught of the evil one on God’s church in more details: Jude was the brother of James, one of Jesus’ earthly brothers. He intended to write about salvation but felt led by God to address the appearance and spread of false teachings. Jude warned by writing about the serious consequences of false teachings and he also called the believers to hold fast to the apostolic faith. He exhorted: “Contend for the faith”. Contend speaks of a strenuous effort; mental effort is needed to understand and teach the Word of God aright and moral effort is needed to apply the understanding to everyday behaviour. Imposters are at work today in the church, Christian schools, institutions of higher learning and even seminaries. They have crept in ‘unnoticed’ and seek to destroy the work of God from within. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”{(Psalm 11:3) In this age and days, many of our ethical and eccleesiastical foundations are crumbling before our eyes. Indeed, we need to ‘contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). Jesus Himself warned, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Their teaching amounts to a licence for immorality. Belief in God demands holiness of life: however, these false prophets may call Jesus ‘Lord’ but they contradict and deny this professio by their unholy behaviour. Jude warned that status and profession of faith is no guarantee of salvation. Israel was delivered from Egypt but unbelief caused many to die in the wilderness. Angels have a special calling from God, het those who were disobedient met sure punishment. Sodom and Gomorrah were cities of the promised land, with God’s servants in them, and yet they were destroyed because of the prevailing immorality there. False teachers may mock the things they do not understand but they understand enough to be responsible for their own ruin. Such ones reject God’s authority, do so-called ministry for personal gain and have no reverence for God and fear of Him.

Today, we have false ‘shepherds’ and pastors who are concerned only for themselves and care not for the sheep. They may claim to receive some of their teachings through visions, and Jude denounced such ones as those like ‘fruitless trees, being lawless as storm-tossed seas, like wandering stars, giving no clear guidance and doomed to lose their function (cf 2 Peter 2:10-17). In Jude 11, Jude warned of the disastrous effects of jealousy, greed and pride, which are characteristics of false teachers and prophets. Such ones are jealous of the Christian progress of others, and so seek to turn them aside to immorality; they are so keen to gain from teaching what people want to be told and they readily receive monetary ‘payment’ and ‘favours’ from their teaching. So great is their pride that they cannot bear to be told of any power (or knowledge) greater than their own.The hallmark of these false pastors (shepherds) is that they use their position to further their own selfish ends, and not to feed the flock (cf 1 Peter 5:2).

It is not enough to know who we are and what we have in Christ; we must know how to defend our faith. The ‘faith’ is the whole body of Biblical doctrine that comprises the perfect totality of truth. It is the full and final revelation of God as we have it in the Scriptures. It is the Word of truth that is unfolded from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation. The origin of the ‘faith’ is God Himself.
In the light of the challenges facing the church in these last days, and the warnings of judgement from God (sometimes in the form of sufferings, catastrophes, plagues, physical upheavals), Jude did not forget to encourage authentic believers.

Jude wrote in the beginning of his letter that as true believers, we have been summoned by God. Salvation does not begin with us. Salvation begins with God, who began the good work in us and continues it. He takes the initiative. Jude added that we are not only ‘called of God’ but are ‘loved by God the Father’. We are the beloved set apart for God Himself, and we are ‘kept by Jesus Christ’.
Jude summed up his epistle by writing what is so familiar to us today – what is often pronounced in the closing benediction:

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen”

As we reflect on 2020 and note some parallels and warnings from Scriptures, we may feel ‘discouraged’ in recognising the revelation of increasing ‘judgment’ and ‘testings’ for unbelievers and believers respectively, as well as the ‘sad state’ of the churches and the moral decay and predominance of ‘worldliness’ and rebellion in the world in these last days; however, we can feel encouraged to know that we are called by God, kept by Him and He is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us blameless before His presence with great joy in the new heaven and new earth. Indeed, His grace is always sufficient for us, even in the midst of trying circumstances and unexpected happenings. As in the book of Revelation, God is still sitting on the throne.