When the Queen’s funeral and burial were finally over last Monday, I felt a sadness coming on as an extraordinary period of ten days came to an end. It was an unusual time of the whole nation coming together—huge but cheerful queues in London; massive crowds lining the streets on the day of the funeral; a simply overwhelming service in Westminster Abbey; and 10 days free of politicians having a go at one another, or BBC reporters having a go at politicians. What a relief that there was almost no other news for those days!
And now—boom!—back to normal with a vengeance. The news from Parliament, the news from world markets, the news from Russia, cyclones and hurricanes . . . I could quite depress you.
How, then, should followers of Jesus think and feel about these things?
During this period the Bible calls ‘the last days’—that is, the time between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming at the end—three great truths are repeated and brought home to us.
First, things will get worse. We hear that from Jesus, when he referred to ‘great distress’ and ‘the beginning of birth pains’ (Matthew chapter 24). We hear it from Paul: ‘there will be terrible times in the last days’. And we hear much of it in the book of Revelation, with its ‘woes’, with still more to come.
This is why, as Christians, we need not and should not be surprised. We will feel concerned, sometimes we may feel scared, we will share the world’s sadness, but we should not be surprised. Jesus warned us.
Second, the gospel will spread throughout the world. Jesus said that before the end comes, the gospel will go out into all the nations. And this is happening! In the most unlikely places—settings of great persecution, such as Iran; inaccessible and remote areas such as Nepal; places usually associated with hopelessness, such as prisons—people are coming to faith in Jesus and the gospel is growing.
Third, God is on the throne. So not only are we not surprised by world events, but he is not caught out. The great visions that unfold in Revelation begin with Jesus, the Lamb, opening a scroll which unleashes all the woes this world experiences. But, crucially, that is preceded by a magnificent portrait of God on his throne as the ruler of the whole creation. In other words, these ‘woes’ and ‘terrible times’ and ‘birth pains’ are not happening in spite of God’s rule, but come under his rule and will and authority.
That is why, to borrow Paul’s phrase from 1 Thessalonians, we can ‘grieve with hope.’ We should grieve. Evil is evil, whether or not it is within God’s sovereign and mysterious purpose, and we feel the grief and the sadness of it. But we grieve with hope—we remain positive!—because the gospel will continue to grow and because God will not leave his throne.
The Lord reigns.
Your brother in Christ