First and Last

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus”

Revelation 22:20

This is the last recorded prayer in the Bible. In difficult and stressful times we are inclined to desire His coming just to be away from our current circumstances but that is just one side of the coin. The other side is a desire to be with Jesus and His righteousness. He is coming to bring an end to sin and death and to take His own to be with Him forever. Just as He did in His first coming Jesus will do so at just the right time, not early and not late (Galatians 4:4-5). Our desire is for Jesus to reign in righteousness and peace but that will only happen when Jesus returns and establishes His earthly kingdom. Then the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). From the beginning it has been God’s desire to dwell with and in His creation. Our desire is to dwell with God just as it is His desire to dwell with us.

The above prayer, the last recorded, contrasts greatly with the first recorded prayer in the Bible: “So he [Adam] said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:10). Instead of desiring God’s presence Adam and Eve fled God’s presence. Disobedience will always do that. More than once I avoided my parents as long as I could because I had been disobedient to them. It is the nature of fallen man to not want to face his disobedience and guilt but to try to escape the presence of God. This is the exact opposite of what he should do. Jonah, one of the more notoriously rebellious men in the Bible also wanted to escape the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3, 10) but God kept after him.

Between the first recorded prayer (the desire to escape the presence of the Lord) and the last prayer recorded in the Bible (the desire for God’s presence to return) something of tremendous significance happened. That something was Jesus Christ’s first coming to save mankind from sin and death and to restore his proper relationship with God. At Easter we give time to remember and reflect on just how He accomplished that. Instead of fleeing His presence we should draw near to Him because His forgiveness is the only way of taking away our sin and restoring our relationship with God. The book of Revelation reveals that many would rather die than seek forgiveness. However, there will be many who seek and receive forgiveness through Christ.

As in the Day

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”

Genesis 6:5

This was the assessment of the Lord concerning mankind prior to the world wide flood in the days of Noah. By the grace of God Noah and his family were saved to accomplish God’s plan and purpose. The people of Noah’s day were warned by Noah’s testimony as he built the ark. Those who ignored his testimony went on as before and were drowned in the flood.

Jesus warned that His second coming will be in similar circumstances (Matthew 24:37f; Luke 17:26f). In these days God’s warning of impending judgment and the outpouring of His wrath against sin is through the faithful preaching of the Gospel of Christ as revealed in the Bible. Those who do not heed His words will carry on as before and be unprepared for His judgment. Those who receive it will be saved from wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; Romans 5:9).

In the days of the Tribulation the Lord’s witnesses will be 144,000 Jews who will preach the Gospel to all nations and ethnic groups in all languages. Those who carry on as before and ignore the warning are destined to endure God’s wrath. Those who receive it will be delivered through it or from it by bodily death.

Jesus also gave the illustration of the city of Sodom (Luke 17:28f). Lot had been less than faithful in warning the people that their wickedness would bring an outpouring of God’s wrath. The judgment of God fell upon those people also.

Denying either of these historical events is to call Jesus a liar and renders one carrying on as before and unprepared for the wrath to come. His words are clear; when every intention of the thoughts of the heart of mankind is evil, then we can expect God to again judge the earth.

God is presently allowing Satan to test the hearts of nations and of individuals to reveal openly whether they are truly His or not. He is giving us an opportunity to see the world as it would be without His righteousness and without Him. Perhaps some will turn to Him and call for mercy.

Of that great city, Nineveh, the Lord said, “Their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2). Jonah was sent to warn them. With reluctance he went saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Unlike in the days of Noah and the days of Lot the Ninevites had a change of heart and pleaded for God’s mercy. They believed the warning and acted upon it through prayer and fasting believing that God might show them mercy. God will always respond to genuine calls for mercy.

It is not difficult to see that our world is at the threshold. Those who know the truth have the privilege and responsibility of warning others. We don’t know whether the world, our nation or our neighbour will respond in the way the people in Noah’s and Lot’s days did or in the way that Nineveh did so let us persevere in sharing the Gospel of grace and see what the Lord does in the hearts of people and nations.

Patience Has a Time Limit

“The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked” (Nahum 1:3)

About one hundred years before Nahum recorded this prophecy against Nineveh the reluctant prophet, Jonah, was also sent to Nineveh with a warning of imminent destruction. Though Jonah gave no more than the minimum message required, and he spoke nothing of repentance and the mercy of God, the king of Nineveh and the people did repent and call on the Lord for mercy. To Jonah’s disgust the Lord did not destroy Nineveh at that time.

Two or three generations later the people of Nineveh had either forgotten Jonah’s message or because nothing had happened they treated the former things relating to their (great-)grandparents as mythical. The city had grown wealthier and gained in might in the years following its repentance. The people had, in so few generations, returned to the idolatrous pagan and wicked ways of those before the people of the city repented.

Even so, the Lord sent another more willing prophet with a more detailed message that had finality even more powerful than that of the message of Jonah. With the experience of their recent ancestors in their knowledge one might expect that this generation would also repent but as is so often the case in history, both with collective groups and individuals, they did not. Apparently, they dismissed the prophets warning and carried on without concern. That some individuals may have followed their ancestors’ example and repented is suggested when the prophet records, “He knows those who trust Him” (1:7). Of course that means that He also knows those who don’t!

The generation to whom Nahum prophesied rejected the warning from the Lord and the word of the Lord that came through Nahum was fulfilled. Nineveh soon ceased to exist and violent was its destruction. No one and no nation can ignore the Word of the Lord with impunity.

Jonah’s desire was eventually met but not before at least one generation of the people of Nineveh was saved. The generation that repented and received God’s mercy will be a testimony against the generation that did not.

The Lord will not acquit the wicked but just as surely He will show mercy to any who will humbly confess their sin, repent and receive His forgiveness. This is only available through Jesus Christ because He alone has taken away the sin of the world He is the Lamb of God who was slain on our behalf.

Fleeing The Lord

“Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Jonah 1:3

In the previous article we noted how Nehemiah wept and mourned, prayed and fasted with concern for the glory of God. Jonah is quite different and unfortunately is typical of many Christians.

Jonah had been commanded by God to go and warn the Ninevites that judgment was pending. Though not stated in the first two verses the book reveals that Jonah’s message was intended to include a call to repentance.

In Jonah’s view the Ninevites were worthy of damnation. He seems to lack any practical concept of mercy but he knew enough theory to know that God is merciful (4:2). The Ninevites had been cruel and evil toward Israel, perhaps even to members of his own family, and he did not want God to show mercy to them. When God did show mercy to them “it displeased Jonah” (4:1). Actually that seems an understatement when one considers his actions.

Is it possible that our lack of concern for the lost in our society is because we consider them worthy of God’s wrath? Is it because they have in some way harmed or hurt us and we desire revenge? Are we excluding ourselves from the Great Commission on the grounds of hatred, anger or retribution? God forbid! Were we not also just as they are and still would be apart from Christ in us and the enabling of the Holy Spirit?

If God was able to bring a nation possibly more evil than our society to repentance and faith by means of a rebellious prophet surely He is able to draw people to Himself in our society through us.

Notice that refusing to be obedient to the Lord involves departing the presence of the Lord, going down hill, paying a price (1:3) and loss of joy and even depression (4:3-4, 9). The principle applies to Christians today just as to Jonah. Disobedience separates us from the special presence of the Lord, it will quickly lead to loss of joy and greater sin, and there will be an awful spiritual cost. Instead of gold, silver and precious stones to offer to Jesus Christ there will be the ashes of wood, hay and stubble (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Will we acknowledge that this is probably true of us and do nothing about it or will we receive it and confess our sin of disobedience and actively join in the Great Commission?