As we look around and see a world seemingly out of control with threats of extinction everywhere, it is easy to succumb to fear. We wonder if the world will last another decade or even another year with the incursion of crazies shooting up neighborhoods and “extremism” seeping through our borders. A friend once said that Islamic radicalism has a timeline for conquest. We can also make a long list of opposing forces that seem to overwhelm us and seek to topple our liberties, especially our own faith, both within and outside our nation. I once read a poll that claimed the Christian faith has declined substantially in light of the alleged rise of atheism, agnosticism, and other religious claims. However, is this really true? Did someone take a specific count? Even if true, how does such a claim fit into the span of history in terms of the rise and fall of ideologies and belief systems? Has it really impacted the decline of the Christian faith?
After mulling over my friend’s comment about Islamic radicalism’s conquest timeline, a thought came to mind based on what Jesus said. God is not on man’s timetable; rather man is on God’s timetable. God does not do man’s bidding, but man does God’s bidding. During the first through third centuries, the Eurasian world witnessed one of the greatest rise of terrorism in history. The forces of General Titus ripped Jerusalem apart in 70 AD so that the entire city laid in ruins. All Jews and Christians were scattered throughout the Middle East and Europe. A line of Roman emperors terrified Jews and Christians throughout the Roman Empire and a massive number of Christians lost all they had, bore the stripes for their faith, and became martyrs. This happened for almost two centuries. Can you imagine two centuries of the reign of terror? Such a reign of terror makes the Civil War look like a small skirmish. However, many remembered the echo of Jesus’ words, “Let not your hearts be troubled (John 14:1)…I will come again (14:3)…You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
Guess what? Jesus predicted it. He said that not one stone of the Temple in Jerusalem would remain on top of another (Matthew 24:2). He also told His disciples that they would be His witnesses (martyrs and good news bearers) in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). After the destruction of Jerusalem, its remaining population escaped across the Middle East. Jesus’ disciples had already scattered throughout the known world to spread the gospel because of the persecution they encountered. He sent them His way, and His word took root in the nations and flourished. Man is on God’s timetable; God is not on man’s timetable.
Finally, in the 4th century Constantine brought calm to the Roman Empire after a line of emperors instilled terror and tragedy. In 325 AD, a large group of maimed and physically broken Christians from past persecutions gathered together to hammer out the Nicene Creed for affirming the God we worship, fulfilling Jesus’ command once again. They gave witness to the truth about God just as Jesus commanded them. They remained faithful to Jesus in spite of persecutions, heresies, and the renunciation of faith in Jesus from others.
That calm did not last. The 7th century saw the rise of Islam. It began to spread over the next several centuries as the Christian Church began to succumb to the enemies of corruption, heresies, complacency, and superstition. It lost sight of its focus and mission – the gospel. It also lost sight of its security: “I will come again.” The Church split into two parts: Western and Eastern over a few doctrinal beliefs. It retreated into monasticism. Islam marched across the lands with terrorism for the next millennium as the Dark Ages covered Europe, bringing with it more heresies, superstition, and corruption. Yet, a faithful few remained and continued to bear witness to Christ and obedience to Him.
The crusades arose to beat back Islam from Europe. This took centuries, as Islam grew and receded during this period. The last caliphate of the Ottoman Empire fell during World War I. Jesus predicted wars and rumors of wars but that these would be the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24:6-8). If He predicted it, then it would come to pass, because He is the Lord of history and the future. Man is on God’s timetable; God is not on man’s timetable.
As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages, the Church surged as the Reformation broke the chains of corruption, heresies, and superstitions with Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and others taking the lead. The Church rediscovered its focus, mission, and message as it battled the enemies of Christ. Migrations continued across Europe and ultimately to the New World, where Christians sought to practice their faith in peace and calm. A Christian revolution named the Great Awakening surged as men like Jonathan Edwards, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitfield and others proclaimed the gospel to this new land. The light of the gospel informed the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution. Man is on God’s timetable through the Holy Spirit as He moves across the world.
However, corruption, heresies, and superstitions continued to emerge and taint the truth. People strayed. Wars arose. The nation divided over slavery as men and women mixed their own messages with the gospel and corrupted its proclamation. We witnessed more world wars with brief interludes between. Churches and denominations populated the landscape and spread their messages throughout the world. Revivals happened. Then came the 1960’s and more wars. Another revolution broke out and made its way into the culture and churches. Churches became enculturated. They lost sight of their Savior and His mission and message.
A myriad of humanistic agendas erupted from our institutions of higher learning as professors dumped their philosophical brands of living on their students. These students in turn spread these philosophies into more schools, churches, and whole denominations. Humanistic theologians pronounced, “God is dead.” These churches and denominations succumbed to culture and humanistic agendas while embracing lifestyles foreign to the Church and the truth in Jesus. Other gospels emerged. A host of idolatries ran rampant and out shouted Jesus’ words, “Let not your hearts be troubled…I will come again…you are my witnesses.” The end of the 20th century saw the rise of Islam again as corruption, heresies, and superstitions abounded. Many lost sight of the Savior and His words of comfort and confidence.
Today, all the turmoil, terror, and the inroads of propaganda and lies make their way throughout the world and bring about instability, insecurity, and fear. They trouble us as believers, and often doubt arises as this doubt clouds over Jesus’ words, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me…I will come again…you are my witnesses” (John 14:1-3, Acts 1:8). The pendulum swings throughout history from calm to turmoil, threats, and terror. It always will. However, God is not on man’s timetable. Man is on God’s timetable. What did Jesus say? “I will come again.” If He said it, then that means He controls the pendulum swing of history for making His statement a fulfillment. We can be confident in His words. In one of his letters, Paul drew a similar conclusion as Jesus after informing his readers of Jesus’ return, “Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).