If you are a weather watcher, you may often find yourself looking to the horizons; what new weather pattern or front is approaching? I want to encourage us as Christians to look to the spiritual horizons in these days of uncertainty. Jesus chided the religious experts of his day in that they were hopeless at reading the signs of the times. Prophetic people are always looking to the horizon – what is God saying and doing? What are we approaching on a spiritual level that we need to be aware of now?
I believe that, on the horizon, are glory and shaking! The increase of the manifest glory of God on the earth and the increase of the shaking of the heavens and the earth. At some key points of the bible, glory and shaking are eschatological signs – things that point to the end and to God’ s decisive actions. The prophet Habakkuk tells of a future time when ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Habakkuk 2v14). Isaiah prophesies about a day when the people of the world ‘will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crabs from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendour of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth’ – Isaiah 2v21.
The biblical view of the last days is of glory and shaking; not one or the other, but both together. There is confusion sometimes in the church when we have doom and gloom prophets on one hand and revival prophets on the other. Yet in scripture the glory of God is unveiled in the midst of darkness, the shaking occurs at the same time as a filling of God’s house with his glory. So glory and shaking are the twin themes of the End Times – in the decades and generation just before Jesus comes again in power. I would go so far as saying that we have entered a new paradigm of life on planet earth – not normal living, but extraordinary times of experiencing more of the glory of the Lord and navigating more shaking of the things in which we trust.
It is not just Christians that are thinking in these terms. One the one hand there is a collapse narrative in popular futuristic and cultural writing; how bad will planet earth get in the next few years? Yet on the other hand there is a utopian spin by other cultural influencers telling of how our global society has never had life so good. So the collapsologists and catastrophists are pointing to an apocalyptic future where environmental degradation, excess complexity and gross inequality threaten the stability of the planet. Whereas the utopian view point to the raising of third world poverty, infant mortality, global literacy and life expectancy as examples of a brighter world within reach. Christians are those giving spiritual language and biblical meaning to this tension and uncertainty.
Why do so many Christians think we are in these times? Well there are a number of reasons. The fact that Israel is back in the promised land finally gives prophetic End Time relevance to the land and a gathered people in that place. The Great Commission is nearly fulfilled, possibly within our current life time. Waves of Holy Spirit renewal and revival continue globally, causing massive indigenous church growth and bringing in a spiritual harvest amongst unreached people groups. Yet the instability of the planet, the threat of societal collapse, the persecution of christians all looks very much like the picture Jesus paints in the time before the Tribulation in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21. I think that we need to walk up to realise that we are in God’ s End Game plan – his overall strategic master plan in preparing the earth for the return of His Son Jesus. We are entering extraordinary days – what a time to be alive as christians!
The prophecy at the end of Joel chapter 2 (v28-32) is a helpful place to orient ourselves around End Time thinking for these critical days. The hinge phrase here is the ‘Day of the Lord’ , the day when God will act, right wrongs and bring salvation to his people. Joel 2 is about the events that will come before the Day of the Lord. Yes the early church was the initial fulfilment of this prophecy (Acts 2 was quoted by Peter in his first sermon) but there remains a fuller fulfilment just before Jesus comes back. This day is described as both ‘great’ and ‘dreadful’ . Great because it will be an amazing time for the church to rise and shine in the midst of the glorious things God is doing. Dreadful because of the difficulty, pressure and shaking we will all feel in the troubles that are coming. Although Joel doesn’ t mention the words glory and shaking, we see those themes writ large in his prophetic book – the shaking of the plagues affecting his society, and the shaking of nations in the last days; and the glory of God’ s visitation in blessing, restoration and his presence amongst his people.
Joel speaks about what it will be like to live through these coming days. Under the overarching theme of glory, Joel describes the following:
Global outpourings of the Spirit (I will pour), a dynamic prophetic, witnessing generation of church (they will prophesy), his people experiencing great revelation and knowledge of the things of God (visions and dreams), and living with great anointing (reinforcing again I will pour) , and about a great harvest of people coming to faith in turbulent times (all who call on the name of the Lord). So let us look with expectancy to see more outpourings of the Spirit in our day, christians and churches coming fully alive in God, a massive harvest of salvation of both Gentiles and Jews, and areas of society touched by the transforming life of the kingdom. The liberal giving of the Spirit was a sign to Israel in those days, of God doing a new thing. These coming outpourings of the Spirit and the unveiling of the glory of God – his manifest presence – will again mark the church in the end times as they live so vibrantly the exuberant life of the kingdom.
Under the overarching theme of shaking, Joel describes the following:
A shaking of the natural world – wars (blood), disasters & troubles (fire), and devastation or shaking of aspects of society (billows of smoke from ruined cities); anxiety about the constant things in which we trust (darkening of the sun and moon) and an uncertainty of the times in which we live. Wherever we look we sense growing signs of shaking and uncertainty: in the environmental ravaging of the planet, the remaking of political landscapes, financial instability, social upheaval of people migration, over reliance on technology, cultural breakdown of family, increasing plagues and natural disasters, and the rise of religious intolerance. As the giving of the Spirit was a sign to Israel, wonders (like plagues in Egypt) were to be a warning sign to the nations; portents and extraordinary phenomena that arrested attention. These shaking signs should not alarm us, because in the bible, the world will not destroy itself. Rather this global shaking of things in heaven and on earth will cause a turning of hearts to God and prepares planet earth for the coming of the day of the Lord.
Why will God will allow such shaking? We don’ t fully know. But Jesus told the parable of the wheat and weeds; the angels are instructed to let both grow together until harvest (Matthew 13v30) There is clear indication in scripture that the light will get brighter and the darkness darker in the closing decades of human history. When both are at their peak, during the great tribulation, then the stage is set for Jesus to return to redeem his people, renew planet earth out and reveal the life of the age to come.
What does this mean for our Christian living in through the 2020′ s? I believe that we will need to learn to stand well in the midst of glory and shaking. In the Luke 21 discourse about the End Times, Jesus speaks three times about the need to stand well in the last days. In the midst of persecution he tells us to stand firm and we will win life (v19). In the midst of glory and imminent signs of Jesus’ near return he exhorts us to stand and lift up our heads for our salvation is near (v28). In the midst of global shaking and turmoil he prays that we can escape (lit. be carried through) the worst and can stand before the Son of Man (v36). So standing firm and resolute in difficulty, standing expectantly in glory, standing confidently in the day of trouble, is the clear biblical call to all Christians who find themselves navigating the days of the End Times. May the Lord give us the ability to look to the horizon and to see what is coming. May he give us grace to rise and shine in God’ s unveiling glory and to live trusting in his sovereign plans in the midst of the global shaking He allows. May our eyes be fixed on the Lord through it all, for these are surely extraordinary days in which to be alive!
Rev William Porter leads the Beacon House of Prayer in Stoke-on-Trent.