Matthew 24:3-13, Revelation 21:1-7
I received an interesting Christmas card from a dear friend, a retired Air Force General. On the front was a white dove with an olive branch in its beak, hovering above the world. Inside the card were these words: “Peace on earth.” Beside those words my friend had added a big question mark. Then he wrote, “Is peace possible in a world like this?”
This General was asking the $64,000 question. Go to any barbershop or beauty parlor and you will hear various prescriptions for how to straighten out our troubled world. Someone will suggest that we retreat from the rest of the world and just build a “Fortress America” along our borders. Someone else will suggest that we withdraw from the United Nations. Someone else will declare that if all nations would surrender their nuclear weapons, the world would be safer.
But what does the Bible say? Let’s see if God’s word can give us answers concerning world peace.
The Matthew 24 is filled with Jesus’ predictions about the future. Let me set the scene for you. The disciples had been admiring Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, the Temple was one of the most beautiful buildings in the ancient world. At that time it was already 1000 years old. It was built of white marble and plated with gold. Some of the temple’s supporting stones were 40 feet in length and weighted 100 tons. The cutting and moving of those massive stones remains a mystery of ancient engineering. The disciples, some of whom were Galilean fishermen, were awe-struck by these huge and beautiful buildings.
Jesus’ response must have shocked them. He said, “That temple will be utterly destroyed. Not one stone will be left upon another.” Forty years later, in the year 70 A.D., Jesus’ prediction came true. The Romans utterly destroyed Jerusalem. A portion of Matthew’s 24th chapter, Matthew 24:2 and Matthew 24:15-22, relates to those awful events of 70 A.D. But most of that chapter deals with the end of the age, the end of history.
In this chapter and in other portions of Holy Scripture, I find three answers to the question: “Is there hope for world peace?”
The first response is:
The World Is Not Going to Evolve into World Peace.
If any Christian believes that peace on earth will just keep gradually increasing until we have a kind of golden age, that person has not read his Bible well. The Bible predicts that things will get worse instead of better.
Though our technology is growing by leaps and bounds, though the level of literacy is increasing worldwide, those trends do not create world peace. Why not? Because the basic problem is evil in human hearts.
Just think about it. The only world peace we have known has been the brief periods between wars when nations paused to reload. Jesus would have agreed with this statement by Plato: “Only dead men have seen an end to war.” 1
In Matthew 24, Jesus gave us a preview of what the world will look like just before the end of time. He predicted that certain trends would be apparent as the end time draws near. He called these trends “birth pangs,” sort of like the contractions a woman feels before childbirth. As we consider these signs of the end-time, you may agree with me that all of these signs are ominously present right now.
In Matthew 23:5-11, Jesus tells us that many false messiahs and false prophets will appear to deceive many people.
Just think about Jim Jones and David Karesh and all the people they led astray. If you turn on your television on a Sunday, you can hear the genuine gospel proclaimed. But you can also hear some false gospels presented. You can hear someone declaring that God’s aim is to help you get rich. That’s called “the prosperity gospel.” You can hear someone else declaring that there is no heaven or hell, that this world is all there is. Someone else on TV will guarantee to heal you if you send a contribution. False prophets and false gospels are all around us.
In Matthew 24:6-7, Jesus predicted that there would be wars and rumors of wars until the very end. Some people thought that when the Soviet Union collapsed, a golden age of peace would prevail. But they did not take into account the evil in the human heart. Today there are wars or rumors of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, and Palestine, just to name a few places.
Recently USA Today reported that trafficking and mishandling of nuclear material has more than doubled in the past ten years. Nuclear material is becoming a marketable commodity. (2)
Another prediction of Jesus, in Matthew 24:7, was that there would be famines and earthquakes before the end of history. In the 1940’s, there were 51 earthquakes measuring above 6.0 on the Richter scale. In the 1980’s, there were over 1000. In the 1990’s, the number exceeded 1500.
In recent years famines have been so widespread that it is impossible to keep accurate records of deaths by starvation. It has been estimated that over two million people have starved to death in North Korea alone. (3)
Jesus also predicted that before the end of time Christians would face much persecution. We know for a fact that more Christians were martyred in the 20th Century that in all of the previous nineteen centuries combined.
The Methodist bishop of Indonesia, Bishop Dolok, reports that his congregations have to post a look-out during worship services. If a roving band of Muslim extremists finds a Christian congregation in worship, they will attack them, and the police do nothing. In virtually every country where Christians are a minority, they are persecuted.
We don’t usually think of America as a place of religious persecution, but worrisome signs can already be seen. The ACLU is dedicated to banishing religion from the public sector. Many knowledgeable observers believe that America’s elite media are deeply anti-Christian. Jesus predicted that this kind of public animosity toward the faith would be prevalent before the final end of history.
Another birth-pang that Jesus predicted as a sign of the end-time was that there would be an increase in wickedness. Certainly our soaring crime rate in Memphis would indicate such a trend. Since the most popular sites in the Internet are pornographic ones, it is not surprising that crime and wickedness are increasing.
Jesus predicted all of these trends, but he also said, “Do not be alarmed, for the end is still to come.” (Matthew 24:6) Jesus wanted us to be alert and aware, but not fearful.
The second biblical truth about world peace sounds almost contrary to the first. While the trends of our world do not point toward world peace, nevertheless,
God’s People Must Pray and Work for His Kingdom to Come on Earth.
Even though the trends will be against us, we must work for peace.
God has given three mandates to people of faith. The first is an environmental mandate given at the dawn of creation. God assigned mankind to rule or have dominion over his created order. We are to care for it and use it wisely.
The second mandate is a cultural one. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) Of course, if we are asking for something in prayer, we must also work toward that end. Our task is to change our culture into something resembling the Kingdom of God.
Our task is to establish beachheads or outposts where Kingdom values prevail. We must build models of the Kingdom for a skeptical world to see.
What we are doing in the Binghampton community is a good example. We are working with the believers and responsible citizens of Binghampton to take back that community from drug-dealers and criminals. Our goal is to help build a more healthy, diverse, safe, prosperous, and godly community.
The Pilgrim Wesleyan Church is doing something similar in the nation of Zambia, and Christ Church is privileged to help. We are battling disease and poverty there, while spreading the gospel of Jesus. We are digging wells to provide safe drinking water while we are spreading the “living water” of faith in Jesus Christ.
The third mandate is given in Matthew 28:19. It is an evangelistic one. “Go into all the world and make disciples.”
Jesus warned us that our three-fold assignment here on earth would be tough. He said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) In fact, a constant theme in the New Testament is that we must persevere. St. Paul urged us “to endure hardship like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3) Jesus also said, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
But you might ask, “If the Bible tells us that things are going to get worse instead of better, if turmoil is more likely than peace, why should we keep working for peace? The answer is that God can use all of our peacemaking for some good purpose. The Bible assures us that “our labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) And besides, God did not call us to be successful, just to be faithful.
Britain’s courageous war-time leader Winston Churchill was once invited to present the graduation address at a certain high school. He gave the shortest address on record, just three words, repeated three times. “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!” That is also God’s word to us as we labor for his kingdom.
The Bible’s final word on world peace is this:
World Peace Will Finally Come Through God’s Massive Intervention.
God will write the final chapter of world history.
When Jesus was on trial before the Jewish High Priest, he made a prediction that so horrified the High Priest that he ripped his clothes. Jesus said, “I am the Christ and one day you will see me sitting at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62) History is moving toward a single, final, God-planed goal-the creation of a new earth and a new Kingdom of God.
King David, writing 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, told us where history is going. He wrote, “The Lord says to my Lord (that is, God the Father says to God the Son), ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” (Psalms 110:1) This means that Jesus Christ will prevail over all opposition. This means that anyone who is an enemy of Christ is on the wrong side of history. That includes Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Muslim extremists.
At the final moment of history, God’s mighty trumpet shall blast and the Lord Jesus will appear in the skies for the entire world to see. Then “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
Then and only then will there be world peace.
My friend, the late Dr. Bill Hinson, had a plaque on the wall in his study that brought him comfort. The sign read: “Bill, I have everything under control. (signed) God.”
But you might ask, “What can we do to promote peace?” You can do three things. First, pray for peace continually. Secondly, participate in the political process as an informed Christian citizen. Thirdly, be a peace distributor by standing against prejudice and discord and by spreading forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation. Each of us sends out ripples every day. These may be negative ripples, ripples of prejudice, anger, and discord. Or, we can send out positive ripples, of forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation. If enough Christians send out positive ripples, God can fashion them into mighty waves that can cleanse portions of his world.
Perhaps you feel the Holy Spirit tugging on your heart this morning, urging you to be more of a peacemaker. If so, I invite you to repeat silently after me, line by line, the first part of a great prayer of St. Francis.
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Bill Bouknight is Senior Pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, TN.
1. Dobson, James, When God Doesn’t Make Sense (Tyndale House: Wheaton, 1993), p. 64.
2. USA Today, December 26, 2006 edition, p. A1.
3. Brickner, David, Future Hope (Purple Pomegranate Productions: San Francisco, 1999), p. 5.