What Does the Future Hold?
End-Time Series: As the End Nears
1. What Does the Future Hold? (Mark 13:1–13; Daniel 12:1–3)
2. Anticipate the Glory Goal (Hebrews 12:1–2; Mark 13:24–31)
3. The Fulfillment of Time (Mark 13:32–37)
Today and the next two weeks is the end of the Church year, and our attention is drawn to the end of all time, Jesus’ return and the final Judgment. Today we will wrestle with What Does the Future Hold especially in light of these perilous days in which we live today.
How much would you give to know the future? What would you give to see what’s coming in the days or months or years ahead? Many people would give quite a lot. Many people in general, are captivated by the future. Humanity loves to speculate on the unknown, perhaps to give them some peace of mind today.
But for most of us, our interest in the future shows itself in a different way. Our interest in the future is not always simply a matter of curiosity. Many of us have serious and legitimate concerns about the months and years ahead:
Is my family life going to remain stable?
What are my children going
What will society be like in this age of COVID?
Will my health hold up?
Will I have to go to a nursing home?
And what about our congregation? Where will we be 5 or 10 or 100 years from now—if Christ does not return first?
We, however, will not speculate, but will rest on the solid Rock of God’s Word that never errors or leads us astray. God’s purpose is to calm our hearts and to assure us that those who abide in Christ are forever safe in his loving hands, regardless of what we see or experience. He also comforts us by showing “the big picture” of how things will — in the end — turn out gloriously for those who abide in Jesus. This gives us the strength and the confidence to live in the midst of the many uncertainties of life today.
The first thing we need to know is,
I. God Knows the Future
I. God Knows the Future
God our Father is the only one who truly knows what the future holds, and His Word is the only reliable source in this matter. The readings today speak about the future, though not about the specifics of everything that will happen. Their concern is not about America or the stock market or the future of our current pandemic or other political events. Rather, it is the future of God’s kingdom, and God’s people, that is, those who remain firm in the faith until the end..
Both the prophet Daniel and the Lord Jesus encourage us to take comfort in God’s promises; this is what every believer does. If we were to ask Daniel, “What does the future hold?” he might respond, “Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.”
First the bad news: “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations” (v 1). In that sense, the future doesn’t look bright at all. In our day, some have the mistaken notion that humanity is always progressing to a higher plane, hopefully reaching for a scientific paradise. Of course, this idea is plagued with hubris; for example, the notion that the scientific community can eradicate sickness and disease. This defies what God has said.
Holy Scripture paints an entirely different picture. While humanity may witness great advances in areas of science, medicine, and technology, the Bible illustrates Adam’s race as degenerating morally and spiritually, descending to greater degrees of foolishness and depravity, even while it claims to be growing wiser and more tolerant. This spiritual bankruptcy will make world conditions worse and worse and worse until finally, right before the end, there will be a time of such distress that nothing in all of history will come close to matching it.
Jesus’ own words in today’s Gospel reveal that we stand on the brink of the very end — the last days have begun. Many of the signs of the end that Jesus mentions have already taken place.
Jesus also said, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many” (Mk 13:5–6).
In the past 2,000 years many have come claiming to be sent from God or to have some special revelation not found in God’s Word. These are false prophets and false messiahs, and have led many away from the truth. Just within the last century, cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons have taken millions captive by their false teachings while they claim to be Christians. And even within Christian denominations today there are more false prophets who dismiss Biblical teachings on topics such as sin, sexuality, the person of Christ, and the pastoral office. They spread soul-damning “new, enlightened understandings,” and their words are eagerly received by people with “itching ears,” all for the sake of being “tolerant,” “non-judgmental,” and “open-minded.” Like Satan himself, they twist the truth to make it suit their objectives.”
What did Jesus say? “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Mk 13:5–6).
II. Look at the Signs
II. Look at the Signs
If you think that present conditions aren’t bad enough to fit the terrible descriptions of the end times in Scripture, remember that the worst kind of distress is not physical but spiritual oppression and suffering. On the surface, things may appear normal or even peaceful. But Satan’s best work is done in secret, without people realizing what he is up-to or that he is the one doing it. Jesus’ words are sharp and to the point: “Watch out that no one deceives you” (Mk 13:5).
Once upon a time the United States was a nation largely composed of Christians. While not everyone was a believer, the Christian faith generally was respected in society. References to God the Creator are even found scattered throughout our country’s founding documents. But now comments of faith in Christ are prohibited or despised in many places. The first amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom has been twisted to mean “freedom from religion.”
There is intense spiritual warfare right now in our land. The casualties from this spiritual battle are even more serious than those from physical wars, because those conquered by Satan will spend eternity in hell. Please hear this dear people: those conquered by Satan will spend eternity in hell.
But Jesus cautions, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom” (Mk 13:7–8). These are just signs.
Jesus also said, “There will be earthquakes in various places and famines” (Mk 13:8). Nature itself will “act up” in the last days — another sign. Creation itself will start to fall apart. We’ve certainly seen this happening in a variety of ways, including this world-wide pandemic we are living with today. All of these things are part of the world’s birth pains, AND THEY WILL get worse before the birth of the new heavens and earth.
Jesus does not want us to become fatalists or doom sayers. But he does give us a healthy dose of realism so that we will remember what’s really important. We are fallen people in a fallen world that is headed for judgment. Therefore, we must not let the humanistic philosophies of our day distract us from that fundamental reality. Were it not for God’s intervention in our lives, we would be among those many people whom Daniel describes as condemned to shame and everlasting contempt.
We Christians say we “Believe ‘In’ God”, but do we “Believe God” and the promises He has made to His children? Isn’t it interesting how quick we are to believe what we hear on the news and in contrast, how slow we are to believe what God has said and promised. The only appropriate attitude for humanity in these latter days is one of repentance and humility before God. Friends, know and understand the signs.
III. Prepare for the Future
III. Prepare for the Future
Jesus tells us these things to prepare us for what lies ahead; because He loves us He has told us what to expect. What we need is strength to be able to live out our faith in this world and bear the cross. The enemies of the cross would have us live in fear of diseases and death. For God’s people, however, suffering comes before the glorious victory, just as it did for our Lord Jesus.
And, this victory belongs to you already, just as surely as Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father, ready to return for his people. All three of today’s Scripture readings focus our attention on the comforting, fear-destroying, joy-giving Good News of the final victory won for us by our God and Savior. Your Lord Jesus has secured for you an eternal home that will completely outshine any suffering or trouble you might experience today. The message from God is Good News of triumph and gladness.
Daniel tells us that while we await Jesus’ return, we are receiving around-the-clock divine protection. The text says,
“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise” (Dan 12:1). Michael is an archangel and leader of the company of God’s angels. While some think of angels as delicate little beings, the Bible portrays them as mighty warriors created by God and sent to protect his people on earth. One of them is capable of annihilating 185,000 battle-tested Assyrian soldiers in one night (Is 37:36).
36 And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.
Even now, dear friends, there is an invisible war going on — at this very moment in your hearing of these words — a war that is being fought in the spiritual realm where God’s angels are guarding you and me from the onslaughts of Satan and the demonic forces who seek to hurt you—not only physically but especially in soul, in an effort to cause you to fall away from the faith. Though we may not always realize it, Christians do have “friends in high places.”
IV. Body and Soul in Glory
IV. Body and Soul in Glory
And the Good News gets better. Daniel declares, “At that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered” (Dan 12:1). Daniel refers to the book of life, the book of those who will be delivered into the eternal glory of heaven.
Is your name written in the Lamb’s book of life? It is as surely as you have been baptized and abide in Jesus Christ. For when God put his name on you in those baptismal waters, He was also inscribing your name in his book of those who belong to Christ. You are his! And Jesus reveals just what a great blessing we have when he once told his disciples,
“Do not rejoice that the [evil] spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20).
And the Good News gets better still. Daniel tells us that our heavenly existence is not merely a spiritual one. Here he is speaking of the resurrection of your body. This is why death is never to be feared or despised by the Christian, in fact, it is good news. The world hates death and is trying very hard to get society to fear it, but the sting of death has been swallowed up by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Jesus is the cure.
Heaven is a tangible, physical place, completely devoid of any of the effects of sin. At Jesus’ Second Coming our bodies will be raised in glory, imperishable and immortal, like Jesus’ own resurrected body. Daniel says of believers abiding in Christ,
“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3). We will reflect, in both body and soul, the glory of God, our Creator and Redeemer.
Some people have a hard time understanding the resurrection of the body. They sometimes ask about Christians that have long since died and their bodies have decomposed? God in his power and grace is able to bring life from death, in order to create and recreate his people from the dust of the ground.
Illustration: In the laboratory of a famous scientist named Faraday, a highly prized silver cup was dropped by a careless workman into a vat of acid. Immediately, the acid attacked the silver, eating it away until it completely disappeared in the solution. The workman was in despair, but Faraday knew that although the cup was no longer visible, its form had only been changed—the silver was all there and could be recovered. And so he poured the right chemicals into the solution, and the silver quickly “precipitated” (reappeared) and was removed from the vat. It was sent to a silversmith with the proper design, and in a few days, the silver cup was back in its place again, none the worse for its strange experience.
Now if that scientist, under all the limitations of humanity, could gather together the atoms of that scattered silver cup, how much easier will it be for Almighty God who spoke everything into existence, gather the scattered elements that once made up a human being, put them back together again, and give that person an even better life in the new creation! Indeed, God will give such new life to all who abide in Christ, both those who have died and those who are still living when Christ returns. This is the assurance of the Christian faith to which we hold confidently.
Jesus knew that we would face hardships in the last days. Natural disasters, pandemics, famines, even persecution await God’s people. Some will be martyred for their witness; others will “fall asleep” in Christ after years of service to their Lord. Whenever the end comes for us, though, Jesus promises to be with us always. His grace is sufficient to enable us to “stand firm” (Mk 13:13) to the end, confident in his mercy, relying upon his Spirit to guide and protect us through all adversity. And because of all this, the true Christian has absolutely nothing to fear in this life.
When we ask the question, “What does the future hold?” God doesn’t give us all the details of the months and years ahead. He does not tell us everything we might like to know. But he does tell us how our story is going to end. And it is indeed a marvelous, joyous ending! Having such a certain and bright future, God gives us the confidence to know that he will work out all things for our good, even in these troubled times. Believing what God tells us, we declare with the psalmist (31:15), “My times are in Your hands...” — the hands of Christ, once stretched out in death, that he might become for us the resurrection and the life.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.