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What about war and biblical prophecy?

Early in 2022, people in Ukraine were going about their business as normal. Today, they are in the midst of a horrendous war—their homes and possessions being pulverized, their lives shattered as they shelter in bunkers or brave the perils of fleeing their country. And who knows what the situation will hold as the days and weeks of tragic aggression endure. But one thing is certain: our minds are riveted on eastern Europe, and our hearts are deeply stirred by the uncertainties of the hour.

Two eminently relevant questions I hear frequently:

  1. What should we expect?
  2. What should we do?

The first question, when asked by believers, is usually associated with prophecy, which can mean “forth-telling”—presenting the Christian message forthrightly—or “foretelling,” meaning presenting truths that have been revealed concerning the future.

There are many reasons why prophecy captures the interest of Bible believers—and the controversy therein is not something we can go into in this brief letter. Yet, oftentimes these differences in understanding stem from failure to recognize that the basic purpose of prophecy is redemptive and ethical—not date fixing and personality identifying. (For example, not a few have questioned whether Putin is the Antichrist. My father, an ardent Bible reader and teacher, was convinced Mussolini was the Antichrist!)

First, we should expect that Jesus, who left earth and ascended to heaven, will one day return. The return of Christ is preeminent in Christian teaching. Jesus affirmed it and His disciples reiterated it. He said unmistakably, “I will come again!” (John 14:3). But He did leave us with an air of certain uncertainty; we would not know when He would return, but there would be plenty of indicators that He would.

Second, we should expect that “the Day of the Lord will come” (2 Peter 3:10). The Bible teaches that the Lord who created and continues to uphold His creation has reserved the right to terminate it at His will. This cataclysmic event is variously called “the great and dreadful Day” or “the great and glorious Day” (Joel 2:31Acts 2:20). Its unfolding will incorporate judgment for some and blessing for others—thus accounting for the starkly different descriptions.

Third, we should expect God will finalize His eternal plans for His creation. The Day of the Lord and the return of Christ do not spell out the end of the story for the created order. Far from it! God has announced, “I am making everything new!”“a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:15).

This new creation will be the home of the redeemed, and the Lord will reside among His people. They will meet Jesus face-to-face and finally be transformed into His likeness. They will have new bodies ideally suited to life in the new creation. Their salvation will be complete and God will be seen to be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Which brings us to the second question. What should we do?

Knowing what to do in a dangerous, frightening, intractable situation that some fear might lead to the end of the world can be deeply disturbing for many people. But think how the Scriptures above tell us what God is doing and, accordingly, what will happen in our lives.

  • That He is coming again fills us with hope and expectancy.
  • That He is going to make a new creation fills us with joy.
  • That He will perfect us when we see Christ fills us with confidence.
  • That He has a plan for the ages gives us the courage to face the future.
  • That the love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts means—even in times of war—that love for an enemy can shine through.
  • That we have received compassion from our merciful God means our homes and hearts can be opened to refugees and the care they require.

People who display such evidence of God’s redemptive work stand out in a crowd—particularly a crowd that is confused and hopeless. This points to the fact that although our secularized society has little time or need for a Christian lifestyle or godly values, it does value the qualities of redeemed people in their midst.

But the Bible is acutely specific when it speaks to the ethical demands of a redeemed life in the context of the days in which we live. For instance, Peter—having spelled out the Day of the Lord in startling detail—asked the question, “Seeing everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” (2 Peter 3:11). Then, as many preachers love to do, he proceeded to answer his own question! “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”

Time and space do not allow further exploration of the Bible’s answer to the tremendous questions we have raised. So, may I suggest a little homework? Ask yourself a few questions, or take them to a group of friends with whom you study and pray.

  1. What role does a holy and godly life play in today’s secular environment—particularly in times of danger, uncertainty, and confusion?
  2. Does the coming Day of the Lord fill me with glorious thoughts or dreadful thoughts?
  3. How can I possibly affect the timing of the plans that God has for His universe?

As I pray—and I invite you to join me—that the ongoing situation in eastern Europe is peacefully resolved with certain haste, my hope is that you’ve found this message to be a helpful and timely comfort for your soul.