As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ we live to honor Him, know Him, obey Him, trust Him, proclaim Him. We are warriors under His command. We are servants under His lordship. As His disciples, members of His church, His basic and compelling command has been to go and tell. He has commanded us to take the Gospel of His Kingdom to all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). He has given us His Holy Spirit so that we are effective witnesses (Acts 1:8). He has given us the power of the Gospel message which has the power to save (Romans 1:16-17). He has given us the Word of God which is able to produce faith through its proclamation and hearing (Romans 10:17). Jesus told us this present age of the church will finish the task of taking the Gospel to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). We are at the time when the Gospel has gone to all nations and peoples.
But when it comes to the very end of the age, the commands of Jesus take on a dramatically different focus. No longer is the emphasis on “Go and Tell!”. Jesus said in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Now the coming of Jesus has always been the blessed hope and longing of Jesus’ disciples (Titus 2:13). But Jesus tells there is a time we will stop and look up and make that our focus. That is a very different strategy than go and tell. Why is there a change in focus from go and tell to one of looking up, for Jesus’ coming is so soon?
We also see Jesus’ command to us to focus on our own spiritual lives. He says in Luke 21:34-36, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Watch and pray for there is a day of judgment coming to the whole world. This is a very different focus from “Go and Tell.” The encouragement of the focus is on our own integrity of faith, so that we might escape what is coming on the face of the whole earth. The sense is that the times and their challenges to faith are so overwhelming that it will take all our energy just to stand faithful.
Why is there this change from “Go and Tell” to “Look Up – Watch and Pray”? And is this the season we are in? Are we so close to the end and in such perilous times for faith that our focus needs to be on Jesus coming soon and our need to be ready?
Now, the church is to never, and will never, stop holding out Jesus and salvation to all. We don’t stop seeking to influence others to turn to Jesus. As the Bible ends in Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” So the church never stops holding out Jesus and the promise of the Gospel to all who will hear. The door of salvation is still open, and the invitation to all is to come. Still, calling all to come to an open door of salvation is different from the focus to “Go and Tell.”
We do know from witnesses around the world that the Covid-19 virus has stopped almost overnight the church from going and telling. I live in the USA where our self-absorption blinds us to what is happening in the rest of the world. There are some who see the reaction to the virus as a combination of media hype trying to create fear and Democrats wanting to ruin an economy so Trump is defeated at the polls. But Covid-19 is a highly contagious virus that is deadly to some and has impacted over 200 countries. The world economy has all but stopped. Stay at home orders have been given in vastly different nations, from Italy to Bangladesh. Where the virus is ignored, as in Brazil, the infection rate and death rate are astronomical. In most of these countries churches are closed. Christians are confined to home and cannot go and tell.
This reaction to the virus is unprecedented in its universal impact. Even the Spanish Flu of 1918 did not stop the economies and the work of the church in such a universal way. There has never been a time like this. But is this the time Jesus had in mind when He would change our focus from “Go and Tell” to “Look Up – Watch and Pray”?
When Jesus sent His church into the world it was with the command to look to the field for the harvest is plentiful. He called for us to pray that God would raise up and send out harvest laborers into the harvest field (Matthew 9:37-38). Yet, at the end Jesus doesn’t call us to look unto the harvest fields. He calls us to look up, for our redemption draws near (Luke 21:28). Why the change from looking for the harvest to looking up for the end is near?
When Jesus sent His disciples into the world, as recorded in Acts 1, they asked Jesus if His kingdom would now come to earth. Jesus said to them in Acts 1:7-8, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This was the time for the Gospel to go to the ends of the earth, and that was all they needed to know. Yet, at the end, Jesus’ direction changes dramatically. His direction is for the church to know the season. We are to know it is all coming to an end (Luke 21:28). We are the generation of the church to know our time and season.
The key to understanding the transition of focus is Jesus saying, “Now when these things begin to take place” (Luke 21:28). What are the things which are taking place? And why is the church only to see when things begin to take place, not when they finish? While Jesus taught that no one would know the day and the hour Jesus will come to take home His church, He did tell us we would know the season, the generation. The writer of Hebrews spoke to the same truth calling us to assemble together as “you see the Day drawing near.” Thus it will be real events we can see in the world, and we can conclude that Day of judgment for the world is drawing near. What are the signs of the seasons?
We know that Jesus’ one key sign has been fulfilled and is unarguable, unless you want to deny the theme of Bible prophecy itself. The key sign is Jerusalem becoming the capital of the a reborn Jewish nation of Israel (Luke 21:24). We live in the only time in history to see this sign fulfilled. Israel becoming a Jewish nation under United Nations mandate in 1948. Jerusalem taking control of a united Jerusalem in 1967. No other generation has seen this. No other generation has seen Jews dispersed among the nations of the world being brought back to the land. Israel is reborn in troubling, threatening times when the future of Jerusalem is the key to the world finding peace (Zechariah 12:2). We know from the prophet Joel that when God brings the Jewish people back to Jerusalem He will also draw the nations there for the final judgment of the battles of Armageddon and Jesus’ return to earth (Joel 3:1-3).
We know from Jesus there will be intensifying times of natural disasters, pestilences, floods, droughts, earthquakes. It will be as if creation is like a woman in labor going through the intensifying birth pangs (Matthew 24:8). Jesus warned of people fainting in terror at the roaring and tossing of the sea (Luke 21:25-26). Right now, many are alarmed that the world is facing a double pandemic. One is from Covid-19. The other is from mega-famine. The shutting down of economies in the poorest nations is creating a dangerous time. There are plagues of grasshoppers in the Horn of Africa, Mideast, and now moving to India. Even casual news comments call them crises of biblical proportions.
Jesus also warned of the breakdown of civil order. In the USA right now we have seen protestors in full armor shouting in the faces of police in the capitol of Michigan. These have been encouraged by the President calling them good people who are protesting for their right. Now we are seeing protesters in Minneapolis, Washington DC, Atlanta, New York City, Los Angeles protesting the taking of life of a man of color in a casual display of police brutality. The Bible warns the last days will be terrible times, not so much from natural disasters as from civil disorder that comes from people compelled by the love of self, money, and pleasure, who are treacherous in relationships (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
As Jesus calls us to “Look Up – Watch and Pray,” we know that no one knows how to prepare for the future. Everyone longs for a return to ‘normal’, yet it is obvious we will not in the foreseeable future be going back to normal. Churches are reopening with such limits that it threatens the nature of worship services themselves. Borders are significantly closed among nations. International and national air travel are at a trickle of former levels. It’s time for the church to realize we have switched from the “Go and Tell” season to the “Look Up – Watch and Pray” season.
While the church has always been to watch and pray, Jesus says at the very end the disturbing nature of the times, the rise of wickedness as normal, and the great apostasy by the church from the truths of the faith will make it incredibly dangerous for true faith (Luke 21:34-36). While we see the warning of the rising wrath of God coming on the nations, we have many in the church denying there is such a thing as the wrath of God. As the prophecies of the Bible are coming true with such dramatic clarity, many in the church deny the Bible as a book of specific prophecy.
As the church looks up we are to know we will escape the judgment that is coming on the whole world. The church will not be here for the final seven year Tribulation. We will escape all that is about to happen (Luke 21:36). That is why Jesus calls us to look up when these things begin to take place, because we won’t see the finish on earth. We don’t have to fear vaccine conspiracies. We will not see the Beast, nor will we be faced with taking the Mark of the Beast. We aren’t here for that. The Mark of the Beast won’t come as some vaccine marking. It will come as an explicit act of worship of the Antichrist. All of the means needed to make that possible are being seen in what is being planned with vaccines. The vaccine, marking, contact tracing, people being declared as safe or unsafe are just the final trial run before the final rebellion takes place. We don’t have to worry about that. We won’t face it.
That is why Jesus calls us in this season to “Look Up – Watch and Pray”. It seems like things have passed the point of no return. We go back to the call to “Look Up – Watch and Pray” from Isaiah 26:20-12, “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. For behold the Lord is coming out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.”