by Amyas Mvunelo | 11 April 2020 |
Something that interests me as a Bible student is the length of God’s timelines, even in grace.
Jesus is prophesied as the Messiah to come from the time of Adam and Eve’s fall (Genesis 3:15)—according to some reckonings, at least 6,000 years ago. Fast forward. Daniel, in a 2300-year prophecy, sees the Messiah cut off and the Jews rejected as the exclusive messianic nation. The prophet Isaiah sees Jesus’ suffering in gory detail about 750 years before he is born. 500 years before Jesus’ triumphal entry, Zechariah predicts his riding on a colt. Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem, and this happens in AD 70.
Jesus also foresees a time of trouble such as never was. When the so-called Spanish flu, the mother of all pandemics, hit the world around 1918 and nearly wiped out the population in some areas, some thought it was the end of the world. With the coronavirus at hardly 2 million, panic is epic, and already we know the economical impact will be colossal.
You and I belong to a prophetic movement that is preoccupied with tracing the actions of God, from before the world was established, until Jesus returns. We believe we are waiting for Jesus’ coming, and because of that we watch every sign. We saw signs of Jesus’ coming in 9/11, and tend to see them in any major global incident. Some among us believe they not only can anticipate Jesus’ coming, but precipitate it by fixing their characters and doing evangelism. Some believe we are the final generation, and I suppose the Apostle Paul believed that, too, about 2,000 years ago.
Here is my concern with biblical or divine timelines: they are unpredictable. Indeed, no one knows the length of time of many prophecies. From the going forth of the prophecy, unless stated, no one knows precisely how long divine grace stays God’s hand. If this pandemic were to be the sign of the time of Jesus’ coming, for example, how would we know? What length of time would it signal for the advent of Jesus, or how long the dark times would last?
Thus far the coronavirus has not yet evoked the usual prophetic hype. Maybe we have learned from our particular history, from the mistakes of 1844, to be careful. Or perhaps we just don’t know what to make of the unusual globality and rapidity of the viral contagion. Perhaps we didn’t see this on our prophetic radar, hence we do not have the will to make too much of it.
Whatever the reasons for our restraint, one thing is clear: while we are watching the prophetic instruments, we are not able to pronounce conclusively what they mean. We are not ready to put our heads on the block—not yet. Furthermore, we are not altogether in agreement about every interpretation we inherited from our forebears, for in fact we have had to revise some of them.
This is my observation: that from the going forth of the prophecy to its fulfillment, and taking into account gaps between signs, we can’t always be sure of the length of time periods. Prophets and prophetic movements have had to maintain some humility until and unless they receive some more precise word of prophecy.
Has Prophecy Paralyzed Us?
I believe we should remain a prophetic movement that speaks the sure word of prophecy. I am also of the view that our knowledge of the prophecy tends to paralyze us rather than empower us. Our prophetic knowledge makes us passive rather than proactive.
To illustrate: while we know, at least in terms of some of our interpretations, that there will be economic exclusion on the basis of the Sabbath, we are not proactively building an Adventist economic system. Was the prophetic message given so that we become passive participants in history, or was it to empower us to creatively find alternative economic plans in the intervening period? How will a church that depends on the generosity of its members for an income survive economic hardships such as are predicted in the aftermath of the coronavirus, or a worst epidemic that could happen?
How does a church with members who are locked down have the ability to promote stewardship? Should we not have created multiple streams of income for our missionary machinery, to the extent that we would be now able to even help our members who may be about to face the hardest and harshest economic depression? Does not our Sabbath provide and inspire Sabbath economics, especially in the light of our prophetic radar?
Occupy Until He Comes
But more than anything, I am of the view that we have to occupy until he comes (Luke 19:13). We have to carry on with our lives as though Jesus is not about to come, while we know he could come anytime. We have to move forward and plan for our lives beyond coronavirus. The prophetic people have to plan for the aftermath of the pandemic even if the pandemic grips the world for months and years to come. As prophetic people, we have to show the world what it means to occupy till Jesus comes.
While we may be cautious in prophetic pronouncements about the current pandemic and its consequences, we have to be people of hope for a hopeless and panicked world, instead of being caught up in paralysis and despair. Since we don’t know the hour, we’ve got to be people of the hour for a world that is paralysed by uncertainty. Because we don’t know how long the grace timelines are, we can’t wait in idleness. We must go on like the Jews, our forebears, who heard the messianic prophecies without the knowledge of when they were going to be fulfilled. While we may fervently and passionately sing “…any day now we will be going home…” we could be here for another 7 years, 70 years, 500 years, 750 years, 2300 years or more.
While we anticipate and precipitate (whatever that means) the second coming of Christ, we must occupy till he comes, even through the eye of pestilences, wars and adversities. No one knows the time, and no one must pretend he does with definiteness. We’ve got to creatively survive through all the events that will occur before Jesus arrives, because we know there are turbulences ahead.
Amyas Mvunelo is a senior pastor in Kelvin-on-Atholl Seventh-day Adventist Church in Johannesburg in South Africa.