The Gathering Storm
Whenever we think of the gathering storm, we often place it in the context of the second coming of Christ. Our desires, our hopes, our inspirations are all centered in that blessed hope of the coming of our Lord and Saviour. But what are we asking when we speak of the coming of Jesus? When we say that we are to be hastening the coming of the true Messiah the second time, it includes some events that are not so glorious as the second advent. The Bible reminds us of the tough times that happen before that day. “Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him” (, ).
The final storm is not something to be taken lightly. Jesus describes terrible things that will take place, something that is beyond our comprehension until those events actually take place. “Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake” ().
In spite of the most diligent preparation, what will happen when these scenes actually take place? “It is often the case that trouble is greater in anticipation than in reality; but this is not true of the crisis before us. The most vivid presentation cannot reach the magnitude of the ordeal.”1 We have had a little taste of what it will be like then during this time of Covid. By the time you are reading this, it is possible that the Covid crisis will be over. On the other hand, it has already been raging for over two years and showing no sign of abating—but rather is constantly mutating. It is like fleeing from a dangerous lion just to run into a bear. And just as we are escaping in the nick of time, we close the door of a nearby house and rest our hands on the mantlepiece just to be bitten by a snake.
As of the beginning of February this year, there have been nearly 390 million confirmed cases of Covid worldwide with nearly 1.5% dying from the disease (although I personally know of a few cases where the person was already dying and we were expecting their death at any moment and then they caught Covid and they were counted in that statistic). But that still shows the seriousness of this disease and it becomes more personal when one of your immediate family or friends passes away.
If you are living in a place that is affected by disease, you become absorbed by the news surrounding that disease. If you are living in a place that is torn by war—and there are many places like that on this planet at this time—you are not so worried about plagues as you are about military action. When you live in a place where a disaster has just taken place, you are worried about finding shelter. And if you are in a place that is affected by drought, you are worried about what to eat. So the question for us really is: How are we to treat all this data on a personal level?
What actually is happening all around us? What is happening to this world as we know it? “Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth. And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake” (, ).
The real question from a prophetic viewpoint is not why this is all happening but why are these events so mild in comparison to the destruction that we see portrayed in the Bible as destroying winds and treacherous whirlwinds. We know that all this must happen and even worse before the coming of the day of the Lord. What is holding everything back? “Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (). Sadly, God’s professed people are not ready and our Creator in His mercy is giving us a bit more time to prepare by mitigating the disasters from their full fury.
Scientists are doing their best to explain what is happening and trying to find a solution to all these events—from pandemics to climate change. Yet if God is not in the picture they cannot identify the true cause nor find the real solution. “The restraining Spirit of God is even now being withdrawn from the world. Hurricanes, storms, tempests, fire and flood, disasters by sea and land, follow each other in quick succession. Science seeks to explain all these. The signs thickening around us, telling of the near approach of the Son of God, are attributed to any other than the true cause. Men cannot discern the sentinel angels restraining the four winds that they shall not blow until the servants of God are sealed; but when God shall bid His angels loose the winds, there will be such a scene of strife as no pen can picture.”2
During this fearful time, every church member is going to be tested personally like never before. Our fundamental beliefs will be brought into question both from without and sadly from within. “The faith of individual members of the church will be tested as though there were not another person in the world.”3 This is not speaking only of the final storm that involves the universal Sunday decree. Clearly there are leadup issues. The final test is just that—the final test. The issue has always been and always will be the will of God verses the will of man. “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” ( ).
Are we really awake to the real issues at hand? Or are we thinking that we can compromise on every issue and then when the Sunday decree comes we will suddenly be found faithful? “The crisis is now upon us. The battle is to be waged between the Christianity of the Bible and the Christianity of human tradition. Is there not a criminal neglect in our present sleepy condition?”4
What is God trying to accomplish in giving us preliminary tests as we see the gathering storm? The big issue has always been the surrender of the human will to the caring will of our heavenly Father. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (5). Submission has to do with the will, with the mind. This is why it all has to do with the control of our very thoughts. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” ( ). Satan’s purpose has always been to control the way we think. “Although Satan rejoiced because of the sufferings of the saints, yet he was not satisfied. He wanted control of the mind as well as the body.”
As we see wars, plagues, and disasters—manmade as well as natural—mingled with persecution, what has God designed to help us individually to withstand all of these? “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (). As we see that day approaching, it means as we experience the literal fulfillment of all these prophecies we are to find ways to continue meeting together in order to exhort one another the same way that our forefathers had done when such meetings were forbidden.
This is why the United States was established—granting the God-given right to meet in fellowship with one another without interference from the government. Without this right, the United States Constitution would have been derailed so they had to attach a Bill of Rights that declared in part at the very onset: “ ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”6 That very first amendment continues to make it clear that the freedom of exercising your religion includes “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” which includes protesting what the government is doing in a peaceful way. While we are living in relative peace we need to make use of the privilege of meeting together to exhort one another—because a time is coming when we will regret having missed all the neglected opportunities we may have failed to appreciate. Instead of meeting together, we may have chosen to stay at home or tried to find other ways to miss or neglect fellowship one with another. We will then sadly realize that this was often due to simply minor reasons.
As we approach the culmination of all our hopes, what can we expect on the part of the world as we see the prophesied events unfold before our very eyes? “Go not forth into the field, nor walk by the way; for the sword of the enemy and fear is on every side”(). And who exacerbates this fear to an unnerving level? “For I heard the defaming of many, fear on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it” ( ). I have read headlines that make a person terrified but then when you look up the actual story it is not as bad as the headline. And this is not just news reports. Recently while reading an article from the British Medical Journal I read a shocking headline. But reading the details it gave a different picture. And so many people just read the headlines and are living in constant fear.
What are people willing to do when they are afraid? Benjamin Franklin, one of the leading founding fathers in America who helped draft the Declaration of Independence, once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Once a person becomes afraid, they are willing to give up anything. And what is the driving force behind fear? “And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (). The moment we are afraid to die, we become a slave and are willing to give up anything so that we can have some security of being alive. When a person is no longer afraid to die, they are no longer a slave.
If a person continues in this type of fear, where will they eventually end up? “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (). This clearly shows that the redeemed will overcome such fear.
Do God’s people sometimes struggle with fear? The patriarch Jacob pleaded with God: “Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children” (). It is true that much of what he was facing had been self inflicted, but it nevertheless did cause fear. The solution was to take it to the Lord in prayer and when he did, Jacob came out a different man—a man with no fear at all.
When we look at the circumstances around us and we begin to fear, what is the best solution that God gives? When the children of Israel saw the Egyptian army closing in, a steep cliff forbidding escape on the one side and the sea in front of them, what message does God give His people? “And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward” (7 In other words, “If we humbly do our work with fidelity, the Lord will take care of the results. Have faith in God.”8). Yes, in the midst of all that, it is time to move forward and not retreat. “There are times when it seems to the servant of God impossible to do the work necessary to be done, because of the lack of means to carry on a strong, solid work. Some are fearful that with the facilities at their command they cannot do all that they feel it their duty to do. But if they advance in faith, the salvation of God will be revealed, and prosperity will attend their efforts.”
As we look at world events—including Covid or any other catastrophic plague or disaster—how should we relate to them? “Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid” (). If we truly believe that we are in the will of God, then whether we live or die is no matter to us. “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” ( ).
The first thing we need to resolve is: What are we looking for? Our Master bids us, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (). Is the heavenly kingdom Number 1 with us? If so, then how long we live in this sinful world is of no consequence to us as long as we fulfill the purpose for which God has placed us in this world. Stephen’s life was cut short at the very beginning of his work and John’s was prolonged to a very ripe old age. Each had accomplished their work and neither was afraid of death. But their will was completely submerged into the will of God and they trusted in Him fully for the accomplishment of His purposes.
The thing that causes in us a fear of dying is when we’re not doing the will of God. “If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him; if iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles. For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear” ().
This can only happen once we are born again and we have a heavenly driving force directing our life. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (, ). Remember that it was fear of death that led people to be subject to bondage all their life. That means that once we are born again and become the sons of God, we are no longer afraid to die. Yes, we love our heavenly Father so much that it changes our entire perspective on life. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” ( ).
Fear of death is the driving force for slavery. Fear to die in war, of some kind of disaster, of a pandemic, of hunger, of persecution—they are all no different. It is true that we are not to go into persecution unnecessarily. We are told to flee when there is a war. We are to use all the remedies available—especially the natural ones—when sickness comes. But if we somehow become trapped in a dangerous situation, what should we be our concern? “And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him” (, ).
What will happen when we are prepared? “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (). In God’s infinite wisdom and mercy He may allow us to suffer but never with fear. “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” ( ).
How can we live in times of calamities and never be afraid again? “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith” (, ).
This faith is more than simple belief. “Belief may exist without trust, but confidence born of trust cannot exist without faith. Every sinner brought to a knowledge of the saving power of Christ, will make manifest this trust in greater degree as he advances in experience.”9
Do we individually and as a people have this kind of faith that will take us through all the challenging times ahead? May the Lord answer the prayer of the disciples in our lives today: “The apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith” ().