Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. — Luke 21:10-13
As in the parallel passage in Matthew 24, the Disciples have asked Jesus about His statement concerning the destruction of Herod's Temple. The Lord predicts the siege of Jerusalem in 66 to 70 AD and speaks of the calamities surrounding it. Those who hear the word, though, have always understood that Jesus was seeing beyond the single event and prophesying both of a greater eschatological truth and of a reality that believers in all times and places can comprehend.
Wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, and epidemics are the things that keep the evening news on the air selling soap. Somewhere on this slightly egg-shaped planet today somebody is going to die in a conflict. Accidents and disasters will take place, but life will go on. People have not changed all that much due to civilization and Western culture. We have not really gotten used to it. We are still playing with the same basic equipment that ushered in the Old Stone Age. Fears still motivate us. We are still looking over our shoulders for Smilodon, and we get frightened by Smiling Shem or Fundy Frank or some other bogey of the modern age. The manipulators like that; it makes us easier to drive into the corral.
Jesus says that, in the times before Jerusalem was surrounded and thrown down, His followers would be rounded up, imprisoned, and persecuted. "But before all this they will lay hands on you." This has been the pattern ever since. Christianity must be silenced, driven underground, diluted or tainted in some way before evil can run its course. At the very least, the salt must lose its savor and become good for nothing except to be discarded. As long as Christians are pure salt and light in a society, tyranny and violence, dishonesty and vice are held in check. The professors can re-write history all they want, but they cannot change the truth. No nation with a strong Christian base is going to fall victim to internal corruption. At worst it will do as America did in 1860 and cleanse itself of a corrosive evil, bathed in its own blood.
They don't lock us up in America these days. They don't have to. They corrupt us with fame and money. They encourage our greed with tax-exempt status — as long as we are willing to play their game. They segregate us and tell us to keep our religion in our churches, that we can do whatever we want behind closed doors. You can let your little light shine, so long as you keep it covered with this government-approved bucket. Preachers don't go to jail in America for preaching the gospel; they are imprisoned for tax evasion. Gangsters can beat a murder rap, but nobody beats the IRS.
There does need to be a separation of church and state. The state needs to get out of the church, which is exactly what the sometimes-agnostic, sometimes-deist, sometimes-unitarian Jefferson meant when he coined the phrase in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. Churches need to take to heart the admonition of Solzhenitsyn with regard to government: "Don't believe them, don't fear them, don't ask anything of them." Christians should not be beholden to the state nor obedient to the state. Rejecting the state is harder to do when you have been living at least partially off taxpayer beneficence for a hundred years.
Wait, did he say that Christians should not obey the state? Yes, I did. Does anybody think that the Body of Christ is not more righteous — at least in theory — than any government anywhere, any time in history? Are our standards not higher and purer and truer than anything a bunch of bought-off legislators, bureaucrats, corrupt lawyers, and political hacks would impose? Grow up! Do I or does any other Christian need a state law to tell us that certain things are wrong — that it is wrong to hurt or to deceive others, to satisfy our own greed and lust at the expense of another, to enrich ourselves by impoverishing someone else? Hell, no. We are guilty of turning our consciences over to the government, of substituting legality for morality. I don't need a government to outlaw what the Bible tells me is wrong or to force me to do what the Bible says is right.
As it stands, the church has marginalized itself, becoming enamored of worldly success and acceptance. We trade in the same corrupting values as the non-believer. We have watered down the wine to make it acceptable to children, which would not be quite so bad if we hadn't gone and developed such a taste for it as adults. We can't handle anything stronger any more. We might get out of hand, upset the status quo. As Hank lamented about a different kind of wine, nobody wants to get drunk and get loud. We don't want a Holy Ghost that really emboldens us, that makes others uncomfortable. He's the Comforter all right, but He only comforts us after we have been shaken by the relentless terror of the truth. Our God is a consuming fire. If He ain't freaked you out, you ain't seen Him.
The Church's ineffectiveness against spiritual death and corruption is evident all around us. Secular American society is rapidly decaying. Every one of the Seven Deadly Sins has so permeated the thinking of the nation that it is easily deceived and led astray. When people turn from the truth, the links of the chain are forged, grace is set aside, and the key passes to fate:
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)
We will not like how this ends, though it is not the End of All Things. Any little, old antichrist — and there are many, will do to bring about the fall of a city, a state, a culture, or a civilization. All that has to happen is for Christ and His people to be pushed aside, for His truth to be rejected and ignored — before all this.