Last week we said, “There really is something like a crisis in the field of learning, and many people are asking if there is not another way. The Christian replies that there is indeed another way based on the fact that reality is neither an equation nor an emotional experience. It is found in the God of the Bible who is the author of but who transcends both emotion and reason. Therefore, to know Him is to have knowledge.”
As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ almost two-thousand years ago this week, we can be encouraged by the afore-mentioned fact. This approach is strong at precisely those points where the other steps toward knowledge are weak. This is so because of who God is. The rationalistic approach is weak because it makes reality impersonal. But God is a personal being. He loves and cares for us. He reveals Himself by name. He enters our history as the Lord Jesus Christ to draw us to Himself. The rationalistic approach is weak also because it fails to give an adequate base for ethics. But the God of the Bible is the ethical God. “Right” flows from His character. When we turn to the other approach to knowledge, the approach through emotional experience, and note its weaknesses – the fact that it is passing and does not last, and that it fails to satisfy the mind – the answer is again in the nature of the Bible’s God. God is eternal and unchangeable, the same yesterday and today and forever, and He reveals Himself to our minds propositionally in the pages of His written Word.
The world does not have this approach to knowledge; therefore, its experience is what the angel predicted in his words to Daniel: a frantic pursuit of knowledge without true understanding. It is because the key to knowledge is lacking.
Another characteristic of the last days, suggested by reference to a final judgment in Daniel 12:2 but explicitly spelled out in verse 10, is an increase in wickedness. Verse 10 says of the saints, “Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined,” but it adds of those who are not God’s people, “the wicked shall act wickedly” [i.e. will continue to be wicked]. Indeed, they will break the power of God’s people in some great final catastrophe (v.7), the most wicked among them having ushered in the period of intense suffering and persecution in which the abomination that makes desolate is set up.
I do not think we are in this period of final intense persecution today, but we do live in wicked times. Paul wrote to Timothy of the last days, saying, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
What a horrible picture! We tend to read it and turn away exclaiming, “Spare us such days!” But those verses are actually descriptive of our days, although we give other names to the vices Paul mentions. “Lovers of themselves” we call narcissism. “Lovers of money” is materialism. “Boastful, proud, abusive” is “letting it all hang out.” We call “disobedient to parents” the generation gap. And so on with all the other failures of our age.
Therefore, I repeat: I do not think we are yet living in this particularly wicked age of final persecution before the Lord comes. But we are living in something quite like it. And we can hardly be surprised if the evil we see now intensifies and the persecutions we witness increase dramatically in the years to come.
The first chapter of Romans explains why and how this happens. It shows that the only way in which a civilization moves upward from barbarism is by a genuine and growing knowledge of God. It is what we find in Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” That is the way a people, nation, or culture advances. But what happens if knowledge of God is neglected or spurned, as Paul says the wicked do spurn it? In that case, people are cut off from what is good and enter upon a downhill course that results in their increasing spiritual, moral, and physical debasement. In each instance, Paul uses the phrase “God gave them up [over],” and shows the result of rejecting knowledge of the true God. First, they are given over to “sexual impurity” (v.24). Second, they are given over to “dishonorable passions [shameful lusts]” (v.26). Third, they are given over to “a debased mind,” in which they justify their evil deeds by calling good evil and evil good – “they give approval to those who practice them.”
That is precisely the point to which our culture has come today. We have been given over to sexual impurity, to dishonorable passions, and to a debased mind. Indeed, few things are so characteristic of our time as the use of words to justify evil and disparage the good. Vices that in an earlier time would have been considered abhorrent are now justified as “self-expression,” “personal growth,” “an alternative lifestyle,” “freedom of choice,” “honesty,” or similar “good” things.
It is not impossible that a time like ours could lead rapidly into the final period of intense persecutions described by the angel: “a time, times and half a time” (presumably a period of three and half years) or the special period of 1,290 or 1,335 days (which we cannot yet explain), referred to at the end of Daniel twelve.