On anguish, the dragon, Revelation, and things are not always what they seem

For the past two weeks, I’ve been waking up in deep anguish. Sometimes life in Christ is a beautiful paradox — the Lord promises us peace that transcends all understanding, yet Paul had great sorrow and anguish over his own kinsmen in flesh to a point where he would rather be cursed in order his family in blood could be saved (Romans 9:2-3). Moses, too, pled with God by saying he would rather be blot out from the book of life for the Israelites to be forgiven (Exodus 32:32).

I am certainly nowhere close to Paul. But to suffer with those who suffer (1 Cor 12:26) seems to carry more weight than to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:25). It is not just sympathy but a type of empathy — you are putting yourself in the shoes of others. Is this not how our suffering with our fellow brothers and sisters should look like? Many Christians lament about the lukewarmness in the Church today, but lukewarmness does not only manifest itself in our relationship with the Lord; it also shows when our nerves become numb towards our persecuted brothers and sisters. We are of the same body — of the same bone, of the same flesh.

It seems even more painful when those of the body share the same bloodline with you. I am speaking as a Chinese. The church history in China has much to teach us. The increasing hostility towards believers in China has been, as many suggest, the most severe kind ever since Mao’s times. 

I have never experienced any horrifying treatment myself. I have heard stories from my parents who grew up under the Cultural Revolution, and have read stories of the famous Chinese saints — those who died as martyrs; those who did not renounce their faith and ended up living to a good old age; those who gave themselves to the three-self church with regret; and those who did but with great pride. Now, we have access to news about the persecuted brothers and sisters, but as some of my friends agree, what we see reported on the news are but a small percentage of what is going on.   

I have not actually suffered, but I find myself trembling at times. After all, it does appear the churches in China are being slain one by one. With the new “skywatch” and “social-scoring” system, it only makes removing the saints more easily. (If you don’t know what I am referring to, consider reading Dr. Michael Brown’s article). During the passport control in my recent visit to mainland, my relative was asked by a Chinese officer, “you have removed a face mole, right?” It may sound funny, but that’s how detailed they go about your face.

And yes, I tremble. I begin to question if the Church can indeed survive and blossom in such an environment. I was not questioning God’s goodness or His sovereignty. I was questioning about the building of the Church. Because things just don’t seem like it.

Then I remember Jesus said, “I will build my Church. And the gates of Hades shall not prevail it.” And Yes, He will. I trust my Lord, therefore I trust His words.

And then I remember what I have been saying repeatedly to my friends this last term — and it seems like God is now testing me if I actually believe what I have said: I used say, our faith is, as Dallas Willard says, not a blind faith. Our faith is based on true spiritual knowledge. “We live by faith and not by sight” does not mean we see nothing — it just means that we do not, as Tim Mackie teaches, walk based on what things seem to appear as outwardly.

What does it mean in this context? It means although outwardly, it looks like the Church is being torn into pieces, we know God is still building; He is building His kingdom by using, as Joni Tada says, one form of evil — suffering —  to overcome another form of evil — sin. He is still the Cosmic Christ in the word of Willard.

Consider Hebrews 11:13,

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”

Even our forefathers saw the promises from a distance.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-18, on the other hand, reassures us by saying, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing is new under the sun.” Posters saying things like “We the People need religion” and “We exalt Xi and his new socialism for a New Era” can be found from roads to apartments to public toilets in this country where the official religion is atheism, but even my non-religious aunt calls it idolatry.

Meanwhile, many persecuted saints are forced to sign papers to renounce their faith in Christ and pledge their final loyalty to the government. If they do not do that, they will be put into jail, and their kids cannot go to school. With the new system just mentioned, some will eventually be banned from social activities such as shopping for daily essentials.

But it is indeed nothing new. This is history repeating itself. Nero has become history, but the spirit only takes another form and another shape to operate. In Revelation For Everywhere, N.T. Wright who identifies the beast as Nero writes, “…the Christians were faced with a stark alternative: stay true to the lamb and risk losing your livelihood, the ability to sell or buy; or capitulate to the monster…then everything will be all right, except your integrity as one of the lamb’s followers.” (p.121) Remember the beast forces the people to take its mark or else, they cannot buy or sell.

In addition, the beast, although having been wounded, recovers and continues to draw people to worship him.

Sam Storms, quoting G.K. Beale, explains in Kingdom Come the symbolism of the beast’s recovery: “Therefore, whenever any major opponent of God reaches his demise, it appears as if the beast has been defeated, yet he will arise again in some other form, until the end of history.”

Last week, a post was written by an American brother and author named Ryan Johnson about a dream he had on China and Trump. I am not going to comment on his dream or his interpretation whatsoever. I believe in divine dreams (indeed I had such an experience at 6 on the day I was saved), prophetic dreams, and even dreams from the enemy that promote fear and condemn. I also believe even the most genuine believer can be prone to error, and the most controversial saints can still pronounce truth. The most important thing to consider is always whether what is said builds up the Body or not. And I bring him up because his article argues that the spirit that has captured the ancient Emperors of China, Mao, and Xi is ultimately the same one (he calls it “the spirit of the Dragon”).

Regardless of his wordings, there is indeed “the spirit of the age”. Satan as “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 16:11) manifests himself in different forms throughout human history. Ideologies, demonic doctrines, cultic worships are just some examples. Behind all these is the unwavering truth that the human history intertwined with the divine history is a story of two kingdoms.

What does this leave us with? On top of praying for all men and leaders in high positions that we may lead a peaceful life, godly in every way (1 Tim 2), a few thoughts from several men that I respect came to mind (They do not necessarily lead to any micro-conclusion. They just popped up in my brain).

R.T. Kendall has always argued, with his interpretation of the parables of the ten virgins, that there will be a “great awakening” before the Lord’s return (while I do not follow his interpretation of this parable, I respect him a great deal).

Frank Viola recently observes that leaders from different Christian tribes will begin to work together. He sees God raising up a “radical and absolute tribe of Christians” devoted to Jesus Christ and His kingdom and that a “growing number of worldwide Christian Millennials will be stirred by the Spirit of God to hunger for the deeper things of Christ.”

(Many Christians of my generation in Hong Kong have left the more “traditional” Chinese churches in which there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor, where rituals are more emphasized than the Spirit. While some have given up on meetings, some flee to churches where spiritual friendship is encouraged, and that the less privileged, such as domestic helpers and refugees are honoured.)

Sam Storms argues, based on Revelation 11, that there will be a vast global harvest of souls coming into the kingdom at the end of the age. I also long for such a harvest, and I tend to believe, as many others do, that this may include many Jews coming to Christ as Roman 11 hints.

I bring these up because, in a more general sense, hard times of persecution often provide the Church opportunities to experience purification and drop our tribal comfort to labour as one. One detained saint writes, “There is a secret that they don’t know: the church will never be broken up, for the gospel has created a deep-rooted community bound together by a common purpose”.

The Church also shines the brightest when we love as one, for as Jesus says, we will be known by the world for our love (John 13:15). In addition, Jesus has continuously prayed for us to be one (John 17). As we pray the same prayer, we find ourselves becoming the answer to that prayer. This ought to be our prayer, especially since we are living in a time where, as Rico Tice says, there is great hostility but also great hunger in the world for Christ.

Revelation — actually, the entire Bible — is affirming one single truth, that “to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14). The Lord is a consuming fire who purifies us by burning out the perishable, the destructible, and the shakable in order to produce an imperishable, indestructible and unshakable kingdom ruled by love and service.

And remember, things are not always what they seem like with their outward appearances. Let Him build, and let us co-labour with Him walking by spiritual sight in love.

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