Who Will Be Left Behind?
A few years back there was a lot of talk about being left behind when Jesus comes back. It was stirred by some very popular books and movies with that same theme. Among other things, it revealed that our fear of being left out is still prominent, regardless of what the event might be.
Though some of the fervor around the timing of the Second Coming has waned, Christians concerned with the condition of our culture are talking about a move of God in a great revival or even an awakening. Those discussions invite the question of what that might look like and who would be included — and by contrast, who would be left behind.
God Has Acted on Our Behalf
We might gain some insight from the ancient prophet Ezekiel, who addressed the Jewish exiles in Babylon:
Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.
— Ezekiel 36:22 (ESV)
The people of Israel had broken the covenant with God. They had lost their land and were under the control of the pagan Babylonians. Things were bad — even worse than today. The prophet announced that God was about to act. His reason for action, however, might have seemed strange to them as well as to us. He was concerned with his name.
God is gracious and never overlooks the guilty. He can keep his people because he acts in their behalf.
The nations were saying that God couldn’t keep his people in their own land. He was going to act to vindicate his name. It wouldn’t do any good to admonish his people severely to do better next time. God took responsibility for their actions as well as his own. He initiated a new covenant in which he negotiated with himself to both keep the requirements and bless the one who kept them.
God the Father would bless the representative of the people. Jesus as the Son of Man was that representative.
Those who by faith are identified with Jesus are blessed because of him. This all played out in history as Jesus, born of a virgin, lived a righteous life, died a sacrificial death, and was resurrected from the dead to rule over his kingdom. God’s name has been vindicated. He is gracious and never overlooks the guilty. He can keep his people because he acts in their behalf. Those who trust only in Jesus for their righteousness can never be expelled or exiled.
Those Whose Faith was Merely an Accessory
Sadly, this simple gospel has been maligned in our land. Often the church is blamed for the atrocities in the world rather than being viewed as the hope for every sinner. The watching society is mocking the people of God and slandering his name because we, the people of God, have focused on our efforts to be righteous and to leverage his blessings.
We have also mixed our nationalism with biblical revelation and settled for an American Christianity that is much less than New Testament Christianity. We have foolishly assumed that being a good American is basically the same as being a Christian, or that it would at least give us some advantage.
The recent surveys show that many are casting off their religious affiliation. They don’t need it anymore. At one time, it was advantageous to be known as a Christian in America. Now it is a political and economic liability. That brand of Christianity is being left behind by those seeking to fully embrace the American dream that is mostly characterized by secularism. They had rather have no religion than one that does not give them advantage in their own pursuits. They are content to just be an American.
What About Those Who Hold on to the Former American Christian Model?
But, when God moves to highlight the essence of his name in the gospel, those who try to hold on to the former American Christian model will also be left behind. In truth, the New Testament gospel is only attractive to those who know they have nothing with which to negotiate.
It is not comfortable for any of us to conclude that we can bring nothing to the negotiating table. We tend to harbor the illusion that we have something God wants; that we aren’t as bad as Hitler; that we haven’t been as bad as we could have been; that others are worse; that our intentions have been good; that if we can muster enough faith, God will respond.
Much of the contemporary preaching is exhorting people to elevate their commitment and bolster their faith. The focus is on what we should do to get God to act. And, the action we desire from him is a return to a former day in our own society where Christian values were not mocked and we had the advantage.
I think the move that we await will be forward and not backward. God’s name demands that he show how much bigger and better he is than we have seen until now.
There is room for only one in heaven’s spotlight, and that spot is taken — by Jesus, the Son.
He Will Get the Glory
Many are praying for a fresh move of God in our world. His name gives us hope that he will move. He will vindicate his name. He will move to honor the Son.
Those who insist on featuring human efforts to gain his blessings will be left behind. There is room for only one in heaven’s spotlight, and that spot is taken — by Jesus, the Son. The gospel of the Kingdom of God is much better news than the American Civil religion version.
The vulnerable and weak are the stars in God’s version. He shows his power in behalf of those who have none. He reveals his wisdom to those who have none. He moves to reveal that his name is full of mercy and grace; that he loves justice and has given himself to vindicate it; that he has put his church on earth to be an embassy of heaven; that he loves people from all nations; that he will not long permit his name to be slandered on earth.
If we don’t want to be left behind in God’s actions in our day, we must look for him to move in a way consistent with his eternal nature. He will get the glory. We get to participate.