A few months ago I read an article online about an Australian doomsday prepper. A doomsday prepper is a person who believes that a catastrophic event of some kind is coming soon and is preparing what they need in order to survive it. Usually being a doomsday prepper involves buying a property in a remote area far away from a major city, constructing a bunker or another kind of retreat to live in, stockpiling food, water and other supplies necessary for survival, and keeping a few weapons handy, just in case.
When we read the news headlines, sometimes I wonder if doomsday preppers have a point. There are armed conflicts on most continents. There are protests and other forms of serious political unrest going on in various cities around the world. The effects of climate change appear to be causing flooding, droughts and destructive storms across the globe. In this past week New South Wales endured some unprecedented bushfires, and the fires in Queensland look like they could continue out of control for some time yet.
I can understand how a doomsday prepper could look at these and other events around the world, and conclude that something big is coming which we need to prepare for.
Doomsday preppers are nothing new. Over the last two millennia of Christian history, there have been people who have looked at events around them and come to the conclusion that the world as they knew it was about to end. Often, they have used the words of Jesus to back up their fears. For example, in this Sunday’s reading from Luke 21:5-19 we hear Jesus say,
‘Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.’ (vv10,11 NLT)
On a global scale, we could easily think that Jesus was talking about our own times with what we’re reading about in the news. Then Jesus brings things a little closer to home when he says,
‘But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers.’ (v12 NLT)
If anyone says that following Jesus means having fun, they haven’t read him very closely. Here and in other places Jesus warns us that being his disciple will mean suffering persecution. This won’t just come from wider society, but from even our closest relationships. Jesus continues,
‘Even those closest to you – your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends – will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.’ (vv16,17 NLT)
So far this isn’t sounding like good news for Christians. From what Jesus is saying, it sounds like a time was coming when there will be catastrophic destruction, and his followers will suffer persecution and rejection from even those who were closest to them. From an historical perspective, Jesus’ words were fulfilled when the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in AD 70, and when Christians were persecuted by various Roman emperors in the first century. However, many also interpret Jesus words as referring to what will happen in the days leading up to his return at the end of time. This interpretation has led groups of Christians to behave like doomsday preppers over the centuries, as they abandoned their homes and families, went to isolated places, and waited for Jesus to return.
What’s significant about Jesus’ words, however, is that he never wanted his followers abandon the world. Instead, Jesus wants us to remain in the world, even if it is difficult or challenging. He says that when we are persecuted and stand trial in front of secular leaders, we will have the opportunity to tell them about him (v13). When we see the signs of Jesus’ return and are questioned by people who don’t know Jesus, God is giving us the opportunity to tell them about Jesus and the goodness of God we encounter in him. It is really important that we don’t see the end of the world as a threat to be afraid of, but an opportunity to witness to God’s love and grace for us to embrace.
Jesus also tells us not to worry about what we are going to say and how we will answer the accusations people will make against us because he will give us the words to say (vv14,15). There is always value in learning more about how to share our faith or to defend what we believe. However, when we are so immersed in our faith and so grounded in the good news of Jesus that it becomes part of who we are, when people ask us about him we can answer from a deep, personal encounter with and reliance on his message. This is more than having the right arguments about Christian teachings or doctrines. The words that Jesus will give us will come from the Holy Spirit through a deep, committed relationship with him and our own personal experiences of living as his disciples.
When we are living in the reality of the grace God gives us, we will be able to stand firm and receive the life he has promised. The words the New Living Translation interpret as ‘standing firm’ can also mean ‘patient endurance.’ As we wait for Jesus, not knowing exactly when he will return (see Mark 13:32, Luke 12:40), Jesus wants us to persevere in the hope that when he comes again he will fulfil all of his promises to us. The events Jesus describes in this passage will make it hard for us to remain faithful to him. However, when we are standing firm in the faith we have, that God is with us in all the circumstances and events of life, no matter how bad they might be, and that Jesus will come again to make everything wrong in the world right again, we will receive the perfect and eternal life that he promises us.
We can think of doomsday preppers as living their lives in fear of what might be coming. As God’s people, we don’t need to live in fear! Instead, as we wait for Jesus’ return, we can interpret what we see around us as opportunities to point people to the life-giving grace of God that we meet in Jesus, and to share the hope we have with others. As we live as people who look forward to Jesus’ return, standing firm means trusting that Jesus has taken the world’s brokenness on himself, he is making all things new in his resurrection, and he will bring a life that will never end to all who trust in him.