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Scripture references are to the King James (Authorised) Version
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
— Titus 2: 13 —
1 And at that time shall Michael [Christ, ed.] stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a great time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time . . . . 8 And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? 9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.
The years from 1775-1799 constituted a period of revolution: the American War of Independence (1775-1783), followed by the decade of the French Revolution (1789-1799) and on into the social and economic disruptions of the 1800s, many of which were influenced by the Industrial Revolution. The breaking away by the United States stimulated Britain to fortify its empire elsewhere and to consolidate its control in India, rising to economic and military dominance. Napoleon Bonaparte stabilised France after its harsh and divisive revolution and proved an important actor in the dilution of papal authority, which had been a hindrance to liberal progress. Napoleon’s wide-ranging campaigns against the British and her allies had the unintended effect of cementing Britain’s dominance in international affairs and its influence in laying the foundations of the modern world.
The onset of the Industrial Revolution in Britain brought a new style of prosperity, rising levels of education and technical skills, and a growing urbanisation stimulated by the railway, which in turn encouraged a massive migration of workers from field to town. The resulting dislocation and shift from an agrarian order to one run by and in the service of the machine was on a scale unlike anything seen before. Mushroom-like, wealthy industrialists and paupers sprang from the same economic soil, defining the social landscape which Charles Dickens would later immortalise in his novels.
The humane response to the distresses aggravated by these phenomena led to religious and secular movements to tackle the problems of overcrowding, pauperism, prison reform, drunkenness, ill-health, and so on. By the end of the 1800s there was a general expectation that a utopia was at hand, a new order in which the peoples of the world would live in harmony, their routines simplified by the new labour-saving devices and the thousand-and-one innovations in science, engineering, philosophy, chemistry, medicine and hygiene.
The expectation was frustrated, shattered by the onset of the Great War in August 1914. The aftermath of the war precipitated what we might term the second phase in the development of the modern world. The economic, social and political upheavals, resulting in the re-drawing of national boundaries and the dissolution of established sovereignties and other forms of government, spurred on the frenetic 1920s and 1930s and the eventual outbreak of a larger ‘total’ war in 1939. The ending of the Second World War in 1945 introduced what might be termed the third phase in the development of the contemporary world, signalled by the use and deployment of the atomic bomb. The decades which followed have been overshadowed by the lingering spectre of this weapon, and the fears of humanity have coagulated around it.
The word ‘appearing’ in the Scripture text at the head of this article (Titus 2: 13) is the translation of the Greek word, epiphaneia, the root meaning of which is that of ‘bright light’. The context is the return of Christ, and denotes the introductory work of His Second Advent work in bringing under intense scrutiny things formerly hidden, on all levels – the exposure of persons, principles and activities, secular and religious. The term may be applied both to a period of time and a process. The process would not be possible without the preceding events of history sketched above. Although God's Plan moves irresistibly forward to a happy outcome, many of its features are unpleasant and will become severe in the short term.
We are living in the period of the Epiphany. The general effects of this sustained bright shining will become increasingly radical, overturning long-held opinions, valued traditions, and uncovering falsehood, corruption and casting doubt on all forms of authority. In short, it is an iconoclastic, destructive and scorching illumination, and will lead to the collapse of the prevailing order. The searchlight of the Epiphany catches everything in its beam. The penetration of the media in all its forms is such that no question is un-asked, and no subject is too impertinent, tawdry, vulgar, obscene or offensive to be broached, dissected and deconstructed.
To what extent the unravelling of society will run before God says ‘enough’ it is not possible to know. There is a natural tendency to exaggerate the present severity of immediate troubles, especially if we ourselves are weighted down with personal problems, or have a fretful spirit. But since we cannot know how much worse things will become, we cannot measure how much more time will elapse before Christ’s kingdom assumes control.
Without a thorough understanding of the past, and being unable to predict the future, we are left uncertain as to where we are on the stream of time. It is true that Jesus says ‘‘Surely I come quickly’ (Rev. 22: 20). But this does not mean soon, for we not know the starting point from which to measure ‘soon’. More accurately, it implies without unnecessary delay or undue haste. Christ’s kingdom will not come until wickedness has run its course. This might take two or three decades.
March 2015. Author rights asserted, but you may reproduce this article without express permission. Please acknowledge the source.