Pastors Report - 14 June 2019

Utopia or Dystopia?

"behold a fourth beast ... had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces and stamped the residue" (Daniel 7:7) – c.f. – "And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers." (Revelation 2:27)
The Counterfeit:

They sound so similar – the fourth beast of Daniel seven – with its iron teeth with which it devours and breaks in pieces... and the Messiah who will rule with a rod of iron, breaking in pieces as if a potter's vessel. Yet they produce diametrically opposite results: Jesus Christ produces a true Utopia ("a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions") while the beast of Daniel leads to a dystopia ("an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives"). The question is, Why? Why should something which sounds so similar to what Christ says He'll do, bring the greatest time of trouble the world has ever seen, or ever will again?

To understand we need to recognise the profound difference in a spiritual sense. Boiled down to its very basic principles Jesus Christ is continually motivated by a Godly spirit of Give whereas the beast of Daniel is the culmination of 6,000 years following a satanic spirit of Get. The opposite spirits produce opposite results and the problem is by no means confined to the future. Such a satanic spirit is very much alive and well today, and can be seen within various areas in our society that are already " stamping the residue with its feet" – tearing down individual liberties and expressions of righteousness: ... from LGBT promotion by the media megacorporations; to their silencing of pro-life adherents; to the current attacks on any who speak out against vaccination; to the removal of natural medicine websites; to the anti-Christian, anti-intelligent design, Godless ethos of the mainstream media; to even the multiple security checks with which passengers are expected to be meekly compliant at any major airport.

George Orwell's 1984:

It is now 70 years since George Orwell published his classic dystopian novel "1984". Yet the book continues to fascinate readers, in particular those growing up in our social-media-rich age who are often taken aback by how alike certain aspects are to our lives today. Written in 1948, and published the following year, "1984" depicted a chilling future world in which a totalitarian state controls people's thoughts and actions, suppressing any dissent. This rigidly-controlled society features a so-called "ministry of truth" that distorts reality, under the ever-watchful eyes of "Big Brother" who keeps tabs on citizens' behaviour via bidirectional telescreens in every public space, home and workplace.

Such a dystopian picture is not so greatly removed from what is actually prophesied to be the case within the great tribulation itself. Unless someone is willing to accept " the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." (Revelation 13:17) they are prophesied to be excluded from commerce of all kinds – and as brought out in Isaiah, become "an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought (Isaiah 29:21). Already we can see the technological architecture being put in place that will undoubtedly be used to implement such a "Big Brother" society. The telescreen – that seemed so far-fetched when Orwell introduced the concept in his novel – is already alive and well in our interconnected society with our "smart" TVs with their built-in cameras and microphones and the always-on smart phones that seem to accompany most of us at all times.

The Incredible Difference:

We can see the infrastructure highlighted in the novel 1984 as being a large part of the problem itself, with the telescreen constantly intruding into people's lives and the iron-fisted methods of dealing with dissent. Surely no one would really want to live under such a draconian system? And yet the casual reading of certain scriptures seems to give the impression that is what God has in store for humanity. Two specifically come to mind.

First the passage in Isaiah 30 which has been taken by some to indicate an intrusive, "Big Brother" monitoring of every step... and should anyone get out of line, they are immediately jumped on.

  • And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

As with so many instances, to gain a full appreciation of what a passage is in fact talking about it must be put firmly into context. These individuals who hear the word behind them will have seen and abundantly experienced Satan's alternative way of life until they are completely sick of it. For this to be the case God has patiently waited, not so He can jump on them, but so He can have mercy on them, in a gracious way – willingly answering their cry when needed. Anything BUT a dystopian approach.

  • And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.
  • For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee.
  • And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers:
  • And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:18-21)

By this time, the real troublemakers will already have been dealt with – taken out of the picture in some way although it is unclear whether they will just be excluded from Israel by remaining in gentile areas or need to be resurrected at a later date. The point is, the rebels and their contentious spirit will have been removed at the very outset of God's kingdom – and it will be Christ who does this, not us:

  • And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.
  • Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD.
  • And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant:
  • And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 20:33-38)
Rod of Iron:

The other scripture that seems to have an aggressive approach is the one quoted alongside the beast of Daniel 7 in the heading above. Once again, it is vital to notice the context in which it was originally used. That original use was in the second Psalm where it is primarily talking of nations remote from Israel – heathen nations; the "Goyim" – and the inference is that Christ deals with these nations with a rod of iron - rather than individuals - in not allowing organised rebellion to take hold against the government of God. He's addressing the kings, the judges, the leaders of those nations and the self-serving, competitive systems such gentile individuals promote. This is also elaborated on further in Habbakuk:

  • Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger.
  • Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah.
  • Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly. (Habbakuk 3:12-14)

Notice also in Daniel 2, with the explanation of the great image of Nebuchnezzar's dream, that it was the satanic, worldly system that was smashed to smithereens, so obviously not the ordinary individuals in those nations who would then come under the loving administration of the government of God.

  • Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.
  • Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:34,35)

These gentile systems – ground to pieces and scattered to the four winds – are the very antithesis of the Utopia Christ will set up. They will be the personification of the pseudo-benefactors Christ highlights to His disciples – having been instrumental in rigidly enforcing the mark of the beast – quite the opposite of the King-priests that Christ will need within His Millennial rule:

  • And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
  • And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
  • But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
  • For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. (Luke 22:24-27)
God's Loving Correction:

The enormous difference between these two systems can be seen in the kind of correction used. What we need to keep in mind is the end result that God desires – to bring every man to repentance in an environment of everlasting joy, every man under his own vine and fig tree, where none will make them afraid. God, acting as a loving Father, takes a more expansive, long-term view with all His children:

  • Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
  • For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. (Hebrews 12:9,10)
  • And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children. (Isaiah 54:13)

His aim is for a true Utopia for all, and not just the very few at the top of the pyramid, as so often happens in this dog-eat-dog world. This will be the method of teaching each succeeding generation using the identical loving, outgoing spirit throughout. This outgoing concept is expounded in these two quotes from Mr. Armstrong:

Cain sinned. He was a murderer and killed his brother; then he lied to God about it. He got punished too, didn’t he? But God’s punishment is corrective, and intended to correct us and can help us. His punishment is in love, and not in hatred or vengeance and wanting to see us suffer. God doesn’t want us to suffer. God doesn’t have hate. He has LOVE. He hates evil. He hates wrong things, wrongdoing; but He doesn’t hate people. ( Transcript - Sermon (1981-07-04) - HWA Speaks To The Brethren)

The world has the idea that if you have done evil, you must be punished and that the punishment must impose as much pain and suffering on you as to equal the crime or sin committed. In other words, punishment to them is revenge. It is getting even. You did something wrong, now you must suffer. That is not the kind of punishment God has. God doesn’t use that kind of punishment at all. God’s punishment is always corrective God only punishes to bring us to the place to correct us and no more than that – just to correct us. That’s all. Instead of prisons there should be institutions of correction, but we don’t know how to correct. The world doesn’t know those things. God never punishes because He wants to see anyone suffer. I think God suffers with us when we suffer. He doesn’t get any pleasure whatever out of our suffering. Men look on it in a different way. ( Transcript - Bible Study (1980-08-02) - 1 Corinthians Chapters 3 and 4)
Also needed now:

So how does this apply to our day to day lives now? Well, as we have recently been reminded during Pentecost, we are the Firstfruits – called to be teachers in training now in order to be used as the leaders of tomorrow. Therefore, this startling difference between the two approaches – one producing Utopia and the other dystopia – is a vital subject for us to grasp. The very fact we have been given a lifetime in which to receive this training shows clearly it is not going to take place with the wave of some kind of magic wand at the return of Christ.

That startling difference between the two trees and the way of life each represented was emphasised by Mr. Armstrong continually. The degree of difference was the crucial thing we were simply "not getting". It wasn't a matter of just ticking a few boxes... tithing, holy days etc, but the degree of change required that we didn't understand, and still struggle with. The goal is the very mind and character of God and not mere human goodness. This is the transcendental result that God is aiming for with our total agreement – to produce a spirit born family of God Beings that Christ can then use to bring Utopia to this earth. The current dystopian spirit – as Jesus Christ declared, had nothing in Him – must have nothing in us as well.

Dystopian Church Leadership:

The sad thing is, so many times, when we were told we were not getting it, Mr. Armstrong was primarily addressing the front 3 rows in the auditorium – where the ministry and other leaders within the organisation would sit at that time. However, what often translated into a dictatorial, hard-nosed and heavy-handed approach isn't something that has just appeared in the last few decades, but is part and parcel of human nature, us included! It seems as if even Peter and Paul had to deal with similar issues in their time;

  • The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
  • Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
  • Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
  • And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (I Peter 5:1-4)
  • Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,
  • To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.
  • For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. (Titus 3:1-3)
True Utopian Leadership:

Seeing the evil and misery in this world today it's so tempting to think: "oh, to be part of the God family and have the power to sort this chaos out!" Well, one day that opportunity will arise, but not unless we have qualified to be able to control that power for the good of all, and not like James and John who wanted to annihilate the Samaritans who had snubbed them!

  • And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
  • But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
  • For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. (Luke 9:54-56)

Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves ..."If God was to grant me rule over 5 cities right at this moment, how would my citizens feel?" Would they feel content, safe, nourished, or rather have a dystopian fear about putting a foot out of place and having swift retribution come down on their heads, like the proverbial "ton of bricks"? The "word behind you" will be far more HOW to get back on track to the right way of life - family relationships, finances etc - and not just "Get back on track - or else!". Any correction needed will be along the lines of "life lessons" and never vindictive. Possibly a bit of "tough love" from time to time, but always with the goal of seeing our citizens grow and overcome and become part of The Family in due time.

God's glory is His loving, outgoing, merciful – yet fair – nature, and that is what we need to aspire to, if we are to be granted power over the nations. When Moses asked to see Christ's glory as God, what did He emphasise?

  • And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
  • Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6,7)

As spirit-born children of this loving Being this giving way of life and the spirit that generates it must be active within us all as well. Only then will the glorious Utopian result be possible:

  • Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
  • And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.
  • And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places; (Isaiah 32:16-18)