Step back for a second and place yourself in the circle of Peter, James, John and Andrew as they heard Jesus tell them that the Temple of Jerusalem would be overthrown. Surely their faces would be pale. Their eyes would be wide open. There would be looks of bewilderment and the rubbing of hands through hair and along their brow.
Their shock is understandable because Jesus is telling them that the crown jewel of Israel would be leveled to the ground. The city that bears the name of God would be trampled in their generation.
Have we missed the point about eschatology(last things, end of days)? If you follow the history of Israel, the last time Jerusalem experienced such upheaval was when God sent Babylon to punish the Jews because of their idolatry and lack of love towards one another.
Now, we see the Lord of the Universe who sustains all things, tell his inner circle that this time it will be much worse.
Was it about the time of the millenium?
Was it about whether there was a rapture before, in the middle or after the tribulation?
Was there this preoccupation with creating definitive timelines?
No, if you step back and look at the Gospels in their entirety and see the treatment of Jesus in light of this, one begins to understand why Jesus said the temple and Jerusalem would be overrun.
The people of the vineyard where about to kill the Son and throw him out of his own vineyard.
The people of the vineyard were consistently burdening the poor, widow and sick.
Jesus is telling his disciples that his Father was bringing justice.
Justice for his beloved Son who was rejected and treated as an unholy thing.
Justice for his elect that by faith had trusted in Him and yet recieved injustices.
Eschatology is seeing the consummation of the kingdom of God and the execution of justice on behalf of the Son of God and his elect.
How can we understand our life as a Christian regarding the poor of other nations? Secondly, if we are to understand that the poor exist in all nations and Christ professes that acts done to them, are acts done to him; how do we as Christians placed in America by the providence of God, support not only the poor in our own nation but support the poor in dictatorial countries?
In Matthew 25:31-46, we see Jesus the Son of Man seated on his throne. Christ has arrived at this throne because he is the celebrated Messiah of God and King over all things. We see him here assembling all the nations or all the people groups of the nations. In other words, these are not geopolitical nations, but all the ethnic groups that exist within these geopolitical nations. They are the various ethnic groups of America, Egypt, China, Haiti and the like. We can observe our world and the way in which geopolitical nations are organized and understand that there is a social order that exist based on influence, wealth, genealogy, and religion. All of these persons exist at a given time and in a set of boundaries because God in his wisdom and purposes has declared it so.
Paul speaks of this in Acts 17, as he addresses the skilled thinkers of Athens at the Areopagus stating, “He [God] made from one man every nation[group of people] of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). So we see that God places men and women in particular areas of our world and uses men to set those boundaries. The people that exist in our nation are placed here by God and we exist in an order that is present in all other geopolitical nations.
America is no different than Russia.
Russia is no different than France.
France is no different than Haiti.
Haiti is no different than North Korea.
Every geopolitical nation has people groups that are rich and poor, educated and uneducated, satisfied and starving. And it is among the least of these, that Christ, who sits on the throne, says he is indeed present.
Now we move to our second question. How do we as Christians placed in America by the providence of God, support not only the poor in our own nation but support the poor in dictatorial countries?
United States foreign policy changes typically every four years. With the election of a new United States President, a new foreign policy is implemented that is either aggressive or accommodating. Living in a post 9-11 United States, we have seen aggressive policy resulting in two wars and now a policy that is more accommodating, using diplomacy and the United Nations as the key strategy. The voices who are not heard in either policy approach are the thousands of “people groups” who exist in these geopolitical nations that are led by dictators. Their voices are generally silenced by laws, economics and in some cases violence. These are the voices of the poor who will suffer because of corrupt leadership who abhors dissent in any form.
Part of the discussion in American foreign policy is food aid that is typically given to support the weak and silenced of such areas, yet this same aid can be used as leverage. A basic necessity that aids in the flourishing of society and the well being of all people is used as a bargaining chip to force the hand of leaders who know nothing of starvation.
Consider this month that the United States “cancelled” food aid to North Korea because of its “rocket launch, widely believed to be a test of its ballistic missile technology.”[i] The Los Angeles Times reports, “the U.S. was to provide the country with 240,000 metric tons of food aid.”[ii] We understand that this food aid, along with other conditions, was contingent on North Korea not moving forward on any of these activities.
In North Korea, there are an estimated 480,000 Christians consisting of Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox.[iii] What voice should Christians have regarding this issue and others like it? North Korea while under an oppressive regime contains poor Christians who acknowledge the same LORD, suffer from starvation, who have been placed there by the providence of God and are the least of these.
Among these poor of North Korea walks Jesus Christ. We must ask ourselves is withholding food from the poor the most judicious action our government can take in influencing the leaders of North Korea or any nation like it? These are the questions we must ask ourselves as our world has increasingly become smaller. We are now able to learn and understand the situation of the “least of these” thousands of miles away as if they were in our own city.
[i] Emily Alpert, U.S. official says no food aid to North Korea, Los Angeles Times, 2012.
[iii] Global Christianity, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, December 19, 2011.