[Note: This is the prepared text for a message given at the Feast of Tabernacles in Estonia on October 19, 2016.]
Since today is Youth Day here at the Feast of Tabernacles in Estonia, even if I feel as if I am awkwardly entering middle age at present, I feel that two things are particularly appropriate to talk about on this day. The first is to congratulate my stepfather, here in the audience, on reaching his threescore and ten years today. The second thing I would like to do will take a bit longer, namely the rest of the time allotted for this message. What does the Bible say about how life will be like for youth in the Millennium? When we reflect on how life is like for those who are growing up in this present day and age, we all feel a great deal of compassion for parents and children given the difficulties that are faced by those who are seeking to live righteously in an ungodly world. We remember our own youth, and the difficulties we faced, and we look on the news and see the problems reported in the news, and told to us by those young people we happen to know ourselves. To be sure, it is no easy thing to grow up today and retain a sense of the way things ought to be. Today I would like to look at a handful of scriptures in the Bible and discuss them in some detail as we contrast what the Bible has to say about several areas of life, so that we may think about what the Bible says about growing up in the Millennium.
In particular, what I wish to do today is focus on a small set of scriptures and discuss them in some detail, rather than merely flip to a lot of verses. In particular, I wish to discuss what the Bible says about three areas of life in the millennium: the general attitude of peace of mind, the family, and education, and contrast those with what the Bible and our own experience tells us about these matters in our own lives. By putting our current societies under scrutiny, and by pointing to the vision that God has given us about the world to come under the rule of Jesus Christ, we can better appreciate the large gap that exists between the world as it exists right now, and the world that God wishes to give to those who are fortunate enough to grow up in the Millennium.
When we think about growing up today, one of the words that best describes how we feel is fear. We grow up afraid of violence in our home, among our neighbors, in our schools, or when we are traveling. Parents are afraid of people preying on their children, and we watch the news and see horrible crimes and the results of sin and evil around the world. Even when we do not have any specific fear in mind, we live our lives full of anxiety about the world we live in. Even if life is going fairly well at present, it is hard to avoid a sense of anxiety about the world is going, about matters of politics and prophecy, or about general trends in the world we see around us. Even childhood is no place for carefree enjoyment of life, as children growing up have much to be anxious for themselves .
One of the passages that best describes this fear, this anxiety, this terror faced by those of us living today can be found in Deuteronomy 28:65-67. Coming in at the end of the blessings and cursing chapter, Moses writes: “And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and day night, and have no assurance of life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see.” Why are we cursed with this continual fear and anxiety here and now? Both directly and indirectly, that fear comes from life lived in a world full of wickedness. We fear people taking advantage of us and of our children because people exist bent on that sort of wickedness. We fear terrorists because such people operate in this world. Because of our own sins as a society, we face the threat of evil perpetuated against us, and because God removes his protection from a sinful and rebellious society in hopes that it will turn and repent, we fear the wickedness of those from other places against us. And yet our societies do not repent, but rather seek to punish those who would call us to repentance, and so we continue to fear, and occasionally experience things that continue to torment our mind long after the events are over and done.
Clearly, this state of affairs will not continue in the world tomorrow. One of the familiar passages we read about the millennium gives us a picture of the absence of fear and anxiety faced by children and adults in the world to come. Isaiah 11:6-9 give us a synecdoche, a part of the picture that implies a larger whole, as Isaiah tells us: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
What do wolves, leopards, lions, bears, cobras, and vipers have in common? In our current world, all of these are animals that hurt and kill, and are predators that people are afraid of because of the harm that they bring. Yet in the world to come, these animals will be peaceful and harmless, and children will be able to lead them and play around them and play with them without fear. And not only that, but there will be no hurting and destroying in those areas ruled over by Jesus Christ and by resurrected believers. Neither parents nor children will have to be in fear of harm coming to others or to themselves. Everything about the world will be in peace with God and with each other, and we will be able to rest the burdens on our hearts without any fear of harm to follow, a period of which this week is but a brief foretaste. I am sure we all look forward to that day, for ourselves as well as for loved ones.
Another aspect of our contemporary lives that affects many people is the division that can be found within families. Instead of being places where children can be raised to adulthood with loving and nurturing families, all too often families are divided by gender gaps, by generation gaps, by divorce and abuse and addiction, a lack of love and respect, and the fact that we are seldom more unkind than with those who should be closest to us. Rather than being places to learn about the family of God, and see the plan of God in miniature, all too often our families are what must be overcome for us to live a godly life. We are prone to thinking about this as something that is particularly relevant or even exclusive to our own times, and problems that the Bible does not speak of and that God’s word and the people of God in times past simply could not relate to. As we will shortly see, this was not the case. The Bible speaks frequently, and tragically, of divided families and the sorts of difficulties that God’s people have always had to wrestle with as they sought to make their own families pictures of God’s love and God’s family on the small scale.
Although divorce and the breakup of families is certainly one of the great social evils of our time, it is not a problem faced by our generation alone. Malachi 2:13-16 gives a concise and clear picture of how God views divorce and the breakup of families. This passage reads: “”And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; so he does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion, and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,” says the Lord of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
Nor is this the only passage in the Bible deals with God’s feelings about the divisions within family members. At times, unfortunately, this can even occur among believers. This was something that Jesus Christ had to deal with as well, discussing it in Matthew 10:34-36, where he quotes Micah 7:6 and Psalm 41:9. As it is written in Matthew 10:34-36: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword For I have come to ‘set a a man against his father; a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'” Certainly we know this family division in our own times and all too often in our own lives. Conflict and disagreement is something that is promised to believers because the desire to follow God conflicts with our natural bent and inclination towards sin and that inclination in others, and because even as we seek to follow God we remain human beings struggling against sin in ourselves and in our worlds. It should therefore not be surprising, even if it is disappointing, that in this life believers often have to wrestle with problems between husbands and wives, between siblings, between different generations of our families, even where all people involved are trying however imperfectly to live God’s ways.
Yet we know this is not the end of the story. We know that we are promised better than this. Indeed, not only does the Bible tells us the sorts of problems that humanity has faced throughout its history and that mark our own societies and our own family experience, but the Bible also gives us a vision of the future that God has planned for humanity when our families will provide a picture of God’s family. We can see that briefly in Zechariah 8:4-5. This passage gives, in a very compact way, a picture of the millennial peace within and among generations, when it tells us: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets.'” Although this picture does not specifically speak of husbands and wives, it does give us a picture of Jerusalem as a city of peace where old people can sit in the streets and look out peacefully while children play in streets where there is no longer fear or conflict. Given how often Jerusalem has been a city of strife in this present evil world, it is all the more touching how Jerusalem will no longer be a divided city, but rather a city of peace like it was meant to be all along.
Given the many reasons why our current society is divided in so many of its institutions, it is important for us to remember that an important part of the millennium will be peace. If we have conflicts now between family members, between brethren, between different groups and classes and parties within our communities and within our societies, and between nation-states, that conflict is not meant to last, but is rather a passing and temporary state because we are fallen men and women governed by other fallen men and women. When we are raised incorruptible, we will also be placed within God’s family and will be able to live in harmony with others as we are learning to do, however imperfectly, even here and now. Even if we have conflict in our lives here and now, let us live peacefully with all men and women to the extent that it depends on us, as Paul tells us in Romans 12:18. After all, we are practicing for eternity in the way we live here and now, especially among other brothers and sisters of the faith.
One of the most important aspects of the lives of children and young people even well into adulthood is education. In order to live productively and profitably in this present world, it is deemed necessary for children to spend many years learning how to acquire the skills they need and learning a basis in science, mathematics, language, as well as various social sciences so that they have some awareness of the past and the nature of the world and existence, some ability to acquire the technical skills to make a living, and some ability to learn how to learn more through reading and pass along their knowledge through writing. Many of us have spent a large portion of our lives in such endeavors as well. Yet in our world, many of the aspects of education that exist lead us to be intensely critical of the education systems of this world. Are enough resources going into teaching instead of into violence? Are students learning up to the level of those students in other countries or in more privileged parts of our countries? Are children learning the right way to live so that they may become adults who are not only capable of getting good jobs, but have also been raised up to be good people, obedient to God? In light of these questions and the importance of education in our world and the importance of knowledge to God, it should not be any surprise that education matters a great deal to God as well.
The Bible itself, although it does not focus a great deal on schools, contains important insights on teaching and education. One of the most poignant stories of this takes place in Acts 8:26-31. In Acts 8:26-31, we read the expression of an African civil servant that understanding the Bible requires an instructor: “Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.” Here we see that someone wished to follow God and was aware that they did not fully understand the scriptures he was reading, and welcomed instruction in them from someone who could guide him. Not everyone in our world is as willing to be guided, but the eunuch’s willingness was greatly to his credit.
This insight into our need for instruction in life, whether we are young or old, children or adults, is shown by the Apostle Paul as well, who was no doubt very familiar with both teaching and preaching, as he tells us in Romans 10:14-15. Romans 10:14-15 tells us how this religious instruction goes on in our world, quoting Isaiah 52:7 and Nahum 1:15: “ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher. And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”” Here we see an order to preaching that also applies to instruction. How do we act unless we believe or know, and how do we believe or know unless we are taught, and how do we learn without teachers, and how do people teach unless they are sent? This series of questions points out the fact that there is a process by which we become knowledgeable either in the ways of God or in the ways of any area of study–people must be sent out, they do their jobs instructing others, and others come to know the truth for themselves and change their behavior based on what they have learned and come to understand and believe.
This is precisely this same process that we see in the Millennium as well. When the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 30:19-21, talks about the role of teaching in the Millennium, he does so in ways that remind us of our present times. Isaiah 30:19-21 tells us: “For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. And though the Lord gives you
The bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, but your eyes shall see your teachers. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.” There will be no shortage of education in the world to come. There will still be a need for the people who live during that time to be taught, to be guided into the right paths, to be instructed in how they ought to live. God willing, we will be among the teachers.
Let us recap. What kind of vision do these passages from the Bible provide us in knowing what it will be like for those people who will be growing up in the Millennium? How will life be different, and how will it be the same? From the passages we have looked at today, we will see that the world will be a safe place where children can grow up without fear, and where parents too will be able to trust that their children are safe from harm. We also saw that there will be a great deal of unity between generations, where old people and children will both be able to go out in the streets, free from danger, and enjoy each other’s company. We also saw that like in today’s world, there will still be a role for education in shaping and forming the conduct of people in the Millennium, and that this teaching will be respected. Regardless of whether we are young or old, there is much that we can learn by looking at what it will be like to live in the Millennium under the rule of Jesus Christ and resurrected believers. Let us hope we can reflect on these lessons and enjoy the rest of our Youth Day here at the Feast of Tabernacles in lovely Estonia.
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