By: Thomas F. Booher
When reading the OT prophets, I can see the temptation to read Israel as America, because we would like to believe that God has made some special covenant with us as a nation that ensures our protection, at least if we repent. This isn't the case, as God now saves all who put their faith in Him, and His covenant is with believers and their children.
The reason this isn't a step back is that we have something that Israel didn't yet have, namely, the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. We stand before God justified because of the righteousness of Christ credited to our account. Our promises are primarily spiritual and eternal, not physical and temporal this side of heaven (though in glory we will inherit the universe). The truth of the matter is, if this doesn't sound better to you, it calls into question your faith, because Christ promised that we would face trials in this life and be hated, but those who ENDURE to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:22).
In my weak understanding, and for those in the know please correct me if I am wrong, it seems that such language like Christ's in regards to persecution and endurance is not echoed in the OT. You don't hear God promising to Israel,
"If you obey me, it may or may not go well with you in the land, in fact, you will be hated and suffer persecution and may even be dislodged from your homeland and have to wander as pilgrims, even if you were to be perfectly faithful, but press on anyways and trust Me."
No, when Israel is disobedient, then they are removed from the Promised Land, where God's presence was with His people in the most holy place in the temple. But we can be relatively "lax" Christians and perhaps live at ease (see the last hundred years in the USA) or hopefully be more faithful and see more persecution and tribulation (perhaps the next one hundred years in the USA, Lord willing).
So what gives? Is this really better promises? Yes, because we have Christ, and through Christ, empowered by His Spirit, we too have already overcome the world, and can count our lives as nothing, as Paul did in Acts 20:24:
"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."
I confess, that is not often my cry. I whimper at night fearing for the future of the United States, the future of my wife and children, and other loved ones. I fear terrorism, I fear the leadership of this nation, I fear the so-called "Christians" and many so-called "churches" in this nation, and I fear those who still think this is a Christian nation, or that it was until very recently, because you must be gazing into your own delusion.
But deep within the Spirit sings peace and comfort to my soul. Deep down, when I am not resisting or, as the Spirit often does, when He overthrows my fears, I have peace. I have peace because of Christ. I have peace because I know the decisive battle has already been won, the cross has been accomplished, and because of that, though the war still rages, both inside me and around me, the outcome has already been predetermined.
This place is not my home. I am a citizen of the heavenly kingdom of God, and though I believe that kingdom has come, and is coming down on earth, I know this side of heaven, until Christ returns, wars and rumors of wars will go on. I know that we must eagerly await the redemption of our bodies, and for Christ to bodily return to the Earth for His people, who reside not in any one nation, but who will be found among every kingdom, every tribe, tongue, and nation.
And it is these, the elect, believers in Christ, that comprise the nation of God -- spiritual Israel. As we strive and fight for the spiritual kingdom, God may bless that and bring peace in the physical area where God's faithful people reside. Then again, He may use that faithfulness to stir unbelievers to hate and persecute us. While I think that temporal blessings will come as God's kingdom grows from a mustard seed to a great tree (Matt. 13:31) on earth, I believe that to be true in the big picture, over thousands of years, which means that in my lifetime, it may not be so glorious. Our blood (or at least serious persecution) as Christians may be what paves the way for greater peace and prosperity in this nation and/or world in the years to come. And this is where we should be EXCITED, not AFRAID, because it is here that we get to be the most like Christ, who for the JOY that was set before Him, endured the CROSS:
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3
The Holy Spirit in us, above all, produces both an enduring Spirit, and a longing Spirit for the joys of heaven, knowing we have to endure the trials of this life to get the fullness of that joy. But we will get tastes of it here and now, and we should cherish them, and use them as fuel to press on into the kingdom of God, rather than complain when those moments are gone.
All God's children will enjoy endless joy, unmixed with any sorrow or pain, and we are promised tastes and sips of that in this life, and some may get cups or even gallons before they die, but none will get the full measure until Christ returns.
So stay the course, as Ecclesiastes says, enjoy the pleasures God has given you now. Enjoy the relative freedom we still have here, enjoy your spouse and children and fellow believers, labor for righteousness and the kingdom of God, pray that God may give this nation (and the world) grace and mercy and prosperity, but know that the fullness only comes when the King of the kingdom returns. And for that day, yearn, but in the meantime, faithfully fight on.