The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless. – 2 Peter 3:10-14
The word “holocaust” generally brings to mind one of the most sordid and painful events in the history of the world. The dictionary calls it “the systematic extermination of Europeans used during World War II.” While this is our most commonly accepted understanding of the word, I’d like to address “holocaust” as defined in another sense by the dictionary: “A great or complete devastation or destruction, especially by fire.” This text in 2 Peter, defining this word in its greatest proportions, refers to the ultimate holocaust–the end of the world.
This is not intended as an effort at prophetic interpretation of current events as they apply to future devastation. Rather, I want to address the “holocaust” that each one of us faces, and the holy firestorm we can ignite in response.
The holocaust the Bible describes in 2 Peter and in Revelation 17 is worldwide and occurs at the Lord’s coming. While my focus here is not on the ultimate holocaust, we should not lose sight of it. Revelation 6 and 16 describe the ultimate destruction of this world, which will not come from nuclear war but from the mighty judgment of God. He will perform the final rinsing of earth from evil simultaneous with His capturing away of His people to be with Him forever. This is not an escapist mindset, nor is it a mindset that looks lightly on a world that will come under horrid judgment.
We stand at a time that is sobering to all of humanity. Every thinking, sensitive person, irrespective of their spiritual condition, was moved to the deepest fiber of their being at the loss of thousands of lives on September 11, 2001. None of us take life glibly, yet everything in our world today seems up for grabs. On September 11th, the entire world was witness to massive representations of our nation’s life and experience being destroyed before our very eyes.
This has led some to misunderstand the judgment of God. In their anger and hurt, they suggest that He is still something of an ancient Olympiad god on a mountain overlooking earth and hurling thunderbolts at those who displease Him. The fact is, God hurled one final thunderbolt at Calvary a long time ago. It penetrated the heart of His Son so that judgment might be consumed completely; it abated His wrath for all human sin. God is not visiting specific judgments upon certain people in tragedies like this. On the contrary, we live in an age of great grace and mercy.
So how are we to view our lives and conduct in light of the approaching end times? We have reached the point in history when it is wise to look at the question raised in 2 Peter 3: What manner of persons ought we to be?
Was September 11th God’s Judgment?
Let us begin here: Does the world deserve judgment? Of course it does. Are these events God’s judgment? No. When God judges the world, it will be finished, final.
It is true that all sin leads to judgment. On a personal level, this means that knowledge of sin calls for an attitude of repentance and humility. On a larger level, it means that we live in a very dangerous time. No one needs to tell you that.
We like to think we have reached the end of potential for such tragedy. Some asked after September 11th, Is it over? Let me tell you, not if the devil can help it! Beyond human fury we need to ask ourselves who is really mad enough to inflict such destruction. Where does this fury come from? God’s Word tells us that the fury derives from Satan. Scripture explains that the farther we advance toward the conclusion of human history, the greater will be the vicious power of the enemy: “The devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Rev. 12:12).
When the Bible says that “no weapon formed against you shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17), it does not say that the weapons of the adversary shall not land blows; it says that those blows shall not succeed in their intended end. When difficult things take place in our lives, believers often wonder how the enemy broke through. He is vicious and looking for any chink in the armor, any moment of unpreparedness. It is not a case of God’s passivity on our behalf. He is there defending us more than we know.
Why Did Christians Die?
Following the tragedy of September 11th, I was engaged in conversation with my very dear friend, Pastor Roderick Caesar, one of the great leaders in America today.
Rod shepherds a congregation of thousands in Queens, New York. Three members of his flock were killed in the terrorist attacks that took place in New York, and he shared with me the difficulties he faced related to their loss. I wish you knew this pastor and his tender heart. He said that as he prayed, he felt the Lord move him to raise this question: Why did some die, if they were believers?
Rod told me that the Lord spoke two things to him. “It was very moving,” he said, “because the first answer the Lord gave me was, Some died because they hadn’t listened.”
He predicated this on what he discovered after the event. Many people were amazed that the death toll at the World Trade Center was lower by so many thousands than originally projected. Rod told me that many of the pastors in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and across the river in New Jersey talked together and found a common denominator: an apparently enormous number of people who were late to work that terrible day. These were not people who by nature were unpunctual. There were different reasons they were late to work; the stories vary widely.
“Many who might have died didn’t, but possibly some perished because they didn’t listen,” Rod said. “In our daily hurry, it’s important for us to stay in touch with the Lord.”
Rod was not suggesting that we be motivated by fear but that people need to listen to the voice of Lord out of a commitment that says, Lord, teach me to walk by Your Spirit.
There was a second reason some people died that day. “Some were on assignment,” Rod said. For example, one of the three who died from his congregation was zealous about his commitment to the Lord. When disaster struck, it was certain to all who knew him that this man would have been prompted by the Holy Spirit to lead others to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Rod believes that right in the midst of huge numbers of people facing eternity was exactly where that brother would have wanted to be.
Many of God’s people can be trusted in a hard place. Some can be martyrs for the purposes of the living God. Though many believers were lost that day, before their lives were taken, they led others to the living Savior, Jesus Christ. These people carried trophies into the presence of Jesus the Lord.
What Should Our Response Be?
On September 11th I was standing before a group of three hundred pastors in Williamsburg, Virginia, about 125 miles south of the Pentagon. The pastor in charge came down the aisle to me. He whispered that both the towers had been hit by airplanes. What happened in the next fifteen minutes has become one of the most profound memories of my entire spiritual experience.
As the three hundred pastors–all mature leaders–began to pray, the Lord gave us knowledge of how to pray, and the absolute conviction that it would be effective. Normally my mind would have been so preoccupied by the horror of what had taken place that I would not have been able to move beyond it, but the Holy Spirit put an idea in my mind. The Holy Spirit told me clearly to pray that the adversary be stopped. We prayed this fervently, asking that any follow-up attack be neutralized in its effectiveness.
We discovered later that we were interceding at precisely the time the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 were gaining the boldness to band together and turn against the terrorists, aborting their attempt at further destruction at the cost of their own precious lives.
We cannot make too many blanket assumptions, such as saying that if more Americans would pray, tragedies like this would not have taken place, or that if America were a holier place, this hatefulness would not have happened. The holiest of people, the Son of God, was killed by the fierce works of the powers of darkness.
The Bible says, and history shows, that many will be killed because of their commitment to Christ. Human or even God-ordained holiness is no insulation from horror. Nor is there any earthly power or human plan that can guarantee protection. But we do know this: In the present threatening “holocaust”, prayer is the only real defense America has.
How Should We Pray?
Our prayer focus in these days is to raise “umbrellas” in faith for covering and protection. You can pray this for your family. You can pray it for your community. You can pray it for your city. You can pray it for your nation. You can pray it for multitudes. Remember the words the Lord spoke through Ezekiel: “I sought for a man among them who would . . . stand in the gap” (22:30). God was not looking for those who would make a military advance; He was looking for those who would offer intercessory prayer. Prayer raises a defense. Thus, even while we grieve enormous loss, we can thank God that there was an umbrella and that more lives were not lost when tragedy struck.
We live in a broken world, a world where hellishness still rages. The primary call incumbent on the Body of Christ right now is to raise an umbrella through prayer. We can expect ongoing warfare in this present holocaust. Nevertheless, we need to understand that passionate prayer will prevail. This is not a matter of crossing your fingers and hoping. It is not a matter of religious recitation. May God move us beyond the inclination to retreat to a place of reserve at a season when passionateprayer is needed.
There is desperate need for the living Church to rise. God is awakening something in her in this hour. Remember that it was on the Day of Pentecost that believers lifted their voices and began to pray with supernatural power. As a result, thousands came to Christ.
This is where we are heading. This is a call to raise an umbrella, and to do it abidingly. Along with our prayers of thanks for God’s intervention, let’s move onto the next stage of prayer and say, Lord, I will give myself to learning to pray on target.
How are we to pray in times like these? The Scripture tells us in Romans 8:26-27 that we do not know how to pray as we should. Following a horrific disaster like the one that took place on September 11th, we should not retreat out of fear. Rather it is a time for us to assert ourselves as exponents of freedom, committed to continuing to see our freedoms preserved. It will take prayer umbrellas being raised by people who pray beyond their own perceptions. This is why the Lord gave the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Most of the things we pray for are way beyond our intellects; in the Holy Spirit, the Lord gives us a capacity beyond what we think or know.
In addition, only prayer can effect an execution of the quest for justice and security. Certainly we can and must reassess our security techniques and improve all our systems. Still, these things at their best are not final guarantees of safety.
And what about our enemies? How do we handle the injunction in the Bible to pray for our enemies and not return evil for evil? Where does this fit in with our lives today?
Romans 13:1 encourages us to “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” When Paul wrote these words, he was describing the Roman government. This is the same government that killed the Savior–in partnership, of course, with human agency and because of all humanity’s sin. The authorities, Paul says, are appointed by God.
Look at the verses that follow: “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, and avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (verses 3-4).
God has ordained governments to exercise vengeance under His direction, by His hand of providence. How can this be done effectively without the loss of life? It must be done in the place of prayer. Pray for the exposure of evil plans. Pray for the unmasking of evil people and situations. Only prayer can guarantee an effective execution of the quest for justice and security.
How Should We Live?
This brings us full circle to our opening question: What manner of persons ought we to be? The Bible gives us clear guidance:
Our opening text, 2 Peter 3:10-11, gives us direction: “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (emphasis added). This godliness includes everything about us–our conversations, our character, our lifestyle, our ethics and values. All of it needs to be brought in reverence before God.
“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks [meaning the Savior]. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven'” (Hebrews 12:25-26).
There is a decision involved. Do not refuse, the Bible says, because it is God who is speaking to us. He promises the ultimate shaking and removal of things that are apart from Him.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (verses 28-29)
We are given a clear call to personal wisdom in our response to understanding the righteous fire that we will all face sooner or later at the Lord’s coming. The day will come when all of us who know the Savior will stand in His presence, and the consuming fire of God will test everything we have done with our lives. In one blast there will be a meltdown of everything in our personal history that is unworthy, leaving a remnant of everything worthy in which we invested ourselves according to God’s way.
It is mercifully true that our eternal salvation is not determined by that ultimate test. Our eternal salvation is determined by the fact that we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Still, thinking about that test may make us a little more serious about our lives in Christ than simply being satisfied that we are saved and have a certificate to escape hellfire.
People are sobered in times like these. We recognize that the Holy Spirit wants to get the attention of the whole Church. It is time now for us to honestly discern those things in our lives that are not “in holy conduct and godliness” and rout them out. Otherwise they will be burned up one day in the presence of the Father.
Since everything unworthy is going to be incinerated in that holy fire, why should we tolerate it in our lives? The Lord is saying that in order for the pure fire of His power to flow through His people at an hour such as this, we must be unobstructed by the tainting effects of this world. It is time for every believer to cultivate a new focus on purity.
And “since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and fear” (Hebrews 13:28), we are called to move fully onto unshakable Kingdom ground. The day is before us all. It may be five days or fifty years away, but everyone will stand before Christ. There will be those who lose everything their lives were supposed to count for. This is not an hour when we can afford to be that kind of person!
Ignite a Holy Firestorm
I am looking for another kind of holocaust than either the one we saw on September 11th or the promised, hoped-for one in the Scripture given at the beginning of this chapter. Again, I use the word holocaust with care and sensitivity.
Jesus said in Luke 12:49, “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” What was He talking about? Not about the fires of judgment, nor about the fire that will come in the ultimate consummation we read about in 2 Peter 3. He was talking about the fire that John, pointing at Jesus one day, described: “This is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He was talking about the fire that would flame on the heads of the believers at Pentecost. It is this fire that will set people spiritually ablaze.
The Church must let the Lord work His pure fire in us as we have not known it before. This will be a purifying fire that will burst into a holy and relentless priestly flame. In ancient Israel, the regulations for the altar in the Tabernacle included a perpetually burning lamp. Aaron and his sons were to tend it as “a statute forever” (Exodus 27:21). Morning and evening the sacrifice of worship was the priestly practice of God’s people in the Old Testament.
Now, according to 1 Peter 2:9-10, we are the priests of this generation and are qualified by the blood of Christ to offer the incense of worship and prayer. By this act a line is drawn, so to speak, that preserves us from the flow of death. That priestly assignment is effective only as long as the flame burns on the altar.
The greatest challenge we face personally and as a nation is, How long can we sustain the passion?
This flame is fueled by the ministry of intercession. It must come to the Church, and at a scorching new level, for it is the key to reaping the last harvest. In this hour in our nation and world, when people are crying out in recognition of man’s horrible capacity for evil, the last harvest is going to act something like a prairie fire, the power of the Gospel sweeping across the face of the planet.
The fact that we stand more shocked at the crumbling of two towers than we did at the “rising” of the toxic mushroom clouds at Nagasaki and Hiroshima shows the change that has taken place in our perception. We are living in a time when our greatest fear is not atomic holocaust but the unpredictability of what can happen to us anyplace, anytime.
This speaks of an awakening in our culture. We have been focused on entertainment, on the next dollar, on today’s trivia. Suddenly realism is setting in. It is a moment for God’s people to move into prayer, and witness the outbreak of a revival that will sweep the earth. I believe that is exactly what the Lord has shown in His Word. We have every reason to expect it. But it will not come without prayer.
We are looking at a call to halt a holocaust-manifest in deeds of human hate and satanic evil born in human hearts and through human hands–and to ignite a holy firestorm. We are looking at what the Lord can do through people who learn to raise an umbrella through prayer directed by fire of the Holy Spirit. Let not the passion of the moment dissolve with gradual forgetfulness. If we do, it will not be long until we are given another reminder.
It is time for us to accept the call of self-scrutiny. We must pray, “Lord, let the holy, consuming fire of God purify my life.” Otherwise we will stand one day in His presence and look at the shabbiness and shallowness of what we have tolerated, endured and given ourselves to. We must not allow compromise, blindness, ignorance or wastefulness to make us prodigal children of the Most High Father. Instead we must move under God’s grace, under His touch, with a new sense of the worthy calling He has given us. We must live lives commensurate with His grace and by His power.
In that atmosphere, ignited by Holy Spirit intercession and faithful witness, we will touch the world for the glory of God.
Copyright 2002, 2011 by Jack W. Hayford, Jack Hayford Ministries
Originally published in Watch + Pray, Chosen Books, Fairfax, VA
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