What comes to your mind when you think of a shepherd? For me, it’s wise guidance and protection. I see the shepherd guiding his sheep to a calm, clear lake for a refreshing drink or fighting off the attack of a wolf. Perhaps this is why the Lord frequently refers to the leaders of His people in this way.
This is also why the silence of so many Christian leaders and pastors regarding future things troubles me so deeply. A number of outstanding teachers and writers either do not believe in Jesus’ return for His church or just never mention it. I have heard many excellent and wonderful sermons on the Gospel and its application to our lives, yet when these preachers came across a mention of hope in their text, they relegated it solely to this life with no mention of eternity. Why?
This morning, the words of Proverbs 10:28 spoke to my heart anew: “The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” If such anticipation brought joy back then, how much more should it lighten our load now? And why are most churches so quiet about the great joy that awaits us? Why do they only emphasize the joy of following the Lord in this life?
I see two key reasons why pastors should proclaim the specifics of our future bliss, rather than settle for vague references to the “sweet by and by” that fail to stir our hearts or encourage us in the midst of sorrow.
Jesus Commands Us to Watch and Be Ready
In His Olivet Discourse, as recorded in Matthew, Jesus commands us not only to be ready for His coming, but to watch for it (see 24:42, 44; 25:13). We see this watchfulness all throughout the epistles, as the apostles taught those new in the faith to eagerly wait for Jesus’ appearing (see 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thess. 1:8-10; Titus 2:11-13; and Phil. 3:20-21 as examples of this). The apostles instilled in their new converts an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return to take them home – a hope that endured long past their time.
The Didache, which means “teaching” in the Greek, is a brief document that was popular during early centuries of the church. In chapter 16 of The Didache we read this: “Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come.” Is this not the same imminent hope taught by the apostles? Of course it is.
Yes, there are many voices still today drawing our attention to the wonders of Jesus’ return, but most followers of Jesus have to go outside their local churches to hear messages regarding the imminency of their hope.
The present day emphasis on the Great Commission is excellent. The church must always be seeking to bring others to Jesus and to build them up in the faith. This is a given. We obey the Lord when we use our spiritual gifts, talents, and resources to further His kingdom around the world, as well as to teach and build up believers He puts in our paths. These are all aspects of obeying Jesus’ command.
For the apostles, such obedience included instilling in their new converts an eager anticipation of Jesus’ soon return, as we have seen. Jesus told his disciples to teach those new in the faith to “observe all that I have commanded you” (see Matt. 28:20); and from this flowed, among other things, teaching them to eagerly await Jesus’ appearing.
Things are different now. Those who stress reaching all the nations with the Gospel, rarely – if ever – mention our future hope. Many pastors ignore what was for the apostles an essential part of the message they proclaimed. As a result, the hope of new believers remains earthbound, lacking the joyful anticipation of what lies ahead.
Not only does the silence of shepherds ignore Jesus’ commands, it also exposes the sheep to great dangers.
Sound Teaching on Our Biblical Hope Prevents Doctrinal Error
In Ephesians 4:11-14, Paul says that Jesus gives the church specially-equipped leaders such as “shepherds” and “teachers” both for unity and so that believers will “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” This is precisely what we are seeing in the church at large today . . . in a negative way.
The dearth of sound teaching on our eternal joy has resulted in believers being “tossed” every which way by false teaching. In recent years, some teachers have begun to falsely proclaim that Jesus has already returned, just as He promised in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation. Such a message has led many unsuspecting believers astray into error and misleading expectations.
Tragically, once these false teachers trap believers in their deceitful web, it takes much more prodding, teaching, and the work of the Holy Spirit to enable them to escape than it would have taken for teachers to have established them in sound biblical teaching from the beginning.
In other words, it requires much more effort to help believers escape from false teaching than it does for solid biblical teaching to effectively shield them from it. This seems to be especially true in regard to future things, as so many hold on to proof texts, ignoring scores of other verses that contradict their errant interpretation.
Do you see why sound biblical teaching on future things is so necessary? It safeguards believers from the many erroneous winds of doctrines blowing about in our day. It gives them a basis to resist the lure of false teachers, who twist Scripture and lead so many away from the joy of biblical hope.
This is why I write. This is why I am so grieved for believers who hear so little about the specifics or the scriptural basis of the glorious wonders that await them in forever. I desire to get the word out, either through teaching, speaking, or writing, to followers of Christ who are sadly looking only to the things of this life to bring them lasting purpose and joy. It’s time to look up, is it not?
Jesus said this in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Jesus says the time is now to watch for His appearing. Shouldn’t the shepherds of local flocks, those called to lead us, be echoing the words of the Lord? It’s not that the things they emphasize are bad – far from it. It’s just that their neglect keeps the focus of so many believers on the things of the earth rather than eternity where their ultimate and lasting hope resides.
Where are your eyes today? Is your ultimate hope on the things of this life, or are you looking forward to your eternal inheritance reserved in heaven just for you (1 Pet. 1:3-5)?
Jonathan C. Brentner
Eternity Versus the Moment