Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Darris McNeely] Have you ever heard the term “a thief in the night?” It refers to someone or some significant event coming upon one suddenly, without warning. An unforeseen event that changes life in an instant.
The term comes from the Bible and it is used to refer to significant events in prophecy that will suddenly come upon an unsuspecting and ill-prepared world. It describes a time when world events suddenly happen and everything changes. Peace becomes war, and turmoil and upheaval are the result.
Could today’s world events suddenly speed up and overnight your world is a different place? The Bible says it can. Join us on Beyond Today as we discover “When Nations Rise and Fall.”
[Announcer] Join our host Darris McNeely and his guests, as they help you understand your future on Beyond Today !
[Darris] Look at today’s world. The United States is the dominating power. China is rising in power and influence among Asian nations. European nations have created a union that has brought a measure of peace to an often war-torn continent. The Middle East has conflicts—but has been kept from spilling completely out into the rest of the world.
Do you think today’s world will always remain the way that it is?
This is the world we have today. It has been going along relatively the same for as long as we can remember. Now think about that phrase I just said, “as long as we can remember.”
As long as I can remember, as long as you can remember is really a very short time, even though it is just about all our life. You see, all my adult life I have lived in the United States and enjoyed the great blessing of prosperity that comes from the world’s best and strongest economy. America’s power in just about every area you would imagine has given me, and you, a pretty good life.
I can carry this passport—a United States password—whenever I go abroad. And I carry my United States dollar. Together, they have given me a freedom of entry to many parts of the world.
You see, our lives have been made comfortable and safe in our present, modern world.
But will it always remain so?
The Bible tells us that history has not nor always will be so tranquil and peaceful. Let’s look at what it says about history and prophecy.
The apostle Paul writes, “Concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).
Bible prophecy shows us God controls history and the destiny of nations. God determines when nations rise and fall. Now what could this mean for America and today’s great powers?
You see, today’s world could change virtually overnight. It’s happened before and the Bible tells us it will happen again. But you can understand and not be surprised by dramatic changes in world events.
There is one historian who understands this principle of a “thief in the night” very well. He’s Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. He wrote an analysis of recent world history that shows exactly how the idea “thief in the night” scenario has happened, and could happen again in current history. He wrote an article in Foreign Affairs magazine and there he showed that many large nations of the past were gone in a few short years. They were strong, functioning nations and then they faded virtually overnight.
Ferguson goes on and gives the example of the collapse of the Soviet Union over a short period of about five years from 1986 to 1991. The Soviet Union went from a position of global strength to collapse and the world was surprised and stunned. No one predicted the collapse and disintegration of a global nuclear power that had dominated European politics since 1917. He wrote: “If ever an empire fell off a cliff—rather than gently declining—it was the one founded by Lenin” (ibid., p. 30).
World empires are large complex systems that can be turned upside down in a short time. One small event that is missed by experts can create conditions that lead to larger events that create fear, and loss of confidence and chaos.
Probably the best example of this is the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in June of 1914. That event was the fuse that lit the powder keg of World War I. No one saw it at the time, but events quickly got out of control and within weeks, Europe was at war. A hundred years later, the world is still dealing with the effects of one small event that led to the collapse of empires and millions of people dead.
A more recent event was the near meltdown of the world financial system back in September of the year 2008. Massive debt and a complex web of financial arrangements created a financial crisis that brought down large Wall Street financial institutions. Large global companies like General Motors nearly went bankrupt. In America, the situation was so serious that the nation’s financial structure nearly went under. One report said we were 48 hours away from our debit cards not working at the neighborhood ATM. Could you imagine the panic that would set in if overnight your credit cards would not work at the gas pumps or on the internet? The global economy is still recovering from that event. It’s an object lesson in how quickly events, even small events, can happen and turn around the world and turn it upside down.
The historian Ferguson concludes by observing that “empires behave like all complex…systems. They function…for some unknowable period. And then, quite abruptly, they collapse… It is sudden” (ibid., p. 32).
He then asks: “What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?” (“Complexity and Collapse,” p. 22).
Sounds like what we just read from the Bible doesn’t it? “Like a thief in the night.”
What the Bible says about the end-time events culminating in the Day of the Lord applies to the sudden collapse of powerful nations and empires throughout history.
What historians miss in their studies is what can be called the missing dimension in world affairs. That missing dimension is the hand of God in the rise and fall of great nations and empires.
You see, the Bible, the Word of God, is a chronicle of ancient nations that rose and fell according to His plan and purpose. Nations like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome—all are mentioned in the Bible and all played key roles in working with the nation of Israel and the Church founded by Jesus Christ. Even today, the lessons of empires embedded in the Bible apply as we watch the modern world move toward what Christ said would be the end of the age.
Of all the examples in the Bible to examine, there is one that fits what we have been discussing. It’s one of the “remote” sections of the Bible. It’s the story of the collapse of the great ancient nation of Assyria. Now Assyria figures prominently in the story of Israel and Judah. Its kings brought large armies to capture the nations of Israel, taking captive the northern ten-tribe nation of Israel, removing every trace of their existence. The Assyrian king, Sennacherib also brought 180,000 troops against the walls of Jerusalem only to have them killed in one night by the hand of God. Assyria was large and a long-lived empire of nearly 1,000 years in the region that we call the Middle East–where the modern nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey exist. Their cities, the Assyrian cities, they were large. Their armies, very powerful. The Assyrians thought their nation would always exist.
But God had other plans.
The story of Assyria’s collapse is told in the biblical book of the prophet Nahum, one of the books in that section that is called “The Minor Prophets.” Nahum’s prophecy gives testimony to the truth that God governs world history. Let’s look briefly at this very compelling message.
The prophet Nahum lived in the seventh century BC in the nation of Judah. It’s possible that Nahum had a position as an emissary, or an ambassador, to the great nation of Assyria while his own country, Judah was a vassal state of Assyria. Now what did it mean to be a vassal state? Well it meant that Judah had to pay a yearly amount of money to Assyria as protection money to remain semi-independent. A lot of gold, silver and other goods were transferred annually to the Assyrian treasury. Nahum may have been one who carried the money to Assyria. It would explain how the prophecy of his contains very specific descriptions of the Assyrian capital, the great city called Nineveh. And Nahum did not like what he saw. Nahum was moved by God to write some very strong condemnation of the city. While in Nineveh, Nahum would’ve observed the large city, and its walls, and its gates, and its broad boulevards, its buildings, its palaces, and its squares, which are all a part of what he describes in his very short prophecy.
Nahum says, “The chariots rage in the streets. They jostle one another in the broad roads. They seem like torches. They run like lightning.” You see, the city of Nineveh had broad streets and broad avenues in its ultimate form and setting after it had been in embellished by all of its kings. And Nahum goes on to describe, “He remembers his nobles. They stumble in their walk. They make haste to her walls, and the defense is prepared. The gates of the rivers are opened and the palace is dissolved and its vast wealth.” (Nahum 2:4-6).
In Nahum 2:9, here of the same chapter, the prophet goes on and says, “Take spoil of silver. Take spoil of gold. There is no end of treasure or wealth of every desirable price.” An apt description of what Assyria did. As they would wage war, conquer a city, a nation, they would loot the treasures. And that would give them an impassioned, powerful indictment of the city of Nineveh and the Assyrian power.
Nahum, God’s prophet, is moved by the Spirit of God’s to write this message of God’s judgment in very simple and clear language.
You see, Assyria was a vicious nation that liked to revel in its wars. They wanted to remember their conquests with large elaborate stone reliefs that they placed in their government buildings for all to see. Archaeologists have uncovered these scenes. We can see how the culture reveled in killing and conquest. Nahum says, “Woe to the bloody city.” (Nahum 3:1) And Nineveh was a bloody city. The Assyrians had a well-earned reputation for their treatment of other people.
And because of this evil, Nahum pronounced God’s judgment. “The Lord has given a command concerning you. Your name shall be perpetuated no longer.” (Nahum 1:14). Their name would be wiped out and forgotten. And once the city falls, which it did in the year 612 BC, Nineveh was quickly forgotten.
The Assyrian kings would boast of defending the honor of their Assyrians gods. And they also took the gold and the silver from the other nations. And they carried it back into Nineveh. And Nahum shows that all of this wealth, all of it, was going to disappear. He wrote, “Take spoil of silver. Take spoil of gold,” because all of it was there in Nineveh and that’s why he could say, “There’s no end of treasure or wealth of every desirable prize.” It had all been taken to Nineveh. And quite likely, Nahum had carried even Judah’s share of that and deposited it there as bribe money. It goes on, “She is empty, desolate, and waste” (Nahum 2:9-10). Nahum is saying it was all going to be taken away. And it was.
We see how the story concludes. God says, “Behold, I am against you…I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword will devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth. The voice of your messengers will be heard no more…It shall come to pass that all who look upon you will flee from you and say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste. Who will bemoan her? Where shall I seek comforters for you?” (Nahum 2:13; Nahum 3:17)
For hundreds of years their wickedness passed back and forth over the peoples of that Middle Eastern region. And now, God was saying through His prophet, that it was going to come to them. And so it did. Nineveh and the Assyrian empire disappeared from history and was forgotten.
You see, God’s in control of history and when God moves it’s like a “thief in the night.” Change and destruction can come very quickly.
There’s an interesting story after the fall of Nineveh, about 200 years later, after the fall of the city. In the year 400 BC, there’s a great story about a group of Greek mercenary soldiers, called the Ten Thousand. They had been in Persia waging a battle as mercenaries. The money runs out and the tide of battle turns against them, and they finally come to the point and they say, “We’re had enough. We’re going home.” So they get began to make their way back to the west, back toward Greece. And as they’re making their way home, they camp one night on the Tigris River near this huge mound of dirt and the evident spoils of something that was there. One of their soldiers, a man by the name of Xenophon, who actually wrote the account. He was an eyewitness and he wrote—and he doesn’t even know in his history that he’s looking at the ruins of the city of Nineveh. Here’s a story of a group of Greek soldiers camping on the ruins of this great city of Nineveh and they don’t know what’s in front of them.
It’s a lesson for any great and large nation then and now. God judges the nations. God controls history. God decides when nations rise and fall.
Could you imagine a time when America might not exist? That great cities like Chicago or New York would no longer be remembered? It’s hard for us to imagine that. To even think like this is to conjure science fiction and fantasy. But it has happened in history. It could happen again. It’s a lesson in how transitory power can be. And there is a lesson for us today, how quickly things can change.
America today is a great power, a world superpower. It is great because God made it great. And America will remain great until God removes His blessing. That’s something we should never forget. When God removes His blessing, and it can happen because of sin, then it will be a different world order than what we see today. America has been guided and blessed by the hand of Almighty God. And we should understand our history and our time on the world stage and what it has been. Because God made promises to the biblical patriarch Abraham, we have been blessed with prosperity, security and power in the modern world. But America has not lived by God’s law and its national sins are not small.
When God decides to judge this nation, when its pre-appointed time has come and it is over, that fall will be conclusive and it will be dramatic. And it will come as a thief in the night. And we should not forget that. That is a lesson for us to look at look at how quickly cities like Nineveh fell, and how when God decided the time was over, it was over, and it was forgotten.
There’s a stanza from a poem that makes this point quite well. It’s a poem by the Englishman Rudyard Kipling. Kipling wrote when Great Britain was a world empire. He wrote a poem called “Requiem”. And there’s one stanza that applies to the topic. The poem says, “Far-called our navies melt away,” and he’s speaking of the British Empire. Their navies went far and eventually they did melt away. He goes on to say, “On dune and headlands sinks the fire. Lo, all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre.” Kipling was writing at a time when some could see that the empire of Great Britain was beginning its decline. And he says, “Our pomp of yesterday is like that of Nineveh and Tyre.”
Well, we’ve read about Nineveh today. And even a poet of Great Britain understood how transitory national greatness and power is. And he says in conclusion here, almost to God, “Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, lest we forget, Lest we forget.”
We don’t need to forget. And we should not forget that God is the God of history. God is the judge of all nations. God judged Nineveh, the Assyrians, and every other great world power after that. And He judges and rules in history today, and His purpose still stands. No matter what we see in today’s world, understand that it all could change quickly, “like a thief in the night” when God begins to move in world affairs to fulfill prophecy and His divine plan.
So what should you do? Well let’s see what God says.
The apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians about the sudden changes that take place when God intervenes in world history. He says, “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you” (1 Thessalonians 5:1).
Now this phrase, “times and seasons” refer to events that mark key events in the plan of God. Earlier in this book, Paul was talking about the resurrection to occur at Christ’s appearing. Now he’s talking about a specific event. Notice.
“For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
The Day of the Lord marks a time when God intervenes in the world as mankind faces critical challenges at the end of the age. The day of the Lord will be a period unlike any ever seen in past history.
“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5).
What he is saying is this, that with a proper understanding of Bible prophecy and contact with God, you don’t have to be deceived over what is occurring.
Paul goes on, “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-7).
You and I, we can all understand the meaning of world events. When you know that God works in history and nothing escapes His attention, you’ll not be ignorant of what is taking place.
Paul continues, “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
History has a purpose within the plan of God. God’s intent is spiritual salvation for mankind. And that is the hope to look for at the end of the age.
Paul goes on, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 9:11).
In a moment, we will have our Beyond Today panel here to discuss more about this topic.
We have been discussing how quickly nations can fall. Small, seemingly insignificant events can trigger large shifts in power among nations and overnight empires and powers disappear. The Bible describes this type of event.
So I am joined today by Steve Myers and Gary Petty for this discussion.
What does the term “a thief in the night” mean for the today’s world order?
[Steve] I think when you think about it, it points to an uncertainty in our world. That the little guy can suddenly be most important when they wield their weapons and whether it’s chemical weapons or the potential dirty bombs or nuclear weapons. Things can change in an instant. And like a thief that comes in and breaks in, it could happen overnight.
[Gary] Yet people say, well how could it be a thief in the night? We know all this information. All we have to do is pick up our newspaper or go to the Druge Report, but the truth is we’ve been inundated with so much information, we become desensitized to it. So we don’t even recognize that we sort of know, we are filled with anxiety but we are still caught off guard when the events happen.
[Darris] But what does that mean for America you think?
[Steve] For America? I can’t help but think back to World War II. You think about Pearl Harbor, that changed everything! It changed the whole focus of the war. And we were trying to avoid that certain section of the world and all of a sudden, there it was and overnight we were in it full bore. And so, like a Pearl Harbor, it means for America, we have to be weary and things could change instantly.
[Gary] And you know what’s even more amazing today, is it took the Japanese military and industrial power to do that. Today, a man with a dirty bomb and a suitcase could bring down the world to hitting a financial center or something. So it can happen so differently today. And that would really be a thief in the night, the first events.
[Darris] But if it did happen to America, what do you think the response would be from this country?
[Steve] Boy, I guess the scenarios play out that we’re always going to retaliate. That we’ve talked about mutually assured destruction. If one is launched, we are going to launch back. We are going to retaliate. The world could be in an uproar and…
[Darris] But would people be able to respond effectively to it?
[Steve] That’s the challenge. I think the challenge is what would we do? We could hardly respond to a financial crisis a number of years ago, let alone warfare that is just blatant.
[Gary] Even if we did respond, say North Korea hit Honolulu with a nuclear weapon and we launch a couple weapons and kill almost everybody in North Korea. It still creates an economic chaos that just the whole world is sucked down into a pit. So, even our response wouldn’t change what is going to happen to the world.
[Darris] So what should a viewer take from that statement “a thief in the night”? What should it mean for our audience, individually?
[Steve] Yeah. In some sense, you’ve got to recognize—boy, this world is on the verge. But yet, it doesn’t have to be a thief for us, personally. It means we’ve got to get our religious life in order. We’ve got to develop a relationship with God. We’ve got to put that first and foremost in the importance of our relationship with Him. And learn about God’s way and His will.
[Gary] Be right with God! You can’t prepare physically for this—be right with God.
[Darris] It’s a scary thought, but an important warning from the Bible.
During today’s program, I’ve explained how Bible prophecy shows that God controls history. And to be sure—He oversees the destiny of nations and determines when they rise and fall. Plus, I’ve covered how world conditions could change virtually overnight. Because of this, you really need to grasp and not be surprised by probable, dramatic ups and downs that will occur in global events during the coming months and years ahead.
To help you understand what the Bible says is in store for the world, we have prepared a truly valuable—yet totally free study aid entitled: You Can Understand Bible Prophecy. This key publication will give you better comprehension about prophesied events and how they will affect your life—and the lives of your family members, friends and neighbors.
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And, when you order your free study aid, we’re going to send you a free subscription to Beyond Today magazine. Every issue of Beyond Today if filled with outstanding, well-researched articles which are designed to assist you in better grasping—not only what’s prophesied for our world—but also the many remarkable truths of the Bible.
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So, when you visit BeyondToday.tv , we invite you to watch BT Daily as well. These are 2-4 minute daily videos on a diversity of Bible topics and current events. BT Daily is a great way for you to get valuable comprehension about Bible prophecy and God’s perfect blueprint for you and all mankind! Plus, you can watch BT Daily and our 30-minute Beyond Today programs anytime on YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku and other streaming-enabled devices.
Our world can suddenly change. Events can happen to turn the world—even your world upside down. You can understand Bible prophecy and what that means for our future. Great and significant events are prophesied in Scripture as the nations and history move to the end of this age.
Don’t let yourself be caught by surprise. Study the Bible and let it begin to shape your view and understanding of world events. God controls history and His purpose guides the course of great nations today. It can all change quickly, “like a thief in the night.”
Thanks for watching our program. For Beyond Today, I’m Darris McNeely.
[Announcer] For the free literature offered on today’s program, go online to BeyondToday.tv. Please join us again next week on Beyond Today!