Punch and Judy are characters in an unlikely seaside puppet show featuring domestic violence and a scavenging crocodile. When Punch fails to care for the baby, his wife, Judy, beats him with a stick. Punch retaliates and gets arrested by a policeman, but steals his truncheon, then beats him with it while the crowd boo Punch. A clown announces lunch and delivers a string of sausages. Then the crocodile sneaks up behind Punch to steal the sausages. It’s a delightful comedy show orchestrated by one puppeteer with dexterous fingers and a repertoire of squeaky voices. We should never take international violence lightly but Punch and Judy provides a helpful analogy for world affairs—someone is behind the scenes pulling the spiritual strings.
People respond to showdowns like Ukraine in different ways: The anxious run for cover. The fearful throw up their hands in despair and the aggressive shake a fist and mutter angry words in the direction of the offender. Meanwhile, seers point to the signs on the charts and cry, “Here’s where we are right now on the timeline.”
But we shouldn’t expect future prophecies to provide us with TV Guide-like details of every upcoming event. I suspect that future prophecy is a lot like Old Testament messianic prophecy. The prophets presented principles about God’s will and ways, and some road signs to watch for. Road signs and principles were often confused with each other. Jesus had lots of explaining to do before the disciples reached their “Ah ha” moment about Him. So, until we turn the calendar page to the subject time, world affairs will remain as difficult to follow as a Punch and Judy plot. Thankfully, in a letter to the Thessalonians, Paul explained the mystery of lawlessness and named the person pulling the strings.
Let no one in any way deceive you, for [the day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming. (2 Thess. 2:3-8)
The mystery goes something like this: In the present age, every act of lawlessness promotes the cause of a spiritual puppeteer called the man of lawlessness. His primary objective is self-exaltation; he wants to act as God. At present, an unnamed authority, probably the Holy Spirit, restrains him. The news is bad now, but things can get a lot worse. God will remove His restraint, expose the man of lawlessness, and allow him to escalate lawlessness for a while. But the story ends with good news when the Lord returns to slay him with the breath of his mouth.
In light of Paul’s plot guide, how should we respond to this crisis and the next?
As always, we should fix our eyes on heaven. Paul pointed to the spiritual backdrop behind every crisis. Don’t be troubled by the chaos on the world stage or feel bound by the strings, God is in control and we are on the winning side.
However, our feet are still planted on the earth. We need to empathize with those who are caught up in trouble. Pray for them and send relief or do something practical whenever possible.
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