(NB: This article was first published about nine months ago. Its message is still very relevant today and it is being rerun this week with some marginal editing. God bless you as you read.)
It had been on my mind to write about something like this and I was watching out for when to tackle it. Then I came across an article in this week’s Sunday Punch here in Nigeria, Boko Haram: The Challenges of Messianic Movements. You could call it a fire under my seat!
For the uninitiated, Boko Haram is a fundamentalist Islamic sect that recently unleashed terror on parts of Northern Nigeria. The incident, according to last week’s editorial of the same newspaper, claimed hundreds of lives and displaced several thousands. In the mind of the writer of the article, Minabere Ibelema, the event evoked memories of some “messianic” groups that have executed similar horrors around the world. Included in the recount was the “Reverend” Jim Jones-led group that took to the forests of Guyana and bared its fangs in 1978. Also recalled was the Armageddon-obsessed Branch of Davidians that reared its ugly head in Waco in the US state of Texas in 1993. There was also the Aun Shinri Kyo group that got the idea of triggering the Apocalypse in Japan in 1996.
Although I was just learning how to read at the time of the Guyana incident, many years latter I came across a very old edition of Time magazine in which I read a detailed report of the incident. That magazine might still be somewhere in my library, and you might want to recall what I said about the editors of Time magazine and other news broadcasters in THE KEEPERS OF TIME. As Ibelema notes, these messianic movements differ in their beliefs, yet they have a common denominator: “a narrow and extreme interpretation of scripture [whatever their “holy book” might be], an apocalyptic vision of society, and a fatalistic inclination to actualize it.” A mouthful, I must say! But true all the same.
Yet this does not discount the fact that there is a true Messiah and a divine agenda to deliver the world from its deeply entrenched problems – “the bondage of corruption,” to use a biblical expression (see Romans 8:18-21) – which have actually been identified as a fan that blows the embers of such fanatical groups. As they say, you don’t have a bogus without an original. “For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come…and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts” (see Haggai 2:6-9). The “desire of all nations” is not only an epithet for the true Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, it also reflects what former United States president George Bush (Snr.) described as “the universal aspirations of mankind [see it?]: peace and security, freedom, and the rule of law.” The point is, the answer to this global aspiration of mankind will be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, my intention when I first conceived the idea of this article was to warn those of us who look forward to the coming of this Messiah and the golden dispensation of His global kingdom about the possibility of becoming so obsessed with the promise that we become indifferent about the present life. But the Boko Haram article awakened me to the fact that there is much more to beware of. Even if it is unlikely that we would work ourselves into where we take up arms to try to give the Lord a helping hand in establishing the kingdom, there is now the burden of the possibility of our talking about our “blessed hope” being regarded with suspicion, or even censored, as Ibelema hinted at. Worse still, we realize that the bogus messiahs that have been running wild have given some potential kingdom citizens reason to resist our message of the “golden future time,” to use the words of George Orwell in his classic Animal Farm, a very imperative story. This is the most regrettable aspect of it, for its subtlety has not only made victims of unbelievers, but also of unsuspecting Christians.
When you give it critical thought, you realize that the root of some of the extreme actions of these false messianic and other extremist groups can be traced to what I was going to warn kingdom citizens about: undue obsession with the coming kingdom, or some other religious or utopian concept, to the detriment of our fortunes in the present life.
Let’s consider a typical scenario. A sect sets a date for the kingdom to come, or propagates an extreme idea. This encourages members to jettison their pursuits in the present world and unduly retreat from society. The set day of “things fall apart” – thanks to W.B. Yeats in his poem The Second Coming – is at hand and it is almost certain that their predictions would hit the rocks. Or somewhere along the line, the idea they have been propagating runs into troubled waters. Disgrace is imminent. Desperation takes control. A “prophecy” goes forth among them: their “Lord” wants them to “do something”; he needs their help to fulfill his agenda. They move in to enforce Armageddon. The world recoils in horror.
Beware kingdom citizen. You might think that you are beyond this, but “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). These extremist groups don’t always start out the way we eventually get to hear about them. But like a cancerous growth, something goes wrong somewhere in the works and death is seeded. As the Lord would say, “Behold, I have told you before.” In other words, “Beware, I have warned you beforehand.” (See Matthew 24:23-25.)
Coming to think of it, we who look forward to the promised kingdom can’t afford to be complacent about the present life; for as I point out in POUND WISE, it is our diligence and faithfulness with what we have been entrusted with in the present time that would determine our fortunes in the coming one. But as I also bear out in THY KINGDOM COME, neither can we afford to be so taken in by the present life that we loose sight of, and eventually miss out on, “the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). The answer is in a scripturally inspired balanced life. “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:8). One could say, and it is indeed true, that “the coming glory,” as Charles Spurgeon put it, is far better that the uncertain and perishing present, but we will only enter into our portion of that Canaan by walking the right path now.
Yes, it is by keeping THE GOLDEN PROMISE OF THE KINGDOM constantly before us that we are encouraged and empowered to face the challenges of our present journey towards the Promised Land. This is something that I hope I am able to help us achieve through this medium. “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrew 13:14). So keep the faith, and remain posted.
God bless you always.
In the King’s Service,
David Olagoke Olawoyin.