This passage of our Lord’s own teaching challenges us, if we will heed it, to recognize the unique character, the supreme worth and the abiding practical value of the word of God.
Reference to it is here put in the advent and eschatological context, in relation, that is, to the future coming of Christ and the end of the world. That is the right setting in which to appreciate its outstanding worth. For in this setting the word of God is seen to be our one security in a completely insecure world. “Heaven and earth”, said Jesus, “shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
A pertinent contrast
The certainty of God’s word to endure, to continue to hold good, and to find fulfilment, is set in contrast with the insecurity of the natural order of “heaven and earth,” in which men think there are stability and permanence. For men of a scientific age like ours sometimes tend to talk as if the one thing that cannot be broken are the laws of the natural order.
For words of professed divine revelation, and particularly for words of predictive prophecy, they have little or no respect; and they sometimes fondly imagine that they can rightly treat them with the incredulity which they suppose they deserve. We do well to set in radical contrast with such ideas these significant words of Jesus: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away”.
A pointed comparison
“As were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming of the Son of man.” The story of the flood and of what happened before it came is, said Jesus himself, an illustration of conditions which will recur before the predicted end of the world comes and the Son of man appears. In this story of the days of Noah we may discern the same contrasts; the contrast between men’s mistaken attitude both to their own world and to God’s word and the actual truth; and the contrast between the unrecognised insecurity of men’s world and the unbelieved certainty of God’s word.
In those days the world carried on as usual, absorbed in its own immediate interests, supposing that its life was stable and enduring. Nor did it apparently give any scientifically observable indication of the impending destruction. Over against this was a God-given word of clear and solemn warning. But this word men treated with incredulity and indifference.
A paradoxical crisis
In the days of Noah with overwhelming suddenness and completeness, “the flood came and took them all away.” This decisively exposed the real truth. Men’s world was shown to be completely insecure. God’s word was shown to be absolutely certain. The same crisis paradoxically overthrew the one and vindicated the other. The truth of God’s word and the doom of men’s world were alike thrown into stark relief. It was impossible any longer to disbelieve or gainsay either. The one event served conclusively to demonstrate both men’s folly and God’s faithfulness.
Our prospect comparable
It is our Lord himself who said that this is an exact picture of the kind of thing which will happen again at his second coming. The final catastrophe of judgment will both destroy men’s world and fulfil his word.
Heaven and earth are to pass away. Christ’s words are to abide and to find fulfilment. With dramatic suddenness men and women will find themselves divided; one taken and the other left; one saved and the other lost. Nor is any knowledge of the actual day possible. We simply have Christ’s own word that he is coming.
The practical challenge
This surely is plain enough. We need to beware lest we too be deceived by the prevailing worldly attitude and outlook of our fellowmen.
We need to gain a proper perspective, a true sense of values. To do so we ought above all else to prize the God-given word. We ought to heed its warning, to enjoy its comfort, so embrace and hold fast its hope. We ought to expect and to anticipate its fulfilment. “Our Lord cometh” (1 Cor 16:22, R.V.).
This article was first published in the Australian Church Record on 24 November 1960. In this series we hear reflections on Scripture from the Rev. Alan M Stibbs.