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I recall a conversation with a Christian businessman who said that he had no interest in learning about last day events or predictive prophecy.[1] His reason for his disinterest was that it was so much “pie in the sky” stuff that had no relevance to his life. 

He was wrong. J. Robertson McQuilkin puts it this way: “In the time before a prophecy comes to pass, it is designed to affect present thought and conduct, not to satisfy curiosity concerning the future.”[2] That means that predictive prophecy is relevant to how we live now. 

James demonstrates the significance of predictive prophecy in living toward wholeness.


Hope for the oppressed

In the context, James has been writing about the arrogance of planning our lives without considering the will or desire of God (4:13-17), and the callous cruelty of the rich toward the poor (5:1-6) – dysfunctional living regarding plans and stuff. 

He now speaks to how followers of Jesus should be living toward wholeness – particularly if they are subject to the abuses of the rich. Here’s what he writes: 

7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming [parousia] of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming [parousia] of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:7-11 ESV)

Three times James refers to the specific future event of the return and presence (in Greek, the parousia) of the Lord Jesus. Each of these references to the parousia is linked with living toward wholeness now.


Three powerful keys 

First, in verse 7 he writes “be patient” using the Greek word makrothumeō. This is a combination of macros and thumos and has the sense of “long spirit, not losing heart … catch your wind for a long race”[3] – it is a mindset that takes the long view, remaining tranquil while waiting in the face of delay. What is the motivation or resource for being patient in profoundly difficult circumstances? It is the conscious assurance of the return and presence of the Lord Jesus. 

James then illustrates his instruction with a metaphor from farming – “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.” As with the cycle of planting, germination, growth, and harvest it takes time. There is nothing that can be done to change or shorten that cycle; the farmer is not in control of the process. Like the farmer, in God’s hands, the process of trial is necessary, purposeful, and it will come to an end.


Second, in verse 8 he writes “be patient” (makrothumeō), establish or strengthen your hearts, take courage, be steadfast – why? – “for the coming [parousia] of the Lord is near, or at hand. What is the motivation for digging deeply and not being overcome with hopelessness in difficult circumstances? The presence of the Lord Jesus is near – “we strengthen our hearts ‘to keep hoping when the delay seems interminable,’ ‘to keep trusting when God’s timing seems questionable,’ and ‘to keep working for righteousness when results seem meager.’”[4]


Third, in verse 9 James writes “do no grumble or complain” – why? – because “the Judge is standing at the door.” Whether this is nearness in space (physical proximity) or nearness in time (temporal proximity) both convey the assurance that the time for judgment is approaching when everything will be set right. Those who have been arrogant in their plans and those who have been abusive with their wealth (amongst others) will be made accountable and dealt with accordingly. Those Christians who have suffered and have been abused will be vindicated and rewarded. 

So, predictive prophecy or eschatology is relevant and empowering for the attitude and actions of patience in present difficult circumstances.


The present power of the future

Is this “pie in the sky” stuff – so much fluff without substance?  

James reinforces his call by drawing from the historical experiences of the prophets. They stand as powerful and enduring witnesses to living toward wholeness even when unjustly abused, oppressed, and persecuted. Consider some of these prophets: Elijah who was persecuted by Ahab and Jezebel; Jeremiah who was thrown into an abandoned well to die; Ezekiel, Daniel, and others. Often we seem to think that we are alone in suffering – but there have been (and are) multitudes of followers of Jesus who have experienced pain, abuse, oppression, and death – and they have been empowered to live toward wholeness by the conscious assurance that the Lord is coming. 

To this James adds the example of Job, a man disoriented and oppressed by intensely painful circumstances of unjust suffering (here is the link to the blog regarding Job “Complaining to God”). In all of these things one is pointed to the Lord who is full of compassion and full of mercy (5:11) – and he is coming to be present with us. 


Active patience 

There is one additional point I want to touch briefly. Do these calls to patience mean that we do nothing about injustice and oppression? 

I would argue that James calls us to “active patience.”  

This means the deep and abiding attitude and action of patience empowered by the conscious certainty that the Lord is coming and will be physically present. It also means the deep and abiding attitude and action of opposing injustice and oppression wherever it may be found.  

On one hand, “the antidote does not involve revolutionary violence or supplanting God’s role as vengeance-taker, which he will exercise when Christ returns”[5]; but it does provoke us to be serious about pursuing righteousness in all of life: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” We’ll have to continue this another time. 


Until next Friday,  


John, a brother


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[1] Although I have used the phrase “predictive prophecy,” the more accurate (but technical) term for this area of study is eschatology (the “ch” is pronounced as “k”). This word is built on the Greek word eschatos which has the general meaning of “last” – therefore the study of last times.

[2] J. Robertson McQuilkin, Understanding and Applying the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1983), 216.

[3] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1960), 6:61.

[4] Craig L. Blomberg, et al., James, ZECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 228.

[5] Blomberg, 218.


Photo Credit: Dan Sorensen Photography via Compfight cc

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