Forthright Magazine http://forthright.antville.org Today's article is a tad longer than normal, but hang in there with Randal. Until the end. The Great Separation by Randal Matheny Brazilians have a phrase that often pops up in conversations, "Let's separate things properly." The idea is to make the proper distinctions in analyzing an issue. God wants to separate things properly as well. And he has a definite timetable to do just that. We like to think of eternal life as the final and complete union with God. And rightly so. But the Lord also describes the moment at which time dissolves into eternity as a great separation. All of life is a separation. Jesus said, "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on the earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three" (Luke 12:51-52, NASV). Father against son. Son against father. Mother against daughter. Daughter against mother. The gospel brings not merely peace with God and man, but division and separation from those who refuse repentance. In fact, the concept of holiness starts with separation. That separation continues at death, when we are not only separated from those we love, but from all evil or from all good, depending upon how we choose to live in this life. Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus establishes the "great chasm fixed" that prevents crossing over from torment to Paradise (Luke 16:26). So it is not surprising that Jesus describes the end of time as one Great Separation. In Matthew 13, he tells two parables to this end, the tares and the dragnet. In the parable of the tares (read verses 24-30 and 36-43), the separation process is only partial in this life. The godly effort to remove evil is worthy, necessary, and spiritual (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, for example), but incomplete. Only God can add the last chapter to this saga. Jesus conceives of the end of the age as a harvest (verse 39). And in this process, good is not always seen for what it is. Or, even worse, evil is not recognized as evil. But when the end comes (verse 40), the evil ones will be thrown into the furnace of fire. Only then will it be possible for God's devoted ones to be seen for what they are, "THEN the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (verse 43). Because of that, the gospel is worth any price. So say the parables of the hidden treasure and the costly pearl (verses 44-46). Then Jesus returns to the subject of "the end of the age" in the parable of the dragnet (verses 47-50). Here, the figure is of the fishermen casting their dragnet and pulling in all kinds of fish. Once on shore, the selection process begins. But not before then. The parable's point: don't expect God to anticipate his final work now. The present is not a time of separation, but gathering in. Preach the gospel, remembering that the great division will soon occur. These two parables make several truths clear. First, this is God's job. Yes, the church removes the unrepentant sinner from its midst (1 Corinthians 5:1-13), and those who are spiritual can recognize trespasses and sins among them (Galatians 5:1), but the final accounting and eternal sentencing are divine tasks, performed by the Lord at the hand of his ministering angels. What a relief for the saints of God! His power, his omniscience, his holiness will burn the way clear to show complete justice and full glory. Second, the great separation at the end of the age will be a joyful and wonderful event. Not only will God be seen for who he is, but the his people will seen as the right-doers. This is a great comfort, since Christians are persecuted in this world and people "falsely say all kinds of evil" against them, because of Jesus' exclusive claims and non-negociable demands (Matthew 5:11). Third, while we await the end of the age, we should be sowing and fishing. Preaching and teaching. Telling others that the Great Separation is coming soon. And that repentance is necessary to avoid being thrown into the furnace of fire. Let's "separate things properly" now, as the Brazilians say. And prepare for God's Great Separation. Because we're nearing the end of the age.