Neither the Old nor the New Testament predicts that the world will be converted in the last days. In fact, it predicts just the opposite, that almost all the world will worship the antichrist. Only a small group of people, a remnant in comparison to the world’s population, will keep God’s commandments in the last days.
Jesus said the last days would be like it was in the days of Noah. He gave Noah a message and 120 years to declare it. Some believed, but were laid to rest before the Flood came. But of all the people still alive on the day the Flood came, only eight people believed enough to be on that ark.
Imagine, eight inside the ark and something north of a billion outside. If you were one of the eight, would you have been thinking “I could be outside with so many more people”?
Almost the whole world right now thinks that way—billions of people, all dashing rapidly to destruction. But a few people still listen to the three angels’ messages, and only this remnant will be saved from the destruction that is coming.
Let’s look at three scriptures that all speak about a similar subject. These scriptures are Zechariah 4:7, first part, Isaiah 40:3, 4, and Matthew 21:18–22:
“ ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!’ ”
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth.’ ”
“Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, ‘Let no fruit grow on you ever again.’ Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither away so soon?’ So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.’ ”
So what are we to learn from these three scriptures?
Zechariah says that a great mountain will be turned into a plain. Is he talking about a literal mountain? Skeptics will say that they have never heard of such a thing. The Rocky Mountains, Mount Everest, the Himalayan Mountains, the Andes, they all are still where they have been. So these skeptics do not believe that this has happened or will happen. But this scripture isn’t about a literal mountain.
Isaiah 40 sounds like the construction of an interstate highway, where you smooth out the mountains and the valleys, so the road is straight and level. But this isn’t about the literal removal of a mountain and making rough terrain smooth to travel on. We know that Isaiah is predicting the work of John the Baptist, 700 years before he was born, as the one who would come to prepare the way for the Messiah.
And if Jesus’ purpose in Matthew 21 isn’t to simply curse a literal, unproductive tree, what is He talking about?
Obstacles, friends, are the difficulties and trials that are in front of us that seem as big as a mountain, too big to go around and too high to climb over. We have all been confronted at some point in our lives with something that seems completely insurmountable—no way through, no way around, no way over and hedged about on every side. Jesus is talking about a spiritual mountain or obstacle in our lives that we do not know how to overcome. So Jesus says in Matthew 21:22, “[W]hatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Simply believe, ask for guidance and assistance, and these apparent impossibilities can be removed.
The Christian is faced with both external and internal obstacles. Let’s look at some of the external obstacles first since they are the easier ones. The internal obstacles are harder.
In the New Testament, external obstacles are referred to as the world. First John 2:15–17 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust (craving) of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” These are the same three temptations that the devil brought to Jesus in Matthew 4.
The lust of the flesh consists of sensual temptations that include sexual passions and the appetite for food and drink and other harmful substances that are sinful. It is not a sin to eat and drink, but we can sin by what and how we eat and drink. This temptation is very successful for the devil.
The devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said, “Throw yourself down. For it is written that the Lord will send His angels to protect you.” This temptation is known as presumption. Presumption is when someone claims the promises of God and believes that they will be saved, all while breaking His commandments (see Matthew 7:21–23). It is one of the most common sins in the Christian world today, so much so, that Mrs. White says that the devil is successful nine times out of ten with this temptation (Lift Him Up, 80). We don’t have a very good average when dealing with temptations of presumption.
It is often beyond comprehension just how easy it is to fall in love with the world. The devil promised Jesus the whole world. He didn’t take it, but there are people that will yield to temptation for just a little piece of worldly real estate; they are willing to give up eternal life for just a little something on this earth. But Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” Mark 8:36
The external temptations that every Christian faces—every man, woman, boy, and girl—are present in any one of a variety of ways that will result in breaking the law of God and make the lawbreaker a member of the devil’s ranks. “He who sins is of the devil.” 1 John 3:8
So, if the devil can entice us, seduce us, terrify us into sinning, desiring the world, with its sensuality, presumption, and love for things and possessions, then we have switched to his side of the great controversy; and unless we repent, we lose our souls, and that is his ultimate goal.
No matter how difficult facing these external temptations can be, it is the internal obstacles that are the most difficult for a Christian to overcome.
As Christians, we are to surrender to Jesus Christ and acknowledge Him as our Saviour from sin and the Lord of our lives. The entire purpose of the Christian life is to become like Jesus, to be Christlike. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2. Becoming Christlike is hearing and doing what God says.
But many Christians who claim the name of Jesus too often forget the hearing and doing part. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do the things which I say?” Luke 6:46. We cannot call Him Lord and not obey His commands if we are to be true Christians.
So let’s consider this: if a person wishes to be made Christlike, but there is something inside him or her that is not Christlike, what is the problem? There is an obstacle that must be overcome so that there is nothing left inside but the character of Christ. “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” 1 John 3:3
God is able to remove even the most difficult obstacles outside, but it won’t matter if the internal obstacles are not removed first. It is only when the devil’s power over a person’s nature has been replaced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that his power to cause difficulties in a person’s life can be overcome.
Individual Christians are not the only ones who experience obstacles; Christians as a church group also must meet obstacles. One of the greatest obstacles for a church is that of false teaching, or heretical doctrines. Jesus talked about this in Matthew 24, as well as other places in the Bible. He said that many false prophets would arise and deceive many (verse 24). When revival and reformation is happening in a church, then all kinds of heretical and fanatical doctrines will be seen, instigated by Satan to counteract that revival.
However, a much bigger obstacle for the church is found in Last Day Events, 156: “We have far more to fear from within than from without. The hindrances to strength and success are far greater from the church itself than from the world. … [H]ow often have the professed advocates of the truth proved the greatest obstacle to its advancement!”
“If we hope to wear the crown, we must expect to bear the cross. Our greatest trials will come from those who profess godliness. … The opposition which Christ received came from His own nation, who would have been greatly blessed had they accepted Him. In like manner the remnant church receive opposition from those who profess to be their brethren.” The Review and Herald, August 28, 1883
Another obstacle, particularly for new Christians, is similar to something that the children of Israel said while wandering in the wilderness. They had given their lives to God, had chosen to follow and obey all that He said, but now they were experiencing more trouble in their lives than they had ever experienced before. People are tempted to think that if God is all powerful, and if He is really leading them, then they should be having an easy life, but they aren’t. Why?
“Trial is part of the education given in the school of Christ, to purify God’s children from the dross of earthliness. It is because God is leading His children that trying experiences come to them. Trials and obstacles are His chosen methods of discipline, and His appointed conditions of success.” Reflecting Christ, 362
Trials and obstacles are the appointed conditions to successfully take us from where we are to where we need to be if we would spend eternity with God. God never sends a trial that we do not need.
“God’s care for his heritage is unceasing. He suffers no affliction to come upon His children but such as is essential for their present and eternal good. He will purify His church, even as Christ purified the temple during His ministry on earth. All that He brings upon His people in test and trial comes that they may gain deeper piety and greater strength to carry forward the triumphs of the cross.” Ibid.
Trials and obstacles are God’s chosen methods of discipline and the appointed conditions of success, meaning God has something wonderful in store for us. Let’s look in the Bible for some examples of great men who suffered great obstacles.
Joseph’s life was one of severe trial—sold as a slave at a young age, forced to learn a new language, culture and customs, falsely accused and imprisoned. But the greater the future and destiny that God has for a person, the greater the trials He may allow. Because of his obedience and loyalty to God, Joseph ultimately, according to God’s plan, was exalted to a high position in Egypt, enabling him to save his father and his entire people from famine.
God made David perhaps the greatest king of Israel, but David made many very serious mistakes—a fugitive, an adulterer, a conspirator, a murderer. But when he repented and committed his life to obeying God, he was once again restored to God’s favor.
Daniel was taken captive to Babylon at a young age, but he remained committed to following the things he had been taught regarding obedience to God, specifically how he should eat and drink. While this was a hard trial for him to endure, his most difficult trial came when he was an old man. He had become the prime minister of Persia, but was hated by the other government officials. They conspired together to create a law that they knew Daniel would break because obeying it would mean disobeying God. The law required that all men would worship only King Darius for 30 days. If anyone failed to do so, they would be thrown into the lions’ den. We are all familiar with the story. Rather than attempting to hide his prayers, Daniel chose to continue to pray to God three times a day—as was his custom—with his face set toward Jerusalem. He was thrown into the lions’ den, but God sent His angel to save his life.
Friends, God knows how to deliver us from the obstacles that stand in our way, but He delivers us because we are faithful to Him, as were Joseph, David, and Daniel.
There are many reactions when obstacles come. For instance, someone might say, “Well, my spouse won’t accept the truth” or “I love my son/daughter so much that if he/she doesn’t go to heaven, I don’t want to go either.” Revelation 21:8 tells us, “But the cowardly [fearful] … shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” When the obstacle came, they gave up.
Another common reaction is unbelief. This is what the children of Israel did. Their unbelief was so bad that the Lord must have thought, “I can’t lead these people into the land of Canaan, because they are not ready. They don’t even believe in Me or that I am able to bring them into the promised land.” God could not do for them what He wanted to do because they did not believe.
A third common reaction is discouragement. Someone might say, “But you just don’t know how bad my situation is.” And they would be right. But God does know and He knows how to remove that obstacle or how to get the person through it. However, we will never get through the obstacles that come to us if we have a halting, unbelieving spirit.
Some people in the world today, think that the Christian religion isn’t true because they have encountered an obstacle that they didn’t overcome. They either gave up, experienced unbelief, or became discouraged and did nothing. However, the Christian religion does work because many people have overcome all kinds of apparently insurmountable obstacles when united with the power of God’s grace.
The children of Israel thought their trek through the wilderness to the promised land would be obstacle free because God was leading the way, but God allowed trials and troubles to help perfect their characters, and He does the same for us.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Christian churches in Acts 14:22, “[S]trengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’ ” In John’s vision recorded in Revelation 7:13 and 14, we are told that those who will be in God’s kingdom will be those “who come out of the great tribulation.”
The most serious obstacles that we must conquer are not external ones, but rather those that are internal such as pride, selfishness, covetousness, and love of the world. So how do we face them?
There are four necessary steps to successfully meeting our obstacles:
“Men always ought to pray and not lose heart.” Luke 18:1
“ ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, “Get justice for me from my adversary.” And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, “though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.” ’ Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?’ ” Luke 18:2–8
What is the lesson found in this parable? Be persistent in prayer. As we fulfill the conditions of the promises that the Lord has made, we can believe that He will not go back on His word. When the insurmountable obstacle comes, we are to go to God in prayer and He will deliver us.
Faith like Caleb
In Numbers 13, the children of Israel were camped at the border of the promised land. Twelve spies had been secretly sent to spy out the conditions and people there. Ten of the spies were afraid and expressed their fear openly, telling them that there were mighty giants in the land, and the people then took up the cry of fear and complaining, as they most typically did. But two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” Verse 30, last part.
Instead of exercising faith in the One who had brought them through the wilderness and the Red Sea, they refused to believe Caleb and, as a result, they were left in the wilderness to wander another 40 years before finally being permitted to enter the promised land. Even after 40 additional years of wandering, Caleb’s faith was strong and he prayed that the Lord would cleanse his inside obstacles away—any pride, selfishness, covetousness—so that he would have the power to overcome the outside obstacles and defeat the giants. He was 85 years old and yet, by the power of the Lord, he conquered the giants in the land.
We must pray and exercise faith, but we must also act. We must press against the obstacle.
“You will have obstacles and difficulties to encounter at every turn and you must, with firm purpose decide to conquer them, or they will conquer you.” Gospel Workers, 133
“Success will come to them as they struggle against difficulties.” Prophets and Kings, 595
We have to do something, press against the obstacle, ask for God’s help, and keep going.
“The obstacles they encounter, instead of leading them to seek help from God, the only Source of strength, separate them from Him, because they awaken unrest and repining.
“Do we well to be thus unbelieving? Why should we be ungrateful and distrustful? Jesus is our friend; all heaven is interested in our welfare; and our anxiety and fear grieve the Holy Spirit of God. We should not indulge in a solicitude that only frets and wears us but does not help us to bear trials. … It is not the will of God that His people should be weighed down with cares.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 293, 294
There are so many people who have a trial or difficulty in their lives, and they try so hard to overcome it, but fail, and since they failed, they just stop trying. What would have happened to the widow in Luke 18 if she had given up after the first try? Not a thing. But she was persistent and, in the end, the judge granted her request.
“There are strong and subtle influences to bind them to the ways of the world; but the power of the Lord can break these chains. He will remove every obstacle from before the feet of His faithful ones or give them strength and courage [faith] to conquer every difficulty, if they earnestly beseech His help. All hindrances will vanish before an earnest desire and persistent effort to do the will of God at any cost to self, even if life itself is sacrificed.” Testimonies, Vol. 4, 147
Correct physical habits.
These habits are very important and have a great deal to do with our state of mind and whether or not we will have the determination to attack and solve the problem with the help of God.
For example, if a person is using alcoholic beverages, the very first drink has an anesthetizing effect on the frontal lobe of the brain. This anesthetizing effect weakens the willpower. The devil takes advantage of that weakened state and sends the imbiber strong, sinful temptations. He may tempt them to try drugs or to smoke while he or she continues drinking. When we do things that weaken our bodies and minds or fail to do the things that strengthen them, the door is opened wide for the devil to work his will against us.
It is important for us to remember that when meeting an obstacle or trial, we should do so in accordance with a way that aligns with God’s direction. When we do this, He promises that mountains of difficulty will be removed. We must pray for strength in meeting them, but our obstacles will not be moved while we sit and expect God to do all the work. We must work with Him.
Christian men and women who meet their obstacles in the way the Lord directs—with prayer, faith, persistent action and following the right physical habits—will overcome them, one after another. It is God’s purpose in allowing obstacles and trials, so that we might become men and women of power who will not be moved.
“When hedged about on every side, this is the time above all others to trust in God and in the power of His Holy Spirit. We are not to walk in our own strength, but in the strength of the Lord God of Israel. It is folly to trust in man or to make flesh our arm. We must trust in Jehovah; for in Him is everlasting strength.” The Review and Herald, January 16, 1908
We are in a battle against the devil, against the world, but most importantly we are in a battle against our own sinful, carnal nature. The internal enemy is the most dangerous of all, but we can overcome this enemy if we are willing to fight.
“There are few who are really consecrated, few who have fought and conquered in the battle with self.” The Watchman, June 12, 1906
The Bible teaches that from the beginning to the end, if we want to inherit eternal life, we must fight this battle with self.
“Let the tempted soul remember … it is only by coming in contact with obstacles and difficulties and overcoming them that we become strong. Our necessity is God’s opportunity. If we will hold fast to Christ, every trial will work out for our good.” The Signs of the Times, October 17, 1900
“Christ has given us no assurance that to attain perfection of character is an easy matter. A noble, all-around character is not inherited. It does not come to us by accident. A noble character is earned by individual effort through the merits and grace of Christ. God gives the talents, the powers of the mind; we form the character. It is formed by hard, stern battles with self. Conflict after conflict must be waged against hereditary tendencies. We shall have to criticize ourselves closely, and allow not one unfavorable trait to remain uncorrected.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 331
This process does not happen in a day, but every one of us can be certain that we can become like Jesus Christ. We can surmount these internal obstacles in the character that are unchristlike. Then by facing our obstacles and trials head on with prayer, faith, persistent action, having the right physical habits, and following God’s direction, we will become just like Him.
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.