Faithful to the End

(Please read Matthew 24.) 

          Note this is the second in a set of three blogs developing the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24.  Please read the preceding blog in order to orient yourself in this passage.  Last week we learned two things:        

1. The End is near but unclear. (1-3, 32-34)

2. Sign #1: False Christs will appear. (4-5, 23-28)

           The second millennia A.D. saw a number of notable predictions of the Second Coming.  One thing they all have in common is their failure to accurately predict an event that Jesus Himself declared was known only to God the Father.

10) Doomsday, 1000 AD.  I guess this was known as “Y1K.”

9) 1844 AD. Baptist preacher William Miller predicted it; the end of the day saw no Jesus but lots of people atop barns.

8) 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942 – Dates set by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

7) 1981 – Chuck Smith predicted Jesus would “probably” return by 1981.

6) 1988 – Edgar C. Whisenant published 88 Reasons why the Rapture is in 1988.

5) 1992 – “Mission for the Coming Days”, a Korean group, predicted October 28, 1992.

4) 1993 – Seven years before 2000, presumably dating backward from the end of the first millennium.  People forgot how that failed a thousand years earlier.

3) 1994 – Rev. Harold Camping’s first failed prediction.

2) 2000 AD – Programmers making a lot of Y2K money wasn’t the end of the world after all.

1) Rev. Camping’s reputation plummeted when May 22, 2011 came and went without Jesus’ appearance.

0.5) December 21, 2012 – was it the Mayans or their self-appointed interpreters who couldn’t tell time? 

Sign #2: The world will be in turmoil. (6-8, 29)

          International conflict. “YOU WILL HEAR OF WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS”  Wars are starkly disturbing things, but Jesus warns His disciples well in advance so they will not be upset by these reports. “NATION WILL RISE AGAINST NATION, AND KINGDOM AGAINST KINGDOM.”  This is typical language for apocalyptic writers of the day. (See Isaiah 19:2.)

          International disasters: “THERE WILL BE FAMINES AND EARTHQUAKES IN VARIOUS PLACES.”  FAMINES can be the result of wars, but earthquakes are always acts of God.

          Extraterrestrial events: “IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE DISTRESS OF THOSE DAYS…” These events are so extraordinary, so catastrophic, that they will herald the ONLY event that truly begins the end o/the world: the Second Coming. (See Amos 8:9; Ezekiel 32:7-8.) “THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT” (see Isaiah 13:10); THE STARS WILL FALL FROM THE SKY (see Isaiah 34:4), “AND THE HEAVENLY BODIES WILL BE SHAKEN” (see Joel 2:10; Isaiah 13:13; Haggai 2:6+21).  The point is that this language is not original with Jesus; He appropriated existing and familiar forms to express His vision of the future.

          This language as it appears here and elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments, is metaphorical, not literal.  But as this is a visible sign, it’s not just a metaphor; while this may not be a precise description or scientific, it will be an observable phenomena.  So observable, in fact, that these signs will arouse fears and doubts.  But God’s people are to be assured, God is in control.  “BUT SEE TO IT THAT YOU ARE NOT ALARMED” The key is to be prepared, NOT ALARMED. “SUCH THINGS MUST HAPPEN” is a typical Jewish expression of faith in Providence – the work of God in the world.  God is in charge.

          As we observed previously, this is not the end, but the beginning of the end. “THE END IS STILL TO COME” Jesus’ point here is that the end of this world will come, not that it will necessarily come soon.  Our relief is not that the Second Coming’s immediacy, but in its surety; it is going to happen and that it’s happening is in God’s hands, not man’s.  “ALL THESE ARE THE BEGINNINGS OF BIRTH PAINS.” Not the ending.  The beginning of labor, not birth. This was a common word picture in the day, used in reference to the time before the Messianic age. 

Sign #3: The Church will be persecuted, but will be triumphant. (9-14)

          Persecuted by the outside world. “THEN YOU WILL BE HANDED OVER TO BE PERSECUTED AND PUT TO DEATH” The word for WITNESS is martyria, Which refers to the ultimate kind of witness for Christ, laying down one’s life. “YOU WILL BE HATED BY ALL NATIONS BECAUSE OF ME” The Church will be the target of the movement of godlessness. The activity the world hates the most is the witnessing of the Church.  Have you noticed how the ungodly in our own culture have attempted to curtail our first Amendment rights?

          Persecuted by betrayers inside the church.  “AT THAT TIME, MANY WILL TURN AWAY FROM THE FAITH.” Not everyone in the Church will be an overcomer. “[They will] BETRAY AND HATE EACH OTHER.”  Betrayal and hatred will be signs that their heart was not really with Christ at all.

          Persecuted by those who’ve been deceived. “MANY FALSE PROPHETS WILL APPEAR AND DECEIVE MANY PEOPLE” (see verses 5 and 24).  The conflict of heaven and hell over human souls will reach a pitch previously unknown. “BECAUSE OF THE INCREASE OF WICKEDNESS, THE LOVE OF MOST WILL GROW COLD.  The “INCREASE OF WICKEDNESS” will be manifest in a love for worldly things and giving up on the faith when persecution gets too hot.  On the other side of that metaphor, “THE LOVE OF MOST WILL GROW COLD.”  The exact nature of this phrase is uncertain, but it seems to imply a loss of hope; the mistaken belief that there is no need to cling to faith in the face of persecution.  Personally, I think Jesus meant those who fall between the extremes of betrayal and faithfulness; that the majority of church-goers won’t take a stand one way or another.  “Stay under the radar.”

          Still, the church is encouraged and unmoved in their devotion to Christ. “HE WHO STANDS FIRM TO THE END WILL BE SAVED.” (See 10:22, the sending out of the 72.) The ultimate gift – salvation – belongs to those who remain devoted to Christ throughout this frightening and difficult generation.

          The Church is to stay focused on job #1: “AND THIS GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM WILL BE PREACHED IN THE WHOLE WORLD AS A TESTIMONY TO ALL NATIONS, & THEN THE END WILL COME.”  Hasn’t the Gospel already gone to THE WHOLE WORLD and ALL NATIONS?  After all, the Church has been going out into the world for nearly two centuries.  American missions are over 200 years old.  If not, what are we waiting for?  If this verse teaches that we can bring on the Second Coming by taking the Gospel to all nations, why haven’t we been doing it? (See 2 Peter 3:9.) Universal proclamation is a typical feature of apocalyptic literature.  Generally speaking, there will be a greater concentration of godliness and godlessness competing against one another as the end draws near.

          Remember, one of the questions that started this teaching was the disciples asking “WHAT WILL BE THE SIGN OF THE…END OF THE AGE?”  This phrase is Jesus’ most direct answer to that question.   I wonder if they realized that there was no way THE END was near because the Gospel had hardly been taken out of Judea, let alone THE WHOLE WORLD.

          “Doomsday Preppers” is one of the weird reality shows you’ll find on the National Geographic Channel.  “It explores the lives of otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it. Unique in their beliefs, motivations, and strategies, preppers will go to whatever lengths they can to make sure they are prepared for any of life’s uncertainties. And this season, the preppers are testing the limits of ingenuity as they develop extreme doomsday survival machines, high-tech shelters, and specialized escape routes. With customized features, super-secret locations, and home-spun engineering, these extreme Armageddon defense systems are ready for anything.”

          That quote came from  http://channel.national geographic.com/channel/doomsday-preppers/.  You can go there to find out about this American sub-culture that looks a lot like the bomb shelter crowd of the 50s and 60s.  You can take a quiz to find out how prepared you are for the coming apocalypse.  (My score was a 14, which predicted I’d last a week or two in a future disaster. The top score was 94.)

          Obviously, building bunkers and squirreling away supplies is not the kind of preparations Jesus has called us to make.  His idea of preparedness is standing firm in one’s faith in Him.  Jesus warned all His followers that difficult times were not the end, but the beginning of the end, the first of many signs and difficult times that will test their perseverance.  Those who have strengthened their faith by reliance on the Holy Spirit will remain faithful and only the faithful can expect to be rewarded with eternal life on the day He comes again.

NEXT WEBLOG: 5. Sign #4: The Holy Land will be attacked.(15-22)

                             6. We have nothing to fear. (13, 35)

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