From my vantage point, what’s often called “The Olivet Discourse” in Matthew 24 speaks distinctively to our present global crisis. And it’s not just anyone’s voice in my ear that drowns out all the others right now, but it’s the very voice of Jesus. The very words of Jesus. Jesus.
This is not a blog posting on the general subject of eschatology, or an essay in support of any particular “end-times” theological position, but it’s simply a pastoral perspective on the brokenness that is all around us. We are broken right now, friends. Terribly broken. Sometimes I’ll bet you’re wondering if the world and its systems are unraveling right before our eyes.
What I’m going to attempt today is a brief devotional based on seven of the profound warnings found in this great text, and it is my contention that these warnings nearly jump off the proverbial page! Perhaps you’ll find them of some value.
- “See that no one leads you astray.”
This is perhaps the dominant theme of this critical communication by Christ. Jesus is speaking to us here, and He is reminding you and me to keep our eyes wide open! Surely this applies perfectly to a cultural climate where every arm of media and messaging is suspect, and where nearly everyone competes to be the voice of authority. So much so that we’re skeptical of every “authority”. Don’t fall asleep! Test the spirits! Walk straight ahead, in the light of God’s truth, and don’t let yourself be pulled to the left or the right!
- “See that you are not alarmed.”
Keep your head! This is a time for shrewd cool-headedness, not foolish hot-headedness. Through each of its chapters, all of human history is moving steadily toward its overarching and ultimate purpose: the kingdom and glory of the Lord manifested on earth as it is in heaven! Matthew 24 is a vivid and gorgeous reminder of God’s absolute sovereignty over every symptomatic (I’m referring to the disease of sin) outbreak of global chaos. You and I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know who holds tomorrow!
- “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
I believe that Christ’s statement here is descriptive of disruptive disagreement and discord at the macro- and the micro-level. Predicted conflict is one thing when we think about Russia threatening one of its European neighbors, but it’s an entirely different thing when we consider large groups of evangelical Christians in America writing each other off over their differing views on COVID-19. This is not theoretical. It is happening now. This single pandemic has indelibly unsettled relationships in governments, churches, and homes. And it’s not over, so heads up!
- “They will deliver you up to tribulation.”
I don’t like writing it any more than you like reading it, but read it we must. Jesus has sounded the alarm! We can try to explain it away, or we can humble ourselves, and cry out to our faithful Father for the divine grace that we need to walk through this present disease and its accompanying spiritual darkness. I don’t have to tell you that, when people get scared, they’ll stomp on anybody whom they perceive to be the culprit. But Christ’s admonition for us (Matthew 10:16) remains: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
- “You will be hated.”
Ouch. I guess it’s that simple. You and I will strive to proclaim the truth, but our truthful words won’t always fall on open ears and tender hearts. You and I will live as pursuers of peace and justice, but from our angle that trek won’t always go well, at least not this side of heaven. Jesus was despised and rejected. Should you and I expect better treatment? When we adjust our life expectations to fit the Biblical narrative, instead of trying to adjust the Biblical narrative to fit our life expectations, we can experience a kind of contentment that we never knew was possible. We need that. Now.
- “Many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”
Many, not few. Jesus is clear. As truth, and even the nature of truth itself becomes more and more occluded and uncertain, so will the spiritual casualties steadily mount all around us! We must expect it because our Lord has spoken it. If that malaise is indeed what we’re beginning to see now, I cannot tell you with absolute certainty, but I can challenge you to assess the situation for yourself. When I see the ire on Twitter aimed at professing believers by professing believers, my mind races to this chapter. Only God knows the details for sure, and Jesus made that clear. But we must always be alert and vigilant as we interpret the times.
- “The love of many will grow cold.”
I think this is the heart of the matter. (Pun fully intended.) False teachers may be partly responsible for this enlarging lovelessness. Some of the explanation may be the persecution and fear of death which mark the period of history which Jesus is describing here. But I want to challenge you to ponder this question: when it comes to our own gospel fidelity, could this be our most vulnerable spot? What I’m saying is that you and I must never allow the pervasive bitterness and rage of the majority culture, which is nearly undeniable at present, to invade and capture our own souls.
God, heal us! God, restore us! God, revive us! God, enflame us with Your love!
Jesus doesn’t leave us hopeless, does He? So back to our text for one more look …
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
There it is. And there is here. Your marching orders, and mine, are clear: “Endure.”