Scripture: And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:4-14 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus leaves the temple and heads toward the Mount of Olives with his disciples pursuing him. Once together, the disciples comment on the temple’s spectacular profile rising above the cityscape. But Jesus squelches their enthusiasm and predicts its destruction. Upon arrival in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sits to recoup after an intense day in the temple (where he had interacted with those who were fact-finding to ensure his conviction of capital punishment). Having heard Jesus lament Jerusalem’s future desolation earlier, the disciples are eager to learn more. So they ask their Master when these things will happen, particularly the signs of his coming and the end of the age.
Today’s reading covers the first segment of a lengthy discourse on the end of the age when Jesus will return (remainder of chapter 24 and chapter 25). In this first section, Jesus cautions those who follow him not to be seduced by anti-Christs who claim to be him and false prophets who deceive. Instead, his disciples must resist succumbing to fear amid the turmoil of horrific wars and natural disasters, for these tumultuous times are the prelude to his return. And even though his disciples will be despised, abused, betrayed, and even executed on account of him amid a lawless and loveless society, they must persevere and continue to spread his gospel to all nations, for at humanity’s height of depravation, he will return.
Takeaway: The first of the above two paragraphs of our text addresses suffering worldwide, while the second warns of particular abuses to Jesus’ disciples. What each share in common is the ill effects of a fallen world where the first man and woman opened the portal to sin when they failed to resist temptation and succumbed to the deceit of Satan. Here Jesus warns his disciples with the intent that they would pass on his prophecy to future generations—thankfully, they did. And like most prophecies of the Old Testament and that of Christ, much of what Jesus speaks here will resonate throughout this age of the “now but not yet” until fulfillment at the Parousia.
Indeed, in the fall of 66 CE, Israel foolishly revolted against Caesar and forcefully expelled Romans from Jerusalem, inciting a four-year war culminating in a massive Roman militia razing Israel’s capital. During the four years and beyond, Jews faced unimaginable hardship, suffering, and executions. And Christians would follow a similar course of persecution when, in 64 CE, Nero blamed the Christian sect for the fires that burned most of Rome (a failed plan schemed by Nero to rid Rome of its slums). They would continue to suffer persecution until the fourth century, when Constantine declared Christianity the state religion. Still, many Christians and Jews continue to be tortured and martyred even to this day, whether in isolated cases or genocide, for each instance is a seismic wave of the cosmic earthquake at the end of the age when Christ returns and rids his new-world creation of the lingering presence of sin.
So that’s the problem and the ultimate solution, but how can we navigate amid this reality of the presence and power of sin? Three words: “retreat,” “refocus,” and “revise.” When fearful, anxious, stressed, or angry over our or our loved ones’ trials and tribulations, we must renew our perspective to rise above those elements of life beyond our control. And the first step is to retreat: step away from the turmoil and find a quiet space to talk it out with God (just as the disciples did with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane). Once we have quieted our troubled souls, we lean on the Holy Spirit to help us refocus on Christ (as the disciples later did when preaching the Gospel amid persecution). Lastly, we revise our present circumstances in light of the eternal and discern how to reenter the wreckage of human conflicts and natural disasters with our Gospel of hope, both of which Paul overcame for the sake of his treasured Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). And we repeat the process as often as we regress to our temporal perspectives where we rehearse our fears and grievances.
So even if suffering and death are imminent, we have the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us, who will minister to us Christ’s Gospel peace, that will guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7), and his grace, that will empower us to witness the Gospel to our last breadth until we are mercifully ushered into his glorious presence (as he did with Stephen, see Acts 7:54-60) where there is eternal joy and absolutely no presence and power of sin.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who rose above ingratitude, harassment, false allegations, torture, and crucifixion to bring new life to us in him. We confess, though, that we are prone to ingratitude that spurs the rehearsal of our fears and grievances over the lingering suffering of “the now but not yet.” So would you please help us to lean on the Holy Spirit and the grace of your Son to retreat, refocus, and revise our temporal perspective to gain an eternal vantage point that empowers us to proclaim your Son’s Gospel to the end of this life when we will behold your and your Son’s glory? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling