Pastor's Blog

Apocalyptic image with a clock and person

The End Is Near...Or, Is It?

At the beginning of Matthew chapter 24, Jesus predicts the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. His disciples are understandably shocked and disturbed and ask Jesus the pressing question, “When will this happen…?” But they don’t stop there, they go on to ask the question that has burned in the minds of the faithful throughout the centuries since Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

We can imagine that for Jews living in Israel under Roman occupation at the time of Christ, the utter destruction of the temple1 could easily be considered a clear sign that the end was imminent. Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled, as the Jewish Temple was indeed destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. And yet, here we are nearly two thousand years later still pondering and sometimes predicting the return of Christ and the end of the world as we know it, to borrow a line from the 80’s band, R.E.M.

As we read through the rest of Jesus' words in Matthew 24 – predictions, warnings and a timeline that even the best biblical scholars throughout the centuries have struggled to follow – what Jesus seems to be doing is preparing his original followers for the impending crisis with the Romans, while at the same time cautioning them and us not to assign apocalyptic significance to the crisis of the day, be it war, famine, earthquake or any other man-made or natural disaster. Rather, Jesus refers to these events as the “beginning of birth pains,” (Matt. 24:8), but not as signs of the end or his immediate return.

Today, as we mourn the news of wars and rumors of wars, the devastation wrought by natural disasters of various types, along with a challenging economic situation and increasing governmental dysfunction in the US and elsewhere, our rising anxiety is understandable, and a growing interest in end times prophecy is predictable.

As followers of Jesus, however, neither high anxiety nor prophetic prognostication should be our guide. Rather, reflection on the words of Jesus in Matthew 24 encourages us to ground our lives in persistent prayer, a mission mindset and tenacious hope.

As we see here in Matthew 24 and throughout the gospels, Jesus never offers us pithy platitudes or false comforts. When the disciples point out the magnificence of the temple, as they do in Luke’s account, Jesus tells them plainly of its imminent destruction. In addition to the wars, famines and earthquakes he mentions in this passage, Jesus states clearly in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble…”

In a world of trouble then, one of the first bastions of help that we can erect with support from Matthew 24 is persistent prayer. Notice in verse twenty, when Jesus is warning of the desperate conditions to come when the Romans not only destroy the temple but raze the city of Jerusalem, killing thousands of Jews and forcing thousands more to flee for their lives, he makes this exhortation; “Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath…” This echoes what is probably a more accurate translation of Jesus' instruction on prayer in Matthew six and Luke eleven, “And lead us not into the hour of trial,” rather than “into temptation.” And later, in verse forty-two, Jesus declares; “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know what day your Lord will come.”

Persistent prayer then, not only grants us the opportunity to bring our fears and lamentations to the Lord in faith but also to stay attuned to the purposes of God in our lives and in the world. In this same vein then, prayerfulness protects us from the false prophets and prognosticators that Jesus warns about throughout this passage.

The next line of defense against despair and deception in a world gone mad is to develop a better offense. Honing a mission mindset will keep us moving forward in God’s kingdom purposes amid the clash of kingdoms and rising tides.
In Matthew 24:45-46, Jesus exhorts his disciples to stay on task – on mission – with these words:

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

The adage, “Idle time is the Devil’s workshop,” is instructive here. If we are idling away the time scrolling through social media, passively digesting the nightly news, or gorging ourselves on the delicacies of consumer culture, rather than using our gifts and our time to honor God and serve our neighbors, fear and frustration are the inevitable outcomes, and we become easy targets for fear-mongers and conspiracy theorists.

Jesus calls us his servants, his witnesses and his friends and invites us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and join him on his mission of redemption and renewal. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, being on mission with Jesus – despite the cost – is a powerful antidote to malaise, anxiety and attempts to forecast the future. And beyond this, Jesus powerfully declares that, “…this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Thus, rather than fretting or foreseeing the end times, Jesus makes it clear that his history’s climax at his return is directly tied to the Church fulfilling its mission to “go and make disciples of all nations.”2

Finally, tenacious hope, subtly but persistently eluded to in Jesus' words throughout Matthew 24, fuels our prayers and sustains us in our kingdom mission, especially in conflicting and uncertain times. While warning his disciples that they would be persecuted and even killed for their faithfulness to him, Jesus affirms in verse 13, that “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Then later in the passage, beginning in verses 27-31, after warning against false messiahs and unfounded claims of his return, Jesus declares, “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man…And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the news of the day or wasting time in end-time speculation, let’s commit ourselves to persistent prayer, staying on mission and encouraging each other to be tenaciously hopeful. The return of Christ, whenever it is, will be undeniable, and the same Jesus that said “in this world you will have trouble,” also said, “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Hopefully Yours,
Pastor Scott

1In Luke’s account of this episode, Jesus says referring to the temple, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left upon another, every one of them will be thrown down,” (Lk. 21:6). 
Matthew 28:18-20 
Cover image by Jensen Art Co from Pixabay