Troubles and Distress (The Last Days part 3)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll consider Matthew 24:15-22.

In today’s passage, we come to one of the more debated sections of Matthew 24. Jesus speaks of a prophecy in Daniel concerning the “abomination of desolation” and warns of a “great tribulation” or “great distress”, depending on your translation. Some believe this points forward to the Anti-Christ and the wrath of God poured out on the world.

But we find several clues in scripture that indicate these verses speak more of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

One of the first places to look is the parallel account in Luke 21:20-24. In Luke, we read slightly different words from Jesus, and what are we to make of that? Does that mean a contradiction in the writings? No, it’s better to think about it in the way we perceive things.

Two people can go to the same baseball game. One might sit in the left field stands and the other behind home plate. They watch the same event from different perspectives. When they tell others about the game, they might share different details or highlight different big plays, all depending on their vantage point and audience. Yet, assuming they both shared accurately, what they each individually said is true and a piece of the whole. That’s how the different gospels work–they were written by four different men (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), each led by the same Holy Spirit but in different times, different places, and for different audiences.

So, reading Matthew and Luke together give us a more complete picture of Jesus’ words. Luke doesn’t mention Jesus’ reference to Daniel, but he does record Jesus saying, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near.” Then he gives the same advice to flee to the mountains and country side. And he describes the time not only as a period of distress but “wrath against this people.” Finally, he speaks of Jerusalem being overwhelmed by “gentiles” (non-Jews) “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

Historically, leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, the violent and volatile political group called the Zealots fought to control Jerusalem and led a rebellion against Rome, killing many in a refusal to pay taxes. Rome responded by sending troops and besieging the city. During this time, the Zealots burned many of their own supplies hoping to motivate others to join the fight, but ended up causing the death of many from a lack of food. Titus, sent by his father–the emperor Vespasian, led the assault that captured the city, destroyed the temple, and left Jerusalem in ruins. Many who had not fled were killed.

In this case, the battle was the “great distress”, Titus was the “abomination of desolation” whose armies left the city in ruins, and Jerusalem has had populations consisting of many gentiles ever since.

Elsewhere, the Bible still says plenty about antichrists and “the antichrist.” The Bible also says much about the distress and tribulation that many followers of Jesus have faced and will face throughout history. Jesus will speak of his return further in Matthew 24, but we must remember that part of his answer was in response to the question by the disciples about when the destruction of the temple would take place (23:37-24:3).

So, these words of Jesus in Matthew 24:15-22 remind us to look backward to fuel faith in what lies ahead. Jesus’ words that proved true with the events of 70AD will also prove true when he returns, just as he promised.

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For the previous part of this series, click here:

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Not Yet The End (The Last Days part 2)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll consider Matthew 24:3-14.

After prophesying about the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple, Jesus was gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. There, they asked him a series of questions: “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

It would seem in their minds, the destruction of the temple and the return of Jesus were part of the same event, not different events separated by nearly two thousand years of history and counting. This will be important as Jesus’ answer progresses and we look to separate the events of 70AD with events still future.

But before Jesus gets there, he details some things that must happen before the end of the age. On the one hand, it’s not a pretty picture; but on the other hand there is hope woven within. So, what are the marks of the not-yet-end?

  1. The deception of false messiahs–Jesus says many others will come claiming to be him, the Savior-King of the world, and they will be liars. As Jesus will detail later, his return isn’t going to be to some wilderness compound in secret, but will be loud and visible for the whole world to see.
  2. Increasing warfare and geopolitical tension
  3. Increasing natural disasters
  4. Persecutions, false prophets, and a turning away from the faith
  5. Growing lawlessness and a growing lack of love

These things are not pretty, and at times when we see such things, we think, “Surely the end is near”; but Jesus calls such things the “beginning of birth pains.” When a woman is pregnant, we look forward to the birth of the child–bringing new life into the world. But that is preceded by pains that tend to get worse as the moment of birth draws near.

We long for the day where eternal joy and hope will spring forth in the birth of a new creation, but until that time there will be growing pain. That is the natural course of sinfulness on the world. We are marching toward a wonderful utopia, but not one built on the plans and actions of humanity. No, ours is built fully on the plan and actions of God.

Yet, even with this warning of things growing worse in a sinful world, there is hope. The faithful will endure and be saved, Jesus says, and the gospel will spread into all the world. In Revelation, John sees a picture of eternity where people from every “tribe, tongue, and nation” are worshiping Jesus. People will only worship Jesus if they know about Jesus, and they will only know about Jesus if they hear the gospel. And people from all over the world will hear and believe.

In short, this is Jesus saying: The darkness will not snuff out the light. People will hear about me, know me, and follow me.

What, then, do we do as we see the darkness in the world that signal birth pangs but isn’t quite the end? We keep shining light. We let the world know about Jesus who will one day return and bring an end to all the darkness.

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For part 1 of this series, click here:

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The Smashing of Idols (The Last Days part 1)

One topic that always draws a lot of attention in Christian circles is the end times. In general, all followers of Jesus believe the same basic truth: History has a time limit. God in his plan has set boundaries on the beginning and the end of present age of humanity. Jesus will come back, and when he does he will right all wrongs and make all things news and glorious for his people.

As for the timing, order, and specifics of certain events related to that basic truth, Christians throughout history have diverged with various interpretations. That can be a good things as long as we humbly realize that we have much to learn from different perspectives and don’t become too heatedly dogmatic on debated aspects beyond the basic core truth.

With that in mind, in this devotional series, we’ll be taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 and see some of what we learn concerning the end of the age and the return of Jesus.

We’ll start today with Matthew 24:1-2:

As Jesus left and was going out of the temple, his disciples came up and called his attention to its buildings. He replied to them, “Do you see all these things? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down.”

In Matthew 23, Jesus blasted the Pharisees and other religious leaders for their hypocrisy. Through their rules and regulations, they would lay heavy burdens on people they were not willing to bear themselves. Further, Jesus said that even though they gave the appearance of righteousness and zeal for God, their hearts were far from him. Then Jesus concluded with a lament over Jerusalem, speaking to how he longed to gather the people to himself but they were largely unwilling to follow him.

It’s in response to these scathing statements that the disciples seemed eager to find something about the city and religious culture of the day that would impress Jesus. So they pointed out the buildings of the temple.

But Jesus was not impressed. In fact, his reply was that the whole complex would soon be a pile of rubble. This sets the stage to follow, after Jesus and his followers go to the Mount of Olives in 24:3, for the discussion on the end of the age and the return of Jesus.

While the temple and Jerusalem of that day were largely destroyed in the year 70AD, fulfilling Jesus’ words, this speaks a truth to current history and the end of the age: God is not impressed with our idols.

You see, for the religious leaders of that day, the temple had become and idol of sorts. Jesus at one point even drove out persons and animals with whips while overturning tables because the outer courts had been turned into a market to make a profit off people’s sacrifices to God. The religious practices of that day had become corrupted so that a place of worship became a place for exalting man. The temple itself had become a status symbol for the supposed caretakers over the Jews.

Likewise, when Jesus returns, our idols will not stand. Paul wrote of this truth in 1 Corinthians 3 when he talked about how our works to help build God’s kingdom will be judged. Those who build with “gold, silver, and costly stones” or good works that exalt God and show love for others, will find their deeds refined and rewarded. Those who build with “wood, hay, or straw” or works that mainly exalt self, even though they appear good–motive still matters–will find their works in ruins.

This reminds us that as we wait for the return of Jesus, the point of life and faith isn’t to try to impress God and others. Rather, the point is to be faithful, God-glorifying, and others-serving. Thus, as Jesus said elsewhere: The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

So, let us keep watch on our motives, abandon our self-exalting idols, and live fully for the glory of God.

Scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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