I’ve lived through a lot, and I mean a LOT of predictions that the world is going to end at a specific time. Growing up in an Evangelical home, I was weened on movies like “A Thief in the Night” and songs like “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. As our culture was feeling the effects of a revolutionary upheaval in it’s values and beliefs during the 60’s, many sincere Christians were looking to the Bible for answers as to what it all meant. For many in the Evangelical church, the answer was clear – the end of the age is upon us. This, of course, was nothing new to church history. For 2,000 years as cultures and values changed, as wars and natural catastrophes struck the earth, the church has always (and rightly so, in my view) looked longingly towards heaven and wondered if this is the time that this broken world will finally be redeemed by the King.
Apocalyptic speculation is sensational stuff. I know during my youth I was always intrigued with scenarios presented about possible timelines and what specific current events could be revealing about when the end would come. It filled me with a lot of emotional sensations – most notably, fear. I wasn’t alone in that. In talking with many of my peers, both then and now, the fear of missing the rapture and facing the Great Tribulation was a driving force behind much of our adolescent spirituality. On more than one occasion as a young boy I found myself alone in the house and assumed the rapture had happened and I’d missed it. Much of that fear had to do with a works view of salvation which I wasn’t disabused of until many years later – but still, I can safely say that fear was not a sustainable motive for me.
The danger in it all is an obsessive fascination with signs about the end. The problem with this sort of enthrallment with sensationalism is that it tends to spawn a lot of dubious revelations. Some people get very wealthy from that sort of thing. Harold Camping sold a lot of books in 1993, and again in 2010 and yet more in 2011 – and in each he was predicting the time of the rapture for the following year. It didn’t happen, just so you know. In all fairness though, book sales aside, I certainly can’t judge the sincerity of teachers who make claims about the end of the world. I would assume the motive is to stir up a fervor and passion for the appearing of our Lord – and I can’t see that as a bad thing. I can say, however, that it runs contrary to the way Jesus himself talked about these things.
We’ll be starting chapter 24 of Matthew’s gospel this Sunday reading the first 14 verses. Needless to say, this will not be a teaching which tells us when the world will end. What we’ll learn from Jesus is that there is a presupposition of the world’s ending. It’s how we live in the time we have that’s truly important.
v1-3 give us the overall heading of this section. Jesus predicts the end of something – what is it? The disciples ask him when this will happen, and what sign to look for to signal his coming. Do you find that odd? He’s right in front of them – why are they asking about his coming? They didn’t expect him to leave – what were they talking about? The word “coming” in the Greek is “parousia” – the arrival of a king. They are asking when he’ll be revealed as King and bring the present, broken world to it’s conclusion. They don’t realize it, but they are asking two different questions. What then, are the two subjects in view in this section?
Jesus describes things that sound like current events to us and could be alarming – except for what Jesus says in v6. What are these events, in his view?
Instead of giving his disciples a straight forward answer about when these things would happen – what does Jesus say to his disciples as instruction? (hint: v4, v6, v13)
Before things really end, what is happening according to v14? What is our mission then, in light of the end? How does knowing when the end may come have any bearing on what our mission is? Does it change? If not, what does that tell us? If so, how?
See you this Sunday!