Reading Time: 9 Minutes
For part of our study of the past chapters we have used an imaginary follower from the region of Galilee to narrate the story. We will return to that method to explore the message of chapter 24. The narration begins with these words:
All of us who had been following Jesus from Galilee left the Temple complex and walked back to the Mount of Olives with subdued spirits. We had all been a part of a very intense confrontation between Jesus and the religious authorities.
In the end, Jesus seemed to be saying that he would never return to the Temple and that it would, in fact, be destroyed. Even though I was exhausted from what had taken place at the Temple, I didn’t want to miss anything that Jesus had to say to his close followers.
Sure enough, the disciples did have questions for Jesus. They said, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?'” (Matthew 24.3).
I am glad that they asked that question. If the Temple were to be destroyed, I wanted to know it. I had no idea what they were saying about Jesus coming at the end of the age, but I definitely wanted to know what Jesus had to say about that too.
Answer: The End is Not Yet
I didn’t have long to wait for Jesus to answer the disciples. He said, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ 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 this is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Matthew 24.4-8).
Jesus’ words seemed mysterious to me as we sat that day on the Mount of Olives. Looking back as someone who has lived through more than three decades of turmoil since Jesus uttered his words, it is much more clear to me what he meant.
Jesus was intent on getting us ready for what we had to face. Even with his warning, false liberators did come. In fact, there were four or five of them and they all said God had sent them. But, there was not a single one of them, who could come close to the character of the true Messiah that we had followed, Jesus.
War was always a distant rumor. We heard a about various wars in our region and in the Roman empire. Even Rome had a taste of a civil war, but that did not stop our very own war that began in AD 66.
Jesus was right about famine, too. I had experienced hunger for a large portion of my life. That’s what life is like for a peasant in Galilee. Yet, the famine of AD 46 was beyond horrible. I am so thankful that churches from outside of Israel took up collections to help us get through that very trying time.
While our country was at war with the Romans, we had a terrifying earthquake in AD 67. I had never been in an earthquake and the shaking of the very ground under my feet was something that I will always remember.
In every traumatic experience I kept remembering Jesus’ words when he said, “all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” When the final end of the Temple came, I realized that everything that led up to it was truly just the beginning of sorrow for us.
I really needed to hear the personal instructions that Jesus next gave to his close followers. It was like he moved from a big picture viewpoint to something more personal for each one of us.
He said, “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come” (Matthew 24.9-14).
The words of Jesus from that day seem to have been imprinted on my mind. They have been my strength and comfort for nearly 40 years.
I remember the day when the authorities came for me. Who couldn’t forget it? They took me into their meeting hall and began beating me. They screamed at me after each blow, “Deny this false savior, Jesus!”
Every time they demanded an answer, I spoke between clenched teeth, “Jesus is Lord.” Later I learned that Paul wrote, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.3). I praise God for the Holy Spirit who brought me through that time of torture.
I am sorry to say that not all of my fellow followers of Jesus made it through. Some of them caved in to the pressure of their torture and the threat of death. They even gave the authorities names of other followers. I really don’t blame them for what they did. At one point in my so called “examination,” I was at the point of breaking. However, their actions really hurt the closeness of the church.
In the years prior to the war with Rome, the people of God really suffered. Some men got others to follow them by promising false security and hope. Their pride and lust for power damaged the message of Jesus that we wanted to share with the world.
Other people began living as if Jesus never taught us anything in the Sermon on the Mount. They acted like they worshiped money instead of God. Instead of practicing Jesus’ method of self-giving love, they turned to violence. Then, there were those who worried about having enough basic needs instead of seeking God first of all.
I remember the days of walking with Jesus through Galilee. The love that was part of the band of his followers was so rich that I thought I could reach out and touch it. Then, there was a time during this awful persecution that so many turned on each other and became uncaring. Jesus was right when he told us, “the love of many will grow cold.”
When life was so incredibly difficult that I wanted to curl up somewhere and die, I recalled Jesus’ words, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24.13).
That thought never left my mind and here we are at the end. The Temple is destroyed and Rome has crushed all resistance. Many of us have made it to the end. We have endured persecution, war, famine, an earthquake, torture, and death for some of our fellowship. But we have made it.
Best of all, we have kept on telling the story of Jesus. The good news of his love, his life, and his message continues throughout the world. I have forgotten the number of people to whom I have told the story of my life. There is no greater joy than telling people about my experiences that I had while walking with Jesus.
Of course, the best story I have to tell was the day when I was with 500 people. We saw and heard Jesus in his resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15.6). Praise his name!
Application for Today
Even though the narrator is a product of my imagination, I believe there were many people who had similar experiences with Jesus.
In the Letter to the Romans, Paul said, “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5.3-5).
The endurance that Jesus spoke about produced character and hope, just as Paul wrote. It also created an environment for the Holy Spirit to pour God’s love into their hearts.
Many today are suffering. Wild fires, hurricanes, and a war with an invisible virus are the news stories of this week. There are two key thoughts I’d like us to consider.
(1) Endure – We are called to remain faithful to what Jesus has taught us by his example and his message. Please consider returning to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and take your inventory. Ask yourself if you have become “lawless” with regard to what Jesus taught. By that I mean, have you disregarded his teaching and substituted your own best thinking.
(2) The Gospel shall be preached to the whole world. The high point of this section is that the people of God continued to tell the story of God’s love and grace in the face of tremendous difficulties.
We have a story to tell. Let’s not let the troubles of our times smother our ability to tell people what God has done for us.
Dear Jesus, we believe that you grieve with us over the troubles of our time. We praise you for indications in the Bible that tell us that you feel our pain and hurt with us. Please help us to be faithful to you and what you have taught us. Please help us to keep on telling the wonderful story of your love.