I am practically lost without an instruction manual. I have relied on instruction manuals for everything, from constructing Legos and Bionicles when I was young (does anyone remember those?), to building cheap furniture from the department store. Instruction manuals bring order to the chaos; they provide a clear path forward to your desired goal. I admire people that can “wing it” and still accomplish their task without a set of instructions; I am not one of those gifted people. However, I believe that instruction manuals are a good analogy for our Christian life and purpose moving forward; after all, Jesus gave us clear instructions too.
In Matthew 24, we find one of the most interesting and debated texts in the entire Bible. There are details that depict what is going to happen when the city of Jerusalem is conquered by Rome in 70 AD, and there are details about when Jesus will come again on the clouds of heaven to establish the Kingdom of God. Books on top of books have been written about this passage, and its parallels in Mark and Luke; however, not enough has been said about the practical instructions Jesus gives to us here among all the chaotic images described. In verse 14, we are told that, in the midst of all the craziness, we Christians have one job: to share the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world. In fact, Jesus tells us that he will not return until this job has been accomplished.
Brothers and sisters, the greatest contribution you can make in this life is telling someone else about God’s coming kingdom. It is in this message that true salvation is found. It is in this message that God will redeem humanity and the earth. It is in this message that your sins can be forgiven. This message needs to be shared not just in other countries, but with your friend, your neighbor, and everyone else in your life. This is our only mission in life as Christians before Jesus comes back: let’s follow the Great Instruction Manual given by Jesus by sharing the same message that he shared (Luke 4:43). You can truly save a life.
What are your thoughts and feelings as you read Matthew 24? In your opinion, what is the best part of the chapter? What do you find of great value?
Reading through Matthew 24 what instructions, warnings and promptings do you find from Jesus?
What are you doing to share the good news of the coming Kingdom? What might Jesus like to see you doing this month that you haven’t already been doing?
What did God reveal about Himself today in your reading of His words?
I have never had a baby. Shocker, I know! As a male member of the human race the act of childbirth has and will forever elude my lived experience. However, as a father of eleven Fletchers, I have spent many years of my adult life in the company of pregnant women, or more precisely, a pregnant woman. I was there for all eleven births and I caught most of them (the last one came so quickly that I caught him solo). All this is to offer to you my credentials that, although never directly experiencing labor, I have been present for enough births to recognize the various stages that women go through in childbirth. Fun fact, for women who have more than one baby the Braxton Hicks contractions (otherwise known as false labor) can come several weeks or even months before the baby is actually born. Braxton Hicks contractions are one way that the body prepares itself for labor. It’s like an athlete doing warm up exercises before the actual event. Muscles tighten and relax as they practice for the real thing when it comes.
Today’s devotion isn’t really about childbirth, it’s about being prepared for the return of Jesus Christ, the end of this present age and the preparation for the age to come, the Kingdom of God. Matthew 24 is known as the “little apocalypse”. Apocalypse is another term for Revelation. In the Bible the book of Revelation is 22 chapters long and goes into a lot of detail about the end of this age and the coming of Jesus. Matthew 24 is a condensed version, kind of a mini-sermon Jesus preached to his followers shortly before he went to the cross. (You will run across parallel or “synoptic” passages when we get to Mark 13 and Luke 21 in just a few days/weeks).
Jesus’ purpose here is to prepare his followers to be ready for times of great tribulation or distress that would come immediately prior to his return. If you’ve ever read or heard a sermon about the apocalypse or the end of the world or Armageddon you probably are aware that Jesus warned that before things get amazingly better- ie. The New Heavens and the New Earth, Christ returning to rule over all the world bringing a final end to all sin and death and setting free the whole earth from the “curse” of death… before things get amazingly better, there will be a time when they become incredibly hard.
A brief study of the history of the Church for the last 2000 years will show that Christians have gone through hard times a lot. In the first 2 centuries the problem was the Roman Empire. Followers of Jesus were often told that they had to renounce their loyalty to Jesus and declare their loyalty to Caesar alone. When they refused, some of them were thrown to the lions or burned at the stake.
Since Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire it has faced challenges in many parts of the world at different times. In the 17th century Christian missionaries in Japan were killed for their faith. In the 1930’s Christians in Germany who failed to support Hitler faced severe persecution and some, most notably Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were executed for resisting Nazism. Christians in Communist China and the Soviet Union experienced incredible persecution during most of the 20th century. There are places in the Islamic world today where Christians who attempt to proselytize Muslims face the threat of execution.
Every generation of Christians since the first century could look at what was happening in the world and see the potential for the end of the world. Jesus’ own disciples asked him right after his resurrection, before he ascended to God, “Is it NOW, Lord?” (Acts 1:6).
2020 was a really challenging year with Covid, racial division, murder hornets, wildfires and hurricanes. I had a lot of people asking me if I thought the end of the world was coming. Perhaps you’ve wondered that yourselves.
Matthew 24 is a great place to go when you start wondering if this is the end. Like a woman who is going to have a baby, she may have “birth pangs” for a long time before the baby is actually ready to be born. The same is true with the coming Kingdom of God. I think every generation of Christians experience some amount of persecution or “natural” disasters or other tragedies that leave them wondering if the end could be near. Just as Braxton Hicks contractions are God’s way of preparing a woman to give birth by having her muscles practice for the big event, God permits every generation to experience a certain amount of trials and tribulations to help prepare God’s people for the final “great push” that will occur right before Jesus returns.
Jesus himself said that no one knows exactly when he will return. He said that even he doesn’t know. That is something that only God knows. What Jesus does say to his disciples then and to us today is that we need to stay ready, we shouldn’t fall asleep in our faith. He warns that as troubles and persecution increase and as the world becomes a less loving and more violent place that many of his followers would fall away:
“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:10-12).
Jesus might come very soon. I can’t predict when. All I can do is make sure that I’m ready whenever he does come. I must make sure that I stay faithful and don’t turn away even if the persecution gets really bad. I think Christians living in the United States are getting ready to face some real persecution in the near future. In fact, I think we already are. There is a lot of pressure to conform to the changing norms of society. Cancel culture will not have any respect for Christianity. Some of the things that the Bible teaches about how we are supposed to live, particularly in areas of morality, sexuality and gender norms are considered anathema by the current progressive climate. As people place more value on becoming “woke” more followers of Jesus, young and old will be persecuted if they fail to change their values. Remember, Caesar doesn’t like to be rejected as God, neither does the devil, and neither do the progressive elites. In the wake of the coming persecution Jesus our Lord tells us to “stand firm.”
We are in the middle of the winter right now. I live in Minnesota and we are supposed to see the coldest air temperatures since the year that I was born. We have a predicted high of -13F and a low of -29F. I think I’m just going to throw away all of my shorts and short-sleeved shirts. I’m going to get rid of my swimsuits and sunglasses, too. It will probably be winter for the rest of my life, after all.
Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be for me to do that? Of course, summer is coming, and I’m ready for it. The second coming of Jesus is the same.
“Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another.” Jesus tells this to his disciples when they point out the buildings to him. They were probably trying to say how beautiful the architecture is with its gates, porticos and cupolas. Jesus had just said in Chapter 23 that Jerusalem is abandoned and desolate, so his disciples were trying to prove him wrong. Imagine that. Jesus had just gone through the tests and traps of the pharisees. He proceeded to tear them apart and use their behavior as a lesson for everyone else. And then His disciples decided to question Him too. He had to set them straight. He said “I tell you the truth.” He knew that Jerusalem was beautiful but he also knew that it would be destroyed. About 40 years later, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and that city was razed in the process. Josephus, a first-century Jewish scholar, said that over 1 million Jews were killed in that siege. Jerusalem truly did become abandoned and desolate. After this, Jesus’ disciples make another error; they assume that the temple will be destroyed at the end of the world and the return of Jesus. Jesus didn’t go back to the discussion of Jerusalem, but rather discussed the signs of the end of the age, as his disciples asked rather than as they intended.
There will be many false messiahs. There will be wars, famines and earthquakes. This is the beginning. We can see all of these things already. Just google “man claims to be Jesus.” You’ll find countless examples. There have been many wars, famines and earthquakes even in my short lifetime, but Jesus said that this is just the beginning of birth pains.
Christians will be persecuted, arrested, killed and hated all over the world. Sin will be rampant. We are starting to see this too. In some places more than others, Christians are being persecuted. According to Open Door USA, the worst countries to live in for Christians are North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan. In North Korea, if it is discovered that you are a Christian, you can be deported to a labor camp or even killed on the spot. In China, if churches become too large, the government will raid the church and arrest member and leaders alike. In December 2018, a house church was raided by the Chinese police and pastor Wang Yi was arrested. He is a well-known pastor of the Early Rain Convent Church. Thank God that the United States is still largely free of Christian persecution.
But certainly, we are not in the worst of it yet. Jesus says that the anguish seen at the end will be greater than any the world has ever seen. We can think of many times when the world was in anguish greater than now. In the previous century there were multiple wars covering the surface of the Earth, causing widespread anguish.
The final sign will signify Jesus return. People all over the world will be able to see it and then Jesus will gather his people.
This final sign will be so obvious that you don’t need to believe in any of the false prophets coming before Jesus. It will be seen in the east and the west. But you must not be caught off Guard. Jesus uses multiple examples here to try to get that point across. No one expected the sky to open up and to flood the world. Neither will most expect the coming of Jesus. Live righteous lives. Love your neighbor. Repent. Await his return.