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Let us now look in more detail at part of Jesus’ end-time prophecy in Matthew chapter 24. (I encourage you to read that whole chapter carefully.) I believe it tells us a good deal about the times we now live in, and what we need to do to stand firm in such challenging times.
The disciples asked Jesus when the end times would come.
Let us look at some of the themes raised by this remarkable passage.
Deception (Matthew 24:4)
By starting his answer in this way, Jesus is telling us that deception is a major characteristic of the end times. It is increasingly a characteristic of the times we live in. Others seek to deceive us, and we often deceive ourselves. The best safeguard against deception is to be very sure of what you believe, and to stand firmly on that belief. A mature Christian, who knows what he believes, will not be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunningness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14).
I can speak to this from personal experience. During the years that my wife and I were members of a New Age organization, we thought its teachings were “spiritual” and geared to improving lives. But they were not grounded in Scripture and in many ways were contrary to Scripture. At the time we joined this organization, we were not well-grounded in Scripture, and hence did not perceive the falsity of these teachings. I believe that most people who accept false teachings do so because they are not well-grounded in God’s truth. Thanks to the prayers of many, God brought us out of the error, and I think our faith now may well be stronger as the result of this experience. God can use everything for his purposes. But on the whole I think it better not to fall into error in the first place.
One of the characteristics of our time is a kind of “doublespeak.” We use so many pat slogans and euphemisms to describe things, that we lose sight of what we are really talking about. We, as Christians, need increasingly to speak God’s truth into every situation, rather than falling into “politically correct” jargon that obscures the truth. God’s word is truth, and his truth sanctifies us (John 17:17). It is the truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Jesus Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6). We, as Christians, need to proclaim God’s truth and believe that it will prevail.
Let me give a few examples of doublespeak. Many more will doubtless occur to you. Suicide bombers are murderers, not martyrs. Euthanasia is suicide or murder or both. People who are in a coma are human beings, not vegetables. A human fetus is a baby. Let us not be afraid to call things what they are.
False Christs (verse 5)
In difficult times, people often look to some persuasive individual as a “savior.” (When Hitler came into power, some saw him as the savior of Europe.) Jesus is our Savior. We should not look to anyone else to save us from our difficulties and confusion. Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only light. No matter how attractive and persuasive this or that person may be, he does not have the answers we need. This applies even to popular religious leaders. We need to be careful not to idolize them, or to put more faith in them than in the God of the Bible. This can be subtle. One good test of where our primary faith lies is to ask ourselves, “Do I use Scripture to test the teachings of this religious leader? Or do I avoid or water down Scriptures that don’t seem to fit something that he teaches?”
People also look to various ideas or concepts to save them or improve their lives. As Chuck Colson points out, we have, in recent years, looked to the following, among others, to make our lives better: science and technology, “sexual liberation,” New Age philosophy, and Communism. None of them work, because none deal with the basic problem of sin. In a sense, these are all false Christs. 35 Scripture tells us that salvation is only in Jesus Christ. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Many people have false ideas of who Jesus Christ is. Some of these I have mentioned in Chapter 6. These can become false Christs.
Don’t Be Alarmed
Don’t be surprised, or alarmed, or thrown off course, by wars, racial conflicts, famines, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and the like. Jesus has told us ahead of time to expect them. They do not represent chaos or lack of control on God’s part. God is in charge and things are happening as he has said they would. It’s OK.
Birth Pains (verse 8)
A woman can endure birth pains because she knows they have a purpose. Something wonderful is coming out of them. When it seems that everything is falling apart, believe that good is coming out of it. Pearl Harbor was a disaster, but I believe it birthed something in our nation that contributed in a major way to the ultimate defeat of the axis of evil consisting of Germany, Italy and Japan. The terrorist attack on this nation on September 11, 2001 was a tragedy, but I hope something is being birthed in our nation as a result that will cause major changes for the good. God is able to bring good out of evil. I think we can say, to those who cause events like these, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
Persecution (verse 9)
Christians were persecuted in the days of Peter and Paul. Christians are persecuted today in many parts of the world. We, in the Western world, cannot assume that we are immune. Jesus tells us that we can expect persecution for his sake. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Paul wrote, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus showed us the key to dealing with persecution. In explaining the parable of the sower, he spoke of the one “…who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21 NIV). If we are to handle persecution without falling away, our faith must be deeply rooted and unshakable. This is the kind of faith we see so strikingly in those parts of the world where persecution is occurring today.
Turning Away (verse 10)
The Greek verb here is skandalizo, which usually means “take offense.” King James and New King James translate the phrase, “many will be offended.” But, according to Strong’s Dictionary of the Greek Bible, skandalizo can also refer to apostasy, that is, turning away from the faith. Indeed, a common result of taking offense is that the person rejects God and turns away from God.
In context, it seems to me that both meanings have validity. When “bad” things occur, or when God fails to answer our prayers in the way that we had expected and hoped he would, or when things do not happen according to our theology and expectations, it is easy to become offended and angry. Jesus has told us, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:6).
So there is offense, which can lead to anger and bitterness towards one another. This offense can also result in anger and bitterness towards God and a turning away from God—what some have called “the great apostasy.”
We can also become directly offended at God if our prayers are not answered in the way we had desired, or if God allows pain and suffering in our life, or if events do not turn out in accordance with the theology we have been taught.
Jesus tells us to expect all this. He also tells us not to be among those who are offended and turn away. The key is that our faith must be deeply rooted and sure. Our faith must be in God and his Scripture, and not in fallible human teachings. Our faith must be in the love, faithfulness and goodness of God the Father and God the Son, and not in what they do or do not do for us.
False Prophets (verse 11)
Jesus is warning us that in the end times, we can expect to see an increasing number of people who claim to have the truth, who claim to have a solution for the world’s many problems, who claim to have a revelation from God, but who are false. What they have is not from God. It is not consistent with God’s word recorded in Scripture. This is part of the end time deception that he referred to earlier. We need to be on guard against this falsity and deception.
Love Grows Cold (verse 12)
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12 NIV). There are two important statements in this brief verse.
First, wickedness will increase. We see this happening in our nation today. Things are being said, and done, and shown that would not even have been imagined a few decades ago. I think we can expect this to grow worse. But as Jesus said, we should not be alarmed. We should resist the wickedness, and stand up for godly conduct, but we should not be alarmed. Jesus has warned us that it would happen. God is still in control.
Second, the love of most will grow cold. Jesus warns about this also in Revelation. He commends the church at Ephesus for many things, but he says, “You have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). If they did not repent he would remove their lampstand, which I interpret as meaning put an end to their authority as a church. God wants our love. He wants all of our love. If we do not love him, we will not really serve him.
Note that Jesus says that the love of most will grow cold. Apparently there will be a large-scale falling away from God. Only a relatively few will remain. I think we need to do everything we can to make sure that we are among those few.
Stand Firm to the End
Scripture speaks often of the importance of standing firm. Peter warns us that the devil is like a man-eating lion, and exhorts us to “Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:9 NIV). Paul tells us to “…put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…” (Ephesians 6:13-14 (NIV). He exhorts us to “…stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12 NIV). In each of the letters to the churches in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, there is a wonderful promise to the one who overcomes.
A great Scriptural example of standing firm is given by Paul: “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NIV). I believe God is increasingly calling on us to say, “Whatever the circumstances, however difficult and discouraging things may appear, I believe in a God who is greater than the circumstances, and I will stand firm.”
The greatest need to stand firm, and the greatest test of our ability to stand firm, will come at the end times. When many have turned from the faith, and the love of most has grown cold, will we be strong enough in our faith to be able to stand firm? The more difficult things get, the more important it is to be able to stand firm. Let us see the difficulties of our present time as challenges, but also as opportunities to grow in strength, commitment and determination.