Stand Firm to the End
Eternal God, to You belongs my praise. Keep my eyes and ears focused on You.
Consider: "We too are called to live with the birth pangs of God's new age, and to trust that in his good time the new world will be born" (N.T. Wright).
Often there is more heat than light when Christians discuss the doctrine of the last things, and this chapter has sometimes been the focus for such energy. Jesus had predicted the destruction of the Temple, and as a result, today's passage begins with a double question from the disciples: "When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (3). So throughout this chapter two things are in view: the immediate event which Jesus speaks about is the fall of Jerusalem some forty years later in A.D. 70, and the ultimate event is the return of Christ.
It's said that reading passages like this is rather like seeing mountain ranges one behind another: they merge together and we cannot see the land between them. However, the two horizons here are connected and shed light on one another. The signs to which Jesus refers were not only true of the first century, but of the whole period until Jesus returns. These include the deception of false messiahs (4-5), the inevitability of conflict and war (6-7), the pains of persecution (9), the apostasy of God's people (10-13) and the commitment to universal mission (14).
When I was younger some Christians specialized in "reading the signs of the times" (Matt. 16:3). They provoked alarm or fascination--and sometimes debate: are these signs of the Lord's return? No, Jesus says, they are merely the beginning of the end--the start of the birth pains (8). Jesus is not giving us secret knowledge about the future. He is calling for steadfastness, not for prediction and calculation. He is urging us to be watchful. Don't be gullible, don't be alarmed, but "stand firm to the end" (13).
Make a prayer list of places where believers are "handed over to be persecuted and put to death" (9) and resolve to pray for grace for these persecuted Christians.
Loving Lord, at times, the thought of persevering to the end seems beyond me. I wait before You to renew my strength for today's journey.
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