Interpreting the End Times

This week Jesus begins His discourse on the end times – the rise of false Messiahs, international conflicts and upheavals of nature on a vast scale. Sounds familiar?

In the midst of the Tribulation, Jesus described the tensions of international conflict (Luke 21:9-11) and upheavals. Jewish Christians would face judgment before synagogue elders; family, friends and community would shun them. Disciples in general would face rejection by others; fellow citizens would drag them before magistrates for condemnation on charges of impiety. Yet, even in all this tension, the Spirit would validate them before other Christians and inspire them before their adversaries. No one could prepare for such events; only the Spirit could provide the words to silence enemies and evangelise others. Even in the face of death, the Spirit would insure the salvation of the faithful.

After the signs of the upheaval, after the persecutions disciples would suffer, the Tribulation would focus on Jerusalem and, finally, the Second Coming. Jesus advised those who lived in and around the capital to flee, for armies would put the city under siege, slay its inhabitants, and tumble down its walls. In the end, greater cosmic signs would accompany the coming of the Son of Man, as described in Daniel 7:13. While these events would disturb the pagan population, disciples should rest assured the Lord came to save them.

Jesus concludes His discourse with advice to live moral lives and in prayer, for the end will come swiftly. These were the keys to surviving the Tribulation. If the disciple lived with Jesus in his life, he will stand worthy before the Son of Man at the Last Judgment.

What might this mean for us today, given the threats from war (now particularly close to home) and our mishandling of the environment which has brought about global warming with devastating results? Every generation sees its share of uncertainty but whenever the risk of destruction is seen to rise, some interpret these events as “the end times”. With the current state of our world that is perhaps understandable. After all, the book of Revelation does contain inferences of man destroying himself, although its framework is a vision, richly symbolic but allusive, and the message can be interpreted in more ways than one. Nevertheless, Man is truly capable of destroying himself many times over.  Stockpiled in just the arsenals of the US and Russia is reportedly a destructive force equal to five tons of dynamite for every person on earth! If only this was five tons of food, how different the world would be!

But no matter the stress and struggles of life, we should take note of Jesus’ words. Jesus more likely meant the conclusion of the present system of things, culminating in destruction of a world of ungodly people, not of the earth itself.  The end of a world that stockpiles the most frightful weapons of mass destruction but fails to feed the starving or undernourished millions in many countries. A dishonest world, where greed and short term gain at the expense of future generations often fuels decision making. A very wasteful world that pollutes the earth and sky.

Rather than letting man finally destroy the earth, God purposes to bring to ruin those ruining the earth (Rev. 11:18).  In the end, He will come to save us.

How does faith in Christ help us to cope with our daily struggles?  How do you anticipate the end times?


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