SIGNS OF THE END OF THE AGE
Key Verse 24:14
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
I can tell you that no one likes to be deceived or scammed. But here’s the thing! Jesus tells us that it will happen in the end times more frequently and more intently than ever before! And people will fall away from God until they are completely in the thrall of the master deceiver, who is the devil himself. Here are two words you don’t often hear! Devil and thrall! What does thrall mean? It means a person who is morally or mentally enslaved by a power or an influence or by someone else. It means to be in servitude or in bondage to something or someone— in this case the Devil himself. And here’s the other word you don’t often hear— the Devil. People today think he’s fiction or doesn’t exist! That’s a grand deception in itself! And so, people will be surprised on the day when the victorious Christ will have captured and bound the devil and all those who followed his deceptions in condemnation. But we shouldn’t be surprised at all. The devil does exist and he does so only to deceive people and to lead them away from God (Revelation 12:9). And in the end times, he will have the power to deceive even the elect of God (Matthew 24:24). So in the end people will be in the thrall of the devil, who deceives them in many ways. It’s what Jesus talks about in this chapter. He tells us about it so that we might be on the watch for those tricks. Jesus also talks a lot about the signs that will accompany the end times. What are these signs? Better still, why should I even care about them in the first place?
Jesus had just harshly blasted the religious leaders for their hypocrisy (Chapter 23). They needed to hear the woes he pronounced on them to help them come to their senses and then do what they’re chosen by God to do— that is, to serve the people of God instead of fleecing them of their money and oppressing them with their Bible knowledge. Everyone was suffering because of these false shepherds. And they suffered the most because in their suffering they lost the meaning and joy of life, and struggled only to survive from day to day instead of living the life God called them to live— that is, the life of faith and holy mission! But when Jesus blasted these religious people with woes to bring them back to their senses, most probably his words hurt their pride and angered them enough to turn their hearts away from God rather than to him and so they were lost forever to sin! They were really senseless! In other words, they had no spiritual sense at all. And like many, they really had no idea about what’s good for them, for they despised Jesus’ rebuke and counsel. The Bible says: “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8) “Let a righteous man strike me— it is a kindness; let him rebuke me— it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it.” (Psalms 141:5) Some people never get it!
But they weren’t the only ones who were spiritually senseless. Even Jesus’ own disciples seemed to be senseless, and at times even dull and unresponsive to Jesus’ teachings! Look at verses 1-2. The woes alone should’ve shaken them up with remorse over their own sins and hypocrisy. And later when Jesus wept over Jerusalem it should’ve made them share in his broken heart over an unrepentant nation destined for God’s wrath. But their hearts were captivated and stolen instead by the magnificence of the Temple. Not that we don’t understand their excitement over great and awesome human achievements! The temple was truly a marvel— another of the world’s wonders. And so they were fascinated by its beauty and splendor. And there’s nothing wrong with admiring beautiful things! But first off, their timing was wrong! Jesus’ was heavy hearted over the condition of the temple and its keepers— especially over the materialism infesting the hearts of the people, whether rich or poor! How often have people become obsessed with material things and turned them into idols of worship? Beautiful buildings aren’t usually idols. The beautiful things people construct to hide their own ugliness aren’t necessarily idols. But they become idols the moment they steal your heart and you begin to admire and worship them over and above God— the moment they tempt you to receive glory for yourself rather than to God! The temple was a magnificent human accomplishment intended as a place of worship to God. But when it became a place of corruption, a way to exploit the Bible and helpless people, it became nothing but a shameful idol. To Jesus, the temple looked like a festering sore. But to the senseless disciples, it was something to be greatly admired! This tells us a little about them. They were easily moved by what’s visible, and totally blind and insensitive to what’s. They had no idea how many idols were in their own hearts. They needed a reality check.
Look at how Jesus answered to their boyish excitement. “’Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’”. Why this harsh response? Mostly because the Lord isn’t so shallow as to see only the pretty and glittering things of the world! He doesn’t see things from man’s perspective, but he sees them as God sees them. And so, he isn’t deceived by what he sees, the very things that so often captivate people and make them slaves to those things. Jesus lived in God’s reality and truth and spoke God’s truth often revealing the reality of things as they really are, even if it puts us off or hurts our feelings or makes us angry. And what’s that truth and reality in which Jesus upheld at such a cost? He says it in verse 2 very clearly. All that you can see in this world— everything created and achieved by people will not last, but will eventually fade away and perish! And that’s the truth and the reality of things as they are! The only thing that will live forever are His Words and all that’s done for God and his glory. To Jesus the temple wasn’t an indestructible thing. It was something that will soon perish. Actually whenever the people of God abandoned him for the world and the things of the world, that’s when the temple lost its meaning and glamour and was about to be destroyed. No temple or church can stand when God is no longer in it! And that’s the truth. Even those things God blesses us with in this life, whenever our hearts go to them instead of to God, they bring destruction upon us as we see them crumble before our very eyes.
Look at verse 3. The disciples weren’t ready for this kind of response from the Lord. But senseless as they were at times, they were also quick to see and to embrace whatever truth Jesus wanted to teach them. Amazingly they realized that he was talking about the end of all things, and the final coming of his kingdom. Jesus wasn’t really talking about the end times when he spoke about the temple destruction. As he said, that would happen soon, within a few years of his death and resurrection when the Romans destroyed the temple, the seat of Jewish power. But for some reason they associated the temple’s destruction with the coming of the end of the age. Of course, they didn’t understand what he was trying to teach them. What he wanted them to learn was not hope or trust in anything in this world, even when something seemed as indestructible as the temple. He wanted to learn that all things eventually come to an end, even in one’s own lifetime. Everything is destined to perish except for the gospel of his kingdom. But they didn’t yet understand. They probably thought that if this great and indestructible temple were to be destroyed, it must be the end of the world as we know it! But still they showed some spiritual sense even if their understanding was off. So instead of correcting them, Jesus taught them about the end times. Why? So that they as well as we might be well prepared for it during our lifetime.
Look at verses 4-8. The first thing Jesus tells us about the end times is a warning! He says that the end times will be accompanied with a whole lot of deception. In fact it would be a strategic war effort by the devil to deceive all mankind, including Christians. I can tell you that the devil has all kinds of weapons to make people fall, but his weapon of choice is deception! In other words, the end will be marked by all kinds of deceptions. Listen to what Paul tells us about this deception. “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12) That says it all. But why would they be so easily deceived? Because as Jesus tells us here, everyone would be looking for a Savior to save them from their desperate situations of life, whether these needs are emotional or physical or economic or spiritual or otherwise. When people are insecure about their life and future, they look for someone or something to deliver them. And that’s when the devil comes with all kinds of deceptions to lead them to a fake savior who promises deliverance. It will be a war of deception wages on all people. Look at today’s people for example, as they listen to and believe every false savior who promises deliverance from something or other— from the guilt of their sins— from their basic human responsibility towards God— and from every sort of oppression that plagues. They won’t listen to words calling for repentance of sins, and for faith in Christ, nor calls to submit to God’s sovereign will in their lives. But they would listen to a false savior who manipulates the gospel in order to fit and satisfy people’s hungry desires— even for a deliverance from poverty and any other seemingly unpleasant thing in their lives. But Jesus warns not to believe anything or anyone who promises human security or salvation. The Bible says of Jesus that: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)
Look at verses 9-14. The war of deception against all mankind will affect people in an unusual way. When someone looks for a savior in the wrong place or in the wrong person, he or she finds nothing but shams and lies. And when someone looks for inner fulfillment they find nothing but disappointment. If they look for meaning they only find emptiness. If they look for hope, they find despair. If they look to be recognized and accepted, they only find rejection. When they look for true love even if they find it, it soon turns cold and sour. Most people usually feel used and deceived. But here’s the thing! At that time of misery and trouble, instead of turning to the real Savior Christ, some turn to their own emotional feelings, and then they act out the sinful and corrupt desires of their hearts. And in their disillusionment, they become angry with God and abandon the faith. In their anger they become hostile towards one another and hate one another. But it never stops there either. They also turn on those who love God and who live by faith in Christ. Jesus says at that time: “the love of many will grow cold.” Love is a beautiful gift of God which binds friend to friend, mother to child, mentor to disciple, husband to wife. But here’s the sad truth. The devil plays a major role here. His deception distorts and corrupts love, until friend turns on friend and father against son, and student against his teacher. These are really terrible signs. But who can deny that they are the kind of signs we see every day.
So, while the devil works his deception in peoples hearts, what do you think those who trust in Christ should do? Look at verses 13-14. When love grows cold— when wickedness grows into evil deeds, Jesus tells us to “stand firm to the end”. In other words, never lose your faith; stand in it to the end regardless of what’s happening all around you! Now what does that mean exactly? Simply that your faith in Christ shouldn’t fail when things get bad. Actually your faith should grow through every crisis you go through, as one who belongs to the Lord. So why does the faith of so many fail when things become difficult? I think faith fails when someone gives in to temptation instead of leaning on the Lord for strength. We can surely resist the temptations that assault the Christian in a world that denies and betrays God every day. Stand fast in the faith— always trust his love and grace without fail. That’s a sure way to overcome the devil’s mischief.
There is another thing Jesus wants his people to do. He tells us what’s God’s hope and vision is for this crumbling world. Look at verse 14. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” God’s hope and vision is to see that all people receive the gospel and the salvation which the gospel offers to all people regardless of who they are and what they’ve done. It is God’s will that his gospel of salvation and of his coming kingdom be preached to all nations— until when? Until every man, woman and child have heard this good news. The good news that Christ died and shed his blood so that whoever trusts in him shall not perish but have eternal life. So, here’s what Jesus is telling us. He tells us what we are to do always and especially in difficult times as we stand firm in the faith. He has appointed every one who confesses the name of Jesus and has received the grace of forgiveness and the gift of life— appointed us as ambassadors of Christ to the whole world. In our case, we have the commission to serve campus students everywhere and to bring them to Christ their savior. How can we then but submit our will to his and fulfill his loving will to bring the message of life to others! He really wants us all to share in God’s vision to serve the very gospel that brought us life. I believe that when we accept this and embrace his vision for world salvation, we will be better equipped to escape all the turmoil of this wicked world. When a man or woman embrace God’s vision for world redemption, suddenly all their problems and difficulties seem so small, simply because then God himself carries them for you and me.
Look at verses 15-26. Jesus defines the greatest of wickedness that marks the end of the age. Look at verse 15 again: “when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’” That will be the sign that the end is fast approaching. Let me explain what this abomination that he’s talking about is all about. It’s what defiles the most sacred place in the human heart. It’s the altar on which the human heart gives itself in worship to God. All our human hearts are those altars where God alone must be worshipped. But look what will happen towards the end of the age. That sacred altar where God should be honored and given praise and worship will be defiled by something wicked and dirty. In other words, the most holy place in human hearts and lives will be defiled and desecrated by something. Every human being should honor and worship God in their heart. It’s our sacred duty. At the time of Jesus, that altar was defiled by people’s greed and it reeked of sin and the love of material things as reflected in the temple. But our own generation seems to take the highest medal in desecrating what is holy and in defiling what is sacred to God.
Look at what our world has come to! People’s hearts and lives are like abominations to the Holy God. The speech and actions of many, lives and attitudes, desires and wants, all are abominations to God who created the heart to be a residence for God and a place of worship. We look at the heart and we see abominations residing there and ruling the very lives where God alone should rule! It’s hard to talk about these things but we must because the Lord warned us about them. There is so much filth oozing from hearts and lives of so many people who are lost in sin. Strangely, to them it seems normal, as normal as a predator catching its prey. But none of this is normal. It’s a deception of the devil that what people do and what they love and how they behave is normal. To God a heart that should be filled with God and love for God is otherwise filled with lust and greed and indifference, and much more! And when the abomination that fills people’s hearts has spread to all people, Jesus says the consequences will be unbearable horrors that they will suffer because of that. Jesus tells us how bad it’s going to be— he says that if those days aren’t cut short for the sake of the believers, no one would survive, and misery and anguish would be catastrophic in proportion.
Jesus tells us that at the time these things are happening, we should flee with our lives, leaving everything behind. Why? Because your soul is worth a lot more than your possessions. And during the time of leaving all behind, we have to be careful of false messiahs who will pop up everywhere to offer a way out of the chaos of the times. They will advise people to be selfish in order to save themselves. They will urge people to escape hardship by compromising the word of God. They will offer weak people an easy way of relieving their burdens. Yet these false saviors never urge people to turn away from their sins and turn their hearts to God. They promote the pride and self righteousness prevalent in people’s hearts until that soul perishes. Jesus warns us that when we are distressed to come to him, listen to him and obey him.
In the last verses, 27-41, Jesus shines the light of hope in the midst of the end times turmoil. He promises his return on clouds of heaven. The second coming of our Lord Jesus is as absolute as the word of God is. When he returns the world will mourn. But that mourning is going to be useless. Why? Because it’ll be too late to repent and believe what Jesus had been preaching all along. Actually the time for mourning for one’s sins is always while a person still has the opportunity to do so from the Lord. The time of preparing for Jesus’ coming isn’t sometime sin the future when things become too hard, but it is now. The time to build our lives on his word is also always now. In this world everything perishes and nothing remains. But there is one thing that remains forever— the word of God. Look at verse 35. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” So what are we to do as we wait for his return? If we look back to verses 13-14, we see exactly what Jesus wants us to do. Stand firm in the faith, and preach the gospel! And, Jesus also tells us how to live. (42-51) Live as faithful and wise servants— faithful to his calling in your life, and wise in serving his people with his words. I think we should keep our hearts set on Jesus’ promise that he will come back. So, we can also be careful how to live in end times, be they near or far. And preach the gospel meanwhile. Blessings on all of you.