Updated: 5 days ago
Each and every week, we, the pastors, recieve questions from all of you. Often times many of you share the same questions. Most of the time these questions are answered by us not with a long position paper but with short quick thoughts over the phone or through email or standing around after church on Sunday.
In order to better serve all of you and to make our answers to common questions more accessible, we will be starting a series of blog posts titled (5 Quick Thoughts). In each post we will attempt to answer important questions we are being asked with 5 Quick Thoughts in response.
6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed... (Matthew 24:6)
It’s easy to read these words from Jesus, but quite another to obey them. This verse is from one of Jesus' extended teaching blocks called the Olivet Discourse where he prepares his disciples for difficult and scary days ahead. Friends, it seems ahead has given way to right here in front of us.
There is the pandemic that everyone keeps saying is in the “rearview mirror” of our lives. But in truth, it seems like it is in the “rear floorboard” or the “trunk” with all that other junk we have been meaning to toss out but keep carrying around with us. Then there is a war in Ukraine and now a war in Israel. Yet it is precisely for these types of days that Jesus commands us, “Don’t be afraid.”
1. Don’t Be Afraid
Jesus had just come from the temple, a central and dominant architectural symbol of the people and religion of Israel, and a rather negative encounter with the Scribes and Pharisees where he laid out for them seven reasons why they had miserably failed as religious leaders. With his disciples around him, Jesus promised the worst day imaginable for these men and their families. A 9/11 or 10/7 type of day was coming when their temple and all it stood for would be destroyed. Don’t be afraid, Jesus says.
To be fair, Jesus' words here in Matthew 24 are some of the most controversial in all the bible. They leave scholars and Sunday school students alike scratching their heads with questions, and the answers you give fundamentally shape your theology. They place you in various theological “camps” regarding the doctrine of “eschatology” (the study of last things), and your understanding of the relationship between Israel, the Nation, and the church. We’re talking about thorny topics like the millennium and the rapture.
I’m not going to attempt to tease out these realities here, nor am I going to argue for one position or another. These matters of eschatology belong firmly in the category of “non-essential doctrines.” In other words, we can get along even if we disagree. This of course is not to say that convictions surrounding this doctrine are not important. They most certainly are, so each should be convinced in his own mind while also showing grace to his brothers and sisters who see it differently (Romans 14).
Regardless of your convictions and just like the disciples these earth-shaking, soul-crushing types of days, whether we live through them or hear rumors of them often turn our attention to weighty questions, like the one they ask, “Tell us, . . . what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
On October 7, 2023, the terrorist group Hamas launched a surprise attack upon the Nation of Israel killing hundreds and inciting a war that will likely kill thousands. What are we to think of these things? Is this the end? Jesus, are you about to return? Don’t be afraid, Jesus says, and in what follows, Jesus gives us 4 truths to help us obey.
2. The Truth Will Come Under Attack
Jesus understood that lies and deception would be a constant threat to the men who heard his words that day. From the moment he returned to heaven, people would come distorting the truth and spouting fake news.
And today, some 2000 years later the truth remains under attack by those who would distort it for their own purposes. Take for example the shoddy journalism that initially and falsely blamed Israel for war crimes they did not commit. We hear it in the student protests that wrongly labeled the victim as the attacker and later justified the actual attacker's brutality with the ancient lie of Adam, “ It’s her fault; she made me do it (Genesis 3:9-12).”
In the days ahead there will likely come those claiming this war as proof that Jesus' return is imminent and that the end of the world is upon us. If you’re tempted to go down that rabbit hole, read Matthew 24:36. No one knows the hour—not the angels, not Jesus, and certainly not that preacher on television. Only the Father knows, the hour, this is the truth and we must not allow any claiming otherwise to lead us astray.
3. Suffering, Tribulation, and War Are to Be Expected
Events like the attack on Israel and the war that now rages in Gaza have a way of jolting us from the naiveté that characterizes most who live in the Western world. We lead relatively quiet and peaceful lives free from the kind of conflict and human suffering that has been a consistent part of most people’s lives for the majority of human history. To say that the church in America has enjoyed an uncommonly blessed life is truly an understatement.
Yet Jesus promises his disciples that these kinds of experiences are actually to be expected in this season of human history. Wars and rumors of wars (vs. 6), international conflict, natural disasters like earthquakes and famines (vs 7), persecution (vs. 9), betrayal (vs. 10), and other kinds of suffering are to be expected, for Jesus says these are “but the beginning of the birth pains (vs. 8).” God’s kingdom is coming.
But I don’t think Jesus would have us treat these sorts of events like we might treat a jigsaw puzzle as if all the pieces of the truth of what is going on in the world are all there and we just have to put them together. Again, and by now surely sounding redundant, go read Matthew 24:36. No one knows the day and hour.
As of the writing of this article, over 1400 people have died from the initial attack and continued rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, and over 8000 have lost their lives in Gaza in the ensuing conflict. (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/israel-war-hamas-says-gaza-death-toll-8000-idf-ground-troops
This war, or the next earthquake, or the famine after that are not variables in an equation that need to be solved. Instead, they are (vs.3), events intended to point us to the reality that this world is not our home and to shake us from our complacency with sin.
The truth is that our world is broken and in desperate need of redemption. When we are tempted to wander into vain speculation we should instead, mourn over the incredible suffering and human loss caused by sin, thank God for those he’s spared, petition him to show mercy, and recommit ourselves to the gospel mission, because, despite all that is wrong with our world, we are not a people without hope.
4. There is Hope for Those Who Endure
You see Jesus is giving us more here than clues we can use to piece together how human history is going to play out. No, he’s giving us hope for tomorrow, that our futures are secure, and that his plans for the world are not frustrated.
Despite the evil and human suffering that fills our world and often leaves us confused and afraid, Jesus says the one who endures to the end will be saved (vs. 13-14). No matter what life brings us tomorrow, those who have placed their faith in Christ can rest easy tonight that our standing with God is secured. We have received the gift of faith that brought us to salvation according to Paul in Ephesians 2, and it’s this same gift of faith, as we continually trust in the grace and mercy of the gospel, that will see us through every trial, tribulation, or suffering until Jesus returns. The truth is just as Paul wrote to the believers in Rome in Romans 8:38-39. Because of what God has done through Jesus, Paul writes:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
5. Our God Will Succeed
Secure in God’s love, we also find hope for the future of the world. The war in Israel along with the thousands of other examples of evil and human suffering that don’t dominate our social media feeds are not obstacles in God’s path.
Jesus promises that the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout all the world. God is not frustrated. He’s not scrambling to figure out which contingency plan to implement next. No, we may not see it and our minds may not comprehend it, but for God, everything is going according to his plan, and when he has achieved all his goals, then the end will.
On that day Jesus’ command will no longer be necessary. Fear will vanish from the face of the earth and our hearts like shadows vanishing before the rising sun. On that day, the heavens will be filled with cheers and shouts of praise declaring, “
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)
So brothers and sisters, don’t be afraid, take heart, our God is in control, our lives are secure and our future is bright. He will succeed! That’s the truth.
If want to learn more about eschatology here are some resources to check out:
Views on the Millennium:
Views on the Rapture:
Israel and the Church: