Are you ready?
The meaning of Jesus’ words in these chapters have been hotly debated in different Christian circles over the centuries. And I’m sure it’s not hard to see why: talk of “the end”, “the abomination that causes desolation”, false prophets performing great signs and wonders?? What does it all mean? Is Jesus talking about the end of the world as we know it (cue the music!)? Is he talking about his Second Coming? Is he talking about something else? Or is he talking about multiple things? Are we to take his words literally or figuratively?
As you might guess, the answers aren’t so simple. But I think a good place to start at least is with the questions that Jesus was being asked. Jesus and his disciples had just left the Temple, after Jesus had dropped the mic in his rant against the Pharisees. And as they were walking away, Jesus told his disciples: “Take a look at all this. This incredible building where we worship God. Believe me, it’s going to be brought to dust” (24:2). This, not surprisingly, was very unsettling for his students. So they came to him a while later and asked him two questions…
When will all of this happen?
What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?
It’s important we get clear on the questions. Otherwise, we can read all sorts of things into the answers. So, let’s start with the questions that get Jesus talking in the first place. And we’ll see where they lead us!
Day 1: Read Matthew 24:1-35
Many have interpreted the whole of Matthew 24 as a prophecy oriented far into the future. And elements of it may well be. But the future Jesus was referring to in much of this discourse was much closer at hand for him and his disciples than we might think. There are many reasons for why we can conclude this, but Jesus makes it quite clear himself: “Truly I tell you, this generation (i.e. his generation) will certainly not pass away until all these things (namely, everything described in vv. 1-33) have happened” (see 24:34).
So Jesus begins to answer their questions, starting with the first: When will the temple be destroyed?
We can easily answer that question on this side of history. It happened in 70 AD, right in line with Jesus’ prophetic statement that it would happen within the lifetime of his own generation. But he also described some of the terrible events that would surround the temple’s destruction. Natural disasters. War. Persecution and torture. The desecration of the temple by foreigners. A time of pain, evil and uncertainty.
Some of Jesus’ language was veiled in the prophetic images of the Old Testament. But the picture was clear. It was going to get ugly. And Jesus’ told his followers that they shouldn’t stick around when it happened. The temple was no longer worth fighting for. It had lost its way (just remember what Jesus’ said to the leaders of the temple in the previous chapter). Therefore, it was no longer needed, and it would soon be set aside by force. Its judgement was sure. So, he told them, “Don’t believe anyone who tries to be a hero and rally the people together to fight for it’s behalf. They’re not speaking for me. They’re not like me. They’re false Messiahs.”
The temple was once a place that pointed to God’s ultimate power and authority, in all it’s splendor. It was once a place where people would go to meet with God. It was once a place that offered forgiveness and healing. But it was no longer any of that. All of that had been replaced by Jesus Himself. And so it was time to take their eyes of the Temple, and fix them on Jesus alone.
Take a moment in silent prayer, and invite Jesus to help these truths to sink in a little bit more.
What would it look like for you to fix your eyes on Jesus more fully today (Or this week? Or this month?)
Is there something or someone else that you tend to look to for your main sense of wellbeing or joy? What would you do if that were taken away from you?
Ask Jesus to show you how He is truly what you need for your deepest sense of security, joy and love. You may even want to reflect on Hebrews 12:1-3 as you take time to “fix your eyes on Jesus”.
Now Jesus begins to address his students’ second question: What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?
But, as Jesus so often does, he seems to answer it with a twist. Not in line with what they (or we) might expect. He seems to answer it on two different levels…
First, he begins to speak about his coming as part of everything he says will happen within his own generation’s lifetime (see 24:34).
Puzzling – at least for us. Isn’t Jesus’ Second Coming still something yet to come? And won’t that mark the beginning of “The End”? Indeed! But it seems that this isn’t the “coming” Jesus is referring to here – at least in Mt. 24:29-35. Many scholars believe that Jesus is actually talking about His Coming not to earth, but into His heavenly rule: His resurrection and ascension, in which He left the earth and presumably came into heaven riding on a cloud (24:30; see also Acts 1).
What’s the point of all of this? Jesus is saying, as the disciples seem to recognize through their questions, that all these things are related. The Temple’s destruction. Jesus’ ultimate vindication and exaltation. The “end of the age”. When Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, it marked a turning point in all of history – the “end of an age” of one sort.
No longer would the temple be needed as a place to meet with God or demonstrate God’s power and authority. That age would soon end, and a new age would begin, with Jesus on the Throne. He is the ultimate sign of God’s power and authority because He would conquer sin and death. And He alone would remain as the place we go to meet with the living God.
Jesus also addresses His Second Coming – His ultimate return to earth when His Kingdom and Reign will be fully established. But there are far fewer details about all of this. Jesus seems to be encouraging his students to be less concerned with making conjectures about the future, and more concerned with being ready for it. He tells them essentially: “Live today as though the Kingdom of God is here. Because it is. And when it comes in full, you won’t want to miss it!”
Take a moment and think about your day ahead. Imagine Jesus seated on His Throne in heaven, looking over your day with you.
Ask Him: “May your Kingdom come and will be done on earth – in my life and in my day – just as it is in Heaven.”
Hand over to Him anything that comes to mind that you may be tempted to do on your own or to keep control of.
Ask Him to use this day in your life to prepare you for the Day He comes again.
Day 3: Read Matthew 25:1-13
Jesus now begins to tell his students some parables to help drive home his point: “Don’t bother yourselves with the details about exactly when and how and where I will come. Just be ready for it.”
So he tells them a simple story about a group of attendants who needed to prepare for the bridegroom’s arrival by ensuring they had enough oil in their lamps.
We don’t know for sure, but it’s possible Jesus used the imagery of oil and lamps because of what they often represented in some of the Old Testament writings. Oil was a symbol for the Holy Spirit who brought God’s blessing and presence and power. And the people of God were often referred to as “lamps” called to be a light for the nations so that all people could come to know and love and serve God.
So perhaps there’s something significant here about what it means for us to live as people preparing for the return of Jesus, our Bridegroom. To live lives filled with the “oil” of the Spirit, who enables us to see Jesus and empowers us to shine even in dark situations for others to see and know Jesus as well.
Take a moment and examine the state of your own lamp today as you listen to this song.
Are you filled up with the “oil” of the Holy Spirit? Are you running low? Are you dry and empty? Ask Him who gives generously to fill you full with His love and presence!
Are you shining with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), pointing to Jesus through your words, your work, your attitude, your actions? Ask Him if there is someone in a dark place who He wants you to be a light for.
Day 4: Read Matthew 25:14-30
Perhaps as you read this parable, it causes you to wonder whether you’re a “10-talent person” or a “1-talent person”. But the point Jesus is making is not so much about how much each person has, but what they do with it.
Especially through all the challenges that the pandemic has brought into our lives, it can be so easy to live with fear, anxiety, and self-protectionism. We can live in a way that simply tries to not lose what we have, to protect our own.
But it’s pretty clear what Jesus is saying. Live like that, and you’ll be completely unprepared for when the master returns. Live like that, and you’ll miss out on the chance to make Kingdom investments. Live like that, and you’ll lose what you have.
Did you know that our modern day word, “talent” actually comes from this parable? Though, in this parable, a single talent was an amount equivalent to about 15 years’ wages! I love that the master wasn’t so much concerned with how much return his servants made. He was simply delighted that they invested all that they were given.
Take a moment now to reflect.
Make a list of as many talents as you can think of that Jesus has given you: skills, gifts, resources, blessings, possessions, relationships, etc.. Take some time to delight in Jesus’ generosity to you and give him thanks! Then, ask Him to show you a specific way He might want you to invest one of your talents in the week ahead for the sake of His Kingdom.
Day 5: Matthew 25:31-46
This parable brings to light another side of what will happen at the “coming” of Jesus: justice. This story, if nothing else, is full of the sense that justice matters. It matters to us. And it matters to God. Every bit – even small and simple acts – of mercy, generosity, and justice offered in this world is seen by the King. So too is every bit – even small and simple acts – of injustice, selfishness, and oppression.
And the King is concerned particularly with justice for “these brothers and sisters of mine.”
Jesus earlier defined his brothers and sisters as “those who do the will of my father in heaven” (12:50). So it seems that Jesus is saying that the world will be judged based on how they treat his own followers, his own brothers and sisters. The Old Testament speaks about the Messiah’s role as Judge over “the nations” (ex. Psalm 2:8-12). Some Jewish writings speak of how that nations will be judged based on their treatment of Israel. But Jesus takes these two ideas and points them in a whole new direction: Jesus Himself will be the Judge, and His chief concern will be His own brothers and sisters, the “new Israel”.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Jesus’ own followers aren’t called to treat others with justice and mercy. “But,” as N.T. writes sums it up in his commentary on Matthew, “it is to say that, here at least, Jesus is portrayed as launching his followers on their dangerous and vulnerable mission as his brothers and sisters, with the knowledge that he, their older brother, is already ruling the world and taking note of what they suffer.”
Perhaps this doesn’t hit hard for you in our comfortable, wealthy, western context. But we are only a part of the massive movement of Jesus-followers all over the world, many of whom are experiencing very real poverty, persecution, and oppression.
Take a moment to do this small and simple act:
Read a few stories from “The Voice of the Martyrs” a ministry that exists to support and encourage prayer for the persecuted Church around the world.
Pray for the parts of the Church that you have just read about. Ask the King to watch over His brothers and sisters, and to bring about His justice and mercy in their lives.