10 December 2011Matthew 24:1-14
"And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars, see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise agaist nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs." (vv. 6-8)
However painful the onset of labour, it becomes more so before
the child is finally born. Clearly Jesus expects the trauma of the
end of the world to follow a similar pattern. In answer to the
question, "What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of
the age?" (v. 3), his main concern is that people will assume it
must be just around the corner as soon as difficult circumstances
arise in world affairs.
In fact wars and terrorist threats (the most prominent application today of "rumours of wars"), along with wholly or partly natural disasters such as famines and earthquakes, are only a sign that the end will come (ie God's purposes are being worked out), not an indication of the timescale.
Jesus' teaching on this theme is prompted by a comment from the disciples (verse 1) either about the splendour of the temple complex, which any tourist of the time would have found greatly impressive (the historian Josephus describes this in detail in his Antiquities), or shocked by Jesus' implication at the end of the previous chapter (Matthew 23:37-39) than Jerusalem is ripe for destruction. Jesus confirms that the city will indeed be destroyed. This happened in AD70 in response to the Jewish rebellion against Rome that began in AD66.
But the disciples seem to assume that so great an event as the desecration of the temple, which the Jews thought of as indestructible, must surely be part of the end of the world and what the Church came to call Christ's 'parousia' or coming again, and it is that event which Jesus addresses in today's verses.
The practical applications of an end which is a long time coming are that Christ's followers should not be misled by people predicting an imminent end or claiming themselves to be the Messiah (verses 4-5), that they should endure in faith when persecution comes (verses 9-13), and recognise that the delay allows the good news to be proclaimed worldwide so that all may respond (verse 14).
To what extent do you think the destruction of the temple was ultimately a good thing or a bad thing for Jewish believers? Why do you think that?
How might Christians begin to explain to their friends that earthquakes, tsunamis and such disasters may be a positive sign of God's purpose being worked out?
Why does God seem to intend to allow human suffering to get worse before Christ eventually comes and sets all things right?