Preparing for the Storm, Not the End of the World
by Mike Bowling
Jesus recognized the clear indication that the covenant people had resisted the incredible news of God’s reign being in their midst. The incarnation of God’s kingdom, Jesus, lamented Israel’s resistance with the words, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How I wanted to gather your children together…and you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37). God’s people, like people of every age, had short memories. Their confidence was not in a controversial, wonder working rabbi from Nazareth, unless he was an anointed deliverer like King David. Instead, their confidence was in God’s presence enshrined in the Temple. They seemed to have forgotten the events 200 years before the crucifixion of Jesus, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes captured Jerusalem, marched into the Temple and sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the altar of God (“the Abomination of Desolation” referenced in Daniel 12:11). A storm was coming very soon; the center of the religious universe, the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, would be destroyed (which it was in 70 A.D.).
Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew, sometimes called “the Olivet Discourse,” records Jesus’ instructions to his disciples on what to expect in the storm and what preparations they need to make. At least hundreds, if not thousands of books and articles have been written which speculate on the meaning of these two chapters. In my opinion, far too much of the speculation has attempted to pinpoint a date for “the end of the world.” Katy will bring some studied insight to 24:1-14, and next week we will consider Matthew 25; but for this trail guide, I offer some general thoughts on 24:15-51.
The rejection of God’s way made wonderfully manifest in Jesus has resulted in horrible consequences seen and experienced throughout history. The refusal to embrace God’s kingdom in the way of Jesus has produced story after story of human misery and the continuing degradation of God’s good Creation. Jesus tells his disciples, and all disciples by extension, not to be distracted by false “anointed ones” with their self-serving messages of false hopes. He commands them to flee the destruction, as they have been warned, and continue to seek the Son of Man (24:15-28).
The disciples were instructed to place their confidence in the ultimate victory of God signaled by cosmic signs previewed many times by past prophets. The coming storm will be a reminder that “we ain’t there yet.” Just as the sprouting of the fig tree predicts the coming of summer, so the storm of tribulation reminds us God’s reign is on the doorstep (24:29-41).
The disciples’ responsibility is not speculating on the “when” of the Son of Man’s appearing: Jesus is crystal clear: Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. Their responsibility and our responsibility is being alert. Whether the situation is being alert for the possibility of a thief coming to rob your house or an exacting master who comes unexpectedly to examine the status of a slave’s handling of important managerial authority, the important issue is whether or not there has been preparations made appropriate for both the storm and God’s aftermath (24:42-51).
For us, these are perilous and stormy times. But every era in every place has been perilous and stormy. The message of Jesus and all the past prophets clearly predicts, apart from the seeking and receiving of God’s kingdom displayed in Jesus and intended for witness in the life of the Body of Christ, the peril and the storms will continue. The question for us, will God find us faithful to the Jesus way?