“For those will be days of tribulation, the kind that hasn’t been from the beginning of creation until now and never will be again. If the Lord had not cut those days short, no one would be saved. But he cu those days short for the sake of the elect, whom he chose.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The one thing that is consistent about our understanding of the apocalypse is that we don’t understand it very well. Oh, we have lots of creative guesses, some offered with all the confident assurance of knowledge, but we really don’t know very much. Because of this, we greedily grab up anything that seems like it might tell us something. For instance, in 2012, the big news of the year was that an ancient Mayan calendar ended in that year because they believed that’s when the world would end. They even made a fun, global disaster movie about it called…wait for it…2012. Happily, we sailed right on past the December calendar date of the end and are still chugging along nine years later. Let’s look some more this morning at another thing Jesus had to say about it. This bit of teaching really doesn’t add a whole lot of clarity, but it does give us something else worth keeping in mind.
As we have mentioned a couple of times in this chapter already, over the course of this conversation with His disciples, Jesus is talking about two different things. One is in answer to their question about the destruction of Jerusalem He predicted to them. The other is the actual end of the world. The trouble is, scholars really aren’t sure after 2,000 years’ worth of study and reflection at which point He transitions from one subject to the other. Some of His comments are clearly about the conquest of 70 AD when Roman soldiers literally pulled one stone down from another in their total annihilation of the temple complex. In fact, his prophecy about that tragic event was fulfilled in amazingly specific ways. Some of what He says here, though, is looking much further down the road than that and is very Revelation-like in its tone and language.
In spite of these challenges, though, there are a couple of themes that rise to the top. The first of these is that things are going to get bad before Jesus finally returns. How bad? Well, we’re not totally sure on that, but worse than we can imagine. Jesus here and various other New Testament contributors in other places all use very cosmically cataclysmic language to describe it – the sun turning red and the stars falling out of the sky and the like. It’s more than that, though. There will be “wars and rumors of wars.” John talks about widespread pestilence and plague. The economies of the world will all crash. There’s no word on a Zombie apocalypse, but if that were a real thing it would probably be included in the descriptions as well. Of course, we can imagine all those things and worse. We talked the other day about the genre of apocalyptic literature and media and all of the enormously creative offerings we find there (although all of them share the common feature of not including any sense of the Christian God in their worlds). The point of this kind of language, though, is to give us the assurance that whatever it is we can imagine, it’ll be worse than that. The first part of this verse helps makes the case here. “For those will be days of tribulation, the kind that hasn’t been from the beginning of creation until now and never will be again.”
The other part to this point is that all of this will be the judgment of God against sin in the world. Some of this judgment will be very active – God’s explicitly causing disasters to happen – but even more of it will be passive – God’s removing His hands of protection from the world and letting sin run its terrible, natural course. Indeed, so much of God’s judgment throughout the Scriptures is best seen as this kind of passive judgment. God doesn’t have to do a whole lot to make us understand how bad sin is. He simply needs to stop restraining sin’s consequences. We have a remarkable capacity for self-destruction by the choices we make. Eventually He is going to pull back the curtain a bit on just how remarkable this capacity really is.
One other thing that comes through on this fairly clearly with the exception of a couple of verses is that Christians are going to be right in the thick of all of this. The Left Behind notion that Christians are going to be magically whisked away from the world just before the worst of the chaos kicks off (much less that it is going to run on a literal seven-year timeline) just doesn’t have much Scriptural support. There will be incredible persecution in those days as well as incredible acts of faithfulness. The church will continue to shine as the crown jewel of God’s mission on earth. But all of that means we’ll be there. The only relief will come when God finally cuts things off for our sake.
Speaking of that, this is the second theme that comes through pretty clearly here and across the Scriptures on the subject of the end of the world. As bad as it is going to be when the last days finally arrive, it won’t be as bad as it could be. Even in judgment, God is still merciful. He makes the sun shine on both the righteous and the unrighteous alike. He is faithful even when He is angry. This is because that’s the kind of God He is. He is just and righteous and holy and loving. He is all of those things to the fullest degree possible and all at the same time. We vacillate back and forth among all of those and their opposites like we are living in a pinball machine and so it is sometimes difficult for us to get our minds wrapped around the full glory of God’s true character. But we will benefit from it. All of us in part, and those who are committed to Him in full. The real question, then, is whether or not you are committed to Him. Now is a perfect time to clear that up and move forward toward the life He is waiting to give you.