“Then if anyone tells you, ‘See, here is the Messiah! See, there!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, the elect. And you must watch! I have told you everything in advance.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Do you remember the Easy Button commercials from Staples? (Here’s a classic one.) The idea was that offices need an easy button when things get tough. Whenever a thorny challenge comes up, you just tap the button and like magic, the problem is solved. In the context of the commercials, it was often a Staples employee who showed up offering solutions for whatever was the problem. The ad campaign was wildly successful not necessarily in that it generated so much business for Staples (although it probably did), but because it successfully registered the idea of an easy button into the pop cultural lexicon. When your ad becomes a cultural movement, you know you’ve hit it out of the park. The reason the campaign was so successful, though, was that it tapped into a longing all of us have for easy solutions to tricky problems. We don’t like facing resistance to our forward progress. When we do, we want someone to come along, wave a magic wand, and make them all go away. This goes whether we are talking about traffic jams, or challenges entirely more significant than that. Jesus here warns us that such a desire can lead us down the wrong path if we’re not careful. Let’s talk about it.
Did you ever read anything out of the Left Behind series? The 14-book collection and its various spin-off series made authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins a whole mint of money. There were even two attempts at making movies based on the books. The books imagine the story arc of Revelation playing out in real life. They are a wild and creative ride. I was an early reader as they were being written, and would wait eagerly to rush to the store to buy the next entry to the saga as it was released. Actually, I read all but the last one. I just couldn’t bring myself to see how the whole thing came to a conclusion with Jesus’ return. I should probably do that at some point.
In any event, the series begins with the sudden disappearance of Christians from all over the world. They simply disappeared, leaving their clothes neatly folded behind them. Their disappearance marked the beginning of the end times for those who remained. Audiences, but especially Christian audiences, gobbled the books up like candy. Besides the fun, gripping story, though, I think there were two primary reasons for this, again, especially for the Christian audiences. First, the books scratched the apocalyptic itch that all of us have, but in a way that was explicitly, unapologetically Christian, making them safe for believers to read without fear of coming across the garbage or anti-Christian bias so much of the rest of the genre has. Second, though, the authors’ theology on the end times was really good news for followers of Jesus because it meant we get to skip out on all the bad stuff. Their imagining of the rapture was a kind of Christian easy button for the end of the world. Just as things start to go haywire, poof, we will all disappear and come back after the dust settles. Now, as I said the other day, I don’t think their theology of the end (what theologians call eschatology) is supported by Scripture, much to even my chagrin, but the stories were fun all the same.
As Jesus was telling the disciples what the end of the world was going to be like, He had to know they were starting to think about how they might be able to get out of all of this chaos. They certainly couldn’t have imagined history was going to stretch on for 2,000 years beyond this point. They figured this was all going to unfold in their lifetimes. More than that, though, Jesus understood the human desire to skip over challenges to jump right to the solution. When things start going crazy at some point in the future, there will be a powerful temptation on the hearts and minds of many for Him to return sooner than He appears to be coming. We want an easy path through the mess.
People will always look for an easy way out of the challenges they are in. That’s natural. Sometimes this is a good thing. Our efforts to reduce the monotony and futility of our work, for instance, are a very good thing. This is especially true when such efforts free us up for more significant pursuits. The monasteries of the Middle Ages were the source of much of this kind of innovation. The monks lived a simple life, but a monotonous one as well. They worked diligently to find ways to automate the more mundane parts of their lives so they could spend more time in worship and prayer. These kinds of efforts to combat futility are generally God-glorifying ones that look to roll back one of the chief effects of the curse of Adam. Sometimes, though, the challenges we face are ones we have to go through; all the way through.
Jesus knew that when times get tough near the end of the world, one of the sources of relief people will seek is a Savior – someone who can come and rescue them from their burdens. We don’t actually even need the end of the world to prompt our searchings for a Savior. We look for a savior in all kinds of different situations. And this savior can take many different forms from ideas to practices to persons. It is not at all uncommon for people to find one of these, get all taken by them, and think they’re on the path out of their troubles. The easier the better. All we have to do is believe in this or that and everything will magically be better for us.
The trouble with this is, there’s only one Savior. All others are pretenders at best. None of them can deliver on their promises. They will not bring us the salvation we seek. They won’t even bring us the relief they proclaim. Following these false saviors will only lead us deeper into the recesses of sin. Jesus told the disciples – and us through them – about all of this so they wouldn’t get caught up in the hysteria. While there are times we can and should automate futility out of our lives, so many of the challenges we face are ones we have to go through. The longer, harder path may not be the most attractive one, but it is the one that will lead to where we are trying to go. The shortcuts may look tempting, but they won’t save us any time in the end. They are much more likely to cost us time when we have to double back to the beginning and start over on the right track. When the tough times come, don’t look for an easy exit. Look instead to the One who will lead you faithfully through to the life waiting for you on the other side. The real Savior won’t ever fail you or let you down. Trust in Him and you’ll always be on the right path.