end-times

1 Thessalonians 5

Today we’re reading 1 Thessalonians 5.

What will the end of humanity look like? Everyone agrees that this earth is doomed--eventually. Some people believe that space travel will offer escape for the human race to some other inhabitable planet when our sun dies out or the earth becomes uninhabitable, but realistically that’s the stuff of science fiction, not reality.

According to God’s word, human history will end here on this earth. And most of humanity will be utterly unprepared for it as we read today in verses 1-3. Verses 4-11 describe the contrast; while most of humanity will be unprepared for the end, believers “are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (v. 4). God’s word has described for us what will happen when the “day of the Lord” (v. 2) arrives. As students of his word, then, we should not be surprised when his judgment comes.

Still, although we are not in darkness, this passage urges us to “be awake and sober...since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (v. 6b, 8). The promise of salvation from God’s wrath in Christ (v. 10) calls us to be active and growing in our faith, not passive and complacent as if we are just passing the time until Christ comes.

This is always how the Bible applies end times promises to believers. The promise of deliverance through Christ should motivate us to become like Christ. We strive to become holy for many reasons--the new nature within, the Holy Spirit within, a desire to be like Christ--but one of the things that should motivate us to grow is the knowledge that Christ will return. Understanding that this world is temporary and that eternal things are, well..., eternal, lifts our thoughts from materialism, self-centeredness, pleasure-seeking, and other temptations. We lose our desire for these things when we realize all that God has promised to us eternally in Christ.

Have you lost your focus on eternity? Is your interest in the Lord, his word, and his character formed in your life cooling off? Let this reading remind you that the Lord is coming. So many things that seem important now will be completely irrelevant when Jesus returns; likewise, things that advance God’s work through evangelism and God’s holiness in people’s lives will be shown for the eternal value that they have. So let these words encourage you (v. 11a) but also refocus and re-energize you to know the Lord and participate in his work.

Matthew 24

Here’s a link to [Matthew 24] (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matt24&version=NIV). Read it.

Now then, Matthew 24 begins with the disciples being much too impressed by Herod’s temple (v. 1). Remember that this chapter continued Matthew’s description of the passion week, the week which ended in Christ’s crucifixion and burial. Already this week, the disciples witnessed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt 21:1-11). They saw him bounce the merchants from the temple, refute and then rebuke the religious leaders of Israel (Matt 21:12-. After seeing all of this, I can’t help but think the disciples were anticipating a revolution that would result in Christ becoming king of Israel. As his disciples, they would have control over Israel’s culture, politics, and worship, so these magnificent buildings would be under their control. “Isn’t it going to be great, Jesus, when we have control of all this majestic beauty?” That seems to me to be the mood of the disciples in verse 1.

Bursting their euphoric bubble, Jesus told them not to get too attached to it all because it would all be leveled someday (v. 2). Verse 3 tells us the setting for the rest of this chapter was “the Mount of Olives.” This is a hill just outside the city of Jerusalem and it provides a sweeping, impressive view of the oldest part of Jerusalem, including the temple area. If you’ve heard people talk about “The Olivet Discourse,” they are talking about this chapter, Matthew 24. Here Jesus spoke prophetically about what would happen to Israel at some future time.

Christians still debate about whether these prophecies have been fulfilled or not. At least one of these prophecies, the one about the destruction of the temple in verse 2, certainly has been fulfilled already. It happened in AD 70 when the Jews went to war against the Roman empire and the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, including the temple. What is still debated is whether or not any or all of the rest of these prophecies has been fulfilled historically or if they are still to come. The answer you come to on that question is intricately tied to your views on other New Testament prophecies about the end times and this devotional is not the place for me to get into all that.

The final paragraph of this chapter is very appropriate for a devotional like this one. There Jesus encouraged us to act like “the faithful and wise servant” (v. 45a). If we see our lives as a stewardship, an opportunity to faithfully do what God commanded and called us to do, there will be eternal rewards in store for us (v. 47). If, however, we doubt that Jesus is coming or presume that his coming a long ways off, that is a sign of unbelief and, despite our claims to follow Jesus, we will fall under his judgment because of our lack of faith (vv. 48-51).

As a much younger man, newly married to Suzanne and early in my seminary training, I worked with a guy who was very, very interested in Bible prophecy. He was training me to work the overnight shift in a hotel, so there was a lot of time when we were sitting around with very little work to do. Since I was in seminary, he was very interested in talking to me about the end times. But if I asked him about his church attendance or his walk with Christ or why he was living with a woman and having children with her, I hit a conversational brick wall. Bible prophecy and the end times are valid and important subjects for us as Christians to study and understand. If we study and understand them, however, without them causing us to live as better managers of our lives on this earth for God’s glory, we are missing the point. Jesus calls us to be ready for his return but being ready for his return requires diligently living according to his commands. This passage, then, is an opportunity for each of us to think about our lives. Where do we put our time and attention and money? Do we put them in things that will grow us in our faith and holiness, in things that will extend the message of the gospel and thus expand God’s kingdom? Or are we wasting the time that we have living self-centeredly (v. 49)?

The master is coming; are you doing what he expects you to do until he arrives?