#87: Apocalypse Now

Matthew 24:1–14,28

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

We call them ‘Apocalyptic’. They are writings, visions or prophecies etc. that look to a doom- laden but eventually bright future. You can trace the apocalyptic thread through the Old Testament prophecies, especially Daniel, and on through Paul’s writings. It climaxes in the book of Revelation which looks beyond the darkness to a glorious new beginning. Here then is Jesus’ contribution to Apocalyptic Thinking’.

Forty years after his crucifixion the Jews rebelled against the Romans. Their rebellion led to a blood thirsty siege of Jerusalem and the complete destruction of the Temple. Is this what Jesus was looking directly at in his future gazing? I suspect he was looking both at this and beyond at the whole unfolding of world history which reached its most destructive and cruel stages in our own, supposedly enlightened, times.

The Killing Fields of 1914–18.
Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung.
Vietnam and the Middle East.
Bin Laden and Isis.

Wherever the corpse is,
There the vultures will gather.

Welcome to our world,
And to the future,
So the Good News
Must be proclaimed.

It seems as though we have always been fascinated and drawn in by ‘looking to the future’ stories and predictions. Nostradamus, the return of King Arthur, the science fiction of H.G. Wells, Dr Who’s time travelling and the terrifying future scenes of Blade Runner have all found a place in our shared imagination.

When Jesus looks to the future, however, he looks beyond the world of men and women to his own eventual return. No one knows when it will be. What we do know is that it will be, not so much an ending, as a new beginning.

So where does all this leave us? It leaves us in an in-between place, in a time zone called history, two thousand years after Jesus’ first appearance with an un-known stretch of time before his second coming.

It leaves us in a post COVID-19 world of plague facing a future of environmental self-destruction. It leaves us in something rather like Narnia where it is increasingly winter all the time with fewer Christmases on the horizon. Yet we do know that Aslan will return and will bring with him a new spring time.

It leaves us in a world where nations and kingdoms still rise up against each other and yet the Kingdom of God is here and now. And when we remain faithful to Jesus the King and share his love and Good News we actually make it a better world.

Here then is a question for the in-betweeners who have not fallen away. What is the one thing we can do today to make our world a better place?

Lord Jesus,
As we live our lives
In these strange and difficult times,
May you be with us every day.
May we remain faithful to you every day,
May we serve our world,
And make it a better place,
Every day.