Theme: Always be ready to persevere
In this week’s lesson we hear about Jesus’ discussion of the end times and how we should respond
“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Let me go back and review the lessons that are to be drawn from the first thirty-five verses of Matthew 24. The coming of Christ and the end of the world is imminent, meaning that it can occur any moment. Therefore, our present responsibilities must be:
1. To watch out that no one deceives us (vv. 4, 26). Jesus has a great deal to say about deception in this discourse. In fact, having warned against false Christs at the very beginning of the chapter he returns to this same point after speaking of the fall of Jerusalem, saying, “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ’ or ‘There he is’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (vv. 23-24). He repeats all this again in verse 26 where he warns against expecting to find the Christ out in the desert or “in the inner rooms.”
It would be possible to write a history of the church in terms of the errors that have been foisted upon it, sometimes from without but more often from within, and of how believers have either resisted such errors or have been taken in by them. We have deceivers today. But we are warned here not to be fooled by them.
2. To be settled even in times of war or threats of war (v. 6). This warning includes all political and historical events and is a reminder that the City of God is distinct from man’s city and will survive regardless of what happens in the secular world. We are not to be unduly encouraged by political events, nor unduly frightened by them. Charles Colson once wisely reminded the delegates to one of the Christian Booksellers’ Conventions after the President of the United States had spoken and they were cheering wildly, “We must remember that the kingdom of God does not arrive on Air Force One.”
3. To stand firm to the end (v. 13). We speak of the perseverance of the saints, meaning that God perseveres with his people so that none of those he has elected to salvation will be lost. Jesus taught this clearly in John 10, saying, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (v. 27-28). But while it is true that God perseveres with us, it is also true that we for our part must persevere. And that is what Jesus is speaking of here. He is encouraging us to keep on keeping on, since there is no promise of salvation for those who fall away from the faith or deny Christ. The Apostle Paul taught the security of every genuine believer. But he also wrote, “If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us” (2 Timothy 2:12). Those words seem to be part of what must have been an early Christian hymn based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10:32-33.
4. To preach the gospel throughout the world (v. 14). This is the chief task of the church in the present age. The followers of Christ will be persecuted, and the love of many will grow cold. But throughout the ages of church history, however long they may be, Christians must be strong, faithful, and determined in the task of carrying the gospel to the lost. In fact, this is the note on which the gospel ends. Jesus’ last words to his disciples were: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Will we do that? The next section of Matthew 24 tells us to keep watch and be faithful, because we do not know when Jesus will return.
What is Jesus’ encouragement to us to persevere?
What is the chief task of the church today?
Have you been deceived by false teachers?