How it all Ends

As we approach the end of another church year, the focus turns to Jesus’ return at the end of the world. In Luke, chapter 21, verses 5-32, Jesus urges us to do two things to prepare for his return: watch the signs that will precede the end and watch ourselves to be sure we are ready.

So first of all, watch the signs. And there are many that Jesus identifies in this passage of Scripture.  But before we get to any specific signs let me say a few things about the signs God gives.

First of all, God always gives signs, especially when it comes to destruction he is going to bring about. He does this so that no one will have an excuse. No one will ever be able to say, “God, you didn’t warn me that this was coming.”

It’s like parents and teachers who warn their children and students before they carry out a punishment.

In the days of Noah, the sign was the great big ark that Noah was building. Some people think that it took Noah 120 years to build the ark. That should have been plenty of time to warn the people that something big was coming. But did anyone repent? No.

Before God allowed the people of Israel to be carried off into exile he sent them signs. He sent numerous prophets to warn the people to repent so that they would not be destroyed but again, no one listened.

When Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple in verses 5-6, the first question the disciples asked was, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” The disciples would not have asked about the signs if it wasn’t God’s regular practice to send signs before big things happened.

The second thing to keep in mind about signs is that for unbelievers the signs are terrifying but for the believers they are signs that things are about to get better. Jesus says in verses 25-26, “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

“Fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” That’s the reaction of the unbelievers.

Then Jesus talks about the reaction of the believers: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Our redemption, namely the One who gave his life for us on the cross to redeem us from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil. He is the one who is returning. So we have nothing at all to fear.

As the end approaches and the signs get more intense, the same signs will be coming but there will be two completely different reactions. This is how Malachi explains it:

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. [2] But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 4:1-2)

Another thing to keep in mind about God’s signs is that, no matter how much attention we pay to the signs, no matter how well we know the them, we still can’t know when the end is coming. Only God knows when the end is coming.

So now let us look at the specific signs:

[10] Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. [11] There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” (verses 10-11)

These are the signs in nature. As Luther says, when something collapses as the world is going to collapse, there are always cracks that happen first. The  wars, earthquakes and famines, pestilences and signs from heaven are the cracks that will appear before the entire creation collapses.

Then there are the signs in the church

There will be false prophets: ”And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.” (verse 8)

And there will be persecution of Christians: 

“But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. [13] This will be your opportunity to bear witness. [14] Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, [15] for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. [16] You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. [17] You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. [18] But not a hair of your head will perish. [19] By your endurance you will gain your lives. (verses 12-19)

Believers will be persecuted by the authorities. When this happens we do not need to fear what to say because Jesus will give us a mouth and wisdom which none of our adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.

We will also be betrayed by our own family members. Many people who convert to Christianity from other religions know what this is all about. They know that if they convert to Christianity it means the loss of all contact with their families. In some cases, people who convert to Christianity know that if their family members are given the chance they would kill them.

Those are the signs we are to be watching for; signs in the world around us and signs in the church itself. All of these signs are already happening so we know that Jesus could come at any time.

Secondly, Jesus say, we should watch ourselves:

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. [35] For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. [36] But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (verses 34-36)

Instead of being weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the cares of this life we should stay awake and pray. Dissipation means spreading yourself too thin in the sense of letting all the different worries of the world distract us from focusing on what really matters, our faith in Jesus.

In 2 Thessalonians, chapter three, Paul warns against idleness:

[6] Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

Later he adds:

2 Thessalonians 3:10–12

[10] For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. [11] For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. [12] Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Many believers in Thessalonica came to believe that the world was going to end very soon and basically stopped working or doing anything. They were idle. We all should have plenty to do to keep ourselves busy so that we do not have time to interfere in anyone else’s affairs.

There are plenty of signs that Jesus will be returning soon so when the end does come, no one can say, “God, you never warned me.” So as the end approaches we watch for the signs and we watch ourselves. That’s more than enough to keep us busy until Christ, our beloved Redeemer, returns. 

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