"Do you know that Jesus is coming soon?"
In teaching and in life you learn to recognize moments that are called “teachable moments.” These come about at a time when students or people are in a unique position to learn, when something has happened, something has been said, that provides a unique opportunity to educate someone or share valuable information.
It was our first week of online classes, my first-time meeting with this class. We started talking about the current pandemic, just checking how everyone was doing when one of our students exclaimed, “Mr. Smith, do you know that Jesus is coming soon?” In teaching and in life you learn to recognize moments that are called “teachable moments.” These come about at a time when students or people are in a unique position to learn, when something has happened, something has been said, that provides a unique opportunity to educate someone or share valuable information. This was one of those moments. I promptly agreed with the student and shared that those were my exact sentiments. I don’t know if you are feeling that way as well. If you are, I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe you haven’t equated our present happenings as a portentous sign that Christ is soon to return but, no doubt, you have gotten that feeling that this is certainly not business as usual. The entire world has come to a standstill. Schools, churches, business have closed. Social interactions have changed. Life as we know it has changed, possibly to such an extent that we will never be the same again. But is all this evidence that Jesus is soon to come? If so, what does God want to teach us through all of this? What are we supposed to be doing during this time? These are all some of the questions that we will aim to answer. We will also once again visit the ancient Israelites in Egypt to see what lessons we can learn from their experience.
Predictive prophecy is one of those things that separate the Bible from any other religious book. In fact, it separates the God of the Bible from every other god (see Isaiah 44:8). Matthew 24 is one of those chapters where the bible again puts its reputation on the line. This chapter opens with the disciples showing Christ the magnificent buildings of the temple. Jesus retorts with a statement that must have shaken the disciples to the core. “Do you see all these things?” He says. “There will not be left here one stone upon another that won’t be thrown down (verse 2).” This must have been difficult for His disciples to hear. They must have been incredulous. This temple was the pride of the Jewish nation. It had taken more than 40 years to be built. Though not as marvelous as the first version that Solomon had constructed, this was still a sight to behold. The marbled walls, gold plated furniture, expensive decorative linen, the thought of having all this destroyed must be the end of the world! With that thought in mind, the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked, when are these things going to happen? What are the signs that will precede its destruction, Christ’s second coming and the end of the world (verse 3)? They knew that something that momentous could not happen without there first being at least a warning, some sign.
In the next verses (4-14), Jesus marvelously correlates the signs that will precede the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world as we know it. The signs that preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, are also those that will also precede the end of the world and His coming. A reading of the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and chapter 1 in the book The Great Controversy, attests to the fact that these signs did precede the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Remarkably, because the Christians knew what to look for, they fled Jerusalem and went to the nearby city of Pella for safety. No one needs to be caught unawares when He comes the second time and the world ends. Jesus gives religious signs: false Christs will arise and will deceive many. Political signs: there will be wars and rumored wars, international and civil conflicts. Natural signs: Natural disasters, famines, pestilences, earthquakes. Verse 7 seems like a verse that could very well be describing our time. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there will be famines and pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” There is no dearth of political conflicts in our day. Natural disasters, famines, earthquakes have become a regular part of our existence. Verse 7 also speaks about pestilences. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a pestilence as “a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating.” The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “any very serious infectious disease that spreads quickly and kills large numbers of people.” Those seem like a perfect description of the coronavirus to me.
Verse 8 however, is a startling verse. It says that these, these situations that we are currently experiencing, are just the beginning of sorrows. He uses the analogy of labor pains. Women who have had children would know exactly what He means. The contractions are going to become closer; the pain will increase.
Just before God’s people are delivered it always get bad. God always gives warnings before the worst happens. The bible says that He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). In revisiting our story from the last post we see how God’s people were protected from the pestilence by applying the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. That last plague that passed through the land of Egypt saw all the Egyptian first-born children dying. It was a devastating plague. Nine had passed before but this was by far the worst. This resulted in God’s people being delivered. Just before God’s people are delivered it gets pretty bad. Before it got to this though, there were warning signs all around. Nine previous plagues had passed. There was ample warning of what was coming. The ninth and penultimate plague was the plague of darkness. It went dark in the land of Egypt for three whole days. What was God trying to accomplish by the darkness? The bible describes it as a darkness that could be felt (Ex. 10:21). The bible further states that “they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days (verse 23).” The book Patriarchs and Prophets page 272 in describing this last plague states that “Suddenly a darkness settled upon the land, so thick and black that it seemed a “darkness which may be felt.” Not only were the people deprived of light, but the atmosphere was very oppressive, so that breathing was difficult. “They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” The sun and moon were objects of worship to the Egyptians; in this mysterious darkness the people and their gods alike were smitten by the power that had undertaken the cause of the bondmen. Yet fearful as it was, this judgment is an evidence of God's compassion and His unwillingness to destroy. He would give the people time for reflection and repentance before bringing upon them the last and most terrible of the plagues.”
Before the worst came, God gave the people time for reflection and repentance. Because of the darkness they were quarantined for three days. During this time of quarantine, social distancing, when the atmosphere was very oppressive so that breathing was difficult, He would have the people reflect and repent. During the time of social distancing God would have his people prepare for the worst by spending time with Him. Reflect means that we turn our gaze inward. We consider our ways. We might also find our gods, our objects of worship smitten. Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.” Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! Haggai 1:5-7. Reflection means that we ask ourselves the difficult questions, we test ourselves Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? A thorough reflection should lead to repentance; a godly sorrow for sin and a turning back to Him and His commandments. Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40). I considered my ways and turned my feet to your testimonies. I made haste and delayed not to keep your commandments (Psalm 119:59-60). Despite the darkness all around us, He wants to provide light in our home. Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12). If He is dwelling in our homes, there is light, if we have applied the blood of the Lamb to the doorposts of our hearts and homes, persecuted though we may be, He will deliver us.
I do believe that, like that student said, Jesus is soon to come. That is the joy of the Christian’s hope. The unfortunate reality though is that it will get worse before it gets better. The days ahead will be trying ones, they will call for a faith that has been fortified. God is providing us with such an opportunity even now. God is giving us an opportunity to be prepared. We have an opportunity to now fortify our minds and the minds of our children with the truths of God’s word. There might come a time when our schools and churches will have to be permanently closed. We have an opportunity now to ensure that when that time comes, we will be able to properly educate our children as God would want us to. That we’ll be able to lean on Him when all friends fail. We have an opportunity to reflect and repent. Let’s not waste it.
Learn more about what is to come.