On the Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus took the time to prepare the disciples and from then on successive generations of Christians for the period following his ascension to the time of his second coming. It has become known as the Olivet Discourse on the return to Bethany. It has been the source of great debates as successive generations have tried to interpret Jesus’ sayings in the light of events in their own time. It was sparked by Jesus’ reply to Peter, James, John and Andrew’s request as to when the destruction of the temple would take place. We now know that it happened in AD 70. The disciples were making the assumption that the temple destruction would coincide with the last judgement. Jesus response was, God alone knows. v32
Jesus was concerned that his followers did not become over concerned about whether it was the time for the final judgement because there will be many occasions when the most horrendous events take place. v7 This is not the same as not being concerned about the events themselves. Where there is suffering it should always be a matter of concern for Christians. Jesus uses the symbolic language of birth pains v8 to indicate that an increase in frequency and duration of such events which points to a time where elsewhere in scripture it is prophesied there will be a new heaven and a new earth. (e.g. Isaiah 65:17)
However, Jesus was concerned that during this turbulent period, in which we continue to live, the gospel is preached. Here I using preach as an all-encompassing term for all forms of communicating the good news of Jesus. Jesus warned the disciples that this would be at personal cost to them but it is the church’s responsibility to take the gospel to all peoples in the world. At the times of greatest stress they were not to be anxious and trust the Holy Spirit to equip them to do so. v11
Gospel work will be accompanied by times of great opposition even up to members of one’s own family conspiring to have one killed. v12 As I write this I think of an asylum seeking friend who was betrayed by his brother in law to Iranian authorities for having a bible in his car. He escaped from arrest and probable execution by a couple of days because his sister warned him.
Jesus used the forthcoming desolation of the temple and Jerusalem by Titus’ army as an example of a further universal tribulation. vv 14-20 Jesus said to them in such times pray. Pray for mercy and pray that God would cut short the suffering. Pray that God will cut it short for the sake of the people who have turned to him. v20 Jesus also warned about the rise of people he termed, “false Christs” who would try to deceive Christians and lead them away from faith in him. Do not be deceived even by miracles, Jesus has warned both the original disciples and ourselves. Our protection is the things he has told us beforehand. v22 A balanced understanding of the whole of scripture is our safeguard. We are not to be deceived by the over dramatic.
We are also to use the knowledge of his return as a great encouragement to keep going with the gospel life and work. We are to be watchful to ensure we remain faithful looking forward to his return. Three times Jesus repeats the phrase, ‘Stay awake’ in verses 32 to 37. Surely to do this we need to be constantly prayerful, regular in the reading of his word, using it to encourage, teach and correct each other as we seek to live a life sharing the gospel. There are many temptations to lead us away from Christ and we need to be in fellowship to remain strong in our faith.
Do we sufficiently value the fellowship of fellow Christians for encouragement and guidance in the Christian faith?
Are we active in supporting the church’s role in sharing the gospel world wide?
How do we actively support the suffering church?
We Are One – City Harmonic (suggested by my friend Kenny, I am not this funky!)