As the four disciples sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple they pondered what Jesus had told them moments before. He had just prophesied the complete destruction of the temple, and the disciples were a bit troubled by the news. So Peter, James, John, and Andrew got up and asked Jesus directly: “When will these things happen?”
Jesus’ answer that follows presents quite a challenge for us today. There is much disagreement about the timing and interpretation of the events of which Jesus spoke, and so it is easy to lose sight of the reason behind Jesus’ words.
Jesus was not trying to confuse his disciples, or us, with a prophecy of hidden meanings. Nor was he trying to scare the disciples with a dramatic warning of the great tribulation to come. Rather, Jesus warned his disciples of things to come so that they would not be surprised and would stand firm in the faith. He gives them “inside information” so that they would not be taken off guard by the coming difficulties and disasters, but would persevere in them and display the glory of Christ to a crumbling and chaotic world.
Like the disciples, all Christians have inside information about the future. Through God’s Word we know how the story of the world ends and that on the road to the end there will be twists and turns and bumps of all sorts. In the midst of the tumult and upheaval of world events Jesus wants us to focus on what is important – “the gospel must be preached” (Mark 13:10).
Jesus doesn’t want us to be overly preoccupied or frightened by what is going on around us, which is why he says to expect persecution, wars, disasters, betrayal, and the like.
That does not mean that we are to be coldly indifferent to current events, but rather, knowing that these types of things must take place and fit into God’s plan, we are to keep level-headed and keep at our task.
Neither should we bunker down until the storm passes, content to wait it out with like-minded Christians. Or, on the opposite end of the pendulum, we ought not get so caught up in the fire-fight that we forget the true aims of Christ in the world. Instead, Jesus instructs his disciples to be on their guard, stand firm, and pray.
In the midst of a global pandemic and a storm of controversy wherein we feel government overreach and a wave of cultural opposition, are we surprised that these things are happening? Are we getting caught up in the panic or the conspiracy or the outrage? Were we caught off guard when the ground under our stable, comfortable lives began to shudder and sway? Have we grown near-sighted and lost sight of Jesus’ end-game?
Or, as Jesus taught us to be, are we generally unsurprised at current events and able to be laser-focused on the Christian task? Are we able to engage with current debates without getting sucked into the mud-slinging and tribal war-fare that is so common in the world? Are we preaching the gospel, keeping calm, standing firm and praying?