The Pursuit of God

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Know Your Bible Lesson 63: The End is Near (The Olivet Discourse)

KYB 63

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Being best buds with the great Messiah of Israel is not at all the sweet deal that it sounds like. Jesus spends a lot of time in prickly pear mode, and when He’s like that, He’s tough to talk to and embarrassing to be around. It wasn’t any picnic standing by while He stood in the Temple shouting at Israel’s icons of righteousness and declaring that they were condemned by God. Yikes! What’s a good Jew to do when his Mentor gets so mouthy? Jesus’ disciples grew up admiring the Pharisees and Sadducees and thinking that they really were as holy as they claimed to be. But Jesus obviously hates the preachers of Israel, so where does that leave the disciples? Should they be haters, too, or should they be trying to hold some neutral position? After all, it’s easier for Jesus. He can be rude and then storm off in a huff, but who is it that has to go to the marketplaces to buy food and arrange for shelter? The disciples. They’re the errand boys, and when Jesus has just offended everyone in a local community, it doesn’t make it easy for His boys to deal with the business side of life.

It’s tough when Jesus gets in one of His dark moods. Life is a lot pleasanter when He’s doling out the healing miracles, casting out demons, and making food magically appear. But today is not a pleasant day. Whenever Jesus goes to Jerusalem, things always go south, and now that He’s just publicly humiliated men who already hate Him, well, it’s hard not to have knots of tension in your stomach. When is Jesus going to stop dragging His feet and perform some grand miracle that will result in Him seizing the throne in Jerusalem? The disciples are sure He is able to pull off such a feat, and after that grand fuss He made with the donkey’s colt, it’s obvious that He’s planning to fulfill all of those glorious Scriptures about Himself. Surely Israel is closing in on her glory days—if only Jesus would let everyone get into a celebratory mood instead of making these confusing comments about Jerusalem getting trashed. How can Jerusalem be on the verge of destruction when she’s about to become the queen of the entire world? How can the Temple be leveled if Jesus is about to seize the throne? The Scriptures say that all the nations will stream to Jerusalem to offer gifts to Yahweh in His glorious House. Surely those prophecies will be fulfilled, so the Temple can’t be destroyed. The Temple is in operation in all of the glorious prophecies Yahweh makes about Israel’s coming golden age. Jesus must be mistaken. The whole thing is disturbing. Why does He always have to drop these vague hints that so effectively kill a happy moment? The disciples were just starting to feel good again when they were finally on their way out of Jerusalem. They made one cheery comment about the beautiful architecture around them and then Jesus had to get all negative.

As He was going out of the Temple complex, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, look! What massive stones! What impressive buildings!”

Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down!” (Mk. 13:1-2)

Now Jesus has parked Himself a ways away from everyone else on the Mount of Olives and He’s staring at Jerusalem in the distance with a grim look on His face. The disciples are feeling very upset about what He said. Someone needs to find the courage to go ask Jesus what He meant. Well, there is strength in numbers, so Peter, James, John and Andrew head out together. If Jesus bites their heads off, at least they’ll be able to share the blame.

While He was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the Temple complex, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign when all these things are about to take place?” (Mk. 13:3-4)

Now is Jesus going to give a straight answer for once or launch into some confusing parable?

Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in My Name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” (Matt. 24:4-8)

Jesus is now launching into what is commonly called the Olivet Discourse. A discourse is a discussion, and since Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives while He has this discussion, and because this speech is quite long, it’s been given a special name, much like the Sermon on the Mount. You’ll often hear portions of the Olivet Discourse quoted in discussions about the end times, for Jesus talks about His Second Coming in this speech, as well as other signs that are often associated with the end of the world. This speech plays a critical role in convincing the disciples and all of the early Christians that they are truly living in the last days. There is intentional deception happening here, and we’ll discuss Jesus’ reasons for this as we go along.

Now only three of the four Gospel writers cover this speech. John doesn’t bother with it. You’ll find the other three Gospel writers beginning their various summaries of it in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21. Matthew’s version is by far the longest, but as we go along we’ll move around between the three books to cover all of the key points that Jesus makes.

Jesus starts right off with a very disturbing comment.

“…for many will come in My Name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’” (Matt. 24:5)

If Jesus is going to fulfill the Messiah prophecies the way everyone is expecting, there won’t be the possibility for another Messiah to come along because Jesus will be reigning in Jerusalem. Jesus is still a young man—only in His early thirties. Israel has had kings who reigned for many decades, and Yahweh said His Messiah-King would reign forever. So if Israel is going to be invaded by false Messiahs—well, how can that be unless Jesus is no longer around?

Remember that Jesus’ disciples don’t have the great advantage of hindsight that we do today. They have not yet accepted the idea that Jesus is really going to be crucified. That’s such a horrible thought that it just goes in one ear and out the other. Plus, theologically, it just doesn’t make sense. Yahweh said His Messiah would rule. Sure, today, we love to quote Isaiah 53 and say it was obvious about Jesus being crucified. But this wasn’t obvious to the Jews at all, and Jesus has just made it clear that He has every intention of fulfilling the triumphant prophecies of Zechariah 9 with that stunt He pulled with a donkey back in Lesson 61. Add to that the way Jesus is so fearlessly defying His enemies, and it’s quite obvious to His disciples that He has every intention of being the conquering King that the Jews have been pining for. Why else would Jesus be controlling the weather, casting out demons, and healing the masses if not to flaunt His Messiah credentials? How do you watch a Man walk on water, and then not feel confused when that same Man says He plans to be slaughtered by His enemies? Why would someone as confident and powerful as Jesus talk about dying? Jesus is constantly claiming to have Yahweh’s full support—so why on earth would He just give up? Does the Messiah ride in on a donkey’s colt only to then hand Himself over to be butchered by the same men who He so fearlessly mocks? No, that makes no sense at all. This comment about false Messiahs tricking everyone makes no sense, either. So often Jesus’ disciples feel upset and confused by the things He says. They are trying to find out when this terrible destruction Jesus hinted about will happen in Jerusalem. Now it sounds like He’s talking about an even greater disaster.

“And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.” (Matt. 24:6)

The end? The end of what? The Temple? Jerusalem? Or something even worse? Jesus isn’t talking about the end of the world, is He?

“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are My followers. And many will turn away from Me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:10-14)

Yikes, Jesus is talking about the end of the world! Who knew it was so close? What a terrifying thought! Now let’s consider what He’s saying: the disciples will get butchered—that is certainly upsetting. Everyone will hate them because of their loyalty to Jesus. That’s grim. And a bunch of people who followed Jesus will turn away and get nasty. Great. There will be more false prophets—well, that’s nothing new. The world will become some dark, evil place. Hm. The Good News that Jesus is always talking about will get preached everywhere and then that will be the end. Wow.

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mk. 13:11)

This is really sounding scary.

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of Me. But not a hair of your head will perish.” (Lk. 21:16-18)

So the disciples will be put to death but their hair will live on? Is this Jesus’ idea of a pep talk? Being betrayed by their own family members—that’s a painful thought.

“The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.” (Matt. 24:15-22)

This passage is commonly misinterpreted as referring to some epic end times tribulation. But what Jesus is really talking about is a Roman assault on the province of Judea which will result in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. In the Old Testament prophetic books, we find Yahweh predicting many different kinds of disasters that He’s about to dish out on various nations. Sometimes He gives specific instructions for how people should respond. For example, during the first destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple back in Jeremiah’s day, Yahweh specifically told the Jews to surrender to the Babylonians. He said that if they cooperated with their invaders, He would make it go easier on them. But of course they refused to listen so He mowed them down.

Here in Matthew 24, Jesus is telling the Jews not to try and resist when the Romans attack in force. Instead, He tells them to flee, because God is not going to be granting them a military victory. On the contrary, it’s going to be a bloodbath resulting in worse anguish than the Jews have ever contemplated.

Now you can’t be too literal with this passage. Multiple times throughout the Bible you’ll find God saying that what He’s about to do will be worse than ever before and that nothing so bad will ever happen again. Look at the things He’s describing and you’ll easily be able to point to other things in more recent history that are equal to or worse than those events. Here Jesus is saying that the anguish which will happen when Judea goes under siege by the Romans will be worse than anything the world has ever seen. Really? Well, it’s hard to believe that the scattering of folks in one small patch of land tops the worldwide Flood that Yahweh caused back in Noah’s time. The country of Egypt is much bigger than the Roman province of Judea. Egypt was pounded with ten plagues in Moses’ time, and each one was a different kind of hell that resulted in all kinds of anguish and heartache. So are the Jews really going to have some uniquely horrible experience? No, but it will be the worst that they can imagine, and that’s all they’re going to care about.  

Jesus says that if this period of anguish goes unchecked by God, everyone will die. Then He says God will shorten it for the sake of His chosen ones. What does this mean? Is Jesus saying that God loves believers more than everyone else? No, He’s making the point that God cares about our suffering and He doesn’t just pound on us with no concern for our human frailty. Remember that Jesus is talking to His disciples here, so that’s why He talks about God’s concern for believers specifically. But in real life, God cares about all souls, and many who are spiritually lost today will become saved later on. God is intimately involved in every life and His care of spiritual rebels is just as real as His care of Christians. We humans are very delicate creatures. We can’t handle too much stress at once. God knows this, and He carefully limits the trials in all of our lives to suit His purposes for us.

So what is the passage from Daniel that Jesus is referring to here? Here are two passages in which Daniel describes receiving prophetic messages about terrible things that will happen in Jerusalem’s future.

“The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him.” (Dan. 9:27)

“His army will take over the Temple fortress, pollute the sanctuary, put a stop to the daily sacrifices, and set up the sacrilegious object that causes desecration.” (Dan. 11:31)

This translation uses the phrase “the sacrilegious object that causes desecration” to try and clarify the more common term of “the abomination of desolation.” The point is that some nasty ruler is going to intentionally defile the Jews’ Temple by putting something in it that they consider to be blasphemous. A modern day example would be if some group of God haters in your community erected some huge statue of Satan in the middle of your church. In modern America, Satanists are working hard to erect physical monuments to Satan in various public spots around the country today, and at the same time, God honoring monuments are being removed by government officials. This is to be expected in a country that hates the real Gods. Well, back in Roman times, the Romans had no use for Yahweh. They had plenty of their own gods, and it was a very popular custom among all the nations to publicly insult the gods who they felt their gods had just conquered.

When the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD, they naturally erected statues of their own gods on the grounds where the Temple had been, and then they made public sacrifices to their gods. This was a way of publicly mocking the national God of Israel, and it was backed by a sincere belief that the Roman gods had to be greater than Yahweh if they had managed to topple His house of worship. Every war was a god war to these people, and it was believed that you couldn’t triumph over your human enemies on earth unless your gods were also triumphing in the supernatural realms.

So here’s a question: is it right for the Jews to go into a meltdown just because some demonic statues have been erected on the rubble of Yahweh’s Temple? Today should we Christians be freaking out when crosses are taken down and replaced with statues of Satan? Does it mean our Gods are impotent if banners are erected which publicly mock and defy Them? What are we saying to Jesus when we act like it’s some great crisis that He’s being openly blasphemed? Today you can find God haters on the internet putting out global challenges for folks to post videos of themselves blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Does the Holy Spirit find this threatening? Do our Gods start stressing when powerless flecks like us cry out against Them? Not hardly.

We need to remember that nothing happens in this world that our Gods don’t want to happen. That includes statues of Satan going on public display and prayers to Jesus being legally banned. We need to remember that letting spiritual rebels drown in the fruits of their own rebellion is a very effective way of disciplining them. Since we are so convinced that our lives would be better without God, why shouldn’t He play along and give us the illusion that we’re driving Him out of our lives? When we turn our back on God, we find ourselves with no logical reason for respecting His moral code, and without that code, our societies quickly fall apart. Welcome to modern America, where the family system is crippled, education is a joke, business are falling apart and the government is full of idiots. Meanwhile, perversity abounds, crime is rampant, and we’re straining and striving to pass even more laws that will make godly living illegal while evil goes unchecked. This is the great reward we get for hating God: He lets us drown in our own depravity. It was the same with ancient Israel. In the Old Testament we find her overrun with evil century after century. In the New Testament we find her still hanging onto her deep hatred for Yahweh, so now Jesus says that the day will soon come when Yahweh will once again tear His Temple down. Why shouldn’t He? It’s not like the Jews were using it to worship Him. Instead, they were using it to defy Him, and God’s patience for such things has limits.

In the Old Testament Yahweh tore down His Temple because He was fed up with it being used as a shrine for demonic idols. Now He’s fed up with the Jews putting on their phony pretenses of caring about Him. If you were married to a woman who hated you and every day she spat on your picture that was hanging on a wall of the house, wouldn’t you take the picture down at some point? Sure, because it gives her one less way to flaunt her nasty attitude. In the same way, Yahweh is going to use the pagan Romans to flatten His Temple and it will be quite nice to see the Jews stop defiling His sanctuary with their insincere offerings and foul heart attitudes. The destruction of the Temple is not at all some sign that Satan is gaining ground against God. It’s God taking away one of the Jews’ favorite means of insulting Him.

“Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for there will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Lk. 21:23-24)

There’s nothing new here—this is standard operating procedure for empires that are trying to quell rebellion within their kingdoms. You attack, you kill high numbers for the shock value, then you grab a bunch of captives and haul them away. The goal is to kill the main antagonists who are riling everyone else up against your authority. Dispersing people from their homeland is a good way to try and weaken patriotism and make it harder for them to organize another rebellion. Once families put their roots down in a new place, they often stay there—even if they didn’t like it at first. Thanks to earlier sieges and scatterings by other empires, the Jews are already dispersed far and wide. Now Jesus says the Romans will scatter them yet again.

Remember that Jesus is only talking to Jews in this moment, so He’s using their perspective of things. He’s not talking about God’s plan for the Romans, but God certainly has a plan and that plan is going forth right alongside God’s plan for Israel. The Jews have never been God’s favorite people. God has always loved all people, and He has purposes for all people. But being Jews themselves, Peter, Andrew, James and John are naturally concerned most about what’s going to happen to their own countrymen. They don’t care about what God is doing with the Romans. They hate the Romans and all other non-Jews—it’s the way they have been taught to think. So this speech focuses on the Jews.

Jesus is going to refer to this great upheaval in Judea as a tribulation because He’s speaking from the Jewish perspective, and the Jews are the ones who are going to get trampled on. But now we come to the really interesting part.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days: the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the celestial powers will be shaken.

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. [Dan. 7:13] He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” (Matt. 24:29-31)

Today if you say “For God so loved the world,” most Christians know you’re referring to John 3:16. You don’t even have to finish the quotation or get the wording just right—we all know what you mean. It’s the same if you say “Let there be light”—that’s an obvious reference to a verse from the Creation account in Genesis. Well, here in His speech, Jesus is doing a similar thing. He’s intentionally alluding to very familiar Old Testament passages. This business about the sun and moon growing dark and the stars falling down—that’s metaphorical language that Yahweh used several times in the Old Testament prophetic books. Thanks to the freak out over blood moons, many Christians are now familiar with a passage in Joel that talks about the sun growing dark and the moon turning to blood, but similar language also shows up in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Zephaniah. Those prophets spoke centuries apart from each other—that’s how popular and long lasting those metaphors were in ancient Jewish society.

In America today, when you want to help someone understand how frustrated you were waiting for something, you say, “I was bored to death.” You didn’t actually die of boredom, because you’re still alive enough to complain about it, but the exaggeratory language helps communicate the strength of your feelings. It’s the same when you say things like “I am starving” when you’re really just acutely hungry and nowhere near the level of true starvation. Or you might say, “She was such an airhead,” even though you don’t really mean someone is walking around with no brain in her skull.

We humans constantly exaggerate in order to improve our communication with each other. When they’re your own culture’s modern day idioms, you know not to take them literally. But when we get into the Bible, we’re dealing with ancient peoples and exaggeratory sayings that sound strange because we don’t personally use them. Here’s where idiot Bible teachers and prophets have a great time freaking you out by telling you that in Joel 2:31, God meant that the moon would literally turn to blood and that the sun would literally turn black. Well, no, of course He didn’t. And when Jesus is talking here, He doesn’t literally mean the stars will come dropping out of the sky. This isn’t a prophecy about meteors peppering the earth, it’s exaggeratory language that simply means “Guys, it’s going to be all bad.”

So what is Jesus saying here? He’s saying that there’s going to be this terrible tribulation in Judea. The Gentiles are going to spank the Jews and the Temple and Jerusalem are going to be crushed. But then He says that immediately after that chaos, suddenly a new, earth-shattering event will happen: the Son of Man will return. Now He directly quotes a famous Messianic prophecy from Daniel: one in which Daniel is describing a vision he had of Jesus. Daniel didn’t grasp that Jesus was a second God, but Daniel saw Yahweh promoting some Being who looked similar to a human, and setting that mysterious Figure up to rule over the whole world. Here’s an excerpt from that vision—starting with the part where Daniel describes Yahweh:

“As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of His head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire.” (Dan. 7:9)

White hair, fire, wheels—these are common elements that Yahweh used when giving Jews visions of Himself in glory. Daniel is watching a series of visions in which there are evil beasts that Yahweh is dealing with. But then he comes to the part where he sees Jesus (without knowing it’s Jesus of course):

“I continued watching in the night visions, and I saw One like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before Him. He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:13-14)

These visions totally freak Daniel out, and he has no idea what they mean. Happily Yahweh hooks him up with an angel who explains part of the visions to him. But if you read through the angel’s explanation, you’ll notice that he makes no comment on who this “One like a son of man” is. Daniel is living under the Old Covenant centuries before the revelation of Christ and Yahweh isn’t ready to explain about the existence of multiple Gods yet. So to Daniel, he just saw some Guy getting highly honored by Yahweh. But Jesus now attaches this passage to Himself and identifies Himself as that exalted Being by using the same title that Daniel used: Son of Man.

Ever wonder why Jesus called Himself the Son of Man more than He called Himself the Son of God? It certainly wasn’t to emphasize His humanity, because Jesus isn’t human and He really emphasizes that point. But here the Son of Man title really comes in handy as Jesus neatly reminds His disciples of that famous prophecy from Daniel and essentially says, “Yep, that was Me he was talking about. I’m going to return to the earth one day, just like that: it will be grand and theatrical.” Daniel is a highly respected prophet to the Jews, and the Pharisees taught that his visions were Divinely inspired. So it’s big stuff when Jesus says He’s the Guy that Daniel saw.

Okay, so here’s the timeline Jesus gives: the Romans will attack, the Jews will be scattered, there will be intense persecution of Jesus’ followers for a limited time, and then Jesus will suddenly return to sweep them all away. Bring on those rapture joys.

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near—at the door! I assure you: This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.” (Matt. 24:32-41)

There’s just no way that you can squeeze 2,000 years into this timetable. Jesus says that the current generation of folks He’s talking to will not die before all of these things take place. He is talking about a very rapid sequence of events here, and it makes sense, because He’s already said that if God doesn’t cut the tribulation short, the elect will be wiped out. What are the “signs” these disciples should look for? The great tribulation of the Jews by the Romans. The fall of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem. The scattering of the Jews. Okay, well, the Temple fell in 70 AD. It’s now 2015 AD. Shave off a few decades just to give plenty of time for the Jews to get persecuted, and we’re still not seeing any Jews running around who are over 1900 years old. The generation of folks Jesus was referring to are long gone, so what the heck happened to Jesus? Where is He? Here in our midst, obviously, but we have yet to see Him descending on the clouds. If you’re not finding the Olivet Discourse disturbing, then you’re not paying attention because Jesus is lying to His disciples here. He is intentionally spiking false hopes that He’s going to be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail when He knows perfectly well that He won’t be coming back for a very long time. It doesn’t matter that He then says:

“Now concerning that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36)

This is just more baloney. Of course Jesus knows when He’s coming back—He’s God. He’s not stuck in time like we are. He knows the end from the beginning. This comment is no doubt intended to block the disciples from pressing too hard. Naturally they’re going to want an exact date. We humans always want to know more than God wants to tell us, and we can get downright obsessive about it unless He finds a way to put the brakes on us. Since these disciples still aren’t grasping that Jesus is God Almighty and not just some privileged human, Jesus uses their denial to His advantage and claims not to know when He’ll be ordered to return by God. What a bunch of malarkey. But hey, it works to steer the disciples away from date obsession and Jesus has other things He wants to talk about. But before we continue on with His speech, why did He lie about the timeframe of His return? Why did He promise that it would be so soon?

Well, let’s think about this. We know that our Gods are for us and that They are very interested in helping us grow spiritually. Right now the disciples aren’t grasping that Jesus is God. They still think He’s just some anointed human Messiah. What happens when it finally dawns on them that He is God? Well, one of two terrible realizations will then fall on them. If they suddenly grasp the truth of Jesus’ Divinity after He dies on a cross, then they’ll have to face the horrific idea that humans just killed God. Talk about having your theology blown to bits. Or, if they grasp that Jesus is God after He resurrects, then they get to watch Him ascend up to Heaven and deal with that lovely gem of “My God just left me.” Either way, they are in for some serious distress.

Imagine how upset you would be if it suddenly dawned on you that the guy you rode home with on the bus yesterday was the Holy Spirit incarnate? Wouldn’t you desperately wish you could turn back time and see Him again and act so differently than you did? How torturous it would be to realize that you were walking with God for three years and you didn’t even have a clue. You’d have a head full of memories of you acting like a dingdong when you could have been worshiping Him and kissing His toes and telling Him how much you adored Him. The disciples are speeding towards one mother of a valley season and Jesus knows that they are going to be in desperate need of hope. All of their fellow Jews are going to turn against them. The Romans are going to be butchering them. They’re going to be attacked on all sides on top of going through some major separation anxiety. If they have reason to believe He’s going to come back any second, it will give them a major boost of perseverance.

This is a very unique period of world history. It’s not every day that Yahweh up and changes His salvation requirements. This first batch of Christians need special handling and special help to get them through an enormously difficult period. So Jesus promises that He’ll come back in their lifetimes. Why not? Imagine how differently you would view life if you really thought Jesus would return in a few short years. Perspective is everything. What we believe about our future radically effects how we view and handle current trials. Read through the New Testament epistles and you find the apostles bearing up under incredible pressure. Everyone’s so full of hope. Everyone’s convinced that they’re living in the last days and that Jesus will return any minute. Okay, so He lied. But what harm did it even do? By the time any of these believers could confirm that Jesus really wasn’t coming back in their lifetimes, they’d be dead and with Him anyway in Heaven. Would it really have been better for Jesus to say, “Hey, guys. It’s been a fun three years. But I’m leaving now and I won’t be back for like 2,000 years. But chin up—you’ll get through the tough stuff. I promise.” This kind of pep talk just wouldn’t have cut it. Jesus is lying to help the first Christians, and we ought to love Him for it, not be beefing that our Gods are less than totally honest with us. None of us can handle the total truth about anything at this point in time, so let’s get real about our own frailty and stop whining about the fact that our Gods lie. Of course They lie, because They love us, and real love shelters and protects. Jesus is doing His boys a huge favor by setting up this misleading timeframe and it’s going to get them through decades of hardship. Jesus is fabulous.

LOOKING AHEAD

So now that Jesus has just said He’ll be coming back soon and suddenly, will the disciples be ready? As He continues on with His speech, He’s going to fire off a series of parables about staying sharp and focused on the right spiritual priorities. He doesn’t want His boys or any other believers growing slack in His absence. Salvation is just the beginning. It is our ongoing response to our Gods in life that greatly affects our eternal future. In our next lesson, we’ll go through a string of five parables which all boil down to the same message: “Be ready!”

UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 64: Finishing the Olivet Discourse

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