“For then shall be great tribulation…”
Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew, with Jesus’ prophecies of the last days.
By way of introduction I will say just one thing, which may help remove an obstacle to understanding. Jesus is not speaking of a single historical event, but of a pattern that exists eternally and manifests itself recurrently, both internally, in the lives of individuals, and externally, in worldly events. If this were not the case, then there are only two possibilities: that the events he describes are all external events that happened once and for all, during the lives of his disciples, and are irrelevant to ourselves; or, since they plainly did not occur as an external event during the lives of his disciples as he seemed to say they would (“This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled”), that his prophecies are false. The correct view is that Jesus is describing an eternal pattern which recurs internally and externally, in a variety of ways, throughout space and time and in the history of every soul. It was true for the generation of the discliples; it is true for us.
And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
- end of initial entry -
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. [Translation: because people will become immoral and unworthy of love, people will stop caring for each other.] But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jeff W. writes:
I have a comment on “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”
The Protestant churches in the U.S. have not had a major revival since the 1850’s, and that revival was not a very good one. It led to the temperance movement and Prohibition (failed), and demands for a larger, more active Federal government (now failing). It produced such institutions as the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), which recently changed its name to “The Y” so as to disassociate itself from Christianity. Earlier revivals of the 1700’s and early 1800’s had widespread effects on public morals, affected the thinking American revolutionaries and those who founded the Anti-Slavery Society in Britain. We have not had a revival that affected public morals in over 150 years. It is clear to me that Protestantism in this country cannot go another 20 or 30 years without revival. Protestant churches are currently losing 75% of their young people. Without revival, these churches will soon die out.
We do not know why millions or billions of prayers for revival have gone unanswered. Why should the Holy Spirit refuse to help? What have Protestants done? No one knows the answers to those questions.
It has occurred to me that the answer may be that we are in the last days when, as prophesied by Christ, love, including the love that holds the churches together, grows cold. That would certainly explain what is happening.
Samson J. writes:
“If this were not the case, then there are only two possibilities: that the events he describes are all external events that happened once and for all, during the lives of his disciples, and are irrelevant to ourselves”
I wonder whether you are aware of the position that I subscribe to, called “preterism”. This is the view that, indeed, the events Jesus spoke of were fulfilled with the destruction of the Second Temple, and that most events in the book of Revelation have already occurred.
Maybe you know of this view, but I wanted to let you know about it if you didn’t. Most American Christians haven’t heard of it, sadly. Be aware, if you look up more information on preterism, that there is a heretical variant that believes that ALL of Revelation has already happened, including the resurrection.
Daniel H. from Seattle writes:
As the Christmas season is upon us, I thought I would take the opportunity to flip the script a little (as they say). I’ll stay with Jesus, but look at the other side of the coin. It’s something I might have liked to share anyway, so please take it not as a retort but simply as a musing. I know already that you share a similar sentiment and your post was only one individual post. I’m not so foolish as to take a single post at VFR—where topics and tones are many and varied—as some definitive, final statement. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to share this.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 22, 2010 01:32 AM | Send
I write infrequently so I’ll refresh your memory: I’ve written before about my journey from card-carrying liberalism to a more realistic and loving view of the world. And my last comment to you concerned Tolkien and the “Men of the West”. I said of “The Lord of the Rings”:
The story takes place in the darkest times, when most men are not noble, and those who retain some nobility have pulled within their own (literal and metaphorical) borders. At the darkest possible moment, it is the emergence of the never-say-die heroes who save the day…. [T]heir hearts are pure, their courage indefatigable, and their cause is true … If one does not believe in the power of a few humble souls, speaking truth and love, to overcome evil, then one does not really believe in the promise of the West to begin with…. I daily share in that kind of frustration. But despair is never the answer, and in a discussion about Tolkien, it misses the point entirely—comically, even. The power of truth is not in numbers. It is truth itself.
The other night we had the confluence of a lunar eclipse with the annual winter solstice. The moon was blotted out on the darkest night of the year. A darker time on Earth does not occur, astrologically speaking (especially here in Seattle where clouds blocked out both eclipse and stars!) But then the moon emerged from shadow. The night ended and the day began. And though it was the shortest, darkest day of the year, it was also the day that marked the return to the light. From here on out the days get longer and brighter. The further north you are, the more dramatic the winter darkness, and the more dramatic the lengthening of spring and summer days. (As an avowed Seattle chauvinist, I always point out we are even farther north than the climatically colder cities of Minneaopolis, New York, or Boston).
Triumphant secularists love to point out that the timing of Christmas was melded with pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, as if that proved Christmas to be a fraud. But this, of course, is an impossibly juvenile response. Why is Christmas associated with the winter solstice, and not, say, the autumnal equinox or some other random astrological phenomenon? Because it is central to the Christian story that in darkest night, a light is born. It is the central theme of the Christian ethos. This idea is so central to all of Western society (thanks to Christianity), that even the most inane Hollywood schlock movie relies on that theme. It resonates with even the most degraded secularist because it is (a) oddly familiar for reasons he doesn’t understand, and (b) oddly true for reasons he refuses to acknowledge.
Last Saturday I went to a performance of selections from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at a local church right here in the heart of liberal Capitol Hill, Seattle. The woman who invited me is a feminist ex-Christian who knew I would enjoy this kind of thing. We spent two hours in that church, lit up with trees and candles, listening to regular people from the community, amateurs, delivering a rousing performance. As part of the program, included were a few familiar Christmas carols for the audience to sing along to. One was the heartbreakingly beautiful 16th Century English carol, “What Child is This?” This song, in lyrics and in melody, more even than most Christmas carols emphasizes the humble, hauntingly quiet origins of the King of Peace. One need not be a believing Christian to feel the beauty of this song. My friend and I both sang along, with violins, choir, and congregation. I almost broke down in tears, and I noticed a shining even in her jaded eyes.
Well, I’ve been learning the violin since June, a hugely frustrating and occasionally rewarding endeavor. Over drinks after the concert, I remarked to my friend that I would learn “What Child is This?” on the violin and sing it, with my sisters, for my parents on Christmas Eve. She, though skeptical in an amused way, encouraged me. This week I picked up my bow and fiddle and found that the song came so naturally and easily to me that I might have been playing for years. It sounds positively haunting to me when I play, and I play it over and over. In a few days I will play it for my family (a surprise for my mother, a Christian, and a violinist who gave up the violin years ago).
The beauty of all these confluences—the solstice, the eclipse, Tolkien, the concert, Christmas—overwhelms me. I thought you would be encouraged to hear a little about it. I realize this email is far too long to be considered as a regular comment at VFR (though I of course give permission to publish it if you see fit). I simply wanted to share my thoughts and experiences with you. Your writings have played no small part in the development of the part of me that is capable of such feelings.