Scripture: Matthew 24:1-14
1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down." 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" 4 And Jesus answered them, "Take heed that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, `I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.Meditation: Do you recognize God's action and signs in the world today? Jesus foretold many signs of God's action and judgment. To the great consternation of the Jews, Jesus prophesied the destruction of their temple at Jerusalem. The Jewish people took great pride in their temple, a marvel of the ancient world. The foretelling of this destruction was a dire judgment in itself. They sought Jesus for a sign that would indicate when this would occur. Jesus admonished them to not seek signs but rather to seek God's kingdom. There will be plenty of signs – such as wars, famines, diseases, tidal waves and earthquakes – pointing to God's ultimate judgment.
9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another.11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end will be saved.14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.
Jesus' prophecy is a two-edged sword, because it points not only to God's judgment, but also to his saving action and mercy. Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the dire consequences for all who would reject him and his saving message. While the destruction of Jerusalem's temple was determined (it was razed by the Romans in 70 A.D.), there remained for its inhabitants a narrow open door leading to deliverance. Jesus says: "I am the door; whoever enters by me will be saved" (John 10:9). Jesus willingly set his face toward Jerusalem, knowing that he would meet betrayal, rejection, and death on a cross. His death on the cross, however, brought about victory and salvation, not only for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but for all – both Jew and gentile – who would accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Is your life securely submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ?
If the gospel message is good news, then why do so many oppose it with hostility and even violence? Jesus warns his followers that they will be confronted with persecution, wickedness, false teaching, and temptation. The real enemy of the gospel is Satan who uses fear and hatred to provoke hostility in others towards those who follow Christ. And what is Jesus' response to this hostility and opposition? Love and truth. Only love can defeat prejudice, intollerance, and hatred. God's love purifies our hearts and minds of all that would divide and tear people apart.
The truth is also essential for overcoming evil and tribulation in the world. Satan deceives and sin blinds the heart and mind. Only God's truth can free us from error and spiritual blindness. This gospel is God's word of truth and salvation. That is why Jesus tells his disciples to proclaim the gospel throughout the whole world, even in the midst of opposition and persecution.
You will be hated by all nations for my name's sake
Jesus tells his disciples that if they "endure to the end" they will be saved – they will see God's salvation and inherit eternal life and happiness with God. Endurance is more than human effort and perseverance. It is a supernational gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us to bear up under trials, temptations, and persecution. Endurance is strengthened with hope – the supernatural assurance that we will see God face to face and inherit all the promises he has made. Jesus is our supreme model and hero who endured the cross for our sake (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus willingly shed his blood for our sake and for our salvation and he calls us to love and to die to ourselves in like manner.
The word "martyr" in Greek means "witness". The Book of Revelations says that "Jesus was the faithful witness ...who freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev. 1:5). Tertullian, a second century lawyer who converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die by the hands of their persecutors, exclaimed: "The blood of the martyrs is seed." Their blood is the seed of new Christians, the seed of the church. The third century bishop, Cyprian said: "When persecution comes, God's soldiers are put to the test, and heaven is open to martyrs. We have not enlisted in an army to think of peace and to decline battle, for we see that the Lord has taken first place in the conflict." True martyrs live and die as witnesses of the gospel. They overcome their enemies through persevering hope and courage, sacrificial love and forebearance, kindness and compassion.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, "The martyrs were bound, jailed, scourged, racked, burned, rent, butchered – and they multiplied!" Why is this the case? The Christian martyrs witnessed to the truth, joy, and freedom of the gospel, by their life, their testimony, and by the shedding of their own blood. Today unfortunately we witness many extremists and misguided individuals who will sacrifice their lives, and kill others in the process, out of hatred, revenge, and prejudice. From a Christian point of view, they are not true martyrs because their sacrifice is not motivated by God's merciful love and forgiveness, truth and righteousness.
True martyrs pray for their persecutors and love their enemies. In their suffering and in their death they witness the truth of the gospel – that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Jesus died on the cross for Jews and Greeks, Christians and Muslims, agnostics and atheists. Satan seeks to destroy our faith through the fear of death and he incites others to persecute Christians for their faith in Christ. Martyrs who shed their blood for Jesus Christ win great victory, not only for themselves, but for the whole people of God. The martyrs overcome Satan by enduring death through their faith in Christ who died and rose for us. And through their witness many others recognize the victory of the cross and believe in the gospel. The martyrs witness to the truth – the truth of Jesus Christ and his power to overcome sin and fear, hatred and prejudice, and even death itself. What gives courage and confidence to the martyrs is the firm hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life and happiness with God.
God may call some of us to be martyrs for our faith. But for most of us, our call is to be 'dry' martyrs who bear testimony to the joy and power of the gospel in the midst of daily challenges, contradictions, temptations and adversities which come our way as we follow the Lord. What most attracts others to the truth and power of the gospel? When they see Christians loving their enemies, being joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, pardoning injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless. Jesus tells us that we do not need to fear our adversaries. God will give us sufficient grace, strength, and wisdom to face any trial and to answer any challenge to our faith. Are you eager to bear witness to the joy and freedom of the gospel?
"Lord, by your cross you have redeemed the world. Fill me
with joy and confidence and make me a bold witness of your saving truth
that others may know the joy and freedom of the gospel."