October 11, 2016
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
WARNING: This one got a little long. Bear with me. And know that I owe you a short one somewhere along the way. ;0)
Like many of you, I’ve read this text many times. We’ve also heard endlessly speculative interpretations of this and other texts like it which attempt to correlate particular events and occurrences with the description given here by Jesus. Earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, despot leaders, rogue preachers and antichrists have littered the landscape of every age. And yes, in every age there are those who want to translate Jesus’ eschatological warnings into apocalyptic doom saying. Permit me a few observations and then a focus on what I think could be the most neglected verse within this discourse.
Observation #1: Jesus is trying to give his disciples (aka us) an eschatological worldview rather than an apocalyptical framework. The big difference? Eschatology is a hope-filled vision of the age to come. Apocalypticism is a fear-ridden focus on the destruction and end of the world. If you pick up in the Apostles Creed at, “From thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead,” and go to the end you get good eschatology. If you pick up Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, you will get a good picture of apocalypticism. (That’s an over-generalization but you get the point).
Observation #2: The resurrection of Jesus signified the beginning of the end of the age. We are indeed living in the last days. The resurrection of the dead will signify the end of the age and the dawning of the age to come.
Observation #3: Jesus is putting courage into his disciples to persevere despite suffering and hardship, which are sure to come in wave after wave through every generation until the end comes. He does not intend to give us a series of events we can organize into charts and sequences in order to correlate them with our own times and thereby make predictions about the future and get them on our calendars. His discourse can be hard to follow because he is switching between two events: the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age—which are neither simultaneous nor coterminous.
Observation #4: Jesus’ concern is for his followers to persevere through suffering and hardship to the end that the Gospel be proclaimed and demonstrated in every nation to all people that all may have an opportunity to hear and respond to his invitation to follow him. However, it will only be the supernatural love of God that will empower his followers to persevere through suffering and hardship to this end.
Now to the neglected verse in this text: Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold[.]
The word of greatest concern to me in this text: most. Read the verse again. Do you know what “most” means? It means most. It is more than a majority, which is 51%. It is less than “almost all” which sits at about 92%. Let’s set “most” somewhere between 84% & 86% of us. Let’s be clear about this. Jesus is telling us that somewhere between 84% and 86% of us will fail to follow him and why it will be so.
Why will the love of most of us grow cold? It’s right there in the text: Because of the increase of wickedness. Is he talking about the increase of our own wickedness or the wickedness of others? I’d say he’s talking about a correlation between them. As the wickedness around us increases our love will grow cold which invariably leads to the increase of wickedness in us, which further increases the wickedness around us, which further chills the love around us. It gives a classic meaning to the term, “a vicious cycle.”
So how does the wickedness around us cause our love to grow cold? Wickedness around us fosters a critical spirit in us toward people around us. A critical spirit, un-arrested, leads to a cynical mind and a cynical mind, un-arrested, becomes a hardened heart. Wickedness around us hardens our heart to people in general. We assume the worst, protect ourselves and our own, and yes, over time wickedness increases in us. It starts as wickedness by omission, by the failure of our love to act with care. Un-arrested, it becomes wickedness by co-mission, through the carelessness of our actions towards others in ways that diminish or harm them.
The other way the wickedness around us causes our love to grow cold is through the direct influence of wickedness on our own character and virtue. To the extent we are not being influenced and built up in the holy love of God (i.e. real Christians) we are being broken down and influenced by the wickedness around us.
It should be clear to us by now that the prevailing culture around us in the United States (and in many other places) is being more influenced by the increase of wickedness than it is by the increase of love. In fact, the increase of wickedness is leading to the love of most growing cold—as Jesus indicated.
Our religious institutions are proving themselves impotent against the onslaught. It’s another conversation, and I know I must bring this to a close today, but one of the reasons for the failure of our local churches is this: We have allowed our local churches to become institutions characterized by collective responsibility for charitable activity at the expense of growing people characterized by real compassion, which comes from the particular brand of personal responsibility native only to the love of God. In other words, the church has bought into the myth of scalability. The problem is love does not scale. There’s a lot to unpack there, but to bring it back around to the text let me close with a final observation.
Observation #5: More than anything else today, the church is in need of a robust doctrine and theology of Love. We need to gain a God-given understanding of the supernatural nature of Love and of the interrelationships between Faith, Hope and Love. We must grow in our understanding of Love as originated through and generated by the interrelationships between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Finally, we must remember that love does not scale. It cannot be delegated. Institutions cannot love. Only people can love. And love will only grow large as it grows small in the every day ordinary interrelationships between people in the Body of Christ. Our love for the world beyond the Body of Christ will never exceed our love for one another within the Body of Christ.
1. How do you understand this text: Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold[.]
2. Plot a line spectrum with cold on the left end, warm in the middle and hot on the right end. Where do you plot your own love? Do you consider that the quality of your love falls into the “Most” category?
3. How do you relate to this assertion that love does not scale?
Join the Daily Text Fasting Challenge here. Whenever you sign up, it will begin the following Tuesday.
J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.