I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
Cease to hear instruction, my son,
and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
This admonition from Proverbs 19 seems to me to be at the heart of many young people’s struggles with their parents, their teachers, and their churches. By “young,” I mean “under the age of 30,” so I’m in that list, too, as are most of my closest friends. This is a perennial struggle, and the reason every generation ends up relearning the same lessons its parents (or their parents; things tend to go in cycles) already learned. Simply put: young people (I include myself) are not particularly good at listening. It doesn’t matter how smart I am, how widely I read, or how well-educated I am; if I refuse to be instructed, I will wander away from truth.
I have, sadly, seen this born out in others’ lives, and it was a chastening experience. I have seen smart young people who love God walk deeper and deeper into folly simply because they will not be corrected. There are few things more dangerous to our spiritual health, and therefore few things more foolish, than refusing to listen to the counsel of those who have gone before you. Age does not always equal wisdom, and experience does not always make one right… but they do give one a much better shot, especially when coupled with diligent pursuit of God and holiness. Perhaps my cohort ought to take James’ admonition to heart: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…”
Matthew 24, as one of the central prophetic texts in the New Testament regarding Jesus’ return, is of course hotly debated. Those debates, while interesting,1 can sometimes distract us from the point of the passage. Matthew spent a substantial part of his book on this section, and it comes at an interesting point in the narrative. Jesus’ increasingly public embrace of his role as the Messiah has culminated with his smashing condemnation of the spiritually blind religious leaders of his day (in chapter 23), and this prophetic section (chapters 24–25) is folloewd immediately by the plot to kill Jesus, the Passover, and the Passion narrative. So why the sudden pause on prophecy? It seems almost a detour, but if we assume Matthew was a competent author who knew what he was doing, he had a reason for turning to the only extended prophetic section in the book.
First, this future-telling cements Jesus’ role as prophet. Given the role that prophets played in Israel’s history and Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the fulfillment of each Jewish archetype (prophet, priest, and king), this makes sense. Moreover, the placement in the text makes sense here, as well: just as the prophets condemned religious blindness and empty ritual in their day and foretold God’s future works, here Jesus does exactly the same.
Second, this extended narrative provides a cap to Jesus’ teaching in the book. He has covered ethics (especially in the Sermon on the Mount), outlined a theology of the coming kingdom (mostly through parables), and now explains in greater detail what the coming of that kingdom will be like. From here on out, the book turns almost entirely to pure narrative, with no more extended teaching sections. Jesus, Matthew shows us, cared about the state of his followers after his death, resurrection, and ascension. He gave them (us) an idea of what to expect—not the nitty gritty details we all might like,2 but the big picture that we need. Jesus will come again, after his followers suffer trials and tribulations so fierce that many will be tempted to (and indeed many will) fall away. Believers must endure, and hold fast to their faith in him, and be ready. He will come when we could not predict, and he will come indeed.
A final thought: if our anticipation of Jesus’ return—with its attendant end to wickedness and suffering and sorrow—is great, how much more so is his?
Lord, haste the day.
- Complete futurism or partial preterism? Pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation return of Christ? Pre-, post-, or amillennialism? You get the idea. Fun discussions to be had. ↩
Be honest: how many of you know that guy who is always talking about the End Times?
And, for that matter, how many of you are that guy? ↩