Third to Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Today’s gospel lesson doesn’t appear helpful at all unless you’re fascinated by eschatology, the study of the end times.
We’re fascinated by the end times.
But we’re also afraid of them. There’s always two books requested for Bible class: Revelation and not-Revelation.
Hearing today’s Gospel lesson, it is common to have no clue what Jesus is talking about.
We simply don’t study this the way we should.
The “abomination of desolation” could be many things, it is supposed, but really, it’s the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 ad.
Most everything in today’s Gospel lesson is concerned with what believers should do when the temple is destroyed—not very helpful for us today.
The last two verses are proverbial:
“As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27).
And, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Matthew 24:28).
The first tells us that the second coming of the Son of Man will be neither secret nor invisible but manifest to all.
With one proverbial verse, Jesus destroys the dispensationalist, Left Behind viewpoint.
Just as everyone around you know when lightning strikes, even if it does not strike them in the head, so will be the coming of the Son of Man even if you’re not front and center.
The second seems to pull double duty.
The imagery of a corpse and a vulture isn’t pleasant, so of course it describes the false Christs (the vultures) who feed off of the the corpse (the fear and anxiety) of those dwelling in the end times.
However, it’s also descriptive of, if not also fitting for, Christians. Where the body is, there, those who receive the body gather. Perhaps this is one reason why early Christians were accused of cannibalistic practices.
But that’s the entire gospel lesson: instructions on what to do when the temple is destroyed, when the abomination of desolation is seen.
And two proverbs, dealing with the end times.
The challenge for us today is to inwardly digest what seems unhelpful and irrelevant.
We can’t apply to our daily lives the instructions on how to flee Jerusalem when the temple is destroyed.
And it can’t be about when Jesus returns because we don’t want to flee from that nor can anyone.
The helpful distinction to make is to recognize the difference between “those days” (Matthew 24:19, 22; cf. chapter 19) and “that day” (Matthew 24:36).
“Those days” refer to the days of the destruction of the temple, the abomination of desolation, and GTFOJ (Getting the Family Out of Jerusalem).
“That day” refers to the single day when Jesus returns to judge the quick and the dead. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
So while today’s gospel lesson doesn’t appear that helpful or even that relevant, if the reader understands, as the evangelist would have us, then we can see how God protected and provided for the escape of the faithful during those days of great tribulation.
Jesus says, “If those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:22).
And, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).
First of all, God cut those days short. He knew the amount of evil, the great tribulation, that would occur.
He set a limit to it for the sake of the elect, for our sake. Jesus says, “If those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved…”
God preserves you in the faith, and if you want to see God at work, in Scripture, doing that, look no further.
“…But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
That God knows all things, He knows the end of your terrors. For you, for the elect, He has set a limit to them so that you would be saved.
That no one can snatch you out of His hand means that God limits, destroys, breaks, and hinders all the plans and purposes of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh—all so that you would be saved.
And second, Jesus says that “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray—if possible—even the elect.”
This is not 5-Point Calvinism. This is not the P in TULIP. This is not the Perseverance of the Saints.
This is not the bad form of predestination called “double predestination” where some are predestined to heaven and some are predestined to hell and the great tribulation is so bad that even those predestined to heaven are having a bad go at it.
This is not that.
The elect ultimately won’t be led astray, because, by definition, they’re the elect.
That you would be comforted by this, probe not into the secret knowledge of God but into God’s revealed Word.
You don’t have to wonder if you’re among the elect.
You can rejoice that you most certainly are, because “the Word of God leads us to Christ, who is the ‘Book of Life,’ in whom are inscribed and chosen all who shall be eternally saved, as it is written, ‘He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4)”
“This Christ calls all sinners to himself and promises them refreshment. He is utterly serious in his desire that all people should come to and seek help for themselves. He offers himself to them in the Word. He desires them to hear the Word and not to plug their ears or despise the Word. To this end he promises the power and activity of the Holy Spirit, divine assistance in remaining faithful and attaining eternal salvation…
“The true meaning of election must be learned from the holy gospel of Christ [which] clearly states [that] ‘God imprisoned all in unbelief that he may be merciful to all,’ and that he wants no one to be lost but rather that everyone repent and believe on the Lord Christ…
“A Christian should only think about the article of God’s eternal election to the extent that it’s revealed in God’s Word…In Christ we are to seek the Father’s eternal election [as Christ is the Book of Life, opened to all who hear the Word and believe]. [The Father] has decreed in his eternal, divine counsel that he will save no one apart from those who acknowledge his Son Christ and truly believe in him…
We have a glorious comfort in this salutary teaching, that we know how we have been chosen for eternal life in Christ out of sheer grace, without any merit of our own, and that no one can tear us out of his hand. For he has assured us that he has graciously chosen us not only with mere words. He has corroborated this with an oath and sealed it with the holy sacraments. In the midst of our greatest trials we can remind ourselves of them, comfort ourselves with them, and thereby quench the fiery darts of the devil” (Epitome, XI:6-7, 9, 12).
It’s not possible for the elect to be led astray.
But I don’t mean that no one can fall away from the faith or lose faith.
I mean, we believe in a good God. Who cuts short the days of evil so that you would be saved.
We believe in a God of love who sacrifices His most precious treasure, for our sake, to save us, so that when the lightning flashes in the east, we in the west see it and rejoice. Let the hearer understand.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!