“And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place,but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth pains.
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. And many will fall away and betray one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24: 4-14).
We are here on “holy ground”: these are the words of the Lord Jesus Himself when He was asked by His disciples what will be the sign of His coming and the close of the age. In a parallel passage in Mark 13, the question focuses solely on the fate of the temple and the city Jerusalem. The reference to Jesus’ coming in Matthew 24 is not really a question about the Lord’s return, because the disciples at this point did not yet appreciate or anticipate His resurrection; rather they sensed an impending purging of the city of Jerusalem as part of the messianic purging and judgement that belong to the exercise of messianic power. Only subsequently it became clear to them that the events foretold in Jesus’ answer are also with reference to Jesus’ later return that precede “the end” in the future. So the Lord’s answer was referring not only to the coming destruction of the temple and city (which took place in A.D.70) but also to events that precede “the end”.
With regard to the latter, the Lord was predicting deception and false claims; international chaos (like wars, earthquakes, famines, and pestilences and terrors(listed by Luke in Luke 21)); political and natural disasters – all these are just part of the beginning of birth pains.
In addition, an intense period of persecution would precede the beginning of the end and comes before the end; this may include betrayal by close ones, hate by people and nations, even death for some believers.
Notice that the Lord told the disciples not to be alarmed by the deception, chaos and disaster. for they must take place, and to endure to the end, despite the persecution.
To endure to the end refers to the perseverance of true believers who cling to Jesus to the end.The perseverance of true believers is one of the most comforting teachings of Scripture (John 6:37,39; John 10:27-28; Romans 8:29-30; Hebrews 7:23-24; 1 Peter 1:3-5). We learn that God by His power keeps His people from falling away from Him, that Christ will never permit anyone to snatch them out of His hand, and that the Holy Spirit seals them for the day of redemption. Our heavenly Father holds us securely in His grasp; that is our ultimate comfort in life and death. We rest finally not on our hold of God but on God’s hold of us.
But the teaching also urges us to persevere in our faith – and this is our challenge. There is the comfort and assurance; but there is also the challenge and exhortation to persevere.
The global covid-19 pandemic is part of the beginning of birth pains. We need to remember the Lord’s encouragement not to be alarmed. We can expect more difficult times ahead for disciples of the Lord Jesus (as seen in the study of the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation).
The life of Christian endurance and perseverance is like a long-distance race (picture in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Hebrews 12:1-3). Two things are communicated: firstly, perseverance is the only path to the prize (final glory in the Christian race) and secondly, what is required of perseverance in such a Christian race is continual and sustained exertion of concentrated effort, not just for part of the race, but day in and day out – directed at a total commitment to pleasing the Father through the Son as long as life lasts.
Keeping up such a rhythm in our Christian race and life is not easy – it is in fact agonising and demanding, but this is the meaning of perseverance and patient endurance.
Our hope of glory and glorification – to be moulded into the likeness of Christ is so glorious that it overshadows all sufferings and difficulties here on earth. As we run this race, we are told to keep our focus on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith; the winning post appears ahead and we must endure to the end together with all fellow-believers. The prize is not just for one individual like in an earthly race; the ‘bridegroom’ is waiting for the ‘bride’ at the finishing line! We are living in the last days – we are on the home stretch – it will not be long before we see Him “face to face” and what a glorious day it would be!
We can take heart that as long as God, who knows the future, goes with us in our Christian race and mission, we can have tremendous hope. Of course this does not mean that we shall not go through suffering, pain and hardship but it certainly means that God will see us through to a glorious and beautiful end.
Ponder over the meaningful lyrics by John Ryland:-
Sov’reign Ruler of the skies,
Ever gracious, ever wise,
All my times are in thy hand,
All of events at thy command.
His decree who form’d the earth
Fix’d my first and second birth,
Parents, native place, and time,
All appointed were by him.
He that form’d me in the womb,
He shall guide me to the tomb;
All my times shall ever be
Order’d by his wise decree.
Times of sickness, times of heath,
Times of penury and wealth;
Times of trial and of grief,
Times of triumph and relief.
Times the tempter’s power to prove,
Times to test the Saviour’s love;
All must come, and last, and end
As shall please my heavenly Friend.
Plagues and deaths around me fly;
Till he bids, I cannot die.
Not a single shaft can hit
Till the love of God sees fit.
This is a wonderful declaration of the sovereignty of God, and the faith and confidence in Him to keep us to the end, as we persevere.