“[Jesus] said to [His disciples], ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
“‘But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
“‘And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’” 
It is an axiom of the Faith that current events cast a shadow pointing to prophetic fulfilment. Current events are not necessarily the fulfilment of prophecy, but often they do point to fulfilment of prophecy. The palpable fear gripping so many at the present time likely presage the dark days immediately preceding the Tribulation period. During this present crisis, mental health experts around the world are raising an alarm about what might yet happen.  An example of such concern comes from the Red Cross, which called for increased psychological support for health workers and others engaged in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. They are concerned that the world will witness an increase in the number of suicides as result of pressure and isolation. 
The concerns about an increase in the rate of suicide appear to be well-founded. One recent report pointed out the tragic reality of what happens when people surrender to fear. The headline, “More People Died From Suicide Than Coronavirus In Tennessee This Week,”  emphasised the fear that prevails in this time of uncertainty. In Portland, Oregon, suicide threats or attempts are up forty-one percent from the previous year. These attempts had jumped twenty-three percent in less than ten days.  In our own country, we read reports that Winnipeg is witnessing an increase in calls related to mental health.  The reports indicates that the Klinic Community Health Crisis Line has seen an increase in calls, mostly related to mental health concerns during this present crisis.
Here are a few other examples of the fears registered about the COVID-19 crisis. One Suicide Crisis Line reported a seventy-five-fold increase in calls during March. Over five hundred calls were fielded during the seven day period ending March 30.  A nurse working on the frontlines of the current health crisis committed suicide over fears that she had COVID-19 and had possibly spread the disease.  A man in India took his own life because he assumed he had contracted the disease.  Another man in India who had been placed under home quarantine took his own life when he tested positive for COVID-19.  The finance minister of a German state committed suicide because he feared the impact on the financial centre of Frankfurt. 
We who are familiar with the Word of God cannot read such an onslaught of articles expressing such fear without hearing the words of the Master echoing in our ears: “On the earth [there will be] distress of nations in perplexity, …people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world” [LUKE 21:25b-26]. Sincere Christians have asked me if this is possibly a sign of the Lord’s return. The answer is … Maybe! Or, maybe not! In order to answer such questions, let’s look to the words of the Master.
PROPHECIES — When the disciples asked a question concerning the coming of the Master to judge the world, the Lord responded by providing an outline of what would be taking place in the days immediately preceding His return. In our text, Jesus warned, “‘See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am he!” and, “The time is at hand!” Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.’
“Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake’” [LUKE 21:8-17].
There are several points that we must keep in mind if we are to understand with any degree of accuracy what Jesus taught His disciples at that time. First, don’t overlook the fact that the events Jesus foretold are in a Jewish context. The disciples lived as Jews and acted as Jews; Jesus’ concern was to focus on Israel and the impact of His coming on the Jewish nation. While the return of Christ the Lord will have a worldwide impact, He was addressing His disciples in a Jewish context. The events must be seen through that particular lens.
Indeed, the disciples were eagerly anticipating that Jesus would set up His earthly kingdom as soon as the Temple was destroyed. Even after His death and resurrection, the disciples asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” [ACTS 1:6]? However, their sense of timing was wrong, and we should realise their understanding was mistaken when Jesus cautioned, “See that you are not led astray” [LUKE 21:8a].
The signs that Jesus provided are signs that will be apparent to all after His return. Those who are looking for the Son will be aware of what is happening, and they will thus be prepared for His return. Those who are not looking for the Son will be distracted by events or even distracted by the surfeit marking their daily existence. The mass of mankind, including most professing Christians, will be focused on securing their wealth, focused on delivering their own lives in the uncertainty of the times—in short, people will be focused on fulfilling their own interests. Thus, they will be unprepared for the return of Christ the Lord. Christians, however, are to watch for Him, just as we are taught in the Word. Remember how John writes, “Abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” [1 JOHN 2:28].
Because the signs Jesus listed point collectively to His return, we understand that these signs will be observable during that time we identify as the Great Tribulation. They are presented for that generation then living in those days of triphammer judgements as detailed in the Book of Revelation. In particular, the signs Jesus listed are given for the Jewish people, though all who are living during those awful days and who have chosen to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah will be equipped to anticipate the times.
Among the listing of events marking those final days, Jesus provided a cautionary statement that definitely applies to this day and to this current situation. The Master warned His disciples not to be led astray, noting that many would come in His Name, claiming even to be the Son of God. Don’t believe them. Don’t be duped by those claiming to have divine insight into what is taking place. He also said that many will be claiming, “The time is at hand!” They will attempt to convince those who hear them that the end is at hand. Jesus warned, “Do not go after them!” Nothing could be plainer to understand than this stern warning: “Do not go after them!”
If you are a follower of the Risen Saviour, you must not go after those claiming, “The time is at hand!” In the first place, no one has that information except for the Father, and He has not divulged that knowledge to anyone at this point. Jesus taught us, “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” [MATTHEW 24:36-44].
PRESENCE — “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” [LUKE 21:27]. I have stressed throughout the days of my service before the Saviour that His people must be ready for His return. Do not imagine that if you are not ready Christ will miss calling you. Those who have faith in the Son of God now possess eternal life. This is the life which God alone gives to those who are redeemed. Rather, we want to be ready so that we will honour Him.
The Apostle of Love has written, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” [1 JOHN 3:1-3]. Living in anticipation of Christ’s return purifies the life of the child of God. This is the primary reason we are to anticipate His coming!
We are looking for the Son, and not for signs. Those who are looking for signs are susceptible to being deceived by multiplied false Messiahs, by charlatans claiming secret knowledge of the work of God, and by the siren voices of those who advise God’s people to take life easy, to relax, to avoid becoming overly “religious.”
A popular message widely disseminated today delivers the message “this is your best life now.” That message leads to destruction! This is evident from Jesus’ warning, “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” [LUKE 21:34-36]. Living for this life, living for what you can gather rather than living for the glory of Christ the Lord, leads to death.
Here is a powerful piece of intelligence delivered for the benefit of God’s people. The people belonging to the Master have been persecuted by the people of this world from earliest days of the Faith—and they are persecuted to this day with even greater ferocity than at any time in years preceding this day. When a society is frightened, when a culture is insecure, the people living within that society or within that culture strike out at what they don’t understand in the mistaken belief that striking out will make their life better. Christians, because they seek to honour the Master with righteous lives that reveal the glory of His presence with them, are always seen as a safe target for people that are terrified. Why else do Muslims persecute Christians except they are insecure in what they believe? Why else do Hindus persecute the faithful except they have no confidence in their multiplied gods to protect and provide.
Jesus said of those last days, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.” Now, notice especially how Jesus interprets this. “This will be your opportunity to bear witness” [LUKE 21:10-13].
Difficult times provide the opportunity for believers to shine! Hard times are when we who follow the Saviour astound the unbelieving world because they cannot understand how we stand! The world is astonished when Christians refuse to respond as the world acts. We are taught in Scripture, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” [ROMANS 12:17-21].
After assuring us that persecution affords us opportunity to bear witness, the Master added this vital encouragement for His people, “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” [LUKE 21:14-15].
The Master was not finished with encouraging His people to refuse to give in to their anger when they are attacked. We are admonished by the Master, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” [LUKE 21:16-18]. Amen.
PURPOSE — “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” [LUKE 21:28]. Here is a lasting truth for all who follow the Saviour. When dark days appear on the horizon, when persecution begins, when hard times come, see this for what it is, a harbinger of Christ’s return. For the knowledgeable Christian, these current times of difficulty and stress serve to remind us that Christ is coming again. Facing the present darkness, we know that He shall prevail, and we who follow Him shall reign with Him in His own time.
We are presented with a challenge in the present darkness—we may sing dirges and bemoan our situation; or we may rejoice in the knowledge that we are children of the Living God, and that we are conquerors through Jesus, the Son of God. What course others may advise, I cannot say. I know what I shall do. I will lift my head, knowing Him who is in control of all things, including my destiny. I will praise Him that He trusts me enough to allow me to live in this present time, representing Him before a fearful world. I will seek His strength so that I will not dishonour Him, but that in all things I will stand firm in His grace declaring that He reigns even over this broken world. I will rejoice in the knowledge of His love, and continue doing that which He has appointed me to do, testifying to His wonderful grace. Amen.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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