Summary: There is a danger of prematurely imagining that we are in ‘End Times’. There is also a danger of failing to recognize ‘End Times’ when they are on us.
There’s a great family film called ‘The Princess Bride’. It’s definitely worth watching if you enjoy a romance with lots of action and humour. A farmhand, Westley, is in love with a beautiful young woman called Buttercup. A Sicilian named Vizzini kidnaps Buttercup; Westley, wearing a mask, goes in pursuit, catches up with Vizzini, and challenges him to a battle of wits. He takes two goblets, hides them behind his back and tells Vizzini that he has put a deadly poison – iocane – in one.
‘All right’ Westley asks. ‘Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right and who is dead.’
Vizzini thinks it through. He suspects Westley wants him to drink from one goblet so he chooses the other. He drinks from the goblet in front of Westley – and dies.
At one point, Jesus’ disciples ask him, ‘What will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?’
The first thing Jesus does is to warn 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.’ Jesus then goes on to tell them not to pay any attention to some things. ‘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 but the beginning of the birth pains.’
Conflict, famine and earthquakes have happened all through the ages. They are ‘but the beginning of birth pains’ – the time when Jesus’ kingdom becomes a reality. We should not take such events as indications that ‘End Times’ are imminent.
When it comes to the subject of ‘End Times’, one mistake is to imagine that we are in ‘End Times’ when we are not. The opposite mistake is to fail to recognize that we are in ‘End Times’ when we are.
Every commentator I have looked at in relation to this passage warned of the first mistake – of prematurely imagining that we are in ‘End Times’. But like Vizzini in Princess Bride, it’s possible, in our effort to avoid one mistake, to make the opposite one.
After Westley had set Buttercup free, she said, ‘To think – all that time it was your cup that was poisoned!’
But in fact, she was wrong. ‘They were both poisoned’, Westley tells her. ‘I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.’
The only way for Vizzini to survive was to not drink from either goblet. As we look at Jesus’ answer, we want to avoid both wrong goblets: prematurely imagining that we are in ‘End Times’, and failing to recognize ‘End Times’ when they are on us.
Have a good rest of the day!