As Matthew 24 opens, Jesus and His disciples are leaving the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was important to Jewish identity and religious life. Its gold-leafed dome stood high on Mt Zion and was visible from miles away. When Jews made religious pilgrimages, the temple dome shined in the sunlight like a beacon leading them to God through the fog and storms of life. The Temple was the physical representation of their relationship to God. Many Christians have ties to church facilities where God's presence has been felt, especially in rites of passage like baptisms, Sunday School, confirmations, mission trip commissions, Christmas Eve and Easter services, weddings, and funerals. As Jesus and his disciples leave the Temple, they call Jesus' attention to the buildings on the temple mount. The Temple was important to them, and they tied it to the kingdom of God that Jesus announced. We could say the same thing about our church's facilities and celebrate its place in God's kingdom.
In the gospels, Jesus is known for turning religious sensibilities upside down. His response to the disciples' reverence for the Temple was unexpected, if not unsettling. He said, "Do you see all these things? Truly, I tell you, not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down." Jesus prophesied that the Temple would be destroyed. It is hard to imagine Jesus saying this about the Temple. It would be hard to imagine Him saying this about church buildings that occupy special places in our memories and hearts.
The disciples were unsettled by Jesus' prophecy about the destruction of the Temple. Later, while on the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked Jesus when the destruction of the Temple would happen. Their question was followed by another question about the sign of Jesus' coming and the end of an age.
Jesus offered signs of his coming:
There will be deceivers. Our protection against deception is to know and study scripture together. Those who stray from this tactic are subject to predation.
There will be wars and rumors of war. Look at the news and consider the potential for a total breakdown of economies and societies.
There will be famines. Observe the ever-changing cycles of climate on crop production. Observe the shifts of farm and food processing ownership to multinational corporations. Multinational corporations aren't bound to the laws of any single nation-state.
There will be pestilence or widespread diseases. Pestilence and its mutations aren't new. What's new are the specialized and lethal designs of genetic engineering with weaponized intent.
There would be earthquakes. Old earthquake zones aren't newsworthy, but changes are being observed in regions that haven't been active, and the magnitude of power in existing zones is expected to increase.
There will be persecutions, killings, and hatred of God's people. Jews have known persecution and genocide, as have Christians. Christians are the most persecuted people group on the planet. If you have doubts, research this assertion.
Many Christians will fall away and join in accusing and persecuting those who follow Jesus. Those who fall away will take offense to the gospel and be offended by those who hold to the gospel.
False prophets will arise and lead many astray from Christ.
Lawlessness will increase, and love will grow cold.
As followers of Jesus, we are faced with two temptations. One temptation is to have no hope of Jesus' return because the world has always been a mess. You might read the comments in the list and think that the "evidence" sounds like conspiracy theories! The other temptation is to become obsessed with building a case for each sign. You might read the comments in the list and be grateful for the proof!
In verse 14, Jesus holds our faces in His hands and looks into our eyes to say: “Mind the signs but stay the course. Look to me, keep the faith, and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom.” Now more than ever, the world needs the gospel of the Kingdom of God. More than ever, our church must reclaim its biblical mandate to engage in gospel work. Gospel work cannot happen apart from reading the scripture together, loving one another, loving our neighbor in a way that we earn the right to be heard, and being able to profess the hope of Christ within us.