Jesus and the future (Part 3)

Matthew 24:9-14 deals with a time called the Tribulation Age—a time of worldwide persecution of Christians. Jesus said,

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

This hard truth that Jesus spoke prophetically applies to Christians from His time until now, since many have faced persecutions for following Jesus. Indeed, Israel suffered throughout the history of the Old Testament, and the early Church did as well. The term “tribulation” is used to describe what Christians endured on earth in Revelation 7:14. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That’s why Jesus warned His apostles in John 15:18-20:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”

However, in the Tribulation Age, the opposition to Christians will intensify. Jesus clearly stated that following Him will be the cause of persecution, not gender, ethnicity, or income level, when He said, “You will be hated by all nations because of me.” Symbolically, Revelation depicts Satan as an enormous dragon attacking no one else but Christians in Revelation 12:17. It shows that the dragon “went off to make war against the rest of her (the Church’s) offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” That’s why Revelation 12:12 warns, “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” Just before Judgment Day, Satan will seek to separate people from God. His weapons will be persecution and false teaching.

One may wonder, “Why would God allow persecution of His own followers?” Tribulation is a means of purifying and refining Christians. It “proves” them, separating those who “play” church from those who are the Church. Regarding trials and end times, Daniel 12:10 says, “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” Likewise, 1 Peter 1:7 says, “These (trials) have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Sadly, even though we are called to rejoice in suffering because it strengthens our faith, Jesus foretold that many will fall away from the faith. Another term for this is apostasy. It makes sense why people will reject Christ: they hope to prevent further persecution. However, rather than face the wrath of man, these former Christians will face the wrath of God if they persist in unbelief. 1 Peter 4:16-19 both encourages and warns believers:

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Apostasy marked Old and New Testament believers. After seeing the ten northern tribes of Israel destroyed, Jeremiah lamented over the two southern tribes of Judah saying, “Why then have these people turned away? Why does Jerusalem always turn away? They cling to deceit; they refuse to return” (Jeremiah 8:5).

Even Jesus experienced it. John 6:66 records, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”   Likewise, a final apostasy will precipitate Christ’s return. Paul clearly stated that in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, when he wrote,

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for [that day will not come] until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.

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June 02, 2020

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