Last week, my family and I spent a few days in Homer camping with some friends from Fairbanks. We had a great time despite the incessant rain that soaked us for all but one solitary day of our trip. Our boys always get excited about camping, so we have to be careful about when we tell them about an upcoming trip lest we end up answering the same question over and over again leading up to the day of departure. Anyone with kids knows exactly what I'm talking about...
That's what made this trip a little interesting. The night before we left, an alert posted to each of our phones with a tsunami warning for a large potion of coastal Alaska, including Homer. Apparently a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck, sending numerous coastal towns into emergency mode. As I read the original article in the Anchorage Daily News, it wasn't immediately apparent whether we were going to have a trip to Homer. It wasn't until a few hours later that the tsunami warning was lifted and our epic camping trip was back on.
That little event, however, sparked some questions in my mind. By happenstance, the warning came a day before we left for Homer. But it could have just as easily come while we were there. What would we have done when the alert hit our phones? Where would we have gone when the tsunami sirens sounded throughout the town? Would we have been prepared had a wave actually come?
I don't usually think about these things when I drive into a place like Homer. Normally, I think about finding my campsite, getting to the beach to explore the tidepools, and deciding on which flavor of ice cream to buy at the spit. What I don't think about is where I need to go in case there's a tsunami. Had a wave actually hit, my family and I would not have been prepared.
Thankfully, there was no tsunami this time around. We made our trip, camped, tidepooled, ice-creamed, and then struck camp in the rain...always the best part of a camping trip.
If we were all being honest, I'd expect that most of us walk through everyday life with an attitude similar to mine while driving into Homer. We know our plans, we have our goals, and we just want to have a little fun. When it comes to the broader perspective of being a believer in this world, we probably tend to be somewhat willfully ignorant. We know we should pay attention more, be more alert, and be prepared for what's to come, but chances are our plans will carry out just as we expect.
When Jesus spoke with his disciples shortly before his arrest, he told them something they weren't expecting. He told them the time was coming when the temple in Jerusalem would be torn down so that "there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down" (Matt 24:2). This news came as a surprise to the disciples, prompting them to ask him about when this would take place and what kinds of signs would mark the end of the age and the coming of the Son of Man.
To this, Jesus began to describe the signs that would characterize the times leading up to his return:
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 rumors 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.
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 then many will fall away and betray one another and hate 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.
The litany of pre-coming signs are sobering: wars and rumors thereof, escalating international tensions and conflicts, famines, earthquakes (and plagues, according to Luke 21:11). Add to this the steady increase of persecution against believers, as well as apostasy among believers. These are the pre-coming signs of the end of the age.
Look around. Read the news. Feel the earth shake. Hear the tsunami warnings. All these things are happening. We're in a global pandemic. Earthquakes are shaking the ground. Tensions seem to rise with exponential frequency between major superpowers. Mayhem and violence fill streets of practically every major U.S. city. Christian...the signs are around us. The world is going through its "birth pains" (Matt 24:8), preparing for the final days when the world will endure a tribulation unlike any it has ever seen (Matt 24:21).
In one sense, we're given comfort and relief by Jesus' words when he says, "These are but the beginning of birth pains" (Matt 24:8), and "See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet" (Matt 24:6), 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" (Luke 21:9). We are, after all, living in the last days (1 Tim 4:1), which began with the death of Christ and continue on through the church age. There have been hundreds of wars in the 2000 years since Jesus ascended. The world has seen countless deaths, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and political uprisings. These are all the realities of the birth pains leading up to the final events of this age.
On the other hand, we can't shove off these things as just 'everyday events.' Doing so would undermine everything Jesus told us. They mean something. They point to something real. They warn us and remind us of what's coming. We can't walk through life willfully ignorant. We have to see what's really going on.
Christians in this country have been accustomed to living a relaxed life for far too long. The freedoms we've enjoyed under the U.S. Constitution have allowed us to slumber and sleep. Only now are we beginning to stir awake, groggy, wondering what's going on, and shocked to discover that the nation and culture which for so long was influenced by our faith is beginning to turn against us.
Should we be shocked by this? The answer to that question depends on whether you're walking alert or willfully ignorant. Informed by God's Word, none of this should surprise us. In fact, we should have been waiting for it to happen rather than surprised by it when the tsunami sirens began to blare.
But you want to know what the most compelling warning Jesus has for us in his Olivet discourse? Here it is:
"See that no one leads you astray" (Matthew 24:4).
All of this turmoil and tension and fear and uncertainty opens up opportunities for false Christs and false saviors to exploit. They will come as church and religious leaders. They will rise up as politicians. They will play on the world's fears. They will claim to hold the solution to the worlds problems. As events continue to escalate, they will prepare the way for the final man of lawlessness, the individual who through diplomacy and soft coercion will unite the entire world together into a global empire which will then turn itself decidedly against Christ, thus initiating the final stages leading to the end of the age...the Great Tribulation (2 Thess 2:3, 4; Rev 13:14, 15).
Christ's ultimate concern in speaking to his disciples about the end of the age is that they would remain steadfast and unmovable in their faith. He wanted them to see past the deceptive smiles of false Christs and savior politicians and recognize that their agendas all lead to the same place: the persecution of believers (Matt 24:9-12). His message to them was simple...
"But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13).
So I'll ask this one simple question: are you willfully ignorant? Do you live from day to day with the expectation that what's happening is normal and will resolve itself in the end? That it doesn't really mean anything and that it doesn't ultimately lead to something greater? That whatever crises and trials Christ spoke of as coming in the future may be real, but are a long-shot from happening in your lifetime? That you don't really need to know where to go and what to do when the tsunami sirens sound because chances are your trip will go just as expected?
It's that kind of person who is susceptible to the deceptions of our times. Driven by fear and anxiety, they will follow whoever rises up promising solutions to the problems of the world. They will follow after the worldviews and doctrines and ideologies of the day, and be swept up by every political movement that seems to hold the key to happiness and lasting peace. They are the ones who will "fall away and betray one another and hate one another" (Matt 24:10). They are the ones who do not endure to the end.
Ponder Christ's words today with sober humility and personal reflection:
“But 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)