3rd Last Sunday in the Church Year + Matthew 24:15-28
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
At the beginning of Matthew 24, Jesus tells shows His disciples the beautiful Jerusalem temple and says, “Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (24:2). Later they ask Him, “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (24:3). In the mind of the disciples, these two events would happen together. The temple, they imagined, would last until the Last Day. Jesus answers their two questions with one answer. He tells when the Temple will fall so that not one stone will be left upon another. Then immediately He tells them the sign of His second coming and the end of the age. Christ combines the destruction of the Temple and His second coming, not because the disciples think that’s the case, but to show them, and you, that as it will go for Jerusalem one day, it will go for the entire world.
When will the Temple fall? “When you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” An Abomination of Desolation had made an appearance already in the Jerusalem temple. In the days of the Maccabees it was an idol placed in the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. Idols are an abomination to the true God because they’re counterfeit gods who take glory that is His. The abomination that causes desolation Jesus foretells was probably a n idol placed in the temple by the Romans. Jesus says in Luke 21:20, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.” That’s the sign for when the Temple, and Jerusalem with it will be razed to the ground. It’s also the sign that tells the disciples, and anyone in Jerusalem who has believe the gospel at that point, to flee. “Flee to the mountains,” Jesus says. If you value your life, flee Jerusalem. Don’t take anything out of your house. Stuff can be replaced. If you’re in the field, don’t go back to get your garment. “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). Your life is the most important thing. Therefore heed Christ’s warning. Flee Jerusalem and save your life. That’s precisely what happened in 70 AD when the Romans arrived. They laid siege to Jerusalem, starving thousands. They finally tore the city down brick by brick. But those who believe in Christ remembered Christ’s words and fled and lived while the unbelieving Jews remained and perished.
Jesus then begins to answer the disciple’s second question, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” There will be great tribulation such as the world has never seen nor will ever see again. As awful as the fall of Jerusalem would be some forty years after Jesus’ ascension, the tribulation before His second coming would be far worse. Those days will be so bad, in fact, that the Lord will shorten them for the sake the elect. Jesus tells us of “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (24:7), but the far worse danger in the days before His return isn’t physical but spiritual. “Then in anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible even the elect.” In the terrible tribulation that will come upon the earth in the last days the biggest threats are false messiahs offering false promises of salvation and false prophets teaching false doctrines about the true God. Jesus’ counsel toward their message? “Do not believe it.” The coming of the Son of Man will be like lightning. He’ll “descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God,” St. Paul says in the Epistle lesson, and He will gather His Christians to Him.
Dear saints of God, we are living in these times. These are the days before Christ’s return. There are wars and rumors of war. There are “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” across the globe at any given time. To those who have ears to hear, these are all signs that Christ could return at any moment. But they aren’t what we should be concerned about. The chief danger that confronts you is not physical. It is spiritual. As it was in 70 A.D. in Jerusalem so it is now. There is an abomination of desolation, the antichrist, is seated in the temple of God, the church. It’s the Roman Papacy, exalting itself as Christ’s vicar on earth, teaching Christians that they must be connected to the Papacy if they want salvation, and teaching as doctrines of God the idolatrous ideas of men. The Lutheran Reformers saw that the Papacy checks all the boxes of the antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2 and it still does to this day. It seems all the more apropos now that the Roman church has allows Amazonian idols into her churches in recent weeks. We have already fled the earthly Jerusalem by leaving Rome and by not having communion with her.
But there is more than the abomination of desolation. There are false prophets and false christs. False prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing, preaching Christ, using the Scriptures, full of good intentions, but pointing people away from the true Christ and His completed work of salvation. Claiming to be Christian, they preach that God wants you to have your best life in this life. Claiming to speak for Christ, they snatch the sacrament away from the people, making Christ’s sacrament into a symbol or a spiritual presence by bastardizing Christ’s words. Our city here is full of churches claiming to teach the Bible and speak the same words as Scripture, but that malign the very words of Scripture and teach you to trust in your own good works, or that you have no sin, or to look to other mediators beside Christ, or that the Christian faith is primarily about social issues and volunteerism rather than daily repentance and faith in Christ. Then there are the false christs, some preaching salvation from a burning planet by their prescribed good works, others proclaiming that tolerance of sin is the highest virtue by which you will be saved. These are dark days in which we live, and Jesus’ words are most certainly true when He said, “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Love for God and love for neighbor are growing cold because love for and exaltation of self, sin, grows in our age.
But there are the words of Jesus. “See, I have told you beforehand.” Jesus tells you this so that you may recognize the days in which you live. He tells you all these things so that you might recognize the abomination of desolation, the false christs of the media and culture, and the false prophets of the churches falsely so called. He tells you all this so that recognizing them, you may flee from them and flee to Christ alone. Christ purely preached. Christ given to you in the Sacrament. Christ speaking directly to you in the absolution. Christ teaching you through His holy ministry. You have fled the world and the false church, and Christ has brought you here so that He might nourish your faith during these last days of this age. That is the most important thing in this life. Not food or drink. Not clothing or stuff. Nor comfort or honor. The gentiles seek after those things. The most important thing is your God-given faith in Christ. Having your faith nourished by Christ’s body and blood, your soul replenished with the pure gospel, and your conscience freed by His forgiveness spoken from the pastor as if from God Himself, that is how you will endure to the end, and “he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Grant this, Lord, unto us all. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen