Before His death, Jesus and His disciples were able to go to the temple and worship. As they entered, the disciples of Jesus were marveling at the sheer majesty and size of the temple that was built by King Herod. Jesus then frightens the disciples by prophesying the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. Then the disciples ask Jesus a question in Matthew 24:3 (ESV) that would initiate what we now call the “Olivet Discourse”: “‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Notice the three concerns of the disciples: 1) when will the temple be destroyed, 2) when will your Kingdom come, and 3) what will be the end of the age.
Now I am a person who holds to the amillennial view of eschatology, but I am still not ready to consider myself a full preterist. I do strongly believe that a great deal of the Olivet Discourse has been fulfilled in the first century, but there are still many things that Jesus mentioned that will come to be fulfilled as well as many things that will continue until His return. The disciples understood that the Christ was to bring restoration, so when Jesus said that destruction would happen upon their people’s place of worship they had every right to be frightened, and I don’t believe that the Lord would make mention of the end times so coincidentally.
It interests me that the primary thing that the disciples were concerned with was the future of Israel. Jesus begins answering their questions, but not in the way in which they would expect. In Matthew 24:4-5 (ESV) the Scripture says, “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.'” Jesus directs the attention of the disciples away from Israel, and unto something that God had in mind since the beginning of time. God never intended to replace Israel with the Church, but God did in fact have the Church in mind even before the foundation of the world.
The reason why the Olivet Discourse was written was so that the Church would heed to the words of Jesus and apply it to their lives till the end. The Church should now take close attention as Jesus makes it very clear that He is worried about us, and our future condition. He warned us to not be led astray by false christs and false teachers, but He mentions that many will. It is interesting to me that Christ made haste to warn us about holding true to our doctrine before telling us of what we might consider greater threats and dangers.
In Matthew 24:6-8 (ESV) Jesus begins to frighten everyone with listening ears and discerning eyes, “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.” This should be very concerning. Moral humanity weeps when wars are fought, fears when a country invades one’s country, grieves when children go hungry, and marvels at natural destruction. Christ says there is a greater concern, and it is one that should be the greatest to all believers (especially if it is our Lord’s biggest concern).
So far, the Lord introduced us to His greatest worry: His children being led astray. Though the Lord knows all things, and He knows who is of the elect and who isn’t, this doesn’t mean He still doesn’t grieve. When He says that many will be led astray, this is to be of the same discomfort to us as it was to Him. I discovered a blog called “Left Christianity”. The tagline was equally disturbing: “From a fundamentalist, born-again Christian mom to an atheist mom. This is the story of my journey.”
In this blog, I discovered that the writer was not a person who left the faith because of Christian people that offended her. She was a a faithful, devoted Christian woman. She says that she was a regular attendee of Church (even midweek services), marked up her Bible with all kinds of colors, practiced complementarianism, home schooled her five children, and even taught a Sunday school class. Her reason for leaving the faith: one day, nothing made sense. She said in her about page, “Everything I’d believed about the universe was up for questioning and I didn’t like where it was leading me.” Her decision to leave Christianity, at least according to her, was not as gradual as it was abrupt. She just chose to become an atheist and change her view of the world very suddenly.
These kinds of stories scare me and leave me shaken (literally shaking), but it’s even worse when these kinds of stories are something that I witness personally. Before the end of 2016, I received a call from an old friend. He was one of many friends who loved theology and was passionate about becoming a pastor. We almost had no disagreements about biblical conclusions save for views on eschatology, limited atonement, and the extent of complementarianism. I thought this phone call would be a joyous one and that it would contain our usual theological discussions. Instead, he calls me to inform me of his leave from Christianity. He then tries to persuade me to leave with him. It reminded me of the phone call I had with him in which I preached the gospel to him and he converted. It was not a gradual change either, but it was abrupt (the same way in which the lady left the faith as well).
What does all of this have to do with the Olivet Discourse? The fact that through the history of Christianity, we will continue to see many be led astray and fall away. There is no other word that I can describe these events other than tragic, heart-rending, and dreadful. However, Jesus is not even done with his warning. Matthew 24:10-12 (ESV) returns us to the great concern, “‘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.'”
Before preaching on this subject to a youth, I asked a youth group to tell me what percentage would best describe the word many. The majority of the youth group gave responses such as: 90%, 80%, and 75%. That averages out to about 82%. According to the youth group, 82% of those who call themselves Christian will fall away. There are statistics that have risen in which it is believed that 2/3 of our Christian youth will either stop attending churches or leave the faith. Huffington Post releases yearly statistics on the lukewarm attitudes of Evangelicals and numbers of people leaving the faith. By the time you are done reading this article, there will be four people who declare Christ is no longer their savior.
The love of many will grow cold towards the end of the age. We are living in a time where there is great damage done to the validity of churches, the validity of pastors, and the validity of Christ’s words. Sadly, this was done systematically by Evangelical leaders, worship bands, and ‘revival’ movements that have only resulted in the destruction of many people’s faith over the strengthening of it. The minute we believed that we could make Christians through socialization, we declared that the Holy Spirit had no place in our ‘evangelistic’ efforts. The wide gates of hell are catching the fallen as we are left powerless, realizing in the end only the Holy Spirit could soften or harden the heart upon the Father’s command.
As for us, Jesus left us a word to live by as we witness the many that will leave Christianity in Matthew 24:13-14 (ESV), “‘But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.'”God now commands us to be strong in our faith that we might endure to the end. When we endure, we will be spared from damnation and taken into the wonderful Kingdom which is everlasting. He expects of us to likewise proclaim the message of the gospel, not just live it. It is by our testimony that the nations will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I pray that God will grant mercy and call them back to His hold again, as we preach the gospel and continue to reach out to them. I long for the Holy Spirit to do what the Father wills in the person I once called my friend (there is nothing else I can do). May God see our state and help us all.
Soli Deo Gloria.