9 “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.10 And then many will fall away[a] and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 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.
To his disciples’ question, what will be the sign…of the end of the age? Jesus gives an answer in a nutshell in vv. 4-14. The summary response is intended to prepare them (us!) practically for the end of time by providing us an overview of conditions leading up to the end. Here’s what you can expect going forward until the end.
First he said that, from that point forward until the end, we’ll need to be on our guard for a lot of falseness arising from within the church: many false Christ’s leading many astray. We’ll see later that he’ll repeat this warning in different forms. The message: “False teachers are not only the first problem in the church; they are the central problem in the church.” – Bruner
Also, Jesus cautioned his followers not to be unnerved by the fact that, during this period, many things simply won’t improve, even as the kingdom of God will quietly grow. Earthquakes and wars and such will go on as ever. In fact, for some reason only he understands, those uglies must still occur in order that the kingdom of God will come in its fullness.
Ok, all that we’ve already discussed. Le’ts move on:
The “then” at the beginning of v. 9 and repeated throughout I interpret as indicating two temporal things: 1) Jesus is still referring generally to the time between his giving this sermon and the end of the age: then. 2) And yet the repeated insertion of the word implies that things are progressing over time. Then this, then this, then this…
So, what else can the followers of Christ expect to encounter until he wraps things up? In short, more trouble. Mucho trouble. And on the strength of the “then”: more and more trouble. Troubles from without: Arrests. Executions. Being universally despised.
And just as Jesus foretold, when you survey the history of Christ’s followers in the 20 centuries after this sermon, you do find a pattern of persecution against the church. The form that persecution took has ranged anywhere from being the subject of society’s dim annoyance, to living under governments that have an official program of oppression. An era of good feeling from the world to the church should be received as an anomaly! Hey, thanks, wasn’t expecting that.
Reader beware: certain temptations arise simply on being told that we’ll be universally hated. We’ll be tempted to blame the fallout after our own foolish behavior on persecution. We’ll be tempted to develop an array of complexes, especially the martyr’s complex. Generally, we’ll be tempted to go looking for trouble.
Nonetheless, apart from what the church brings on itself, from the world there will be harassment driven by ill will. And as this age winds down to its conclusion, there will be more and more of this. Prepare yourself, church.
Both the gospels and church history suggest that the world’s hostility, at least on the surface. won’t be a reaction to the church’s supposed high-mindedness or decency. Rather, the church from ancient times has regularly faced the accusation of odium generis humani, the ‘hatred of the human race.’ The church that stays true to the name of Christ will likely be denounced for its evil: intolerance, bigotry, subversive ideas, disloyalty to the powers, repression of children, etc etc.
As antipathy against his followers grows, we’re not surprised when Jesus tells us that many in the church will fall away. We’ll look at “troubles from within” next time.