I’ve spent a lot of years submerged in evangelical Christian culture. I never actually wore a t-shirt that said Get Right Or Get Left, but that’s just because I splurged for the sweatshirt that said My Foot Is On The Rock And My Name Is On The Roll. No, I’m not joking – I teased up my permed hair and wore that sweatshirt with my pegged jeans. And I can’t imagine why I wasn’t asked out on more dates.
As a teenager, I saw the movie that was designed to terrify everyone at the thought of not being raptured — the emotional horror film for the kids who weren’t allowed to watch actual horror movies. And after that movie, I had the recurring nightmares – even though I’d squared away with Jesus long before. Like most Baptist teens of my day, I knew all the words to the most frightening Contemporary Christian song of all time, Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”
For most of my life, I’ve been told that we’re probably in the end times because of how awful things are in the world. Of course, as I’ve studied the Bible and history, I’ve learned that since the beginning of Christianity, Christians have thought the exact same thing. In 2nd Thessalonians, Paul had to address this situation. Tradition teaches that many of these early Christians expected Jesus’ return so imminently that they quit their jobs and sat around waiting on Him. Some historians believe that early Christians fled Jerusalem in the late 60s just before the 70 AD destruction in the city. The story is they hid out in caves in the foothills near the Jordan River waiting for Jesus’ second coming. So the idea that Jesus is coming back any second has been around since about five minutes after He ascended into the clouds.
I’m not saying we aren’t living in the end times. And I’m not saying we are. I honestly don’t know. And if I understand the Bible correctly, none of us really knows. (And none of us really knows with a hundred percent certainty how things are going to pan out at the second coming. Some people have some guesses based on their interpretation of scripture that isn’t super cut and dried. It’s one of the things that I am content leaving as a mystery and trusting that God is a good God and I’m not, so I don’t need to know everything.)
Anyway – if you’re curious about the end times, you’re in good company. One day, Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, and his disciples came and asked him to give them the signs of the end of the age. So Jesus spoke about a false Christ and wars and rumors of wars and famines and earthquakes. Jesus warned them about the persecution of believers. He told his disciples that when persecution came, many would turn away from the faith and betray each other and hate each other and false prophets would rise up and deceive people. Then in Mathew 24, verses 12 and 13, Jesus said, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
In all the warnings about the end times I’ve heard in sermons, one thing I never heard (until around 13 years ago from a progressive Christian) was Jesus’ prediction – when wickedness increases, the love of most will grow cold.
Jesus knows us so well. Doesn’t He? How many times, when He walked on earth, did he look straight into a person’s soul and address the heart issue? He knows us. He knows how quickly fear and stressful situations cause us to turn on each other. As wickedness and evil increase around us, our natural inclination is to protect ourselves. Our love for self increases and our love for others falls to the background. It’s our natural tendency. And Jesus knows it.
Some conservative, evangelical Christians believe we are in the end times right now. I can sure see why people might think that. Scary leaders are amassing nuclear capabilities and weapons. Icebergs are breaking apart and floating dangerously close to towns. Hurricanes breathe destruction across our country. Cyclones blow people from their homes, displacing people all over the globe in waves of climate migration. Wildfires rage. A pandemic has afflicted the entire world. Earthquakes and floods and famines fill our news each week. Believers on both wings of the political spectrum can point to false teachers on the opposing side. Divisiveness fractures across the fault lines of religion, denomination, race, class, gender, culture.
Wickedness increases. Fear responds. Love grows cold.
This is a cycle I see repeated and repeated and repeated in this country among people who claim to follow Jesus.
The increasing wickedness causes people to be afraid of anyone who is different. Someone must be to blame. That’s what we’re supposed to do when bad things or uncomfortable things happen, right? Blame someone. And differences feel threatening. So we should be afraid of them. When faced with people who look different or sound different, fear builds a wall. When faced with people whose family dynamics are different or people who worship differently, fear stakes its claim, its rightful place, and pushes others to the margins. Fear seeks to control.
But perfect love casts out fear. Love doesn’t insist on its own way. It isn’t resentful. It doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing. Love bears all things and believes all things. Love hopes all things and endures all things. Love isn’t self-seeking.
Love won’t allow us to erect walls of self-preservation. Because loving others means wanting the same goodness for them that I want for myself. Perfect love pursues justice and equity. The greatest love lays downs its own life for others.
Wickedness will be rampant everywhere, and the love of most will grow cold. But the one who stands firm, the one who endures in love, will be saved. The greatest commandments – love God with everything you’ve got and love other people just as much as you love yourself.
Are we in the end times? I don’t know. But as bad things happen and evil abounds, rather than running to the foothills and hiding in caves or quitting our work and sitting around waiting on Jesus, rather than throwing up our hands and saying, “Jesus, come quickly,” I want to remain in the warmth of love. When the love of most grows cold, I want to stand firm until the end. Loving God, loving people. Doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly with my God.