Those hearing Jesus’ words at that time were given a sign when to leave Jerusalem. Our Lord says in Luke chapter 21, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. History shows this happened in the summer of 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman armies. There was time for the faithful to flee before, literally, all hell broke loose on the holy city.
Those hearing Jesus’ words today are given a sign of when to flee. This time the fleeing that must happen is not a physical fleeing. The sign of something yet to come is in verse 27: For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus suddenly comes. Nothing should get in the way of your preparations to flee everything that gets in the way of Jesus and His coming…His coming now and His ultimate coming on Judgment Day.
What is often forgotten in any consideration of the end times is the fact that the end times have already begun. Saint John writes in his first epistle, Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. Many antichrists have come because Jesus first has come. The closer to the time of Christ’s final appearing, the more antichrists will appear to fool, if possible, even the elect.
History shows over the last 2,000 years that violence against Christians becomes greater and more violent as Judgment Day draws near. We’re blessed in our country not to have to undergo persecution for what we believe, but consider our fellow Christians in other countries, especially those countries where Christianity is a distinct minority, and how much they suffer for the sake of the Gospel. The harrowing pictures on television and the Internet of Christians willingly giving their heads rather than deny Christ stick too well in our mind’s eye. Unbelief is never shy. Psalm Two says, The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
The threat of persecution may not seem like a reality among us here and now, but the abundance of false prophets and false teaching is certainly a reality among us even now. One of the joys of being a confessing Lutheran is the knowledge that what you hear from this pulpit is the pure Word of God without the injection of man’s opinions and thoughts into the Word. Yet not every pulpit is pure, and not all who write or speak in the media are pure preachers and teachers of Jesus Christ.
A portion of Lutherans in the world this past week came to agreement with the Roman Catholic Church on matters of church and ministry. This agreement reminds us of the sham agreement on how we are saved by God’s grace in Christ that was announced in 1999. It was an agreement that was understood two different ways by two different parties. What was important was the word “agreement”. That would be like one person saying “pancakes” while another hears it as “French toast”, yet both parties agree they said the same thing. No wonder Jesus exhorts you to WATCH. You watch not only for His appearing, but also for those who preach the Word, to see whether or not what they preach is pure and true against the pure, clear fountain of Israel that is Holy Scripture.
Knowing what to flee is one thing. Knowing where to flee is another matter. Our heavenly Father always provides a refuge for His children. For Noah and his family it was an ark. For Lot and his family fleeing Sodom it was Zoar. For those fleeing Jerusalem in 70 A.D. it was Pella in the region of the Decapolis in modern-day Jordan.
Where is your ark, your Zoar, and your Pella? The Lord God Himself is your refuge, as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains are moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. The Lord in His Word, in His Body and Blood, in baptismal water, and in the comfort of absolution…these places are your refuge from the abomination of desolation. These are your mountains, your cities of refuge, where your confidence is found. On these mountains you find your cleft in the rock, the wounds of Jesus Christ that bleed forgiveness and life for you, as it is written in the Song of Solomon: O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
Granted you are not given to flee every earthly relationship and set up your own personal monastery of one. But you are given to flee from the world’s attractions and allurements and find your refuge in Christ and His gifts. These words of the day of wrath and woe yet to come serve as an excellent way to end one church year and begin another. The watching for the end of days flows directly into the beginning of watching for the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ according to the flesh. In Christ and His wounds you find your final confidence to stand before the many antichrists. You have hope because you have Christ, and Christ has you. Behold, He comes soon. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.