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"They asked Him, 'Teacher, when is this going to happen? What clue will we get that it's about to take place?'
"He said, Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, 'I'm the One,' or, 'The end is near.' Don't fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don't panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end.'" Luke 21:7-9 (The Message).
Every generation has its doomsday prophets and its reasons to believe that the end is near. Wars are one of them. But, if we are honest, has there ever been a time when there have been no conflicts in the world? Wars are not so much a sign of the immanence of Jesus' return as a reminder of the nature of man. Jesus called it "routine history".
Greed for money and power has driven men and nations into conflict since the beginning of time, from strife in the family to the two world wars of the twentieth century and the localized tribal struggles that result in genocide in between.
A far more subtle problem is what Jesus called 'doomsday deceivers." They are often unwittingly a tool of Satan. His most potent weapon is deception, and his tactic, distraction. These false prophets arouse fear through their Biblical misinterpretations and draw our attention away from our Master. They draw a following by their plausible explanations about what is happening in the world.
Jesus' earnest counsel: 'Don't pay any attention to them.' Instead He gave us His take on the 'end of the world', watch and be ready! There is no question about the fact of His return. It's the 'when' bit that bothers us but, if we heed His counsel, when He is to return should be of less importance than whether we are prepared no matter when it happens.
'Watch' does not mean resign your job, leave home and sit on a mountain waiting for Jesus to come. Jesus told us how to watch -- be faithfully carrying out His instructions when He returns. Don't get lazy or sloppy. You'll be caught off guard.
Be ready does not mean holing up underground with enough provisions for a siege! It sounds funny but some of the latest books and movies portraying the end of the world give us that impression.
We have to turn to the Bible for answers. Since the Bible is the story of a betrothal and a wedding, the answer to the question, 'How can I be ready?' is found in the imagery of Jewish wedding culture. I cannot go into detail here except to focus on the purpose of marriage and the interval between the betrothal and the wedding ceremony.
God intended marriage as a picture of the unity in the Trinity, and His purpose for creating man - that we would be one with Him. God's plan for marriage is expressed in three words (Genesis 2:24), "leave...cleave...one". Union of man and woman in marriage mirrors the essence of God's image - "The Lord our God, the Lord is one."
The purpose of the betrothal was to separate the bride from all other men in preparation for the wedding when she was joined to the bridegroom to become one with him. The interval between betrothal and the wedding had two purposes; the groom prepared the bridal chamber and the bride prepared herself.
Her preparation was reflected in the feasts God commanded His people to celebrate every year. They were a prophetic picture of Messiah, the Bridegroom who would win His bride by self-sacrifice, and the bride, who would make herself ready to become one with Him. In the interval between Pentecost, the last of the spring feasts and the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah) the people were called to do three things:
1. Tephillah - prayer, not asking God for things but changing their awareness from self-awareness to God-awareness.
2. Teshuvah - repentance, not from sin but returning to their original state of goodness; in other words, changing the way they thought about themselves to think God's thoughts about them.
3. Tsidaqah - acts of righteousness, practising generosity because it is the right thing to do as a duty towards God. Whatever we have has been given to us by God and we have a duty to share our resources because God has been generous to us.
Now consider this Scripture: "Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
'Hallelujah! For our Lord God almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad And give Him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and His bride has made herself ready.
Fine line, bright and clean was given her to wear.'
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Revelation 19:6-8 (NIV).
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