If Matthew 24 was the only part of the Bible that we had, then you probably wouldn’t ask Jesus for directions!
His disciples asked him for a sign so that they know when he would return and when the end of this age would come.
Jesus replied that many would come claiming to be the Messiah and that there would be wars, famine and earthquakes.
I have always thought that Jesus’ answer was strange because all of these signs are things that will happen again and again and so they cannot be used to pinpoint when Jesus’ return.
You could say that in the history of signs to know exactly when something will happen that these could be among the very worst ever!
It dawned on me recently that Jesus was giving signs to say Why he was returning rather than When he was returning.
Jesus refers to these signs as birth pains. In a similar way that contractions increase in frequency and pain until a child is born, these signs will increase in intensity until Jesus returns to make all things new
These signs or birth pains are all things that won’t exist in the new heaven and the new earth that Jesus will create. They are things that we all hate! After all, no one wants to live in a world that contains violence and pain and one day we won’t have to.
The disciples ask When Jesus will return and instead Jesus tells them Why he needs to return and make everything new.
He even makes is clear that he isn’t answering their question: “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (v36)
I have been asked many times why God allows suffering.
It does seem confusing to many of us that although God has the power to stop all suffering instantly that he doesn’t seem to intervene.
You could say that the only effective way to remove all suffering from the world is to create a world that is free from natural disasters which contains people who don’t want to inflict suffering on others.
When humanity turned from God and sin entered the world everything became spoilt and the signs that Jesus described began. The Bible talks about the effect that sin has on the physical world and the way it is ‘groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ (Romans 8.20-22). I believe that natural disasters are a result of living in a fallen and broken world and that when Jesus creates a new earth that it will be free from earthquakes, famine, tsunamis and the like.
In comparing the signs to painful contractions Jesus is showing that he can see how much pain that these things cause and so you might be left wondering why he doesn’t return now and make a everything new.
The answer I think is in v14
“The Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”
It breaks God’s heart to see the suffering in the world but it also breaks his heart to know that there will be people who won’t spend eternity with him on the new earth that he will create.
God wants the good news to be shared throughout the world so that everyone has the opportunity to turn to him. His only choice to stop suffering in the meantime would be to take control of people’s lives and to make them behave a certain way. God doesn’t do this because he wants us to obey him out of love and not because he makes us.
For God to be consistent, he would have to force people to stop everything that causes pain. We would expect him to stop killing and violence but God would stop many more things. God is everywhere and he sees everything and he sees the pain caused by many things that we might consider inconsequential.
Once, God did come to show us how to live. He became human and he walked among us a Jesus Christ and humanity responded by nailing him to a cross.
Ironically, in the very act of people trying to stop Jesus from showing us what a world without suffering would look lie, Jesus became a sacrifice to open the way for people to have the opportunity to live with him one day in a world without suffering.
When Jesus returns and he takes his people to live with him, the Bible says that we will be changed and that we will become like Jesus because we will see him as he really is (1 John 3.2). In that moment of change we will cease to be people who have the capacity to inflict pain and suffering on each other Jesus makes us new.
This changed world which will be full of changed people is described in Revelation 21:
3I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” 5And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21)
I may not know When Jesus will return but I know Why and I am looking forward to him making everything new so that we can live in a world without suffering and pain.
The great news is that Jesus offers everyone the opportunity to join him in paradise and he gave his live on the cross to open the door to make it possible for us to be there with him. All we need to do is to turn to and follow Jesus, expressing sorrow for the sinful things we have done and asking for his forgiveness. When we do this, the presence of God comes to live within us and he begins his work of transforming our lives into something more beautiful.
One day Jesus will make everything new but in the meantime he is practicing on us!
This music slideshow is a great reminder of why Jesus will return.