There is a noticeable sense of urgency about  the New Testament. Most of the NT was  written with the storm clouds of AD 70  looming up. The Jewish state was about to go, the  Mosaic order was being wrapped up.

The epistles foreshadowed Nero’s insane rule  that would traumatise the ecclesias as a roaring lion  seeking to devour. Those fiery persecutions wrought  by Nero and his successors would soon bring a reign  of terror, a literal fiery trial and the mass execution  of believers. Even the apostles Paul, Peter and John  would not be spared. Those tribulations must have  been so shattering to the faithful, yet a great test of  their faith. No wonder the coming of the Lord figures  so largely in their prayers and hopes; “Brethren,  the time is short”, “The night is far spent, the day is  at hand”, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”.

In the Olivet prophecy the Lord gave his disciples  stark warnings about the imminence of AD  70 and the signs they should look for to know that  the end was nigh. The approach of AD 70 brought  much suffering upon the ecclesias, besides wars,  earthquakes, famines and plagues. They would  endure persecution, false teachers, false messiahs  and betrayal (Luke 21:8,12,16). Those things must  have been so disappointing and perplexing, but they  characterised the testing end times.

Our end times

We ought not to marvel that in these last days, we are  assailed by some of the same distressing conditions,  the times of trouble, the fear and uncertainty of the  world and an array of unique challenges. We also  pray that the days may be shortened (Matt 24:22).

We note the words, “the love of many shall wax  cold”. We have felt the chilling winds of iniquity  blowing over us. There are many examples, including  the icy breeze of humanism, with its gospel of  self, the gospel of equality and the tide of feminist  activism. The world no longer has a moral base or  any respect for divine values, with long-held moral  values being openly challenged. Today we have  sceptics and atheists who confuse and destroy the  faith of our young people. We are under enormous  pressure from technology. Thirty years ago mobile  phones were unheard of, ‘the net’ was for fishing  and ‘the web’ was for spiders! Now we have iPads,  Facebook and YouTube, which give instant access  to every form of entertainment and social networking,  while wasting so much time in the process.  Everything unprofitable is instantly accessible and  the pressure to keep up is immense. Even the use  of hard copy books is threatened and reading is  becoming a lost art. Evil is portrayed as good and  good as evil. Truly iniquity abounds. Our challenge  is to “endure unto the end”, knowing that those that  do “shall be saved” (v13). We are to remain steadfast,  even if others stray.

The series of parables in Matthew 24 and 25  were among the last which the Lord gave, and all  are characterised by the warning to “be ready” (v44;  25:10). The Lord was desperate to get this message  across because he knew that iniquity would abound  and that many would be affected.

Words written just for us!

Only twice in the Apocalypse does the Lord take  the pen from John’s hand to personally write his own  verses. Revelation 16:15 is a verse for today because  it pinpoints our historic position; “Blessed is he that  watcheth, and keepeth his garments”. Jesus Christ  concludes his personal message with the threefold  warning that he knew we would need (22:7,12,20).

The last vital words of our Lord are “Surely I  come quickly (suddenly)”. It is not the speed of  his return but its unexpected timing that we are  warned of. The meaning is absolutely clear – don’t  be caught asleep or unprepared. The Lord knew that  some would not be ready for his sudden appearance;  for them his sacrifice would have been in vain. The  Lord spoke of the days of Noah and Lot (24:38–39)  and the common theme was, “they knew not until  …” They ignored God and scorned Noah until the  rain bucketed down.

Do we read the signs?

Today our world is “willingly ignorant” of the food  that came in Noah’s day and of God’s intentions to once more mightily shake the earth. The effect of  this ignorance has been devastating. Some we have  loved are no longer with us. This age is like the days  of Noah and Lot all over again. The signs are very  evident; twisted values about marriage, society’s acceptance  of the sins of Sodom, selfishness, violence,  materialism, moral defiance and an obsession with  all things material.

The parable from Matthew 24:42–51 prompts  us to ask ourselves, “What kind of servant are we?”  The Lord said, “Watch therefore: for ye know not  what hour your Lord doth come” (v42). What do  we watch for? What are the big picture signs that  have been around for some time?

We see Israel, the fig tree nation, blossoming  and dwelling securely (Luke 21:30–32). We have  seen Jerusalem 45 years in Jewish hands, and Israel  is now 64 years old. Jesus said that this generation  would not pass away until all things are fulfilled.  Some of our members who saw the birth of the  state of Israel in 1948 are still with us. As they age  and their ranks thin, they are walking witnesses to  how little time we may have left.

Consider the impending financial meltdown.  Men’s hearts are failing them for fear. Think of the  impact upon us if economies were to collapse.  Russia was in chaos 20 years ago but now has  returned to the world stage with economic and  military muscle. Led by an aggressive Putin, it is  now poised to have a strangle-hold on Europe  through its oil and gas supplies. In addition we see  a nuclear Iran, an unstable Pakistan and Islamic  militancy erupting in African states.

The Lord said, “When these things begin to  come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads;  for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28). We  must watch lest we become caught up in the spirit of  this age and blinded to the reality of our times (v34).

Who is a faithful and wise servant?

The Lord will come at a time that is not obvious.  The warning “they knew not” permeates this parable  (Matt 24:36,39,42–44). We know that the Lord  will come as a thief in the night (1 _ ess 5:2). That  day will come as a surprise; an interruption to the  normality of our daily life.

The Lord then gives two parables to answer his  question, “Who then is a faithful and a wise servant?”  (Matt 24:45). The parable of the Faithful and  Evil Servants (v45–51) is about waiting faithfully.  The parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1–13) is about  having sufficient spiritual wisdom to withstand  these evil times. We note that both parables give  us a complete contrast in attitudes and outcomes.  There is no middle ground or second chance here.

The evil servant is the one who inwardly gives  up waiting (v48). At first his doubts are not obvious,  but his actions eventually reveal he has stopped  doing the positive things for others that he was  commissioned to do. Two things inevitably happen.  He damages his fellow servants and starts to become  part of the world. He no longer heals and gives, but  selfishly takes. Ultimately he gets the reward of a  split personality – he is cut asunder! (v51).

The good servant continues to do what he has  been asked to do, caring and nourishing Christ’s  brethren (Matt 25:45). In the household all of us  have been given this responsibility. The Lord uses  an interesting word translated “household.” It is  therapia (Gk) from which our word “therapy” comes.  It indicates that the ecclesia must be a place of care,  relief, healing and the binding up of wounds. We  are to gladly serve, inspire, educate, give hope and  joy, restore and heal. This is what is meant by our  Lord’s words, “giving them meat in due season”. It  has been correctly said that the ‘ecclesia is a hospital  for wounded souls, and not a museum for saints.’

The parable of the Ten Virgins has a similar  focus but with an emphasis on having extra “oil”.  The key to success for the five wise virgins was their  application to the mind of God, being ready for all  occasions and able to withstand a long delay. The  warning for us today is the same – to watch and to  be ready (v13).

How then can we be faithful and wise stewards  in these difficult times? Principally, we are to keep  up our spiritual intake! We must have that extra  oil. It is so easy for our interest in the things of the  Spirit to fall away. Let us remember the words of  Paul, “I commend you to God and to the word of his  grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you  an inheritance among all them which are sanctified”  (Acts 20:32). This means a daily spiritual intake,  attendance at Bible classes, reading the works of  the Truth which will enable us to provide “meat” in  due season to others. We need to test the winds of  change, to face the challenges of the sceptics, and  even the fiery darts of some who have left the Faith.

Let’s also keep life simple. Our age would deceive us by telling us that we must keep up with  the latest and the best, but all these things come  with the added cost of time and worry. The cares of  this life and the ‘stuff in the house’ can distract us  from what really matters. A man’s life consists not  in the abundance of the things he possesses. The  Scriptures repeatedly tell us that we cannot serve  God and mammon, that we must be content with  such things as we have and we must be thankful.  Godliness with contentment is great gain. Let’s try  living with less ‘stuff’. It is actually a great relief.

Let’s be encouraging!

As time goes on we are going to need each other  more, especially if hard economic times hit us. Even  now there are many suffering from the frailty of the  flesh, or distressing family problems. Others are trying  to cope with loneliness whilst some are assailed  with doubts and confusion. We need to rekindle  hospitality and spend profitable time together as  true friends should do. We don’t ‘drop in’ as we used  to. Somehow we have become insular.

We need to be more open about our feelings,  and if hurting inside, seek much-needed encouragement.  In these difficult days we are faced with  many perplexities, with changes to the way things  have traditionally been done. So let’s be encouraging!  Let us focus on edifying one another. It’s easy  to be critical and to wish for things to be as they  were in the past. Let us work out what things really  matter and speak a word in season to those in need.

We can lift up our heads! One of the amazing  things about Jesus, when facing the crucifixion, was  his ability to focus on coming “joy” (John 15:11,16–  20; 16:33; 17:13). Our sorrows make us focus on the  better times to come, and on the joys set before us.  We can take courage from God’s promise to wipe  away all tears and to abolish death; to replace this  with everlasting fellowship with God, Jesus Christ,  the angels and the saints of all ages! Picture too the  changes and relief our hands will bring to a suffering  world – also part of the joy set before us.

When he comes, may the Lord find us giving  careful thought as to how best we can inspire each  other unto love and to good works.