20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[c]
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[d] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Today’s passage contains statements that are difficult for me to integrate into my theological perspective . Therefore, I am going to focus on the principle I use for understanding difficult Bible passages and just a couple of statements made by Jesus.
Whenever I encounter a Scripture verse or passage that seems inconsistent with the rest of Scripture and/or the character of God – I suspend judgment. I continue to try to understand it, but I accept the fact that, in this world, I may never understand it. I dig deeper and learn more about the context in which the statement was made or event occurred, and sometimes it becomes more clear to me. There are other times when, after much effort and study, it just does not make sense to me. If someone else asks me about the passage, my response is, “I’m not sure – I am still trying to figure that one out for myself.” We live by trust and faith and that means we do not have and will never have all the answers. If an instructor tells you that he completely understands every detail of The Revelation, I would find a new teacher.
Difficult point 1: 20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. In Christian theology, the term “election” refers to the selection of those who will receive eternal life (“the elect”) or eternal damnation. There are two basic camps regarding this doctrine. Calvinists (Reformed) believe in unconditional election. This means that when you were born, God had already predestined you to be saved or not and nothing can change that destiny. Wesley-Arminians believe in conditional election. This means that salvation is a product of man’s free will cooperating with God’s grace. The most significant aspect of conditional election being that all men and women have an opportunity to choose Christ and be saved. This analogy might not hold up under intense scrutiny, but think of it as a marriage: I chose my wife, but she still had to also choose me.
Difficult point 2: 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. The difficulty with this passage is that Jesus seems to be saying that the apostles would still be alive at the time of His second coming. The doctrinal dilemma is complicated by the fact that the Book of Acts and letters of Paul reveal the post-resurrection Apostles as men who believed Christ’ return to be imminent. Let me repeat, “I am not sure.” That being said, Jesus may have been alluding to His disciples being alive when the signs appeared. The following verses contain elements of the warning signs:
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e]went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.
Remember: the essence of faith is trusting, even when you do not have all of the answers.