2020 was in many ways a defining year. The challenges faced globally across the board, at the levels experienced, were unprecedented. It was truly a year like no other.
2020 will likely go down in history as a year when things shifted, both negatively, with all the cascading problems, and positively, when a chain reaction was set forth catapulting the global Church toward its ultimate destiny.
As believers and Christian leaders, wanting to help others see where things are moving, it is necessary to grasp the bigger picture. We want to know what time it is on the big clock of God’s purposes in the earth.
It is essential to settle some key issues so we face the future as God intended. Apart from doing so, we may continue to believe ideas about this year’s circumstances that are not according to God’s heart, causing our hearts to become offended at God. Or worse, give up on Him altogether, because things did not play out as we assumed they would.
These key issues are clearly revealed to us from Jesus’ own lips in Matthew 24. This chapter is crucial to our understanding of how history will unfold, particularly as we near the end of the age and prepare for Jesus’ second coming.
The storyline of the chapter is Jesus revealing to His disciples what to expect over the course of history. He is functioning as a pastor, aligning His people with His own narrative of how history will play out.
Jesus knows there are many storylines we may listen to when in difficult times. This is why He deliberately “tells us beforehand” (vs. 25). The global culture, our own ideas, favorite news programs and more influence the perspective we take on various events.
All the while, Jesus has captured in Scripture the breakdown of what to expect and therefore, how to respond when these things arise. This is what Matthew 24 is all about.
The chapter can be broken up into specific time periods revealed in chronological order. Within those time periods, Jesus reveals characteristics of the age, mostly challenging elements escalating throughout the course of the age. He also includes a very important positive characteristic of the age.
Verses 4-8 are one unit revealing general trends that mark the course of the whole age (from His first coming to His second coming). Jesus called these the “beginning of sorrows” or birth pains. We are in that timeframe now.
Verses 9-14 are a second unit of trends characterizing specific widespread happenings taking place during the final seven years before the second coming of Jesus. These trends produce intensified pressure and challenges (unseen yet in history to the degree Jesus describes), while simultaneously the global Church is directly, with fervency and focus, operating as God’s chosen vessel to see the gospel spread among all the people groups with thriving churches planted within a 15-minute walk of every person on the planet.
Verses 15-26 provide a third unit of trends revealing specifics of the final 3 ½ years before Jesus’ return. We find details, cautions and warnings related to this timeframe. It is a time of heightened intensity, as well as spiritual power going forth, often referred to as the “Great Tribulation.”
Verses 27-31 provide the actual culmination of the age itself, the transition from “this present age” to the “age to come” through the literal, physical and dramatic second coming of Jesus to the earth. Jesus is bringing to birth the complete fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on the physical earth.
What are key issues to settle in our hearts?
1. We will not go back to a time period struggle free. We need to get our hearts and minds around this truth. 2020 was a line drawn in the sand. Challenges and difficulties will continue to progress at different levels of intensity.
There will be reprieves, ebbs and flows, but we need to settle it in our hearts that the grand sweep of history will get more adverse, not easier. Yet, there is Good News. Jesus’ abiding presence is with us, His hand upon us, strengthening and providing courage at every step.
2. We are not to be afraid of the challenges, both now or into the future. 2020 has been a test from the Lord. A wake-up call for His global Church to face adversity, while trusting in Him, looking to Him, depending on Him, in all things.
The normal human response has been fear, to shy away from God, to hunker down, to trust in immediate circumstances, in our governments, forgetting the Lord’s promises. Many feel the Lord has forsaken them during this year. This could not be farther from the truth, but we must see from His perspective, not our own or what other well-meaning people (even Christians) might tell us.
3. In the midst of growing adversity, the global Church is meant to arise and shine, like never before, proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel of the Kingdom among all ethnic people groups. The end result, prophesied by Jesus Himself, is certain – the fulfillment of the Great Commission (verse 14).
The great global harvest of millions of unreached peoples coming into the Kingdom of God takes place in the context of escalating and significant global challenges flooding the culture, family lines, institutions and political systems. Sometimes we falsely imagine the mission movement is only able to progress in ideal circumstances. This is not the clear testimony of Scripture.
2020 has been a testing ground.
How will the global Church respond when circumstances arise causing so much pressure on all sides? Will she press forward in her core purpose of reproducing herself over and over among all ethnic peoples? Will she forget the unreached because she is caught up with too much hardship at home?
Will she focus on self-preservation to the neglect of those in need around her? Will she be too pre-occupied with her own struggles that she fails to be salt and light? Will she overly rely on the methods and techniques of previous ministry, becoming immobilized in the uncertainty?
Challenges personally are an opportunity to press into the Lord like never before, overcoming fear, growing in focus on what spiritually matters and embracing the cross. The pressure, and our right response in it, is part of God’s process of making us more like Himself. Challenges help us ask God new questions, consider new strategies and gain insight from the Spirit, never before considered.
Challenges corporately (as the global Church) are an opportunity to come in the opposite spirit of our natural tendency to hunker down. We look for ways to engage in His big picture, global purposes among the nations. We plan for when travel and direct ministry can resume. We adapt with new methods, strategies and opportunities that we never understood before.
2021 is the start of something big in the Kingdom of God globally, “launching out into the deep, letting down our news for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) It may not yet be perceivable to the naked eye. Our calling is to embrace the glorious (yet difficult) lessons presented in 2020, learning from them. While being faithful to Jesus’ Great Commission the Holy Spirit will do amazing things in and through us.