You will hear the noise of wars nearby and the news of wars far off; see to it that you don’t become frightened. Such things must happen, but the end is yet to come. For peoples will fight each other, nations will fight each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various parts of the world; all this is but the beginning of the ‘birthpains.’ Matt. 24:6–8
For my first few years as a follower of Yeshua I suffered from what one of my colleagues later diagnosed as end-times fever. And I wasn’t alone. Friends, mentors, the voices on the radio or cassette tapes—we were all convinced that Messiah’s return was so near that we should devote all our energies to being ready and helping everyone we knew to get ready too, before it was too late.
This was just a few years after the 1967 liberation of Jerusalem, which many of us saw as a fulfillment of Yeshua’s words, “Now let the fig tree teach you its lesson: when its branches begin to sprout and leaves appear, you know that summer is approaching. In the same way, when you see all these things, you are to know that the time is near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:33-34). But even if you didn’t think this parable fit exactly, no one could deny the prophetic significance of the restoration of Israel in 1948. And you couldn’t ignore the proliferation of wars and natural disasters, which were coupled by a sense of impending doom fueled by books like The Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich, 1968), and of course The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay.
Amidst such concerns Yeshua’s words pointed us toward true calm—not hiding from the mounting problems and pressures, but remaining alert to God’s purpose through them all. “When these things start to happen, stand up and hold your heads high; because you are about to be liberated!” (Luke 21:28).
Now the end-time fever has broken and I’m doing things that I would have thought unimaginable back then—hanging out with the grandchildren and wondering how we’re going to make it through retirement. The irony is that signs of the end are far more abundant now then they were thirty or forty years ago. Just this week, Japan was hit by a horrific earthquake, the largest in its recorded history (and we need to pray for and be ready to assist the people of Japan). This disaster has shifted our attention briefly from an unprecedented wave of civil unrest in the Middle East, which might well change the entire political balance there in a way that could bring on the apocalyptic scenario of Ezekiel and Zechariah. No one can deny the escalation of natural disasters in recent years, and whether or not you believe they’re related to global warming, it’s hard to deny that they’re included in Yeshua’s signs of the end.
The odd thing is, amidst all this action, we’re not really seeing a return of end-times fever. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing. We’re not calm; we’re complacent. The calmness that we need to cultivate is the sort that a security guard might have as he patrols the grounds, or that a mother might have as she watches her children playing in the neighborhood park. We need to be focused, paying attention, allowing neither anxiety to unsettle our hearts, nor worldly attractions to divert our minds. A good exercise for developing the quality of calmness is to simply apply each day the words of Yeshua:
So stay alert, because you don’t know on what day your lord will come. But you do know this: had the owner of the house known when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you too must always be ready, for the Son of Man will come when you are not expecting him. Matt. 24:42-44
We learn calmness, not by becoming complacent, but by remaining alert to God’s purposes in all things.
All scripture references are from the Complete Jewish Bible. For more on practicing calmness, go to http://www.rivertonmussar.org.