Introduction: As we shortly resume our study of ‘end-times’ teaching from Matthew 24, we are to remind ourselves of certain key attributes of our Savior when it comes to protecting us. If we remember Christ’s protection of us as His embattled and threatened flock, then we shall rest secure even in the most tumultuous of days. No matter how wickedness rises against God’s elect, we must remember that “nothing can snatch us out of Christ’s shepherding hand”.
Mon/Tue/Weds: read John 6:15, Acts 1:1-7 and Isaiah 40:1-11. Jesus constantly pointed His disciples away from speculating about His Second Coming, and instead urged them to trust His absolute care for His church on earth. This is why He said that they ought not to, “let their hearts be troubled”. But despite so much teaching on the importance of growing in their trust of their Savior, they still sought to manipulate their Lord into satisfying their carnal curiosity as to when the “kingdom of Israel” would be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6). My, did they have a lot to learn! It was clearly not their place to pry into the future nature of the Kingdom of God, nor did they yet have the maturity to see that the Kingdom of God’s expansion into the world would not mean the restoration of the Israelite kingdom of David! They were much mistaken and still in danger of trying to force the Kingship of Christ into the mold of a carnal kingdom, as had been done earlier in John 6:15. In the same way, there are many today who seek to peep into the future or to look for signs in the Heavens to try and discern Christ’s imminent return.
Against such unhealthy end-times speculation, consider how in the Old Testament, God described Christ’s shepherding care for His church in Isaiah 40:10-11 – as an antidote for precisely the same kind of discouragement which many believers feel in our current plunge into ever-increasing wickedness in our nation.
The godly remnant were facing exile as Isaiah 40 opens. Isaiah, by the Spirit of God, predicted the certain exile into Babylon which God would inflict on His people for their idolatry and their rejection of Him as their true Savior. Things would get so bad that many of God’s people in exile would be tempted to despair, saying that, “their way was hidden from their God” (Isaiah 40:27). But God moves Isaiah to write this chapter to convince His exiled people that He had not forgotten them. Instead, He promises to shepherd them with such tenderness in Isaiah 40:10-11, that we cannot but help seeing Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, as the actual fulfillment of Isaiah’s shepherding picture. No wonder, therefore, that the Puritans and others have seen Jesus Christ beautifully portrayed here in Isaiah. As John Owen said (with a quote that is worth repeating from earlier Bible notes):
The personal attributes which describe Jesus in Isaiah 40:11 are that of the greatest tenderness, compassion and condescension that can be imagined. His people are set forth under many infirmities; some are lambs, some great with young, some very tender, some burdened with temptations – nothing in any of them strong or comely. To them Christ is a shepherd that feeds His own sheep and drives them out to pleasant pasture; where, if He sees a poor, weak lamb, He doth not thrust him on, but takes him into His bosom, where He both eases and refreshes him: He leads him gently and tenderly. As did Jacob them that were burdened with young, so doth our dear Lord Jesus with His flock, in the several ways and paths wherein He leads them.
When He sees a poor soul, weak, tender, halting, ready to sink and perish, He takes him into His arms, by some gracious promise administered to him, carries him, bears him up when he is not able to go one step forward. Hence also is His great quarrel with false shepherds, Ezek. 34:4, “Woe be to you shepherds! The diseased have you not strengthened, neither have you healed that which was sick, neither have you bound up that which was broken, neither have you brought again that which was driven away, neither have you sought that which was lost.” Compassionate care is that which our careful, tender Shepherd would have done to His sheep. (Vol. 2, pg. 142)
Thurs/Fri: read Matthew 24:3-8 and Romans 8:22-25. The 12’s question about the time of Christ’s return may include some impatience that the kingdom had not yet visibly come. But the disciples’ looking forward to that Day is still to be commended. Would that many today cared enough about Christ’s return to be impatient for it! Many alas are absorbed with the things of this world, and seldom look up to ponder the coming of Christ in glory. What a contrast to a living faith, which waits expectantly for Christ’s return! As Romans 8 reminds us, the Christian is to groan along with all creation, waiting for the “redemption of his body” (Romans 8:23)! True hope, therefore, means feeding one’s soul by faith on the glory of Christ’s return when we do not as yet see it! As Paul concludes, “Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:24-25.)
Meditate and Pray: Ask the Lord to help you to live in the tension of the ‘already and not yet’. May the Lord protect us from being like those who have such fervor and obsession with ‘the Last Things’ that they fall prey either to those who falsely claim to be the Christ, or to a ‘rapture fever’ that makes them so concerned about Christ’s imminent return that they fail to live industriously while down here. Just as there were those among the Thessalonians who had decided that working in this life was no longer necessary given Christ’s rapid return, so there are always false teachers who can distract us from living the daily Christian life of love and service.