News about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has dominated the media these past two weeks. Putin’s assault on a sovereign nation is terrorizing the population and outraging the world. Nationalism is a major force on all sides, with calls for Europe and the USA to intervene, escalating the war.
The Gospels present Jesus as startlingly detached from nations, institutions, even those considered most sacred. Jesus offers a different way. He never highlighted his own nation, Israel, as savior. So we must refuse American, Russian, Chinese, European or any modern exaltation of nations, parties, politicians, ideologies, corporations or currencies as messianic pretenders.
At his baptism Jesus leaves the land of Israel for the wilderness, returning to proclaim the Kingdom of God, not Israel. In Matthew 24:1 Jesus is described as both “coming out of” the temple and “going away”– and this is his final departure according in Matthew’s Gospel. His disciples then came up to point out the temple buildings to him.
Jesus prophesies plainly to them: “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Mt 24:2).
There’s no call from Jesus to defend the temple, Jerusalem or their homeland, which the Roman Empire destroyed shortly thereafter in 70 CE. The disciples seem to understand this, as they come to Jesus privately to question him about when these things would happen and what signs they should expect of his coming and the end of history (24:3).
Jesus’ immediate response should alert us to the greatest dangers we face in times like now.
“See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (24:4-5).
Coming in the name of Jesus, considering oneself as God’s anointed (the meaning of Christ) is in fact happening as we speak.
Putin himself justifies his invasion of Ukraine as a reunification of mother Russia, and is invading with the blessing of the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill (see this article). After all, the Russian Orthodox church is said to have originated in Kiev in the 9th Century. Putin’s troops apparently were told they were liberating Ukrainians, who would welcome them with open arms.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Contantinople, Bartholomey, granted independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Patriarchate of Moscow in 2019. Ukrainian Orthodox leaders have since blessed the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the resistance movement in their battle against Orthodox Christian-blessed invaders.
Now Christian nationalism is fueling the Russian invasion of Ukraine on both sides, with support of the different sides from Christian nationalist movements and individuals the world over. Christians are hating and killing fellow Christians.
Now is the time to recalibrate our perspective to the teachings of the One and Only Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. He tells his disciples:
“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs” (24:6-8).
“See that you are not frightened!” warns Jesus to his fear-prone followers. And today there are certainly good reasons to fear. Russian troops advance against stiff resistance, with death counts mounting. Already Russian bombs have nearly hit an active nuclear power plant, and Putin has put his nuclear arsenal on high alert. Ukrainians are calling on the West to enforce a no-fly zone of the Ukraine, which could easily be interpreted as a declaration of war. Already Putin has interpreted the West’s massive economic sanctions as a declaration of war on Russia. Meanwhile oil prices are skyrocketing and the stock market is plummeting.
Jesus has given his followers prophetic intelligence regarding the future, and we are seeing his words come true. His warnings do not only affect the nations, but include direct hits on his present and future disciples themselves, who are promised no protection.
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name” (24:9).
Still Jesus doesn’t call disciples to take up arms in anyone’s defense, much as he himself refused to defend himself from his crucifiers. This Christ’s way of combatting evil comes from another realm, where true love reigns. After all Jesus did say: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). And Jesus warns us all that his message will not be well received.
“At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.” “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many” (24:10-11).
We most certainly see this happening now and we must be careful to resist misleading ways. Jesus keeps our focus fixed on the essentials, and closes this part of his teaching with a highly relevant warning:
“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (24:12-13).
The term “lawlessness” (anomia in Greek, meaning “without law”) refers to a breadth of activity, such as “doing what is right in our own eyes,” instead of being submitted to God’s Word inspired by the Spirit. Most certainly the breaking of international law, human rights abuses, economic exploitation, invasions by sovereign states, criminal activities and any kind of sin are also included.
Do you see an increase in lawlessness in your life, family, community, region, country or world? Are you in any way observing your or other’s love growing cold?
There’s a kind of unity over and against a common enemy that can be mistaken for “love,” such as nationalist fervor or agreement to hate a perpetrator, such as Putin, Russians or anyone deemed “the enemy.” We certainly saw this in the USA after 9-11, and America demonized Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, invading Iraq and Afghanistan, causing massive destruction and loss of life.
Jesus describes increasing lawlessness as a force that causes “most people’s love” to “grow cold.” The verb “to grow cold” (psychō in Greek) means to breathe to reduce temperature— like blowing on a hot bowl of soup or cup of coffee to cool it down. The media’s continual coverage of violent aggressions and political turmoil can be like breath that cools agape, the love that comes from God.
Jesus says “the one who endures” [this increasing lawlessness] to the end, without letting their love grow cold, will be saved.
As I’ve meditated on how I can practice this endurance and resist my love growing cold, I’ve been drawn to other Scriptures which talk about how lawlessness is best treated: I see that prophetic exposure, lament have their places. I also see that it’s important to begin by confessing our own lawlessness, turning way in repentance, and receiving forgiveness.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered” (Rm 4:7), writes the Apostle Paul, who goes into more detail in Titus 2:11-14.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good deeds.”
Jesus Christ redeems us from every lawless deed and purifies us. Jesus’ final words clarify the distinct role of his followers, all the way to the end.
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14), states Jesus.
May we actively resist the seduction of war, and be about waging peace, deliberately following Jesus, the Prince of Peace. May we follow his example and the Spirit’s guidance to become love-filled and strategic peace makers, stepping into active solidarity with the Ukrainian people in ways that bring life, not death. May we intercede for the Russian people, and their religious and political leaders—and our own. May we resist the temptation to take up arms, calling for them to be laid down instead. May we engage in spiritual practices that help us endure the lawlessness as it increases around us. May God’s love heat up within us, overflowing into and warming a cold and desperate world.
Consider joining our upcoming webinar beginning March 28, “Discerning the Times: Global Awareness and Actions for Peace,” taught by Jonathan Frerichs– see below.
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