Jesus’ words to his disciples regarding signs of his second coming and the end of the age are highly relevant today. Jesus tells his followers to expect wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, killing, betrayal, hatred, false prophets, and lawlessness.
“Lawlessness” (anomia), translated “wickedness” or “iniquity,” refers specifically to disregarding God’s word and ways—which Jesus says will increase over time.
“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 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” (Mat 24:12-14).
I’ve been noticing signs of people’s love growing cold, visible quite recently in a hardening of attitudes towards immigrants and refugees in Europe—and notably in the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. Arresting and sending back immigrants fleeing violence and poverty in Central America and Mexico, and separating children from parents are disturbing signs of hardness of heart.
In response to international outrage, some cosmetic changes have happened that might keep children together with parents. But many children have still not been reunited with their parents and detention centers (falsely called migrant camps) are being built around the United States to imprison thousands of immigrants.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recently called on Immigration Judges to refuse asylum to people fleeing gang violence in Central America—as well as victims of domestic violence. Many are being deported by US Immigration authorities to life-threatening situations (read this).
Just before Christmas I bailed out a Salvadoran pastor from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison in San Diego (Otay Mesa Detention Center). For over 20 years he ministered to incarcerated gang members in El Salvador, since his conversion out of a gang lifestyle. When police repeatedly accused him of being an active gang member and threatened to kill him, he fled overland to the United States with his 14-year-old son. I advised him to go to the US-Mexican border and request asylum.
Upon turning himself in to ICE agents at the San Diego border he was arrested and incarcerated. At this point US authorities separated his son from him, sending the boy to a juvenile facility, where he was held for 42 days. Since Christmas the family has been reunited—but now they face the possibility that their asylum claim will be denied due to Trump Administration decisions.
From the perspective of Jesus’ kingdom, gang violence, domestic violence and economic inequalities underlying poverty fit the category of lawlessness. The current US policy of “zero tolerance” towards undocumented immigrants and refugees also constitutes lawlessness from the perspective of Christian faith.
In Deuteronomy 14:29 God directs his people to tithe from their produce, feeding “the alien, the orphan and the widow in your town,” so they “shall come and eat and be satisfied.” “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
It is easy to let the bad news of growing lawlessness distress and even enrage us—threatening to diminish our love. Jesus warned that “lawlessness will increase and the hearts of most people will grow cold.” In the face of this he continues: “but the one who endures till the end will be saved.”
“The numbing of empathy, the dehumanization of other people through the encouragement of distain are documented stages in history that have led to atrocities and even genocide,” writes Laura Janner-Klausner, senior leader of Reform Judaism in the UK.
“How do we endure the lawlessness without our empathy being numbed, our love growing cold?”
I believe Jesus’ next words hold the key. “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.”
“This gospel of the Kingdom” refers to Jesus’ message and ministry during his earthly life. Proactively engaging in Jesus’ ministry will keep our love from growing cold in the face of lawlessness.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he called humble fishermen as disciples. He then went “throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (Mat 4:23).
Jesus countered legalistic, hard-hearted, attitudes of his time by lifting up the lowly. He declared “blessed” categories of people we must seek to embrace and become: The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Mat 5:1-10).
At another time when proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing the sick Matthew’s Gospel states that “seeing the people he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus then declared his priorities in the clearest terms to his followers: “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beg the Lord of the harvest to cast out workers into his harvest” (Mat 9:36-38).
Our love will grow strong as we proclaim and live out the gospel of Jesus’ kingdom in the face of lawlessness wherever it is found. As you exercise your love it will increase, and you will find your compassion for the desperate growing. In this way we will see the reign of God advance throughout the world.