Though the church of my youth taught about the Second Coming of Christ, there were not many specifics, nor was there much guessing about when, where and how. Later, I met Christians who were very passionate about these things. Despite what Jesus said about not knowing the day or the hour, this didn’t seem to slow many folks down. Interpreting the signs was popular—quite a big business, as I recall. Around the time I was in high school, there was a lot of speculation about who might be the anti-Christ. There was a fairly long list of politicians who were identified. I hear that this speculation is still alive and well.
One of the clearest statements Jesus made about the character of the time before his return is in Matthew 24:12—“And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.” Though love is not easy to count or calculate, this statement is stark and vivid. Still, it is not so surprising that it doesn’t get much pulpit time. It does hit very close to home.
If love is the unmistakable and directly identifiable character of the movement of Jesus (John 13:35), this prediction would say that a lack of love—we might say, the lack of compassion—is one of the clearest markers of the advance of evil. Though love is the pre-illumination of the World to Come, the lack of love signals the forces associated with the breakdown of the integrity of the web of life. Of final conflict between the forces that rebel against God and the forces that announce the dawning of the age of justice and peace.
So, perhaps we can’t make this into a clear and sharp picture of what the end of time will look like. This does, however, point us in two very critical directions: on one hand, away from those forces moving toward destruction, signalled by their lack of love; on the other hand, moving towards the good signalled by the forward movement toward God, humanity, Creation, and the World to Come.
This energy, this motivation, this warmth, this peace, this justice, is poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5) and, by that, is a sign of God’s presence. Without love, even the loftiest statement of faith and the most pious act of devotion are judged utterly false. With love, we find ourselves not far from the World to Come.