The Olivet Prophecy contains a dire warning of a spreading coldness of heart. But Jesus also gives encouragement to help us counteract that spiritually lethal threat.
Jesus’ chilling warning still rings out in today’s vile and violent world:
“And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).
His disciples had asked Jesus, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (verse 3). He had told them that a time of destruction was coming, but they wanted to know when it would come and when it would be over.
When would Jesus take charge as King of the coming utopian Kingdom of God?
The Olivet Prophecy
Jesus answered their questions with a series of prophesies and parables often called the Olivet Prophecy because it was given on the Mount of Olives overlooking the pivotal city of Jerusalem.
Jesus predicted the conditions that He later inspired the apostle John to write about in the famous four horsemen of the Apocalypse prophecy (compare Matthew 24:5-7 with Revelation 6:2-4, 5-6, 7-8). This includes religious deception, wars, famines and disease epidemics.
As horrible as these things are, “all these are the beginning of sorrows”—literally, birth pangs (Matthew 24:8). The world will suffer terrible labor pains before the birth of a new and peaceful world ruled by Jesus Christ.
In this context, Jesus laid bare the terrible trials and persecutions innocent Christians will suffer—both from false religious leaders and at the hands of betrayers from within (verses 9-11).
Why will the world grow worse and worse? Why will even some Christians become coldhearted and betray others? The Bible teaches a cause-and-effect relationship between breaking God’s beneficial laws and receiving the painful, destructive results. (Read more about this in our article “Why Is Our Modern World Under Ancient Curses?”)
The results of lawlessness
The pervasive end-time lawlessness will have a dangerous influence even on Christ’s followers! How will lawlessness erode Christians’ love?
- Being surrounded by evil, hate and injustice can disgust, discourage and disillusion a Christian. It can also begin to warp our perspective of normal and abnormal, right and wrong.
- Alluring temptations can blind us to the reality of sin’s consequences.
- Lawlessness is motivated by selfishness—and selfishness is the antithesis of love. (Compare the 19 destructive elements of the selfish end-time mind-set in 2 Timothy 3:1-2, 3-5 with the polar opposite characteristics of godly love in 1 Corinthians 13.)
- Breaking God’s law causes pain and destroys relationships.
- Sin is a snare—it too easily becomes a habit, and our feelings of guilt can drive wedges between us and God, as well as making us defensive and difficult to live with. Instead of repenting, we can be tempted to take the pain of our guilt out on those closest to us.
These and other negative results of ignoring God’s laws can dissipate the love and commitment of a Christian. They can make our love grow cold.
Avoiding the coldness
Jesus’ Olivet Prophecy gives more than just warnings. He teaches and encourages His followers to avoid losing the fervent love and commitment that are to characterize true Christians (John 13:35; Revelation 3:19).
Immediately after the warning against growing cold, Jesus gave two antidotes:
- Endurance: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13; see “Run With Endurance”).
- A mission to share His good news: “And this gospel [good news] of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (verse 14; see “What Is the Mission of the Church?”).
The rest of Matthew 24 and 25 also contains other keys to maintaining godly love and zeal in this time of spiritual darkness just before the dawning of the wonderful Kingdom of God.
Throughout the prophecy, Jesus gives prophetic markers to help us avoid the religious deception that destroys zeal and love. (For more about these markers, see “Discerning the Signs of the Times.”)
He assures us that in the end He will return—His promises are sure (Matthew 24:30, 34-35). But we can’t know the day and hour to put on our calendar. Instead, we have to remain alert and prepared—not give in to the temptation to say, “My master is delaying his coming” (verses 44, 48).
Jesus encourages us to be “faithful and wise” servants, taking care of the household by giving “them food in due season” (verse 45). “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing” (verse 46).
Being wise and faithful and being motived by the needs of others are keys to keeping our hearts from growing cold. Jesus expanded on these keys in the next chapter.
Matthew 25 contains three parables that contrast the wrong and the right ways to keep your Christian love warm.
Matthew 25 contains three parables that contrast the wrong and the right ways to keep your Christian love warm.The parable of the 10 virgins shows the importance of wisdom and spiritual preparation. The five wise virgins not only had oil in their lamps, but they carried extra oil with them. Oil is often used to represent God’s Holy Spirit, which He gives to those who repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38). (Read more in our article “How Do You Know You Have the Holy Spirit?”)
So we can take this parable as encouragement to not neglect or quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and to stay connected to God through regular prayer, Bible study, meditation and occasional fasting. (Read more in the Life, Hope & Truth section “Prayer, Fasting and Meditation: Relating to God.”)
The parable of the talents shows the importance of diligence and faithfulness. The servants who used what they were given to grow and gain more were praised, but the lazy one who fearfully buried what he was given was cast out. God wants us to learn to be faithful in the little we have been given now so He will know that we will be faithful with the much He wants to give us!
The parable of the sheep and the goats focuses on the inner motivation that can help us to always display God’s love. Consider the praise for the “sheep”:
“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (verses 34-36).
The response of the righteous “sheep” confirms that they did none of this to make points or be seen by others. Their motivation came from a warm heart of compassion and love. “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You?” (verse 37).
The answer in verse 40 illustrates God’s love for all and His appreciation for those who have His perspective and love: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
We must see beyond the actions and attitudes of people in today’s evil world. Even people whom others consider least—even people who mistreat us—have an incredible potential in God’s eyes.
Jesus told us to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), and He wants us to see that potential. He wants us to learn to love others as He does.
It’s interesting that just after the Olivet Prophecy the Gospels record two contrasting real-life examples.
First, the good example: “Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3). Jesus understood that this great gift and zealous commitment was a sign of her love and appreciation for His coming sacrifice. She didn’t let her sorrow make her love cold, but drew close to God and sought to please Him. She didn’t give in to selfishness, but was motivated by selfless love.
In contrast, Judas Iscariot, “who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box, and he used to take what was put in it” (verses 4-6).
Surely at first Judas had loved Jesus and believed in Him. But as time went on, things weren’t going the way Judas and the others expected. And then perhaps Judas started taking just a little from the money box, somehow justifying it in his mind. But the more he sinned, the more the guilt and snares of sin robbed him of closeness with God.
In the end, Judas let his love grow cold. With an icy heart, he even sold his Master into the hands of His enemies (Matthew 26:14-16).
We must take Jesus’ warning seriously. Our closeness to God, our character and our eternal life hang in the balance.
Don’t let your love grow cold!