Eve of Destruction
Barry McGuire didn’t write the 1965 song “Eve of Destruction”; a 19-year-old kid did. McGuire wasn’t even the first to sing it. That would be the Turtles. But his version was the #1 hit and probably the one you remember for its raspy, rough sound. Before the Summer of Love, before the Age of Aquarius, before Woodstock, the “Eve of Destruction” dragged into the light of day racism, war in the Middle East, nuclear annihilation, hypocrisy, injustice, the assassination of Kenndy, and this profound poke at Christians: "Hate your next door neighbor but don't forget to say grace". And the thread that keeps the song together is that in the face of all he mentions: “But you tell me over and over and over again my friend/ Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.”
Well, there are of these in here. Don’t you believe we’re on the eve of destruction? We’ve just went through a summer plagued with heat and drought in what felt like Biblical proportions. This while the pandemic fear, real or ginned up, is still fresh to mind. Then prices soared, and you tell me that this is not Revelation’s 3rd seal which the 3rd living beast calls forth? John goes on, “I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the 4 living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine" (Rev. 6:5-6). I’m not telling anyone this isn’t Destruction Eve.
And this isn’t even my trump card. Neither is AI, political upheaval, gay marriage, killing babies by pills, or the emptying of churches. My trump card is the same as Barry’s. The line “even the Jordan river has bodies floatin'” refers to the Isarel-Arab War over Water. But ever since Dispensational Millennialism posited salvation for Christians was linked to the nation of Israel, a large part of particularly evangelical Christianity looks to what is happening in the Middle East as fulfilling Biblical prophecy and portending the world’s end. But if our text is about the end of the world, how could fleeing to Judea help? What would it matter if you went back into the house? If the world is really ending, does it matter if it’s winter or the OT Church’s Sabbath? And if tomorrow is the Big Bang that ends it all, what Paul calls the “the twinkling of an eye, the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52); “the voice of the archangel” (1 Thes. 4:15), why should the nursing and pregnant have more dread?
Jesus the Prophet is foreshadowing here. There is something more than earthly upheaval going on. You can tell the subtext of our text is about rejecting the true Christ and/or going after false ones. And the next time Jesus will bring up these types of people is on the way to the cross for His final showdown with Sin, Death, and Devil. His final keeping of the Law for us and His final drink from God’s cup of wrath against you. Luke 23:28-31 records Jesus saying, “‘Daughters of Jerusalem,… the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then 'they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’"'
Our text is called the Little Apocalypse, the Little Book of Revelation. In it the End of the World is wrapped around the fall of Jerusalem which would happen 40 years from when Jesus is speaking. That’s why fleeing Judea and not taking time to get your cloak matters. You could and Christians did escape Jerusalem’s destruction. That’s why it being winter would matter; it’s harder to travel. And those who thought the OT Sabbath still applied wouldn’t be inclined to move or help you move. And women with child in or out of the womb, suffer most in invasions. So, 2 things are being spoken of here: Jerusalem’s and the world’s end. Likewise, in the OT the prophets spoke of the First Coming of Christ and His Second Coming all in one breath. Twining 2 things around each other makes it difficult at times to see which is which. This is the nature of prophesy and the nature of twining divine and human things. Read Mark 8:1-21. There Jesus speaks of Spirit but the disciples hear ‘flesh.’ Jesus speaks of the leaven of false teaching and the disciples hear about forgetting to take bread.
But don’t think today can’t be the end because things aren’t bad enough. That these words can’t apply to us because we’re not living in the city of Jerusalem that disappeared in 70 A.D.. Read Luke 17:20-37. It’s the same context of our text, but there Jesus says the world-wide flood of Noah and the destruction of Sodom are types of the end of the world. He goes on to say that just as in the days of Noah and Lot so it will be at the Second Coming. Just as it was in those times so it will be when Jesus returns. Then Jesus goes on to describe how it will be: People will be eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, buying, selling, planting and building right up till the end. Where are the barcodes tattooed on people’s arms by the government? Where is the intense persecution of Christian for the Faith? Where are the signs Jesus mentions in Mt. 24? Floods, famines, wars and rumors of war? Where are the signs in the sun, moon, and stars? Where are the nations being in anguish and people being disconcerted at the roaring and tossing of the sea? These are signs spread out through all generations, but they’re birth pangs of the end, not the end.
But don’t conclude there’s no reason to prepare. Luther has some advice when you’re feeling “Let the good times roll” or you’re in the groove of the “59th Street Bridge” song. In our Large Catechism Luther says if you don’t see or feel the need for Spiritual things like Christ’s Body and Blood given and shed for you, put your hand our your chest and see if you’re still flesh and blood and then hear how fallen and lost Scripture says these are. If that doesn’t work, look about you to see if you’re still in the world, and remember how full of sin and misery Scripture says this world is. And if that still doesn’t work, see if the Devil is still afoot. Luther concludes that we walk so securely and heedlessly because we neither think nor believe our flesh is really fallen, our world is totally wicked, and Satan’s kingdom surrounds us (V, 75-82).
It’s always time to prepare for The End or your end, but know that The End will be as easy to spot as the breaking of a thunderstorm or vultures in the sky. Clouds may boil up and thunder reverberate, but you still debate whether it will rain. Suddenly there’s a lighting flash, Jesus speaks of the cloud to cloud lightening that everyone sees. Then you know the storm is upon you. Don’t live in fear of missing the Second Coming of Jesus any more than you wonder if you’ll miss the next big thunderstorm over you. Likewise, a fallen body can be lost among woods, tall grasses, or farm crops, but no one misses the circling of vultures. I’ve found animals that I had shot the day before just by looking for the vultures. When ranchers see vultures circling over a spot, even miles away, they’ll go there, certain they will find a dead animal.
This last earthy illustration is fitting. Remember the context here is people pointing the Body of Christ, that is the Church, to false Christ’s. Luther applies the parables of lightning and vultures this way: “Wherever the dead body is lying, there the carrion vultures will assemble. Where Christ is, there shall His elect also be. ‘Thus the Lord has made use of two parables, first of a heavenly one, that of the lightning,… [and 2nd the homely one] to indicate that His kingdom is unfettered and uncaptured. [And] since Jerusalem is now destroyed, where the kingdom of Christ was formerly, the question is asked where the kingdom will now be, since Jerusalem is now torn to pieces. There it is said: Where the lightning and where the carcass will be, that is, where the divine Word will be, whether it be here or in another place, there will the Church [i.e. the Body of Christ] be’” (Kretzmann, NT, I, 136).
I’m going to sharpen this point a bit. Wherever you find Christ and Him crucified there is the Body of Christ both is the sense of the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion and the Body of Christ, the Church. The alternate Thanksgiving we use in penitential seasons links the Body of Christ and His Second Coming. We say 1 Cor. 11:26, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come.” When Jesus says in our text, “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man”, He uses different words for the coming of lightning and the coming of the Son of Man. The first is ex-er-cho-mai. The second is parousia which is translated Second Coming or Coming, but the first meaning is ‘presence.’
Now put the pieces together. Whenever something blows up in the Mideast or in a big way elsewhere like the pandemic, political upheaval, or another mass shooting, we go through fits and starts that the end must be near. The latest war, natural disaster, or stock market crash surely signals that we must be on the Eve of Destruction. When someone tells you that, you can say “Yes, the end is near; Yes, the Apocalypse is now. But the Church of all ages has always taught that the end is near – as near as your local church. And it’s something you should be running to, not from (Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 145). Every time we celebrate the Sacrament we proclaim not only forgiveness of sins, life and salvation for those who eat, drink, and believe, but the Lord’s death and His return.
There is a response song to “Eve of Destruction”. It’s in the vein of what you hear both right and left talking about today. The ‘great reset’. It’s called “Dawn of Correction” by the Spokesmen. Give it a listen. It’s cringe worthy, but shows Biblical certainty one way or the other expressed apart from Scripture is just opinion. Go ahead and believe we’re on the eve of destruction unless this or that happens to change things. The Church lives here. Go ahead and believe the Second Coming is at hand. The Church celebrates His parousia, i.e. presence, in every celebration of Communion. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20231112); Matthew 24:15-28