Matthew 24 My Teaching Notes

The Olivet Discourse

Part 1


Jesus had just pronounced woes on the religious leaders and lamented over Jerusalem. He began with the temple, in all its glory and beauty. The temple was the centerpiece of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish culture, and the symbol of the Jewish God. 

TheTemple was built between 537 BCE and 516 BCE, when the Jews began their return from Babylonian captivity.  It was made of limestone under the direction of Zerubbabel at the time and was later renovated and expanded under Herod the Great. The Temple the disciples admired was 150 feet high (12-15 stories), covered in white marble and gold with bronze entrance doors. The courtyard of the temple was large enough to hold 300,000-400,000 people during the pilgrimages, particularly of Passover. Colorful tiles from the floors were discovered in 2007 and put on display in 2016. The stones were imported from Italy, Greece, Tunisia and Asia Minor and the layout likely resembled the design motifs of Herod’s palaces in Masada, Herodium, and Jericho, not random patterns underfoot. The top of the temple had gold spikes on it to prevent birds from sitting and nesting there.

However, when Jesus said that the temple would be completely destroyed, he was talking about more than an impressive building; he was talking about a way of life.  First century social values revolved around loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then to the extended family. Identity was less individualized and more associated with groups; there is a reason why the Scribes and Pharisees were largely unnamed. Society was built on a definitive hierarchical structure that began and ended in the temple and the rituals of the Old Covenant. It was the one thing that every Jew had in common. From the lowest day-laborer to the chief Pharisee, the Abrahamic covenant and the requirements of sacrifices and offerings were the same for all.  The Jews were people of “one temple, for the one God.” To destroy the temple would disrupt a system in place for hundreds of years. The system was corrupt in many ways, but it was familiar to all and it represented something larger than individuals.

The disciples were understandably perplexed by Jesus’ words about the temple, but they didn’t ask about it immediately. Mark noted that the inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew, were the ones who approached Jesus after they had reached the Mount of Olives. Jesus was sitting, so they had probably been there a little while. Based on what we know about the disciples from other passages, it is within the realm of plausibility that they had already discussed and debated the issue amongst themselves before deciding to ask directly. Still, it was up to the four closest to Jesus to approach him. It hadn’t been so long that Jesus had chastised them for their lack of faith almost immediately after the transfiguration (Matthew 17). I’m sure they figured they had some level of protection from correction if only those four went as representatives. Looking across the Kidron Valley from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, the Temple would have reflected the late afternoon sun in full radiant glory. How could such a magnificent place be utterly destroyed? And more importantly, when?


Before Jesus starts to describe the signs of the end, he issues a warning to the disciples that he repeats throughout the discourse: Do not be deceived; you do not know everything. Jesus speaks of events that will take place, but the focal point is not the events themselves; they are mere preludes to the One Important Thing. More than anything, Jesus wants his followers to be aware and alert (vv 42, 46). In v 8, Jesus compares the events he describes as the beginning of the birth pangs. The metaphor of childbirth is apt. 

A full-term pregnancy is 37-42 weeks, and many women experience what is commonly called “false labor.” From the moment of conception, a woman’s body changes to accommodate the new life. Morning sickness gives way to a brief reprieve that turns into increasing discomfort as the pregnancy progresses. Somewhere in that 37-42 weeks the mother can reasonably expect the arrival of the child, and the more uncomfortable she becomes, the more she hopes the birth is sooner rather than later. True labor progresses gradually, but contractions become increasingly painful as the body prepares the path for delivery. Even then, no one can predict the actual moment of birth.  

Applied to this passage, there are signs that point to the general time for multiple events: the destruction of the Temple, the Tribulation, and the return of the King, but no actual time is given.. Wars and rumors of wars, nations in conflict, and natural disasters are reminders that the justice of God will prevail, but we don’t know when exactly that judgement will occur. God is outside the bounds of time. Peter wrote, “The heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:7-8).

The purpose of Jesus’ prophecy here is to alert us to false prophets and false teachers. Speculation about details is divisive. Paul wrote to Titus, “Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9).  This passage lends itself to foolish controversies and arguments, not so much about the law, but about specific events and the timing thereof. So, in your groups, talk about persecution, the great tribulation, the second coming, and the sign of the fig tree, but keep in mind that NO ONE knows –not even angels–the day and the hour of the King’s return. Focus on truth teaching and faithful service so that you will be blessed at the hour of his coming.


The Olivet discourse has been called one of the most difficult passages in the Bible, mostly because it is unclear what generation Jesus was talking about when He said “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place (Matt 24:35; Mark 13:30-31; Luke 21:32). That all three authors of the synoptic gospels record the exact same words means the words matter. But what generation and which things? Some choices:

  • The fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 70 AD
  • Partly the fall of Jerusalem (vv 4-35) and partly his second coming (vv 36-66)
  • Mostly the second coming 
  • Generation may refer to race. There will be Jewish people until the end of time.
  • Generation may refer to a type of people. Sinful humans will roam the planet until it is replaced
  • Generation may be the generation that sees the signs unfold (Isaiah 13: 9-11)
  • Generation may be the disciples and early church. The destruction of the temple serves as a metaphor for the final judgement and times.

Part of what makes this passage hard to understand is the fact that we look back at the whole of Scripture, while the original hearers had the ancient prophets only. We can compare this discourse of the synoptic gospels to the prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation. We can also see 2000 years of historical events that seem to meet some of the criteria for the end times, from the destruction of Jerusalem through the Crusades, the 100 years war, world wars of the 20th century, genocides on every continent (except Antarctica), and pandemics that decimated the world’s population through smallpox, tuberculosis, bubonic plagues, leprosy, measles, cholera, and influenza. The earth still turns, and we are all still here, so none of those events signaled the final end of the earth and judgement. However, there is sufficient scholarship to believe that Jesus was answering the disciples specifically about the destruction of the temple by Rome in 70 AD and telling them to be prepared for it  to happen soon. Luke wrote his account after the fall, possibly to add weight to Jesus’ divinity: his prophecy had come true by the time Luke’s readers read the text. It seems evident that the first part of the discourse refers to 70 AD, but the coming of the Son of Man is still to come. 

The final answer? I don’t know. No one does.

HOWEVER, what we do know is that Jesus exhorted his followers (and us) to continue to do the work of the kingdom. We don’t need to know when He is returning, only that He WILL return. Luke expanded Matthew’s words by telling believers to be on guard, echoing Peter’s admonition to be sober-minded and alert. The adversary “the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We can be aware of the signs of labor without neglecting the work before us. When the time comes, Jesus will return. And we will rejoice.


Albl, M.C. (2009). The Essential Guide to Biblical Life and Times. Saint Mary’s Press. 

Excerpts retrieved from

Carter, P. (2017, July 14). Making sense of the Olivet Discourse. The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved from

Cohen, S.I.D. (1998). All Jews relate to the Temple. [From Jesus to Christ].Frontline. Retrieved from (2020). Pandemics that changed the world. Retrieved from

Köstenberger, A. (n.d.). Jesus and the future: An introduction to the Olivet Discourse. Biblical Foundations. Retrieved from

Köstenberger, A. (n.d.). Jesus and the future: A closer look at the Olivet Discourse. Biblical Foundations. Retrieved from

Ligonier Ministries  (2016, October 3). The Olivet Discourse: Mark 13. Retrieved from 

Ligonier Ministries. (2008, October 20). The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24. Retrieved from

Martin, G. (2009). Procedural register in the Olivet Discourse: a functional linguistic approach to Mark 13. Biblica 90(4). 457-483. Retrieved from

Price, R. (2005) Understanding the Olivet Discourse. Israel My Glory. Retrieved from

Showers, R. (2005). The time of Jacob’s trouble. Israel My Glory. Retrieved from

Stein, R.H. (2012 ). Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the coming of the Son of Man in Luke 21:5-38. The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 16(3). 18-27. Retrieved from

General information

Second Temple Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia. CC BY-SA 3.0

‘Life In Year One’: The World As Jesus Found It

Daily Life in First Century Israel and the Roman Empire

Jewish Life in Palestine at the Beginning of the Christian Era

Judaism in the 1st Century

The Life and Times of First-Century Palestine

Do Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Malachi 3; Amos 5; Micah 6-7; Philippians 3

There’s an old song that keeps playing in my head today. The words I recall are these:

This world is not my home; I'm just a-passin' through.
 My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
 The angels beckon me from heaven's open door.
 And I can't feel at home in this world anymore. 

The events of the last several weeks that culminated in the events of January 6, 2021 just confirm to me that I don’t belong to this world. I knew there would be a time when many people calling themselves “Christians” would turn away from the gospel of Jesus and the love of God; evidently that time is now. I am horrified by the events at the US Capitol on Wednesday. Ironically, Wednesday was also Epiphany, a day set aside by liturgical traditions to remember the Magi and to ponder the baptism of Jesus by John. It was at the baptism that John introduced Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:19-34). Epiphany, a sudden illumination of something. Epiphany, the recognition of Jesus as fully God and fully man. The wonder of the Incarnation, now a man beginning his public ministry. How far the Church has fallen from the wonder of God’s mercy and grace for us. How devastating is that fall!

The Church in the US and much of the West is broken. It has been broken by teachers and pastors who sought recognition and fame. It has been broken by church attendees who stay for the music, but leave as soon as the teaching gets serious. Cultural Christianity (churchianity) focuses on blessings instead of trials and boasting instead of truth. The Church in the US, for the most part, has moved away from worshipping the righteous and holy God who created all things and holds all things together, replacing the Father with a national identity and the human leaders they elect.

28 Tweets About Trump's Rioters In The Capitol Building
Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images Retrieved from Buzzfeed

Whether or not people believe that the 2016 or 2020 elections resulted in fraudulent officials is irrelevant. The kind of violence exhibited on January 6 was illegal, seditious, and wrong on every level. Those who hung up the name of Jesus in the process defiled his holy name. Amos wrote that God’s people must seek good, and not evil, especially when they live in a country that thrives on the titillation of wickedness. “Hate evil and love good,” he wrote. “Establish justice in the gate.” Amos goes on to describe how the Lord looks upon self-indulgent and proud people who claim they have “rights” because of their affiliation with God. The Lord abhors that pride. Amos spoke for the Lord saying, “I hate, I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen.” Displays of nationalism and religiosity do not honor the Lord. He is not the God of the United States of America. He is the Lord of ALL creation. To honor the Lord means His followers pursue justice rolling down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. God’s righteousness, not self-righteousness. The actions of people on January 6 revealed the utter wickedness that dwells within all people. They pursued a path that would vindicate their self-righteousness and the false gospel of nationalism. They put a political figure in the place of the Lord.

Nations rise and nations fall. Institutions are built up and torn down. There will come a day when the US will fall, just as every empire has fallen. But the people of God are not to be part of that destruction. We are to seek peace. We are to pray for the welfare of where we live (Jeremiah 29:4-14), not listening to those who seek to deceive. God is abundantly clear about what is good: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with the Lord. None of the humility, kindness, nor justice were on display by the people who called themselves Christians while they broke into the Capitol, wreaking havoc in their violence. Make no mistake, these people were not acting in the will of God and God was not glorified. In fact, Malachi wrote that people like those who use the name of Jesus and the idea of Christian the way they did on January 6 weary the Lord with their words. They say that doing evil is doing good and that God is too slow in enacting justice. These claims illustrate just how self-serving these people are. They worship a nation, a Constitution, and institution, not the Living Lord.

The Lord will refine His Church. The pandemic has revealed those who used church as a social gathering place by closing the physical doors. The ugliness of the campaigns of 2020 revealed just how deep the corruption of ethical behavior has become. The riots of summer 2020 demonstrated the inadequacy of church teaching, especially with the notion of the prosperity gospel or the social gospel that infiltrated many churches. The refining has begun. The heat has been turned up, and unless there is general repentance and lamentation of the Church’s failure to teach the Word to the people, things will continue to get more difficult. All the dross must be burned away in order for those of us who seek Jesus first to fully reflect Him in all that we do and say.

In the end, however, this world, this country, this national institution is just a place of passing as we journey to our eternal home. For those who fear the Lord, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing. We will look to the Lord, waiting for the God of our salvation. He hears us. He is our light. His love is steadfast.

And that song? It has an interesting story that I’ll share another day. For now, enjoy one of the first recordings of it by the composer, Jessie May Hill:

This World is Not my Home. Jessie May Hill (May, 1927)
Philippians 3:  17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Joy comes in the mo(u)rning

Matthew 5

Mourning is exhausting. The emotional toll it takes seems to be much greater than any physical task. Perhaps it is because physical work has an end in sight and a finished product. But mourning? It feels like wave after wave of grief without end.

Mourning is a time when we need to draw in to the Lord. Whatever its source, mourning and lament have a role to play in healing and restoration, even when it feels impossible.

But God promises comfort. If mourning is death by a thousand small cuts, healing is restoration to life by two thousand small moments. It may be a child’s laugh, a pause by a river, the smell of summer grass or winter’s fresh bread. We need to be mindful of the moments in our mourning so we recognize the hand of God in the middle.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Blessed are they who mourn

Matthew 5:5

Mourning is more than sadness. It is the gut-wrenching wail of devastation and loss. It is the same Greek word used is Revelation 18 when Babylon falls and the people realize there is nothing left of the great city. Mourning is the attitude of the prodigal, the repentance of Job, and the cry of David at his lowest moment in life (Luke 15, Job 42, Psalm 51).

Mourning is a present and active response to sin, and not just our individual sins, but over the ramifications of human sin on those who live in this world without hope. Mourning laments over the divisions in the Church, the oppressive treatment by one person or group over another, and the chaos that comes from human nature run amok.

Jesus offers consolation to mourners, telling them that they will be comforted. Mourning is not done in vain when it causes us to turn to the One who is the Comforter.

Mutually encouraged

Romans 1:11-12

When I started this blog I planned to use it as a place start thinking out loud about a book I want to write. My concept was a book for church people on the need for grace toward parents of prodigals. Too often I have experienced judgement from my brothers and sisters in Christ because of the decisions my teenage and adult children made. In talking to other parents, I learned my experience was not unique. I used the father of the Prodigal Son as an exemplar and started reading broadly about the concept of grace throughout the New Testament.

As I read, I felt that I needed more comprehensive and deep study, so I turned to one book at a time, initially alternating Old Testament and New Testament. One thing my doctoral work taught me was how to research and how to articulate what I learned. I worked my way through Ecclesiastes, James, Habakkuk, Galatians, Jonah, Nahum, and Ephesians.

Partway through Nahum COVID-19 hit, and 2020 turned into a year of one catastrophe after another. As days of quarantine turned to weeks, I turned to the passages of scripture that offered hope and comfort. In late May, the death of George Floyd sparked protests (mostly peaceful) and riots (always violent.) Outcry over racism dominated the news, even as the COVID pandemic spread. I started Psalm 119, and then used Hope Church Las Vegas’s prayer week as an interlude to consider some of the names of God. I attended a prayer rally on Juneteenth in Atlanta, and was both encouraged and saddened. I turned to Lamentations in response.

Throughout the summer, the dual crises of physical and spiritual warfare divided the American church, often down political party lines. AS I returned to complete Psalm 119, I found my thoughts returning to the book I had planned to write, and I realized, while parents of prodigals do need to be treated with grace instead of judgment, there is a larger issue of grace that the Church and my Christian friends need to reconsider. Social media, particularly Facebook, has become a battleground, not between the saved and the lost, but between brothers and sisters in Christ. How can this be?

So, now, I return to a theme for now instead of a book. Lament over the Church in the US is a place to begin thinking about the need for grace over judgment. Lament over racism, lament over partiality, lament over the tongue as a fire, lament over unholy pursuits– there are so many places to begin. And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we will never be able to truly offer grace until we have first suffered through the depths of lament. How else can we bear one another’s burdens unless we come alongside in their struggle and sorrow?

In Romans, Paul wrote that he longed to see the people of the Roman church, not so he could bestow grace on them or drop some wisdom. He wanted to see them so that together they could benefit from mutual encouragement by each other’s faith. Believers have been largely relegated to remote church attendance for five months. We long to be together again, but we cannot hope for “normal.” We should not want to return to the old ways. We should, however, long to be mutually encouraged by our faith. And that requires grace upon grace.

I don’t pretend to know where this blog will go from here. I hope to be listening to the Spirit’s leading as I consider the role of lament and the responsibility of grace. It is the beginning of learning to love the way Jesus did.


Psalm 119:129-136

Psalm 119:136

I love the map app on my phone. I like knowing immediately how to get from point A to B and about how long it will take me to get there. But sometimes I think we need to look at old school paper maps. I’m not quite old enough to remember glove compartments full of gloves, but I do remember glove compartments stuffed with maps. One map for the state, one for cities, one for towns. Maybe one for the whole US. When we used maps for directions, we might see something of interest along the way, so we could meander off the quickest way and see the sights.

Maps had to be refolded carefully or they wouldn’t fit back in the glove compartment. When we opened them, we observed the directions of each fold, and we usually didn’t open the map any farther than necessary. We were purposeful in how we unfolded and refolded the maps.

Psalm 119:130 says that the unfolding of God’s word gives light and imparts understanding. As with paper maps, we should be purposeful and observant as we unfold the directions for living according to His precepts. It is when we take time to carefully consider the Word that we see how each part is connected and we may learn something completely unexpected as we follow the path outlined for us.

There are too many people who call themselves Christians who depend only on the mobile map app. They show up on Sundays to refuel, and then take off for what they think is the most efficient direction to living a good life. They miss the beauty of the side roads and the lessons in appreciating the waiting when they don’t really unfold the word in a purposeful way. They are then easily distracted by things that look good, but may not be best. Busy lives, like busy highways, may make us feel like we’re making progress, but where are we going in all the hurry?

The last verse of this section of Psalm 119 is a lament for those who choose the quick and convenient over the careful unfolding of learning to walk with the Lord. This lament is important; we must not judge or criticize those who skim through their faith, but we should sorrow for what they are missing. Additionally, we must be bold in how we speak to those who call themselves believers yet walk in the same fear as the non-believers do. Our lament comes from a place of loving each other, and our words and actions must reflect that love.

It’s not enough to want to go “back to normal.” In fact, “normal” was the problem. We might have been busy FOR the Gospel, but were we truly abiding IN the Word? There was nothing wrong with choirs and orchestras and social events and hugs and sports and children’s programming, but I suspect too many Christians looked at those things and checked the boxes of thing-good-Christians-do and stopped short of digging deep into their relationship with the Lord. A worldwide pandemic stopped everything for a time. And there is a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3). God was not surprised by COVID-19. He didn’t cause it, but He allowed it to cross borders, I believe as a wake-up call. For five months, now, “normal life” has been interrupted and subdued. Believers had different approaches to the pause. Some worried about the economic effect. Others worried about how their children would be educated. Some blamed the media for conspiring to keep people in a state of fear. Others called the virus a hoax until it touched someone they knew. Church leaders made hard decisions about how to handle church services, and even five-months later, there are massive division about the “right” way to reopen. One large church in Georgia essentially closed its doors for the remainder of the year. Another large church in California sent a letter to the governor respectfully declining to acquiesce to his demands to shut the doors. Most churches are finding some middle ground. But even the middle ground is temporary.

All of this is temporary. We need to look beyond going back to the familiar routines and discern WHY the Lord allowed us to suffer. We must plead for God’s grace as we learn again to long for His word. Instead of looking back to what was, we must turn our faces to the future, the the face of God so that we reflect His visage as we learn His statutes. And we must encourage and challenge our brothers and sisters to do the same.

Unfold the Word. Let His light reflect from you to a world that is desperate for hope.

The Lord still reigns

Lamentations 4 and 5

Lamentations 4 and 5 with Proverbs 3.

You, O Lord, reign forever; Your throne endures for all generations. (Lamentations 5:17)

My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. (Proverbs 3:1)

So, when things go bad, we just need to learn the lesson God intended, repent of our individual sins, and then be rescued from the trial. Right?

Not so fast.

The writer of Lamentations (again, presumably Jeremiah) found hope by recalling to mind the steadfast love of the Lord in chapter 3. And then came chapters 4 and 5.

Repentance and forgiveness made Jeremiah right with the Lord, but the nation was still under judgment and as a resident of Jerusalem Jeremiah was not spared. Th calamities of chapters 4 and 5 are WORSE than the first two chapters. I’ll spare the details, but imagine the worst of human behavior and magnify it exponentially (or read the chapters for yourself).

Jesus told his disciples (including us) that hard times (tribulation) are part of living in this world. Even though we are OF another kingdom, that is, the eternal kingdom of God, we are subject to the rulers and natural laws of earth.

Natural law (sickness, weather, gravity) does not disappear when we choose to follow Jesus. Human nature (selfish to the core) is the thing we all fight against in ourselves and see in others during times of chaos (pandemic hoarding comes to mind).

Part of Jerusalem’s sin was corrupt teaching (Lamentations 2:14) and bad governments (Lamentations 4:12). Certainly we have plenty of both in 2020. But collective wrong-doing is not an excuse for lazy faith. In fact, individuals must be more diligent than ever in proclaiming the love and mercy of God. Jeremiah never swayed from his commitment to proclaiming the truth, even as he suffered with the nation.

Lamentations. The Lord is Eternal

Do not be discouraged when the storm continues to rage even when you know you are right in your personal relationships with God and others. Chaos is the default for this world, but the Lord reigns forever. As bad as things may be (or get), and as long as hard times last, they will NOT outlast God, who is ETERNAL.

This I call to mind

Lamentations 3

When times are hard, even the faithful suffer. As long as we are in this world, whatever disasters strike, from pandemics to wars to natural catastrophes, we can expect to endure along with all of humanity. The prophet in Lamentations (presumably Jeremiah) described his own suffering with the people under the Lord’s judgement. He broke down his suffering into four realms:
1. Suffering is physical (v.4)
2. Suffering is psychological (v.7)
3. Suffering is emotional (v.15)
4. Suffering is spiritual (v. 18)

Physical suffering

Jeremiah wrote about his physical suffering first, describing the effects of hunger, disease, and broken bones on his body. For us, pain is the easiest form of suffering to understand because we all experience it. We may not remember the pain of being born or the scrapes, bumps, and bruises that come with childhood, but we do remember our most recent experience with pain, whether it be an occasional headache or a chronic condition. For those who survived the Babylonian attacks on Jerusalem, physical pain began with hunger and for most, continued in slavery. Enduring physical pain is exhausting and demoralizing. Today, physical pain may be reduced by medication, but its debilitating effects may still cause us to question God’s purpose for our lives.

Psychological suffering

Isolation causes psychological suffering. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic served as a reminder to every person on the planet that we are created for community. A video chat cannot replace companionship. Loneliness has long term physical repercussions, including sleep changes, altered metabolism, and even neurocognitive effects (Ellis, 2020). Jeremiah described his isolation as impenetrable walls and heavy chains with no way of escape.

Emotional suffering

Emotions affect the way we perceive the world. It’s how we are wired as humans. We feel deeply. Emotions allow us to connect to each other with empathy and love and authenticity. But our emotions can also make us feel things that aren’t real. When times are hard, we tend to follow our emotions and feelings rather than reason and logic. The prophet here felt his suffering was God laying in wait to pounce on him like a bear or a lion does its prey. He felt torn to pieces, taunted by others and cowering in ashes. The recent protests in the US revealed the emotions of many of my Black brothers and sisters who feel much as Jeremiah did: they feel tormented, ridiculed, unheard, and without value. The suffering is real and is runs deep.

Spiritual suffering

The worst possible kind of suffering is suspecting that God has abandoned us. Jesus himself dreaded being separated from the Father, even asking whether there was another way to make atonement for our sins in order that we might be reconciled to God (Matthew 26:36-46). Jeremiah’s soul was bereft of peace to the point where he had forgotten what happiness felt like. This deep spiritual suffering leaves us hopeless and, if not resolved, can have dire consequences. Spiritual suffering is hell.

God makes a way where there is no way

After 20 verses painting a picture of his suffering, the prophet comes to his purpose in writing: BUT THIS I CALL TO MIND (v.21). Those are powerful words.

BUT THIS. There is an end to suffering. There is more than the current crisis. There is something greater at work.

I CALL. It is not a new revelation. We can access the greater lesson. We can call on the Lord; he has redeemed us and called us by name (Isaiah 43).

TO MIND. Suffering is real, make no mistake. But what Jeremiah wrote is a reminder to all of us that we do not have to focus on our suffering. God has given us minds that we can train to endure the physical, psychological, and emotional strains on our lives, especially in bad times.

What exactly did Jeremiah call to mind?

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases (Lamentations 3, v.22). Never. Even in the chaos of devastation, the Lord is good to the souls who seek him (v.25). His mercies are new EVERY day (v. 22). Hope comes when we recognize that every solace we may need is available to us (v. 24). His compassion and steadfast love means He will not cast us off forever; He is with us (v. 31-33).

In the meantime, our response is to examine our own ways and thoughts to root out anything that separates us from the Father (Lamentations 3:40-42; Psalm 139: 23-24), lifting up hearts and hands in repentance and lament. The Lord will come near when we call on His name (Lamentations 3:57) and let us see that He is with us and for us, even in the middle of the mess.

It reminds me of the William Dawson (1937) song, “Ain’a That Good News.” Suffering is part of living in this world, but there’s “a Savior in-a that kingdom” whose compassion will redeem us!

Ain’a that good news William Dawson, 1937. Tuskegee Institute Choir

Lamentations 2

Lamentations 2 and Proverbs 21, 25

” Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:2-3).

“The Lord has done what He purposed; He has carried out His word” ( Lamentations 2:17).

God made clear His expectations for his people through Moses (Leviticus and Deuteronomy). At the top of the list was keep the Name of the Lord holy by not worshipping idols. Other expectations were to ensure justice for everyone, from the lowest slave to the king. Everyone was to be held accountable to the Law. God was also clear about the end result of disobedience: utter destruction. Generations after Moses, after multiple rescues and second chances, God followed through by letting His holy wrath pour out like fire (Lamentations 2:4), laying waste to the city like an enemy (v. 5).

Jerusalem was prosperous and beautiful, a princess among nations, but she turned from the Lord and took satisfaction in her wealth and idols, listening to the words of false and deceptive teachers and kings. Finally, God did what He told them He would do if they persisted in sin (Lamentations 2:17; Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28; Jeremiah 51).

God is the true and just sanctifier (Leviticus 22:31-33) who sees the violence of the wicked among his people, and He will sweep them away (Proverbs 21:7). False teachers who did not call out sin for what it was led people away from the Lord. They still do. And the people of Jerusalem learned that trusting treacherous teachers is dangerous. The same is true today. The Church in the US has largely been lazy, calling people to God not because they need to repent over sin, but to join with social movements or prosperity doctrines that make people feel happy.

Jerusalem had to be utterly and corporately destroyed for God to get their attention. The US is crumbling by corruption from within, and as always, the devastation is corporate, not individual. Why is there evil in the world? Because people choose themselves over the Lord.

The Lord knows our hearts.

Lamentations 1

“For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me” (Lamentations 1:16).

“By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil” (Proverbs 16:6).

When cities are destroyed, all the people who live there pay the price. Jerusalem was devastated by Babylon; other places crumble by corruption from within. individuals desperate to hold onto power are ultimately confronted by the people they oppress. It doesn’t matter where in the world it happens; tyrants will be challenged. Sometimes the oppression is overt: police brutality, government control of production and distribution of goods, and persecutions are examples. Other times the quest for power is stealthy, couched in words of compassion or justice or protection. This approach is far more dangerous; people get swept up in a feel-good message and they don’t consider the source, the purpose, and the ultimate mission of the movements. In both overt and stealthy demands for acquiescence to some form of human power and dominance, the end result is tumult, chaos, and violent upheaval. It might be local (recent events in Seattle), national (protests that led to riots in major cities across the US in the Spring of 2020 or the Arab Spring of 2011), or international (any war in the history of the world). Wherever and whomever is involved, the damage to people and property is devastating.

The empty streets and ruined buildings that follow destruction wrench the heart and turn the stomach. Grief has a physical component that compounds the emotional, psychological, and spiritual. The author of Lamentations felt the full weight of grief as he surveyed the damage wrought by Babylon. His response is mirrored by our own when we witness violent devastation by one group of people upon another. It feels hopeless and we feel helpless.

Hopeless and helpless represent the natural state of humanity without Jesus. No amount of legislation can change the hearts of people. No motivational speech can instill love toward one another. Government cannot make people good. When the Church and believers trust the systems of humans for salvation, they turn those systems into idols. Government, legislation, law enforcement, and the like are tools of protection put in place by God. They cannot save anyone’s soul, nor are they truly and consistently just.Iniquity (sin) can only be atoned for by steadfast love and faithfulness, two things no human on this earth can achieve.


God, in His love and mercy, made a way, interceding by offering His righteousness and salvation in Jesus (Isaiah 59:16; Romans 5:7-18). Even when it seems like the wicked are prevailing, the Lord hears our lament and our authentic repentance, both for our individual sins and for the sins of a nation (Lamentations 1).

The Church must lead the way to individual and national repentance. The Church must lead the lament for our times. And we who are believers must recognize that we may be part of the problem. In our own repentance and lament, we may see how God intends to do a work in us and through us, even when the days are dark.