The entire discourse about the end times here is frustratingly non-specific. We like the details, and we want to know what to look for. I think it’s on purpose that Jesus didn’t lay out the specifics, because it would have negated his main point: ALWAYS BE READY. It’s like children on their own, knowing that Mama is coming home at 6. They can do whatever they want in the meantime, as long as they get their act together by 6 so that Mom doesn’t really know what went on. Since Jesus never buys into that kind of shenanigan, he wants us to always have our act together—always be doing what we’re supposed to be doing so that if we’re ever caught red-handed, our hands will be clean.

Another emphasis of the chapter is to not expect improvement in civilization and society—the psychology that some day we’ll figure it out and get it right and everything will be OK. Jesus is quite firm in the position that we’ll keep blowing it until we ruin everything, and the end times are going to rough on everybody. We’ll make a bigger mess out of a growing mess until we’ve crossed a point of no return, and it will truly be the self-induced end—but then Jesus will seal it off at the appropriate time. There will no question that it’s the right time.

All of the signs are dire: social, environmental, spiritual, civil, and physical. In other words, a total collapse of life as we know it. The obvious question on their lips and ours is: “When will this be, and how can we tell it’s coming?” He doesn’t answer very specifically, but instead gives general advice: (1) always be ready, (2) be devoted and you won’t have to worry, (3) know enough not to be deceived, and (4) it’s not going to be pretty.

Oh, and one more thing: The end will not be the end. After the end, there is another beginning.