Babe Ruth’s Rookie Card
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt 24:3c (Holman) “Tell us, when will these things happen? And
what is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”
We want to know about tomorrow. Few things are more problematic than trying to predict the future, and yet, few things more intrigue us as well.
We toy with harmless things like fortune cookies and laugh (I hope) at horoscopes. Remember; efforts at actually predicting the future are wrong.
Knowing the future would help us avoid tragedies, predict the stock market, and enjoy our joys before they happened. A Babe Ruth rookie card sold at auction last week for $675,000. This caught my attention because about 20 years ago, Ruth and I saw one for sale for $15,000. Had I known then what I know now, I would have mortgaged my house to buy that card.
By the way, the Babe Ruth card we saw was stolen about a week later and, as far as we know, never recovered. If I suddenly show up at church driving a brand new Lamborghini, please don’t tell the authorities this story.
Being ordinary guys, the 12 wanted to know the future. Unfortunately, their questions were based on a false assumption. They had no concept of there being a time lag between the first and second comings of Messiah.
Just prior to our text, Jesus had said a day was coming when people would say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (23:39). Immediately after this, He had said the temple would be destroyed (24:2).
The 12 assumed both events would happen concurrently. They could not conceive history continuing without the temple. To them, destruction of the temple would end our present world order, and usher in Messiah’s reign.
It is easy for us to say the 12 were overly enamored with the temple, but we must admit its destruction marked more than merely the destruction of a building. It closed an epoch era, ending many things as they had been, including ending Abraham’s physical offspring having supreme prominence.
A foreshadowing of the latter happened when Jesus died on the cross. The temple veil, separating the Holy of Holies (God’s dwelling place) from human view, was torn in two. Exposing the room to sinners’ eyes rendered it common. This event for sure graphically pictured two new vital truths. One, people can now come directly into God’s presence through Jesus. Two, God’s message was now set free from ethnic, national borders; the Gospel was released. Pray churches won’t be modern “temple veils”, hindering people who may want to come to God, and hoarding the Gospel from others.
Jesus knew the Twelve were not yet prepared to distinguish between the two events they had co-mingled in their false assumption. Thus, when Jesus answered their questions, He did not try to distinguish between the two. His answers are so interwoven that it is hard for us to disentangle them.
We may be wise to view the two events as sharing common characteristics. Instead of seeing the events as two mountains side by side, move one in front of the other. What happens to one can happen to the other.
Jerusalem’s destruction was a local Day of Judgment. The end of time will be a worldwide Day of Judgment. One is past; one is future. Since both are Days of Judgment, things that happen before the first could foreshadow things that will happen before the second. Jesus used images they would see before the destruction of Jerusalem to paint pictures of His Second Coming.
The 12 correctly saw the two as closely related. They erred in thinking the correlation between the two was timing rather than repeated happenings.
Warnings that happened before Jerusalem’s destruction will happen again before the world’s destruction. In fact, many of these warnings occur at all times due to God’s never-ending, ongoing judgment against sin.
God’s moral constitution has operated through the centuries. We have seen many of these warnings in our generation, and in every era of history.
Jesus’ interweaving of warning signs should keep us from dogmatic predictions. Bible predictions usually carry a hint of obscurity until fulfilled. The people who see the fulfillment often say, “So that’s what that meant.”
Jesus avoided a timeline. He emphasized timing less than being on the alert, and remaining faithful to the end. “What Christ said to his disciples tends more to engage their caution than to satisfy their curiosity; more to prepare them for events that should happen than to give them a distinct idea of the events themselves” (Henry).
Jesus’ obscurity makes us think it could happen in any moment. This suspense keeps our vigilance high. Knowing precisely when the Second Coming will happen would rob it of its behavioral motivations. Constantly expecting it improves our conduct.
Matt. 24:4 Then Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives
Craving to know “when” makes us subject to charlatans, and to people who think they know the precise time, but don’t. Predictors easily influence us. We all desperately want to know about the Second Coming and the end of the world. We have a vested interest in it. We are not casual observers.
Thus, we must constantly remember; not everything people think is a sign of the end actually is. “Experts” misread the signs leading to the first coming; many have made the same mistake leading to the Second Coming.
Many warning signs happen repeatedly throughout the ages. Thus no one of them in particular can be totally depended on as predicting the soon end of the world. The same warnings can have more than one application in God’s grand scheme, and have predicted one act of Judgment after another.
Being kind, Jesus wanted to prepare His people for the fall of Jerusalem. They needed to know events that would predict it. We now know that many of these same warning signs have preceded God’s judgment on other cities and nations, and will precede the Second Coming of Jesus also.
By giving the same warning signs for the near and distant future, Jesus spoke let us know the world would continue after the destruction of Jerusalem and after other Judgments. Seeing the same warnings again and again would bespeak the fact God’s final Judgment had not yet come.
We have needed this reminder often. When Rome fell, Christians struggled. They feared Christianity would collapse without Rome behind it.
We had to be reminded life would go on, that it was not the end of the world. Augustine wrote “The City of God” to remind us Christianity is dependent on no one city or any one government. It will outlast them all.
We tend to be overly worried and obsessed by what happens in our time and nation. Like believers everywhere, we in the USA are susceptible to this. We need to be often reminded the end times are not determined by what happens in the USA. We represent only 5% of the world’s population.
Let me give a concrete example of how at-hand circumstances can weigh heavy on our minds. Many USA believers think Christ-followers will be raptured before a terrible worldwide time of tribulation and persecution falls on believers. This has been fostered by 400 years of religious freedom among us. We have trouble fathoming persecution. However, go to China and tell persecuted believers there that God won’t let His people go through a tribulation. They’ll look at you through bruised eyes, point to punishment marks on their bodies, and possibly not even answer due to incredulity.
Let me bring this message home to our hearts. Many of the bad things happening now in the USA may or may not be predicting Jesus’ coming, but they all for sure reveal how desperately this world needs to be rescued by a compassionate, competent ruler. Maybe we need to hear the angel ask again, “Why do you stand looking up into heaven?” (AC 1:11b). Rather than only say “Wow!” with excitement over Jesus’ possible soon return, let’s also say “Woe is me!” over the people we know who are not ready for His coming.