On Friday we looked at the return of Christ. It has not happened yet; it’s yet to come in the future. When? Today we talk about timing; namely, we are going to look at one of the clear pieces of evidence that Christ’s return is drawing near. Here’s the question from a listener to the podcast named Alex. “Hello, Pastor John! I have a question about what Jesus said in Matthew 24:12, where he said of the end times that ‘lawlessness will be increased’ and that ‘the love of many will grow cold.’ What does Jesus mean when he says love will grow cold? Where will this be evidenced? What is ‘cold love’? And how can we prevent this in our own lives?”
Yes, that last question is the nub of the matter, isn’t it? So, let’s set the stage from Matthew 24, where the quote comes from in verse 12.
Beginning of Birth Pangs
Jesus had just looked at the temple in Jerusalem and said, “Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). And then the disciples asked him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
Now, that phrase “end of the age” refers to the phase of history that we are in, ending with the coming of Christ in judgment, separating the sheep and the goats, raising the dead. We know that because of the way the phrase is used in Matthew 13:39–43, where Jesus interprets the parable of the weeds like this:
The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
The disciples had heard Jesus talk about this. They had heard this description of the end of the age, and they were asking about the end of this period of history marked by that amazing final judgment. They didn’t know how that related to the destruction of the temple, when all the stones would be thrown down. They were asking about both. Jesus answers by describing the kinds of things that will mark this age leading up to the end of this age. For example,
Many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. (Matthew 24:5–6)
“Hate is the final outcome of hypocritical love — just the shell of love where the warmth has gone out.”
So, he says, “The end is not yet.” He has the end in view, but he warns them that there’s going to be some time lapse here. It’s not the very end yet. The end is not yet. These things will be happening on the way to the end. This will be your experience leading up to the end. Then he adds, “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:8), to make clear that there is some time lapse before the end. This is the beginning of the birth pangs. They will last for some unspecified time, and then there will be the end of the birth pangs as the new order is brought to birth.
Four Observations on ‘Cold Love’
He goes on:
And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:10–14)
Now, here are four observations.
1. Cold love is the opposite of warm familial affection.
For example, in Genesis 43:30, when Joseph was about to reveal his identity to his brothers, it says, “Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep.” We see the same thing in Hosea 11:8. God says to Israel, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.”
So, cold love is the shell of love that has lost its inner familial warmth.
2. Cold love betrays.
The effect of this coldness is that brother betrays brother. Matthew 24:10, “Then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” That hate is the final outcome of hypocritical love — just the shell of love where the warmth has gone out, and ice has come in, and the upshot is no longer just hypocritical love but rather hate that betrays brother to brother.
3. Cold love results from lawlessness.
Jesus says that the reason for this upsurge of cold, hypocritical love that eventually betrays a brother is owing to the increase of lawlessness. Matthew 24:12, “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” That’s worth thinking about, because you might want to turn it around like this: “Because love grew cold, there’s a lot of lawlessness.” The root of this growing coldness of love in the church toward each other is a deep hostility to authority. That’s my interpretation of lawlessness: a deep hostility to authority, especially God’s authority. That’s what lawlessness is at root. “I will not submit to law from outside my sovereign self. I’m not going to yield to authority anymore.”
Now, to use the language of Paul, the church becomes infected with “the mind of the flesh” rather than “the mind of the Spirit”:
The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. [That’s lawlessness.] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7–8)
The upsurge of lawlessness is the upsurge of self, the mind of the flesh over God, the insubordinate, “I will not submit,” stiff-necked self. And Paul speaks directly to this lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2 in relation to the second coming. He says that a great apostasy must come before the end, along with “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Make that connection between Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2.
The mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:7–8)
So, just when anti-authoritarian lawlessness inside and outside the church seems to be reaching its fevered peak in history, Jesus will step forward and return on the clouds, and there will be a great reversal.
4. Cold love must be combatted.
Finally, a fourth observation to Alex’s question about how we can prevent coldness of love from taking over our own hearts. Since cold love, Jesus says, comes from the increase of lawlessness, we must fight upstream, so to speak, from the river of love. We’ve got to get up there to the springs. We must fight against arrogance and pride and self-sufficiency — that is, against the spirit of lawlessness in our hearts that says, “I will not submit. I don’t like people telling me what to do, least of all an omnipotent God.”
“The root of growing coldness of love in the church toward each other is a deep hostility to authority.”
Lawlessness means we want to be our own law. We don’t want anybody — especially an infallible, omnipotent God — telling us what to do. We want to create our own meaning, create our own identity, create our own rules. And when this happens, we have cut ourselves off from Christ and from the Holy Spirit — and therefore from love.
Let me end with the way Hebrews 10:24–25 exhorts us in view of the second coming:
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.