What word in the New Testament is used only once, in Matthew 24:12?
First, the scene.
The disciples had asked Jesus about the Temple, the times, and when His return would be. His answer is the longest discourse in the NT after the Sermon on the Mount, and the longest answer to any question the disciples asked. It comprises the entire chapters of Matthew 24 and goes on to Matthew 25. The response, given on the Mount of Olives and thus known as the Olivet Discourse, is about the Tribulation period. The Time of Jacob’s Trouble, when Jesus pours out His wrath on the unbelieving world, and punishes Israel for the final 7 years of time, three and a half of which are called the Great Tribulation. (Revelation 12:14, Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7).
Jesus lists the conditions that will be on earth during the time, synopsis of the lengthier descriptions of the judgments of Revelation 6-18, which parallel Matthew 24 and 25. Jesus said one of the conditions on earth will be:
And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)
The “many” here means the “majority.”
Jesus means lawlessness in the spiritual sense. The Tribulation will be a time when Jesus asked if He would even find faith on the earth, so few will real believers be, (Luke 18:8) compared to the numerous population that will revel in a false religion of the global deception that the antichrist will perpetrate. The Greek synonyms for lawlessness in this verse are disobedience and sin, the end-result of a negative influence on a person’s soul.
It is an interesting metaphor, the love gone cold. We often think of love between a man and a woman or husband and wife, in romantic terms as fiery, hot, the spark between us, a fire is kindled. When love dims between unsaved people, the songsters sing of love cold as ashes, the fire is gone out, the heat is gone. Of course, the songsters and poets mean sexual love and romantic love, but it is a common metaphor, love is hot or cold.
The unusual word Jesus uses uniquely here in Matthew 24:12 is psuchó. Psucho is used this one and only time in the NT. Strong’s Concordance defines it:
originally, “to breathe out,” cf. J. Thayer) – properly, “to blow, refresh with cool air” (figuratively) “to breathe cool by blowing, to grow cold, ‘spiritual energy blighted or chilled by a malign or poisonous wind’, used only in Mt 24:12.
Here Jesus means the love of Christians will grow cold. Love will be cold for Him, and love will be cold for each other (the two greatest commandments). Charles Spurgeon preached in his sermon “A Prophetic Warning“:
What could not be accomplished by persecutors outside the Church and traitors inside, would be attempted by teachers of heresy—“Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” They have risen in all ages! In these modern times they have risen in clouds till the air is thick with them, as with an army of devouring locusts!
These are the men who invent new doctrines and who seem to think that the religion of Jesus Christ is something that a man may twist into any form and shape that he pleases. Alas that such teachers should have any disciples! It is doubly sad that they should be able to lead astray “many.” Yet, when it so happens, let us remember that the King said that it would be so.
Is it any wonder that where such “iniquity abounds” and such lawlessness is multiplied, “the love of many shall grow cold”? If the teachers deceive the people and give them “another gospel which is not another,” it is no marvel that there is a lack of love and zeal.
Spurgeon, sermon #3301, A Prophetic Warning
Spurgeon spoke more as to the specifics of what causes love to grow cold, as the Strong’s definition interestingly shows us from this basis, “spiritual energy blighted or chilled by a malign or poisonous wind'”. Spurgeon poetically and theologically describes just how spiritual energy is blighted-
Iniquity is naturally opposed to Grace, but it is most of all injurious to the Grace of love. If sin abounds in a Church, it is little wonder if the love of many should grow cold. Young members introduced into the Church after a short time find that those whom they looked upon as being examples are walking disorderly and using lightness of speech and of behavior. Those young people cannot be very warm in love—they are led to stumble and are scandalized. Older saints who have for years held onto their way in integrity, and by Grace have kept their garments unspotted from the world, see those around them who have come into the Church who seem to be of quite another race, who can drink of the cup of Belial and of the cup of the Lord, who seem to follow Christ and the devil, too! Seeing this evil, these godly men and women gather up their garments in holy indignation and find it difficult to feel the love of purer days.
Oh, Friends, if the frost of sin rules in a Church, every tender flower is injured and nothing flourishes! Love is a sensitive plant and if it is touched by the finger of sin, it will show it. The lilies of Love’s Paradise cannot bloom amid the smoke and dust of unholiness!
As I read the passage I thought deeply about the theological definitions and implications of love gone cold (and Revelation 3:15-16 also). I was also reading the ‘Christian’ headlines and noting the devastating apostasy abounding, the acceptance of gay marriage in the church, the refusal to draw doctrinal lines between believers and unbelievers, the refusal to rebuke false teachers, the refusal even to recognize them, the seeking after pornography, the ridiculous church services that are mere entertainments for the goats…and I noted finally the weather.
I could not help but notice the rapid apostasizing of “Christians” and the rapid cooling of the world, especially Israel and America. The word psucho and its definition, “to breathe cool by blowing, to grow cold”.
O church, where are you? Spurgeon said that a boat is fine even when waters storm outside it. But when the waters breach and stream inside the boat, the boat is in danger. It is the same with the church. When the world stays outside, no matter how they rage and storm, the church is OK. When the pollution of sin streams inside, there is the danger. Picture a boat frozen fast in the ice. Perhaps Shackleton’s The Endurance…
As long as the mighty ship bounded over waves she was OK. It was what she was built for. But once she became stuck in the ice and no longer moved, the ice built up. It built up and climbed over the top of the masts. It pressured, and pressured, and pressured against her, until one day, the icy cold broke a plank. The frigid water streamed in, and once it did, it formed more ice. The heaviness of the ice weighed her down, eventually thwarting her ability to move. She was completely stuck.
As plank after plank broke and the water breached, she sank.
So you see the cycle. Love grows cold, and that is because sin abounds. If not dealt with, the icy sin’s fingers reach more hearts, and the ship of the church grows heavy and stuck. Sin unaddressed allows more sin, and eventually the pressure of so much sin breaks a plank and the world streams in. As it streams in, the ship of the church grows heavier, and eventually the pressures within and without sink her.
Of course the true church will never sink, but individual churches do, as we learn from letters to the 7 churches in Revelation. Listen to Spurgeon’s pleas from his sermon A Prophetic Warning.
Spurgeon again: “
As all the water outside a vessel can do it no harm until it enters the vessel, itself, so outward persecutions cannot really injure the Church of God. But when the mischief oozes into the Church and the love of God’s people grows cold—ah, then the boat is in sore distress! I fear that we are much in this condition at the present hour. May the Holy Spirit bless the alarming prophecy now before us to our awakening!Spurgeon: A Prophetic Warning
And how much more applicable is the urgency at this hour, over one hundred years later! Contrast the scene from Van Gogh’s Olive trees, thriving under a warm sun, to the Endurance, trapped and slowly sinking under a glacial freeze.
Go to your Master and ask Him to fan the fire within you to a great heat, that if there should be cold everywhere else, there may be warmth in your bosoms! The Lord help you to do this, dear Friends, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.