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Faith Bible Church, NY
March 19, 1995
The Signs of His Coming
Today we return to our study of Matthew. Since it has been quite a while since we were in this book, let’s have a quick review.
Matthew was written to Jews about 50 AD.
The theme of book is that Jesus is king. Matthew documents Jesus as the promised Messiah, and presents His kingdom program.
The theme of Jesus’ teaching is: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (3:17), and “Your righteousness must exceed that of Scribes and Pharisees or you will not enter the kingdom.”
Jesus proved that He was Messiah by His teaching and His demonstrated authority over disease & sickness, nature, demons, death and sin (8-10).
The religious leaders rejected Jesus (12) and have been seeking to destroy Him (12:14).
Before we took our break from Matthew, we had covered up through chapter 23. It is only a few days prior to Jesus’ crucifixion and the tension between the hypocritical religious leaders and Jesus has reached its peak. Jesus has entered Jerusalem with the people shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” (See: The Presentation of the King) The people have proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, and were expecting Him to throw off Roman rule and reestablish Israel by setting up His own kingdom. They were expecting Jesus to now become their king and fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies dealing with the Messiah as conqueror.
This only upsets the religious leaders more, and they come with a series of shrewd questions seeking to defame Jesus publically so that they can then destroy Him. Jesus answers each question pointedly and demonstrates not only the hypocritical nature of His opponents, but also their extreme lack of understanding about the things of God.
In chapter 23 Jesus began a long condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees for their false religiosity, their pseudo-piety and their utter wickedness (See: Traits of False Spiritual Leaders). These are the strongest words of condemnation Jesus ever uttered. Woe to these religious hypocrites and blind guides who shut people out of the kingdom of heaven (13), who swindle widows (14), who train men to be son’s of hell just and they were (15), who value material things more than God (16-22), who keep the minutia of their own religious codes but ignore God’s precepts (23,24), who appear to others as being holy but are inwardly unclean and filthy with sin (27,28), who honor the ancient prophets their fathers murdered while plotting the murder of Jesus, the greatest prophet (29-36).
Yet, even with this great condemnation, Jesus’ longs for their repentance and turning to Him. So Jesus laments in 23:37f, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent unto her, how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate. For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you shall say, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.”
All this must be kept in mind as we begin our study of Chapter 24.
“And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.”
Jesus and the disciples now leave the Temple area, cross the upper end of the Kidron Valley, and begin the assent up the Mount of Olives on their way back to Bethany where they had been staying. The assent has a series of switch backs. Alfred Edersheim in his book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, describes what the scene must looked like.
A sudden turn in the road, and the Sacred Building was once more in full view. Just then the western sun was pouring his golden beams on top of the marble cloisters and on the terraced courts, and the glittering on the golden spikes of the roof of the Holy Place. In the setting, even more than in the rising sun, must the vast proportions, the symmetry, and the sparkling sheen of this mass of snowy marble and gold have stood out gloriously. And across the black valley, and up the slopes of Olivet, lay the dark shadows of those gigantic walls built of massive stones, some of them nearly twenty-four feet long…
It was probably as they now gazed on all this grandeur and strength, that they broke the silence imposed on them by gloomy thoughts of the near desolateness of that House, which the Lord had predicted. One and another pointed out to Him those massive stones and splendid buildings, or spoke of the rich offerings with which the Temple was adorned. It was but natural that the contrast between this and the predicted desolation should have impressed them.
The Temple was the center of Judaism and the pride of its people. The rabbis, who hated Herod, lauded him for the Temple. They said that “He who has not seen Herod’s Temple has not seen a beautiful building.”
The disciples must have been astonished over the Lord’s proclamation a short while earlier that this house would be left desolate, so as they see it in all its glory they start pointing it out to the Lord wondering if what Jesus has prophesied could really come true. They must have been shocked over what Jesus said next in verse 2.
And He answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
Forty years later Jesus’ word’s would come true. In the Spring of 70 A.D., general Titus and his Roman legions laid siege against Jerusalem. The walls were finally breached in August and the troops poured into the Temple area in a wild frenzy. The Temple was set ablaze and then after everything that could burn had been burned, wrecking crews began destroying what remained. Josephus records that the pillars supporting the porticos were over 37 feet high and at least 12-15 feet in circumference. But all these were pushed over that the towers knocked down. The paving stones were ripped up in an effort to gain access to any riches that might be stored in the underground chambers. Tradition holds that when the temple burned, the gold in it melted and ran between the flagstones. The soldiers tore these up to get at the gold. By the time it was all done, not a stone was left in place. Josephus said it was difficult to believe that it had ever been inhabited. The Wailing Wall where Jews pray today was not part of the temple, but a retaining wall around the mount.
The disciples were stunned at what Jesus said, and apparently remained silent until Jesus sat down to rest at the top of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple (Mark 13:3). Then Peter, James, John and Andrew (Mark 13:4) began to question Him privately asking, “Tell us when these things will be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
In order for us to understand Jesus’ answer in the verses following, we must understand the questions and what was behind them. Remember that these were Jewish men that were looking for the Messiah to come and fulfill the O.T. prophecies. They had certain expectations.
First, they understood the O.T. passages such as Zechariah 14, which predicted great tribulation before the Messiah would come, but the nation had experienced such tribulation under Antiochus IV who had slaughtered thousands of Jews and desecrated the Temple. They were still under the oppressive hand of Rome.
They also understood that an Elijah-like forerunner would come to herald the Messiahs coming, and Jesus had already said that had occurred in John the Baptist.
The next event they expected was for the Messiah to appear to set up His kingdom. Jesus had made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem only a few days earlier, so now they were looking for the rest of the commonly held beliefs about Messiah’s coming to be fulfilled.
They thought the next event would be the alliance of the nations to fight against the Messiah with the result that those nations would be destroyed. They believed that following that, Jerusalem would be restored, the Jews scattered throughout the world would be gathered back to Israel, Jerusalem would become the center of the world, and all nations would be subjugated to Israel and that the Messiah’s kingdom would bring a new and eternal age of peace, righteousness and divine glory.
It is in that context that these disciples now ask Jesus these questions. “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” Their belief was that Jesus would soon establish His kingdom, and they wanted to know when that would occur and how they would know it was about to happen. Jesus does not deal with the question of when until verse 36, where He tells them that only the heavenly Father knows. The second question has led some people astray because they read too much New Testament theology into a question asked from an Old Testament perspective. They were not asking when Jesus would return, as some have postulated, because they did not know He was leaving. They only expected one coming. Their question is “what will be the sign of Your manifesting Yourself and taking Your place as Messiah and King of Kings.” Their third question is tied to the second. What is the sign of the consummation of the age.
Even after Jesus’ resurrection, they did not fully understand the spiritual nature of Christ’s present kingdom. The very last question they asked Jesus when he was about to ascend into heaven, was “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Their interest is when the kingdom would come, not when the temple would be destroyed.
With all this in mind, we can begin to look at Jesus’ answer. As already pointed out, Jesus does not answer the first question until verse 36. He begins to answer the second and third together, because they really have the same answer. When Jesus comes as Messiah and King of Kings it brings to an end the present age.
Jesus’ answer is prophetic. By that I mean that what Jesus describes is not something that the disciples themselves would experience. Jesus is speaking to the disciples the same way the Old Testament prophets frequently spoke to the people of their time, but whose message was really for those not yet born. Some examples of this are Isaiah 66:10-14 where he uses the present tense and the second person pronoun to speak of something that will not occur until the end of the age. Zechariah 9:9 is the same way telling Zion to rejoice for “your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Even that would not occur until Jesus would ride into Jerusalem.
Jesus addresses the disciples using phrases such as “when you see…” but His message is for a future generation.
What evidence is there for this understanding of the text? There are several things that indicate this, let me give you the most salient. First, the gospel will be preached to all the world (vs 14) and that did not happen during the time of the Apostles. Second, verse 15 speaks of them seeing the “abomination of desolation” spoken of by Daniel and that did not occur while the apostles were alive; it still has not happened. Third, verse 21 speaks of a time of tribulation that will be unparalleled in either past or future time. That has not occurred yet. Fourth, Verse 29 says that the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the starts will fall from the sky. That has not happened yet. And fifth, verse 34 says that the generation that sees the beginning of this will not pass away until all the events take place.
Jesus answer is not concerning the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., but of what is coming just prior to His return, which brings about the end of the age. Jesus’ message is for those that are alive at the time the events of the book of Revelation begin to unfold, for Matthew 24 parallel’s the book of Revelation. It, like Revelation displays God’s wrath upon sinful man, and because of that, the church is not present during any of these events.
The Scriptures are clear that while the church will and does suffer much at the hands of wicked men and Satan’s wrath, it will not suffer under God’s wrath. 1 Thess. 1:10 says: “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, [even] Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thess. 5:9 says: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,” Rev. 3:10 says: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
Our belief is that the church will be “raptured”, or caught up to be with Christ prior to the outpouring of God’s wrath upon sinful man during the Tribulation period. This is not an escape from persecution, for Jesus said that in this world we will have tribulation and unbelievers will persecute us. While I don’t know the figures off hand, I have heard and read that theirs have been more Christian martyrs during the 20th century than the combined total of all previous centuries. The doctrine of a pre-tribulational rapture is not a means of escape from persecution because we, along with Peter (1 Pet. 4:13) and Paul (Phil. 3:10), set our minds to rejoice to be partakes of the sufferings of Christ.
We believe this doctrine because the weight of Scriptures indicates it. It was the source of comfort to the Thessalonians (4:13-18). As noted, the church is exempt from the wrath of God. The church is absent from Rev. 6-18, which details God’s wrath on sinful man. There are no instructions to the church about how to endure and conduct itself during the tribulation. Jesus told us He was preparing a place for us to dwell in with Him in heaven (John 14). It allows for a non-glorified human population on earth during the Millennium. It means that the next eschatological event we expect is the rapture, all the other signs occur after.
What are these other signs. Jesus details them starting in vs 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and various places there will be famines and earth-quakes. But all these things are merely the begin-ning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.“
Don’t be mislead. These events occur at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week, the time of Jacob’s troubles, the start of God’s wrath as seen in Revelation. These are not events that precede the Rapture, but occur after it. All but the last of these are very general events that have always been around, but they will increase just before the end. There have always been those who falsely claimed to be Christ. It was true in the first century, it is true now. Rev. Moon still thinks himself to be the Messiah. But during the tribulation this will become more intense as the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit is removed (2 Thess. 2:7) and people seek after such deception (2 Tim. 3:1-8). The first horseman of Rev. 6 is a conqueror. Exactly what the anti-Christ will do as he begins his rise to power.
There have always been wars. Someone has tallied over 300 wars in the last three centuries in Europe alone. But as the tribulation period begins it gets worse. Rev. 6:3,4 tells us that when the Lamb broke the second seal, the horseman of war rode forth. But these two do not bring the end.
Famine and earthquakes are also common. Both being recorded throughout history. Rev. 6:5-8 tell of two more horsemen that ride forth. The third is famine and fourth is death through various means. The breaking of the sixth seal brings on a great earthquake and all through the rest of Revelation there are horrible earthquakes that make anything recorded in our times insignificant.
But all these are just the beginning of birth pangs (24:8). Birth pangs start off slow and build in frequency and intensity. So it is during the tribulation. All these things: deceivers, war, famine and earthquakes build to unprecedented levels at the beginning of the Tribulation.
Severe persecution also breaks out against those that become Christians during the tribulation. Most of those whose souls are saved during this time profess Christ at the forfeit of their physical lives. At the breaking of the fifth seal in Rev. 6:11 John sees under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they [were], should be fulfilled.
The persecution will not only be physical, but emotional and mental as well. False prophets will arise to mislead, and because most believers then will not be well versed in the Scriptures. Many will be mislead by them. Even worse will be the increase in lawlessness. The abandoning of God’s moral standards which will entice others away from their profession of faith. Their love for God will grow cold. They will love the world and the things in more than the Savior. It will be a tough time to be a Christian because all the forces of hell will be against you to mislead you into falsehood, to entice you with every kind of sin, and to kill you if you resist. Yet, even in that sort of dire circumstance the ministry of the Holy Spirit continues in the believer and those that have him will be able to resist and hold fast to their faith. They will endure to the end whether that end comes through martyrdom or living to the end of the tribulation. Their souls are secure in the Lord.
The gospel will be preached in the whole world (vs. 14). Some have taken this to mean that once the missions movement accomplishes this task, Jesus will come and that motivates them. That is unfortunate. We strive to take the gospel to every nation because Christ commanded us to and the logical outcome of
our love for Christ is to tell others about Him. Christ’s return is not dependent on us. Revelation tells us of several supernaturally empowered witness that He will have during the tribulation. In Rev. 7 we find that there are 144,000 Jewish witness, 12,000 from each tribe, that are sealed as God’s bond-servants. In Rev. 11 there are two witness who will have supernatural power to witness for 3 1/2 years (1,260 days) before they are killed by the beast. Then they are raised from the dead 3 1/2 days later while the world is watching. Verse 13 says that this “terrified many who then gave glory to the God of heaven.” In Rev. 14:6,7 God sends and angel “flying in the mid-heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of water.'”
God will accomplish the task of making sure the gospel is preached in every nation.
It is after this that “the end will come.” And we will look at that next week.
What is the point? God has already determined the future and He has revealed many aspects of it to us. The question is what will we do with that knowledge. If you are not a Christian, you had better take very seriously what that means even if you should live long enough to enter this period of time, and there is no guarantee that you will. Any of us could die at any time. You need to get right with the Lord today.
If you are a Christian, then you had better be sure of what sort of life you are living. What is your mind set on, what controls your heart? If you mind is not set on the eternal things of God, if your heart is not controlled by Him, then change it!
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