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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 2, 2018
This morning is the fourth sermon on the section of Scripture often referred to as the Olivet Discourse since Jesus is on the Mount of Olives when He gives it. Jesus has had a series of contentious dialogues with various Jewish leaders – the chief priests, the elders, the Herodians, the Sadducees, the lawyer and the Pharisees – but that has now come to an end.They have tried their best to find a way to entrap Jesus into saying something that would cause Him to lose favor with the people, but they have utterly failed. Instead, He has shown them all to be religious hypocrites who do not know the Scriptures very well despite their claims. (See: Who Does the Father’s Will, Obligations to Caesar; Obligations to God, The Dead Still Live, The Greatest Commandments, The Son Who Existed Before His Father). Jesus has warned the people about them and pronounced a series of woes upon them. (See: Warnings against Pseudo Piety & Pride & Seven Woes to Spiritual Hypocrites).Their only hope would be to repent, for, as demonstrated in Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, God was still willing to forgive and protect them, but they were unwilling to repent, believe and receive it. (See: The Savior’s Lament)
Jesus has now left the Temple for the last time, and He and His disciples have made their way across the Kidron valley and gone up the Mount of Olives on the opposite side. As they ascended, the disciples began to point out the beauty of the Temple and its surrounding buildings. They did this at least in part because of what Jesus had just said in His lament concerning Jerusalem about its house being left desolate (Matthew 23:38). Jesus’ answer made it clear exactly what He had meant, “Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matthew 24:2). This prompted a series of questions when they reached the top of the mount and had sat down opposite the Temple looking at it. “Tell us when these things will be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
These questions center on when Jesus would set up His kingdom. The reference to the “sign of your coming” tends to throw us off track. It might be better to translate this as the “sign of your appearing” for the reference is actually to when He would make His presence known and appear as king. Remember, the disciples did not know Jesus would go away to heaven after His death, burial and resurrection to return at some future time. They are expecting the fulfillment of the Hebrew Prophets for Messiah to set up His kingdom and reestablish the preeminence of Israel and David’s throne. That was still on their minds and their last question to Jesus just before He did ascend (Acts 1:6). They would have figured that Jesus’ foretelling of the destruction of the Temple would fit in with prophecies such as Zechariah 14 as an event that would occur prior to Jesus coming as king. So what then would be the sign of that appearing as king which would put an end to the current age and start the new one?
Jesus’ did not answer the question of when the Temple would be destroyed, but He did describe the signs that would occur prior to His coming as conquering king. He begins with a description of some of the events that will take place in what He refers to as the “birth pangs” which will be followed by persecution and apostasy (Matthew 24:4-14; Mark 13:5-13; Luke 21:8-19). These events correspond with the first six seals described in Revelation 6 which all occur in the first half of the Tribulation Period, the 70th week of Daniel 9:27. (See: The Beginnings of the Future Tribulation)
Jesus then continued to describe the danger that will come with the Abomination of Desolation which will be immediately followed by “a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Matthew 24:21-22). This will also be accompanied by even greater apostasy as false Christs and false prophets appear showing great signs and wonders (Matthew 24:23-24). (See: The Great Tribulation) But their claims should not be believed, for the return of the Son of Man will be like lightning flashing across the sky. It will not be hidden or in secret in anyway, shape or form. His coming will be preceded by unprecedented signs in the heavens with the sun and moon being darkened and stars falling from the sky (Matthew 24:29). Then the Son of Man will return on the clouds of the sky with great power and glory (Matthew 24:30). The angels will then be sent throughout the earth to gather the elect (Revelation 19:19-21), and the stumbling blocks, those who commit lawlessness, and the wicked (Matthew 13:37-43, 47-50) to be separated and judged (Matthew 25:31-46). (See: The Sign of His Coming) The goats, the unrighteous, are sent away into eternal punishment while the sheep, the righteous, inherit the kingdom and eternal life. Jesus’ reign begins with only righteous people inhabiting the earth since all the unrighteous will have been removed.
As we continue this morning in our study of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus begins to emphasize the need to be ready for His return, and He starts off with the parable of the fig tree. Turn to Matthew 24:32.
Matthew 24:32, “Now learn the parable from the fig tree; when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near;”
A parable is simply a story taken from what is commonly known that is used to make a point. The point here is simple. All of us are aware of the signs of the various seasons. Here in the northeast, we know that when the trees begin to change color, we know that we are at the end of summer and that Autumn will soon be upon us. The shortening days and the first snowfalls tell us that Winter will soon come. The first crocus that sticks up through the snow tells us that Spring is just around the corner. And when the seed we plant in our gardens spring up, grow and start flowering we know that Summer is next (although for those with allergies, the first indication of the coming of Summer is swelled sinuses, stopped up noses and itching, watery eyes).
This is the point of the parable of the fig tree. You are aware of the approach of the coming season by the signs in nature around you. When the fig tree buds and leaves break forth, then summer will soon be upon you. Jesus’ parable of the fig tree is simply to point to the signs that precede His return, which He points out specifically in the next verse.
Matthew 24:33, “even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” When you see these things then know that His return is imminent. What things? The signs He has been talking about in the previous verses. As the time of “Jacob’s troubles” (Jeremiah 30:7) starts there will be the “beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8) that will indicate the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy has begun. The ever increasing wars, famines and earthquakes along with the great apostasy and the proclaiming of the gospel by an angel (Revelation14:6-7) are all marks of the early part of this period. The abomination of desolation and the unprecedented tribulation that follows marks the middle of the period. But when the signs in the sky occur, the darkening of the sun and moon and the stars falling from the sky, then take note that Jesus’ coming as conquering king is at hand.
Jesus describes this as being near, at the door. Picture a stage door at which the actors who are anxious to begin the final act are standing. They are poised and ready to enter while waiting for the cue from the director. Jesus will be at the door of heaven waiting for the cue from the sovereign director of all things to bring about the final event of the Tribulation period which will be the destruction of the Anti-Christ and his armies described in Revelation 19:11-21.
11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.
Though we live in an age of skepticism that doubts the Word of God, there is no uncertainty that these things will take place and that they will take place in a short period of time. How certain? Matthew 24:34-35, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”
The generation that is alive at the beginning of this period will still be alive at the end of it. They will not have “passed away” until all these events take place.
Is Jesus coming back? No question about it! Will all that He said here be fulfilled? Certainly! Will these events happen in a short period of time? Absolutely! These things are more sure than the continuation of heaven and earth which, by the way, Jesus says will not continue but will pass away. Jesus’ word is eternal and it will stand. The present heaven and earth are not eternal for they will be pass away, as 2 Peter 3:10 describes, “with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” Tell that to the next Jehovah’s Witness you meet, for they think they will spend eternity here on earth rather than in the presence of God in a new heaven that He is yet to create (Revelation 21:1) – well, at least they are right that they will not spend eternity in the presence of God unless they repent of their heresies to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible who is the mighty God in human flesh.
Some people have argued that “this generation” refers to the generation alive when the nation of Israel was reformed in 1948. The basis of that is the speculation that the fig tree in the parable refers to Israel, which is sheer nonsense and demonstrates the allegorical interpretation these people give to the Scriptures. In short, the allegorical approach allows you interpret the scripture into almost any meaning except what it plainly states. All you have to do is introduce what you think each element in a story is supposed to “really mean.” In the last decade there have been quite a few foolish people using the reestablishment of the nation of Israel as a basis to set a date for Jesus’ return based on how long they think a “generation” is.
Setting a date for Jesus’ return is sheer foolishness since Jesus states in verse 36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” He repeats this idea in verse 42 warning, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”
Those who read the Bible will know what events will take place and what signs will indicate that Jesus is “right at the door” to return, but there is a big difference between knowing the season is near and the day a particular event will occur. Those who are alive at the time will know it when it happens, for they shall see Him coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
It is the height of arrogance for someone to set a date for Jesus to return when Jesus states that no one, including Himself, knows that detail. Only the Father knows when He will give the Son the go ahead to return. If the second person of the triune Godhead does not know (because He has willing restricted certain aspects of His deity as part of His becoming a man), then what absolute folly it is for any man to claim that he knows. Yet, there has been no lack of such people.
William Miller, a Baptist preacher from New York, did it in the 1830’s, and after his second prediction of October 22, 1844 failed, he wisely acknowledged his error and dissociated himself from the Adventist movement he started. However others continued the movement claiming that a heavenly event took place then rather than an earthly one.
There are still several Adventist groups around, the largest being the “Seventh Day Adventists” which follow the teachings of Ellen G. (Harmon) White who had been a follower of Miller. She was considered a prophet and gained quite a following herself. She added quite a few of her own ideas in her writings including “sabbath-keeping” and dietary laws.
Charles Taze Russel, founder of the Jehovah’s Witness, was also affected by adventism, and their propensity for date setting traces back to that. Russel wrote, “Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874, A.D. . . . and the formal inauguration of his kingly office dates from April 1878, A.D.” He stated that “the Millennium began in 1874, with the Return of Christ.” This group has set a lot of dates. October 1914, later changed to 1915, was supposed to be the time by which Jesus would establish the Kingdom of God on the earth, later this was changed to the beginning of the tribulation period, and Jesus supposedly returned to earth Spiritually that year. 1918 was supposed to bring the full consummation of the church. In 1925, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. were supposed to return to earth. The 6,000 years of human history were supposed to end in Armageddon in 1975. The Jehovah’s Witness have tried to save face by denying these things and editing later publications, but the evidence can still be found in publications with early dates.
Before we get too hard on this cult group for their date setting, there have also been problems in the evangelical camp. Many fundamental churches were severely disrupted by the book “88 Reasons for Christ Return in 1988.” I had just graduated from seminary and begin ministry as an Associate Pastor when I was given a copy, and I found it to be utter nonsense. The late Harold Camping of Family Radio did no better by his predictions marking September 6, 1994 as Judgment Day, and then May 21, 2011 as the date of the Rapture and October 21, 2011 as the date for the final destruction of the world. To Camping’s credit, he did state in March 2012 that his date predicting was “sinful,” but I am not aware that he retracted his other theological aberrations and heresies such as humans are not totally depraved contrary to Romans 3, of annihilationism in contradiction to Matthew 25 and Revelation 20, and that all churches are apostate so you should only read your Bible and listen to Family Radio Broadcasts. What is most sad about Camping and those like him is that their foolishness spread among so many Christians who lacked the discernment to distinguish Biblical doctrine from the foolish speculations of men.
The fact that Jesus’ return in near at hand will be easily recognized by anyone that cares to take note of the signs around them. These things will not be hidden. They will not need complex explanations to understand it. It will be easily discerned that Jesus will soon return, but no man knows the day or the hour of His return.
Even though the signs will be obvious, most people will not recognize them because they will ignore them.
As the Days of Noah – Matthew 24:37-39
Jesus begins another analogy in Matthew 24:37, “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.” What were the days of Noah like? Verses 38-39 38“For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.”
Life will just be continuing on like it always had while they ignore the signs going on around them. It will be just like the days of Noah. 2 Peter 2:5 calls him a “preacher of righteousness,” but the people did not pay attention to what Noah said, and they ignored the warning evident in the ark he was building, and that could not be hidden. I am sure they continued to ridicule him as just old, crazy Noah, until it began to rain, and rain, and rain and water rose higher, and higher and higher, but by then it was too late. The door to the ark was shut.
The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5 that the world will think everything will be doing just fine. They will be like Prime Minster Chamberlain of England who held up his treaty with Hitler and said, “Peace in our time.” These people will be saying “Peace and Safety!” but then, sudden destruction. Life will be going on as usual with feasting and weddings, and despite the prevalent signs all around them, people will think they finally achieved peace and safety. It will be at that point when they least expected it that their world ends as the Lord returns suddenly.
A Sudden Judgment – Matthew 24:40-41
How suddenly? Matthew 24:40-41 describe it, “Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.” In Noah’s day, the people were busy carrying out their normal activities of life, then Noah and his family entered the ark, God shut the door, and the flood came. At the return of Christ, people will be going about their normal activities, and then suddenly, He will return and judgment will be upon them.
There is quite a bit of debate and discussion about who is taken and who is left behind in these verses. In light of the general context of God’s judgment of this chapter and the specific context of verse 39 that it was the wicked that the flood “took away,” it is most reasonable to understand here that it is the righteous that are left and the wicked that are taken away into judgment. This is not a reference to the rapture of the saints. That would have already occurred. This corresponds to the explanation of the Parable of the Tares in Matthew 13:37-43, and the Parable of the Dragnet in Matthew 13:47-50.
The ones that are left are the righteous that will enter into the millennial reign of Christ as normal humans who have been saved, but they have not been glorified. We know that the earth is populated with normal humans during the millennium because Isaiah 65 lets us know that babies will be born, and Matthew 22:30 reveals that who already have their glorified bodies will not be involved in pro-creation, and Matthew 25:41 states that the wicked will be removed from the earth in the sheep and the goat judgment. That only leaves those who were saved during the tribulation and physically survived it to be able to go into the millennial kingdom. And that is who is referenced here.
Two men are working in the field, suddenly one is removed for judgment and the other is left to enter the kingdom. Two women are grinding at the mill, one woman pulling on one side of the mill stone and one pushing on the other side of it, suddenly, one is removed for judgment and the other is left to enter the kingdom. The emphasis is on the suddenness of His return and the lack of preparation by the people despite the warnings.
Jesus verbalizes these warnings once again and then gives two illustrations. The first is in Matthew 24:42-44.
“42 Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”
Are you ready for His return? If you knew that a thief was going to break into your house at a certain time you would prepare yourself to prevent it. If you knew a thief was going to break in but you did not know the time, you would prepare yourself to be ready for him whatever time he came. It is the same with the Lord. We know He is coming as a “thief in the night,” as described in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, so you had better prepare yourself so you will be ready no matter when that will be, and He will come at a time when people will not expect it as we have already pointed out.
The second illustration further describes this:
The Faithful Slave – Matthew 24:45-47
“45 Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” The faithful and sensible slave will do the work his master gave him to do whether the master is present or not. That is the way it is to be for Christians. We are not motivated to serve the Lord out of fear of His return, but rather the opposite of looking forward to His return to see what we have done for Him. Our love for our master, the Lord Jesus Christ, motivates us to do what is right so that He may be pleased upon His return. Jesus states here that there will be a great reward for such a person. Faithful stewardship will result in greater stewardship.
The Evil Slave – Matthew 24:48-51
The evil slave is the opposite, “48 But if that evil salve says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and shall cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth.”
Even fear does not motivate those who are evil because they always figure that the day of reckoning is a long way off. The mice will play when the cat is away, and evil people will do the same when there is not someone standing over them to make sure that they are doing their job. It is true in every aspect of the society around us, and it is true among some who proclaim to be Christians.
This really becomes a mark denoting the difference between the true Christian and those that make a false profession. Those that do not really know Jesus will not do what He commands unless they are forced to do so, while the true Christian delights to obey the Lord.
When Jesus returns, those with false professions of faith in Him will be judged according to their works – or lack thereof. They will be assigned a place among the hypocrites, for that is what they are, and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. What place is that? It is outside the kingdom in a place called by Jesus “the outer darkness” in Matt. 8:12, and eternal fire and punishment in Matt. 25:41, 46.
Mark 13:33-37 gives a variation of this illustration with less detail, but with a strong emphasis that you must be on alert because “you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – 36 in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’ “
Are you ready for Jesus’ return? What is said here concerning the suddenness of Jesus’ coming as conquering king can also be applied to His return for His church prior to the Tribulation period. Unless Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior, you are not ready, but can get ready. Talk with myself or any of our church leaders about how to receive forgiveness for your sins and become a follower of Christ.
If you have made a profession of faith, then the question is whether it is a true or a false profession? Will you be found a faithful and sensible slave of Jesus Christ, or an evil one? Do you do what Jesus commands out of a desire to please Him because you love Him? Or do you resent Jesus’ commands and have a life characterized by doing your will rather than His will? If it is the latter, you need to repent. Again, I invite you to talk with myself or one of our church leaders and get your life right with the Lord today. You do not know when He will call you into account – either by ushering you into eternity through a sudden death, or by His return for His Church prior to the Tribulation period.
If you are ready, then rejoice! His promise is sure and we long for Him to come back. If you are not ready, then get ready. We are here to help you do so.
Jesus is on the Mount of Olives teaching His disciples about the _____of His coming and the end of the age
His “coming” refers to His appearing as _________which ends the present age and begins the next
The beginning signs include the “______________,” persecution, apostasy and the preaching of the gospel
The signs in the middle period are the ____________of Desolation, the Great Tribulation and false prophets
Signs in the __________will appear prior to the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds – every eye will see
The ____________will gather the elect and the wicked for the Sheep & Goat judgment (Matthew 25)
A parable is a true to life story given to make a point – when a fig tree puts forth its ______, Summer is near
You can tell the nearness of a Season by the signs of it in ___________around you
When you see the signs Jesus has detailed, then His coming as conquering King is _________, at the door
Revelation 19:11-21 – Jesus ____________the anti-Christ and his armies, ending the Tribulation period
The events of this time period will occur within the generation alive at its ____________
These things are more sure than the continuation of heaven and earth which _______________- 2 Peter 3:10
Allegorical interpretation has resulted in ______ideas about “this generation” and the events of eschatology
There is a big difference between knowing the season an event will happen and the _________it will happen
The ____________predict dates for Jesus return though Jesus states only the Father knows the day and hour
William Miller started the ______________movement with his date predicting in the 1830’s and 1844
Ellen G. White followed the teachings of Miller and started the __________________Adventist
Charles Taze _____________, founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was affected adventism, and set many dates
Evangelicals have been affected by date settings – the late Harold ____________is an example
The signs of the season of Jesus’ return will be easily recognized, but _______the Father knows the day of it
As the Days of Noah – Matthew 24:37-39
People did not heed the preaching of ______or the warning of the ark – they were too busy living normal life
People will think everything is just fine – Peace and Safety! – too busy living _______life to notice the signs
A Sudden Judgment – Matthew 24:40-41
The near context of verse 39 indicates it is the _____________who are suddenly taken away for judgment
The ones left are the ____________who survived the Tribulation and will populate the Millennium
The illustrations emphasize the ______________of His return and lack of preparation by the people
You would be __________if you knew when a thief would try to break in
If you know a thief would try to break in, but did not know when, you would __________be on the alert
The Faithful Slave – Matthew 24:45-47
Christians are motivated by their ____for the Lord and desire to please Him – they look forward to His return
The Evil Slave – Matthew 24:48-51
Even fear will not motivate the evil because they ____________the day of reckoning is a long way off
__________in serving the Lord is a mark denoting the difference between true and false professions of faith
Those with false professions of faith will be ___________ along with the wicked as Christ’s return
Mark 13:33-17 – Be on the _________! You do not know when the Lord will come
You can only be ready for the Lord’s return if He is your Lord and ____________
Don’t be caught ______________by a false profession of faith
If you are ready, then __________! If you are not, then get ready!
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times references are made to Jesus’ coming 2) Discuss with your parents how to be prepared for Jesus return.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the context of the Olivet Discourse? What questions are being answered by Jesus in this discourse? Why is He not talking about His return for the church – the rapture? What will happen during the first part of the Tribulation period? The middle part? The end? What is the point of the parable of the fig tree? What signs will precede His return? What will be the nature of His return? What will Jesus do when He returns? What generation will not pass away before all these things take place? Why are there so many speculative interpretations of what that means? How certain is Jesus return? When will the present heavens and earth pass away? Why is it folly to try and set dates for Jesus return? (Including for the Rapture). In what ways is date setting a sign of a cult? Why are evangelicals caught up in date setting at times? What was it like in the days of Noah just prior to the flood? What was Noah doing? What were people doing? What will people be doing when Jesus returns? Why does Jesus return catch so many people unaware? Who is taken away? Explain. What will happen to the wicked at the end of the Tribulation period? What will happen to the righteous that survive the Tribulation period? What preparations would you make if you knew a thief would try to break in at a certain time? What preparation should you make if you know a thief will try to break in, but you don’t know when? What preparations should you make for the return of Jesus? What are the characteristics of the faithful slave? What should be the characteristics of the faithful Christian? What are the characteristics of the evil slave? How do those characteristics also reveal those who have false professions of faith? Jesus will return for His church prior to the tribulation period at an unexpected time – Are you ready for that return? If not, what do you need to do to get ready?
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