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Signs of the End of the World
24:1 Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away, his disciples came to show him the temple buildings.
The disciples of Jesus were absorbed with the things which relate to the material world. They could see the beautiful and expensive buildings which made up the temple, and wanted to share their wonder and admiration with the Lord.
24:2 And he said to them, "Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!"
But Jesus’ mind was at all times, and especially at this time, fixed on eternal things. The world held no appeal for him; indeed nothing in the world will remain one day, and that is why we must live for eternity. The temple and the sacrificial system which it represented would be abolished by the bringing in of a new covenant (Heb. 10:9), and so the significance of the temple would cease (John 4:21-24). From that time on, the temple of God would be within and among his people (2 Cor. 6:16). The temple itself would be literally demolished, with every stone torn out individually. This happened when the Romans took Jerusalem in AD 70 under Titus.
24:3 As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, some of his disciples came to him, eager to know more details about these terrible and seemingly apocalyptic events. They linked the destruction of the temple with the end of the world, and they were to some extent right. The destruction of the temple marked the beginning of the end, with Israel scattered all over the world. But that beginning of the end was almost 2,000 years ago, and Jesus wanted to put these events into context for his disciples.
24:4-6 Jesus answered them, "Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will mislead many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars. Make sure that you are not
alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come.
Christ began by urging his disciples not to listen to false Christs or their messengers (false apostles and prophets). Many were to come (and have since come) claiming to be the chosen one of God. Later, John warned of these false messengers (1 John 2:18) but assures us that we have been given the anointing of the Holy Spirit to guard us from their erroneous doctrine (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27). Paul also warned of the Holy Spirit’s witness that a great falling away from truth would occur as the end of time approached (1 Tim. 4:1).
Clearly, the world would not end with the destruction of the temple; there would be far more dreadful and significant events on earth besides that. These events are sometimes referred to as the signs of the times, or the signs of Jesus’ coming. With the increase of these things on earth, we become aware that the coming of Christ is drawing nearer.
24:7 For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
Jesus predicted wars affecting whole nations. Also there would be rumours of wars, implying sedition and espionage, as well as civil unrest and acts of terrorism. In addition there would be famines and earthquakes of increasing magnitude in an increasing number of places. As the severity and frequency of these events increase we can be sure that our Lord's coming draws nearer.
24:8 All these things are the beginning of birth pains.
Yet Jesus did not regard these events as taking place at the latter end of time. They would not usher in the end of the world, but rather would occur throughout the church age. Like a pregnant woman going into labour pains before giving birth, so these pains must come before the renewal of all things.
24:9 “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.
Throughout the church age there has been persecution of Christian believers, even to death. This is happening at this present time more than at any other time in history.
Jesus predicted that there would be times when, in every nation, believers would be at risk of harm from unbelievers; every nation will hate us. It is always the case that the world hates us, but it is only sometimes that this hatred spills over into violence and murder.
24:10-12 Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold.
Here is one of the most terrible warnings in the Bible, a warning which is repeated several times in the epistles. Because of the increasing evil in the world, many believers will turn from the faith and become apostates. Rather than suffer for Christ's sake (not necessarily to death) they will abandon their faith in him. People have denied Christ for less than death. As a result of their turning from Christ they will, like Judas, betray their Christian brothers too; in some cases to the point of death.
From experience we know that those who leave Jesus Christ, as close as they have been to us before when they knew the Lord, will hate us and be our complete enemies afterward. That is no fault on our part; it is because they are no longer right with God. Throughout the history of the church there have been false prophets who have claimed to speak in the name of God. Some might be classified as being outside the church, such as Joseph Smith who founded the Mormons. Others conceal themselves within the church, seeking to do Satan's work by leading the church into destructive error. Many, says Jesus, will be deceived both within and without the church.
24:13 But the person who endures to the end will be saved.
In the face of false teaching, faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ and his truth will be called for, both from individuals and from the church as a whole. The Bible gives us safeguards to protect us from falling away. For example, we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25) but to continue in prayer, fellowship and study of the word (Acts 2:42).
24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Whatever else happens on earth in terms of natural disasters and spiritual declension, the gospel of Jesus Christ will still have its way. It will be preached to every creature in the entire world; then, and not before shall the end come. God will give every person a chance to repent and believe on his son Jesus Christ.
We could sum up what Jesus has said so far by saying that evil and sin will grow worse and worse on earth, with men being driven by the power of darkness and Satan, yet his gospel will succeed in saving sinners to the end of time. Whilst these evils are signs that Christ is coming soon, we ought not presume that he approves of them; when he comes he shall abolish them (Psalm 46:9; Isaiah 2:4).
24:15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation — spoken about by Daniel the prophet — standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),
Christ now turns his attention from the general events of the church age to the events at the very end of time. Many commentators go into great detail about the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and the desecration of the temple, equating Daniels words with this event. It is most significant that our Lord does not do this. He spoke to his disciples about a future day; whereas Epiphanes had died hundreds of years before.
The abomination of desolation is a desecration of God's temple (and his holy name) which shall be so severe as to herald the very end of time and bring down the final judgment of God. Since our Lord is speaking of a time further future than AD 33, and since this event did not precede the destruction of the temple in AD 70, we may readily make several observations: firstly, a new temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem before this event occurs. At the time of writing (2013) this has yet to happen.
Secondly, the Bible predicts a terrible apostasy at the end of time which involves a certain individual, referred to as "the beast" or "antichrist" sitting in the temple of god and proclaiming that he is God, and demanding worship from all nations of the earth at pain of death (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:3-8). Furthermore, he shall honour Satan as his God and oblige every person on earth to receive a brand by way of demonstrating allegiance to Satan, or face certain death by starvation or beheading. He will set up a statue of himself in the temple of God, which by satanic power is able to move, speak, and execute those who will not bow to it (Rev. 13:15-17). It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that this man sitting in God’s temple claiming to be God is the abomination of desolation referred to here. It is difficult to imagine any desecration of God’s temple being more serious than this.
24:16-18 then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one on the roof must not come down to take anything out of his house, and the one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.
There will of course be some faithful to God alive on earth at that time. It seems correct to suppose these to be the faithful remnant of Jews who shall face the worst time of persecution in the history of their people, but whom God shall preserve and reconcile to himself. The whole nation shall be won to Jesus Christ (Rom. 11:26), though many shall die rather than worship the beast, it appears that God will include them among the faithful who partake in the first resurrection, for we must not suppose that the rapture closes the age of resurrection (Rev. 20:4). Those Jews who live in Judea are to flee to the mountains with all speed, not stopping so long as to pick up a cloak or take any personal effects. This man, the antichrist, is going to try to round them all up and kill them. But God will provide wings for their escape and protect Israel miraculously (Rev. 12:13-17).
24:19-21 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen.
Once again, these verses make clear that these events predicted by Christ are yet to come. The worst time of persecution and suffering the world (and especially Israel) has ever known would, up until now, be a reference to the Nazi holocaust. But there was no temple at the time of the Nazi holocaust, indicating that an even worse time is yet to come. Clearly, this must be a time of unimaginable evil. It will be especially awful for those women who are pregnant or nursing babies. No doubt many children's lives will be lost. It appears from verse 20 that God is able, in answer to prayer, to delay Satan's purposes, so that the flight from Jerusalem is not in winter (snow, ice and cold might hamper the escape and claim many lives itself), and not on a Sabbath, where pious Jews would not run far enough to be safe.
24:22 And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
So terrible would those days be that if God had not in his mercy limited them, no mortal flesh would survive. But for the sake of those whom he has called of the Jewish nation, the days are shortened (i.e. restricted) to approx. 3 ½ years (Rev. 12:14).
24:23 Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe him.
Just as Jesus warned during the church age, so at the end of time especially shall false messiahs appear. But they will only bring false hopes and are not to be followed (Rev. 13:10).
24:24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
They will be permitted to perform great signs and wonders by the power of Satan. It is significant that the antichrist will have a false prophet of his own, commanding fire to come out of heaven in the sight of all men (Rev. 13:11-14). The evidence of these supernatural signs will be utterly compelling, but not all that is supernatural is of God.
24:25 Remember, I have told you ahead of time.
Jesus warned his disciples, and his disciples have warned future generations of these events by recording his words. We have been warned.
24:26-27 So then, if someone says to you, 'Look, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or 'Look, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe him. For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.
Unlike the false messiahs, the real Christ will be seen coming on the clouds of heaven, appearing to the whole world simultaneously and in an instant. Lightning appears at light speed, and lights up the whole heaven. The coming of Christ will be witnessed by the whole cosmos, northern and southern hemispheres, angels and demons, and even those in hell shall not fail to witness this event (Mark 13:26; Rev. 1:7).
24:28-29 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. "Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
At once, at the end of the brief time (approx. 3 ½ years) of unspeakable suffering, the end will come, preceded by several cosmic events. The sun was darkened as Christ hung upon the cross, and will again be darkened at the time of his coming. As the end of the world approaches, the sun will be partially darkened (Rev. 8:12), and later the whole earth will be plunged into darkness (Rev. 16:10).
At the very end of time the sun will no longer be needed, nor the moon (Rev. 21:23). The stars falling from heaven is a reference to their ceasing to exist, vanishing away (2 Pet. 3:10). They shall fall from the sky as ripe figs fall from the tree (Isa. 34:4), but obviously, since stars are massive they will not fall to the earth. They shall be put away like an old garment (Psa. 102:25-26), no longer fit for purpose, together with all the heavenly bodies and powers (such as gravity) which control them .
24:30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
What the sign of the Son of Man is, no one has ever clearly identified. However, it will be a sign of such significance that no one alive of earth shall fail to understand that it is his sign and that it portends his immediate revelation. The people of earth will mourn when they see this sign, not in repentance but remorse; not in sorrow for their sin, but in sorrow that they will not escape judgment.
Following this sign (the intervening period of time is not specified, but the words imply almost immediately), they will see Christ coming on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory; the Son of God will be revealed in all his eternal, almighty, and creative power. His glory is great because it is God’s glory, and it shall be revealed in its full majesty to all people. Christ is not merely exalted above all else, but far above all else (Eph. 1:21). Tragically for humankind, it will be in his role as judge and the avenger of wrongs that he shall appear.
24:31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Some take the view that this verse is a reference to an event known as the rapture. The word rapture is not used in scripture, but it has been used to describe that time, before his return to earth, when Jesus will snatch away his own from the world (24:44); resurrected saints will be joined with living saints whose bodies are changed and all shall meet him together in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:13-18). By taking this verse chronologically, some have supposed it to indicate that this rapture of the church does not take place until after Christ’s second coming in glory. Yet since other scriptures seemingly contradict this view, we cannot accept its validity. Christ will sound the trumpet to receive his own to himself, and they will be caught up from every corner of the globe to meet with Christ in the clouds. But later they will return to earth with him during the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:14).
Two possible explanations present themselves to answer the problem of chronology: either Jesus is referring to the rapture of the church, but does not intend these events to be placed in chronological order; or this verse refers not to the rapture but to the gathering of God’s faithful Jews alive on earth at this time, who will obtain a place among his people. Taking everything into account I think the former explanation to be more likely.
24:32-33 "Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door.
Just as the changing seasons give evidence of their own approach, so the signs Christ has given are intended to indicate the near approach of his second advent in power and glory.
24:34-35 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Jesus gives the assurance that these things will not fail to happen. They cannot be avoided. The present age will not pass away until all these things are accomplished. This is sure, for he has spoken it, and just as man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God, so the entire existence of the universe is sustained by his powerful and eternal word (Heb. 1:3). God’s word cannot fail, for God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2).
24:36 "But as for that day and hour no one knows it — not even the angels in heaven — except the Father alone.
Although we are given to know and understand the signs of the times, yet we are not given to know the exact details and precise timings of these events. In particular, we will not know the time of Christ’s coming into the clouds to receive his saints. Such knowledge has not been delegated, either to angels or to people, but is known only to God. Despite what some modern Bible teachers are telling us, God will not give his people any additional prophetic insight at the time of the end; except to say that as these events begin to occur, we shall recognise them for what they really are.
24:37 For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.
Christ uses the illustration of Noah, since neither Noah nor his contemporaries were specifically told the time of the flood. God had warned them of its coming, and that they should be ready, but life carried on as normal. Most of the people lived without any thought for God; until the day that Noah was taken safely into the ark as God called him in and shut the door.
24:38-39 For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man.
In their unbelief the people were completely ignorant of what was about to happen. They had not believed Noah’s warning, and were consequently unprepared. The flood destroyed the whole world of the ungodly (2 Pet. 2:5). This present world, says Peter, is reserved in the same way for fire in the Day of Judgment and perdition of ungodly men (2 Pet. 3:7).
24:40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left.
It does not seem possible to understand these verses as a reference to anything other than the rapture of the church. Jesus’ point has been that Noah was taken to a place of safety by God, whilst the ungodly were left outside to face destruction. Believers in Christ will be rescued from the judgment to come by Christ, who will come to meet them in the clouds before judgment falls on earth. Among earth’s millions are only two groups of people: unbelievers and Christians. At the time of Christ’s calling his people away, one man ploughing a field will be taken, snatched up in the rapture to be with Jesus; the other man, an unbeliever, will be left behind to face the wrath of God.
24:41 There will be two women grinding grain with a mill; one will be taken and one left.
Similarly, two women (one a believer and one an unbeliever) shall be occupied in the same trade, but the rapture will be the event which shall finally and irreparably separate the two.
24:42 "Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
One of the reasons why God does not make the day and time of Christ’s coming known to us is to motivate us to stay alert and watchful. The coming of Christ for his own and our gathering together to him is the blessed hope of all believers, and a powerful incentive for faithfulness; bringing renewed strength to our flagging spirits. It is also a powerful warning to prevent us from backsliding, for we know that we must all give account to God when Christ comes again.
24:43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into.
From this illustration, we see the need to stay alert and watchful in the things of God at all times. Do not allow yourself to fall asleep spiritually, or that day will take you unawares like a thief in the night. This warning is repeated by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Since we are not in the dark, let us walk in the light as we wait for Christ’s coming. We will only be ready for the day of truth to come if we live in the truth day by day.
24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Since Christ’s coming will be unannounced, we must be ready at all times. This again seems to indicate that Christ is speaking of his parousia, his coming into the air to be united with his own (the rapture), which precedes his return to earth with his saints. I say this because, at his second advent, the armies of earth gather to meet him at his coming, and the sign of the Son of Man is visible in heaven; hence Christ’s advent will not be unexpected by the inhabitants of earth. But his coming for his own comes silently and suddenly like a thief in the night, and will snatch his people away before the final time of trouble takes place.
24:45-47 "Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions.
Luke makes clear that this parable was given in response to Peter’s question “Lord are you telling this to us or to all?” Jesus did not want his disciples to be complacent about their spiritual condition. Those servants who, having been given tasks by their master, are faithfully doing them will have nothing to fear; no matter what time of day their master returns. Indeed, they shall be blessed for their master will richly reward them, giving them stewardship which will entail joint possession of all that he has.
24:48-51 But if that evil slave should say to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards, then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But, if the servant begins to doubt the master’s word (that he will return) and by his conduct begins to demonstrate his unbelief, disobeying his master’s commands with abusive and drunken behaviour and joining with those who are his master’s enemies (a picture of a backslider) then his master will come without further warning, and since he is living like an unbeliever he will be treated like an unbeliever. His doom shall be unchangeably sealed in hell.
The events of the time of the end are spread out, yet the Bible speaks of them as if they were one event; the reason being that they inevitably follow one another. If a backslider misses the coming of Christ, yet Christ’s words will come true upon him, no matter what the time scale might be. He will end up in hell, where there is eternal agony and regret.
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Copyright (2009-2013) Sharon Full Gospel Church, UK. Reg. Charity No. 1050642 www.sharonchurch.co.uk
This Bible study is taken from Faithbuilders: The Gospel of Matthew