“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected." – Matthew 24:44 NLT
The Heart of Jesus
In one of our earlier readings this week we saw the anger of Jesus leveled against those who would keep people from experiencing the blessing of the Kingdom He had come to offer. But you need to understand His heart, and you see it clearly than in His words spoken in regard to Jerusalem.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks under beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” – Matthew 23:37-39 NLT
Jerusalem, as the city of God, had a track record of rejecting the message of God. Jesus had come as the King they had long waited for. He had come as the perfect sacrifice that would forever replace their need for making sacrifices. He had come as their perfect High Priest, interceding between them and God. But they would refuse to accept Him. “And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.”This is a prophetic judgment. Jesus is leaving – He is going away. He is literally walking away from the Temple and the city, but He is leaving in a much greater sense. This all reminds me of a vision given to the prophet Ezekiel hundreds of years earlier. It also involved the Temple and the city of Jerusalem:
Then the glory of the LORD moved out from the door of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim. And as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the LORD's Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them.… Then the glory of the LORD went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east. – Ezekiel 10:18-19; 11:23 NLT
As an illustration of God’s coming judgment, His presence leaves the Temple and the city. God removes Himself from their midst. Now fast forward to this point in Jesus' life. He is abandoning the Temple and the city. The Son of God is removing His presence from their midst and judgment is coming. Look at how Matthew chapter 24 starts out: "As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds…" (Matthew 24:1 NLT). Sounds eerily similar to the Ezekiel passage. "Then the glory of the LORD moved out from the door of the Temple…" (Ezekiel 10:18 NLT). As they walk away from the Temple, the disciples remark about them: “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.” (Mark 13:1 NLT). Jesus gives them a bit of shocking news: “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Mark 13:2 NLT). The disciples immediately want to know WHEN all this is going to happen? “Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7 NLT). Jesus is going to give a two-part answer. There will be some things that happen in the not-too-distant future, and there will be other things that take place long after the disciples are gone. Some of the things that happen in the more immediate future will serve as patterns of things to come later. For instance, the Temple was going to be destroyed in 70 AD just as Jesus had predicted it would happen (Luke 19:41-44). But this will be a pattern of what is yet to come. The destruction of the Temple by the Romans was NOT going to be the end. It would simply be a foreshadowing of the coming future judgment.
The Olivet Discourse
Jesus and His disciples make their way out of the Temple grounds. They likely would have left through the Eastern gate on their way to the Mount of Olives. "Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple" (Mark 13:3 NLT). Again, eerily similar to what we read before in the book of Ezekiel. "Then the glory of the LORD went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east" (Ezekiel 11:23 NLT). Mark tells us that it was Peter, James, John and Andrew who privately question Jesus about the timing of the Temple’s destruction. They’re obviously concerned. They want to know, if the Temple has to be destroyed as part of Jesus Messianic plan – when? So Jesus begins what has come to be known as His Olivet Discourse. He is sitting with His disciples on the Mount of Olives just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. They can see the Temple grounds just beyond the valley and just over the walls
The Signs of Things to Come
What Jesus is about to tell them is highly confusing. It is prophetic in nature and includes both short-term and long-term predictions. It is focused primarily on the Jewish nation. Jesus is going to talk about the end. “Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately” (Matthew 24:6 NLT). Jesus is talking about a future point in time. But before THAT TIME comes, there are some things to look for – some signs
Sign 1: False Messiahs– Matthew 24:4
Jesus is talking about events after His resurrection and ascension. After He leaves, there will be those who show up claiming to be Him. Basically, they will be claiming that “the time has come!” (Luke 21:8). Don't believe them.
Sign 2: Wars, threats of wars, and insurrections – Matthew 24:6
These future days will be marked by increasing instability and uncertainty. Things will appear shaky. But Jesus tells them not to panic because all these things are necessary. But the end won’t follow immediately.
Sign 3: Actual global conflict – Matthew 24:7
This will NOT be a time of peace. There will be increasing conflict in the world. Sin will continue to hold sway on mankind. But again, Jesus tells His disciples not to be surprised by all this.
Sign 4: Natural disasters – Matthew 24:7
Creation itself will be in turmoil. These things will increase, not diminish, and will serve as the early signs before the end – like a woman's contractions during labor before she gives birth. But interestingly, Jesus tells them not to be concerned about these things.
Personal Persecution – Matthew 24:9
Now Jesus shares with the disciples some really disturbing news that involves them directly. He tells them about the upcoming persecution they will suffer after He is gone. It is virtually verbatim what He had told them back in Matthew 10. You’ll be dragged into synagogues, put in prison and tried. Your own families will betray you. Some of you will be killed. Everyone will hate you. And it will all be because you are My followers. This is all going to happen once Jesus returns to heaven. The disciples will go through all of this.
Denial of Christ and Spiritual Apathy – Matthew 24:10-12
Jesus informs the disciples that many who claim to be His followers will desert and betray Him. We know that this took place even before His trial began in Jerusalem. At His arrest, the disciples all fled. At His trial, Peter denied Him and ran away. Judas had already agreed to betray Him. All the people who had shouted "Hosanna!" at His arrival in Jerusalem at the beginning of this week, would turn on Him, shouting, "Crucify Him!" instead. But these events extend beyond the time of the apostles. These things are ongoing, even in our own lifetimes. And they will continue until He returns.
The Perseverance of the Saints and the Spread of the Gospel – Matthew 24:13-14
But in spite of the fact that many will desert Jesus, and deny Him, there will be those who endure and persevere to the end. They will remain faithful, resulting in the spread of the Good News about the Kingdom throughout all the worlds. This includes the period of time from Jesus’ ascension all the way to the END. It will be at that time that Jesus returns.
The End – Matthew 24:15-51
These last verses refer to a time yet to come. These are prophetic words of Jesus describing a series of future events and complex, confusing and controversial. Jesus says these will be difficult days. When these things take place, He says those living in Judea should run for their lives (vs 16). They should not bother packing (vs 17). If they’re away from the house when it happens, they should not go back for any reason (vs 18). It would be best not to have small children when these things take place (vs 19). Those who are alive at that time, should pray that bad weather or the Sabbath won’t prevent them from getting away (vs 20). Why? Because these will be the worst days the world has ever known or ever will know (vs 21). Then He states that unless God intervenes, no one will survive (vs 22). It will look as if it is time for Jesus to return, but no one knows that day (vs 23-28).
But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. – Matthew 24:29 NASB
This is describing what is known as the Great Tribulation. A literal seven year period of great persecution and evil on the earth. Before this all takes place, the Church will be raptured. Jesus will return to remove all the believers from the earth. Paul encourages us about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The removal of believers results in the removal of the Holy Spirit, the One who restrains evil in the world. And the removal of the stabilizing influence of believers and the presence of the Spirit will result in a time of unrestrained evil. It will see the coming of the Antichrist, described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2. It will be a time of great persecution of the people of Israel, like nothing they have ever gone through before. But it will end with the second coming of Christ.
The Return of the King!
These difficult days will end with the second coming of Christ. The tribulation will culminate with the return of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the people of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30 NLT). The disciples would not live to see this day. We will not be around to see this day. No one knows when this day will happen. “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36 NLT).
Just like in the days of Noah, Jesus’ return will catch people unprepared and off guard. It will come suddenly and unexpectedly. But there will be those who have chosen to follow Christ during those days. “And he [the Son of Man] will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” (Matthew 24:31 NLT). Jesus says that there will be two men will be working the field, one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour, one will be taken, the other left. He says that the chosen ones or the elect, will be taken. This indicates that there will be those who come to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation. The second coming of Christ will see a dividing between believers and non-believers – all those who are alive at that time. This is NOT a rapture passage.
Even though the disciples would not live to see these events, they are to live in readiness. And as we make new disciples, we are to pass on this attitude of preparedness. Don’t allow yourself to be dulled by the world and lulled into complacency.
“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 NLT
What difference should all this make to us today?
Do you find yourself dulled by the worries of this life? Do you live in a state of readiness for the Lord’s return? Do you have a proper understanding of what is to come? Does what you have heard today increase your trust in God? Are you anxious and eager for Christ to return?
Father, these are difficult things to understand. And none of us know for certain what is going to happen. We are unclear as to the exact order of events and we know nothing about their timing. But they should assure us that You are in control and that You have a perfect plan for this world and everyone who lives in it. Nothing happens outside Your control. Nothing can throw off Your plan. We can trust You with our lives and with the future of mankind. Amen.