Many of this week’s passages follow the theme of reading the signs of the future. I want to focus on Jesus’ teaching about this in Matthew 24. Read it below.
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
In this first passage, Jesus’ disciples have been marveling at the impressive structures of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus’ prediction that not one stone would be left upon another, being thrown down actually came true about 37 years later when the Romans came into Jerusalem to put down a Jewish rebellion. The rebellion essentially began under Emperor Nero in 66 A.D. and his son, Vespasian, orchestrated the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D. Matthew 24 continues:
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you dare not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
The disciples asked Jesus three questions:
- When will these things be? – The “things” most likely refer to Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple. He didn’t specifically answer this, but his statement at the end of the paragraph (that this is just the beginning of the birth pains) seems to imply that times of trouble will continue for some time.
- What will be the sign of your coming? – Jesus had told the disciples that he would be coming again (see John 14:3; Matthew 16:27). They naturally wanted to know when to expect him.
- What will be the sign of the end of the age? – It was clear from Old Testament prophecies in Daniel and Ezekiel that there will be an end to the current earth and the progression of time as we know it.
Jesus continued on with his discussion of these events.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
This covers a lot of potential time and events. Notice, though, that Jesus directly answers the “when” question by saying that the end will occur after his gospel is proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations. Some people believe this literally means “all” nations. There are approximately 6,000 unreached people groups still existing in the world. I am convinced that no person anywhere and anytime will ever stand before God without having had the opportunity to know about Him and respond to Him. That doesn’t take the responsibility away from us to reach people, but neither does it limit God to our efforts alone. He is sovereign and able to bring about His glorification across the whole world. I encourage you, though, to explore further with the two John Piper sermons I’ve linked below. Jesus continues:
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
Jesus references the book of Daniel here (Chapter 12), as shown below:
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”
Then I, Daniel, looked, and behold, two others stood, one on this bank of the stream and one on that bank of the stream. And someone said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream; he raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished. I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”
The critical things that Jesus points out is that Daniel saw some very specific events, not all of which were written down for us. However, enough is there for us to read and recognize in world events. Jesus says it’s going to be pretty plain, as a corpse is revealed by the presence of vultures. Jesus continues in Matthew 24.
“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 heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Jesus will come back and gather all his people together, but this will still be before the end of time (and the earth).
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 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 will not pass away.
Again, Jesus makes it plain that the coming of the end will be apparent. However, DO NOT believe people who try to predict a specific time of Jesus’ coming. He says,
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Jesus concludes his remarks with the encouragement for believers to persevere.
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come bon a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
For Further Investigation
- The Importance of the Kingdom Today sermon from John Piper at Desiring God.
- World Missions and the End of History sermon from John Piper at Desiring God.