The End is Near!
Summary: Interpersonal conflict and international war will characterize life after Jesus’ departure, but He also promises a coming judgment and encourages His disciples to pursue holiness in the midst of it all.
This morning we have come to one of the most contentious chapters in the Bible. Matthew 24 is the key text for a whole field of study known as eschatology – the study of End Times – or, the question: how is the world going to end? There are a lot of other texts to be studied from the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 and 39, the book of Daniel, Zechariah 12-14; the entire book of Revelation; and, things like Paul’s writing to the Thessalonians, but how you interpret all of those other passages is affected by how you interpret Matthew 24.
In seminary, I had to study a lot of these issues in-depth and my personal interpretation aligns with the doctrinal stance of this church – I hold what is called the pre-tribulational, pre-millennial, position.
But you need to know something – there’s a lot of disagreement on this issue among people who really, really love Jesus and the Bible. In fact, among the many books I read during my seminary studies was one titled Three Views on the Rapture – it contained three different views on the timing of an event called the Rapture in relation to another event known as the Tribulation. The question was: would the rapture happen before, during, or after the Tribulation?
Three different professors wrote chapters arguing their viewpoint and then responding to the views of others. It’s not a book for beginners so I don’t recommend you rush out and buy it; but the point I want to make is: all three authors, representing entirely different viewpoints, were professors and friends at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a solid, Bible-believing seminary. Which leads me to say: eschatology is important, you need to have a understanding of it, you need to hold a view, but you can hold it charitably understanding that others who love Jesus dearly might differ with you and sooner or later we’ll all know who was right because we all agree these things will happen, it’s on the timing that is in question.
So, we have two options as we approach Matthew 24. I could treat this like a seminary level course and we could spend the next 16 week semester or even the next whole year exploring the topic of eschatology, asking all the questions, exploring all the answers, and digging into charts and timelines, cross-references and current headlines, or I can leave you to do that on your own – perhaps in a small group format or individual study, and we can just quickly survey what Jesus said – we can either go tree by tree through the whole forest, or we can look at the forest as a whole.
Here’s my thinking – Sunday morning is about worship. I assume you came to a worship service, not a lecture. And that means, I need to be more of a pastor than a professor. And that requires something of a balance. God calls us to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind – we are not anti-intellectual. But, worship should do more than just transfer information – it should provoke transformation. And that means a sermon is not a lecture, it’s not a speech, it’s not a class or a talk – it’s an examination of God encouraging a personal response.
As we will see this morning, Jesus told the disciples what would happen – He gave them information, but He also told them how to respond to what they heard – He encouraged transformation.
So, in light of the complexity of this subject, and in view of the fact that this is a worship service, not a seminar, conference, study group, or semester, I’m going to do my best to guide us through the chapter quickly pointing out what Jesus said, but devoting more of our time this week, and next week in Chapter 25, to asking the question – how should you and I live in light of all this, what difference should this information make in our lives? I know that may disappoint some of you, but it will likely delight others. Let me just say if you do want to go deeper on all of this and really dig in, let me know and I would be glad to help you in any way I can. But for now, read with me if you will,
Matthew 24:1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
OK, remember they’re in Jerusalem, and Jesus has just been meeting with religious leaders in the Jewish Temple. This was the center of all Jewish worship. When God delivered them out of Egypt through Moses they first worshipped in a tent called the Tabernacle.
But after many years, as God settled the people of Israel in the land of Israel, David, their king, said it’s not right for me to live in a palace and worship God in a tent, so let’s build a temple. And God said ‘David, I appreciate your heart, but you’re not the one to do that.’ So his son Solomon built the Temple on a hilltop in the Jewish capitol of Jerusalem.
That temple stood for several hundred years until the invasion of the Babylonians in 586 BC when the Jews were conquered and led away in captivity to modern day Iraq.
Several decades later they were allowed to return and the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi tell us how they began to restore and rebuild the city and the Temple. Slowly, over the years, people began to return to the city.
But then, after the empire of Alexander the Great fell apart there was a season of fighting for control over the region of Israel, including a time in the second century BC when a King by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes came down from Syria, forced his way into the Temple and set up an image of Zeus.
This sparked a massive Jewish uprising led by a man with a very manly name, Judah the Hammer Maccabee, who successfully threw out the invaders. But now the Temple had to be cleansed and purified before worship could be restored – and all of that is the historical background for Hanukkah, which we don’t’ have time to go into because my professor vs pastor warning light is going off, but you do need to know some of these details because Christianity is a religion based in historical facts, places, and people.
Fast forward another century and it’s 20 BC, a few years, relatively, before Jesus is born. Now Herod the Great is the ruler in Israel, and he’s got a thing for building. And one of the things he wants to do is renovate the Temple so it’s bigger and better than it’s ever been. That construction project lasted over eighty years. So, you need to know, that during the life of Jesus, all this construction was going on. And it wasn’t completed until thirty years after He died. Today we might see a building go up in a few months, a few years at most, but big projects like this in the ancient world took decades, even centuries.
So, as they’re leaving the Temple complex, the disciples tell Jesus, “Hey, be encouraged Jesus! The religious leaders You just spoke with might miss what You’re saying, but look at the Temple – check out the progress they’re making, this place is going to be amazing, it’s really something to be proud of!”
And Jesus tells them, ‘Actually, it’s all going to be destroyed.’ And that actually happened – less than 40 years later, in 70 AD, the Roman army completely destroyed the Temple complex – it had been finished for only 6 years. They literally took the bricks apart to get out all the gold that had been used to decorate the place. For extra credit, some of you Bible scholars might want to consider the connections here with the tower of Babel – another building built for worship that God rejected and then scattered the people.
And, if you were here with us last week, I want you to see another connection – remember the scribes and Pharisees looked great from the outside too – they looked impressive, righteous, like they had it all together, and Jesus said they were nothing more than a façade, a thin coat of shiny white paint covering a dead man’s tomb. He’s saying the same thing here about the Temple – it’s this massive, beautiful feat of architecture and design, but God’s not in it. He wants relationship with people more than He wants aesthetics and arches. He wanted a house of prayer and what they were building was actually being used as an enormous, beautiful, inspiring, den of thieves.
So, hold all of that in your mind as we continue:
Matthew 24:3 Now 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?”
This is where the eschatological opinions start flying. Was that one question, two questions, or three? Jesus is about to tell them what is going to happen after His death, but understanding what He says, and especially tying it to specific events, is not a straight forward process, as we’ll see.
4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
So here is a summary of everything that will happen from that moment until the second coming of Christ. That’s the outline. And now He’s going to go back and fill in more details. He’ll describe three events for certain – the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, a period of tribulation, and His own return to earth in the flesh.
15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.
23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.
26 “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
29 “Immediately after the tribulation 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 the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, 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. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
If I could summarize all of this for you, Jesus is saying that life on earth will involve deception, destruction, discord, and ultimately deliverance.
First, deception. Jesus said many others would come along after His departure and claim to also be a savior, to be the Christ, and that we were not to follow them. This was certainly true in the years following the death and resurrection of Jesus, history tells us imposters came along and tried to gather followers.
But you also need to know that “Christ” means deliverer, and even today there are many people offering themselves or their thing as your Savior – the one who will help you, the one who will solve your problems, or lead you. Jesus says, do not be deceived, I am the Christ, there is none other. Other people might build you a Temple, but sooner or later, it’s all going to fall apart. Other people can offer to build your life, but sooner or later, it’s all going to fall apart. Only Jesus can truly save you.
So, first, we see Jesus promise a world full of deception. Then, second, we see a world full of destruction. Jesus says there will be wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes. Life will not be easy. Can we identify with that? Think through recent headlines: political upheaval in Venezuela, flooding in Brazil, devastating floods and then fires in Australia while fighting continues in Syria, and Measles spread across the Untied States, the Philippines, and Madagascar. In some ways human life expectancy and quality of life continue to improve, but we’re always looking over our shoulder for the next wave of destruction – ours is a fragile prosperity, and it’s not evenly distributed globally, which relates to our third observation.
Jesus said life after His departure would be filled with discord – that is, fighting, disagreement, hatred, betrayal, insults, discrimination and persecution both interpersonally and internationally. Jesus spoke of love growing cold and nation rising against nation. Friends, this past week the entire top tier of government in the state of Virginia was under scrutiny for individual actions that were offensive, unwelcome, and potentially, in some cases, criminal. So let me ask, just based on your own experience and observation – do you think, as a whole, the world is trending toward love and peace, or discord and disharmony?
There are forces at work in the world, and right now they seem to be working faster and faster, to pull us all apart – to have at each other’s throats, ready to fight, seething with anger and hate and contempt. Jesus said it was going to happen and we see it unfolding. He said the world would be increasingly filled with deception, destruction, and discord, I have no hope for world peace if the plan is drafted by men and women. It’s not going to happen no matter which laws you pass or walls you build or don’t build – outside of the Kingdom of God there will always be inequality, suffering, and violence. But Jesus also promised deliverance, that a day would come when a trumpet would sound, then angels would gather together God’s elect, and the Son of Man would appear in the clouds with power and great glory recognized by all.
I mentioned earlier that there are lot of different opinions about the End Times, especially about the chronology, duration, and order of theses events, but there is one thing everyone agrees on: Jesus will come again. Churches of all sorts of denominations throughout history have agreed: Jesus promised to return and they have looked forward to that unmistakable day.
One way or another, everyone who trusts in Christ for forgiveness and salvation will be delivered from the darkness, difficulties, and distress of this world. You either die and you are ushered into God’s presence forever, or, you are here and alive when He returns, and therefore delivered and ushered into God’s presence forever, but one way or the other, it’s going to happen.
If you trust in Christ, you have confidence, you know, you truly believe, and trust that as miserable as things may get down here, in the perspective of eternity it’s just a light and momentary affliction (2 Cor 4:17) that is not worthy to be compared to the things that God has prepared for those who love Him and walk according to His Word (Romans 8:18).
So, when is that going to happen? When is God finally going to grow tired of all of this, when will the suffering, the hate, the conflict, the destruction finally stop? Jesus talks about that next:
Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. 37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Here is where I really want to focus our attention, because I think this is where Jesus wanted us to focus our attention – remember, He wasn’t just trying to feed the disciples information, He intended the information to lead to transformation. And this is one of the problems I have observed with people who get too caught up in eschatology and prophecy – just because there’s information in your head, doesn’t mean there’s transformation in your heart. There are people who attend all these conferences, listen to all these lectures, and read all of these books, they can quote all sorts of Bible verses and make all kinds of connections with other parts of Scripture and current events, but it’s possible to be filled with information and zeal while your daily life is a mess and marked by besetting sins.
That’s not true of everyone. But it’s true of some. And, it is possible for any of us – it is possible to know all kinds of religious facts and doctrines and creeds and not be transformed. Now, God most certainly cares about your head: we are told to make disciples of all men, Jesus said to teach people; the Christian faith is a literate, fact and knowledge based-religion. All of that is true. But God cares most about knowledge that changes hearts and produces changed lives. Watch what Jesus says next:
45 “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. 47 Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. 48 But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, 51 and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus tells His disciples I’ll answer your original question – I’ll tell you when these things will happen and what the signs will be, I’ll tell you what life is going to look like after My departure: it’s going to be filled with deception, destruction, and discord, but there’s also a coming judgment, so be ready. I’ll tell you what will happen, but I’ll also tell what you should do: wait for Me, expect Me, stay ready. Don’t let your love grow cold. Don’t grow complacent. Don’t think that just because I haven’t come back quickly that I’m not coming back at all or that you can do whatever you want. Don’t get pulled down by things happening around you. Live holy lives while you wait, even in the middle of the mess.
Let the knowledge that you will one day face God, either through your death or His return, propel you toward daily, practical, holiness. You don’t know the day or the hour of the Lord’s return, and you don’t know the day or the hour of your own death, but you do know this: you will face God. Are you ready?
Jesus boldly claimed:
John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father, but through Me.
If you are looking for truth in a world of deception, find it in Him.
If you are looking for life in a world of destruction, find it in Him.
If you are looking for peace in a world of discord, find it in Him.
Don’t expect life to be easy, don’t be surprised by the decaying conditions of the world –Jesus asks you to be salt and light, to be ambassadors of His kingdom inviting people in, and to endure until the day of His certain return.