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Matthew

Mount Olive - Prophecy

Matthew 24:1-44

Lesson audio

Perhaps no selection of prophecy in the Scriptures seems so plain and yet causes such discord as this. We shall attempt to tiptoe through the minefield, allowing the student the choice of interpretations – but ending, as always, with the warnings of the sure and certain return of our Lord.

Signs of the Times

Mat 24:1-14 NASB Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. (2) And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down." (3) As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (4) And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. (5) "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many. (6) "You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. (7) "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. (8) "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (9) "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. (10) "At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. (11) "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. (12) "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. (13) "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. (14) "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Questions to ask

If you want the right answers, you must first ask the right questions. How so?

  • Consider the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple. There is a short view – the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 when the Romans sacked Jerusalem. They set up their banners where the Temple stood. Is that what He’s talking about, or is it some future Temple (perhaps as described in Ezekiel)? Or is He talking about both (called dual fulfillment)?
  • In verse 3, are the disciples asking one question, or two? If (like Hal Lindsay) you say one question, you implicitly assume that this destruction immediately precedes Christ’s return. If you say two, these events could be separated by millennia. The use of quotation marks may be deceptive here.[1]
  • Note too the phrase “all the nations.” In our minds this must mean all 200 plus nations on the earth. Christ’s hearer’s would have thought differently. They would put “the nations” as the civilized part of the earth (i.e., the Roman Empire); the others would be “tribes.” So is it all, or all the Roman Empire? Historicists say the latter; futurists the former.
Parallel to Revelation

This is not to accuse prophecy of casual inconsistency. We are the inconsistent ones in our understanding. By way of example, compare the first five seals of Revelation with this passage:

Matthew

Revelation

False Christs

The first seal shows a crown and conquest, the rider on a white horse. But as Christ comes later in Revelation, this is assumed to be a false Christ.

Wars and rumors of wars

The second seal shows a sword and a red horse, the color of blood. Lindsay sees this as a communist invasion of Israel; historicists see a time of civil war.

Famine

The third seal shows a rider with scales on a black horse, usually interpreted as weighing bread (not a giver of justice).

Earthquakes (?)

The fourth seal shows a rider on a pale horse, carrying death.

Persecution

The fifth seal is a long passage about persecution, which could be the Diocletian persecution of AD 303-313 (note the ten years). But it’s also the time during which the Gospel conquers the Roman Empire.

Signs of the end

So how are we supposed to know? He tells here that wars, famine and earthquake are not the signs to look for; they are just ordinary. But the real signs are easy to read:

  • There will be a time of Christians turning away from the church and betraying their Christian brothers and sisters. Faith will grow cold.
  • False prophets will arise to deceive the church. It is not by accident that many televangelists advertise themselves as prophets.
  • On the positive side, the Gospel will be preached to all the nations, whatever that means.

And there will be other signs as well.

Abomination of Desolation

Mat 24:15-31 NASB "Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), (16) then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. (17) "Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. (18) "Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. (19) "But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! (20) "But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. (21) "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. (22) "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. (23) "Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. (24) "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (25) "Behold, I have told you in advance. (26) "So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them. (27) "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (28) "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. (29) "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. (30) "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. (31) "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

Phrases

May I draw your attention to two phrases? Both of these are examples of making the prophecy fit the interpretation.

First is “abomination of desolation.” The phrase comes from Daniel 9:27, and virtually all scholars agree that its first fulfillment, or at least foreshadowing, was done by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century BC. He erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on it. But Christ speaks of it here as being in the future, so we must look for another such sacrilege. We find a similar event in AD 70; historicists say that this is the event. Futurists say it is yet to come, but will be in the “Millennial Temple,” as described by Ezekiel. Both say that this passage conclusively proves their point. You pick.

Next is the use of astronomical bodies (sun, moon and stars) in this picture. Until the 19th century, no one interpreted this as literal stellar objects. Rather, following Joseph’s dream (and others) they saw this as a complete shakeup of the powers and authorities of this world. But if you make the assumption that this is the end of the physical universe as we know it, you can take it literally. And some do.

Persecution

But one thing is clear in all this. We should expect a time of persecution – and we should pray for relief from that persecution in advance. The American church is seeing the beginnings of this now, but we see no one praying that the persecution be shortened. It is surprising that the most literal of interpreters omit this point. Perhaps no one wants to believe that America, a nation founded upon God, would do such a thing. But consider the signs of the times – again. False prophets? You can find them every day on religious broadcasting stations. But do not worry; the real coming of Christ will be unmistakable. In the meantime, prepare for the persecution, pray that it be shortened – and prepare for His return.

Preparing for His Return

Mat 24:32-44 NASB "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; (33) so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. (34) "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (35) "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. (36) "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (37) "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. (38) "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, 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 will the coming of the Son of Man be. (40) "Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. (41) "Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. (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 also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.

Signs of the times

May I share with you some of the signs of the times, as our Lord describes them here?

  • We have the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, which many consider a portent of His return. We will touch on this later.
  • The Gospel is being preached around the world, like never before.
  • And perhaps most telling of all: the church is in “business as usual” mode. He tells us we will not know the hour, and we will not be able to predict it. Therefore most of us simply ignore the possibility. Business as usual.
This generation

The return of the Jews is considered a sign by many. It is based on the phrase, “this generation will not pass away.” It is a correct translation; however, it would have been equally correct to replace “generation” with “race” or “people.” The Greek word carries all those meanings, depending upon the context. So this could mean the generation who were hearing Christ say this, and the fulfillment in AD 70; it could mean the race of the Jews. If the latter, the seventy years is then (rather confusingly) applied to mean 70 years since the Jews returned to Israel, or since the capture of Jerusalem. Confused yet? Me too.

Seven Last Things

Here, however, is a measure of agreement among all theories. All views agree on the Seven Last Things:

The Tribulation. One theory holds that this has already happened, but all agree that there will come a time when the persecution of Christians will become very intense. Some hold this to be a seven year period of trial.

Armageddon. The “last battle” to be fought is viewed as being a battle between good and evil. The location for this battle is known; it is in Palestine. The result of this battle will be an immense slaughter.

Resurrection of the Dead, or Rapture. All views agree that at the end the dead will rise from their graves. Those Christians still alive at the time will rise into the air with the resurrected ones. This is usually (but not always) associated with the next event. There is vigorous debate as to how many separate resurrections there will be, and for what purpose (e.g., judgment).

Second Coming. All interpretations agree that Jesus is returning in bodily form. He ascended into heaven after his resurrection; he is returning the same way.

Judgment. Often referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment, this is a time when all will be judged. Those who are true Christians will be rewarded for their deeds; non-Christians will be judged for their sins.

Millennium. Literally “thousand years,” it is the time when Satan is restrained. This is often connected with passages which suggest that a golden era for mankind is coming. At the end of this period, Satan is released for a little while.

New Heaven, New Earth. At the very end God recreates all things; there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Contact with God will be very close; death will no longer happen.

And in the meanwhile? Be ready!

 


[1] Recall that ancient writers did not have a sense of words in quotation marks being an exact, word for word copy. We often read into the Scriptures a meaning which is not there in the original by assuming that all quotations must be word for word, literal.

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