Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (3) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
Scripture Reading: Matthew 24: 9-14
Parallel Passages: Mark 13: 9Ð13 and Luke 21:12Ð19
In the previous installments we studied the question of the disciples, when Jerusalem would be destroyed and what will be the sign of ChristÕs return. We also considered the first part of ChristÕs answer, verses 4-8. In these verses Christ points out that prior to His return signs will occur in nature and among the nations. The signs mentioned in these verses have in common that all men share in them, regardless their beliefs. Wars, famines and earthquakes affect not only the ungodly, but also the godly. In the following verses, 9-14, Christ predicts other events to happen. In opposition to the previous verses, these events do not regard the world, but the church. Christ now speaks about persecution, apostasy, false prophets, abated love, perseverance, and the preaching of the Gospel in the whole world.

Persecution
ÒThen shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My NameÕs sakeÓ (vs.9). Mark says, ÒThey shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony against themÓ (Mark 13:9). Luke adds that they shall persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons (Luke 21:12). These words have been fulfilled throughout history. The book of Acts gives report of the persecution of ChristÕs followers. Looking at our times, it is reported that in our 20th century more Christians have been martyred for their faith than in all the previous centuries combined.

Apostasy
This results in a sifting process. ÒAnd then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one anotherÓ (vs.10). The meaning is, many shall stumble at these great afflictions and persecutions for the Gospel. They thought that their life would go over roses, but now they find thorns on their way. And they are turned off. They become apostates. Christ illustrates this also in the parable of the sower, where He says that part of the seed fell on the stony ground. Because it had no depth of earth it soon withered when the heat of the sun burned on it (Matthew 13). Apostates of the faith are often worse enemies than anyone else. Some of them become betrayers of others. They start hating those whom they had fellowship with. We can think of Judas, who betrayed his Master. He had lived and walked with Christ for three years, and then turned against Him with hatred.

False Prophets
ÒAnd many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive manyÓ (vs.11). This is the second warning against false teachers. Jesus started His answer to the disciples with a warning against false christs. The warning is repeated in the verse 23 to 26. This continual warning against them shows us how great a danger they are to ChristÕs church! Christ warns us against them, more than against anything else.

Abated Love
ÒAnd because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.Ó Iniquity shall abound, or be multiplied. There will be a spiral movement of evil. This can be understood in general, abounding iniquity in society in general. Or it can be understood specifically of the aforementioned developments of persecution, apostasy, and heresy. The result of this is that the love of many shall wax (grow) cold. It shall be Òbreathed cool by blowing.Ó The word ÒloveÓ in the text is the Greek word Òagape,Ó which denotes the specific Christian love. (For the mere human love the word ÒphiliaÓ [friendship] is used.) That implies that those ÒmanyÓ must be Christians. Are they apostates? According to the feeling of some expositors, true believers are meant here. Their love is not completely extinguished, but abated. Their zeal for God and love for the brethren is diminished because of the chilling wind of persecutions, and becauseÐas a result of that--they donÕt know whom they can trust any longer.

Perseverance
On the other hand, others are purified by tribulations. ÒBut he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be savedÓ (vs.13). Not all become apostates. Naturally, this would be the case with all. But by grace the true believers instead of falling away shall persevere. They have the promise that they shall be saved. They shall receive everlasting life. They will not perish as the others. ÒFor whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find itÓ (Matthew 16: 25).

Jesus does not present their perseverance as a merit by which they earn salvation. Then none would be saved. Their perseverance is the way in which they will reach the end It is the Lord Who keeps them. Who does not think here of Peter? He denied his Master three times. This was a humbling lesson for him that he might learn not to trust in himself but in the Lord alone.

The Preaching of the Gospel
The last thing Jesus speaks about with regard to his church is the proclamation of the Word of God. ÒAnd this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end comeÓ (vs.14). All nations will hear the Gospel before the end of the world comes. That does not mean that every single person will hear the Gospel. Many have lived before us who never heard the Gospel. But it certainly implies that Christ will not come back until the Gospel has been proclaimed throughout the whole world. This shall be for a witness to all nations. Those who believe will be saved by it. Those who do not believe will be left without excuse. In the Day of Judgment the Gospel that they rejected will testify against them.

At what point are we today? Since the Reformation the Gospel has been spread first westward to America, and especially since the 18th century eastward to Asian countries. According to statistics of 1996 (from Wycliffe Bible Translators) there are about 6,700 languages currently spoken in the world. At least 2,000 languages still need a translation of the Bible. There are a little over 2,100 languages with some or all of the Word of God. For comparison: in the beginning of this century the Bible (as a whole or in part) had been translated into only 300 languages. The work has not been completed yet. But it cannot be denied that the prophecy of the Lord is approaching fulfilment.

The End
ÒThen shall the end comeÓ (vs.14b). Which end is meant here? Some expositors say that the destruction of Jerusalem is meant. John Gill, for instance, in his exposition of this text, writes, ÒNot the end of the worldÉ but the end of the city and temple: so that the universal preaching of the Gospel all over the world, was the last criterion and sign, of the destruction of JerusalemÓ (The Baptist Commentary Series, Vol.7). Most of the expositors, however, understand it as the end of the world. I think that without forcing the text, we can indeed say that our Lord mainly points to the end of the ages. William Hendriksen says in his commentary on Matthew, ÒAs to the erroneous implication of that question [of the disciples in vs.3, J.W.W.], as if the fall of Jerusalem and its temple would be immediately followed by the end of the age, Jesus has set the disciples straight on that. He has shown that many disturbances will occur and that a lengthy period of gospel proclamation is going to intervene before the day of his coming arrives.Ó

The verses 4 to 14 are a unit that covers the whole period between ChristÕs first and Second Coming. The disciples had asked about the end of the world. It would be confusing if Christ would now exclusively speak about the end of Jerusalem. To apply this passage to the end of the world does not exclude, however, an initial fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem. This is according to the principle of Òprophetic perspective,Ó also called Òprophetic foreshortening.Ó The end of Jerusalem is implied in the words of Christ as a type, a picture of what is going to happen in the end of the ages.

Questions for Discussion
1. What purpose does affliction serve for a Christian? Read for instance I Peter 4.
2. What is the cause that many will be offended?
3. Can you name some cults and false prophets of the present and the past?
4. How does iniquity abound in our society?
5. In what way are we able to persevere to the end?
6. What is the twofold effect of the Gospel preaching (Matthew 7: 24Ð27)? Try to apply this question personally.

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