Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (5) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
Scripture Reading: Matthew 24:23-28
Parallel Passages: Mark 13:21-23; Luke 17:23-24
The verses of our present study are part of the section of verses 15-28. Last time we studied the first part of that section, the abomination of desolation, verses 15- 22. Our Lord there predicted the capture of Jerusalem, and instructed His disciples to flee to the mountains.

Turning now to our passage, verses 23- 28, we find here a warning against false christs and false prophets. Actually, Christ had given such a warning already (cf. verses 4-5, and 11). Here it is more specific. ÒThen if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it notÓ (vs.23).

Christ is warning against false prophets, and false christs as well. The difference between both is apparent. False prophets can be viewed as forerunners of false christs. They pave the way for them. These impostors appeared also on the scene before, during, and after the siege of Jerusalem. They stirred up the people, not to fly nor to surrender the city. After the fall of Jerusalem, a certain Jonathan, a very wicked man, led many into the desert of Cyrene. He was overthrown by Catullus, the Roman governor (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, VII,12). After that, during the time of Caesar Adrian, the famous Bar Kochba set himself up as the Messiah. He was crowned by the Jews, and proclaimed the Messiah by rabbi Akiba. In response to this action, a Roman army was sent against him, and a place called Bitter was besieged and taken. Bar Kochba and a great number of Jews were destroyed. This happened during the years 132-135 AD.

The just mentioned rabbi Akiba was such a false prophet. He applied many prophecies to Bar Kochba, and so persuaded men, or rather, he deluded them.

Is it possible to give an explanation of the appearance of false prophets and christs? Two answers can be given. First of all, in troublesome times people want to have something or someone to hang on to. If there is a crisis, and someone stands up saying that he has the solution, people are inclined to listen to that person. Matthew Henry says, ÒTimes of great trouble are times of great temptation, and therefore we have need to double our guard then.Ó There is also a second reason. We may see in this a judgment of God upon the Jewish nation. Those that rejected the true Messiah, are given over by God to false Messiahs. To those who donÕt believe the truth, God sends strong delusions, that they should believe a lie (II Thess.2:11). The Jews were driven to such madness that in the end they accepted anyone that came up with a pretence to be the Christ or a prophet.

These deceivers often have great power. ÒFor there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very electÓ (vs. 24). We mentioned several names, Jonathan and Bar Kochba. It is known of them that they pretended to perform miracles. The aforementioned Jonathan lured many people into the desert under the pretence to show signs and wonders to them. Bar Kochba made a flame to come out of his mouth. Many of the Jewish doctors in those times and following gave themselves up to sorcery and magic, and are often referred to as being experts in miracles. Of course, their so-called miracles were tricks by which they deluded the people. Nevertheless, it looked so real that, if possible, they would deceive the very elect, GodÕs own people.

GodÕs children are weak in themselves, and Satan is powerful. Left to themselves, they would be deceived without a doubt. And yet it is impossible. Why? Because GodÕs counsel cannot be changed. His promises cannot be broken. Christ did not shed His blood in vain. The Holy Spirit will bring His work of renewal to perfection. The eternal security of the saints is in God Himself.

The way God preserves His people does not eliminate, but rather includes the means. One of these means is ChristÕs warning not to believe false teachers. ÒBehold, I have told you beforeÓ (vs.25). This means as much as ÒI am telling you now, so that when they come, you should remember My words.Ó Those who nevertheless believe the false christs and prophets have no excuse.

Our Lord gives a still more precise description of the impostors. ÒWherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it notÓ (vs.26). It was usual for these men to lead their followers into the desert, pretending to perform miracles in such a solitary place. In this way, during the siege of Jerusalem, a certain Simon, the son of Giora, gathered together thousands of people in the mountainous and desert parts of Judea. The above-mentioned Jonathan did the same thing. Others said that Christ was in a secret chamber or room. At one time during the siege, John and Eleazar were the leaders of the Zealots. They hid themselves in one of the secret places of the temple. According to rabbi Ibn Ezra there were two chambers in the sanctuary, one of which was called Ôthe chamber of secrets.Õ

Christ, however, will not reveal Himself the way these men did, in secret places. ChristÕs appearance will be as the lightning, suddenly, visibly, and universally. ÒFor as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man beÓ (vs.27). Expositors differ on the interpretation of this verse. Some apply it to the spreading of the Gospel, which indeed was rapid and universal. It spread all over the world, contrary to what might have been expected. Others apply this verse to the destruction of Jerusalem, so that Christ appeared in His wrath and vengeance to destroy the city. This happened contrary to the expectations of the approaching deliverance stirred by the false christs. Some explain this verse as a prophecy of ChristÕs final coming to judgment. He will not appear from some secret corner to be revealed to men, but from heaven. All men shall see Him. His coming will be sudden and unexpected.

What will the result be? Our Lord uses a saying to make this clear: ÒFor where the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered togetherÓ (vs.28). This verse contains a reference to Job 39:30, Òwhere the slain are, there is she.Ó The eagle, especially the vulture kind, is a bird of prey. It has very keen sight and smell and is able to discern carcasses at almost incredible distances. In no time these birds gather together around the carcass and devour it.

Depending on oneÕs interpretation of the previous verse, this verse can also be understood in three different ways. It can be understood as an allusion to Gospel preaching. Where Christ is preached, souls will be gathered in to Him. Christ, lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Him (Jn.12:32. To Him shall the gathering of the people be (Gen.49:10). Some reject this interpretation because it seems to be inappropriate to compare Christ to a carcass. But we must keep in mind the point of comparison, which is the gathering together of these birds of prey around one object. This is the view of John Calvin (CalvinÕs Commentaries, Vol.17).

This verse can also be interpreted as a prophecy of the Jewish nation, being struck dead by the lightning of heaven, and now a prey of the Roman armies. The carcass pictures the Jews in their fallen, deplorable, desperate condition, appointed to destruction by GodÕs severe judgment. It is remarkable that the ensigns of the Roman armies were eagles. The meaning is then that the Roman eagles or legions, would find the Jews wherever they were and utterly destroy them. A strong advocate of this view is John Gill (The Baptist Commentary Series, Vol.7).

Finally, this verse can be understood as the gathering together of the saints to Christ on the Day of Judgment. Compare for this view verse 28 with 31.

1. False prophets are the forerunners of false christs. Read Revelation 12 and see how this applies to our statement. Do you know other examples from history?
2. Are there still false prophets and false christs today?
3. Can Satan perform miracles? Compare with Exodus 7 and 8.
4. What comfort does GodÕs election have for the believers (vs.24)?
5. Do you have this comfort in your personal life?
6. What are the characteristics of lightning and how do they apply to ChristÕs coming (vs.27)?

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