Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (2) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
Overview Matthew 24: 4Ð 35:
Last time we considered the question of the disciples that gave rise to ChristÕs ÒDiscourse on the Last Things.Ó The disciples wanted to know when Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, and what would be the sign of ChristÕs coming and of the end of the world. Jesus now answers these questions. We can roughly say that in the verses 4 to 35 the Lord speaks about the signs of His return and His Second Coming. This section can be broken down into several parts. Verses 4Ð14 reveal to us what the signs are of ChristÕs coming. The next verses, 15 Ð28, are a recapitulation of that, whereas the verses 29Ð35 inform us about ChristÕs return on the clouds of heaven.

In Matthew 24 and 25 we have two chapters of prophecy. Christ is revealing to us the future. As it is with all prophecies, these chapters are the subjects of much controversy and confusion. We should probably say that history is the best interpreter of prophecy. In the two chapters that we have before us, Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus speaks definitely about the fall of Jerusalem. ÒWhen ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation É then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountainÓ (vs.15, 16). ÒThe abomination of desolationÓ is explained further in Luke as, ÒWhen ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armiesÓ (Lk..21:20).

At the same time it is evident that the Lord also speaks of the end of this dispensation. He speaks in an absolute sense about the end: ÒThen shall the end comeÓ (vs.14). This in answer to the question of the disciples, ÒWhat shall be the sign É of the end of the world?Ó (vs.3). Throughout JesusÕ answer these two events are intertwined.

The reason why Jesus does this is that they have so much in common. The terrors the besieged Jews suffered prior to the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 exceed every description. We have an exhaustive report of it in JosephusÕ The Wars of the Jews, books V and VI. What happened there on a small scale is a type, a picture of what will happen on a large scale at the very end.

This phenomenon is called Òprophetic perspective.Ó You can compare it to two mountain peaks, widely separated, but they appear as one. Only when you stand on the top of the one peak you discern the great distance to the other peak. In the same way, historic events merge and are seen as one from a historic perspective, but in reality they are separated. So these two events in our chapters here may appear as one, but in reality they lie far apart.

Delusive Spirit
Let us now turn to the text. Jesus opens with a caution to His disciples. ÒTake heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My Name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive manyÓ (vss.4, 5). That our Lord opens with such a caution shows that His main concern for His church is that delusive spirits shall try to deceive her. He repeats this warning throughout His discourse (cf. vss.11, 23-26). Some of these deceivers will claim to be the Christ, the Deliverer of the world. The difference is that these men promise some earthly deliverance, some temporal pleasures. They do not really deliver us from our misery. The true Christ, however, has come to deliver us from our sins. Sin is the deepest cause of all misery in this world.

Destructive Powers
Other signs are wars and rumours (or threats) of wars. ÒNation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.Ó In addition, there shall be famines and pestilence. These are related to wars. Famines come when crops are destroyed, or when cities are famished by a siege. This again results in epidemics because of a diminished resistance of the body. Christ also mentions earthquakes in divers places (vs.7). These are signs in the inanimate creation. Earthquakes also include other disasters in nature, such as tornadoes, floods, etc. Our Lord mentions only earthquakes because they exemplify the devastating powers in nature. What stands out in these signs is that all men, the righteous and the wicked, share in them equally.

All these things have been initially fulfilled in AD 70 and the years before that. False Òchrists,Ó false prophets and revolts in Judea caused trouble in Israel, and finally led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews all over the world. Josephus reports that while Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans under their commander Titus, Òthere came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine as destroyed them more suddenly.Ó The total number of Jews that perished in the siege was eleven hundred thousand (1.1 million!) people (Wars of the Jews, VI,9).

ChristÕs predictions are not exhausted, however, in this one fulfilment. They are going to be repeated prior to the day of ChristÕs final return. If we look only at our times, this 20th century has seen two world wars, which is unprecedented in world history. In the aftermath of World War I the Spanish flu killed more than 20 million people, which is as many as during that war!

Millions of people are still suffering as the result of wars, famines, pestilence (other infectious diseases and incurable illnesses). Scientists say that throughout the world, a magnitude 6 quake (on the Richter scale) is a daily occurrence, a 7 is a weekly occurrence, and an 8 is an annual occurrence. Most of the high-magnitude shocks occur in sparsely populated parts of the world, and therefore receive little attention. According to statistics, in the 20th century alone more than 1 million people died as the result of earthquakes.

The End is Not Yet
If someone would think that a single war indicates in imminent return of Christ, he is mistaken. Jesus says, ÒAll these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet, (vs.6). When an earthquake kills hundreds of thousands of people, or when a hurricane kills ten thousands of people, as happened a short while ago in Honduras, let us realize that the end is not yet. These disasters are stepping stones leading up to the final goal, the return of Christ. Jesus does not say, Òwhen you see all these things, then know that the end is near.Ó He rather says the opposite, Òthe end is not yet.Ó

Today we see an increase in frequency and intensity of these signs. The question is often asked, ÒAre we close to the end?Ó I think this is a legitimate question. We live in turbulent times in all sections of society and more then ever before on a global scale. Let us ponder the words of Christ when He says, ÒAll these are the beginning of sorrows.Ó

The word Christ is using for ÒsorrowsÓ means Òbirth pains.Ó The same word is also used in Romans 8: 22, where it describes a woman in labour pains. This implies two things. In the first place, these pains increase steadily; so will the sorrows in this world also increase. The signs mentioned before are just the beginning. It implies in the second place that these pains will be followed by a happy event, the birth of a child. Likewise, the world sorrows are indications of something new, the ÒbirthÓ of a new heaven and a new earth.

The BelieversÕ Comfort
Jesus does not intend to scare His people, but to prepare them. ÒSee that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to passÓ (vs.6). When others get desperate and donÕt know the answers to their questions, those who believe in Christ have the answer. We hear in all that is happening the footstep of our Master Who is coming. So to speak, a Christian reads his newspaper with different eyes.

Let us ask ourselves the question: is my soul saved? Do I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Then we are safe and can confidently face the times we are living in now.

1. Can you find more examples of prophetic perspective in Scripture?
2. What is characteristic of false ÒchristsÓ (or prophets)?
3. What is the deepest cause that many are deceived?
4. People sometimes say, ÒThese signs have always been there.Ó What do you think about that?
5. Name a number of places in Scripture where earthquakes are mentioned. Do they have a specific meaning?
6. What is your comfort in the face of the signs of the times?

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