In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples asked him what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age. His answer is the longest teaching we have from Jesus on the end times and the events leading up to his return. In this blog, we are going to look at six things that we need to do in order to be ready for Jesus’ return.
Let’s get some context for this passage. Jesus has entered Jerusalem a week before his crucifixion. He cleansed the temple of the money lenders, and has been teaching around the temple, giving parables and engaging with the Pharisees. And then in chapter 23 he blasts the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, their legalism, and their twisting of God’s Word. He calls them hypocrites, blind guides, white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones, and murderers. I don’t think Jesus was trying to win friends and influence people. And then he states and the end of Matthew 23:
Matthew 23:37-39 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Matthew 24 continues the account:
Matthew 24:1-2 1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
The Jewish Messiah had come to his own people, but they were not willing to receive him. The “house” of the Jews was their temple. And Jesus here, and in other places, prophesies the destruction of the temple—it will be torn down and left desolate. This happened about 40 years later when Rome invaded Jerusalem burned the city and destroyed the temple—and it has never been rebuilt . . . yet. Let’s go on in Matthew 24.
Matthew 24:3-28 3 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?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.
After leaving the temple, Jesus went with his disciples to the mount of olives nearby, across the Kidron valley. When Jesus’ disciples had heard him speak of the destruction of the temple, they assumed that event must be tied to the end of the age and his return. So, they asked him three questions:
- When will these things be? (speaking of the destruction of the Temple)
- What will be the sign of your coming?
- What will be the sign of the end of the age?
Jesus answer to their final two questions is recorded here in Matthew 24 and in the parallel account in Mark 13. Only Luke 21 records Jesus’ answer to the first question—the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. We’ll look at that another time.
In his response to the disciples’ questions about his coming and the end of the age, Jesus gave them a number of instructions. And these are not only for the first-century followers of Christ, but for us as well, who are much closer to the prophesied events than they were. We don’t know when they might happen. Believers since the first century have been waiting for these events to unfold and for Christ to return. Could we be the last generation—the ones who will see the fulfillment of prophecy and Jesus’ coming? Maybe. But even if we aren’t, these commands of Jesus are relevant to us now.
Don’t Be Deceived (vv. 4–5)
Jesus’ first command to them, and to us, is to not be deceived. He says, “see that no one leads you astray.”
There will be much deception during the end times. Heck, we have a lot of deception going on now—inside and outside the church. There will be false prophets and false messiahs. There will be false signs and wonders and miracles. There will be convincing political leaders and influential spiritual leaders. There will be false religions with persuasive teachers.
Jesus’ command to his disciples then, and to us today, is to not be deceived. Be prepared for deception. Have a healthy skepticism. The best way to keep yourself from deception is to know what God’s Word says. Know the truth. Compare what you hear with the Scriptures. Don’t go running after anything that sounds good or looks miraculous. Be discerning. Jesus continues:
Matthew 24:6-8 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Don’t Be Alarmed (vv. 6–8)
The next thing Jesus says is to not be alarmed. Every day we hear news of wars, famines, earthquakes, hurricanes (like the one that just hit Texas), climate change, terrorist attacks, disease epidemics, and on and on. It’s enough to make a person give in to despair or to become overly worried or depressed. But Jesus said these things would happen—they are to be expected in a fallen world. They’ve been occurring since the Fall of man, and they will continue to occur until Jesus returns. He says, “don’t be alarmed” by these things. These are not yet signs of the end; these are merely the beginning of birth pains. The hard labor hasn’t started yet. You’ll know when it begins.
In our day and age, prophecy “experts” often point to signs like increasing earthquakes, or wars that fulfill some prophecy, or great famines that foretell the end of the age. But Jesus said that when you see these things, don’t be alarmed—the end is not yet. They asked Jesus for signs that would signify His coming and the end of the age. What he’s told them so far is what are NOT signs.
Think about the recent total solar eclipse last week (8/21/17) that was visible from much of the US. There were prophecies given about it, and articles about the prophetic significance of this event, and the fact that there will be another one in the US in seven years fueled the speculation. Maybe you read some of the articles or saw some of the videos.
Listen, the vast majority of the world didn’t see that eclipse—it was just a narrow band across the US. In fact, there are total solar eclipses about every two years—hundreds of them have happened since the time of Christ, maybe a thousand. Above is a list of the most recent one and the next five. And to the left is a graphic showing all of the total solar eclipses in a 25-year period.
So, don’t be alarmed when there’s an eclipse. In fact, Scripture doesn’t talk about eclipses as signs of the end times—heavenly disturbances, yes, but not a normal solar eclipse.
Part of the reason this one caused so much interest, instead of any of the others, has to do with our ethnocentrism and our chronocentrism. Let me define those two words and then explain.
Ethnocentrism: “The belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture. The belief that your own group or culture is better or more important than others.”
Chronocentrism: “The belief that one’s own times are paramount, that other periods pale in comparison. The egotism that one’s own generation is poised on the very cusp of history.”
Because these eclipses happened in the US, they must be of importance, right? Who cares about the ones that happen in Australia or Russia or Europe or the Middle East. And who cares about the hundreds of eclipses in the past, because our generation is the most important—we are on the very cusp of history. Brothers and sisters, let’s guard ourselves from such pride and arrogance.
Matthew 24:9-13 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Prepare for Persecution (vv. 9–13)
Right before Jesus’ return, there will be an increase of hatred toward Christians, of tribulation and death for Christians. There will be a great falling away and betrayal by family members. We’ll see an increase in false prophets, increased lawlessness, and lack of love.
We need to prepare for persecution. God has never promised his people deliverance from tribulation or persecution. He’s promised us deliverance from his wrath and judgment, but not from the hatred of the world.
There is a very popular end-times view that Christians will all be out of here before heavy persecution comes; that God will rescue His bride before the Great Tribulation begins. It’s called the pretribulation rapture. I used to believe that. I was taught it in seminary. But my study over the years has shown me that this view is a complete fabrication; it’s really a twisting of the Scriptures.
What does the Bible say about persecution and tribulation?
John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Acts 14:21-22 . . . they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
John 15:20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
2 Thessalonians 1:4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
We may wish it weren’t so, but we are promised persecution! We are to expect tribulation! Jesus said, “if they persecuted me, they’ll persecute you.” He was killed by being nailed to a cross. All but one of the 12 apostles were martyred. There have been martyrs throughout the centuries of the church. In fact, there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than all 19 centuries before it combined.
Titus 2:13 calls the appearing of Christ our “blessed hope.” One pretribulation author stated that if we must be persecuted and endure tribulation first, then it’s not a “blessed hope,” but a “blasted hope.” But Jesus would disagree. In fact, Jesus said that being persecuted is a blessing:
Matthew 5:10-12 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Persecution is a blessing, Jesus says. If God is going to spare the final generation of believers from persecution and tribulation, then he owes the saints of old a huge apology. Even in our day, millions of believers in dozens of nations are subject to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and death. (See the World Watch List from Open Doors at left.) Why do we think we would be exempted?
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Jesus promises to be with us “to the end of the age.” He promises us that our troubles in this world are really only “light and momentary afflictions” that are “producing for us an eternal weight of glory.” He promises that his Spirit will give us words when we are called to testify. He promises to return and to reward those who have remained faithful.
Jesus continues his answer to the disciples:
Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Proclaim the Gospel (v. 14)
The next thing we must do as we wait for Jesus’ return is proclaim the gospel. Second Peter 3 tells us that God is delaying Jesus’ coming and God’s judgment so that more people might be saved. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation; God makes his appeal through us—his church, his ambassadors. If we won’t take the world the message of salvation, then who will?
As Jesus continues, he mentions a prophecy from the book of Daniel:
Matthew 24:15-22 15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
Know Your Bible (v. 15)
Do you know what the abomination of desolation is? Daniel spoke of it. So did Jesus; so did Paul; so did John in the book of Revelation. Can you define and explain it? The only way to know what’s happening and to not be deceived is to know your Bible. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Meditate on it. Discuss it with one another.
If you know your Bible, if you know what Jesus said, what Paul taught, what the book of Revelation means, then you will not be deceived; you will be ready and prepared and not in the dark when all these things begin to happen. We’ll get into the details of what Jesus is talking about in these verses another time. But we’ve got to know our Bibles.
And then Jesus concludes the events that will lead up to his return:
Matthew 24:23-27 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Only Follow Jesus (vv. 23–27)
Finally, Jesus tells them to not go running after miracles and wonders as some do; not to follow signs like blood moons and eclipses and earthquakes and hurricanes; not to follow so-called christs or prophets who come up with new ideas or new revelations or have some secret to prophecy that’s never been revealed before.
His command to us is to only follow Jesus. Jesus has given us all we need to know in his Word. Follow him alone. When he comes the second time, it won’t be secretly. It won’t be some guy in a compound in Waco, Texas; it won’t be a guy in California waiting for a UFO to come take us away. Jesus said that he won’t be in the wilderness or in some inner room when he returns. No, when he comes again it will be like “lightning that comes from the east and shines as far as the west.” His Second Coming will be unmistakable.
These commands are for us as we await and prepare for our Lord’s return. May he find us faithful. Let’s encourage one another, strengthen one another, help one another, and be united together in the great cause of the gospel as we wait for his return. Don’t lose heart! He is coming again!