The Signs Of The Times, Part 5 (SERIES END)
In the previous post, we looked at the concept of what The Last Days meant to the Israelites and how Jesus opened up the true understanding of its meaning through His resurrection and establishment of His church.
The term, The Last Days, implies that there will be a Last Day. This is where the concept of The End Times comes in. As history unfolds there must be some signs that we are getting closer to that Last Day. Right? The darker things get down here must be the trigger that opens Heaven’s gates and releases Jesus to come and rescue all the faithful believers from the swamp of the sin-infested world we live in. Right? Even a casual glance at the state of our world right now must mean that we are so close to the second coming that we can almost taste it. Right? One thing we can say for certain is that we are closer today to that day then we were yesterday because time and history are moving in that direction. However, are the signs that we are seeing the signs that are pointing to the end?
Christian history is replete with end of world scenarios taken from the pages of scripture and pieced together to tell a narrative of darkness, destruction, and death. Every generation, even from the first century onward, has painted some grim picture of their present state of affairs that prove that the end MUST be near. Yet, here we still are.
In my lifetime alone, I can count numerous self-proclaimed, end-time prophets who have given not only proof texts, but actual dates and times when Jesus is coming back! When I was 14 years old, I remember being told by many well-meaning, more mature believers than me, that I should not even think about going to college because Jesus was coming back before I would even graduate high school. Yet, here I am 44 years later writing about it. Should we all become jaded skeptics, or should we look to Jesus to clear up this mass of misinformation?
Most of the “end time” scenarios come from a few selected passages of scripture that do paint a very grim picture of something. Matthew, chapter 24, Daniel, chapters 7 & 8, and the book of Revelation are the pillars for the body of literature that has been published on the subject. If Jesus is the author of the Bible, it is to Him we must give our full attention and defer to His rendering of The End Times.
A full exposition of these sections of scripture have been written by many learned scholars contained in mountains of books and other published materials. All of that is available for any who want to dig deeply into scripture. However, it is possible to simplify the search for truth by letting Jesus be the supreme commentator and just follow His instructions. His Word, the Bible, should be able to interpret itself. I don’t believe that Jesus would mean for His word to be so confusing and controversial that holy wars would be fought over the right interpretation of His words.
Jesus’ definitive teachings on The Last Days and the End Times are packed into Matthew, chapters 23 & 24. The setting for these chapters is near the end of the earthly ministry of Jesus. He is in Jerusalem and is heart-broken over the state of the nation, especially the deep, dark corruption that was in the religious systems. He was going toe-to-toe with the religious leaders and warning them that they were perilously close to the edge of destruction if they did not repent and turn their hearts, and the nation, back to the covenant that Almighty God had made with them. If they did not turn their hearts, Jesus declares that the promised Kingdom would be ripped out of their hands and given to another nation that would keep covenant with God.
Chapter 23 of Matthew records these conversations in vivid and terse language. Jesus is not mincing words, He is laying down the gauntlet. He is giving the final warning. Over and over in this conversation Jesus uses the phrase, “Woe to you.” This is a direct illusion back to Deuteronomy 28 where the blessings and the curses of the Covenant are proclaimed over the nation of Israel. The religious leaders He was addressing knew this reference full well. Jesus calls these leaders blind guides, fools, serpents, and hypocrites, as He is laying out His case before them. He is like a prosecuting lawyer slamming down the hard evidence in a lock-shut case with no possible rebuttal from the defendants.
Point after point, Jesus is calling out the covenant breaking behaviors and declaring the guilt of a nation that had rejected God and formed a religious system devoid of glory. The nation, and especially its leaders, were like a “white-washed tomb” filled with dead bones. When the diatribe reaches its climax (at verse 32 of Matthew 23), Jesus is pronouncing His judgment in the case: guilty as charged. What comes next is the sentence, and it is quite horrific. The details of which are laid out in chapter 24 of Matthew.
Jesus ends His pronouncements with a chilling statement: “Truly I say to you, all of these things shall come upon this generation” (verse 36). “This generation” is the key phrase in understanding the context of all that comes next in Jesus’ description of what has become the definitive narrative for the End Times. So, before we move on to the details, we must look at this phrase, as it defines the context for the signs that will follow.
Matthew, and the other New Testament writers, use this phrase often in their gospels. In all but one place the translation is given to mean all the people living at the time the statement was made. In an obscure rendering according to some translators, this phrase can also mean, “a race of people.” In all of Matthew’s uses of the phrase it is the former translation that is used. However, more modern translations have opted for the forced, obscure rendering in order to project all of what Jesus is saying to the people He was addressing sometime into the distant future. If we take the former as the true and accurate use of the phrase, then all of what Jesus said in this portion of scripture MUST have had their fulfillment within the timeframe of the first century.
Immediately after Jesus makes this decree of woe, He begins to lament and weep over the state of the covenant nation. Jesus is God incarnate, and God’s desire is for ALL humanity to be saved, and for none to perish. It was heart-crushing for Jesus to utter those devastating and damming words. The Spirit of God was poised to exit Jerusalem and leave its Temple desolate (vs.39). As He is walking away his disciples surround Him with a flurry of questions regarding His pronouncement. I would gather that they had never seen Jesus like this before. They had seen Him get into it with the religious elite before, but this was a side of Jesus that they had never witnessed before.
The first thing they do is to try to redirect Jesus by pointing out the magnificence of the Temple and its grounds. Surely, God would not want His house destroyed, would He? Jesus simply, and succinctly states that all the beauty and glory of the Temple would be totally torn apart. The die was cast. The judgment was final.
After leaving the city and heading to a quiet place to process all of this, the disciples came again to Jesus and questioned Him about the details of what He had said. To them as Jews, the destruction of the Temple, and the city of Jerusalem, was the destruction of them as a nation. For all intents and purposes, this would be the end of the world as they knew it. They asked Jesus three questions: when will all of this happen, what would be the signs of your coming (Note: to the disciples this question referred to God coming in judgment, as He had done at other times in Israel’s history. It did not refer to the second coming, as this understanding was not even part of the disciples thinking or theology yet. They still did not understand why Jesus kept saying that He was going to be killed and resurrected), and finally, when will the Kingdom be restored, and the throne of David be established again - this was the great hope of the Israelites spoken through all of their prophets.
For the next 51 verses of scripture from chapter 24, Matthew outlines Jesus’ answers to these questions in order. The very first thing that Jesus tells them was to be careful that they were not deceived by many who would come saying that they were the Messiah, coming to set up the kingdom. He then goes on to tell them of many terrible things that would happen in the preceding years as a result of the final judgment on the apostate nation-- things like wars, and rumors of wars, great civil unrest and lawlessness, natural disasters like earthquakes and famines, rumors of invading armies. He tells them that these things are merely the beginning of a great tribulation that was about to come upon them.
He goes on to say that many people would abandon their faith for fear of persecution and death. The pressure and turmoil of the days that were coming would be so horrible and dramatic that the likes of which would never be seen again in history. Then Jesus gives them the final warning signal. He tells His disciples that when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies and the Temple being desecrated by the heathen armies they must flee the city and run for safety. The end was imminent.
A survey of first century Jewish history reveals that Jerusalem and its beautiful Temple were totally demolished in AD 70 by the Roman Empire. Over a million Jews were brutally slaughtered. The ancient historian, Josephus, called this event, the Great Tribulation. Centuries before this when Moses read the covenant to the Hebrew nation, he recounted all of the blessings for covenant keeping and all of the curses for covenant breaking. If you read Deuteronomy 28, it is almost a word for word description of what happened in AD 70.
When Jesus finished listing all of these signs of the coming end times for Jerusalem, the Temple, and the entire sacrificial system of the Old Covenant, He ended off by saying, once again: “so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, [right] at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” [Mat. 24:33-34, NASB]. The predictions of Jesus came to pass, just as He said.
The last question of the disciples had to do with the coming of the Messiah to establish the Kingdom. Jesus enumerated many signs that would point to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, so surely, there must be signs that are unmistakable that point to the coming of the King! Instead of giving them all the glorious details, Jesus makes it clear that there will be NO visible signs for His coming as King at the end of the age.
Here are his main comments on the matter: "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” "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.”
The only clues Jesus gives in this passage about His coming is that life will be going on as usual. There will be nothing out of the ordinary about the events. The only word of direction He gives is to be ready!
The final words of Jesus to His disciples should put the issue of predicting the second coming of Jesus to rest once and for all. Just prior to Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, the disciples tried one more time to get Him to tell them when He was coming back. Jesus answers, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority”( Acts 1:7). Jesus clearly states that it is NOT for us to know. Any attempt, therefore, to predict and prognosticate about the second coming are off limits and are in direct disobedience to Jesus' instructions.
If the details of the second coming are not for us to know, what should we be focusing on? Jesus made it clear that the focus for His Church needs to be on the details of the commission of His first coming. Here is how Jesus stated it: “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The total completion of the assignment given to the Church at the first coming will usher in the second coming.
Jesus is coming again, sure enough, but the ministry of the Church, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, must prepare the earth to receive her King. Peter, in his first public declaration of the Gospel, encouraged all the new converts with this message, “and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until [the] period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3:21).
The signs of the times that we should be looking for is the amount of restoration that is happening on the earth as a result of the work of the church. We should not be focusing on how dark it is getting, but rather how much light is shining. The second coming is the blessed hope of all believers, but the first coming is the only hope for a lost and dying world. Let’s be busy about the business of expanding the Kingdom of the King so when the Master comes back He will find us doing what He asked us to do.
by Pastor Jim Anan