Matthew 24: The Long and Winding Road That Lies Ahead
As we read last week in Matthew 23, the Lord proclaims Look , your house is left desolate! Matthew 24 begins by telling us- Jesus left the temple and was walking away He will not enter the temple again.
His disciples come up to him to call his attention to all the buildings of the temple.This temple is referred to as Herods temple. Herod had an ongoing remodeling project of the Temple for years. This was being done on the temple which Zerubbabel had built after Solomons temple was destroyed. It can be inferred the disciples were calling Jesus attention to all of these beautiful buildings and wondering what he had meant by saying your house will be left desolate.
We must remember what the temple meant to the nation of Israel. It was the center of the nations life. It was regarded as holy and the very dwelling place of God among His people. In the disciples minds they could not conceive of God destroying this beautiful shrine that was so important to the people.
What had Jesus called the Temple? His Fathers House. And he stated His Fathers House was a House of Prayer and they had turned it into a house or den of thieves. So it was no longer His Fathers House- Jesus said this is your house to the Jewish leaders.
So Jesus tells them: Do you see all these things? Jesus was not just saying do you see all these buildings- he was saying do you see all these things that have happened and what they have turned my Fathers House of Prayer into? Now it is ancient history to us- but Jesus knew in the not too distant future, in 70AD, the temple would be destroyed by the Roman army under Titus. The gold in the temple melted in the fire and the soldiers pried the stones apart to get to the gold. So that not one stone was left upon another. It was utterly destroyed.
Then Jesus and his disciples stop and he sits down on the Mount of Olives as the disciples have questions they want answered. This section is known as : The Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24 & 25
There are three questions: when will this destruction of the temple happen? ; what will be the sign of your coming?; and of the end of the age?
What is now known as the Olivet Discourse in chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew is on the subject of end times, what will happen in the times in which we live and in the future until He comes again at the end of the age. There are parallel passages in Luke and Mark and also we should note scriptures in Daniel 9 as well as Revelations 6.
In Matthew 23, Jesus had spoken to the Pharisees concerning judgment coming upon them in a series of woes. Interesting, when one counts the woes there are 8 pronounced by Jesus. When Jesus began his ministry, with another major discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, he pronounced a series of blessings known as the beatitudes- there were 8 of them. In Matthew 23, he tells them their house will be left desolate. As we noted, what was predicted by Jesus in 32A.D.- became a historical fact in 70A.D., down to the details of not one stone left upon another.
Remember the Jews, the nation of Israel were looking for a Messiah, that should deliver them from the rule of foreign powers and restore them to their past days of glory as it was under King David. The Messiah to them was powerful leader, a king who would lead them victoriously to a political, military victory and overthrow the enemy. Old Testament prophecies were indicative of this event. However, they could not see this was two separate events. They did not understand the Messiah would actually be the Son of God who became flesh. They did not realize His mission would involve two separate visits to mankind. God sent His Son the first time as Redeemer. When He comes the second time it will be as Ruler and Judge. For example in these famous verses of prophecy found in Isaiah 9 we read: For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on Davids throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time and forever. To the Israelites, and those who interpreted the Scripture this appeared to be one event.
So 2000 years ago, a child was born, a son is given. And His name was Jesus. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Almost 3 years into his time with his disciples- and it was revealed to Peter- thou are the Christ ( anointed one) the Son of the Living God. However, they still thought the establishment of his kingdom would be at this time of his first coming. Everything from John the Baptist to Jesus preaching, teaching and miracles was telling them- the kingdom of heaven is at hand, is near.
But the interval between his first coming as Redeemer to break the power of sin and His 2nd coming to establish his kingdom of heaven on earth has not yet come. We are still living in that interval 2000 years later. He first came 2000 years ago to open the doors of the kingdom that all might enter in to the kingdom by grace through faith. He would be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His kingdom would be established in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls who have been saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ at the cross.
At his second coming at the end of the age- the Lord will establish his kingdom on earth. Then will be the government be on his shoulders and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Today, Orthodox Jews are still looking for a Messiah and the reason they do not accept Jesus is they say- look there is no peace. After His resurrection Jesus appeared to the couple on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 and proclaimed to them: Did not the Christ have to suffer these things then enter his glory? And later in the same chapter, the Resurrected Lord opened the minds of the disciples so they could understand the Scriptures. The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations beginning in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the starting point and one day in the future it will be then ending point and the end of an age and the transition will take place with the kingdom of heaven coming to earth in a physical, visible kingdom. Until that time we are to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all nations.
So they are still looking for a Messiah. The disciples were still under the impression, even after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, he would then establish his kingdom on earth and rule and reign on Davids throne. They could not understand the long and winding road that lie ahead now over 2000 years, that would separate his 2nd coming from his first coming.
What these Scriptures help us to understand is the times in which we live and realize there is nothing else left prophetically to be fulfilled and the Rapture is next on Gods time table.
One thing is for sure, as Christians, we know all events will find their significance and meaning in relationship with Him. What is happening today in the news and world events is bringing to pass what our Lord says will occur.
These disciples wanted to know- what we want to know: what does the future hold?
Let us look at Daniel 9:27_ And he ( the Antichrist) will confirm with many a covenant for one week.( a period of 7 years). In the middle of the seven years, he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes DESOLATION, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him. This tells us the AntiChrists reign and the Great Tribulation will be in two parts during a seven year period in the future.
In Revelation 6- we see how the 7 years of Great Tribulation begin. We read of the Four Horse of Apocalypse. The first is a rider on a white horse- He is the AntiChrist . He will be a charismatic leader who brings world peace for a period of 3.5 years. The second horse is a fiery red one representing bloodshed and war that will break out at that time. The third horse is the black horse of famine where one will work all day just for a meal. And the fourth horse if the Pale Horse of Death and Hades. Now understanding how the Jewish people are looking for a Messiah who will bring world peace as a political, military, spiritual leader you can understand how this person has presented himself as the fulfillment of their dreams and prophecy as they interpreted it. He will also come at a time when the world is desperate for someone to save them from themselves. But they will be deceived.
The first response Jesus makes to his disciples in answer to these questions is to be on guard- watch out for deceivers. False christs, false prophets, who will be impressive and have one goal to lead people astray from the truth of Gods Word.
Since this was his opening statement let us look Jesus warning not to be deceived, not to be led astray. When we think of anti-christ and false prophets we think of atheists and pagans, as well as cults that pervert the Word of God and compile a different gospel, which Paul said is no gospel at all. But we must understand, anti-christ is not only just someone who is openly against Christ, ( think about it- even Muslims revere Jesus as a great teacher and prophet). This term anti-christ can be somebody or some belief that takes the place of Christ.
There are many anti-christs or false prophets today who tell you the meaning and significance of life is found in other ways beside a relationship with this invisible God. They point to: learning, education, and understanding how the world works. Others believe the world can be changed through: patriotism, politics, love of country, capitalism, science, medicine and technology. Social work that as good as it is,can be a replacement for faith in Christ. Good works including: literacy, vaccines, feeding the poor can be deceptive because it is not evil in appearance, but a good work. Works that meet needs of people who are ignorant, hungry and sick. These ways are good works, but if they become a substitute for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in whom is found forgiveness of sins, then they are masquerading as angels of light. They are in fact the most diabolic type of evil- for they appear as good works. Can you see how the ultimate deceiver- the Beast himself who will bring promises of everlasting peace and good will to a world that is desperate for someone to solve their problems will be so welcomed and adored.
Jesus characterizes the interval and events leading to his second coming, by telling us there will be wars and rumors of war. We look at the world today and it is in constant turmoil, fears, alarms, invasions, atrocities, death and unbelievable sadness. War is a threat to faith. 9-11 brought fear to America and for a period people looked to God as we realized how vulnerable we are. But soon leaders told us we were safe again- and reliance on an unseen God was not necessary- the government and the military and our countrys leaders had secured our safety
Why do this things lead us astray and weaken our faith? Because when we see these things we wonder why God in heaven does not put an end to these things?? But Jesus tells us not to be alarmed- such things will happen, but the end is still to come.
Next Jesus mentions there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. Tornados, floods, drought, wildfires, hurricanes that seem to grow in severity and number. Called natural disasters or even acts of God, these challenge peoples faith in a God who created nature and then can allow it to be so violent. Where is this God- people ask? Why does He not do something? And they turn to listen to the scientist and the politician, the major corporations or the giants of technology as they explain how we can fix the problems of a decaying world through science and changed behavior. Not that we should not be good stewards, but Jesus said two thousand years ago- this is what would happen. It has been building like a snowball coming down a hill- picking up speed and growing larger. It looms above us like those landslides that wipe out homes and human life- like a shaking of the earth in an earthquake.
Then comes persecution and this will lead to apostasy. A falling away from the faith. Of course all of this is leading to two major events to take place on Gods timetable. The Rapture of the Church, the true believers, the Bride of Christ. This will occur, I believe, prior to the Great Tribulation the second major event. For we are told, in I Thessalonians 1: 10- And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom He has raised from the dead- Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath. However, we are living in the times Jesus is describing here where wars, famines, and earthquakes abound. We are also beginning to see persecution occurring in the USA, and during the 20th century, we are told more Christians were persecuted and killed in the world than any other time in history.
So the warning of Jesus to be on guard for those who would deceive us- applies to us as we are living in those times of which Jesus is saying these things will occur. No wonder Peter said we should not be surprised at the fiery trials we are encountering.
We watch the 24 hour news cycle, as they report what is happening and we see prophecy fulfilled on the headlines and lead stories of television news. We listen to commentary that attempts to explain why these things are happening, yet never mention a Sovereign God who is in control. So we vote for men and women to empower them to keep these things from happening or fix them and they promise to do so, but cannotand we realize things are not what they seem.
We live in an age of confusion. Those of us in our latter years, mourn over things that have changed and are not the way they used to be- but Jesus says they are the way I told you they would be. The things that are coming to pass now are what the Lord Jesus said would come to pass two thousand years ago.
We loved our life the way it used to be. It was more simple, it seemed. But nostalgia is deceptive as it appears to make good memories even better and bad memories go away. We want peace in our lives. We want safety, good health, and prosperity for our families and loved ones. We are drawn to the false prophets who say these can be yours. When Jesus told us in this world we would have trouble.
Do you now begin to see how easy it is for us to be deceived? And we know the Truth.
We see these things happening today in our world, in our culture. Jesus is telling his disciples and us who are living in this interval between his first coming and his second- there will be a series of events. Wars and rumors of wars will occur but Jesus said the end is not come yet- do not be led astray. He said there will be natural disasters- earthquakes, famines, disease in various places- and these are birth pains- the beginnings of sorrows.
The disciples wanted to know what are the signs of these events. In Luke 21, we read of the warning signs for the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD. Jesus is talking to some of his disciples who will be living at this time- just 30+ years ahead. Luke 21: 20-24 tells us the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Now when we read similar verses in Matthew 24: 15-28, we read similar wording but this section in Matthew 24 refers to the Great Tribulation. The event in Luke 21 is describing in similar words the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Matthew 24: 21 describes this event as the Great Tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, nor shall never be. In Luke 21- the destruction of Jerusalem is foretold and tells of the people being led away in captivity into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trodden down UNTIL THE TIME OF THE GENTILES BE FULFILLED. So these are two different events ( although similar)- one in 70 AD which fulfills the woes Jesus spoke would come upon the Jews in Matthew 23 and the other in the future during the Great Tribulation preceding his 2nd coming.
The Great Tribulation is described in Matthew as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel, which we read in Daniel 9 which foretold of the beginning of the 7 year period with the coming into power of the AntiChrist who rode in on the white horse bringing a period of world peace for 3.5 years as described in Revelation 6.
In Matthew 24: 29- 31- we read of the 2nd coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to set up His Thousand Year reign.
Jesus tells us in concluding remarks- when we see all these things- know the end is near.
He also tells us no man, no not the angels of heaven know the day and hour- but my Father in heaven.
Then Jesus gives us another important piece of information. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day NOAH ENTERED THE ARK, and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood carried them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field, one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill, one will be taken, the other left. LEFT BEHIND?
How was mankind described in the days of Noah by God? The Lord saw how great mans wickedness on earth had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. Evil- 24-7. ( Seems to me- we are just about there- evil is practiced 24-7 and the thoughts of man are only evil all the time.) Noah and the ark are a picture of salvation how the righteous are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ. We are sealed in the Ark the Lord Jesus. We will not endure the wrath of God which is poured out in the Great Tribulation.
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, WHICH DELIVERED US FROM THE WRATH TO COME. ( I Thess. 1: 10)
And of course these verses in I Thess. 4: – For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
So the Temple would be destroyed in 70 AD and the nation of Israel would be led into captivity. This was a fulfillment of the woes Jesus pronounced upon the Jewish leaders and people in Matthew 23. Luke 21 describes this and gives the warning signs- when they see the armies surrounding Jerusalem. Similar to the Great Tribulation on a local rather than world-wide scale.
We see the Great Tribulation described and the signs of it as we referenced to Daniel 9 and saw the future event fulfilled as described in Revelation 6.
For those of us in living in the present time between his first and second coming the message is clear: Do not be led astray.
Spread the good news of the Gospel: Jesus Saves!
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs the all. So we fix our eyes NOT on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ( 2 Cor .4)
Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord , so we might see into the unseen.
If you have chosen to enter the strait gate( for Jesus is the sheep gate) and the narrow way- you have by now discovered it is a long and winding road. But we have a road map and a guide. And of this I am sure: Being confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. ( Phil 1:6) DO NOT BE LED ASTRAY. DO NOT THROW AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE, FOR THE ONE WHO IS COMING- IS COMING IN A LITTLE WHILE!
I believe the disciples lived each day as if the Lord were coming even that day. Perhaps it was this attitude that gave them the attitude Paul described as problems and troubles being light and momentary. Their focus was on spreading the Gospel- obeying their Master. And perhaps they heard his command- do not be led astray. And since He told them when the gospel had been preached to the world he would come. No wonder they were so diligent in spreading the Gospel- for they longed for Him to come back.
COME SOON, LORD!