The Olivet Discourse, as it is called, is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke – which are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar wording. John is quite different in comparison.
The term “synoptic” comes via Latin from the Greek σύνοψις, where we get our English word, “synopsis”. Basically they are so similar that many scholars think that they are effectively copied from each other with Mark being first. It’s possible since Mark was a student of Peter, and Matthew was a disciple himself that they knew each other and worked off of the same mostly oral material that had been used for the thirty years prior to them writing it down.
Luke, on the other hand, was not part of the original Jesus crowd but was a later convert who did his own research and wrote about his findings in the books of Luke and Acts. He no doubt interviewed Mathew and Peter as part of his research. So, their accounts are all quite similar, but not identical, which can sometimes cause confusion when they don’t line up exactly the same.
But in the real world (as opposed to the sheltered academic world) differences in testimony actually adds to their legitimacy. Multiple eye-witnesses are expected to have different perspectives on an event. If they all have exactly the same story with all the same details, then you know they worked together to make up a story. It’s called collusion.
Anyway, I could give a whole sermon on this topic but I have other things to talk about today.
Now, on to the Olivet Discourse.
The Olivet Discourse is a conversation Jesus had with his disciples on the mount of olives during the week he was arrested and crucified. Hence the name, the Olivet Discourse. Discourse being another word for conversation or teaching. Olivet being a fancy word related to the Mount of Olives. Bible scholars through the years just like to give fancy names to things. That and they all spoke Latin for the first 1500 years.
Anyway, the Olivet Discourse is found in the following passages:
Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Everything in the account in Mark is included in either Matthew or Luke, whereas Matthew and Luke differ slightly and have more information than Mark, so we will only be looking at those two.
The setting is during what’s commonly called the “Passion Week” another scholar name for the final week of Jesus’s earthly life that begins with his triumphal entry and ends with his death and resurrection.
It is not certain exactly which day this conversation took place, but in the gospels the very next thing recorded is the last supper followed by his arrest. So, this is basically the last teaching of Jesus to his disciples. In Matthew it includes the parables about the virgins who are caught unprepared for the bridegroom, the servants who were given talents to manage with two doing well and one being lazy, and the sheep and the goats which I wish I had time to cover today – maybe later – All three are parables related to the end of time and the final judgments. I suggest you read them for yourself.
So, on whichever day this was, Jesus and his crew had been hanging out at the Temple most of the day, and as they are leaving on their way to the Mount of Olives which was nearby, the disciples start remarking on the beauty of the Temple.
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
Now, this must have come as quite a shock to his disciples. The Temple was their pride and joy and was one of the most marvelous buildings in the known world. Almost everything on the inside was covered in gold and precious stones. Not only that, it was the literal house of God!
So, Jesus saying that it would be totally destroyed must have seemed like an impossibility to them.
In Luke’s record it seems that the disciples answered back immediately, but Matthew’s account indicates they waited until they got to the mount of olives.
No doubt the rest of their trip had been silent, as the crazy thing Jesus had said sank in. Then after awhile, they got up the nerve to ask him more about it.
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
What they just asked Jesus was a very weighted question and goes beyond asking about just the destruction of the Temple. In fact they ask three questions that to them are related, but not in the way that you and I think, given our vantage point.
They ask him:
- When will this happen? The destruction of the temple he just told them about.
- What will be the sign of your coming?
- What will be the sign of the end of the age?
In Luke’s account, their question is less detailed and seems only concerned about the destruction of the temple.
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
Now remember, just because Luke says they only asked about the temple, and Matthew adds the other questions doesn’t mean one of them is wrong. It just means that they are each emphasizing a different part of the story for their intended audience – which will become even more evident in a minute. From the different records, it seems that Matthew was more concerned with the “coming” and the “end of the age” questions and Luke was more concerned with the “when will this (the temple destruction) happen?”
And it’s really a good thing for us that this is the case because if we only had one or the other account we would be missing some pretty important information.
Now in both accounts, after the disciples ask the questions, Jesus immediately starts his answer. But before I get to that, I need to try to bring you into the minds of his audience – the disciples – a little more.
Remember, they do not have the advantage of the New Testament, or even the Gospels – they were living it. They didn’t know at this point in time that Jesus was going to die – even though he told them he was going to. They didn’t know he would then rise again. And they didn’t know he would then, much later, come again.
So, why did they ask him about his coming? He was standing right in front of them.
It’s because, even though they didn’t have Revelation, they had pretty much the same understanding of how the world was going to end as we do…because as I’ve shown you already and will show you more as we keep going, there’s more about the end times in the Old Testament than in the book of Revelation.
->The Jews of Jesus day knew all about the coming glorious kingdom when the Messiah would set up David’s throne and rule over all the nations.
->They knew the Daniel prophecies about the stone not cut by human hands.
->They knew about the timeline of the seventy sevens and had just hailed Jesus as the promised Anointed One.
So, they were anxiously waiting for Jesus to break out of his humble servant costume and go completely Hulk Smash on the Romans.
That is what they were referring to as his “coming.” So far, Jesus, while really cool and all, was not living up to their expectations of the Messiah they had read about. And even though they believed he was The One, they were still waiting for him to fully reveal himself according to their expectations.
And so, what Jesus just said about the temple being destroyed must have really rocked them. They must have been puzzling over it quite a bit. How could Jesus break out and start ruling like he’s supposed to, and then the temple be destroyed? Or was the temple going to be destroyed first and then he’s going to break out? But why even destroy the temple? And how will we know it’s about to happen? This doesn’t make any sense. Let’s go ask him. Peter, you do it. You’re his favorite.
And so they ask..
Let’s look at Matthew’s account again..
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
So, they want to know when the temple will be destroyed (and Luke adds they want to know the signs about that) and they want to know the signs that Jesus is about to go all Dragon Warrior and bring out the end of the age.
They considered those two things linked. While Jesus had not yet named it, they were well aware of the “Age of the Gentiles” because they’d been living it for 600 years.
And so, they basically are asking Jesus…when is the Gentile dominance going to come to an end and you restore Jerusalem and your people to the status the prophets promised? When are you going to stop the Clark Kent routine and put the smack down?
I’m sure Jesus might have chuckled to himself as they nervously approached him and asked because He knew that his answer would only confuse them further, and it wouldn’t be until he died and came back to life that they finally start to get it.
Fortunately for us, we have a vantage point that will make this easier to understand, but only if we look at it carefully.
One thing I need to point out to you before I start on his answer is that he answers the questions in a different order than they were asked, and he even adds an answer to a question that they didn’t ask. Which is not an unusual thing to do when someone asks you several questions in a row. Sometimes it’s best to answer in a different order so that your answer can make the most sense. And sometimes it’s important to also include information they didn’t ask for to make what they did ask for even clearer. Which is exactly what Jesus does by beginning with an answer about what are NOT signs of the end.
Basically, he says – before I tell you what ARE the signs to watch for, let me tell you some things that you might think are signs, but they are not.
4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
Luke says something similar.
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
He’s saying, before I tell you what TO look for, don’t be deceived by the things that are just natural to this cursed earth. There will continue to be earthquakes, and famine, and pestilence. There will continue to be wars. There will continue to be nations fighting other nations because people are just power hungry and greedy. These are not signs of anything.
There will even be plenty of false Messiahs and people claiming they know something that is impossible to know. For one, don’t believe any of the “Jesus is back” stories because when I do come back the second time it will be undeniable. I won’t be coming quietly like I did the first time.
So, before answering the questions they asked, he wants them and future readers to understand that just because another war breaks out or a famine or some kind of sickness – that doesn’t necessarily mean the end is near. That just means we live on a cursed earth. And whether he comes back in 2,000 or 2,000,000 years, those things will continue as they always have. Don’t be deceived.
After this, the accounts of Matthew and Luke diverge for a bit before coming back together near the end.
In Matthew’s account he says…THEN – as in after all of this.
In Luke’s account he says…”But before all of this…”
In Matthew’s account, he basically never gets to the answer about the temple destruction and starts talking about the coming and the end of the age. But in Luke’s account, he spends most of his time talking about the temple destruction answer.
Why that is? We don’t know other than they had different intended audiences. But we should be grateful because getting both accounts gives us even more assurance of the part that hasn’t happened yet. You’ll see why in a minute.
Before I continue, it’s important to note that Luke wrote this BEFORE the temple was destroyed in AD 70. Let’s see what Jesus says…
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
What Jesus is saying here is for his direct audience, his disciples. Each of whom would see all that he just said come true for their own lives. They would each be imprisoned, and some would stand before kings and governors. They would bear testimony of Jesus. And Jesus is here telling them not to worry about what to say in those situations because He would give them the words such that none can resist the truth they speak. And he tells them that because of this they would be betrayed by those closest to them that do not want to follow the truth and that some (actually most) of them would be put to death for their faith. All but John were executed at some point. And it’s true that almost everyone hated them because of Christ.
Then after saying they would be put to death, Jesus also says that “not a hair on your head will perish” and that they will “win life” if they stand firm.
This is another case of English being an inferior language to Greek. The term “perish” is not the same as “death.” It’s the same kind of perish as in our favorite verse, John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Same thing here. He’s talking spiritual death and spiritual or eternal life. Their bodies would surely be killed but, in doing so they would gain the life that lasts forever.
Pretty encouraging and scary at the same time.
After telling them of their own fates, he tells them of what to expect when the temple is destroyed and how they can protect themselves (and anyone else who they tell about this)
20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
There’s that Age of the Gentiles again.
Since the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple are in our past, there is a lot about this warning that makes sense to us in hindsight that would not have made sense to his hearers. Even putting aside their likely disbelief. Even if they believed him and analyzed it like we do the things future to us, they probably could not have guessed how it actually played out. And the reason I’m pointing this out is to show you that just because we can’t fully figure out exactly how some of these prophesies can play out as written, doesn’t mean they won’t happen exactly as Scripture predicts.
Let me tell you the story of the destruction of Jerusalem so you can see what I’m talking about.
As you know, Israel had been under Roman subjugation for some time. Well, round about 66 AD, they got sick of it and started a revolt. Rome did not like that, so Emperor Nero sent Vespasian to put an end to it. Long story short, the Romans did a lot of damage but could not finish the job because in 68 AD Nero was kicked off the throne and died. During the following year there were four different emperors, and while Rome was trying to get it’s own stuff straight, the campaign on Israel was halted. Near the end of 69 AD, Vespasian himself became emperor and sent his son, Titus (who would also later be emperor) to finish the job in Jerusalem. Titus began another siege that ended with the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70.
If you’d like a more detailed story you can find a link in my notes: http://www.historynet.com/first-jewish-roman-war.htm
The reason why I told you more than just the part about the destruction was to show you that one of the things Jesus said that would not have made sense at the time, now makes perfect sense. He told them that when they see Jerusalem being surrounded they should leave and not come back. But how could they do that when the city was surrounded already? They couldn’t. But the fact that there was a year long pause in the siege while the Romans played duck, duck, emperor, allowed many who knew this warning to escape before the second siege and ultimate destruction. Those that did not listen to this warning actually thought they had won and Rome was being punished by God during that pause for attacking Jerusalem. In fact, many actually came into the city on the Passover just before Titus started the siege so there were more people in Jerusalem than normal.
Josephus, the famous historian of the Jews, describes the scene of the very end when the Romans finally breached the city.
Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), [Titus] gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing, as they were of the greatest eminence […] in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.
And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judaea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again.
In his writings he estimated over a million Jews dying in this siege. Men, women, and children. And many of them by their own hands as they were fighting among themselves as they were starving under the siege. If you recall the curses of the Mosaic Covenant – many of them were realized during this time. In fact, if you noticed, Jesus actually said in this discourse that this event “is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” But it wasn’t only this event, but also the follow-on nearly 2,000 years of being homeless. But, as we learned last week, they will be regathered once more to finish the curses completely and ultimately be saved.
And as for the comment about “not one stone will be left unturned,” archaeological evidence shows that this indeed happened. As for the reason, the common story is that when the temple had caught fire, all of the gold that was covering everything melted and seeped down under the stones of the floor. Before the Romans left, rather than leave all that gold there, they literally upturned every stone to get it out. While that story is rather probable, there actually is no historic evidence of it other than walls that used to be covered in gold, a fire, and the fact that every stone literally was thrown down. So, it might have happened that way. Perhaps some day we’ll know when we get to heaven.
Either way, everything that Jesus said did indeed come true, just as He predicted.
Which leads to the obvious conclusion that the predictions still left to be fulfilled will follow the same pattern.
And for that, we turn back to Matthew 24 where he picks up in the same place that Luke went backwards, he now goes forward.
Remember he had just finished talking about all the normal things that will continue until the end.
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
It seems clear from his language that now Jesus is not just talking to his immediate audience but anyone who will hear these words and believe Him. Now he’s talking to believers in general. He’s telling us that near the end of the age and his second coming, believers who stand firm will be put to death in the body but their souls will be saved – the same promise he gave the disciples. You can see why it can be easy to think both the Luke and Matthew passages are talking about the same thing. The truth is that while we know they are not talking about the same exact event, one thing we know about bible history is that God does things in patterns and often foreshadows one event with another similar event. Even Jesus points that out in his reference to the days of Noah later in this chapter. So, the whole destruction of the temple scenario, while not the same as the end of time, has a lot of foreshadowing in it – hence similar language about both.
Anyway, notice that here too Jesus is predicting the apostasy we talked about last week. “Many will turn away from the faith.” “Many false prophets will deceive people.” “Increase in wickedness.” “Love growing cold.” Same kind of stuff we saw in Paul’s writings.
Then Jesus makes the statement that before the end comes, the gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world. Notice it’s the gospel of the kingdom (not the prosperity gospel or the jailbreak gospel) the gospel of the Kingdom will be preached to the whole world and then the end will come.
Interestingly, many have taken this as a call to worldwide evangelism in an effort to bring about the end of the world. But that’s not how this is going to happen. It happens in Revelation 14, which we will get to much later, between the seven trumpets and the seven plagues…
6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
That’s how the whole world will ultimately get the gospel, but that doesn’t mean we should keep it to ourselves in the here and now. Also note that the gospel is linked to the creation account. Again we see why that is one of the things the enemy has attacked so fiercely. Don’t believe Darwin’s Deception!
Ok, so far Jesus is confirming what we already knew about the great apostasy being a sign the end is near. Let’s see what else he says.
15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. 22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
Now, if you’ve been with us through the Back to the Future miniseries, you should know what this is all about. This won’t be the last time that background information will be important.
What this tells us is that we are no longer talking about things that lead up to the tribulation, but things that happen within the tribulation. And more specifically in the very middle.
Quickly I’ll remind you of the final seven of the seventy sevens in Daniel 9 that Jesus is referring to here. It begins with the antichrist making a covenant with the Jews to restart sacrifices and offerings in the presumably rebuilt Jewish temple. Then halfway through, the same man will set up the abomination that causes desolation that Jesus just spoke of. We will talk more about what that is when we get there sometime next year.
What Jesus is pointing out here, is that when that happens it will be a similar situation as when Jerusalem was surrounded before it’s destruction, and anyone who heeds His words should get out of dodge in a hurry. We will see later in Revelation just how bad this day and the following 3.5 years are going to be. As he says, if those days had not been cut short, no one would survive. Trust me, you don’t want to be around for this. But for the sake of those who do come to Christ during the tribulation, these words stand as warning.
As for what exactly he means by the days being cut short – we don’t know. There are many theories out there, but I don’t think it’s worth the effort to expound upon them right now because we would still be left with not knowing. Maybe in a later talk I’ll bring it up again.
Notice also that the language in Matthew is similar to what Luke used, especially about nursing mothers, and the Sabbath. Again, these events are similar on purpose and so these warnings equally apply to both. And who knows, maybe the Holy Spirit wrote it this way just so people who are not willing to dig a little deeper will be left thinking both accounts are talking about the same thing and thus be totally confused. This is why you should STUDY, not just READ your bible.
Let’s move on. Jesus continues…
23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.
26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
Here Jesus says something similar to what he said at the beginning of his answers about false reports of the Messiah. In other words, this will always be the case. Then he makes two interesting statements.
27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Basically, again, he’s pointing out that when he comes again it will be unmistakable, so don’t believe all these conspiracy theories.
Then he says something really strange.
28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
Commentators are split on what this means, but the one I like suggests that just like vultures around a carcass will be these false prophets around what looks like a dead and dying remnant. Sounds reasonable to me.
After this verse is where the Matthew and Luke accounts meet back up. Matthew took us to the signs of the end and Luke took us back to the temple destruction. Now they are both talking about the very, very end.
We’ll read Matthew’s and then Luke’s.
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Slightly different language but the same message. At the very end there will strange things going on in the skies. This we will see in Revelation when we get there. And when we get to the very end, Jesus will come back in the clouds with power and glory, with his armies of the believers who he gathered from the earth. And for the Jews, the remnant who stood firm and finally repented, this will be their day of redemption. But we’ll be getting into all of that in detail much later.
Then both authors include the parable about the fig tree – basically saying that you can predict earthly things by certain known signs, therefore you will be able to predict these things by the signs he has given.
Then, in both accounts, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Obviously the generation he was speaking to has passed away and all these things have not yet happened. In fact, MANY generations have passed away since he said these words. The obvious answer is that he was not talking about any of those generations but about the generation that will be alive when all these things happen. The point of saying such a thing is to point out that when these epic events happen, the time left will be so short that the generation that witnesses it will be the generation that also witnesses the very end.
Then he makes the promise that heaven and earth will pass away – which they do – but His words will never pass away.
Another reason why we should use God’s permanent word as our guide rather than the passing fancies of a fallen world or even our unstable emotions.
Now, at this point you may be thinking…“Pastor, this was interesting and all, but you haven’t really given us anything to go on so we can know how close we are getting to the end times.” And for that I’m sorry. Sometimes it’s a real bummer when all you have are the words of Jesus to go on rather than imagination and the desire to know more than we’re allowed to know.
And as you just read with me, He clearly only gave us three things.
ONE – signs of an event that was future to his audience, but has already happened in our past. The destruction of the temple.
TWO – Signs and warnings about the events in the middle of tribulation. The abomination of desolation.
THREE – Things that are not signs of anything.
He really didn’t give us anything to let us know when the tribulation was about to start.
And it turns out, that is because of the very next thing he says in Matthew which so many people try their hardest to find a work around….
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Of course he didn’t give us a bunch of countdown clocks that we can use to pinpoint the date – because it’s not for us to know. And yet, so many people waste so much time trying to pin down things in our modern context that line up with various things in the end time passages. They study the frequency and magnitude of wars and earthquakes and famine – when Jesus made it clear that they are NOT signs of anything. They try to make maps of the ten kingdoms and predict where the antichrist will come from. They even point at current world leaders and swear up and down they are the antichrist until the leader dies or gets voted out of office. They keep looking at technology to predict how the mark of the beast is going to work, and on and on and on. All the while ignoring the clear statement of Jesus that we will not see it coming. Just like in the days of Noah.
In fact, the only sign he gave of what it will be like just before the end is what we already covered from Paul’s writing – the apostasy. The only reliable signs that we are getting closer to the end are the rise in apostasy and the regathering of Israel. And guess what, there is no telling how long those could last.
And if you’re wondering just how bad it can get before God does something about it, in the days just before the flood of Noah the people were described as “every inclination of man’s heart was only evil all the time.” Things are bad now, but they are not even close to that bad.
So, yes, the current apostasy that is sweeping America and Europe are indicators that the clock is counting down. And so is the ongoing regathering of Israel. But if you want the one sure sign that the end of the world is getting closer and closer, just look at the second hand on a clock. As long as it keeps ticking, that means the end is getting closer. And if it happens to stop, check the batteries before freaking out and running for the hills.
I’m sorry to disappoint, but Jesus made it clear: We will not see it coming. And it is always imminent.
So, what does this mean for us?
It means we should head Christ’s warning and keep watch. Stay alert. Don’t get complacent. Just because we don’t know how close we are doesn’t mean that it cannot happen at literally any moment. The rapture has been imminent since the moment Jesus disappeared into the clouds in Acts 1.
But, instead of worrying about all the possible things that could point to the end being near, we should heed the words of the Apostle Peter who also spoke of the apostasy that would precede the end, but ultimately what we should do about it.
2 Peter 3
3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
POINT OF CLARIFICATION:
This does not mean that when God says “day” he means 1,000 years. It simply means that God is timeless. This is a set up for Peter’s actual point in the next sentence about God’s patience.
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
That’s the key. Since we know the eventuality and the assurance of it – we ought to live holy and godly lives. Because…
That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. (APOSTASY) 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
That is some really good advice. Since we know how it’s all going to end, and that we will be judged according to our deeds. Instead of trying to calculate when the end will happen, just work on living a holy and godly life. We should aim to be spotless, blameless, and at peace with our Lord and King. We must be on guard against the lies of the enemy so that we are not lured away from the faith that is our only hope. And we should grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
We should each live our lives as if Jesus might come back tomorrow or not for another thousand years.
Because both are possibilities. And you can’t just pick one or the other. We have to live with the tension. Which we hate.
As finite human beings we hate the tension of not knowing, so we often will just pick an option and go with it even though we know the other option is just as possible. We just don’t like living in the middle.
But that is exactly where Christ has called us to live.
You see, latching on to one end or the other will lead to either fear or apathy or both. Fear that life is going to get hard and terrible things are just around the corner. That kind of fear can consume you and paralyze you. Or apathy in that whether it ends tomorrow or never, none of it matters so why bother trying or planning for anything.
But Jesus calls us to live in the middle, between fear and apathy, a place called SURRENDER.
SURRENDER to the one who wrote the future.
A life of SURRENDER to God is a life that makes the most of every opportunity – not to make yourself smile, but to make your king smile.
A life of SURRENDER makes plans the way Jesus told us to – He said go ahead and make your plans, but make them always subject to the Lord’s will.
You see, FEAR and APATHY happen when I am only concerned about myself and what I want. When I want to control things.
SURRENDER to my King leads to peace knowing that I’m in the hands of the one who made the stars and knows them by name, the one who has my whole life planned out for me with better plans I could make for myself. The one who loved me enough to pay for my treason himself.
There is no safer place to be on earth or in heaven than fully surrendered to the will of our heavenly father.
So, yes, the time is soon. It always has been and it always will be, right up until just before the time suddenly switches to now, and the rope snaps.
Where will your heart be when that happens?