Posts Tagged 'Matthew'

Panic Podcast: The Everything Bible Study, Part 9

Good Monday Morning, gang, and thanks for stopping by. My intention for today’s podcast was to look at the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but I just got through two of them.  Grab your Bible and a cup of coffee, and let’s start with Matthew, our favorite tax collector.

 

 

And for those of you who asked, here is yesterday’s sermon, the audio version.

 

A SURVEY OF THE MAJOR PROPHETS, 3

Birth of the King, Matthew, Part One

Matthew 1:18—2:23

This might very well be the most famous Bible story ever.  Even people who have absolutely no relationship with God know “the Christmas story.”  Over the years, there have been dozens of motion pictures made about this singular event, some very good, many not.  During the month of December, this is the passage of Scripture most often preached; most Christians think they know the story well.  Let’s find out how well you know it.

1.  Matthew and the Jewish Messiah

Though Matthew’s Gospel is placed first in our Bibles, it was probably not written first.  Most scholars tell us that Mark was written long before any of the others Gospels, and while Luke gives us many additional details, Matthew gives us a unique perspective on the birth of Jesus:  the Jewish perspective.  Matthew uses three devices to emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus:

First, Matthew chooses his opening words carefully.  He begins his Gospel like this—

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.

The word “genealogy” comes from the Greek word genesis, which is the title of the first book of our Bible and the first book of the Jewish Bible.  There are other wording parallels in the opening verses of Matthew which would point the Jewish reader back to the Old Testament.

Next, Matthew uses Old Testament scripture liberally to support and validate the fact that this Baby, Jesus, was in reality the long awaited Messiah.  For example, Jesus’ lineage is traced all the way back to Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation!   Furthermore, to stress Jesus’ legitimacy, Matthew makes it plain that Mary and Joseph were both descendants of King David.  If any Jewish boy had a claim to the throne of David, it was the boy named Jesus born on Christmas!

Finally, at the close of his summary of Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew abruptly changes his pattern of describing the long family line.  According to Matthew, Joseph was not the father of Jesus; he was merely the husband of Mary!

and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:16)

Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, skillfully uses his natural talents as a writer to implicitly underscore what was so important to the Jewish readers of his day:  this Jesus, Son of Mary and Joseph, is the Messiah prophesied centuries ago by their very own prophets.

2.  Birth of the Messiah, 1:18—25

This group of verses (1:18—2:23) actually has a name among Bible scholars:  the Infancy Narratives and it is paralleled in Luke 1:5—2:52.  While Matthew and Luke tell the same story, their versions couldn’t be more different, yet they don’t contradict each other.  There are five areas of complete agreement:

  • Jesus’ birth was miraculous; He was virgin-born;
  • Mary and Joseph were “espoused” to each other when God’s will was made known to them;
  • Christ was to be called “Jesus”;
  • He was born in Bethlehem;
  • He was raised in Nazareth.

A tricky situation, verses 18, 19

Matthew begins the story of Jesus with His “birth.”  The word translated “birth” in the tNIV and most modern translations is the same word translated “genealogy” in 1:1.  What Matthew is beginning at in verse 18 is really the “history of Jesus Christ” on earth.

Mary was “espoused” or “betrothed” to Joseph, and while we traditionally view this situation as their “engagement,” the Jewish tradition of “espousal” was much more serious and binding than our tradition of “engagement.”  In a sense, Mary and Joseph were already married at this time, even though the formal wedding ceremony was yet to come.  Notice that during this period of “espousal,” Joseph is called Mary’s husband (v. 19) and Mary is referred to as his wife (v. 20).  The Old Testament Law made it clear that unfaithfulness in an “espoused” woman was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:23—24).

What made Mary’s pregnancy so ticklish a situation to deal with was that even though considered married, the couple was not living together and they were not having any kind of physical relationship; so how was Mary’s pregnancy going to be explained?   Mary knew the truth about her condition because the angel Gabriel told her (Luke 1:26—35).  But for Joseph, this was a problem.  He was a good man, and because of his beliefs he felt that he could not go through with the marriage.  Joseph was also a man of mercy, and he obviously loved Mary deeply, so he did not want her to be humiliated or embarrassed in any way.  Joseph’s practical solution was to “divorce” her quietly, which meant presenting his pregnant wife with a bill of divorcement in front of only two witnesses, as opposed to dragging her to court and suing her for divorce.  Remember, Joseph was not yet privy to the divine plan.

God’s solution, verses 20—23

Poor Joseph; we can only imagine how many nights he paced the floor, trying to figure out what to do!  Finally, God intervened with a dream.  During this dream, an unnamed angel from God comes to Joseph and gives him the same information Mary was given (Luke 1:35).  Joseph now knew what Mary knew:  it was by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit that Mary had conceived.   Notice how the angel addresses Joseph—

Joseph son of David. (verse 1:20)

This is what gave Jesus the legal right to the throne of David and it also served to encourage and strengthen Joseph.  Even though Mary was given a great honor, it would be through Joseph’s connection to the House of David that the Messianic right to the throne would be transmitted to Jesus.  Mary was important, but in order for Jesus to be recognized as the legitimate heir to the Davidic promise, Joseph, husband to Mary and father to Jesus, was indispensable!

Joseph, described by Matthew as “righteous,” was also a man of faith.  The angel told him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” which indicates that Joseph had already decided to do just that before God intervened.   Poor Joseph!  He didn’t know what was going on, but he loved Mary and the private divorce was out of the question.  Perhaps that’s why God waited so long before filling Joseph in on His divine plan; the Lord was testing Joseph, waiting for him to arrive at the right decision, then blessing him with a supernatural visitation.

There is a real lesson for all who would live by faith:  sometimes living by faith means stepping out in faith, maybe without clear direction, trusting that the clear direction needed will be forthcoming.

With this reassurance from the angel, Joseph must have been greatly relieved.  God never leaves His faithful followers in the dark.  Mary needed to know God’s will to save her from the terrifying confusion and fear surrounding her mysterious pregnancy.  Joseph needed to know to save  him from thinking Mary had been unfaithful to him.

With verse 21, the angel focuses on the baby.

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.   (verse 21)

The awesome power of this verse is often overlooked because it is so simple.  A lot of people had (and continue to have) an interest in the birth of this child:

  • The Holy Spirit, for it was by His power the child was conceived;
  • Mary, who because of her willing obedience became “blessed among women”;
  • Joseph, who along with Mary, was going to raise this child to adulthood;
  • The Jews, for the child would be named “Jesus,” for He would save “His people” from their sins.  “His people” refers to Jewish people.

Though to Joseph and to the readers of Matthew’s Gospel the phrase “His people” most definitely referred to Jews, it would not be long before it became apparent that both Jesus and His cousin, John the Baptist, viewed the divine mission as including all people; the phrase “His people” came to refer not only to Jews, but to all who by faith believed in Jesus as the Messiah.  So “His people” are the Messiah’s people.  We know from Paul’s writings later on that salvation came first to the Jews, then to the everyone else.

What does it mean to be “saved from sins?”  It was so important that Joseph name the Baby “Jesus” that he was not only given the name, as Mary was, but he was given the reason.  The angel told Joseph this in a very strange way in the Greek, where literally it reads like this:

You will call his name Jesus.

It’s an odd construction that is seen only here in the New Testament; a phrase that is not only a Semitism (written the way a Jew might say it,) but one written in the future indicative with imperative force.  It was as though Joseph was told:  “You will call the Baby by His name, which is Jesus.”

The name “Jesus” is an unremarkable name; there were many boys and men in Israel with that name, it is a variant of the name “Joshua,” and actually means “God is salvation.”  But the angel embellishes the literal name by adding:  “from their sins.”  The Messiah’s primary mission did not include social, political, or even physical salvation, but rather moral and spiritual salvation.  Jesus came to do away with sin once and for all time (Hebrews 9:26); He came to save man from sin, not in sin (Ralph Earle).   Salvation includes the following:

  • Freedom from the greatest evil that has ever plagued man:  the guilt, pollution, power, and punishment of sin;
  • To be given the greatest blessings a man can ever receive:  peace, love, joy, contentment, unspeakable happiness, answered prayer, etc.

To be saved from something implies being saved for something else.  No wonder this Baby needed to called Jesus!  Anyone who has experienced salvation through His grace knows how precious the name “Jesus” is.

Fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, v. 23

Matthew’s Gospel was written mainly with the Jewish reader in mind, and so Matthew quotes frequently from the Old Testament.  One such quotation is from the famous Christmas prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.  Volumes have been written about this single verse, but the Holy Spirit gives us the final fulfillment and context here in the Gospel:  Mary is the virgin; Jesus is her son, Immanuel.  Of course, Jesus was never called “Immanuel” as far as we know, so what did Isaiah mean when he wrote his prophecy?   There is no greater blessing for a human being than the knowledge that God is with them; that His presence in their midst is a reality.  Jesus is the only one who could have been called “God with us” because Jesus was not just a Baby, but God Himself in the flesh.  The mystery into which Mary and Joseph had been drawn is the mystery we all struggle to grasp:  the Incarnation; the day God became a man so as to affect man’s salvation.   But notice the exact wording of Matthew 1:25 and compare it to the exact wording of Isaiah 7:14—

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  (Matt. 1:25)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isa. 7:14)

The difference is subtle but perhaps very meaningful.  In Isaiah 7:14, it is the virgin who will call her baby “Immanuel.”  In Matthew, it is not the virgin; it is “they.”  Who is “they?”  Perhaps Matthew is referring to Mary and Joseph, but could “they” not refer to all believers who have experienced the Messiah’s forgiveness of sins?  For all of us who have reached out in faith and claimed Jesus Christ as our personal Messiah, we can say with certainty “God is with us” because we experience His presence every day in our lives!   We cling to what Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20—

Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd


Rising Above Average: 40 Days of Weeds

wheat40 Days of Weeds

Matthew 13:24—30

A lot of people notice the similarity between the first two parables of Matthew 13; the parables of the sower and the weeds among the wheat.  Though they are similar, there are some very striking differences which will become apparent as we make our way through the parable of the weeds.

This particular parable is found only in Matthew and it continues a line of teaching concerning the present state of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus began by teaching people that the Kingdom of Heaven is moving and growing as He sows the seeds of salvation, but the growth of Kingdom today is occurring among different kinds of hearts.  Some people hear the Gospel and respond in the right way and become totally dedicated and consecrated to the Kingdom.  The vast majority, however, hears the Gospel and responds to it in a limited fashion; these of people are what we call “mediocre Christians,” the kind of believer who, though making a confession of Christ (since they make up the Kingdom of Heaven) are shaky in their relationship with Him.  Mediocre Christians let things “get to them” and let circumstances of life dictate the kind of faith they have; when life is good for them, they are on top spiritually, but when life gets hard they struggle in their faith.  The danger for believers like this is that the Devil will take advantage of their mediocrity to “steal” what little faith they have.

The question that naturally flows from this teaching concerns what the 25% minority who have responded properly to the Word do with the 75% majority who are just “going with the flow?”  Do those who serve the Lord with dedication and consecration need to take some kind of action today to ensure the purity of the Kingdom of Heaven?   The answer, as taught by Jesus in this next parable is a loud “NO!”  The job of separating the dedicated Christians from the mediocre believers is not the job of members of the Kingdom of Heaven.

1.  The kingdom of heaven is like…what?  Verse 24

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.”

The first thing we need to understand is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  The Kingdom, as taught by Jesus is not like the man doing the sowing of the seed, but rather the situation in the man’s field that arises after sowing the sowing of the seed.

You will recall that in the first parable, the sower sows seeds and the emphasis is on the four kinds of soil that seed falls on and how the Devil can easily snatch away the plants that have shallow roots.  Of course, if the seed of the Word takes root, then the Devil cannot steal it away.  Now, in this parable, the situation is similar, but different.  Here the emphasis is really three-fold:  (1)  on the action of the sower, who faithfully sows seeds in his field, (2) on the action of the sower’s enemy; and (3) on what happens at the harvest.  So, even though this parable is considerably shorter than the preceding one, there is a lot we need to understand, and the very first thing Jesus wants us to understand is that in the present dispensation of grace, He, as the great Sower, is actively working to extend His Kingdom.

This is important because so many people see Jesus only as the Mediator in Heaven, or only as the Baby in the manger or the Man on cross.  Well-meaning Christians fail to appreciate what is happening today in the unseen spirit world.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.  (Matthew 11:12)

What Jesus is saying in this verse is actually fairly easy  to understand, although there is certainly no consensus among Bible scholars about it.  The very common sense interpretation is this:

Since John the Baptist began clearing the way for Jesus Christ to begin His earthly ministry, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully growing, but it has been growing among great opposition.

Jesus Christ, then, is seen “forcefully advancing” His Kingdom; He is active, not passive.  He is pictured as pushing back the darkness as His Kingdom grows in the world sin.  That He is “forceful” is necessary because others are equally as “forceful” in their opposition to it.  Jesus Christ, the great Sower, working diligently and tirelessly in the construction of His Kingdom.  Though we are His partners in this great task, He is actively involved in it.

Also important is the audience intended for this parable.  Jesus had just finished speaking to the disciples, explaining why He was using parables, and now He returns to the crowd of people and returns to His purpose:  teaching the crowd, made up of many kinds of people, the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.

2.  Something that doesn’t belong, verses 25—26

But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

Apparently in the parable, the sower is like a wealthy farmer who employs several “hands” to work his farm.  This is a wonderful picture of our relationship with Jesus Christ, the Sower.  We are like His farm hands, and we are supposed to be engaged in the same kind of work He is engaged in.  Unfortunately, many of us are barely part-time employees who are more concerned with our own things than with our employer’s fields.

At any rate, even though the farm hands are described as “sleeping,” Jesus is not implying that is a bad thing.  In fact, after a hard days work, sleeping would be the normal thing to do.  Jesus is focusing on the sower’s insidious enemy, who sneaks on to the property in the dark of night, while everybody is fast asleep.   What we see the enemy doing is evil, malicious, dastardly, and sneaky:  He is seen sowing a highly destructive seed that, while resembling wheat, is highly destructive.  What he sowed was a seed known as zizania (translated “weeds” in the NIV).  Bible scholars are certain Jesus has in mind the “bearded darnel” (lolium temulentum), a seed as insidious as the one who was sowing it.  It is a grain that looks very much like wheat while it is growing but when it matures it’s roots entangle the good wheat and when it throws its grain, it effectively poisons the field it is growing in.  It could take several growing seasons to purge the field of this terrible weed, and by the time this weed can be distinguished from the wheat, it’s already too late.

Verse 27 is a pretty simple verse and really serves to move the parable along, but at the same time we learn something about just how far the weeds had encroached into the field of wheat—

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

The ratio of weeds to wheat must have been considerable since the servants seemed so surprised they felt the need to run and talk to their employer about them.  Normally, a weed-free field would be strange thing indeed, so some weeds mixed in among the wheat would have been a normal thing which the farm hands would deal with as a routine part of their duties.  But what these men saw in the field horrified them so much it was unbelievable to them and they felt compelled to double check with their employer to make sure he had actually sown good seed in the field.

The astonishment with which the workers approached the owner of the farm is like the astonishment some Christians experience when they first learn about the 25% rule and the state of the Kingdom of Heaven today.  It seems almost inconceivable to them that God would allow seeds of destruction to be sown in HIS Kingdom by HIS enemy!  But remember, Jesus is trying to teach us some secret about His Kingdom by using parables.  Based on what we learned in the first parable, and what we will learn in the remaining parables, here is what Jesus is teaching:  At this present time, during this present dispensation, not only is Jesus Christ sowing the good seeds of the Word of God, but the Devil is also sowing seeds; seeds of destructive heresies and false teaching within the same field.  Even in the fruitful field—the good ground—Satan sows his weeds which grow with the good grain until the harvest.

What we see in the Kingdom of Heaven today, exemplified in the church, which is the visible side of the Kingdom on Earth, is a body of saints that faithfully serve God and proclaim His righteous doctrines and mingled in with them, false teachers and false believers that are almost indistinguishable the genuine ones.  While Jesus does not mention His 25% rule, it seems that, according to this parable, the false teachers and their followers (the weeds) outnumber the true believers (the wheat) in this present dispensation.

3.  What to do with those who don’t belong, verses 28—29

” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

” ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.

The owner of the field knew exactly what was happening and he knew precisely who was to blame:  an enemy, which translated literally is “one who is an enemy.”  There was no doubt in his mind who was to blame.  The weeds were deliberately put in the field by the enemy; it was not an accidental contamination.

The reaction of the farm hands was commendable:  in support of their employer they were willing to go into the fields and pull out the weeds in an effort to save as much of the good wheat as they could.  But the owner of the field was a wise man; not willing to risk harming (killing) any of the good wheat, he told his servants to let the weeds grow until harvest time, then the wheat and the weeds would be sorted out.

Here is the answer to those who are numbered among the 25% minority:  we are not allowed to be judgmental or condemnatory in regards to the 75% majority.  During this present dispensation of grace, the presence of false teachers, false believers and mediocre believers is to be expected and tolerated because God is the only One qualified to pass judgment on them.

Of course, it is true that within the Body of Christ we have a responsibility to deal with false teachers, we must be very careful in dealing with those “weaker brothers” who find themselves mixed up in false teaching.  As a pastor, many times I have had to walk a very fine line between pointing out that a faithful member of my congregation believes in error while not breaking their hearts.  This is where the ministry of the Holy Spirit is indispensable.

Just as in the previous parable, we have a vivid word picture of the state of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth during the present dispensation:  it is populated by both true believers and false believers, both flourishing alongside each other.  And beyond faithfully preaching and teaching the whole Gospel and living out our faith in obedience to the revealed Word of God, there is not much we can do about this strange situation.

4.  The parable explained, verses 36—43

With this group of verses, Jesus explains the meaning of the parable.  While the present state of the Kingdom of Heaven seems odd today, we must be patient because God has a plan that He working out.

The good seed, the wheat, stands for the genuine believers.  The weeds are false believers who look like genuine believers.  Among genuine believers Satan has his followers in order to spoil the Lord’s work.  G. Campbell Morgan makes a very astute observation:

Thus it is evident that these…parables do not give the picture of an age where there is to be a greater increase of goodness until the final perfection is attained; but rather one characterized by conflict, and one in which it appears as though evil triumphed rather than good.

But why is this allowed to happen?  Remember, this present time is the Dispensation of Grace in the Kingdom of Heaven.  God’s grace is manifested in the Body of Christ, the visible Church.  Each dispensation is a time of testing for man and God will allow man to be tested so that he will be without excuse when he is judged.  It is important to note that the very first problem the early church experienced was the problem of false teaching and that problem continued to dog the Church during the Apostlic age down to this very day.  Fasle teachers and false teaching are everwhere; the Devil is chucking his seeds of evil into the midst of every congregation.   We who are striving to serve  God with all our hearts often get frustrated and angry with the state of Church of Jesus Christ today.  But we would do well to remember the words of Peter–

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. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

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 in it will be laid bare.  (2 Peter 3:8-10)

And while we are at it, Paul’s advice to the Galatians is pretty important, too–

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians 6:8-10)

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

The End of Days, Part One

An Exposition of Matthew 24

This chapter contains the most discussed and debated teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.  Although it is paralleled in both Mark and Luke, Matthew’s version of what we call “The Olivette Discourse” contains material found in no other Gospel.   Understanding the teachings of Jesus in this chapter, and the following chapter, is essential if one is to have a complete understanding the nature of the “last days.”  Indeed, grasping the truths of the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation would be impossible without the words of Jesus in Matthew because it is the key that unlocks the mysteries of Revelation chapters 6-19 and Daniel chapter 9.

1.  The occasion, verses 1 and 2

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.  Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As the chapter opens, we see Jesus leaving the great temple complex for the very last time.  It is late afternoon on the Tuesday before the Passover Lamb is going to offer Himself as an atonement for the sins of man.  It’s a busy day, and Jesus is accompanied by His friends, who remarked on the beauty of the temple buildings in response to something Jesus said in Matthew 23:38,

Look, your house is left to you desolate.

To the disciples that was a very curious statement because the temple and its associated buildings were anything but desolate that day; it was just before the Passover, and Jerusalem was teaming with visitors and the temple would have been a beehive of activity.  What was Jesus talking about?  So, they pointed this out to Him, and He restated what He previously said:  the temple would be utterly destroyed.  This must surely have  been a baffling statement to the disciples.  The temple in Jerusalem was magnificent.  It was massive, it was a true testament to man’s engineering abilities and his devotion to his religion.  Of the temple in Jerusalem, the Psalmist wrote:

It is beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth.
Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
the city of the Great King.

Walk about Zion, go around her,
count her towers,

consider well her ramparts,
view her citadels,
that you may tell of them to the next generation.  (Psalm 48:2, 12-13)

If the temple in the Old Testament could elicit such emotion, imagine what it must have been like for the disciples of Jesus’ day, when the temple had been greatly enlarged and lavishly adorned under King Herod!  Of that temple, Edersheim wrote:

Nor has there been, either in ancient or modern times, a sacred building equal to the temple, whether for situation or magnificence.

In Baba Batra, a Jewish essay which concerns things like houses and yards and regulations for such buildings, we read this:

He who never saw Herod’s edifice has never in his life seen such a beautiful building.

So, to the minds of the disciples, who had grown up around this temple, what Jesus had just said must have been both baffling and startling.

3.  The three pertinent questions, verse 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?”

Some time later, Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, which is a very appropriate location for a teaching on the Parousia, the Second Coming, considering what the prophet Zechariah wrote concerning this singular event:

On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.  (Zechariah 14:4)

Mark, in his Gospel, says that Peter, James, John, and Andrew were the ones who asked Jesus this question in private.  It is likely the other disciples were present, but that these four were the ones raised concerns about what Jesus had just said.  The word “privately” simply means that the following teachings were given only to the disciples, no one else was present.

There were three questions raised:

  • Tell us, when will this happen?
  • What will be the sign of your coming?
  • And of the end of the age?

Taken individually, the answers to these three questions paint a panoramic picture of Bible prophecy that encompasses the time of the early church to the end of days, a period of history yet to be written that the Bible calls “the Great Tribulation.”

(a)  Tell us, when will this happen?

This first question refers to the destruction of the temple, which was fulfilled in 70 AD by the Romans.  They sacked and destroyed not only the temple grounds, but the decimated the whole city of Jerusalem.  This horrible event in Jewish history was also prophesied by Daniel:

After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.  (Daniel 9:26)

At the time Jesus spoke of the temple’s utter destruction, some 40 years hence, there was peace all over the world; no word of prophecy seemed more improbable.  The Jewish nation, though subject to Rome, was at peace and the armies of Rome were obligated to protect the Jews, not destroy them!  Yet, within a generation, the words of Jesus came to pass with precision.  After a three year siege by Vespasian, then his son, Titus, Jerusalem was taken, much of it destroyed, and the temple utterly destroyed in August of 70 AD.  All exactly as Jesus had said.

(b)  What will be the sign of your coming?

It’s important that we read that question carefully, noting who is asking it, and the words used.  This question is being asked by Jews concerning the coming of their Messiah.  By now, the disciples seemed to understand who Jesus was and that He was going away but that He would return as their Messiah, the One their ancient prophets wrote about.  Theirs was, in fact, a very Jewish question, for centuries the Jews had been looking for a longing for their Messiah to come.  So this question was perfectly natural.

Notice also that they were not asking about  signs of the coming rapture.  The rapture does not concern Jews, but it concerns the removal of the Church, all born again believers, from the earth to meet Christ in the air, as taught by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.  The disciples were not asking Jesus about that because Jesus never taught anything about the rapture.  That “mystery” was left for Paul to reveal.  Jesus, however, often spoke about His return to earth physically, and this is what the disciples were asking about.

This is important to keep in mind because all that follows, that is, all the signs Jesus is about to talk about, do not relate to the rapture of the Church but to world conditions just prior to His literal, physical return to Earth.  There are, in fact, no signs leading up to the rapture of the Church.

Here are the signs leading up to the Second Coming of Christ as enumerated by Christ in Matthew 24:

  • There will be false messiahs, verse 5
  • There will be wars and rumors of wars, verse 6.  Of course, there have always been wars or at least the threat of wars in every generation of man, but they will increase just prior to the return of Christ.
  • The third sign will be nations rising against nations, verse 7.  There will be a grappling for power and world dominance in the days preceding the coming of Christ.
  • Famines will be the fourth sign that the Lord’s return is soon, verse 7.
  • There will also be an increase in earthquakes during this time, verse 7.

All these things, says Jesus, are the beginning of birth pains, verse 8.  The word translated “birth pains” is also used in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 this way:

While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

Paul was writing about the same time period as Jesus was talking about.  The troubles listed in Matthew 24 will characterize the time period we call “The Tribulation,” a period of seven years following our age, the Age of Grace, and preceding the Messianic Age of the Millennial kingdom.

  • The sixth sign, in verse 9, will be the dreadful persecution of believers during this time.  This shows us that even after the Church is removed from the scene, people will still come to Christ as Savior.  What will it be like for them?  The Greek word translated “persecuted” in the NIV come from the verb thlibo, which means “press.”  It is used to describe the crushing of grapes to get the wine out.  This is a vivid description of life for those who find the Lord during the Tribulation period.
  • The treatment of believers will lead to the seventh sign in verse 10, with people betraying each other, forsaking their faith just to stay alive.
  • Verse 11 speaks of the eighth sign, the rise of false prophets who will deceive many into following them.
  • The ninth sign in verse 12, which is found only in Matthew,  is ominous.  Lack of love will characterize people during the Tribulation.  During this time, as man grows more and more wicked and self centered, the love of most will grow cold, says Jesus.
  • The tenth sign, only given in Matthew, gives us an inkling of something that will be happening during the seven year Tribulation:  the Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, verse 14.
  • The next sign will be, as Jesus said, ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel.  Jesus is making reference to something Daniel prophesied about.  In fact, Daniel mentions this “thing” three times.  One reference is Daniel 9:27,

He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’  In the middle of the ‘seven’  he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

This is referring to something that the Antichrist will do in the temple in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation.  We also know that in 168 BC Antiochus Epiphanes marched into the Holy Holies and erected a pagan altar to Zeus, thus desecrating the temple God.  We see here a dual fulfillment of what was prophesied.  The Antichrist will do the same kind of thing when he turns on the Jews.

  • After the temple is ruined, conditions for the Jews will be so bad, according to verse 16, many will flee to the mountains to hide out.  This was partly fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but  according to what Jesus said in verse 21, He is also referring to a time in the future far worse than the world has ever experienced before.

For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

  • Verse 23 indicates that  just before He returns, there will be more false messiahs, more people claiming to the Christ.  Jesus is warning those who follow Him not to be deceived, and He is telling His disciples all this, not to frighten them, but out of love.  Verse 25 is a compassionate statement:  See, I have told you ahead of time.

Conclusion

Invariably, whenever these verses are taught or preached, people wonder what will happen to them.  Some Christians believe the Church will go through this period of great distress.  Others teach the Church will be removed at some point during the Tribulation.  If you are born again, if Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior, you have nothing to worry about.  Consider what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, people who were prone to worry:

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.   (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10)

“God did not appoint us to suffer wrath.”  Indeed, for us, for believers, Jesus suffered God’s wrath so that we don’t have to, ever; not now, not during the Tribulation, not in all eternity.  You and I, because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, are considered worthy to escape the coming wrath.

Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.  (Luke 21:36, KJV)

Next time, we will examine the most startling signs of “the end of the age,” the moments just before Christ returns to the Earth.  We will also look briefly at some parables Jesus taught to help His disciples  understand what He was teaching.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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