“We’ve Got Questions” (about Matthew 24)
[excerpted from: “There’s A Great Day Coming” by William J. Allen], by permission.
To provide sufficient background for the unfolding of the “Great Day,” a detailed look at Matthew 24 will be helpful. This passage is called “The Olivet Discourse,” Jesus’ final counsel to His disciples on the Wednesday of His final week [before His crucifixion]. Jesus provides startling answers to two questions His disciples asked.
Jesus has just finished with a scathing, contentious discussion with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. He now departs the Temple scene and heads for the Mount of Olives, with His disciples in tow. His recent statement to them, as they were leaving, still rings in their ears with alarming implications.
He has told them this lovely, revered city is coming under God’s judgment (Matt. 23:37-39). They are appalled at such an incredible statement. As they are trudging up the hill to the Mount of Olives, they turn and gaze over the beautiful scene once more. Finally, one musters up enough courage to call the Master’s attention to this view (Matt. 24:1-2). Jesus goes even further, declaring that the Temple and the city will both be utterly destroyed. This judgment was fulfilled in A.D. 70.
Finally, seated in the shad of an ancient olive tree, the bewildered disciples seek to make sense of this. They conclude that Jesus must by referring to the destruction outlined in Zechariah 12:1-6; 14:1-2. With this in mind, they also recall that it is said there that the Kingdom Age will come in and the Messiah will return to rule. And so, they pose two questions of Jesus.
The first question is: “Tell us, when will these things be?” The second question is more complicated: “And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
Jesus provides an answer to the first question, giving a full, but sobering answer. He says that a lot of things must happen before all this falls in place. He cites several events that can be expected before the end comes (Matt. 24:4-7).
First, He warns that many pseudo-Messiahs will come and will prove effectively deceptive. There will be wars and rumors of war, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. All these will be just precursors of the approach of the end of the age in which they live. He calls these the “beginning of sorrows” (literally, “the birthpangs” (Matt. 24:8).
Second, Jesus indicates the even more disastrous events are to be expected. In these, (Matt. 24:9-14), He is thinking beyond that current generation to a more remote time. These events will be to another generation and will come about just before the Great Tribulation develops. There will be tribulation and death for some, and those who follow Jesus will be hated of all nations. There will be defections from the Faith and many will be deceived. Lawlessness (disobedience before God) will increase exponentially, and many who profess Christ will grow cold in their love of Him (Matt. 24:9-12). I believe this describes the event just before the Great Tribulation. He concludes this part with two remarkable statements.
His first is: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Matt. 24:13). Who is this and what does it mean? The “end” is the end of the seven-year Tribulation period. The one who “endures” is the believer who manages to remain alive during all that terrible time. Jesus is not speaking here of being “saved”in the sense of being born-again, but simply being saved from [physical] death.
His second statement is similar. Just as John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed “The kingdom is at hand,” so in the events directly leading up to the Kingdom Age, this Gospel will again be proclaimed, throughout the world. This will be done primarily through the 144,000 and the two witnesses.
This is not the Gospel we proclaim today, which is an invitation to turn from sin and become personally related to the Lord Jesus, not to gain land in Israel or anywhere else, but to obtain an eternal salvation. Sometimes, Christian commentators have generated much confusion in equating these different Gospels. This “Gospel of the Kingdom” is the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived.
As a result of hearing and obeying that Gospel, people will then recognize the error when the Great Man sets himself up as world ruler in Jerusalem. He will demand that every one (especially Jews) must be marked with “666” to be able to eat and live (Matt. 24:15-20).
Thus will begin the “Great Tribulation” (Matt. 24:21). This will be such a devastating time that no one could physically survive, if God did not cut short the time (Matt. 24:21-22). This Great Tribulation will occur during the last three and one-half years of the seven-year period covered by the Seal, Trumpet, and Bowl Judgments. I believe the Trumpet Judgments and the Bowl Judgments will both occur very near the end of the last three and one-half years.
Jesus then answers the second question, as to His coming. When He comes, this will conclude this present age and usher in the Messianic Kingdom Age (Matt. 24:23).
First, He warns, though people anticipate the Messiah, more pseudo-messiahs will arise, even performing miraculous signs. He says His coming will be atypical in timing as that rarity, a storm arising out of the East (Matt. 24:24-28). Generally, a severe storm will arise from the West. Jesus’ return, however, will not be so predictable as that. He further implies that as vultures (“eagles”) gather to dispose of carrion, false teachers will abound, seeking benefit from a gullible people.
Now, He says, the Messiah will finally come (Matt. 24:29-31). The conditions prophesied by Joel will come to pass (Joel 2:30-31) and Messiah will come on the clouds with power and great glory. He will come to earth in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:3-4). His angels will gather the living elect, in preparation for judgment (Ezekiel 20:33-38) and for entry into the new Kingdom.
Jesus then follows this discourse with further reminders for the people of that time. He says that all those things will occur within the lifespan of the generation living at the time of the end (Matt. 24:34). No one will be able to precisely pinpoint when that Day will occur (Matt. 24:36).
To cement this idea, Jesus uses an illustration from Noah’s day; one that has caused much confusion among Christians over the centuries (Matt. 24:37-41).
He likens conditions at the time of His coming to those of Noah’s day. Despite the fact that Noah had been building his ark for perhaps most of 120 years (the time when God’s judgment would come) [Genesis 6:3]. No one took all this seriously, except for Noah. At the time of the Deluge, man was living normally, with marriages and feasts, right up to the time the rains came. They did not know their judgment has arrived until they were swept away. Only Noah and his family were left, in the ark.
Jesus underscores the seriousness of the coming judgment by comparing it with that earlier event. One was “taken away,” another left, He says, using two illustrations. The parallelism should be obvious – those taken away were like those taken away in the flood. Those left are like those left (in the Ark). The Greek terms used in Matthew support that idea.
Some Christians insist that those “taken away” refers to the Rapture, but this is directly contrary to the parallelism that the Lord intends.
Jesus concludes with four parables, designed to emphasize the need to be alert and to be doing what one should do, while waiting. The first parable says to “be alert, behave, and beware” (Matt. 24:45-51).
The second parable reminds believers of that day to be equipped to meet the bridegroom and to be expecting to see Him. (Matt. 25:1-13).
The third parable warns them to be faithful and fruitful (Matt. 24:14-30).
The final parable deals with the question of what will happen to living Gentiles at the end of the age and how they will be judged. He indicates it will be based on how they assisted living Jews fleeing from the clutches of the Great Man (Matt. 25:31-46).