The following is a response to a challenge given on Beliefnet, concerning Matthew chapter 24, it was too long to post there, so it’s here.
At the end of Matthew 23, Christ laments over Jerusalem.
In Matthew 24:1 it says Christ came out of the temple and His disciples come up to Him, Jesus, points to the temple in verse 2 and says,
“Do you not see all these things [the temple]? Truly, I say to you, not one stone here will be left standing upon another, which will not be torn down.“
This is Jesus’ prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in 70 AD.
Matthew, without any narrative between this and what follows, immediately places Jesus on the Mount of Olives (verse 3), the disciples then say to Jesus,
“Tell us, when will these things happen [the destruction of the temple], and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?“
In other words the chief interest here is about the temple’s ruin, but the disciples are also curious about the Lord’s return and the Eschaton.
“See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.“
Don’t be misled by false messiahs and prophets.
Here are just some Messianic claimants after Jesus:
Theudas, c. 45 AD
Menahem ben Judah, c. 50(?) AD
Simon bar Kochba, c. 135 AD
Moses of Crete, c. 450 AD
Serene, c. 720 AD
Nissim ben Abraham, c. 1295 AD
Sabbatai Zvi, c. 1650 AD
Jacob Joseph Frank, c. 1750 AD
Menachem Mendel Sneerson, died in 1994 AD
Then, of course, such figures as…
Montanus, c. 150 AD
Baha’u’llah, c. 1850 AD
Haile Selassie, died 1975 AD (never claimed to be messiah, but others claimed it for him)
Iesu Matayoshi, born in 1944
David Koresh, died 1993
There have been messianic claimants, both Jewish and otherwise, for two thousand years.
“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” (Matthew 24:6-8)
In other words, these are common occurances in the world, and they should not lead us to panic and speculation and prediction. Jesus, here, is saying, “Don’t freak out, these things happen and will continue to happen.” Those who go around looking at news headlines trying to find signs for the end, because of an earthquake here, or a tsunami there, a hurricane there, a war in Iraq, hostility in Israel, terrorist bombings here or there…these people are thinking the exact way Jesus warned us against.
Rather than fretting over such things, Jesus wants us to know that these are normative in this world, and will continue to be so until the end. We shouldn’t be troubled or distraught or panic when these things happen, because they just will.
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (verse 9)
History testifies that this has been true for the last two thousand years, each of the Apostles suffered a martyrs death, the first of those to be killed was St. Stephen. To give a list of those who died is not only impractical here, but impossible, only a fraction of the names of the martyrs have been preserved for us, the nameless thousands who have died since the first century for the sake of Christ and His Gospel are real. We have been enduring tribulation since Day One.
“At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.” (verse 10)
There have been apostates, heretics, and traditors since the beginning. The issue of the “traditors” was a prevailing issue in the 4th century, and led to the Donatist schism, Donatus, a North African bishop, refused to re-admit those who apostasised and betrayed their brethren to Roman authorities.
“Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.” (verse 11)
Simon Magus, Cerenthius, Marcion of Sinope, Valentinius, Montanus, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Apollonarius, Arius, Macedonius, Eutychus, Joseph Smith, Charles Russel, Herbert Armstrong, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar…these names ring a bell to anyone?
“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:12,13)
Yes, things will continue to get bad. The world continues to act sinfully, and love of neighbor is far from the reality of this present age; thus Christ calls us to remain faithful to Him through ALL these things.
I.e. sh!t happens, but continue to endure, continue to remain faithful, continue to cling to Jesus, because it’s totally worth it. He’s worth the risk of losing EVERYTHING.
“This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (vesre 14)
Most everythign Jesus says before this is talking about what is to be expected in the world, from then until the end, just HOW this fallen age works, and is given as a call to remain faithful and not freak out. Don’t lose hope or panic when wars happen, or when the next self-made-famous prophet shows up preaching a strange “gospel”, there will be false messiahs, but don’t listen to them. Just remain faithful, just preach the Gospel.
That’s the heart of this matter here, Jesus wants us to just keep preaching the Gospel, be faithful to Christ and His call to go and do what He says to do, the end will come when the end will come.
Next Jesus moves into discussing the the destruction of Jersusalem, which is why His disciples came to Him in the first place when He was chilling on the Mount of Olives,
“Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken through the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” (verses 15-16)
This is Jesus clearly addressing about the destruction of Jersusalem, which took place in 70 AD. Jesus doesn’t give instruction to His followers to defend Jerusalem, but to flee into the mountains.
In fact, when the armies of Titus surrounded the city, Christians in the city knew exactly what was coming, and they did flee. In fact this was seen as an act of betrayel by the Jews of Jerusalem that it is probably a BIG reason for the increased chasm between Jews and Christians after then.
“Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 24:17-20)
In other words, “GET YOUR BUTT AS FAR AWAY AS YOU CAN AND AS FAST AS YOUR FEET WILL TAKE YOU!!”
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” (verse 21)
It’s of interesting note that at about the same time as the first Jewish War, around 65 AD, under the reign of Nero, is about the same time as Rome began to persecute the Christians. Rome found the Christians fairly annoying, but didn’t actively set about to have them executed until Nero came to power, and found the Christians fair game as a scapegoat for the fires that raged through Rome.
The Church has been enduring great tribulation since then, in fact the personal liberty we experience here in the West is very abnormal, historically as well as for a great many Christians throughout the world right now.
To that end, just last month an Iraqi priest, Father Ragheed Ganni, along with several subdeacons, were gunned down just following Mass, and Christians have been suffering horrible in Iraq since the war started. Not to mention the plight of Christians in Sudan, or even still in China.
How about the Japanese Christians in the 17th century? The Twenty-Six of Nagasaki who were crucified (the youngest martyr was only 13 years old) can’t be forgotten.
“Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (verse 22)
Jesus doesn’t tell us how long this period of tribulation and trouble will last, only that it will be cut short for the sake of His Faithful, the Church.
But it would seem that at our pace, the chances of of our species literally blowing up the planet is increasing at an exponential rate, we became intimately aware of this when the Era of the Bomb began in the 1940s. We simply NEED Divine intervention to prevent us from destroying ourselves. Whether in a hundred years, or in a thousand years.
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold I have told you in advance.” (verses 23 and 24)
Jesus restates that false messiahs and prophets will show their ugly heads, we shouldn’t be led astray by them, but remain faithful to Jesus.
“So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.” (verse 26)
Again, Jesus says, “Don’t let them fool you.”
“For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (verse 27)
I.e. it will be unmistakeable. Nobody will question it, because everybody will see it. When the Lord returns, there won’t be any second guesses.
“Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (verse 28)
You can tell where a dead body is when you see a bunch of vultures gathered in one area, it will be just as obvious when Jesus returns.
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (verse 29)
A referance to Isaiah’s description of the “Day of the Lord” in Isaiah 13, Jesus quotes Isaiah here identifying His coming with the Day of God’s coming judgment upon the world. When the Lord Jesus returns, He comes to “judge the nations”, or as the Creed says, “From whence He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” (verse 30)
Jesus referances Daniel 7:13, which describes “one like a son of man” coming with the cloudsof heaven, and presented before the Ancient of Days, the “Son of Man” theme is also found in the Book of Enoch, which St. Jude quotes in his epistle, of the Son of Man coming with his “ten thousands of holy ones”.
“And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (verse 31)
Comparing this to what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4 seems to indicate the Resurrection of the Dead. All those who “sleep” in Christ will be gathered, harvested, for the Resurrection of the Dead.
“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” (verses 32,33)
The signs of Christ’s coming are described in verses 29-31, and we’ll know that He is near when it happens. And, arguably, it shouldn’t be questionable, it’s obvious that summer is near when the fig tree sprouts leaves, nobody questions it–so it is the same for Christ’s return.
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (verse 34)
This is perhaps one of the most difficult passages in the Gospels, and part of it depends on how you translate the word (translated here) “generation”, there are quite a few views on this, and I don’t feel it appropriate here to elaborate on this verse alone.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (verse 35)
The words of Christ are enduring and everlasting.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (verse 36)
This is important, because it silences anyone who would predict the Lord’s coming, not even Jesus Himself knows.
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and tooke them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (verses 37-39)
Jesus points to the seeming suddenness of His return, life will seem normal until suddenly everything changes. When the Son of Man returns in Judgment, it will be like the flood, wiping away the wicked suddenly.
“Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.” (verses 40 and 41)
Combined with preceeding verses, the “one … taken” refers to the wicked, the wicked will be taken away in Judgment.
“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do notthink He will.” (verses 42-44)
Compare with 1 Thessalonians 5, when Paul explains that,
“For you yourselves know full will that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief;” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4)
“Who then is the faithful and sensible servant whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is the servant whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:25-51)
I.e. don’t be a jerk, be faithful to Jesus.
Well, you asked, so I delivered.