Watching For the Signs of the Times (Part Two)
Passage: Matthew 24:1–24:8
Watching for the Signs of the Times Part Two
We have a lot of ground to cover today so let's pray and then jump right in. After Jesus tells the disciples that the temple will be destroyed, they come to Jesus privately and ask, when? When will the temple be destroyed and "what will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?"
Jesus goes on to give them signs, but they're not gonna be the kind of signs that you can mark down on a calendar and say, ‘this is gonna happen, then this is gonna happen". These signs aren't unique in themselves- they have been happening since the days of Christ. What is unique will be the intensification of these signs - like a woman experiencing birth pains they will increase as it gets closer to the end.
The signs of the last days can be broken down into three broad categories. Last week we considered two signs of the times:
1. Signs evidencing the grace of God toward men
We often think of the trials of the last days but they will be days of great grace being poured out too.The last days are going to be days when the gospel of the kingdom will go forth with unprecedented power. It will be preached in every nation and then the end will come.
2. Signs indicating man's sinful opposition to God
Man's sinful rebellion against God and His anointed King Jesus will increase - culminating in a man who is as evil as a man can get - the antichrist. He will epitomize man's rule apart from and in opposition to God.
This week we'll consider the third category:
3. Signs indicating the judgment of God on the earth
Matthew 24:1-8; 29-36
Jesus tells us that there will be wars and revolts and famines and pestilence and earthquakes. Results of the fall, sin, but also evidences of God's judgment. Again, the signs aren't unique, they've been occurring since the beginning of time. What will be unique is how they will intensify to horrifying proportions. Luke says that there will be great earthquakes and terrors and great signs in the heaven. As the end draws near the birth pains will get sharper and quicker.
But then in verse 29 Jesus describes something occurring that is unique - a cataclysmic series of disasters beyond anything this world has ever known - the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give light and stars will fall and powers of heaven will be shaken. Luke gives a sense of how frightening these events will be:
"And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken." Luke 21:25-26 (ESV)
John sees the same event in his apocalyptic vision:
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Rev. 6:12-14
This will be on a level like "The Day After Tomorrow" - disasters that melt the most courageous of men. It will be the end of the world, the day of the Lord. And each of these descriptions climax with the visible return of Jesus Christ:
15Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? Rev.6:15-17
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matt. 24:30-31
This would be the perfect time to digress to a difficult question - when the rapture occurs - but for time's sake gonna hold off til next week when we consider the second coming of Christ. We will digress to consider another difficult question that arises from this section in Matthew:
1. What does Jesus mean when he says that "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place"? (Vs 32
There are some who read this and believe that Jesus thought he would return in power within the lifetime of the disciples and was simply misguided. Others believe that in some way all these things took place in AD 70 when the temple was destroyed.
There is no question that this is a difficult passage and there have been many attempts to explain this. The one that I believed for most of my early years as a Christian is that Jesus' parable of the fig tree putting forth leaves was a metaphorical reference to Israel (sometimes compared to a fig tree), and therefore when it became a nation again (in 1948) this generation (the generation when that happened) would not pass away before all this happened. Hence predictions of Jesus' return in the 80's (thinking a generation is approx. 40 years long). That interpretation did not lead to helpful understanding or results.
The parable of the fig tree tells us that when one thing happens, something else is close behind. When the fig tree puts out its branches, summer is not far away. When these things begin - the great tribulation, and the cataclysmic events in the heavens and earth - the end is not far behind. It won't be long.
1. I think that is primarily what Jesus is saying. I don't think he's trying to say that all this is going to happen very soon because He tells us that he does not know the day or the hour, only the Father knows. There are indications in this passage (and parallel) of a long delay if look carefully:
1. In Luke Jesus declares that the Jews will be dispersed among all the nations and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. This strongly implies a sense of delay. (Follow me now) Jerusalem was besieged and overtaken 40 years after Jesus said this in AD 70. If the average age of a disciple was 20 in Jesus' day that would put them in their 60's at the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. That would mean that their being led captive into all nations and the times of the Gentiles being fulfilled would have to happen within ten or twenty years if Jesus thought that all of it would be fulfilled in the generation of the ones listening to him. Based on historic exiles of the Jewish nations and the language that doesn't sound right. Sounds like long delay.
1. When Jesus says in reference to these prophecies that "heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away" he is saying these things will happen - no matter how long it takes for them to be fulfilled. Implying long delay - the kind of delay that would make people wonder if Jesus' words weren't going to be fulfilled. He is saying the heavens and earth are the most enduring things we know in this earth, but they will eventually pass away, but Jesus' words never will. Though there be a long delay - even thousands of years - his words will not fall to the ground. Heaven and earth will pass away before his words pass away.
2. Delay is built into most of the parables he tells after this - long delay.
3. When you see all these things - the generation that sees all these things need to know that when it starts (and that includes the cataclysmic disasters coming to the earth) that the end is not far away.
4. Jesus tells the disciples in Luke, "Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:28)
I think that gets to Jesus' point. Not that Peter and John will see these things (though I believe they strongly thought they would), but he is seeing all generations telescoped together. Jesus, if we take him at his word (which we need to do!) did not know when the end would come or his own return would happen. He did know that when it began, it would not be a long drawn out event, but would come with surprising rapidness.
So God's judgment will intensify on the earth in the last days. Scripture is clear it will get bad, but the believer need not fear - in fact the judgment of God is a comfort to the Christian waiting for the kingdom:
1. God, the Righteous Judge will judge the earth for the sin of mankind
This judgment isn't reserved for the great tribulation only. In John's vision in Rev. the first four seals opened depicting God's judgment are war, bloodshed, famine, and death. Sounds like human history. It has been happening and it will be happening (but escalating). The wrath of God against sin is being revealed and will increasingly be revealed.
There is not a lot of fear of God anymore. Used to be people (even unbelievers) had a greater degree (in general) of fear of God. Arrogance and flippancy today. God is no big deal. Judgment? C'mon.
I've shared this before, but it is such a vivid illustration of man's foolish bravado and arrogance. Just before Hurricane Camille hit in 1969, a sheriff went out to a waterfront hotel to drive occupants to safety. They refused to leave. They wanted to have a Hurricane party.
That hotel was hit with winds of over 200mph, and more devastating, a storm surge of 28 feet. A wall of
water 28 feet high hit that apartment complex and leveled it. Leveled it. The structure that they were counting on to protect them was flattened to the very foundation.
When God's righteous judgment falls, no one will be laughing and no one will stand in that day...except those who have already faced God's righteous judgment. Christians will not need to fear in that day for we have already been judged by God. We have already faced God's wrath. How? When the Bible speaks of Christians being "in Christ" it means that when Christ was judged for sin on the cross we were in Him - and God's wrath poured out on Him was (vicariously) poured out on us as well. We died with Christ (in his receiving God's judgment), and because God was perfectly pleased with His sacrifice, God raised Him and we were raised with Him as well.
Jesus faced the furious wrath of God and because he was the righteous, holy Son of God, he was not leveled to the foundation. He bore our sin and rose from the dead triumphantly - a high priest who will never die. Jesus is the strong structure we hide in, and because we are in him we need never fear judgment of God - for Christians there is no wrath left.
2. God is sovereignly in control of all events in history and the judgment that falls is God's judgment
If there is any message that Revelation is conveying to the church, it is that all of human history is in God's hands. Does it seem like the enemy is waging war on the church and winning? God is in control. Are there natural tragedies occurring? God is in control. Are there cataclysmic disasters and satanic torments? God is in control. God is sovereign.
It is Jesus Christ who opens the seals unleashing all the judgments on the earth in the form of war and death and pestilence and famine and demonic attacks and earthquakes and massive cataclysmic death - right up until the very end when the world is directly and without limits judged by God. Jesus Christ is the authority that allows and limits the judgment to fall.
3. God protects His children from the destruction of wrath
We see in Matthew how concerned God is for His people - it is for the sake of the elect that these days are shortened. In Revelation, before the judgments fall, the angels seal the servants of God on their foreheads. God never forgets the welfare of His people even in the midst of His judgment.
We can have the tendency to think of the last days and be filled with fear and anxiety. What will those days be like? What will happen to us? That is not the message of Revelation or of the Gospels. It is a comfort to know that this sinful, wicked world will be righteously judged, wrongs righted, crimes punished, persecution punished. God will keep us through it all - we can have strong confidence in that.
The Christian is safe in the knowledge that God is sovereign and that the Sovereign One loves us with an everlasting love.
As Christians see societies crumble and collapse, our response should not be terrified alarm, as though our security were bound up with a fragile human network of law and order, but anticipation and confidence: the Lamb is now on the throne, with God's plan for history firmly in hand.
And watching for the second coming of Christ. The Blessed Hope.
We don't know when. Might be in our lifetime, it might not. But we all have the opportunity to grow in our trust of God for the great trials and even cataclysmic events in life by learning to trust God in the smaller trials and adversities of life. Trust God with all our souls no matter what.
He is our strong tower - He will always stand.
¨ Where does God have you learning to trust Him right now?
¨ Is your confidence in God, or in the world? Or in yourself? Or in others?
¨ Ultimate confidence placed in anything else is misplaced confidence.
¨ He is your God. Father. He sent His Son to take your wrath. We can trust Him.
 Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, pg. 122
More in Watch
July 26, 2009Watching For the New Heaven and New Earth
July 19, 2009What In the World Is Going To Happen At the End of the World?
July 12, 2009Watching For the Second Coming of Christ