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encouragement theology

When Will He Return?

Thoughts from Matthew 24…

We get so caught up in our personal possessions! Even in the church, we are captivated by our great buildings, our history, or our accomplishments. We spend so much time looking at our tangible assets that we often forget what is most important. We need to regularly step back and reevaluate our world based, not on what is important to us, but on what is important to God. The differences can be startling!

Jesus was passing through Jerusalem when His disciples pointed out the wonders of the great temple. They were confused by His latest statement, when he promised that Jerusalem would be left desolate. But if their city was to be deserted, what about the temple? King Herod had started the project to renovate the existing temple at about 20 B.C. It took over ten years and a vast fortune, but the end result was one of the greatest sights of the ancient world.a b For over 80 years, the Jerusalem temple stood as the center for Jewish identity and worship. Pilgrims would travel from the far reaches of the Roman Empire in order to reach this temple and offer their sacrifices to God.

It is important to remember that the temple was the epicenter for all religious activity in the Jewish culture. There were synagogues in every town for learning the Scriptures, but all sacrifices were brought to the temple in Jerusalem. There was evil and corruption at the temple, but there was also genuine worship. For example, both wicked Caiaphas and God-fearing Zechariah served in the temple. Jesus cleansed the temple twice during His ministry on earth and often used the temple grounds as the site of His teaching. The early church used the temple as a daily location for fellowship together.

But given the importance of the temple, the disciples wondered about its place in Jesus’ prediction. What will happen to this temple if the city is to be left desolate? What will happen to their center of worship when the Lord promised to leave, not to return until they were ready to receive Him as King? Didn’t God bless these wonderful buildings, with such an amazing arrangement of stone work?

The Lord’s reply was shocking — the city would indeed be desolate, and the temple would be totally destroyed!

It wasn’t until they were alone that His four closest friends voiced their questions.c When would these things happen? When would the temple be destroyed? When would He return to Jerusalem as a King?

The temple would be destroyed, and Jesus Christ would return as King. Although they asked about these two events together, they were separated by thousands of years.d In less than 40 years from their conversation (on A.D. 70), the Roman legions would conquer Jerusalem and destroy the temple. However, the primary focus of the Lord’s answer is related to His return. It has been almost two thousand years since Jesus Christ was on earth, and we are still waiting for Him. The remaining instructions in Matthew 24 and 25 are given to His disciples — and to believers throughout the centuries — for how to watch for His return.

Don’t be Caught Up in Material Accomplishments

Matthew 24:1-3
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Mark 13:1-4
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Luke 21:5-7
And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”

Jesus’ first instruction to His disciples was regarding the temple itself. It represented their tradition, their accomplishments, and their center of worship. But as wonderful as the temple had become, it cannot be the focus for His followers. Don’t get caught up in the material accomplishments. Instead, look forward to Jesus Christ Himself.

The temple will be destroyed. Buildings will crumble and burn, but when we put our trust in Jesus Christ, we are resting on the King who will rule forever!

1 Peter 1:24-25
For “All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

Don’t be Led Astray

Matthew 24:4-8
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Mark 13:5-8
And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Luke 21:8-9
And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

Three times in this passage, Jesus warns His disciples to not to be led astray. He uses the analogy of sheep in the field. They normally follow the shepherd, but occasionally they get distracted. They may follow a quick diversion and before they know it, they are separated from the care and security of the shepherd. Even more dangerous is a thief who would deliberately try to lure sheep from the herd. The sheep goes astray when he follows the thief away from the flock, until he is ultimately stolen or killed by this false shepherd. The Lord repeatedly warns His followers to beware of these false leaders and to stay close to the true Shepherd (see the posts here and here for more details).

While waiting for Jesus Christ to return, it is easy to be led astray by the quick solution. Jesus promised that false teachers would come to lead believers away from Jesus Christ. They will claim to be in Jesus’ name, with many pretending to be the Messiah themselves (see also Acts 20:29-31). There will be wars, plagues, and natural disasters, but do not fear — that is not the end!e We are not placing our hope on the material world, nor do we rely on the persuasion of eloquent speakers. Our hope is in Jesus Christ, and it is in this hope that we can claim the words of Luke 21:9, “do not be terrified!

John 10:9-10
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Trust in the Holy Spirit

Matthew 24:9-14
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Mark 13:9-13
“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Luke 21:10-19
Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.

The troubles in this world will increase as we reach the end of this age. The followers of Jesus Christ will face persecution and hatred throughout the world.f Many who were not true believers will fall away, joining those opposed to Him. The problems in the world will increase as the rule of law breaks down, and there is no longer love for fellow man.

But there are also words of encouragement for those who are in these times. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will reach the entire world.g Those who truly believe in Jesus Christ will be saved and will endure to the end.h i They may persecute your body but they cannot touch your soul. The Lord Jesus Christ gave similar words of warning and encouragement to His disciples as He had sent them out earlier in His ministry. See Matthew 10:16-23 and the notes here.

And finally, we are promised that the Holy Spirit will guide us. He will give us the words to speak at the right time, giving us opportunities to show Jesus Christ — even to those who would be judging us!

These promises of future events look to be scary for believers in Jesus Christ. No one wants to go through persecution, nor to face the horrors that will come during these end times. But remember that Jesus gave us these words, not to fear the future, but to set our hope on Him. When we know Him, we can trust that nothing will happen to us beyond what Jesus Christ — the God who loves us and intimately cares for us — will allow. We will have trouble in this world, but our God is greater than anything this world can throw at us!

1 John 4:4
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

John 16:33
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Previous post: Woe to the Hypocrites!


References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 24:1-14, pages 266-272

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 24, The King Reveals the Future, Part 1

[3] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 69, Our Lord’s Great Prophetic Discourse, Luke 21:1-24

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 24:1-14, pages 70-71

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 13:1-13, pages 125-126

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 21:1-19, pages 209-210

[7] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book V, CHAPTER VI: THE EVENING OF THE THIRD DAY IN PASSION-WEEK, ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES: DISCOURSES TO THE DISCIPLES CONCERNING THE LAST THINGS (St. Matt. 24; St. Mark 13; St. Luke 21: 5-38; 12: 35-48.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.x.vi.html

[8] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 12, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/31-jesus-silences-his-enemies-and-the-olivet-discourse.html

[9] John MacArthur, The Signs of Christ’s Coming, Part 1, Matthew 24:1-3, May 6, 1984

[10] John MacArthur, The Signs of Christ’s Coming, Part 2, Matthew 24:4-5, May 13, 1984

[11] John MacArthur, The Signs of Christ’s Coming, Part 3, Matthew 24:6-14, May 13, 1984

[12] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Matthew 24:1-14, pages 1170-1172

[13] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Mark 13:1-13, pages 1244-1245

[14] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Luke 21:5-19, page 1323

[15] D.A. Carson, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Zondervan, 2010, Matthew 24:1-14


Notes

[a] “Some of the stones in the temple complex measured 40 by 12 by 12 feet and were expertly quarried to fit perfectly against one another. The temple buildings were made of gleaming white marble, and the whole eastern wall of the large main structure was covered with gold plates that reflected the morning sun, making a spectacle that was visible for miles.” – John MacArthur12 

[b] In John 2:20, the Jews criticized Jesus after cleansing the temple, stating that “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple“. It took Herod about ten years to rebuild the temple (starting in 20 B.C.), but the renovations continued throughout the temple’s existence. The “forty-six years” by the Jews would have included both the initial time to rebuild the temple, as well as years of ongoing renovations.

[c] Mark 13:3 shows that it was Peter, James, John, and Andrew who came to Jesus to ask these questions.

[d] Some Bible Commentators have interpreted the predictions of the Lord’s discourse in these chapters to have been fulfilled during the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Others have attempted to associate these predictions with historical events (such as the middle ages, the reformation, etc.). There are clear references to the destruction of Jerusalem, especially in Luke’s account (see Luke 21:20-24), but there are also predictions in this discourse which cannot be explained by the events in the first century, nor in any historical events since then. Matthew 24:21-22 predicts “there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved.” We have yet to see any worldwide event as horrible as this. Matthew 24:29-30 predicts that the sun and the moon will be darkened and “the stars will fall from heaven”, and all the earth will mourn at the sign of the Son of Man. These events are beyond anything that we have seen in our history. Therefore the Lord must also be predicting events that are still to come.1

[e] Jesus concludes this section with the statement, “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:8). Bible commentators have debated the significance of this term, including many who classify the “birth pains” as a specific era during end-times events. However, Jesus clearly states here that “the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6). These “birth pains” are necessary events before the end times. The best explanation of the “birth pains” here is that these calamities are the expected results of a fallen creation while it is waiting for its ultimate healing at the return of Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:20-23). We are not yet at the end of the world when we see wars, famines, and earthquakes.

At risk of stretching the analogy too far, there are some remarkable similarities between these calamities on earth and actual birth pains:

  • Both increase in severity and frequency as the end draws near
  • They precede the beginning of something new
  • Although the pains are difficult when you endure them, they are quickly forgotten after the birth (see John 16:21)

[f] Note the worldwide focus in this passage. We will be hated by all nations. The Gospel will be proclaimed throughout the whole world. These are clear indicators that Jesus is talking beyond the local fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. These are worldwide catastrophes that will precede the Lord’s return.

[g] Matthew 24:14 says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The parallel passage in Mark 13:10 also says, “And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” Many Christians throughout history have interpreted these two verses as a mandate to preach the Gospel throughout the entire world so that Jesus Christ can return. This interpretation has spawned the belief that Jesus is waiting for us to finish spreading the Gospel before He returns. Therefore, according to this belief, we need not be concerned about His return until all nations are reached with the Gospel; and that we can hasten His return by helping to preach the Gospel through the world.

We need to preach the Gospel. Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 applied to every believer, that we need to preach the Word of God, whether we feel like it or not. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 teaches that the love of Jesus Christ compels us to reconcile with God. Romans 10:14-15 shows the importance to bring the Good News to the lost. It is important to reach the world with the Gospel.

However, we cannot apply Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10 as a promise that Jesus Christ will return as soon as everyone has heard the Gospel. That is not the promise here. Rather, these passages show us the signs that will accompany the end of this current age. Immediately, before the end of the age, there will be severe persecution of believers and rampant hatred and lawlessness. But there are also encouraging signs: the Gospel will reach the world and the Holy Spirit will give believers the wisdom to speak before civil and religious authorities. We are not promised any ability to influence God’s timeline, only that these are the signs to watch for.

[h] Matthew 24:13 says, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” We are not saved by our endurance, but rather, our endurance reveals that we have the true faith. See the post here for more details.

“It is true always that only those who endure shall be finally saved. But when one has been born of God and so received eternal life he will endure.” – H.A. Ironside2

[i] Luke 21:18-19 says, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” This promise cannot refer to physical security and safety, since the statement immediately preceding promises that “some of you they will put to death” (Luke 21:16). Therefore, the promise in Luke 21:18-19 is best understood that they may destroy your body but you will save your soul. See also Matthew 10:28.

“Did they not die? Yes. Did they not perish? No! For the moment that death came they were absent from the body and present with the Lord.” – H.A. Ironside3

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