In part three of this series it is going to be important for us to remember that because of some of the principles, ideas, and background already established in parts one and two, we can now definitively state the disciples were not interested in, nor were they supposedly asking about, what was supposed to take place in some other generation besides their own, nor were they asking about some supposed generation some two thousand years further down the annals of human history.
Which is why I told you last week that from a purely scriptural and contextual standpoint questions from the 1st Century disciples directed to Jesus about the 21st Century just wouldn’t make any sense whatsoever; because they were interested and concerned about what they understood to be emphatic references and prophetic utterances relevant TO THEM and which were about to take place IN THEIR LIFETIME … not somebody else’s……and that’s why they wanted to know more about it.
And we know this to be certain because of what Jesus said to His disciples in private, and what He had uttered to the Pharisees and Scribes in public, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matt 23:36, 24:34) In other words, no other epoch of time, and no other generation of people could fit inside the parameters of Jesus’ statements or the verbal time stamp He Himself establishes.
We also talked about the particular phrasing recorded in Matthew’s gospel which says, “…and what will be the sign of Your coming?”
The first thing we established was that the disciples were asking about the SIGN of Jesus’ spiritual coming and not His actual physical COMING. We then saw that the term “coming” is clearly established time and time again, all throughout the Old Testament, as a term used to describe God coming spiritually in judgment, not physically in person. In fact I gave you a small cursory list of some 92 different bible verses that you can look up on your own which clearly and demonstrably establish this point in succinct fashion.
So the disciples weren’t asking about the physical coming of Christ…his supposed corporeal embodiment upon the earth for a second time … they were asking about the SIGN of His coming and the impending doom and judgment soon to come upon them, their city, and their beloved temple. And as proof texts to support this kind of literary verbiage and apocalyptic, symbolic imagery we read just five quick verses from the Old Testament that show us examples of God coming to His creation, but never making a physical, corporeal appearance:
Genesis 11:7, “Come, let Us go down; Exodus 3:7-8, “The Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. 8 So I have come down; Psalm 144:5-8, “Bow Your heavens, O Lord, and come down; Isaiah 19:1, “The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt; Isaiah 64:1-2, “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, and Zech 2:10, “‘10 Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ declares the Lord.”
So clearly God did in fact intervene and interact with His people in each of the aforementioned scriptures and instances, but He never showed up physically in person…He showed up spiritually in judgment.
All of those foundational principles and biblical contextualization lead me to therefore ask, “How else can we know that Jesus’ prophetic words to His disciples were intended for THEM and not for US?” Is there any other way we can make a determination about the timeframe of Jesus’ statements and the intended audience of His repeated prophecies? Well …… there actually is. In fact there are many, many other scriptures that help support and buttress everything Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples during this discussion on the Mount of Olives.
For starters, Jesus had actually already told His disciples two very important anecdotal parables about this very subject, and they already provided some much needed background and contextualization for everything He was now telling them on the Mount of Olives. And WE, as sagacious students of scripture, should not miss the CLEAR and SUCCINCT meaning behind each of them. (Stop and read Matthew 21:33-46).
So clearly the landowner is God, and He established a vineyard (i.e. the nation of Israel) and then left His “vine-growers” to govern over it (i.e. the Jewish Leadership). And they persecuted, stoned, and outright killed all of His prophets that He sent to them over the years and even eventually murder His own son! And Jesus is telling them, “Look, I’m the precious cornerstone that David prophesied about, and I’m the Son of God, the landowner. And you’re going to reject and kill Me, ‘Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruit of it.’”
And we know this is the proper understanding of the parable because Matthew records in verse 45, “When the chief priest and the Pharisees heard His parables. They understood that He was speaking about THEM!” And they wanted to seize and kill Him for it.
Jesus was making the New Covenant clear. God’s kingdom was being ripped from the hands of the Jews, “…and given to a nation [who would produce] the fruit of it…” the gentiles. This is why Paul says in Gal 3:7, “…it is those who are of faith who are the [true] sons of Abraham.”
And why Peter tells the Gentiles scattered all over Asia Minor in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”
And why Paul again says in Romans 9:6-8, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants …… it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.”
And Jesus Himself, in His dire warning to the church in Philadelphia, in Revelation 3:9 says, “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Stan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.”
Jesus was emphatically declaring to these 1st Century Jewish leaders that they were guilty of, “…all the righteous bloodshed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom [they] murdered between the temple and the altar.”
And very soon, in the not so distant future, they were also going to be guilty of the innocent blood of Jesus Christ Himself and therefore their precious heritage, bloodline, ethnicity, and race would no longer mean anything; and their Holy City and beloved temple were going to utterly decimated and destroyed.
And as if He hadn’t already enraged them enough and proven His point, just to drive the point home ever further, Jesus breaks out in ANOTHER parable and delivers the final, verbal and prophetic blow in Matt 22. (Stop and read Matthew 22:1-14).
Again, the king in this parable is obviously God and He has prepared a wedding feast between His Son and His Son’s bride (i.e. the body of Christ – the people of God) and the people He originally invited to participate in that wedding have rejected His invitation (i.e. the Jews).
Therefore, He is going to become enraged and send out His army to destroy them and their city! And the parallel to this particular part of this specific parable SIMPLY CANNOT be missed when Jesus declares later on in Luke 21:20, “But when YOU see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is NEAR!”
And Jesus’ declarations just previous to this in Luke 19:42-44 are even more emphatically clear when He says, “If you (Jerusalem) had known in THIS DAY, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Jesus is literally giving that generation, including His disciples, warning after parabolic warning that destruction, desolation, and spiritual judgment were metaphorically crouched at the door and ready to breech their city walls in THEIR lifetimes. And they’d better heed the warnings or else they would most assuredly suffer the consequences.
Armies were indeed coming to surround them … siege works were going to be laid up against them … and the time of Jesus’ VISITATION (don’t miss that – His VISITATION) would soon be upon them.
But again, a visitation and coming in spiritual judgment … NOT a physical one. God would once again use a foreign nation and a pagan army as His tool of vengeance upon His people for their multiplied sins and continual rejection of His prophets and His only Son.
So in summation, the SIGN of Jesus’ coming would be the very Roman armies that would come and surround their city. And that is precisely what did in fact occur in THEIR lifetimes. Because not more than forty years after Jesus ascended in glory back to the right hand of the Father, Roman conqueror Titus Flāvius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus, by decree of his father Emperor Vespasian, surrounded and successfully sacked not just the city of Jerusalem but the very temple itself in A.D. 70 with four entire Roman Legions.
In fact, for his successful campaign and victory over the Jewish rebellion he was awarded what is known as the Arch of Titus that still stands in Rome to this day.
And this SIGN would be so important that Jesus declared, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,” then don’t even go back in your house to grab a coat, just immediately flee to the mountains of Judea!
Here’s how the warning reads in all three gospel accounts:
Matthew 24:15-18, “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains; whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.”
Mark 13:14-16, “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be, then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go into get anything out of his house; and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat.”
Luke 21:20-21, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city.”
The abomination of desolation was also the sign that the believers in Christ could be looking for, and they were one in the same … it was the invading pagan, Roman army surrounding the city and then eventually desecrating it with their sacrilegious presence in even the holy Temple itself.
And I know there are many, MANY teachers, authors, movie makers, and pastors who are declaring over and over again that these statements have not yet been fulfilled and they are about to occur in our lifetimes, but there’s one glaring problem with that kind of an erroneous interpretation:
“If Jesus is warning His disciples about something that is going to take place in the 21st Century, while they are asking Him questions about stuff they want to know about in the 1st Century, why on earth would He do that?”
And if Jesus is supposedly telling His 21st Century believers to be on the lookout for an army to surround Jerusalem, what good is it going to do us to recognize that military exercise in our epoch of time and then flee to the mountains surrounding Judea? And why would he warn the disciples about something that wouldn’t even affect them?
And if today’s modern, self appointed prophets are to be believed what are Christians who don’t live in Israel supposed to do when this happens? What chance do they have of escaping the coming calamity if they can’t make it to the mountains of Judea? Are we supposed to keep enough money under our mattress at all times, with our passports at the ready, so that when some invading army surrounds Jerusalem we need to quickly jump on a plane, fly to Israel, and then flee to the mountains of Judea?
The truth is, the only people, and the only epoch of time that makes sense, and the only people that could be substantially helped by this kind of specific warning were THOSE 1st Century Christians and Jewish converts … INCLUDING JESUS’ OWN DISCIPLES; the ones who were asking Him the question in the first place!!
And regardless of what anyone else says or thinks, and regardless of whatever you may hear over the radio waves or cable TV, Jesus clearly encapsulated all of His statements with something that simply cannot be ignored. It was the unwavering declaration of, “Truly I say to YOU, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
So honestly, how in the world could a 21st Century context and epoch of time even fit into that declaration at all? The answer of course is, it couldn’t.
The “coming” of Christ
The final thing I want us to look at in regards to the disciples asking Jesus, “what will be the SIGN of your coming,” is what Jesus says during His divine revelation to His servant John as recorded in the final book of the Bible … the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
If we still don’t understand that the “coming” of Christ spoken of here in Matthew 24 is a spiritual coming, then we are provided further, literary proof of that in some of the first chapters of the book of Revelation.
Jesus told John to send a warning to the 1st Century church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:4-5 and He says, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”
Was Jesus warning that He was going to physically visit them in Ephesus and walk into their church? Of course not, He was warning that He would “come” to them spiritually in judgment.
Jesus also gave a similar warning to the church in Pergamum in Rev 2:16 saying, “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
Again, Jesus doesn’t come by swinging a literal, physical sword; He comes in spiritual judgment by using His Word, the sword of the Spirit.
And Jesus declares the exact same principle to the church in Sardis in Rev 3:3. And even though His words here are often used to support some kind of “second coming” and supposed “rapture” event, in reality they are clearly nothing more than the same kind of symbolic and apocalyptic language that Jesus used not just all throughout the entire New Testament, but the exact kind of language He had also JUST USED in some of the previous verses preceding these ones.
He says, “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”
All He’s doing is telling the Christians in Sardis the same thing He just told the Christians in Ephesus and Pergamum … REPENT!! Repent from your sin so that I don’t have to visit you and “come” to you in spiritual judgment.
So in summation, what I am submitting to you to consider is that the “coming” of Christ that the disciples were concerned about in their questions to Him in Matthew 24 were not concerning Jesus’ physical coming … they were concerned about His spiritual coming in judgment which would lead to the potential for them to be persecuted, scourged, and crucified; the city to be sacked, and the Temple itself to be utterly destroyed.
I think the totality of scripture clearly supports this, Jesus’ parables preceding these statements support this, the plain language of the text supports this, and the proper application of exegetical interpretive practices supports this.
The End of the Age
So lastly, let’s examine what the disciples meant by the phrase, “…the end of the age.” Again, there appears to be only two options, or two choices left or us to accept:
#1, The disciples were asking about the final consummation of the ages and the end of ALL things. In other words, events, things, and circumstances which wouldn’t take place anywhere near THEIR lifetimes. But obviously, in light of everything we’ve talked about and examined up to this point, that simply wouldn’t make any sense at all … period.
So option #2 would then be something completely different. And I believe we can simply let scripture explain scripture and come to a very simple and logical understanding by just reading what these same disciples have said about this exact same thing in their other writings and declarations.
Let’s start first with what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:1. In this letter Paul writes to his metaphorical “Son in the Faith” Timothy and says, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.”
Now I have to ask you, who is Paul writing to? Timothy. And is Timothy a first century pastor or a 21st Century pastor? 1st Century. And what is Paul warning him about? He’s writing to him about the things that Timothy himself will likely witness, experience, and have to deal with.
Things like men who will be, “…lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, [and] lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
In other words, he’s not trying to warn Timothy about stuff that he’ll never experience or have to deal with in HIS lifetime … and he’s not trying to warn Timothy about things that are going to take place on the earth two thousand years later.
And what is Paul telling Timothy to do, to combat these false, sinful, and misleading actions? Well…he’s trying to provide Timothy with some “real world” answers and solutions to the kinds of issues and problems Timothy HIMSELF was going to have to deal with.
Paul is talking to Timothy directly and telling him to do things like, “Avoid such men as these.” And he tells him to follow, “…my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra.”
And Paul goes even further in his fatherly instruction and tells him, “You are going to see, ‘…evil men and impostors proceeding from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.’ But you, ‘…14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them.’”
Paul provides ALL of this guidance and instruction in his entire letter to Timothy, but what’s really intriguing about it is the fact that he designates it with a “time stamp” of sorts when he declares that it will occur in the “last days.”
And Paul is not alone in this type of sentiment and exhortation. The writer of Hebrews, in his personal letter to the early churches, starts his autography with these statements, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”
Again, who is the author of Hebrews writing to? The first century church or the 21st Century church? The answer is clear. And again, I’m not “interpreting” something that this author is stating …… I’m just READING it. He believed he was living in the “last days,” and so were the rest of the Christians in the first century with him……he says so right there in black and white; and It doesn’t have to be interpreted or explained.
Here’s another example: James, the half brother of Jesus, also wrote an epistle and personal letter to the early church. And of course he said many spiritually enlightening and enriching things, but just before he ends his letter, at the beginning of chapter five in verse three he says that he and those he’s writing to are living, “…in the last days.”
Again, is James’ letter written to the first century church and a first century audience, or was he suddenly switching gears right at the end of his letter and directing some chastisement towards a people group who were going to live some 2,000 years after he was dead and gone?
The context is clear, and his usage of personal pronouns like, “…YOU rich,” and “…YOUR gold,” and “…YOUR fields,” and, “…the withheld pay cries out against YOU,” are all indicative of the literary context which lead us to understand that James is speaking to the people who would have received and read his letter in HIS GENERATION and his epoch of time.
But even more compelling than all of that, we KNOW who James is writing to because at the very beginning of his letter he TELLS US that he is writing to the, “…twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad,” in the first century Roman Empire.
And whether it fits into our particular eschatological viewpoints and assumptions or not, James makes these statements and declares right along with them that these activities are occurring in his lifetime during what he clearly calls the “last days.” Which is why he also says in this very same letter, in James 5:8, “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is NEAR.”
Just think of that, James said the coming of Jesus was NEAR! Now either he was greatly misled and deceived, or he knew that Jesus’ spiritual coming was indeed eminent and very near at hand.
And Paul provides another warning to the early church and tells them to heed the examples provided for them in the Old Testament when he says in 1 Corinthians 10:11 that, “…they were written for our instruction, upon whom [now get this] the ends of the ages have come.”
OUR instruction he says … meaning yours and mine — the people who are living with him in the middle of the first century. They were given to US Paul says; the ones, “…upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
And Peter tells his first century audience in 1 Peter 1:20 that Jesus Christ, “…was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.”
And in that same letter he provides some sober instruction in chapter four, verse seven saying, “7The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”
But perhaps one of the most profound statements ever found in regards to this particular topic is the statement made by John in 1 John 2:18 where he says, “18 Children, it IS the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it IS the last hour.”
And these statements from John are worth a full and thorough examination because there is a ton of spiritual and eschatological information to be gleaned and evaluated from them:
Firstly, John says that he and his first century audience are living in what he describes as being the “last hour.” Now either John was making a true statement or he wasn’t. I’ll let you decide that for yourself.
Secondly, John says that first century audience knew and heard about the possibility of “antichrists” springing up in their lifetime … and he validates that “many antichrists” did in fact appear RIGHT IN THEIR LIFETIME.
This means that “antichrist” is not a term meant to be used to describe a singular, future kingdom or king, or even a singular, future political figure, ruler, or Islamic Caliph … it is a term that was used to describe a plurality of individuals who had ALREADY appeared!
And something else that needs to be cleared up is that “antichrist” is not a name……it’s a descriptive word that simply describes ANYONE who is AGAINST CHRIST. That’s its literal meaning. They are literally “ANTI” Mashiach…they are against Messiah (i.e. Jesus). They’re in opposition against Him. It’s not somebody’s title; nor is it referring to one, singular individual.
And lastly, in this one simple statement by John he also declares that he and his audience both KNOW … they KNOW that they are living in the “last hour” because the appearance of many antichrists in their lifetimes PROVED IT to be so.
So clearly, from everything we’ve read and seen, the New Testament writers had a far different understanding and MEANING for the usage of terms like: last days, last times, or even “the end of the age” then many 21st Century Christians do today.
This concludes part three of this series and I hope that if nothing else has been accomplished in your hearts and lives up to this point, I pray that at the very least you have been compelled to dig deep into God’s Word and take the kind of time and effort that is required to mine it for all its wealth and treasure.
And that you would take personal responsibility for your own walk with God and make a determination that you are not going to scholastically rest until you accomplish two very important things:
#1, You make a solid determination about what it is you believe to be true about the second coming of Christ and the end of all things … in other words ESCHATOLOGY.
And #2 you make just as solid of a determination that you know WHY you believe it.