The Beginning Of The End
The first part of the Olivet Discourse is now before us.
At the close of the previous chapter, we learn that the King, after His loving
outburst over Jerusalem, had made the declaration, Behold your house is
left unto you desolate. This prophecy is fulfilled throughout this
present age. In the beginning of the 24th chapter we read that the Lord left
the temple: And Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His
disciples came to show Him the buildings of the temple.
There is a strongly marked correspondence between the end of the 12th chapter and the beginning of the 13th and the close of the 23rd and the beginning of the 24th. At the close of the 12th chapter, the Lord by His symbolic action in refusing to see His mother and brothers, declared His relationship with His own to whom He had come and who received Him not as being broken. At the close of the 23rd, there is a fuller break with the nation, the nation for whom He came to die. In Matthew 13, it is recorded that on the same day Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the seaside, giving there His parables concerning the kingdom of the heavens. In the 24th, He also goes out and departs, to give soon after the great Olivet discourse.
While His parables, the mysteries of the kingdom, relate to this present age and the end of the age in a general way, in the first part of the Olivet discourse, He makes known the details of that ending of the age, of which He spoke repeatedly in the 13th of Matthew.
In leaving the temple and going towards the Mount of Olives, the Lord had to cross over the brook Cedron, and in ascending the mountain, they must have had a magnificent view of the temple buildings. These buildings were of the most massive construction some of them still in process of erection. An enormous wall encircled the whole temple area; some of the stones used in that wall were 23 and 24 feet in length. It must have been a wonderful sight for human eyes to behold.
Not a word had come from the disciples lips during the events recorded in the 22nd and 23rd chapters. They had heard His answers to the tempting Pharisees, and the pronunciation upon them. They listened to His loving outburst over Jerusalem and heard His prediction of the desolation of their house. But now they call His attention to the buildings of the temple, to the great sight before them. "And Jesus said unto them, `Do you see all these things? Truly I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down."
What a solemn prediction this was! How it must have impressed these Jewish men, His disciples, whose hearts clung to the temple and its wonderful buildings. These mighty stones, so solidly put together, were to be rent asunder not one remaining upon the other. Only the Lord could make such a prediction. Here then is a prediction that refers to the destruction of the temple in the great catastrophe that came upon Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D.
It is fully given by our Lord in Luke 21:2-24. What should happen to the rebellious city, to the murderers, the Lord had revealed in the parable of the marriage feast, when He said, "But when the king heard it he was filled with wrath; and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city."
The Questions Of The Disciples
"And as He was sitting upon the Mount of Olives the disciples came to Him privately, saying, `Tell us, when shall these things be, and what is the sign of your coming and the completion of the age?"
The question asked by the disciples is threefold. When shall these things be? The sign of your coming? The completion or consummation of the age?
It is of great importance to see that the record of the discourse, as given by the Holy Spirit, passes over the answer to the first question, "When shall these things be?" This is evident by the fact that the Lord says not a word in the discourse of Jerusalem or the destruction of the temple. While in Luke we hear that Jerusalem is to be besieged by armies, and the inhabitants are seen falling by the edge of the sword and led away captive into all the nations and Jerusalem trodden down by the Gentiles.
In Matthew 24, we do not find a word of all this at all. Indeed we read of great distress, which is to be in Judea, but nothing whatever of them being led away captive, or Jerusalem to be trodden down by the Gentiles. Instead of a scattering of the elect people at the close of the great tribulation, we have a gathering of the elect. The word in the passage (24:31) that is the word "elect" refers to the literal Israel.
Turning to the next two questions "What is the sign of your coming and the completion of the age?" it is to be said that undoubtedly in the minds of the disciples this question was one. He had repeatedly spoken about His return. As true Jews, they expected, and that with perfect right, the establishment of the messianic kingdom by the Messiah. They had seen how He in whom they had believed, and the kingdom He offered, had been rejected. All, of necessity, must have been very misty before their view, but they take heart and ask Him about the sign of His coming, the coming He had mentioned before.
It is evident that the coming is His coming in power and glory for the establishment of the kingdom promised to Israel in the Old Testament. This coming is His visible and glorious return to the earth "in like manner as He went up into heaven" (Acts 1:11). It takes place in the land, and His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. The synoptic Gospels know of no other coming of the Lord than His visible return to Jerusalem. Connected with this return, we find always besides blessings, judgment.
Entirely different is His coming for His saints who compose the Church. This coming is revealed through the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4. There we read that the Lord will descend into the air, not to the earth. The dead in Christ will be raised and the living saints will be caught up, together with them, in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and to be forever with the Lord.
In John 14, the Lord gives a little word that may be taken to indicate that coming for His own, though the manner is not made known. It is that word of comfort to His own. "I will come again and receive you unto myself." It is strange that believers in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ can fail to see the strongly marked difference between His visible and glorious return His coming in power and great Glory, taking place in the land of Israel and His coming for His Church, as revealed exclusively through the great Apostle. It is not strange that, where this distinction is given up, confusion and error results.
Then they asked about the completion or consummation of the age. The Authorised Version simply has it "the end of the world." That is a translation that is responsible for much wrong teaching. The end of the world as generally understood in Christendom is not at all in view here. It is the consummation, the winding up of the age, the aion. As we have shown, this age could not be the "Christian age," but it is the ending of the Jewish age, which is still future. Such an age-ending is predicted by the entire Old Testament prophetic Word.
There we find numerous predictions of a great coming day, the day of the Lord, in which Jehovah is visibly seen in His glory and majesty, coming forth to deliver His persecuted and downtrodden earthly people who wait for Him, and to judge the nations likewise. According to Old Testament prophecy, this day of the Lords visible and glorious manifestation is preceded by a time of great trouble and distress. The centre of the tribulation is Jerusalem, and when the height of the tribulation is reached, the heavens and the earth are shaken and Jehovah appears.
Furthermore it is seen that there is a believing and suffering remnant of Jews passing through that time of trouble, who are faithful in the midst of universal apostasy, wickedness, and worship of the false king, who is like-wise described in the Prophets. Their prayers and calls upon God are prophetically recorded by the Spirit of God, as well as their deliverance by the manifestation of Jehovah. Now all this has never been fulfilled.
That great day so often spoken of by the Prophets, the day of the Lord, has not yet come; it is still future. So is the time of distress, which is called "the time of Jacobs trouble," and therefore the suffering of a Jewish remnant, which is not identified with the church is likewise future. When the Lord speaks in Matthew 24 about the consummation of the age and the signs of His coming, He gives altogether that which is revealed in the Old Testament and which has not been fulfilled up to the present time.
The purpose of God in this present Christian age is to take out from among the Gentiles a people for His Name. This taken out people is the Church. As long as this calling out through the preaching of the Gospel continues and new members are added to the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ (the church), the predicted end of the age does not come.
Besides having a description of the end of the age, of which our Lord speaks here, in the Old Testament, we have also one in the Book of Revelation. From chapter 6-19, we find another record of the future ageending. In studying the account our Lord gives here in Matthew, we must compare Old Testament prophecy and the visions of the Book of Revelation, with what the Lord says in His discourse. If our interpretation is the right one, there must be perfect harmony between these three: Old Testament Prophecy, Matthew 24:4-44, and Revelation 6-19.
And now we turn to the text. "And Jesus answering said to them, `See that no one misleads you. For many shall come in my name, saying, "I am the Christ," and they shall mislead many. But you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not disturbed; for all these things must take place, but it is not yet the end. For nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famines and pestilence, and earthquakes in divers places. But all these are the beginning of the birth pangs.
"`Then shall they deliver you up to tribulation, and shall kill you and you will be hated of all the nations for my names sake. And then will many be offended, and will deliver one another up, and hate one another; and many false prophets shall arise and shall mislead many; and because lawlessness shall prevail, the love of the most shall grow cold; but he that endures to the end, he shall be saved. And these glad tidings of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole habitable earth for a witness to all the nations, and then shall the end come" (verses 4-14).
These are the opening words of the Lord, which describe the age-ending. In a secondary and general way, they likewise describe, no doubt, the characteristics of the times during which the Lord is not on the earth. Looked upon in this light, what an argument they form against the modern optimistic dreams of the professing church! Neither the Lord, nor the Spirit in giving the Epistles of the New Testament have a single word to say that this present age and the world is to be getting better and that the end will be righteousness and peace. The testimony of the Scriptures is wholly on the other side.
Wars there have been all along as well as rumours of wars. Famines, pestilence, and earthquakes have again and again swept over this globe, as well as the persecution of such who are the Lords. All this is true in a general way. But the Lord describes not the age as such, but shows what will be in the end. The words we have before us refer us to the beginning of that end, while in the last verse quoted, the 14th, the Lord says, "then shall come the end." What follows the 14th verse then refers directly to the end.
The last week of Daniel, the 70th, is marked off in two halves, each having three and a half years. The words here before us up to the 14th verse refer to the first half of the last week, while the 15th verse and the verses which follow bring us to the middle of that week.
The Beginning Of Birth Pangs
Verses 4-14 then contain the prophecy of our Lord relating to the beginning of the end of the Jewish age, while with the 15th verse the end itself in its fearful great tribulation and "the abomination of desolation" is described. The whole period is the last week of Daniels great prophecy, a prophetic week, consisting of seven years, which cannot begin as long as the church is on the earth. The first part of it is now before us. The Lord says in His answer to the question concerning the sign of His coming and the end of the age that these things He mentions first are "the beginning of birth pangs" (verse 8).
And now let us look at the predictions. We find them in the following order:
1. Many coming, saying, "I am the Christ," and succeeding in misleading many. 2. Wars, and rumours of wars. Nation lifting up sword against nation kingdom against kingdom. 3. Famines, and pestilence, and earthquakes. 4. Many witnesses to be killed and hated by all nations. False prophets and lawless-ness prevailing. 5. The preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom before the end is reached.
The Agreement Of Old Testament Prophecies
These are the startling prophecies of our Lord, soon to be followed by other predictions of what shall be before He returns in the clouds of heaven, immediately after the tribulation of those days. The disciples, all Jews, no doubt well versed in the Old Testament scriptures, must have had considerable knowledge of such awful events as described by the Lord. For Old Testament prophecy predicts precisely such troubles preceding the visible manifestation of Jehovah out of the opened heavens, the beginning of the restoration of His earthly people, and the blessings of the coming age. The following passages are but a few of those which might be quoted: Joel 2:1-17; Hosea 5:14; Jeremiah 30:4-9; Ezekiel 21:27; Daniel 12:1; Micah 7:1-7; Habukkuk 3:16.
It is also true that Jewish tradition maintained, in fullest harmony with these teachings, that the days preceding the glorious coming of the Messiah are to be days of woe and sorrow. One of these ancient traditions is so striking that we quote it.
Rabbi Jochunan says: "Seven years of trouble come before Messiah comes. The first year before the Son of David comes, the prophecy of Amos (4:7) will be fulfilled. In the second year of tribulation, there will be six months of famine. In the third year, there will be the great famine. Many men, women, and children will die and the pious will be few. The law and the prophets will be forgotten by Israel. The last years will bring signs in heaven, and wars, and at the end of the seventh year the Son of David will come." Similar statements could be easily quoted from the Talmudical writings.
All that the above Old Testament passages predict, a time of trouble before an age of blessing begins and nations learn war no more, is still a matter of the future and so are the predictions our Lord makes here. The disciples to whom He gives these words and warnings are typical representatives of disciples, who will live when that end comes; they will be Jewish disciples.
When on the Mount of Olives, before His ascension, they asked Him their last question: "Lord, is it at this time that You will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He answered, "It is not yours to know times or seasons, which the Father has placed in His own authority" (Acts 1:6-7). The kingdom will be restored with the coming of the King. It was not revealed when it was to be; all was to be postponed. They passed off the scene.
When the end at last will come, other Jewish disciples, waiting for the kingdom to be restored to Israel, will witness and suffer, and they will turn to these words of our Lord and find comfort and instruction in them.
The Agreement Of The Revelation Of Jesus Christ
And now there is something still more significant. Not only does Old Testament prophecy predict great distress for the ending of the Jewish age, but we have an additional description of these great coming events in the last book of the Bible. It is the only book of prophecy in the New Testament, that glorious book, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ."
That book is divinely divided into three parts (1:9). 1. The things seen Christ walking in the midst of the candlesticks (chapter 1). 2. The things which are the present church age, a wonderful prophecy concerning the history of the church (chapters 2 & 3). 3. The things which shall be after these (chapters 4-22). Here follows all that will take place after the church has completed her history.
The removal of the true church from earth to heaven is promised in the third chapter of Revelation and is indicated in the opening verses of the fourth chapter. In the fourth and fifth chapters, the church is seen symbolically in the 24 elders, seated, clothed, and crowned in the presence of the throne. Then the Lamb takes the book to break its seals.
That which is revealed, beginning with the sixth chapter the breaking of the seals, the sounding of the seven trumpets, and the outpouring of the seven vials together with the great events described from that chapter to the 19th is nothing else but a more detailed history of the last week of Daniel. It is fully revealed here, in the last book of the Bible, what judgments will be executed upon the earth during that period of distress and what that great tribulation will be for those who dwell upon the earth Jews and Gentiles (never the true church).
It is an intensely interesting fact that this part of Revelation (6-19) ever points us back to Old Testament prophecy. Hundreds of passages from all the prophets can easily be put alongside the visions of judgment, tribulation, and wrath in the Apocalypse.
The point that we wish to make is the following. If this is the correct interpretation if Matthew 24:4-14 refers to the beginning of that coming end of the age, and if Revelation 6 refers to the same beginning of the end and that which follows the sixth chapter leads us on into the great tribulation then there must be a perfect harmony between that part of the Olivet discourse contained in Matthew 24 and the part of Revelation beginning with chapter six. Such is indeed the case.
We turn briefly to the sixth chapter of Revelation. The Lamb opens one of the seals after that great worship scene in heaven had taken place. Then we read, "And I saw; and behold a white horse, and he that sat upon it having a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went forth conquering and that he might conquer" (6:2).
It is strange that so many expositors have expounded this to be the Lord Himself. The Lord indeed is described in this book as coming riding upon a white horse, but this description is found at the close of the Revelation in the 19th chapter. The rider upon the white horse under the first seal is a counterfeit. He is a false Christ who goes forth to conquer. His conquest is a bloodless one, as he has only a bow. He will bring about a false peace among the nations, which for a time may have been alarmed by the supernatural removal of the church. The second rider "takes peace from the earth," from which we would conclude that the first rider upon the white horse (white being the emblem of peace) had established peace.
As we turn to Matthew 24, we find that the first thing our Lord refers to is the deceivers who will come with the beginning of the age-ending saying: "I am Christ," and succeeding to lead away many. It is true that throughout this age impostors came among the Jews claiming to be the Messiah. It is true even now that men rise up saying they are some great one Elijah, prophets, or even Christ.
All these are but faint shadows of what will take place in that soon coming end. Indeed the increasing delusions and the claims of, as we believe, demon-possessed men and women are strong indications that the end is very near. Then deceivers, led by Satan, possessed by his demons, will arise and among them there will be a mighty leader going forth to conquer, saying, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.
The rider upon the red horse, as already stated, takes peace from the earth. The second seal shows him coming forth with a great sword, "that they should slay one and another" (6:3-4).
The very next thing that the Lord says in Matthew 24 is, "But you will hear of wars and rumours of war. Nation shall lift up sword against nation and kingdom against kingdom" (verse 7).
Wars there have been in the past; this earth is saturated with blood. But there will be a time, and it is soon coming, when literally nation will lift up sword against nation and kingdom against kingdom, when they will slay each other. Any one who follows present-day history will see how everything is ripening for just such a universal warfare. Yet secure, sleeping Christendom is dreaming of peace, worldwide peace, and times of prosperity!
The third sign that the Lord mentions is "there shall be famines." The third seal reveals a rider upon a black horse, and he has a balance in his hand. What he says indicates clearly that he brings famines (6:5-6). The fourth rider of the fourth seal is upon a pale horse. His name is "Death." He takes the fourth part of the earth away. This corresponds to the Lords announcement that there will be "pestilence and earthquakes in divers places."
Fearful have been the famines, pestilence, and earthquakes of the last 25 years. But these are insignificant in comparison with those to which our Lord refers here the mighty events which tell all the earth that the day of wrath is rapidly approaching. Blessed be His name, who delivers us from that wrath to come that "His Beloved," "His Dove," "His Bride," the church, will be safe within when these awful things come to pass.
Now under the fifth seal, we do not behold another rider, but instead of it we hear the souls underneath the altar that had been slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they gave. They are crying out with a loud voice, "How long?" (6:9-11). Who are these? Not saints of the church. These are all raised up when the Lord comes into the air (1 Thess. 4:17) and are caught up with the living saints. They are such of the remnant of Jews who began to give their witness for the Word of God after the church had departed, and they suffered martyrdom in consequence of their faithful testimony.
It is exactly that of which our Lord speaks next in His discourse. "Then shall they deliver you up to tribulation and shall kill you. You will be hated of all the nations for my names sake." This faithful Jewish remnant will go throughout the world proclaiming the coming of the kingdom and calling to repentance.
We see then how striking the agreement is between the beginning of Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation, the seal-judgments.
Other Signs Mentioned By Christ
We point out a few more of the facts mentioned by our Lord. False prophets shall arise misleading many. The Jewish age has false prophets; the Christian age has false teachers. "But there were false prophets also among the people, as there shall be also among you false teachers, who shall bring in destructive heresies..." (2 Peter 2:1).
These false prophets who come in the end of the Jewish age will be possessed by evil spirits. Such was the case during the great apostasy of Israel under the reign of Ahab. The Lord permitted then a lying spirit to take possession of the false prophets as revealed by the prophet Micaiah (2 Chronicles 18:18-22).
"Lawlessness shall prevail;" that is, complete anarchy will hold sway. This too is clearly seen in the breaking of the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-17). The earthquake, the darkened sun, the blood-red moon, the falling stars, the rolled up heavens, and the removal of mountains and islands are all great symbols of startling political events, which will take place in the first three and one-half years.
Government and authority are swept away. Civil and ecclesiastical powers are shaken. Mountains (the type of kingdoms) are moved out of their places as a consequence of this awful upheaval. During this reign of terror and anarchy worse than that of the French revolution and the Russian revolution of today all classes of men the kings, the wealthy, the rich and the poor, the bondman and the free will be seized with terror.
Well has a recent writer said, "The scene here described is an awful and sublime one. The symbols employed to set it forth are the powers of nature convulsed. The whole fabric of civil and governmental power on earth breaks up. Disorder reigns supreme. It is not simply the collapse of this or that government, but the total subversion of all governing authority both supreme and dependent. The general idea that the metaphors present is a universal overthrow of all existing authority a revolutionary crisis of such magnitude and character that kings and slaves are in equal terror. The coming crash will involve in one general catastrophe everything on earth deemed secure and strong. A vast civil and political chaos will be created. What an awful scene to contemplate a world without a magistrate! without even the semblance of power! without government! without the authority of repression!"
This is the sixth seal, and it is precisely what the Lord says: "Lawlessness shall prevail." And later the lawless One will take the lead. He comes into full display in the middle of the week. How near, how very near all these events are, even at our doors, is seen by the increasing unrest of all nations, the manifestation of the spirit of anarchy among all people.
Yet there is One who hinders (2 Thessalonians 2). The Holy Spirit is the One who keeps it back, and He has His abode in the Body of Christ, the church. Only after the church is taken into glory can that lawless One be revealed. But even in those awful days, the mercy of God lingers, and one more great testimony goes forth. The Gospel of the kingdom will yet be preached in a very short time to all the nations, then the end will come.
End of this extract
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