Birth Pangs of the End of Time (Matthew Sermon 120 of 151)
April 18, 2010 | Andrew Davis
Judgement Day, Second Coming of Christ, Return of Christ, Assurance of Salvation
Well apparently, according to some, the world is going to end on December 21st, 2012. You know, it just might. I mean, the Lord is sovereign. But it's not going to end on December 21st, 2012, because the Mayan calendar says it will. Despite all of the experts that have studied those hieroglyphs and those other things, and the History Channel programs on the 2012 phenomenon, and the recent popular movie about the year 2012 and solar flares sending radiation across 93 million miles of space and heating up the Earth's core like a microwave, until the mantle on which the continent sits, melts, and a major water flood covers the earth, I know that's not going to happen. Don't you, Bible believers, know that is not going to happen?
But you know, I tell you, the 2012 phenomenon is just more evidence in the long line of evidence that we are morbidly fascinated with the end of the world, doomsday scenarios, this is just natural to the human heart. We are fascinated by it. We are interested in it. There are many different scenarios that people discuss on how it will happen.
Since the nuclear age, there's been something called the doomsday clock, which some bureau of atomic scientists set after 1947, after the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, set at seven minutes till midnight. Seven minutes till the end of the world by nuclear blast. And it actually, they would change it based on certain current events, and so, when, in 1953, both the United States and the Soviet Union experimented with a new form of nuclear blast, a thermonuclear blast that was so much more powerful than the atomic bombs, that had been, they set the doomsday clock at two minutes to midnight. That's the closest it got. It relaxed a bit to six minutes shortly thereafter, where it stayed through the Cuban Missile Crisis, interestingly. I would have thought they would have moved it up a little bit during that time, but they kept it there. It's presently at six minutes till midnight now.
They added some environmental issues like, global warming to it, so that's factoring into the setting of the minute hand. They don't have a clue, friends. I'm not saying there's no Christians, I'm just saying, wherever they put that minute, it doesn't make a difference for when the Lord will return. All I'm saying is that this is a fascination that people have with it.
There are so many different movies about these end of the world scenarios. You've probably seen a few of them. The earliest one I ever saw was Planet of the Apes, in which a nuclear holocaust had just wiped human civilization from the surface, it's a reverse evolution thing, and then, whatever, you don't need to see it, but you know, that was the nuclear thing. There's the pandemic that wipes out this huge quantities of the earth's population, some kind of virus or something that's genetically developed and we can't control and that wipes it out. I Am Legend follows that approach. Global warming gives us oddly enough a new arctic age in The Day After Tomorrow, so that had... It has a backlash, there's reasons for it, I guess, and we end up.
I find it interesting in all of these movies, there's some people you're following, they are the movie version of the elect that you're following through, and they always make it through. Have you noticed? They always somehow survive through, which is another human aspect, we want to survive Doomsday.
And the amazing thing is, first of all, there actually will be a Doomsday. And secondly, you can survive it in Christ, and that's what we're getting to in Matthew 24, isn't that marvelous? The end of the world is coming. It is, there is going to be an end. This isn't the Hindu kind of cyclical thing going round and round, birth and rebirth, that kinda thing; there will be an end. There was an Alpha Day, and there will be an Omega, a final day in this world history, this age, this eon that we know, it will come to an end.
And Matthew 24 and 25 is talking about that. And so, we're beginning really, I'm sure it's going to be a lengthy study in this chapter. I've already come to the conclusion that the next two sermons, if God lets me live, and if we're still here, and I don't say it facetiously, but if the Lord wills and we live, the next two Sundays are going to be on one verse each, amazingly. Matthew 24:14, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come,” deserves a full sermon by itself, and it will get one.
And then, in my opinion, the next verse also deserves a full sermon by itself and it will get one, 'cause I get to do that being up here. So, and that's going to be interesting, because Matthew 24:15 isn't even a completed sentence. I'm gonna preach on a sentence fragment, a whole sermon on a sentence fragment. “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the Prophet Daniel, let the reader understand ...” That's it. What should we do? Well, that's the next sermon, the answer is, run for your lives. We'll get to that, but I wanna just give a whole Sunday to the abomination of desolation, so that's where we're hearing. I'm already off my time, and this was a 50-minute sermon this morning, so we better get going.
The Shocking Prediction
The Significance of the Moment
At any rate, at the end of Matthew 23, just, let's set it in context. Jesus gives the seven-fold woes to the Jews. It's a very, very significant moment in redemptive history. Because they have rejected God, God has in some way rejected them, and so, there is this complete perfect seven-fold woe spoken by the ultimate, the greatest, the perfect prophet of God, Jesus. Spoken to them seven times, woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
And the chapter comes to an end in Matthew 23 with these just heart-wrenching words, and you just have to read the Bible and all that God has done with his people, his love for Israel, and all of that and embodied in his Son Jesus. And he stands there and says, it doesn't say in the scripture, but you can just imagine with tears coming down his face, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Behold, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you that you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Immediately go to the next chapter, verse 1, “Jesus left the temple and was walking away.”
So that's where we go, we're going right from that, those amazing words, “Behold, your house is left to you desolate, for you're not gonna see me again,” and then he walks away. It's just hugely significant. Big, big moment. I believe this is an embodiment of the glory of God leaving the temple, just leaving. I think that the Shekhinah, the dwelling glory, that's what “Shekhinah'” means. “Mishkan” was the Tabernacle, the dwelling place with God, the dwelling glory in the Tabernacle, and then in the temple, it represented God's desire to live with us, to be with us, to be with his people, to live with them. And the Tabernacle, the tent, the temple, the building with a foundation, they are both temporary, but symbols of God's desire to dwell with his people.
The glory cloud was a symbol of that, and in both cases, a miraculous appearance of this glory cloud showed God saying, I am willing to live with you. Amazing Grace. But in Ezekiel, the glory cloud departs the temple, goes to the threshold, goes in stages, but eventually just leaves, and why? Because of their wickedness, because of their sin, leaves. Jesus leaving the temple embodies that. The glory cloud was a symbol of Jesus, it's really what it was. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” and so, we have seen his glory, it says in John 1, he was the glory of God for Israel, and he leaves now, Matthew 24:1.
The Disciples’ Wide-Eyed Wonder Misplaced
And at that moment, the disciples who are us, come up just, no idea what's going on. No idea of the significance of this moment in redemptive history, and just wide eyed-with wonder at the magnificence of the temple. Just amazing. Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came to him to call his attention to its buildings. Mark 13:1 gives us this. “They said, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’” Aren't you glad for the disciples? I mean, aren’t you glad for the Apostles? They just, they're us. Like I said in my prayer, we don't always know what God is doing, and so they represent us and, they just, the timing is terrible on that statement. But actually beautiful too, because it gives Jesus a chance to speak into their ignorance and their misunderstandings of what he is going to do. They did not understand the significance.
Now, some commentators have taken the approach that these are just country people, they're country people from Galilee, from the outliers, the outlying region, they didn't get to the big city much, and they're just country hicks and they're like... With their mouths agape at the skyscrapers. But you have to realize, they had to come to the city three times a year, at least. They've been there regularly. Really what they're doing is, they're including the love of their lives, their savior into their wonder, which is actually a good thing to do, including Jesus in your amazement and wonder. So I don't fault them for it.
Some of those stones were amazingly large. Josephus tells us that one of the stones in Herod's temple was 45 feet long. One stone, 12 feet high and 18 feet in width. So I had to calculate the weight of a stone that size. I just, I can't let some aspects of engineering go. And so, I went and found out the density of granite, which I figured it would be, 1.6 million pounds on that one stone. Amazing. So, and the building itself was apparently amazingly ornate and beautiful and just visually appealing.
There was marble, there was gold, Herod spared nothing. He was a tyrant, a wicked man. Wicked man, read about it in Matthew 2, with the slaughter of the infants. But he had this adorned temple. And Rabbis commenting from the first century said, “He who has not seen the temple of Herod, has never seen a beautiful building.” It's the Jewish way of saying this was the most beautiful building on earth.
And it is natural for us as human beings to marvel in human achievement, to be amazed at what we can do, the technology, the architecture, to be amazed at that. From the tower of Babel through Nebuchadnezzar's evening walk on the roof of his palace, looking out over Babylon and saying, “Is this not the magnificent Babylon that I have built for the praise of my glory,” and that kind of thing. We have always been amazed at what we can achieve with our hands.
But God is not so impressed with us and with what we can achieve. Stephen quoted an Old Testament scripture in Acts 7, when God says this through the Old Testament prophet, and then again through Stephen to the Sanhedrin. God saying this to us, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?” God apparently is much more impressed with what his hands can do, and so should we be.
God yearns for us to have a broken-hearted humility toward human achievement, toward what we can do, what we have done with our hands. We have sinned. That's what we've done with our hands, and God wants us to tell the truth about that. And with broken-hearted humility with tears and with faith, come to Jesus and find forgiveness, not be amazed at human achievement, even religious achievement. Maybe, I would say, especially religious achievement.
The Shocking Prediction
And so, Jesus at this moment makes a shocking prediction to them. “Do you see all these things,” verse 2, “Do you see them all? Look at them. I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Wow. Again, Jesus, the greatest teacher that has ever lived, in this case uses an object lesson. Look at them. Look at the stones. Take a look at them. They're big, aren't they? Huge, ornate. I tell you that not one of them will be on top of another.
Humanity tends to build, like the Tower of Babel, tends to build upward, we tend to go up. I think it's a grasp after deity is really what, we tend to go up. There are practical reasons for going up, but I'm just telling you, tends to go up, and these stones are coming down, that's what Jesus says. Everything lofty will be humbled. Everything that exalts itself against God will be thrown down to the ground.
The Prediction Fulfilled
Now, this prediction actually did happen, it's unclear whether Jesus is referring to the temple alone or the whole city of Jerusalem. Because I don't know what his hand gesture is when he said, “Do you see all these things?” We know the whole city was destroyed, so it could be that Jesus was predicting the destruction of the whole city of Jerusalem, as it is a little clearer in Luke in another place, he's talking about the whole city. But either way, temple, whole city, it's gonna be destroyed.
Josephus tells the story. Josephus was a Jewish historian, who acted as a mediator between the Jews and the Romans during the years leading up to the war, the Jewish War. But in 70, in AD 70, the temple was destroyed. The city was destroyed by the Romans, they went beyond the Roman edict. Titus, who was in charge of the army, he eventually would be Emperor, he was there. He commanded restraint. But they just couldn't stop themselves, their hatred for the zealots was so great, and a little structure burned near the temple, and pretty soon the whole thing was burning and then they wanted the gold and just pretty soon, Jesus' words were fulfilled. They were.
It was destroyed, the whole city was destroyed. And Josephus tells the story, the details, I have a quote from Josephus, we don't have the time for it. But it happened, it really happened, and you can go to Jerusalem and see the wailing wall and I’ll talk about that in another sermon, but the fact of the matter is, it happened, Jesus' words were fulfilled, Jesus was not a false prophet. Jesus told the truth and the city was destroyed in fulfillment of Jesus' words.
And the significance of this theologically cannot be measured. It's huge, it's a huge moment. The destruction of the temple in 70, in AD 70, was a huge moment in redemptive history, not a minor moment. And I'm gonna make this clear in the abomination of desolation sermon, but God has a habit regularly of trashing his own sanctuary, of having it trampled by Gentiles. He does it again and again, we'll get to that. It's just what he did. And he predicted in the song of Moses that he would do it. He said, “You're going to forsake me, you're gonna go after the idols of the Gentiles, so I'm gonna bring the Gentiles and they're gonna trample you.”
And therefore, it is what Jesus calls “the times of the Gentiles,” that's a designation in which God is primarily by his grace, a sovereign power working among Gentiles, not Jews. That's what this time is. And so, the verses we're looking at today from Matthew 24:4-14, those verses. I said in my overview sermon last week, that describes in general terms what life is like between the first and second advent of Christ, between the first and second coming of Christ. And those times are the times of the Gentiles, that's what it is. It's the time in which God is primarily directing his actions towards the nations of the world and bringing them in in a vast, glorious harvest. Bringing them in through faith in Christ, by the spread of the gospel, he's working in the nations. His gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
So this is the time of the Gentiles. He speaks specifically of that phrase in Luke 21:24, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” In the book of Acts, Paul always goes to a synagogue first, and in a key moment, he says, “I'm through with you, your blood beyond your own heads. From now on, I'm going to the Gentiles.” Very significant, and that's exactly what happens here.
Also, and I think just as significant is the official, clear, obvious to anyone who's looking, end of the old covenant. It's the end. Curtain in the temple torn in two from top to bottom wasn't enough. We'll get to that. The destruction of the temple should have been enough. It won't be, we'll get to that as well. But at any rate, God is saying, “I am finished with animal sacrifice, it's done.” God will never again accept the blood of an animal for a religious spiritual purpose. He will never be pleased with it again, I am not a dispensationalist, I don't think there are two different ways of getting at God. There is one new man out of the two, Ephesians 2, he accepts only the blood of Jesus shed once for all.
Read about it in the book of Hebrews, dear friends. It is finished. And so, in Hebrews 8:13, speaking of the new covenant that God predicted in the times of the old covenant, through Jeremiah the prophet, that God would make a new covenant with the house of Israel, with the house of Judah, the forgiveness of sins, at the center of that new covenant, as it could not have been with the animal sacrifice. In Hebrews 8:13, it says, “by calling this covenant ‘new,’ he's made the old one obsolete. And what is obsolete and aging will soon pass away.” Interesting there, the author of the Hebrews gives us the word “soon.” You know why? It was before 70 AD. Now it's gone. And they cannot obey the law of Moses, they can't. Oh, they can offer a bull or a goat, they can do that kinda stuff, but they can't do it in the one place God chose among the nation, among the tribes, Jerusalem, he can't do it there. The Muslims won't let them. So we'll get to all that in due time, but the fact of the matter is, the time for that is finished, so a big-time significant moment in redemptive history.
So, obviously this statement in verse 2 must have rocked their world. I think they still expected Jesus to set up shop in a paneled palace with a golden throne with them, with six thrones on each side. One of them, right and the left, James and John being right at the right and the left, 'cause mom asked, that's another passage, but that's what they figured. Jesus is gonna be there, and I think they assumed the animal sacrifice would be going on in the temple, praising God. All of this was, they just did not understand yet that Jesus had to shed his blood for them and for their sins or they would be disqualified from anything good from God. They would deserve only wrath from God, they didn't understand that. Not really.
The Stunned Questions
Asked in Private... on the Mount of Olives
And so they're stunned. And in verse 3, it says, “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us, they said, when will this happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” Now, it was wise for them to ask this in private. Mount of Olives was a place of refuge for Jesus, he'd get out of the city, too hot in the city, and I don't mean thermally, I mean, just relationally, just so much anger and hatred. And so, Jesus would go in the evenings to Mount of Olives, Gethsemane was there. Gethsemane means olive press. That's where, it was a place of refuge, and he's sitting there.
And as it turns out from the Mount of Olives, I've never been to Jerusalem, but you can see the city just spread out, and so you can imagine Jesus sitting on a rock or something on the mount, and they're looking out over the city as they're having this discussion. Powerful. So they come to Jesus privately and privately was the best way for them to discuss the statement. If Jesus had gotten up on a podium in downtown Jerusalem and said, “The Temple is going to be destroyed,” I don't think they could have heard that. I don't think the populace could have handled that. All of the stuff that he's about to predict, I don't think they can handle this. I think the apostles themselves had a hard time handling it, and so, it's a private discussion.
Three Questions, Answered in a Complex Swirl
And so, they come to him and they ask him these questions in a complex swirl. When will this happen, the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple? When will this happen? And what will be the sign of your coming? The word “coming” is “parousia,” it's an important word in eschatology, end time teaching. And Jesus, I believe had already taught them this word, this concept of “parousia” coming. It's in almost all the parables, the absentee master who returned. So, they're already starting to get it, but they don't quite get it. And of the end of the age, the age is going to end. We're coming into a new age of the kingdom, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as is in heaven. They already were starting to think about these things, but didn't get it, so they wanna know.
And I think that these threads that just are woven together in their minds and they come across the rest of the Chapter, it's what makes Matthew 24 so delightful and so complex to interpret. At any time, you're not sure if Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple, or is he talking about the end of the world and his second coming and all that? How do you know? Three separate issues.
Interpretive Key: As It Was, So It Will Be
Now, in my opinion, I believe one of the key hermeneutical or interpretive principles for this chapter is found in verse 37. Go down to verse 37, Matthew 24:37. And there it says, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of Son of man.”
Now, actually Jesus says also in Luke that same statement, but another one besides, “As it was in the days of Lot, before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, so it will be at the coming of Son of Man.” He actually gives us two “as it was, so it will be” statements. What that means is that God has crafted history to give us dress rehearsals. And so stuff happens in history that is a lot like what it's gonna be like at the end of the world.
And he actually does a lot of that, he gives us lots of dress rehearsals. A key example of this is in 1 John, which is the only verse that mentions the word antichrist, it's the only one. The concept's in other places, but the word is only mentioned in 1 John 2. “You have heard that antichrist is coming, but even now, many antichrists have come.” There is one final antichrist, he's coming, we'll talk about him. But there are many antichrists along the way, and John describes what he means by that.
So there are dress rehearsals and then the final act, the final thing. And so it is, I believe, with the destruction of Jerusalem and then the second coming of Christ. I actually think the reason that it's so hard to unravel is that as it was in the days of the destruction of Jerusalem, so it will be when Jesus comes back, it's gonna happen again. And it's actually pretty complicated to assert that in light of the book of Hebrews, but this is what I think is gonna happen. We're gonna talk about that in due time. That's why a sentence fragment gets a whole Sunday in two weeks. But we'll get to that in due time, but we're gonna see this again.
The Warning Against Spiritual Deception
Great Danger in Every Era: False Teachers
Now, the first thing Jesus says to get them ready is he warns them against spiritual deception. Look at verses 4 and 5, “Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you.’” Verse 5, “‘For many will come in my name claiming “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many.’” I've said before, just a great maybe the greatest danger in every church age is false doctrine, false teaching, it attacks the Gospel itself, which is the only power of God there is in this world for salvation. And so, it's like AIDS that goes after the immune system, vital to our lives, so false teaching goes after the gospel.
And so, it's part of the job of an elder to defend the gospel against attacks. We've got to do that defense work, and so, that's why your elders have to be sharp doctrinally, because they need to discern how Satan is attacking the gospel and defend it. But there's gonna be these false teachers, false christs, false prophets that are coming in Christ's name and they're going to say, “I am the Christ.”
Specifically in Eschatology: False Christs
And it's interesting, one of the hallmarks of cult leaders is their appeal to eschatological things, end time things. So many cult leaders come and say, “The end of the world is imminent.” It's happened again and again in church history. It's a regular pattern.
Like during the Reformation in the 16th Century, right during the time of Martin Luther, there was a group of people called the “Zwickau Prophets,” and they went around preaching Millenarianism, the thousand year reign is about to come. They were led by a man named Thomas Muntzer. They proclaimed that the return of Christ was imminent, the day of God's wrath and judgment was very near in hand, they believe they were the elect, the chosen ones, the Zwickau Prophets were, to announce the arrival, the impending arrival of the kingdom of God, and that the true saints would inherit the earth and get this, they themselves were to impose the kingdom using the power of the sword. Well, you can imagine what happened. They were defeated militarily, and were executed, those that survived the battle.
Around that same time, a little later though, in 1533, a man named Jan Matthys of Leiden came to the German town of Munster and set up a polygamous theocracy. Polygamous means in the pattern of the Old Testament kings, he had multiple wives. And many of them had multiple wives, and it was a theocracy, God ruled in this town through this man as the prophet, you see. And so, Matthys declared that Munster was in fact the New Jerusalem considerably smaller than the book of Revelation had said, but at any rate, there it was, that was the New Jerusalem and he was in charge. And the town became so bizarre that the only thing the Catholics and Protestants in the region could agree about was that it needed to be besieged and destroyed. And so, the Catholics and Protestants together took out that town. While they were being besieged, this guy Jan Matthys, who he thought, he believed he was spiritually the successor of King David, took 30 of his best men and rode out to meet this besieging army. Needless to say, they were captured immediately and executed. It happens again and again, it happens all over the world.
In China, there was a man named Hong Xiuquan, in 1837, after hearing some Christian missionaries, he had some visions of his elder brother Jesus. Jesus was his elder brother, and he called on this man to purify China of demon worship and bring in a heavenly kingdom of transcendent peace. On January 11th in 1851, he led the Taiping Rebellion, he was eventually defeated and committed suicide.
Well, is that going on now in our era? Yes. You've heard of ghe Moonies, Sun Myung Moon from Korea. He has designated himself to be the successor to Christ, get this, to finish Christ's unfinished work. And on, I didn't know this, on March 23rd, 2004, he crowned himself Messiah at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, with some senators and representatives there, photo-op, the new Messiah.
David Koresh, you've heard of him, Branch Davidians. Claimed to be the final prophet, end of the world imminent. FBI and ATF agents came to the compound there, you remember in Waco, Texas, and destroyed it.
And there's this man from Puerto Rico, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda who claims, get this, to be both the Christ and the antichrist at the same time. Now, there's a confused individual. How would you like to do counseling with him? But he has the number 666 tattooed on his forearm and he preaches to followers in 35 nations, mostly in Latin America, has 287 radio programs and a 24-hour Spanish language TV network. I'm gonna ask Herbert afterwards if he's ever heard this individual. You have, alright, well, we'll talk about him later. You don't believe him though, do you? Good. Alright. Encouraged.
Forewarned is Sufficient for God’s Elect
Jesus warns us to watch out for these kinds of people. And here's the beauty of it. Can I just say, Go right to the heart of the matter. The beauty is Jesus' warning is effective for us. It's effective for the elect, the sheep will not follow these guys, they just won't.
We have an anointing from the Holy One, and we know the truth. You know it when you hear it, you just know good doctrine when you hear it, don't you? You're listening to some preacher, you don't even know his name, it's like, that's right or it's wrong. You just hear it. But we need the warning, because Jesus is giving it to us here.
And so, later in the same Chapter, in Matthew 24:23-25, look down and see it, says, “So at that time, if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear,” listen, “and perform great signs and miracles” - Wow, they're going to do it friends, great signs and wonders - “to deceive even the elect, if that were possible. Behold, I have told you ahead of time.” That collection of words is huge for me. He's warning them, this is what they're going to do to deceive the elect, if that were possible, implying it's not, and the reason it's not is I've told you ahead of time.
So part of my job is to tell you ahead of time, watch out for these folks. Watch out for false teachers, especially eschatological style false teachers. And the culmination of that will be the antichrist, the greatest deceiver that has ever lived as a human being. And I'm gonna tell you why in due time in the next sermon, after the 24:15 sermon, why you have to run for your lives if you're alive at that time. You can't take him on. He's just too strong. The power of evil will be so pervasive in this individual, his wonder-working ability, miracles, that he will be able to do, you can't handle him. And so, the advice, the command, Jesus gives you is you run for your life.
And we'll get to that in due time, but in 2 Thessalonians 2, it says, “The coming of the lawless one, the antichrist will be in accordance with the work of Satan, displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish, because they refuse to love the truth, and so be saved. And for this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.” God's sovereignty goes in places you and I can scarcely understand or imagine. But basically, if you won't believe the truth, I'll send you a lie. And so, we, the elect, the true sheep of God, we have loved the truth, we embrace the truth. We're not gonna get taken in by this, but we still need to run for our lives. We'll get to that later.
The Spasms of a Dying and Hateful World
All right, so the first thing Jesus does is, he gives us that warning against false teachers, next he gives us an overview of what I call the spasms of a dying world. And it's been dying since Adam took that fruit. It's not anything new, and that's the whole thing. This stretch of Matthew 24, you really need to see it for its sad ordinariness, is what it is. Its tragic ordinariness. And if you don't think it's ordinary, you don't know much about history frankly. But I think that you do know enough about history to know how ordinary these things are.
Look at what it says. “You'll hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you're not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There'll be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
The Wickedness of Humanity
This is the wickedness of humanity, wars and rumors of wars. I lost track of the number. I did some research a couple of years ago, the number of wars there have been since the United Nations were set up, it's in the hundreds and hundreds. I don't know what, but wars and rumors of wars are nothing new, and they do not mark out or identify any era of human history. Frankly, since Cain killed his brother Abel, we have been en route to wars and rumors of wars right from that very start. It's in the nature of the human heart to assemble together, power, military power, and go after someone and take what they have. It's been going on all this time.
Empires rising and falling is the history of the world, and it's going to continue right to the end. Why did the Roman army destroy Jerusalem? Because they were fulfilling prophecy? They were all Christians doing God's work? Not at all. They destroyed Jerusalem because they thought it was in the best interest of the empire. They were just doing what they do. It's what the legions did, they wanted Pax Romana, they wanted organization and peace and quiet and tax money rolling in and harvest rolling in and everybody happy under their boot, that's what they wanted. But if people got uppity, if they got rebellious, they would bring in the legions and guess what? The legions would win. And that's what happened to Jerusalem, they're just doing what they do. Wars and rumors of wars. The zealots, I don't think they were doing it for the glory of God, they wanted their own kingdom, that's what they do. It's what the human heart, the unregenerate human heart does.
And those current events, friends, are gonna continue to swirl in every generation. There's not gonna be some lull with no current events for X amount of time before Jesus comes back. I mean, the New York Times, CNN, they're just, stuff will be happening, right up - Lots of stuff, actually - and then Jesus will interrupt it all. Actually, this is for this very reason that Jesus is coming back. The wickedness of the human heart, the wars, the rumors of wars, the hatred we have for one another, the native hatred, the covetousness we have of our neighbor's goods, this is why these empires rise and fall. And Jesus is coming back to end it.
Physical Spasms of the Earth
But it's not just human to human, there are spasms of the earth itself described here, famines and earthquakes in various places. And that just shows you how general this is. Well, which places? Various places. Where? Well, just look on the computer, do some research on earthquakes in the last thousand years. There have been some. There have actually been a lot, and in fulfillment of the prophecy, they've been in various places. I mean, there were two major ones quite recently, one in Port-au-Prince, one in Haiti, and one in China. They just keep on coming.
The Bible doesn't specifically mention volcanoes blowing their top in Iceland and putting an ash cloud over the northern part of Europe, so that a week of flights in and out of Northern European cities are cancelled and backlogged. But I believe all of this is a picture of an earth convulsing and writhing under human sin.
Beginning of Birth Pangs
Groaning as in the pains of childbirth, it says in Romans 8. This world is under a curse because of us. God put it that way. “It was subjected to futility,” Romans 8, “not by its own choice, but by the will of him who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” But meanwhile, we get famines and earthquakes and volcanoes and floods, and tidal waves and mudslides and pandemics and other natural stuff that just comes and it's just horrible.
And Jesus calls it the beginning of birth pains. And again, as a man, I can't understand that except by sympathy. I saw my wife go through it with our children, I've heard it's agonizing. Jesus chooses it as an example of great pain, not small pain, but great pain. But a different kind of pain, isn't it? Birth pains are different than cancerous tumor pains. And what's the difference? Well, Jesus says in John 16, “after the baby is born, she forgets the grief for joy that her child has brought into the world.” Oh, hang on that friends. We're heading to something glorious and beautiful. Yes, it's just the beginning of birth pains, and it's not going to be easy to get there.
Friends, no one here, no one sitting here, no human being sitting here will get out of this place unscathed. We are in a world of pain, and the only way to get through it is great pain and difficulty and trouble, some more than others, I acknowledge. Walter Martin, the Bible answer man, was taken while kneeling in prayer. O Lord, that sounds good. But most of us don't go that way. Most of us, like I preached for you on Easter Sunday about David Brainerd. Oh, was that... I wasn't sure I should even preach that, but it's tough to die, and it's tough to be with those that die. It's not going to be easy to get out of here into the next world. But when we do, oh, it's gonna be beautiful. The beginning of birth pains.
The Costly Growth of a Living Kingdom
The Suffering of the Church
And then he gets to what I call the costly growth of a living kingdom. “You'll be handed over to be persecuted and put to death,” said Jesus, “and you'll be hated by all nations because of me. At that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. But he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Now, this is a unique special kind of suffering. This is the suffering of the church, the suffering of believers that we will have. Hatred is going to increase at the end of the world, persecution will be both informal and formal. Informal will, you know, pseudo-brothers and sisters in Christ, the false ones, the nominal ones. They're not going out of the Church easily, they're going to betray us, they're gonna turn us in. Turn us into who? Well, to the formal persecutors, those are the government forces. And in some countries, they know exactly what we're talking about, the governmental laws against Christianity and you're betrayed and turned in for your faith. And they persecute you, they put you in jail, they torture you.
The Trial of Faith
That's going to escalate and increase until it's consummated in the age of the antichrist, when it will most certainly be illegal to be a Christian. And nominal Christians cannot handle that, and they will sell out their brothers and sisters in Christ to improve their own position in the new world order. They're gonna betray and hate each other. And the love of most will grow cold. This is a great trial of faith. But you remember the parable of the seed and the soils, and there is that stony ground here that at once receives the word with joy, but when the sun comes up on trouble, persecution comes because of the word, they quickly... What? What do they do? Well, they fall away.
So Jesus says, you know, they're going to turn away from the faith. That's called apostasy. You think, well, if you're reformed in theology, we don't believe in falling away from the faith. Well, these are nominal Christians, this is what they are, they are stony ground hearers. And they can't handle the persecution, and they go out from the church, they go out from us, because they're not really with us or part of us.
But verse 13, just put it in your brain, put it up on your mirror. “How do I know, Lord, if I'm a Christian?” Well, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.” The greatest mark of regeneration is perseverance in the faith through difficulty, that's it. Day after day, month after month, year after year, still loving Jesus, despite the temptations, the sins, the struggles, the attacks, the trouble that Christ has caused you, if we can even use that expression, the trouble the word has brought into your life, you're still loving him, still believing in him, that's the mark of a Christian. Now, next week, I'm going to talk about verse 14, so I literally will say nothing about it right now.
Come to Christ—for Salvation and for Wisdom
The gospel of the kingdom will spread, and that is my first application. What is this gospel? Well, how are we gonna get out of here and go into the next world, except by that gospel of the kingdom. Come to Christ, come to Christ. I don't know that the world is going to end later today, but I already said last week, we have to be ready for that. Jesus isn't asking your opinion on eschatology when he comes back, he'll come when he comes.
So it might end later today, but that's not the issue; you might end later today. You might end later today. You might die later today. And after death comes judgment. Are you ready for it? You are a sinner. And so am I. Apart from Christ, you are not ready for it. You will weep, you will wail in hell if you're not a Christian. You will grieve, and you'll wish you could have come back to April 18th, 2010, when it was quiet and peaceful and sitting on a comfortable pew, and this man stood up and told me about Jesus and how Jesus shed his blood for me, and that if I had believed in Jesus, all of my sins would have been forgiven, and God would have seen me as perfectly righteous in him, trust in Christ. That's the answer here.
This is the purpose of all of this is to redeem sinners like you and me. Come to Christ, come to him for salvation. I tell you, the cross of Christ is the only thing that makes any sense of human history. I don't understand it other than that. And it doesn't make any sense. One hymn writer put it this way, “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o'er the wrecks of time.” It's the only thing that makes any sense over the wrecks of time.
But also come to Christ for wisdom, alright? You're a Christian, alright, you already came to Christ for forgiveness, well, then come to Christ for wisdom. Go to Mount of Olives, metaphorically in your minds, spiritually, sit at Jesus' feet and say, I don't get it. I don't understand. Teach me, teach me the end of the world, teach me what Revelation means, teach me Matthew 24. Teach me what it means that this generation will not end until all these things have taken place. I wanna know what this means, teach me the deep truths of the faith.
And he will do it through this word, not through private subjective impressions. He will teach you what these words mean, what these nouns and verbs and adjectives mean and how they relate to other ones, and it's gonna be a lifetime study. Ask him for wisdom and he will give it to you. Be confident that God wants to tell you more than you wanna know. He wants to give you wisdom, Matthew 13:11, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” Come to Christ and ask.
Understand the Direction of History
And realize that history has a direction. And that's what Matthew 24 is about. We're heading somewhere friends, we're heading somewhere. We're heading toward the new heaven and new earth, we're heading toward the second coming of Christ. It's not gonna go on forever. It will not go on forever. And though people have oftentimes thought the end of the world was imminent and it wasn't, it doesn't mean the end of the world isn't coming, it is. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, said Jesus, the first and the last. It is coming. Believe in that and accept it.
Rejoice in the End of the Sacrificial System
And rejoice in the end of the sacrificial system, be glad you don't need to go to the temple in Jerusalem and offer an animal for your sins. It's done. Jesus said, “It is finished.” His blood is shed. You are, if you're a Christian, you are forgiven. You're forgiven. Isn't that beautiful? The righteousness of Jesus is yours. And that animal sacrifice is over, it's finished.
Do Not Trust In Human Achievements—Spiritual or Secular
And do not trust in human achievements, don't rejoice in the temple and the size of its stones and all that. Don't rejoice in the beauty of this building. I'm glad that this building is beautiful and comfortable, it's a good thing. But everything you see around you will come down some day, all of it. All of it will. Focus instead on Jesus' achievement, on Christ's achievement for you, focus on that. I have many other applications to say, but if God wills, we'll have more chances to talk about Matthew Chapter 24:14, let's say a closing prayer.