Jesus Teaches on the End of the World (Matthew Sermon 119 of 151)
April 11, 2010 | Andrew Davis
Judgement Day, Second Coming of Christ, Prophecy, Return of Christ
Well, this morning it's gonna be a little bit different sermon than usual. I am generally a verse by verse expositor, and if I were to do that to these two chapters, we'd be here literally all day, I think. So I'm not going to do that, but rather what I want to do is just give you a vast overview of two of the greatest chapters in the Bible, Matthew 24 and 25. Jesus teaches on the end of the world.
I think it's natural for human beings to have a fascination with the future. All over the world people strain to guess at what cannot truly be known apart from the direct revelation of God, and that is what's going to happen in the future. False religions are replete with efforts and techniques that people have used to try to discern the future. Ancient Greek and Roman polytheism utilized priests that would seek to read the future by examining the entrails of sacrificial animals, the liver being of special importance for that purpose. They would also observe weather phenomena, the movement of the clouds, lightning, and other things. They would look for omens in everyday life, extraordinary circumstances, things like that.
The renowned Roman orator Cicero, who wrote on divination, belonged to the Roman College of Augurs. Now an Augur evaluates the presence or absence of divine blessing by omens. They were the official state-approved interpreters of omens. And no election could be held, no war could be initiated, no law could be passed without favorable omens. So also the Oracles in Greece, like the Oracle of Delphi, where there were prophets and prophetesses, supposedly in direct connection with the gods and goddesses, whose ability to foretell the future was coveted.
In ancient Babylon, the Chaldeans were a special class of people that studied the stars, in particular, to try to discern the future. They also were experts at interpreting dreams. In the British Isles, the Druids studied black arts like necromancy and divination and sorcery to seek knowledge about the future. Merlin the sorcerer was one of these, that kind of figure, making predictions about King Arthur and his eventual ascendancy to the throne.
The ability to predict the future has, throughout history, been connected with the ability to make money. I mean, if you were to talk to an average non-Christian and say, if you could know in detail the next year, what would you do with the knowledge? They'd immediately say, I'd make money. I'd find out what things to invest in, or what to gamble on, and I would be amazing, my bracket would be perfect. I'd have the first perfect bracket in ESPN history, and I would be able to make money. But that connection between fortune-telling and money is seen right in the scripture in Acts 16:16, Paul and Silas in Philippi, they said, “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl, who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.” And Paul and Silas then delivered the girl, cast out the demon. The owners were enraged and had Paul and Silas beaten publicly, because they had in some way slain the goose that laid the golden eggs. So the long-standing yearning to know the future continues, even to this day, people are hungry and thirsty to try to discern the future. I think this is why the Left Behind series has sold 65 million copies. People are interested in knowing what's going to come.
Now, I say to you this morning as I've said many times before, the ability accurately to predict the future is God's and God's alone. It's a glory that God reserves to himself. And the only ones that really know, the only human beings that really know the future are those who have received that information from God. Because God is sovereign over all of human history, and “Many are the plans of a man's heart, but it's the Lord's purpose that prevails.” And so, he alone can tell us what's really going to happen. And it's a glory he reserves to himself.
Many verses in Isaiah, especially in the 40s, testify to God's unique ability to predict the future. Isaiah 42:8-9, “I am the Lord, that is my name. I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. Behold, the former things have taken place and new things I declare. Before they spring into being, I announce them to you.” That is his unique glory. He says in another place, “Bring in your idols and see if they can tell you anything at all.” Let's see if they can tell the future, let's see if they can declare anything at all. But they can't, because they are nothing and less than nothing and their works are worthless. Isaiah 45, He issues the same challenge. “Declare what is to be, present it - let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago? Who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me. A righteous God and a Savior, there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other.” So God's claim to be the unique savior of the world, the only God there is, is a link there in those verses to his ability to predict the future, he is the only one that can do it.
Now, in the Bible, the Bible is filled with prophecies, all kinds of predictions of the future. Many of them have already come to pass. But the center of prophecy, biblically, is the person and work of Jesus Christ, that's the center of prophecy. And so, in Revelation 19:10, it says, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” And so, in the Bible, first and foremost, prophets proclaimed the Christ, his sufferings and the glories that would follow.
Now, here in Matthew 24 and 25, we have the Christ himself predicting the future. We have Jesus sitting on a little mountain off to the side of Jerusalem, making statements sweeping out across the rest of human history, right to the end. It's sometimes called the Little Apocalypse or the Olivet Discourse, because it was on the Mount of Olives that he gave it. Some years ago, I heard from John MacArthur, one of my favorite sermons of all time, it was entitled, “A Jet Tour Through The Book of Revelation.” It was 70 minutes long as I remember, and he took on all 22 chapters of that book. Now, I don't agree with every little detail, but it was a fascinating sermon. I'm not gonna take a jet tour through the Book of Revelation, 22 chapters, what we're gonna do is look at two chapters alone. And we're just gonna try to fly across them and look at the grand structure, as though we're taking back in the 19th century a balloon ride, and for the first time you can just see all the farmland and see everything stretching to the horizon. And then, as God permits us time, we'll go back over these chapters and look section by section.
So we're gonna begin this morning by looking at this grand teaching of Jesus on the future. And the context here, as we've been seeing, this is the final week of Jesus' life, he's been in hot debate and argument with His adversaries. It culminates in Matthew 23, The Seven Woes. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites,” the repeated refrain as he deals with the hypocrisy of the spiritual leadership of Israel. And it culminates in these astonishing words at the end of Matthew 23, “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.’”
The Three-Fold Question (24:1-3)
Jesus’ Devastating Prediction
And immediately after that, Jesus leaves, and the disciples come up to him and talk to him about the temple. It says in verse 1-3, “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked, ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another, everyone will be thrown down.’”
So Jesus is there clearly predicting or prophesying the destruction at least of the temple, and really by implication, of the whole city of Jerusalem. And this was absolutely shocking to the disciples. I think they were just amazed at it, and so they came to him privately, they never imagined that this was going to happen. They did not understand what God was doing in Jesus.
The Disciples’ Private Three-Fold Question
And so, they come to him privately and they ask this private question. And to them, I really believe it probably was just one question, but it really actually comes at us in three different parts. When will these things be, namely the destruction that you alluded to? Not one stone left on another, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming? And what will be the sign of the end of the age?
Three Issues in the Olivet Discourse
Now, dear friends, the complexity of Matthew 24 and 25 is in unraveling those three strands. At any moment, as you're reading, is Jesus talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD? Is he talking about the second coming of Christ, the tribulation? Is he talking about the church age in between? What is he talking about? And that's the complexity, and there's so many different interpretations. This morning, you hear mine. But there are other people that will come and give you different ways of looking at this chapter.
What I'd like to do now is just pause and just give you quickly an overview of this whole section, just going across. Basically, there are four great truths in this chapter. The first great truth is in verse 14, Matthew 24:14, and that is this, “This gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The proclamation of the gospel to the end of the world, to every nation, is the first great truth in these two chapters. Secondly, verse 21, Matthew 24:21, “then there will be a great tribulation or distress unlike any there has been in history and never will be again.” So the teaching of the great tribulation is there. The third great teaching of these two chapters is in Matthew 24:42, “You do not know when the end will come, you do not know the day or the hour.” So the Lord keeps us in the dark concerning the exact time. And the fourth great teaching of these two chapters is in Matthew 25:31-32. And there it says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory, and all the nations will be gathered before him. And he will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he'll put the sheep on his right and he'll put the goats on his left. And then he will consign each of them either to heaven or to hell, the sheep to heaven and the goats to hell.”
These are the four great teachings of these two chapters. I know there are many lesser teachings, but these are the four pinnacle teachings. The gospel is going to advance throughout the world, and then the end will come. Secondly, it's a time of tremendous tribulation and distress and trial. The world is gonna go out with a scream and a wail of agony. It's not going to be easy. Thirdly, we do not know the exact day or hour of the Lord's return. And fourthly, Jesus is going to assemble every human being that's ever lived, and they're all gonna stand in front of him, from every nation and tribe and language, and he will divide them into two categories, based on whether they believed in him or not. These are the four great teachings of these two chapters.
There are three implications in these, three commands, three applications that come as well, more than that really, but these are the three I've chosen. In Matthew 24:13, you need to stand firm to the end. He who stands firm to the end will be saved. We need to persevere in our Christian lives. We need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, it says in Philippians. We need to keep going in the Christian life, right to the end. Secondly, Matthew 24:42, you need to be ready and to keep watch, because you don't know at what time the master of the house is returning. So you need to be ready or vigilant at every moment of your life for the second coming of Christ. And the third great application is, you need to be faithful to what God has entrusted to you to do. Look at verse 45, 24:45, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his house? It'll be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.” So persevere to the end, be ready at every moment for the second coming of Christ, and be faithful to do those things God has entrusted to you to do.
So those are the four great teachings, and those are the three great applications. So that's the, kind of, overview of the overview. Now, let's go, kind of, through all of the sections of these two chapters. But you already have a sense of the main ideas of this chapter, alright? The first thing we have in verse 1-3, we've already seen the three-fold question of the disciples that sit there and Jesus begins to answer.
Life Between the Advents (24:4-14)
Secondly, in Matthew 24:4-14, we have, I believe, Jesus' description of life on earth between the two comings of Christ. Between the first and second coming of Christ, what is life going to be like? Look at these verses. Beginning of verse 4, “Jesus answered, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. You will 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 will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will 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. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
So I really believe that's just describing life in this troubled, sin-cursed world between the two advents. It's what he's describing. Between the first and the second coming of Christ, this is what life is going to be like. Wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, various places, general statements of trouble in the world. And I don't think it's possible for any era or any age of the church to look and say, “Hey, this is coming true now. There's a famine going on in this place, there's an earthquake going on in that place, and there's a war in that place, and a rumor of war over there.” Can you tell me a century in which that didn't happen? That's just a general description of just how tough it's going to be to live in this world before the Lord comes back to end it all.
It's the old order of things, and it's the writhing and churning of nations who do not know God, and all of the pain that comes as a result of that. And then within the walls of the church, it talks about the troubles that we Christians uniquely will face; persecution, suffering for our faith, being betrayed by those who were supposedly brothers and sisters in Christ, but under the pressure of persecution turn away and turn in their brothers and sisters in Christ. And so, he urges that call to all generations to stand firm to the end. And if you stand firm to the end, then you will be saved.
And then this glorious statement that really just kind of stands on its own even out of its context, but what a beautiful thing it is, and we'll talk about it in due time. But we can't look at it enough. 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. Just hear your Lord speaking so definitively about these things. Hear his sovereignty concerning the Great Commission. This is a promise, this is a declaration of future fact that only God can make. This gospel will most certainly be preached all over the world as a testimony. And the end will most certainly come, that's what he's saying. So that's the first section, and that is the description of life between the two advents.
The Horrors Connected with the Destruction of the Temple (24:15-25)
The next section is the horrors connected with the destruction of the temple. Look at verses 15-25. “So when you see standing in the Holy Place the abomination of desolation, spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, but no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in the winter on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress” or great tribulation, “unequal from the beginning of the world until now, and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened. 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 and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible. Behold, I have told you ahead of time."
So I believe that here Jesus is at least answering their question, the first question they ask, “When will these things happen?” Go back one step before that, Jesus said, “Do you see all these stones? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another, everyone will be thrown down.” Destruction of the temple. Then they ask, “When will the temple be destroyed?” Jesus, I believe, is here at least answering that question.
Now, why do I say at least? Because there is a theory that the temple will actually be rebuilt right before Jesus returns. It's a fascinating theory. It's deeper than you might think, and I'm gonna devote a whole sermon to it, and I'm not telling you right now what I think, so we'll just move on.
But the fact of the matter is, the abomination of desolation at least is talking about the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD. We have to admit that Jesus answered their question, and here he's describing just how horrendous that event will be. It's going to be demonic, and it's going to be human all at once, and it's gonna be horrible, and a million or more people will die. And he is giving a warning specifically here to the church, the elect, what to do when they see it happen. Run for your lives. That's what he's telling them to do. Now, will this be re-enacted again, we'll get to that in due time, but that's what he's talking about here.
The Second Coming of Christ and Its Signs (24:26-33)
The next section in verses 26 through 33, moves rather remarkably and somewhat seamlessly to the second coming of Christ, and for that reason, because he just goes right from the abomination of desolation to the second coming, it seems, that people say that the temple will be rebuilt, we'll talk about that in due time. But this section, I do believe, is talking about the second coming of Christ. The first section, I think, isn't so much because he says, “If anyone says that Christ is coming, don't believe it, because I'm not coming then.” But now, immediately in the next little section, that's when he is coming.
Look at verses 26 through 33. “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is out in the desert,’ do not go out; or ‘Here he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the Earth will mourn. They will see the sign of the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Verse 32, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. And even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.”
So here, I believe, plainly, Jesus is talking about his second coming. He says it will be visible to everyone, there will be no secret coming. He doesn't come in the night while we're sleeping and whisk people away. I won't get into the doctrine of the secret rapture, but I think it's impossible to see any of that here. This is an open, visible, obvious second coming, no faith needed. And that's the great tragedy of it, because the day of faith will be over. The time for justification by faith alone will be done when they see the Lord with their own eyes.
And if they had not come to faith in Christ while there was time, they will only see him in judgment, and they will be among the goats separated from him, put at Jesus' left hand, and how dreadful will that be. That's why it says, “All nations of the earth will mourn.” You don't need any faith to see the second coming of Christ, it'll be the lightning that flashes from one end of the sky to the other, obvious to everyone.
And he's gonna send out, he says, his angels, and they will find all of the elect, and they'll gather them up. As John the Baptist said, as wheat into the barn, he's gonna gather up the wheat. And so you get your own angel ride if you're a believer, alright. He's gonna come and get you, and he's going to bring you to Jesus, you're gonna be collected with Jesus. And the angels will come get you at the last trumpet. The gathering of the elect worldwide. And he knows, it says in 2 Timothy, “The Lord knows those who are his.” There's no doubt about it. He won't miss any of them, He'll gather them all, all of the elect, and bring them together.
The lesson of the fig tree is, you won't be in the dark about the coming of Christ. We're not in the dark, it says in another place. We will be able to see evidences and signs. I believe there are certain sections of scripture that don't make much sense to us now, but they will make much sense to those who are in the final generation. I'm not saying we're not the final generation, but basically when we need light to come from the scripture, it will come. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then read the last chapter of Daniel, and try to tell me what the 1,335 days are. I have no idea what those are, but I think some category of people will know exactly what those days are, and they will know what to do with that information. Right now, we don't need it, and so we're in the mystery, and so we write commentaries and we preach sermons, and we don't really know. But there will be one final generation and they will know exactly, and the leaves will come out and say, “Look, the time for fruit is near.” And they will know exactly what to do with that information. You don't know when, but you do know the signs.
The Need for Constant Vigilance (24:37-44)
The next section, Jesus says immediately concerning that very issue, you don't know exactly when it's going to come, so you need to be ready all the time. You need to be ready all the time. Look at verses 37 through 44, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. From the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, right up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. And that is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field, one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill, one will be taken and the other left. Therefore, keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Understand this, if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."
We need to be ready at every moment, at any moment, and this is the mystery of Christian eschatology. We don't really know for sure what's going to happen. We don't know exactly when He's going to come. And so we have to be ready.
Mysterious Timing (24:34-36)
If you look back at verses 34 through 36, Jesus says something that's very difficult to interpret concerning this, we don't know the time, and he says that even he doesn't know the time. Look at what he says in verses 34 through 36, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Difficult verses, we'll talk about them again in due time. Jesus, some people said, makes a mistake here. Can you believe they actually even say that, that Jesus thought that these things would happen within one generation and they didn't? Can I tell you something? If Jesus is wrong about this, he could be wrong about anything he said, and therefore he's a false prophet and not worth listening to. It says in Deuteronomy 18, “Don't listen to him. Stone him.” Therefore, the Jews were right to put him to death because he was a false prophet. Jesus is never wrong. It doesn't mean I know what this means, I'm just saying Jesus is never wrong.
Clearly, these things did not all take place within one generation, so then I'm left with this verse trying to interpret it and I'll do the best I can, but clearly also Jesus admits to not knowing something. And again, this is a mystery here, but I think it has to do with the limitations of the incarnation and his physical life on Earth. He was God all the time, but he wasn't in some mysterious way omnipresent all the time, He couldn't be in many places at once. That's why he said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, because if I go away, I'll send the counsel of the spirit, and then I'll be with you always, even to the end of the age.
And so in a mysterious way, in some way, for the Father hid this information from Jesus while he was speaking these words. I do believe he knows now exactly when he's coming back. But from that assertion, he then says we have to be constantly vigilant. 'Cause you don't know when it's going to happen. And life is just gonna go on, it's just gonna keep on going just like we've always known, just like it was in the days before the flood, people are gonna be just eating, drinking, marrying, giving in marriage, all kinds of plans, women will be halfway through their pregnancies that there'll be all kinds of... Life is just gonna go on just like it has. 2 Peter, people are lulled into thinking that coming will never happen because life just keeps going on more or less like it always has.
The Lord Jesus is gonna come and interrupt it all, he's gonna come and interfere, he's gonna come and stop it, just like he did in the days of the flood. And people will be side by side, and the angel will come and get one and leave the other, he's gonna gather his elect, remember? And so he's gonna get one and they'll be working side by side, one will be taken and the other left. Two women working in the kitchen, one taken and the other left. Again, I don't think this is talking about the secret rapture, but I think it's talking about that collection of all of the elect at the time of the second coming.
The Command for Constant Faithfulness (24:45-51)
In the next section, Jesus then says we need to be constantly faithful. Not only constantly vigilant, but you have to be constantly faithful. Verse 45 and following, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time. It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and then he begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him, at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces, and assign him a place with the hypocrites where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Now, it's amazing to me the number of parables that Jesus tells that have to do with the principle of stewardship of a master entrusting property to a servant. And then at some point later on, expecting an answer concerning the stuff that was entrusted. It's a major principle in many of these parables. And so here he's saying, “Who is the faithful and wise steward?” It's the one who is doing the right stuff when the master comes back. He doesn't know when the master is coming. The master kind of interferes whatever that steward is doing. Woe to that man who is not doing what the Lord entrusted into his care. Woe to him, he'll be cut to pieces, it says, and assigned a place with the hypocrites. And so that the major lesson here is, we who are servants of Christ, we are entrusted with some things from him, he's given us some things to do, and we need to be faithful right to the end to do those things or else suffer the punishment of hypocrites who do not know the master's will.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins: Be Constantly Ready (25:1-13)
Therefore, in chapter 25, having established these two great principles, keep watch, be constantly vigilant, principle number one there at the end. And then, be faithful to do what the master entrusted into your hand. These are the two parables that he gives us right away in Chapter 25. The parable of the virgins, five wise and five foolish, basically teaches the lesson, be vigilant, be ready now, you don't know when he's coming, so be sure you're ready right now for the second coming of Christ. The Parable of the ten virgins, be constantly ready. Look at verses 1 through 13, chapter 25. “At that time, the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps, but did not take any oil with them. Wise however took oil and jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, the cry rang out. ‘Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, give us some of your oil, our lamps are going out. ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There might not be enough for both us and you. Instead go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived, the virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet and the door was shut. Later, the others also came. ‘Sir, sir,’ they said, ‘Open the door for us.’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth…’
[We apologize, due to a technical malfunction this sermon was cut short.]