This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Matthew 24:1-14
Dear Congregation in our Lord Jesus Christ,
Today we are looking at a very perplexing passage. It’s a difficult passage—if not a rather frightening one. It certainly is not warm and fuzzy. No, there is difficult stuff here. It is not particularly easy to understand. And so the question is: what are we to take from this passage? Is Jesus talking about things that have already happened in the past, like in the days of the early church? Is he talking about things that are going on, like right now? Or is he talking about things that are going to happen yet, like right before Christ’ return? How are we to interpret this passage? And how are we to apply it to our lives? How do we do that? Does it apply? Does this passage speak to us? It’s that kind of stuff that we hope to talk about today from the inspired word of God. Bear with me as we examine Matthew 24: 1-14.
Let’s start by noting the context first. Congregation, what brought on this whole discourse that we find in our text? What brought it on was a conversation among the disciples about the magnificence of the temple and its surrounding buildings in Jerusalem. In Mark’s version of the story, for example, the story begins when one of the disciples says, “Look Teacher, what massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” And so a conversation about the glory of the temple and its surroundings—that’s what brought on this discourse.
Jesus responded to their comments by saying, “Do you see these buildings? Do you see these stones? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another; every stone will be thrown down.” Quite a negative statement, don’t you think? Why did Jesus say that? It’s because the people who worked in those buildings, ministered in the temple etc., did not believe in Jesus Christ. They did not acknowledge him. They despised him. If anyone should have believed in him it should have been the leaders in those buildings! Everything in the Law and the prophets and the temple was pointing to him. But they did not want to acknowledge Jesus and so judgement was coming to them. Those buildings were coming down.
It was a little later, while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, that his disciples come to him and privately asked him when all of this was going to take place. They wanted to know when those buildings were coming down. Now notice the overall assumption they are working with. These disciples assume that if the temple and its surrounding buildings are going to come down, that would signify the very end of the world. In their minds you can’t have the world without the temple. Of course not! If the temple goes—so does the entire world! It would have to be at such a time that Jesus would be recognized as Lord over all!
And so in verse 3 they ask Jesus, “Tell us when this will happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” See how they put all these things together? What do they want to know? They want to know when the temple will be destroyed, and what the signs will be of Jesus’ final, royal glorious coming, and the end of the age! And it is these questions that Jesus answers in our text for today in Matthew 24.
Now, I hope you understand that Jesus does not finish his answer by the end of our text for today. No, Jesus takes a long time to answer the disciples’ question. He’s not even done by the end of chapter 24. He continues to answer in chapter 25. All of chapter 24 and chapter 25 is Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question about the destruction of the temple and the signs of the end of the age. This discussion here is the longest discourse of Jesus in the entire New Testament.
Now, I’m not going to look at Jesus entire discourse here. What I am going to look at is just the beginning of it. What I want to look at is the material leading up to verse 14, the last verse of our Scripture reading. But before I do that, allow me to clarify a few things about Jesus lengthy discourse as a whole.
If you haven’t noticed, nowhere does Jesus explain to his disciples that the destruction of Jerusalem— and the very end of the age—would be events very, very far apart. Like I said, the disciples thought these two events would be together, right? Nowhere does Jesus straighten them out on that misconception. Actually, if you read through Jesus’ entire discourse, you almost wonder if Jesus works with the same assumption himself—that the destruction of the temple and the end of the age do happen at the same time. But does he assume that? Not necessarily. If you look at Jesus’ words carefully you will notice that he does hint along the way that the very end of the age is at a totally different time than the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
By the way, when was the temple finally destroyed? Do you know when that was? It was in 70 A.D. In A.D. 70 the temple was completely—and I mean completely—destroyed by the Romans. That’s right. It took place some 40 years after Jesus prophesied about it in our passage.
Why didn’t Jesus explain this little ‘misconception’ on their part? Why didn’t he clarify to the disciples that the end of the age would come much, much later than the destruction of the temple? Why didn’t he explain that to them? Well, we may never know for sure; I mean, Jesus didn’t tell us. But you there are a few things that might help us understand.
One is that Jesus was very bent on not telling his disciples when he was coming back. This was for God to know and nobody else! And so Jesus wanted his followers to be always ready! Since we don’t know when he will return we have to be ready—all the time! And so Jesus wanted to leave the impression that maybe he would return with the destruction of Jerusalem. One thing Jesus did not want; he did not want his disciples to think after the fall of Jerusalem, “O, Christ will not come back for a few more 1000 years yet.” No, he wanted them always to be ready!
But more importantly, another likely reason why Jesus didn’t explain to his disciples that there would be a very big “time lapse” between the destruction of Jerusalem and the very end of the age is because, according to Scripture, these two big events are not actually separated anyway! They are not separate! They are all part of the same package! They work together. No doubt we can distinguish the two events but we cannot separate them. All these things together are part of what we call the “the Last Days.”
Some people think that the Last Days refer to those events right before the second coming of Christ. That’s not exactly Biblical. According to Scripture the Last Days begin with Christ’s first coming and they conclude with his second coming. And so according to Scripture, the whole period in between is known as the Last Days. Lots of things happen in these Last Days. That’s why Jesus connects the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 with things that happen much, much later; they are all part of the Last Days.
So you know what Jesus does in Matthew 24 and Matthew 25; what Jesus does is he continually “blurs” all the things that happen in the Last Days into one whole. He takes events of A.D. 70 and the events of 2014 and the events of 3054 (or whatever) and he paints them all into one picture. He telescopes them all onto one plane. And so when we read these chapters we have to keep this all in mind.
Sometimes when Jesus talks about the Last Days he refers to events of A.D. 70—when the temple is destroyed. At other times (sometimes in the very next verse) he talks about events that happen hundreds, if not thousands of years later! Sometimes he refers to all these different moments all at the same time.
You see what I am saying? He mixes them all together so that it’s rather hard for us to determine what exactly he is referring to all the time. But to Jesus, none of this is a problem because to him all these things are part of the Last Days.
It might be good to know that some of the things that happen in the Last Days, they happen again and again. They get repeated. They happen over and over again throughout the centuries, following the same pattern.
In that regard, you know what the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 is in our passage? The destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 is a type, it is a picture, a foreshadow, an example of other kinds of destructions that will come in this period known as the Last Days. You follow what I’m saying.
This, then, is how we are to understand what Jesus is all doing in this lengthy discourse on the Last Days in Matthew 24 and 25. Many things will happen before the coming of the Christ. And we need to keep our eyes on what these things are.
Congregation, with that I think we are ready to look at the specifics now from our text for today from verses 1-14. The disciples, they ask Jesus when all this stuff will happen and what the signs of this will be. And so in verse 4 Jesus begins. There we read, “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.” ‘” Congregation, this is but the first sign Jesus mentions here. And he gives a lot more. Actually, according to my count there are some 8 different signs that Jesus mentions in our text. Maybe we should list them.
Jesus says we should watch out for (1) deceivers (people who claim to be the Christ); we should watch out for (2) wars and rumors of wars, (3) famines and earthquakes, (4)persecution, (5) desertion (that is: we must watch out for people who will abandon the gospel, leave the gospel). We must watch out (6) for the false prophets, (7) growing wickedness and cold hearts. And last of all we must keep an eye out for the preaching of the gospel which will spread to all the nations of the earth. Some eight signs here just in our text.
Now all these different signs, they were already around in A.D. 70 when the temple was destroyed. Sure. Back in those days, deceivers were already in the church. The Apostles warned of them already in their letters. Back in those days there were also wars and rumors of wars. Sure, in A.D. 70 the Romans attacked the Jews (like they attacked other nations). Scholars note that there were also famines and earthquakes in those days. We could go on.
My point is: all the signs were already visible in A.D. 70. But they didn’t stop then. No, the signs continued. Of course they have. We see them still today! They continue today. They are all around us. Aren’t they? Isn’t the stuff Jesus mentions in our text going on today??
Maybe you don’t think so. Maybe you are thinking to yourself, “No, I mean in the world today we don’t have, for example, any deceivers claiming to be the Christ. Do we?” But don’t we? Have we not seen characters claiming to be the Christ? What about Jimmy Jones? Remember him? Jimmy Jones was a guy in the 1970’s who claimed to be Jesus Christ. He got a whole community of a few hundred people to commit suicide by drinking cyanide so that they could enter glory! Sounds like a good example of a deceiver to me!
And who can forget David Koresh from Wacco Texas? Remember him? Another fellow who basically claimed to be Jesus Christ! Half of his followers burned in a very tragic fire. This stuff is fulfilment of our text. Jesus said, “Watch out that no one deceives you! For many will come in my name claiming ‘I am the Christ’…” And aren’t there other signs in our text being fulfilled today in many, many ways?
Actually, Bible teachers have noted this theme in Scripture suggesting that as time moves forward the signs of the times become more obvious, more visible in a certain sense. And is that not true? Just in the last 100 years, have there not been an awful lot of wars and rumors of wars? What about famines, earthquakes, tsunamis, and persecution? It seems to be that these things are happening on a larger and broader scale. Or at the very least, because of modern technology, we are able to hear of things happening on a larger and broader scale? Sure! Today we live in a global community and so we are constantly confronted with more and more signs of the times as they happen around the world. And in some senses, they are getting bigger, wilder, and more severe—which can cause massive changes to the entire planet. Storms will increase in some places; famines will increase in other places. How true global warming is truly happening is a matter of some debate but certainly the talk is in the air! The rumors are out there! Scientists are talking possible catastrophe! Congregation, these are obvious signs of the times. That’s exactly what they are! You know, this sermon began asking how our text might apply to our lives today. Well, it applies in a very direct way. Jesus says, “Watch out for these things!” Well, they are right there for us to see!
Now, do not misunderstand me. You did not hear me say that since there are all these signs of the times, Jesus will probably return next week Wednesday at around 3:30 p.m. You never heard me say that! Fact is, we don’t know when Jesus is coming back. Maybe he will come back next week Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. Maybe he will return next decade, the next century, or the next millennium. We don’t know when he is coming back. And that is not the point of the signs. The signs of the times are not meant to tell us exactly when he is coming back. They are only meant to tell us that he is coming back. That’s it! That’s what the signs mean to tell us. They are telling us that we are in the “period” of the Last Days, the days before the coming of the Christ.
And so every time we hear of persecution, famine, and war, what we’re supposed to think is, “Ok, history is moving forward, we’re inching onward, we are heading towards the day! We are getting closer! Jesus is coming! We’re in the Last Days.” That’s what we’re supposed to think! Yes, this is the way it is: Right now Jesus is in heaven! He reigns at God’s right hand! He is the King! And Satan cannot stand it! And so he battles the living Christ! Which means there is spiritual warfare in the world today. There is stress and tension—and the whole creation is involved in this! And so sometimes things will shake! Sometimes there will be famine and warfare. It’s all part of the spiritual battle as we wait for that final day.
And so there will be signs of the times. Sometimes they will appear in abundance; other times they will appear less so. Either way, they always remind us that history is moving forward.
It’s interesting. Scripture calls us to live by faith and not by sight. But it’s in our text for today that Jesus turns this around. He wants us to live by sight so that we might live by faith! We have an obligation to see the physical evidence in the world today reminding us clearly that he is coming! Congregation, let us open our eyes and see!
And so we see the signs. What does that mean for us now? What are we to do? We are to get ready! We have to flee sin now and turn to Jesus Christ! We have to commit our ways to him. We do not know when he is coming back and so we have to be ready. We have to be committed to him. We have to be solidly connected to Christ. We have to know him. We have to walk with him. We have to grow in him.
Are you growing in him?
And we have to get the word out! People need to hear about Jesus Christ before it’s too late. We need to spread the word now! Let us bring the word everywhere around the world!
It is interesting that that is the last sign mentioned in our text: the spread of the gospel. Most of the signs in our text are negative, scary ones. Not that last one. The big sign of the times is that the word is being preached—as it is being preached here today and in many places around the world. Jesus is coming!
Congregation, today we are called to see, observe, and note the signs of the times. They are happening! Our text is being fulfilled. Not that we need to be afraid. No, no! But we do need to be ready. The next time you turn on the television and the anchor man on the news says, “Scientists have concluded that global warming is on the increase”—what are you to think? For sure we need to take care of our planet. But please don’t fear that the planet will someday get too hot. No, take note: Remember, Jesus is coming! That’s the message we need to hear! Let us get ready. Let us be firm in the Lord. Come back quickly Lord Jesus, come back quickly. Amen!
Prayer of response
Father, we thank you for your Word. We acknowledge the obvious signs of the times! May we be reminded that Jesus is on the throne, that history is moving forward to that final day! May we heed the call of the gospel! May we repent and believe today! May we prepare ourselves for your coming. Come back quickly, Lord Jesus! Come back quickly! Amen!
Order of Worship
WE GATHER IN HIS PRESENCE
Welcome and announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 95: 6, 7
Silent Prayer concluded with “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” PsH# 625
Votum: “Our help is in the name of the LORD who made the heavens and the earth.”
Prayer for God’s Greeting, “May God’s grace, mercy and peace be ours in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Opening hymn: “Now with Joyful Exaltation” PsH# 95: 1-3
SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 130:7-8
Hymn: “Not What My Hands Have Done” PsH#260
God’s Will for our Lives: Exodus 20: 1-17
WE HEAR THE WORD
Hymn: “Break Now the Bread of Life” PsH#282
Scripture Reading: Matthew 24:1-14
Sermon: “Global Warming and the End of the Age”
Prayer of Response
Hymn: “Rejoice, the Lord is King” PsH#408
WE DEPART WITH HIS BLESSING
Prayer for God’s Blessing, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.”
Doxology: “By the Sea of Crystal” PsH#620