Welcome back! I hope you are ready to dig into God’s Word again today. We will study Matthew 24, so open your Bible to that passage. As Bible-believing Christians, we know all of God’s Word is true. But when Jesus Himself speaks something, it causes me to sit up and listen. How about you?
Matthew 24 is one of those “sit up and listen” chapters! In it, Jesus left the Temple, crossed the Kidron Valley, and sat with His disciples on the Mount of Olives. According to verses 1-2, Jesus had a brief, but important prophetic conversation on the way. What did Jesus say would happen to the Temple? How bad would the destruction be?
Less than 40 years later (70 AD), the Romans totally demolished the Temple, burned Jerusalem, and Jews scattered across the globe. But, of course, we know from our previous study that He faithfully brought them back to their land and made them prosperous.
In Jesus’ day, some were already considering what the end of the world would be like. The Jewish people had some understanding of the prophets, though it was far from clear to them what it all meant. (We have the advantage of hindsight and history’s passage.) Jesus had fulfilled the prophecies of His first coming and some thought the end of the world was coming soon.
So, that day on the Mount of Olives with Jesus, the disciples had three key questions (verse 3), to which Jesus responded in the Olivet Discourse (chapters 24-25):
- When will these things be?
- What will be the sign of your coming? (Jesus had not even left yet!)
- What will be the sign of the end of the age?
Read Matthew 24:4-8:
- According to Jesus, what things will we hear about taking place in the last days?
- Based on verses 6 and 8, are these the very final things?
- What is Jesus’ encouragement in verse 6?
Now, stop to consider our world today. Are there those who seek to deceive us? Do we hear of wars and rumors of wars? Have you heard threats of “food insecurity,” pestilences (such as worldwide disease), and earthquakes and other natural disasters? Are they growing or shrinking in number and intensity?
Verse 7 refers to nations and kingdoms rising against one another. The Greek word translated “nation” is ethnos (ethnic groups), and the Greek word translated “kingdom” is basileia. The Middle East is very tribal, and borders are not always sovereign. In Turkey, for example, Turks and Kurds have been at war with one another throughout the ages. Likewise, there is so much hate between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims they would destroy one another if they did not have a common enemy in Israel. Many ethnos occupy Syria today, and even Israel is filled with Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Druze, Bedouin, and multiple other ethnos. It is not about nations, but about ethnic groups. We are seeing ethnos rise against ethnos.
Beginning in verse 9, Jesus’ focus turns to the tribulation. Jesus is primarily addressing an unbelieving Jewish audience who will be “delivered up to tribulation.” Though I strongly hold to a position of pre-tribulational rapture, it is not a salvation issue, so we can agree to disagree if you hold a different view. There are many, but here are a few key Biblical references supporting a pre-trib rapture:
- Jesus promised to keep believers from the wrath to come. There is no greater wrath than the wrath of God poured out upon the earth during the tribulation. 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:9
- There is a difference between Israel and the church (body and bride of Christ). We have different “finish lines.” For Christians, our time of redemption is the rapture, while Israel’s time of redemption is the Second Coming (when all Israel will be saved). Matthew 25:1-13, 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27, Understanding the Future
- The church is the bride of Christ, and an honorable bridegroom would never abuse His wife by pouring out wrath upon her. Rather, He will present His bride as a glorious church, without blemish. Ephesians 5:22-27
- In Revelation, the church is the center of focus in chapters 1-3, yet there is no further mention of the church again until the description of the tribulation ends and saints return with Jesus in Revelation 19:11-16.
- Though we do not know the day and hour of the rapture (Matthew 24:36, Matthew 25:13, Mark 13:32), it must be prior to the tribulation because the Bible tells us exactly how long the tribulation will last. (What is the tribulation? When will the rapture occur?) Mid-tribulation and post-tribulation positions, then, would allow a means of knowing the day and hour.
- Once raptured, believers enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb before returning with Him at His Second Coming. The marriage feast lasts 7 years, so neither mid-trib nor post-trib positions hold up, and post-trib would require an immediate rapture/return all at once.
With that as our basis, consider Jesus’ message to His Jewish audience in Matthew 24:9-26. In this passage, He looks beyond the rapture to the tribulation, as that, according to Daniel 9:24-27, is the time He will deal once and for all with transgression, sin, and iniquity of the Jewish people. Of note, though, we are seeing some of those tribulation-era things mentioned in Matthew 24:9-14 today. What are some of them?
The Great Tribulation (described in verses 15-28) is a reference to the last half of the tribulation. A full 3½ years of God’s wrath will have been poured out in the first half, but greater wrath will come in those last 3½ years. Though too much content for this lesson, Revelation describes in detail what the increasing wrath of God will be like during the entire 7-year tribulation. (7 seal judgments in Revelation 6, 7 trumpet judgments in Revelation 8-11, the woman and the beast in Revelation 12-13, 17, 7 bowl judgments in Revelation 15-16, fall of Babylon the great in Revelation 18) Not exactly something any of us want to be part of.
But, true to form, God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people will be revealed following that terrible time! Jesus moves right into that conversation in Matthew 24:29-31 where He assures His Jewish disciples the Son of Man will appear following such great darkness. According to verse 30, what will all the tribes of earth do? What will be God’s faithful response (verse 31)?
In the worst of the worst, God still has a plan for His beloved people! We will look into Romans 11 next week but take a quick peek at Romans 11:26. Ultimately, what is God’s promise to Jewish eyes that will be opened, and who survive the terrible tribulation? Oh yes, God is indeed faithful!
It is at this point Jesus slides in the parable of the fig tree, which we studied earlier. He brings them back to the present time in which the discussion takes place and uses symbolism they know (the fig tree = Israel) to illustrate a prophecy concerning their own land, and to remind them His words will not pass away.
Do you see now how God’s faithfulness is continually at work on behalf of His uniquely called people? Despite rebellion and disobedience of the worst kind, God is faithful in the past, present and future. In fact, though they ignored the prophets of old (2 Chronicles 30:6-9, for example), God sent His Son, Jesus, not only as a sacrifice for our sins, but as a messenger and prophet to the people of Israel to repent and seek Him while He was right before them in person. Some did, and others have throughout the centuries. Yet, by and large, Israelis remain obstinate and stiff-necked when it comes to the Messiah. If not for God’s faithfulness, they would have no hope!
Tomorrow we will dive into the efforts God made to prepare the Jewish people to respond to their Messiah and King. See you then!