24 May 2024

When we approach a study of the end times, how often do we jump immediately to Revelation? To Daniel? To Ezekiel? Those books are certainly important in a study of the end times, but they are also filled with imagery and typology that is easily misunderstood. By its very nature, the entire Bible is a book of prophecy, and there are many other places to look for revelation besides Revelation. And remembering one of our interpretive principles – let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament – books like Daniel and Ezekiel, where appropriate, must be interpreted in light of the New Testament, not the other way around. Old Testament books certainly give context for the New Testament books but if the New Testament interprets or uses an Old Testament passage in a certain way, then that’s the proper way to interpret or use that Old Testament passage.

The book of Revelation is a revelation given to John by Jesus Himself:

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17–18 ESV)

In it, John records this vision of the end of this current age and the beginning of eternity. Its purpose is to prepare the people of God for Christ’s return and give them hope in a time of trial, doubt, and dispersion. It is a vision delivered to John by Jesus Himself:

Not only does this passage tell us that it is Jesus who is speaking to John, but it is also a very clear teaching of Jesus’ divinity from His own mouth. He not only calls Himself the “first and the last” (clear equality with God) but also the “living one who died and is alive forevermore” (neither the Father nor the Spirit died, but the Son did.) The only possible person who fits both “the first and the last” and “the one who lived, who died, and who is alive forever” is Jesus, and this imagery is used intentionally by Him to say to John, “Yes, I am Jesus, and I am God.”

There are other places in Scripture where we hear Jesus speaking to us about the end to prepare us for His return, but sadly, His words in those places are largely absent from end times discussions. I suppose it may be because they aren’t as interesting as ten-headed beasts, dragons, and armies of demons, nor do they contain all of the imagery common to apocalyptic literature. Rather, Jesus pretty plainly outlines what will happen at the end of the age, and it is an outline that we would do well to remember.

One such place is the Olivet Discourse, so named because Jesus gave this teaching on the Mount of Olives. It is found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, and in it, Jesus addresses a question about the end of the age that His disciples had asked Him. The disciples’ question about the end of the age came at an interesting time – Jesus had just finished condemning the scribes and Pharisees in the temple for hiding the truth of who He was from the people by declaring to them:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” (Matthew 23:37–39 ESV)

After leaving the temple, His disciples must have been wondering about this condemnation, this “desolate house”, because they were pointing out the temple buildings in a way that made Jesus respond with a clear statement that those buildings would eventually be destroyed…

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1–2 ESV)

His disciples responded like they sort of understood the implications of that statement, but needed more context or explanation to make it make sense. I say that because they associated Jesus’ answer about the destruction of the temple with His return and the end of the age by asking:

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV)

The three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all record Jesus’ answer to that question, and they all see it from a unique perspective. For example, we know who the disciples were that asked Jesus that question from Mark:

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, (Mark 13:3 ESV)

We know from Luke that it was a common practice of Jesus to stay on the Mount of Olives at night and go teach in the temple during the day:

And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. (Luke 21:37–38 ESV)

Continuing with Matthew’s account, we read Jesus’ response to the question “What will be the signs of the end?”

And He starts with a warning.

And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matthew 24:4–8 ESV)

We should all heed this warning. He begins by saying “See that no one leads you astray” and then associates that with false Christs, apostasy (falling away), wars, famines, and earthquakes. We are not to be led astray while thinking about these things because they are normal and must happen – they are simply the beginning. How many times have you heard a prophecy teacher pointing to the seeming increase in earthquakes or wars or famine to tell us that we are at the end? There will always be wars and rumors of wars. There will always be earthquakes. There will always be famines.

I’d say that they have reached the right conclusion – we are indeed living in the end, and have been since the cross. But they are looking at the world around us and rather than saying “These things are expected because we are living in the end times,” they say things that people have been saying for centuries – “This particular time is the end because these things are happening.” They are right about the end, but wrong about the why…they are being led astray by the signs, and Jesus told us not to be led astray by the signs.

After the warning not to be led astray, Jesus tells them that they will suffer persecution.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9 ESV)

From Mark and Luke, we see that the purpose of this persecution is so that they can bear witness to Him.

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. (Mark 13:9 ESV)

But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13This will be your opportunity to bear witness. (Luke 21:12–13 ESV)

And both Mark and Luke record these encouraging words from Jesus…

And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. (Mark 13:11 ESV)

Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. (Luke 21:14–15 ESV)

But they both follow it up with a harsh reality…

And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:12–13 ESV)

You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. (Luke 21:16–17 ESV)

Imagine being handed over to the authorities or even killed by your own family!

And even though Christ’s followers will be bearing witness, we see that false prophets will use this as an opportunity to snatch many away, many who disregard the warning Jesus just gave about being led astray. Many will fall away because they cannot handle the persecution. Presumably, it is because they are not actually true followers of Jesus.

And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:10–13 ESV)

This falling away is apostasy – they once claimed to be followers of Jesus, but the persecution was more than they could bear and they renounced the truth, embraced the lies, and began betraying and hating one another. This results in a foothold for false prophets to come in and reimagine what following Jesus means and lead many astray.

Jesus knows this. He also knows that the world needs the gospel. So He tells His disciples:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 ESV)

And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. (Mark 13:10 ESV)

Remember the context of this passage – Jesus’ disciples asked about the end of the age and the destruction of the temple, and up until this point, Jesus is talking about the spread of the gospel and persecution and how the end won’t come until after the gospel has gone out to the whole world.

But now we come to Jesus’ description of the events surrounding the destruction of the temple.

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, (Matthew 24:15–17 ESV)

“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Mark 13:14 ESV)

Here’s the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel…

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Daniel 9:24–27 ESV)

For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid and withdraw, and shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and pay attention to those who forsake the holy covenant. 31Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. 32He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. (Daniel 11:30–32 ESV)

Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. 11And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. 12Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. 13But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.” (Daniel 12:10–13 ESV)

Daniel’s prophecy has been interpreted by many throughout the history of the church to mean one of two possible things. Up until the mid-1800s, this prophecy was understood to be referring either to the covenant that Christ made with His people or the covenants and treaties that the Jews made with the Roman army and others. It was not until recently that it was thought of to mean that the antichrist sets up a peace treaty with Israel that is supposed to last 7 years, but instead, he breaks it halfway through.

Matthew and Mark mention “the abomination of desolation”. The parallel account in Luke’s gospel records Jesus telling us what is meant by that term:

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. (Luke 21:20 ESV)

If we interpret the Old Testament by the New, it would seem that because of Luke’s association and the context of the passage so far, the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel is likely the Roman army coming to destroy the temple. The destruction of the temple would be seen by the Jews as a great travesty, probably worse than anything, and this is expressed in the passage as well:

Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:17–22 ESV)

Mark records almost the exact same thing.

Luke continues to describe a siege against Jerusalem by the Roman army:

Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:21–24 ESV)

Given the audience whom Jesus was addressing, the destruction of the temple certainly brings all of these passages together.

So far, everything we have read points to Jesus answering the question about the destruction of the temple with the events that surround the destruction of the temple, exactly as we would expect. Remember that it was His disciples who wrongly associated the end of the age with the destruction of the temple, not Jesus. Jesus told them the temple would be destroyed, and they asked Him a question about the end of the age. Jesus answered the question about the destruction of the temple – the Roman army will surround Jerusalem and siege it and destroy the temple, and the Gentiles will trample the Jews until their time is fulfilled.

But there is another question to be answered – what about the end of the age? Did Jesus begin to answer this question in the passages we just read when He spoke of a great tribulation? It seems that the rest of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 deal with the answer to that question.

Is this an example of a dual prophecy?

It would seem so.

Jesus is prophesying about two upcoming events – first about the destruction of the temple which we have just seen, and second about the end of the age and His second coming. He does not see those two events as the same and neither should we. For example, since the abomination of desolation was likely the Roman army destroying the temple, should we expect another “abomination of desolation” to enter the temple once again? Should we expect the temple to even be rebuilt before Jesus returns? Maybe, though it seems to me that a more logical answer is to keep those two events separate and look further in the passages we have been reading to answer the second question – ” what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”

That’s a topic for next time.

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