24 May 2024

As we look at the lives of the disciples as recorded for us in the Scriptures, we see that they exhibited roller coasters of faith and understanding much like we do. One minute they witness Jesus perform a miracle, like turning five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed 5000 people and have 12 baskets of leftovers (Matthew 14:13-21), and the next minute Peter is afraid of sinking into the sea even as Jesus is enabling him to walk on the water to come to Him (Matthew 14:22-33)! And often, even though the bible doesn’t explicitly show us what the disciples’ facial expressions were when Jesus taught them, their blank stares leap out of the pages at us, proven by their follow-up questions and reactions. Our lives today are not much different. When we read Jesus’ words in Scripture, how many times do we misunderstand them?

How often do we not like them?

How often do we expect Jesus to be a certain way, or answer a certain way, only to realize after reading His words, seeing His works, and hearing His voice that He is not what we expect?

Take our view of Him as a loving, kind, meek shepherd. He is that, of course, but He isn’t only meek.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11–16 ESV)

What meek shepherd rides a horse into battle judging and making war? Cultural or progressive scholarship has no place for a Jesus like this. They cannot see Jesus as a conquering king, a warlord, a wielder of a sword by which to tear down nations, and a rod by which to rule them. No, they have no place for a King of kings or a Lord of lords, let alone both.

As we saw last week, the first half of the famous Olivet Discourse was given because Jesus’ disciples misunderstood Him. They were amazed at the temple, and when Jesus told them that the temple would soon be torn down, they wrongly associated this event with His return and the end of the age.

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.” 3As 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 24:1–3 ESV)

When they asked Jesus about the destruction of the temple, they expected Jesus to answer the question about the end of the age – “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” He does answer their questions, but, as we saw in the last lesson, He answers them separately as two different questions covering two different times. When talking about the end of the age, Jesus uses the destruction of the temple as a springboard. Why did He do this? Could it be that to His Jewish followers, the temple was their world? It was the very center of their worship, to the extreme that if you did not worship in Jerusalem, you were an outcast.

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:19–26 ESV)

Could it be that Jesus continued to prophesy about the destruction of the temple so that they would be softened to His prophecy of the end?

Imagine what was going through the minds of the disciples when Jesus did not stop at the destruction of the temple. Jesus included far more detail in the description of the temple’s destruction than just the temple’s destruction. He even warns them to flee, in fact, to flee in such a manner as to not even go into their houses to gather their possessions! Imagine the buildup of emotion in their souls as Jesus pities pregnant and nursing women and children. And when Jesus reaches what they feel is the end of the age with this prophecy:

For 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 24:21–22 ESV)

I cannot even fathom what was going through their minds. And then, Jesus says something that had to have left the disciples speechless when He says…

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. (Matthew 24:23 ESV)

If that statement did not leave them speechless, I’ll bet the first words from their mouths would have been “What? You’ve got to be kidding me! You mean that’s not the end? The destruction of the temple does not signal your coming? There’s more?” This moment is quite possibly their first realization that they had assumed something Jesus did not when they asked about His coming and the end of the age. Could it get worse?

Jesus takes their assumption and again reminds them of the first thing He said in this prophecy – that they should not be deceived. Look at the similarity

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. (Matthew 24:4–5 ESV)

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:23–24 ESV)

And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. (Mark 13:21–22 ESV)

Yes, it will get worse. So bad that the false Christs and false prophets (of whom there have been many throughout history) will perform signs and wonders so convincing that if it were possible for the elect to be deceived, they would be!

I can see the disciples wondering how they would be able to see the true Christ returning if the deception is to be so great. Jesus knows this and answers their doubt before they ask…

See, I have told you beforehand. 26So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:25–27 ESV)

In other words, you will know, in fact, everyone will know, there will be no doubt. Everyone on earth will see Jesus return. The scene we saw in the passage from Revelation 19 above describes a great army following the Lord at His return. That event will not be missed, especially seen in light of the events in the heavens that will take place right before it.

Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 29“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:28–30 ESV)

But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. 24“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:23–26 ESV)

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25–28 ESV)

Has there been a shift in focus since the beginning of this teaching? Is Jesus now talking about the end of the age? Are the full preterists correct in saying that there has been no shift – that Jesus is still talking about the destruction of the temple? I have a hard time seeing this fulfilled in 70 A.D., particularly because of the language and imagery used. Jesus says His return will be accompanied by such signs as a darkening sun, a lightless moon, the powers of heaven being shaken, and the nations mourning because they will see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory.

Notice the focus in these passages. Luke focuses on the people and the reaction we will have – distress, perplexity, fear, foreboding. But he also encourages the believers to straighten up and raise their heads because their redemption – not their destruction – is close! Are your heads raised in anticipation of redemption?

It is Luke’s account that leads me to believe that Jesus is not talking about the destruction of the temple here, particularly when he records Jesus saying “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world” and associating it with “your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus’ coming here is linked with redemption, and I don’t see that happening in 70 A.D.

Jesus also tells us what will happen after this tribulation, and it may surprise you.

And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:31 ESV)

And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mark 13:27 ESV)

The Olivet Discourse is a key reason why the premillennial position is split. Pre-trib believers see the tribulation spoken of here as the 7-year tribulation that believers will be raptured away from. Post-trib believers, however, would say that this passage teaches that the elect will be present through the tribulation because, after the tribulation, Jesus sends His angels to gather them together. Pre-trib believers would see these elect as those who came to faith during this tribulation.

So which is it?

When Jesus returns, not only will all of that woe and misery befall the unbelieving nations, but Jesus will sound a loud trumpet and send out his angels to gather together all of the elect from the entire world, not some of the elect first and the rest of the elect later. But when does this gathering happen? Mark explicitly records that this gathering takes place “in those days, after the tribulation” (Mark 13:24). It is why I believe that the elect will not be raptured away from the great tribulation, but will be preserved through it.

After this news that the elect will not be “rescued” from tribulation in a way that maybe they (and we) would prefer, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the parable of the fig tree at the close of this discourse. 

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matthew 24:32–36 ESV)

And both Mark and Luke continue this parable/prophecy with an exhortation to stay alert.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:32–37 ESV)

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34–36 ESV)

Notice again the global scope of this impending judgment. Luke makes the statement that “that day” will “come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.”

Matthew, however, records Jesus continuing a bit longer before he records Jesus’ exhortation.

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:37–42 ESV)

Here, we can again see a dual prophecy. These events certainly describe what happened when the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem. They took people at random – men as slaves, women for pleasure, etc. But this also foreshadows the end of the age. Just as in the days of Noah when the ungodly were swept away, taken as it were, and only Noah and his family were left. 

And lest we underestimate the gravity of this situation, Jesus definitively associates this with the end of the age when He says:

But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. 45“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:43–51 ESV)

This text describes what the unbelieving world knows too well – that if we knew when the master was returning, we would not be concerned about it until he was on his way home. But it is not only unbelievers who should be concerned – Christians ought to strive to be ready and steward the master’s possessions well while He is gone. And similarly, this warning by Jesus should cause us to tremble. Not that a Christian should fear being cast into hell, but fear for those who will be. Passages like this ought to make us ache for those who don’t know Christ, and they should spur us on all the more to share the gospel with a dying world.

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