Goodness only knows why this is not in the Christian lectionary. Three years of readings, and the theological experts can manage to include just the latter third of the chapter in Year A. At least that includes the verse about ‘weeping (wailing) and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 24:51) and ‘Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come’ (Matt. 24:42). Yet, many of the ‘forbidden verses’ of this chapter are also well known and worth reading carefully. However, there are a few surprises. Jesus speaks not only of false prophets, but of natural disaster and war. He tells us that we must endure all these before the end of the world.
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Today’s reading comes from the King James Bible.
1And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
2And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
4And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
6And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
8All these are the beginning of sorrows.
9Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
10And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
11And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
12And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
13But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
15When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
16Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
17Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
18Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
19And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
20But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
23Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
24For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
25Behold, I have told you before.
26Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
27For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
28For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
32Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
33So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
34Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
35Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
36But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
In the first three verses, Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 AD at the hands of the Romans. The beautiful edifice which they love and admire will be destroyed. What a shocking thing that must have been for the disciples to hear. Remember that Jerusalem was their world. Naturally, they asked questions. ‘When will this happen?’ ‘How will we know when You return?’ ‘What will the end of the world be like?’
Jesus provides counsel not only for the near future for the disciples but perhaps moreso for those of us who are reading this passage today. In verses 4 and 5, Jesus tells them — and us — not to be deceived by false prophets and impostors claiming to be Him. Note that He says, ‘Many will be deceived’. Not a few, but ‘many’. Gives pause for thought, doesn’t it?
Jesus says that wars will arise (verse 6), yet neither the disciples — nor the faithful — are to worry. How many of us today are familiar with this verse? Not many, probably. So, wars are foreseen; let’s set our expectations accordingly, because they are inevitable. This is because nations have refused to heed the Gospel. They have ignored the message of peace and, inevitably, fall into conflict. Yet, those who trust in God will not be unduly troubled, for they know that He will not desert them. Being troubled also goes against the Christlike manner. Was Christ jumpy or agitated in His lifetime? No. Perhaps imitating Christ was the inspiration for the British stiff upper lip: ‘keep calm and carry on’.
In verse 7, Jesus talks of natural disasters. And these are but the beginning of human sorrows (verse 8), as we have seen so clearly in the disasters around the world of the past five years. Yet, how many of us knew of this verse? I never see it mentioned or discussed.
In verses 9 – 13, Jesus discusses those who believe in Him and what will happen in the world: persecution of Christians, widespread hate of one man by another, deception by grandstanding false prophets and an awful lot of … sin! Yes, sin, the word we don’t hear too much about these days. But, in verse 13, Jesus says that he who perseveres in his faith against all odds will be saved.
Also note that ‘many shall be offended’. Matthew Henry in his Commentary explains (emphases mine):
The offence of the cross, v. 10-12. Satan thus carries on his interest by force of arms, though Christ, at length, will bring glory to himself out of the sufferings of his people and ministers. Three ill effects of persecution are here foretold.
1.) The apostasy of some. When the profession of Christianity begins to cost men dear, then shall many be offended, shall first fall out with, and then fall off from, their profession; they will begin to pick quarrels with their religion, sit loose to it, grow weary of it, and at length revolt from it…
2.) The malignity of others. When persecution is in fashion, envy, enmity, and malice, are strangely diffused into the minds of men by contagion: and charity, tenderness, and moderation, are looked upon as singularities, which make a man like a speckled bird … Apostates have commonly been the most bitter and violent persecutors. Note, Persecuting times are discovering times. Wolves in sheep’s clothing will then throw off their disguise, and appear wolves …
(3.) The general declining and cooling of most, v. 12. In seducing times, when false prophets arise, in persecuting times, when the saints are hated, expect these two things,
[1.] The abounding of iniquity …
[2.] The abating of love; this is the consequence of the former …
Despite all this, Jesus says that the end of the world will not take place until the Gospel has been preached throughout the world (verse 14). It seems as if this has already taken place, but has it? Only then will the end of the world come.
The next four or so verses concern the Destruction of the Temple. Jesus introduces this part by saying that Daniel foretold the Destruction. It will take place, and when it does, people should escape as quickly as possible. Jesus advises Judeans to head for the mountains (verse 16). Others should take no possessions or clothing (verses 17, 18). He says that expectant and nursing mothers will have a trying time (verse 19). He asks the disciples to pray that it doesn’t happen in winter or on the Sabbath (verse 20).
And, in verse 21, a message to all of us — past (70 AD) and present (end of the world) — He says it will be a most troubling and troublesome time, the likes of which we have not seen. Yet, God will save His children, the elect (verse 22). He will save them from their enemies by shortening their earthly life thereby alleviating their suffering.
Again, Jesus warns us about false prophets and false Christs (verses 23 – 26). Their dazzling works will be acclaimed, almost — but not quite — good enough to deceive even the elect. We must ignore these charlatans when they tell us to seek Him here or there!
Verse 27 foretells the preaching of the Gospel, the ‘lightning’. It will be preached openly, as Christ proclaimed it, ‘shining’ from east to west. Verse 28 refers to the death of sinners: the eagle refers to the Romans, who had an eagle emblem, and the carcass refers to those held captive by sin. As punishment, God will send enemies to destroy them — eagles hovering over a dead creature, ready to devour it. It’s quite apocalyptic. Not what you expect from nice, cuddly Jesus, is it? Yet, it is the image He gives us.
Through the remainder of this passage (through verse 41, in fact), Jesus discusses His Second Coming. In verse 29, Jesus is talking not only about the Temple, but all the tribulations the Church will endure throughout history. The natural violence of our environment and universe as described must occur in order for it to be changed, to be transformed for Jesus’s coming again. This natural turbulence and destruction mean that earthly rule and order have come to an end for good. No government will be able to function, no matter how powerful a nation may be. All this will cease for Christ. We will then be able to see Christ Himself. At that moment, sinners will mourn the loss of eternal life which they had mocked, and the faithful will be happier than they could ever have imagined. Matthew Henry describes it:
The sun and moon shall be then darkened, because there will be no more occasion for them. To sinners, that choose their portion in this life, all comfort will be eternally denied; as they shall not have a drop of water, so not a ray of light … Darkness must be their portion. To the saints that had their treasure above, such light of joy and comfort will be given as shall supersede that of the sun and moon, and render it useless. What need is there of vessels of light, when we come to the Fountain and Father of light? See Isa. 60:19; Rev. 22:5.
Verse 31 says that the angels will be making a great noise with their trumpets. This is to get the immediate attention of the whole world. (In Exodus 19:13, 16, it was an incredible noise, the likes of which had not been heard before, or since.) At that time, the angels will gather the elect from all over the world to Him.
This passage ends with the parable of the fig tree. As with nature, so with God, its Creator. When Jesus says that God will do something, God will follow through. This is Jesus’s way of telling us to plan, to be prepared for His Coming again in glory. We may not live to see the end of the world, yet we must always be prepared for death. We must be ready to live each day in Him as if it were our last.
When will the world end? Only the Lord knows for sure.
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