Images of the Savior (43 â€“ His Unfolding the Events of the Future)
Jesus our Savior, when he walked upon the earth, fully recognized the central position that his life had in all of history, and was not at all loathe to indicate that the future times and seasons of the world had all to do with his Kingdom, and his coming again in glory; thus, he indicated to Pilate and the Pharisees, as well as to his own disciples, that the consummation of world history would be the final realization of the Kingdom upon earth, which he had already begun to establish in his lifetime (John 18:36; Matthew 26:64; Luke 22:16-18). The future would be all about the advance of this newly in-broken Kingdom until it had spread throughout the world, and ultimately about the return of the Son of Man in glory to judge the earth, establish his Kingdom fully and finally, and deliver it over to the Father (see I Corinthians 15:23-28). It is a most fitting circumstance that, as the time of his departure drew near, he would take occasion to instruct his disciples of these future events, so that they might be well-prepared for their task of Kingdom-spreading, the final commission with which he left them (see Matthew 28:18-20). The key occasion in which he did this is when, after having foretold the utter destruction of the beautiful Temple, he sat on the Mount of Olives, and answering his disciples' questions, related to them many great and marvelous events of the future, and at the same time drew out many practical applications.
Before we proceed to examine Jesus' own teachings, we must take note of the disciples' precise question; for a failure to do so may cause us much confusion as to the scope of his discourse. We notice that the disciples questioned Jesus about his prediction of the destruction of the Temple, asking him, when these things (which he had just prophesied) should be; to which query they joined the questions of his coming and of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). Now, it is manifest that the destruction of the Temple, occurring in 70 A.D., was an altogether different event than the return of the Son of Man, a fact of which the disciples seemed to be ignorant; but we must be aware of this distinction in subject matter, so that we do not become confused by the soon fulfillment of a portion of Jesus' predictions, while even today the rest remain unfulfilled. Certain liberal scholars have seized upon this point to their own destruction, supposing that Jesus mistakenly thought that his physical return would be in the disciples' lifetime; which is an error that they might have avoided, first, by acknowledging a different sense in which the phrase â€œthe coming of the Son of Manâ€ might be employed (compare, for example Matthew 16:28 with Matthew 24:36), and second, by paying more particular attention to the various subject matter addressed by the disciples' questions.
We must recognize from the outset, therefore, that this discourse may roughly be divided into sections corresponding to the disciples' questions: the first section (Matthew 24:4-14; Luke 21:8-19) addresses the question, â€œWhen will the end of the age be?â€; the second section (Matthew 24:15-21; Luke 21:20-24) addresses the question, â€œWhen will these things [i.e. things pertaining to the destruction of the Temple] be?â€ (although we admit that the destruction of Jerusalem has some typical relation to the end of the age, of which it is a remarkable foreshadow); the third section (Matthew 24:22-31; Luke 21:25-28) addresses the question, â€œWhen will the coming of the Son of Man be?â€; and the fourth section (Matthew 24:32â€“25:46; Luke 21:29-38) contains very many applications and exhortations related to the foregoing prophecies. Although time forbids us to delve deeply into these matters, we will mention some important features of each section.
In the first section, we see of some things that must happen before the end of the age; and these things have to do with the fierce increase of the opposition of the enemy, and the corresponding spread of the Kingdom in the face of all persecution. We see that the enemy, in this gospel age, will work largely in two different ways: first, he will raise up fierce opposition, so that there will be wars and unrest and hatred of Christians, and the blood of many martyrs will be spilled. But for all this the Kingdom will not be stopped. Then, the enemy will work through lies and deceptions, raising up false prophets and false Christs, leading professing believers into great iniquity, and cooling in their hearts the flame of their first love. We would do well to remember that, throughout the New Testament epistles, these two things are very often prophesied; first, the persecution of all who would live godly in Christ Jesus (e.g. II Timothy 3:12; I Peter 4:12-19); and second, the rise of many false teachers, and the multiplication of iniquity (I Timothy 4:1-4; II Timothy 3:1-9; II Peter 2:1-22). But we must finally note that this fierce opposition will not be effective: some will endure to the end, and so be saved; and in fact, the gospel of the Kingdom will first be proclaimed in all the world, so that Christ's Kingdom becomes a Kingdom composed of every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation indeed (See Revelation 5:9)!
In the second section, we see the fury and finality with which Jerusalem will be trodden down, when a ruler arises in the spirit of Antiochus Epiphanes, the â€œAbomination of Desolationsâ€ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, and like Antiochus, profanes the Temple. So great will be the destruction, that all who dwell in Jerusalem are counseled, when they see it, to make the utmost haste, not even turning behind them to take their cloak up from the field, if perchance they might be saved from the calamity. Of course, this prophecy came to pass in 70 A.D., when General Titus made such a devastation of Jerusalem that a stone was not left upon another at the Temple site; and he heaped up the corpses so high that for miles around the stench of rotting flesh prevented travelers from passing by. This was God's final casting off of outward, ethnic Israel, whose hearts were far from him, and the event in which he cut off all the unbelieving branches and heaped them up for the fire. God is even now grafting back in his remnant of grace among the Jewish people (see Romans 11), but never again will there be an age in which the people of God are characterized by the Temple and all the other Jewish distinctives. Of course, this event was likewise a fearful type of the final judgment, when Christ comes again in all his glory to pour out his wrath upon all the unbelieving world. How foolish we must be, if we refuse to learn from so terrible a foretaste, and so store up for ourselves a double portion of the same judgment, when Jesus will tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God until blood comes out to the horses' bridles (Revelation 14:18-20)! But we must now move on.
In the third section, we see something of the nature of the Son of Man's return: for it will be sudden and terrifying, even as lightning flashing from one corner of heaven to the other. Just as in the days of Noah, people will be eating, drinking, marrying, and living at their ease, but calamity will seize them unexpectedly, when the King they have ignored and despised comes suddenly upon them, and leaves them without hope or excuse. Ah, let us be watchful and ready at all times for the coming of the King; for if we are caught sleeping, we will be taken up for the fiery judgment, and ah what horrors there shall be reserved for us! Let us remember that we have been given the signs of the times, and we are children of the day: let us be sober and vigilant, so that the sudden calamity of the world, overtaking them as the birth pangs of a woman with child, may not fall upon us too (see I Thessalonians 5:1-11).
Finally, in the fourth section, we are motivated with many admonitions and applications to be watchful, always serving our Master, and awaiting his return. Although we do not know the day or the hour, we may see the signs of the times; and just as a fig tree, when it gives first its foliage, shows that the summer is near; so these signs demonstrate the imminence of Jesus' return. But consider, friends! Have not wars and rumors of wars and persecutions and false doctrines spread across the face of the earth? Has not the gospel of the Kingdom been spreading abroad as well, infiltrating every people group under heaven, and calling out worshipers of the Lamb, even in ways and places that we have not heard? Might not the return of Jesus be soon? Then let us cast off the works of darkness and drunkenness, and take up the call to be serving the King, spreading the Gospel-sustenance throughout the world, that when he returns he might find us faithful!
We will close by noting the parables with which Jesus drove home these points to us: if we are careless and slothful now, then when the Bridegroom comes unexpectedly, we will be as foolish bridesmaids, who have no oil for their candles; and while we rush to prepare ourselves, the doors of the Kingdom will be shut with a solemn finality, and the laughter of the wedding feast will fall upon our ears from afar, as the torment of eternal darkness settles in upon us. Oh, how horrible will be those words to our ears, â€œToo late, too late! Ye cannot enter nowâ€ (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)! Or else, we will be as a foolish servant who was given resources by his master, and foolishly buried them, and lived a life of ease. Oh how great will be his shame when the Master returns and rewards those faithful servants, but casts him out into outer darkness! Oh, brothers and sisters, there are many professing Christians who will be set apart at the Savior's left hand, marked out for the blackness of darkness forever, goats in the midst of the sheep, tares among the wheat. Will you find yourself one of them, to your everlasting consternation and shame? Arise, let us shake off our slumber, let us fix our eyes upon heaven, from where we await the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, and let us serve him faithfully until he takes us to our final reward in the Kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the earth.