(A study of Matthew 24:1-14)
While visiting the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples pointed out how grand the buildings of the temple were, and Jesus responded that there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down (vs 2). Later, the disciples asked him about the destruction of the temple and what would be the signs of the end (vs 3).
They asked Jesus three questions:
- When will the temple be destroyed, and by implication, the fall of Jerusalem?
- What will be the sign of your coming?
- What will be the sign of the end of the age?
Starting with the next verse, Jesus proceeds to answer these questions. However, it’s important to understand that He doesn’t answer them in chronological order, or in the order that the disciples put them. Initially, He skips right over the fall of Jerusalem and begins talking about things that lead to his coming and the end of the age.
And 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. (Matthew 24:6)
War, and the possibility of even greater war, is the reality we live in today. But notice Jesus’ clear instruction; He doesn’t say don’t be alarmed, He says see that you are not alarmed. He makes it our responsibility to not be alarmed. And in a matter-of-fact manner, adds that these things must take place. We are not to be stressed out or fearful, these things are playing out just the way they are supposed to play out.
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, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world… Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25-26, 28 ESV)
God expects believers to see things differently than the world sees things.
Jesus finishes verse six by saying the end is not yet. Unfortunately, there are professing believers who are fixated on what the world is doing. They have little faith in God’s promises and even less understanding of His purposes. Instead, they frantically declare that the end is coming at any moment because of all the terrible things that are going on in the world. It’s a huge mistake to think this way. God is not governed by the craziness of the world. He is working out His own purposes, and He is doing this on His own timetable. The end will not be determined by the world. The end will be determined by God. It’s imperative that we keep a laser focus on the Lord1.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. (8) All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matthew 24:7-8)
When Jesus mentions nation against nation, and then kingdom against kingdom, he isn’t being redundant. I believe he is talking about two different things. Nation against nation addresses the natural nations, and the turmoil and fighting that is taking place. Kingdom against kingdom addresses the spiritual kingdoms, and the spiritual warfare that is taking place. While there has always been warfare between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, it will escalate as the end draws near.
Again, Jesus talks about disasters that will be taking place, saying there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
Then Jesus reveals one of the most important principles of this entire passage. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. In a passage that relates so many negative things, this is the key to seeing the positive, and it’s easy to miss. Earlier, when Jesus was talking about the craziness that would be going on in the world, he said the end is not yet. Now, he says that all of this is just the beginning of the birth pains. The phrase birth pains, conveys the idea of something painful and difficult, and also something that cannot be avoided. No matter how excited people may be at the promise of a coming baby, that baby will not arrive until the birthing process has played out. This is the analogy Jesus uses to convey the message of a difficult season that must take place in order to bring about God’s amazing purposes. We’ll elaborate on these purposes a bit later.
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. (10) And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. (11) And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. (12) And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:9-12)
Throughout history, Christians have been persecuted in various parts of the world. But Jesus says a time is coming when we will be hated by all nations. Again, things will escalate as the end draws near. This will be a dark and dangerous time for believers. There will be a high cost attached to being a true follower of Christ, and during this time of severe testing and persecution, Jesus said many will fall away, even going so far as to turn on other believers.
To make clear the severity of the falling away, Jesus expressed it multiple times:
- Verses 9-10 – many will fall away
- Verse 11 – many will be led astray
- Verse 12 – the love of many will grow cold
What Jesus says in these verses is very straightforward and not difficult to understand. However, it’s baffling how few people seem to take these ominous warnings to heart. I suppose it doesn’t fit within most people’s personal vision for themselves and their church. However, scripture warns us not to be deceived on this issue.
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first… (2 Thessalonians 2:3 NKJV)
While Jesus’ warning of a great falling away doesn’t seem to be getting much attention, something I hear people getting excited about is church growth and revival. And although I don’t presume to know God’s plans regarding revivals, I will propose some things to consider on this issue. The falling away is a certainty, while revival is a possibility. Revivals are like a party atmosphere, where God shows up, moves powerfully, and showers blessings on everyone. The falling away will be a time of severe testing and persecution. Should we set our hearts on what is a possibility, or prepare to endure what is a certainty?
We don’t know the timing of the falling away. But Jesus gave clear instructions on how to prepare for unknown things, “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is”. (Mark 13:33). The very fact that we don’t know the timing should stir us to be extremely vigilant. If we are spiritually prepared to endure severe trials and testing, we will be in a good place in our faith and ready for anything God chooses to do. But if we have set our hearts on an outpouring of God’s blessings, how will we fare if we encounter severe testing instead?
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)
Just as there will be a falling away, there will also be a remnant who endures, who remain true and faithful to the Lord, enduring to the end. The word endure means to remain, to persevere, to patiently endure suffering. This same word is used in Hebrews 12:2 to describe how Jesus, for the joy set before Him endured the cross.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:18-20 ESV)
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)
Notice how the narrative jumps from a great falling away, to the gospel of the kingdom being proclaimed throughout the whole world. How does this happen? It has to do with those who endure to the end, and the earlier promise that this time of tribulation is a birthing process.
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God… (1 Peter 4:17 ESV)
This judgment isn’t the wrath of God, but rather the discipline of God to perfect his people. And out of the fire will come a purified remnant that God uses to complete His purposes on this earth.
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10 NASB)
The church that emerges from this time of testing is the embodiment of all that God has promised in the scriptures concerning His church, the body of Christ.
- It has come to full maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13).
- It is the body of Christ that has grown up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Eph 4:15).
- It is the glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish, suitable to be presented to Jesus as his bride. (Eph 5:27, 32)
- It is the sanctified church, set apart as holy, useful to the master, and ready for every good work. (2 Tim 2:21)
This is the fully mature body of Christ, perfectly connected and fully surrendered to the Head, available to carry out all that Jesus desires to do on the earth. Through these people, the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world. This is not a personal salvation message. It’s not a God-loves-you-and-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life message. It’s the message that Jesus preached and told his disciples to preach2. It’s the message of God’s rule and reign. It’s the good news that God is sovereign, and in His great love and mercy, He has provided that through Jesus Christ, all people are called to live under his authority and under His care.
The end will come only when God’s purposes on the earth are completed. God’s purposes center on what His church will be, and what His church will do. His finished church will perfectly and powerfully present Christ to the whole world. And then the end will come!
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- Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB …let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…
Colossians 3:2 ESV Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
- Luke 4:43 ESV but he [Jesus] said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.
Luke 9:2 ESV and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.