We’re about to enter into one of the most exciting, provocative portions in all of the New Testament: Matthew chapter twenty-four. It is commonly known as “The Olivet Discourse” because it is an extensive sermon given by our Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples on the Mount of Olives. The theme is the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is a prophetic sermon about His return, the end of the present age, and the establishment of His kingdom.
In John’s gospel, he begins chapter thirteen explaining that before the Feast of Passover, Jesus knew that His hour had come; the hour He would “depart out of this world to the Father.” John 13:1
Immediately before Jesus predicted His betrayal by Judas, the Apostle John, who was seated next to the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper, records Jesus saying this:
From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. John 13:19
Jesus was about to predict something unbelievable, the thought of which was unheard of in light of what we are going to study here in Matthew 24.
But what happened immediately before? At the end of chapter 23, Jesus said:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Matt. 23:37-39
*Did the disciples wonder what Jesus meant by “desolate,” and did that prompt their comments on the impressive temple?
Jesus did not reject them until they first rejected him. He left God’s house, the temple for the last time, never to return. Its glory was stained with sin. Today’s church has also been compromised. Heresy is taught as truth and people are being deceived.
The signs of the times are ominous as lawlessness abounds and evil is being called good – even within many professing churches. There is much uncertainty as society speeds ahead toward the unknown. Mankind will soon endure intensifying violence, destruction, chaos, and judgment on a worldwide scale. We just don’t know when.
That’s what the disciples wanted to know as they asked questions that kicked off this powerful sermon by Jesus. The answer the Lord gives is the longest answer to any question recorded in the New Testament. Its insights are essential for understanding the future and discerning the present times.
[Sermon transcript, continued…] Open up your Bible to – MATTHEW 24:1-14
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
There are two major sections to this portion of Scripture:
- The destruction of the temple and the fact Jesus predicted it
- The signs of the times and the end of the age – or the flow of history until the return of Christ.
According to scholars, there are 1,845 references to the return of Jesus Christ in the pages of the Bible. In fact, references to the second coming outnumber references to the first appearance of Jesus by an 8 to 1 margin! Jesus’ return is highlighted in seventeen Old Testament books, and within the twenty-seven New Testament books, there are 321 mentions of the second coming.
In part two of this chapter, Jesus teaches about His return “ON THE CLOUDS.”
Matthew 24:1 – ‘Then Jesus went out, departed’ – Jesus would no longer contend with the religious leaders, and never again come to the temple in His earthly ministry.
This temple was the center of Jewish life for almost a thousand years. It was even customary to swear by the temple (Matthew 23:16); and speaking against the temple could be considered blasphemy (Acts 6:13).
Naturally, the disciples called attention to it’s magnificence. Temple was huge: nearly 500 yards and 400 yards wide. Herod’s plan for rebuilding started in 19 B.C. and was completed in A.D. 63, taking more than 80 years. The temple was finished only seven years before it was destroyed.
But the Second Temple wasn’t just big; it was also beautiful. Jewish historian Josephus said the temple was covered with gold plates, and when the sun shone on them it was blinding to look at. Where there was no gold, there were blocks of marble of such a pure white that from a distance, strangers thought there was snow on the temple.
24:2 – Jesus: Do you not see all these things? The disciples marveled at the big buildings; Jesus basically said to take a good look at those things.
Assuredly, I say to you, ‘Not one stone shall be left here upon another’
What’s interesting is that was a statement of astronomical proportions and implications and yet, the disciples believed Him!
Fast-forward 35-40 years after Jesus said this; there was a widespread Jewish revolution against the Romans, and the Jews had some early success. But ultimately Roman soldiers crushed the rebels. In AD 70 Jerusalem was leveled, including the temple – just as Jesus said would happen; complete destruction. The literal fulfillment of this prophecy sets the tone for the rest of Matt. 24.
Make no mistake: Jerusalem’s total destruction was divine judgment for their failure to recognize and embrace the Messiah when He visited them.
*One takeaway: mega-buildings, huge temples, and houses of prayer are of little value to God when they are not used for true worship to glorify Him. Recall that Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in the context of national judgment and exile.
Jesus’ prophecy brings up key questions from the disciples:
24:3 – He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately; “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
They were back across the Kidron Valley, removed from the temple, yet overlooking it.
It was an appropriate time for such a discourse. The religious leaders rejected Jesus, and would soon deliver Him to the Romans for crucifixion. He knew the bitter fate awaiting Jerusalem, and He wanted to warn as well as give hope and confidence to His disciples who would soon be greatly tested.
In their minds, the destruction of the temple and the end of the age were probably connected; they thought these things would happen simultaneously.
Note that Jesus’ answer was directed mainly to correct this misapprehension!
The first thing He said was, See to it that no one misleads you; the second thing he said was a warning about deception: many will come in My name;
Many commentaries warn that those who seduce believers are more dangerous enemies of the church than those who persecute us. Jesus mentions false prophets or teachers three times in this discourse.
Conditions depicted in Matt. 24:4-8 have been constant since Jesus ascended to Heaven, revealing how badly this poor world needs a Redeemer and how all creation groans as it waits for His return.
Jesus immediately went on to explain some of the signs to come, such as wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, false teachers, and the persecution of Christians. We are seeing all of these things today, including nations fighting nations, and He described them as the beginning of birth pangs (Matthew 24:8). These warnings are intended to wake believers up!
Look at this from the perspective and understanding of the disciples. From Old Testament Scriptures, many believed there would come a time of tribulation and trouble which would lead to the announcement of the Messiah’s arrival. And when the Messiah came, the nations of the earth would gather to fight against Him, but He would devastate and destroy them. And then, He would purify the city of Jerusalem, gather together the Jews from all over the earth and establish His eternal kingdom.
The disciples likely knew of Daniel’s prophecy (chapter 9) that there would be a period of 490 years, (seventy weeks of years, or 490 years), from the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Bablylonian captivity until the time of Messiah. They may well have known the fulfillment was near and expected the close of the age at any time.
From their thinking, they had been under tribulation for a long time; under the Persians, Greeks, and now during Jesus’ time, the Romans. They looked at the Roman oppression as a time of tribulation, a time of difficulty. So here comes Jesus now, saying the temple would be destroyed. No wonder they had questions!
Jesus warned the disciples that many would be deceived as they anticipated His return. One example is in 1846 when a false prophet named William Miller predicted the return of Christ. When it didn’t happen, there was great disappointment along with many being deceived just as Jesus warned, and falling away from the faith. As a result, Seventh Day Adventism was created.
24:6, See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet:
Where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace. (Isaiah 26:3)
Nations and kingdoms have been at war for nineteen centuries (check); famines, pestilences, earthquakes (check) … all these are just the beginning! Collectively, these are a sign, and they – like birth pains – will become more frequent and intense.
World War I and WWII have been the worst mankind has known.
Persecution of the godly will increase, and evil men will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Timothy 3:12-13). Some believers have departed from the faith, and even Christians are being seduced by doctrines of demons. This is a wake-up call to the remnant!
In verses 9-14, Jesus describes what His disciples must expect during the time between His Ascension and Second Coming. To clarify: The return of the Son of Man always refers to this event, never to the rapture.
(Some suggest the rapture of the church may occur between verses 8 and 9)
24:9-10, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended…
True disciples of Jesus should expect to be betrayed, hated, and persecuted – even by some who have fallen away from the faith but were not truly converted. Many professing Christians will stumble and apostasy will be great.
Charles Spurgeon stated:
“Persecution would reveal the traitors within the Church as well as the enemies without.”
Believers will be severely tested, and where love was only superficial, it will become cold. Indifferent. Apathetic. Hard-hearted.
‘Iniquity (lawlessness) shall abound,’ — that is worse than pestilence; ‘the love of many shall wax cold,’ — that is worse than persecution.
Regarding the offense of the cross… Matthew Henry Commentary lists three effects of persecution foretold by Jesus:
- The apostasy of some. When the profession of Christianity begins to cost something, many will turn away. They might follow Jesus when it’s sunny but leave him when it’s cloudy.
- The malicious behavior of others. They will betray one another… Deserters of the faith can be some of the most bitter persecutors.
- The declining and cooling of most; increased sin, decreased love.
But remember, persecution of the saints at Jerusalem scattered them, and Acts 8:4 says, “they preached the word wherever they went.”
24:13-14 – But he who endures/stands firm to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Despite all the tribulation to come including obstacles and resistance to the spread of the gospel, the message will reach every part of the globe! God is never without a witness. If men fail, God will preach from heaven if necessary.
I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue and people – saying with a loud voice. “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come.” Rev. 14:6-7
Note that the angel preaches the gospel while announcing judgment, one of the very last calls of grace to an apostate world.
For believers, life here on earth is as bad it gets; for those who refuse Jesus as their Savior, life here on earth is as good as it gets.
C.S. Lewis said:
“Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
Matthew 25:46 further described the coming judgment and separation of the sheep and the goats:
“And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Believe it or not, with all the warnings from Scripture and the signs we are beginning to witness, people will still be surprised and caught off guard when Christ returns (1 Thessalonians 5:2-5). Matthew and Luke both mention the days of Noah when people were carrying on with their lives, not only living in rebellion against God, but ignoring the warnings of judgment.
The implication is people were living like nothing was wrong, like there were no God – very much like we see today.
Apostasy and deception are commonplace in many churches and denominations as religious leaders have departed from the truth.
Happiness is emphasized over holiness. Tolerance is elevated above the truth and exclusivity of Christ. Feelings over facts, emotion and self-worship over Bible-based Christianity. In this new age of deception, relevance is more important than repentance. Judgment is coming.
To close, it’s been said that ‘The test of any age is endurance.’
The writer of Hebrews states:
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. Hebrews 10:36
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2-3
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 1 Peter 4:12-13
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:24-25
*Presented at Freedom Fellowship Church, Pastor David Fiorazo, Sunday August 4, 2019 (CometoFreedom.com)