The Great Tribulation & Return of Christ, Matthew 24 part 2

REVIEW: in Part 1, (Matthew 24:1-13), we covered two major sections of this chapter: Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple which was fulfilled, and Signs of the end of the age. The disciples asked Jesus when will these things be and what would be the signs, and the first thing He said was ‘make sure you are not deceived.’ 

Three times in this sermon alone, Jesus mentions false teachers will deceive “many.” Also, the utter destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was a prophecy, not a “sign,” it was a judgment of God on the Jewish people for rejecting the Messiah. Persecution often reveals traitors within the Church as well as enemies outside, and the test of any age is endurance. Those who endure to the end will be saved and the gospel must first be preached as a witness to the nations, then comes the end.

In the pre-tribulation view of the rapture, the “catching-up” of believers in Christ, the timeline (see below) many of us believe has the rapture occurring prior to what we’re about to read in Matthew 24. So, here’s a quick reminder of the good news!

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

During the rapture, the saints, living and dead, will be changed physically and either raised from the grave or for those still alive, taken up to meet the Lord in the air. Paul also warns believers: it could happen at any time!

If you believe Jesus is returning tomorrow, then live like He’s coming back today.

Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies of the Messiah during His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. At the second coming of Christ, He will return to fulfill the remaining prophecies. In His first coming, Jesus was the suffering Servant. In His second coming, Jesus will be the conquering King.

  • The Old Testament prophets did not make a clear distinction between the two. This can be seen in Isaiah 7:149:6-7and Zechariah 14:4. As a result of the prophecies seeming to speak of two individuals, many Jewish scholars believed there would be both a suffering Messiah and a conquering Messiah. With the benefit of the New Testament and hindsight, we know Jesus fulfills both roles.

Titus 2:13 describes His return as a “glorious appearing.” But tribulation comes first.

MATTHEW 24:14-31 The Coming Tribulation, “Abomination of Desolation,” & Return of Christ

Jesus now describes the sign of His coming and the end of the age. [For context: read from Matt. 24:11-14…]

Matthew 24:15 – Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand),”

The exhortation let the reader understand reinforces the fact Jesus was not only instructing the disciples or their generation, but believers in the end time, as well as those who will read this in Scripture and be able to understand the trials they are enduring.

The abomination of desolation, translated, “the abomination which makes desolate, or lays waste.” In other words, the abomination brings or causes the desolation.

  • Essentially, the abomination of desolation speaks of the ultimate desecration of a Jewish temple, the establishment of an idolatrous image in the holy place itself;
  • In the vocabulary of Judaism of that time, an abomination was an especially offensive form of idolatry. Jesus described a gross form of idolatry, standing in the holy place, the temple, that brings with it great destruction (desolation).
  • A literal Greek rendering of the phrase is “The desolating sacrilege”(disgusting)

As spoken of by Daniel the prophet: The abomination of desolation is mentioned in the book of Daniel three times. Here it states:

They shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation (Daniel 11:31).

For this future event and prophecy of Jesus to happen, daily sacrifices need to be reinstated in Jerusalem. In order for that to occur, there must be a temple! Here’s a headline from Israel News last week (July 29, 2019):

Top Rabbi in Israel: “We Must Build the Third Temple”

There will be a complete desecration of the temple, similar to what happened in the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The sacrilege was committed by Antiochus [Epiphanes] IV, the Syrian king who ruled Palestine and invaded Jerusalem in 168 BC. He gave himself the title “Theos Epiphanes,” which means “manifest god;”

  • He slaughtered thousands of Jewish men, sold many of their wives and children into slavery, and tried to completely obliterate the Jewish religion. He desecrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar, and set in the Temple an idol of Zeus.
  • That defilement by Antiochus was a preview of the even greater abomination of desolationto be committed by the Antichrist in the end time.

Standing in the holy place – means the abomination of desolation takes place inside Jewish temple. Most believe it will happen in the holy place of a rebuilt temple.

  • For centuries, there was only a small Jewish presence in Judea and Jerusalem. Their presence in the region was continuous, but small. It was unthinkable that this weak Jewish presence could rebuild a temple. Therefore the fulfillment of this prophecy was highly unlikely until Israel was gathered again as a nation in 1948. The restoration of a nation that the world had not seen for 2,000 years is a remarkable event in the fulfillment and future fulfillment of prophecy.

Antiochus Epiphanes set up an idol in the Temple to be worshiped by the Jews, but in the future, the Antichrist will set himself up as God and demand worship from all mankind. He will end all sacrifice in the Temple and commit the abomination that makes the holy place desecrated and desolate, a place utterly detestable to Jews.

Paul elaborates on the future fulfillment of this abomination alluding to the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4,

That day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition (destruction), who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

Paul goes on to state that the Lord Jesus will slay the lawless one by the appearance of His coming, and describes the coming seduction:

…that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 2 Thess. 2:9-10

Division of the Tribulation into two 3½ year periods (Rev. 11:2. 13:5, 11:3, 12:6, 14) Antichrist (Rev. 13:1-10) Destruction of Antichrist (Rev. 19:20) 2nd Coming (Rev. 19:11-21)

Daniel 12:11 gives additional insight: 

And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be 1,290 days (until the end).

Again, you need a temple to perform daily sacrifices. When this sign is set up, the end can be determined – there will be almost three and one-half years to go until the consummation of all things.

Don’t miss this! That’s basically what Jesus is saying by “let the reader understand.” The importance of this event, the sign of the abomination of desolation, cannot be overstated.

  • It is the critical sign mentioned in Matthew 24.
  • It is the warning to flee mentioned in Matthew 24.
  • It is the sign of the end of all things in Daniel 9:27.
  • It is the sign foreshadowed by Antiochus Epiphaniesin Daniel 11:31.
  • It is the precise marker of days to the end in Daniel 12:11.
  • It is the revelation of the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.
  • It is the image of the beast in Revelation 13:14-15.

To clarify: the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was a foreshadowing of what is to come, and the desecration of the temple in 168 B.C. under Antiochus Epiphanes was a foreshadowing of the ultimate, end time abomination of desolation.

Next, Jesus warns the Israelites what should be done when the abomination of desolation appears: flee immediately.

Matt. 24:16-20 – “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.”

  • According to ancient sources, as Roman Emperor, Vespasian was approaching with his army, those who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled beyond the river Jordan; and so they escaped! They were forewarned by this prophecy of Jesus – even though it applies specifically to the end times. They recognized the sign of coming distress, and fled!
  • Sadly, that was not what the Jewish people did. Jesus’ advice was when that day came, men ought to flee to the mountains. Instead, they crammed themselves into the city within the walls of Jerusalem, making casualties & the famine worse.

We believe from this warning and earlier passages that God will remove His church before the fury of the Great Tribulation. But this will hopefully give believers a sense of urgency.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, known as “The Day of the Lord”

Now as to the times and dates, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.

 What we’re studying today is also valuable for unbelievers, those who will become His disciples in the Great Tribulation after the church is gone.

  • “pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.” – winter is when days are shorter, weather is colder making it more difficult for families to travel. The Sabbath was to be a solemn, quiet, undisturbed time of worship of God; to flee in winter was uncomfortable for the body, to flee on the Sabbath uncomfortable to the soul.

AFTER the abomination of desolation: Great Tribulation.

Matthew 24:21-28 –  “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles/vultures will be gathered together.”

  • Jesus said this will be the most awful time in all history. When we think of the terrible wars, plagues, famines, and genocide history has seen, this is sobering!
  • When God pours out His wrath on a God rejecting world, it will be truly be great in terms of magnitude, something so awful it has never occurred in the past nor ever will again in the future.

[Jesus’ description resemble the bowl judgments in Revelation 16 and His appearing in Rev. 19]

  • If the affliction of this time were not cut short, no one would survive. Daniel 7 and Rev. 12 suggest the length of time is fixed at 3 1/2 years.
  • (vs. 26) Again, He warns not to be deceived by false prophets or fake messiahs. Those who know God and rely on His Word will be prepared, will recognize counterfeits.
  • No one will miss the return of Jesus. It will be startling and universally visible, like a massive lightening strike flashing across the sky.
  • (27) The coming of the Son of Man: “Parousia (‘coming’) is used only in this chapter in the Gospels (vv. 3, 27, 37, 39). Its literal meaning is ‘presence’ but it was used also for divine visitations.
  • (28) Vultures will gather: the location of a carcass (dead body) is visible from a distance due to the circling of carrion birds overhead.

Matthew 24:29-31 – the return of Jesus Christ – “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, 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. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Immediately following the tribulation, the sign will appear; THE RETURN OF THE KING!

(29) The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light: Several prophetic passages describe the cosmic disturbances that will precede and surround the glorious return of Jesus (Joel 2:10, Revelation 6:12-14, Isaiah 34:4). According to Rev. 6, this will be fulfilled during the reign of the Beast.

Stars will fall from the sky and the powers of heaven will be shaken:

See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made; Hebrews 12:25-27

(30) The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven: Likely meaning the Son of Man Himself is the actual sign (Dan. 7:13, Rev. 19:11-21). It seems to precede His return as described in Revelation 19:11. Perhaps this sign is somehow related to the incredible cosmic disturbances that will precede the great event.

All the tribes of the earth will mourn: over their own rebellion; Israel – and all people groups – will mourn over their rejection of the Messiah. They will realize their folly, that He is the King, the anointed One – the one they’ve waited centuries for:

And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. 11 In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem; Zechariah 12:10-12

America should take heed here and learn from Israel. Matthew Henry stated:

“The nearer any people are to God in profession and privileges, the greater and heavier the judgments will be against them!” 

They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory: This is the fulfillment of the end, indicated by the sign of the abomination of desolation.

(31) And He will send forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet and they will gather together His elect from one end of the sky to another:

*This is clearly not the same event as the Rapture of the saints.

The Lord knows those who belong to Him! Heavenly messengers help gather all the elect from heaven and earth to be assembled before Christ.

The context of Matthew 24 is a Jewish context (the temple or “holy place” belonged to the people of Israel). God calls the nation of Israel “His chosen,” literally His elect, but this alludes to those who receive the Messiah, Jesus, the believing remnant of Israel.

Isaiah 27:12-13 states:

O ye children of Israel, and it shall come to pass in that day that day: The great trumpet will be blown; They will come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria …And shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.

This includes His scattered people of Israel throughout the world, as well as the faithful remnant of Jews who become believers during the seven-year great tribulation period.

This is the culmination of world history, ushering in the millennial reign of Jesus Christ the King.  The throne of David will again be in Jerusalem as the Lord reigns on earth for a thousand years.

Revelation 20:4 states:

And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Rev. 20:11-13 describes all people standing before God sitting on a great white throne as the books are opened:

And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.

Finally, Revelation 21 describes the vision of a new heaven and new earth, along with New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. Sitting on His throne, Jesus then says,

 “Behold, I am making all things new… I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end;” Revelation 21:5-6

The Book of Revelation promises a blessing to those who read it, hear it, and those who heed the words within it. The Bible closes in chapter 22 with John describing the river of life, the tree of life, a final warning that these prophecies are faithful and true, and the fact Jesus is returning soon.

The obvious question is ‘Are we ready?’ Are we living as if God’s Word is true? Are we comfortable or do we have a sense of urgency about the gospel of Jesus Christ?

*Part 1 here: Jesus Warns about Signs of the End Times, Matthew 24:1-14

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