Okay, not really. Not at all, actually. But as I’ve read through Matthew I came to Chapter 24, the scary beginning of the Olivet Discourse, and it has a lot to say about the end of the world as we know it. It’s the chapter where the disciples ask Jesus, after he tells them about the temple being destroyed, “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
This chapter confuses me to no end and always has. I’ve never really understood it, and after re-reading it many times over the years and several more times this past week, I still don’t.
It starts off easily enough. Jesus warns them not to be deceived. “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” (Matthew 24:4-5) Since we are living in the age of news being replaced by propaganda, I would say we are living in a time of great deception.
At the same time, however, there have been false Christs throughout history. Some notable ones in my own lifetime were Jim Jones of the Jonestown Kool-Aid drinking cult, David Koresh of Waco, Texas, and Reverend Sun Myung Moon of Korea. Things didn’t go well for the followers of Jones or Koresh. I’m not sure whatever happened with the Moonies, but if they thought he was Jesus they would have been pretty disappointed when he died in 2012 and never came back.
So I’m not sure how that warning is specifically a sign for the last days when we’ve had crackpots like these guys throughout history.
Next Jesus says, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars . . . nation will rise against nation . . . there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginnings of birth pains.” (24:6-8).
These are also things that have gone on since the beginning of history. The Old Testament is full of wars and nation against nation. Did Christians in Italy think the end was coming when Pompeii was obliterated by Vesuvius in AD 79? Because if any event ever looked like the apocalypse, that had to be it. Pompeii’s destruction happened just nine years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Meanwhile Christians were being fed to the lions and used as human torches in Nero’s courtyard. Surely many believers then must have been certain they were in the end of days. (The Christians in Thessalonika seemed to think so.) And here we are, two thousand years later, still wondering after every big earthquake or skirmish in the Middle East if this is finally it.
Jesus then goes on to warn his disciples that “you will be persecuted and put to death…and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” Is he talking to the Church here, or to the Jews, or to both? Jewish people have been relentlessly persecuted since they were first a people. Christians have also been persecuted throughout the centuries, and in many parts of the world are brutally persecuted today. We are seeing the early stages of it here in America.
Then Jesus says, “At that time men will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands to the end will be saved.” (24:10-13). That sounds like the world today. Deception, wickedness, coldness—that’s the world around us, all right. But I remember that several false or twisted versions of Christianity came into being in the 19th century, namely Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and Seventh Day Adventists. That’s a lot of twisted theology to come out in a fairly short span of time. Bible readers in those days must have wondered if they were in the last days.
All this raises a big question: Why did Jesus bring up these things as signs of the end when they have been going on forever? I think I do have the answer for that — I have heard Bible teachers say that because Jesus described this as the beginning of birth pains, then just like real birth pains these events will increase in frequency and intensity as we get closer to the end. But where are we on that timeline? Are we “ooh, honey, I think I just had a contraction” or are we “GET THIS M***** F***** OUT OF ME!!!!!” or somewhere in the middle?
Things do seem to be increasing in frequency and intensity today. The global COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in world history in how it shut down nearly every country on the entire planet, at least for awhile, making us all prisoners and destroying countless livelihoods. COVID has greatly aided the push for a one-world socialist government, monetary system, and tracking of every person in the world. We are seeing violent earthquakes, severe weather, and famines on what seems to be an increasing scale. I was astonished last year to learn of massive armies of locusts plaguing parts of the world like something straight out of Exodus. Weird stuff is going on in the Middle East, with Israel making peace agreements with Muslim countries on the one hand, and Iran allegedly being extremely close to a nuclear bomb on the other.
I just don’t think we can use any of those things as a measuring stick to figure out when Jesus is coming back. It’s all just too vague. One day we may look back in hindsight and say, “Ah, okay, now I get it! It all makes perfect sense.” But that day isn’t today.
But Jesus is just getting warmed up. Next he gets really specific, warning about the desecration of the temple as spoken of through the prophet Daniel, and telling people when that day comes they need to drop whatever they are doing and run, run, run for their lives. Some people think this happened in AD 70 but I don’t think so. The temple in AD 70 wasn’t desecrated by the abomination that causes desolation. It caught on fire, and all the gold covering the walls and ceilings melted down. The Romans dismantled the temple, stone by stone, to get every last speck of gold they could, little imagining they were fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy that no stone would stand upon another.
So that means that Jesus must be talking about the desecration of a future temple. Here he seems to be talking about the events of the Great Tribulation, or the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7). Then he gives one more warning about not being deceived by false prophets and false Christs. “See, I have told you ahead of time!” (24:25).
Okay, so that’s another thing I do know for sure: Jesus bothered to warn us about not being deceived more than once, so he wants us to pay attention and not be deceived! That’s not as easy as it sounds in today’s environment, where lies are literally everywhere and we don’t know who we can trust. But if we are diligent and know what is in God’s word, then the lies will be obvious and not able to deceive us.
Next, Jesus describes His Second Coming and how the whole earth will see him coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (24:31)
…From one end of THE HEAVENS to the other?
He then goes on to say, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (24:32-34).
This is more straightforward than some other passages, at least partly. If the fig tree represents Israel, as most scholars agree on, then it blossomed in 1948 when the modern state of Israel was born. Which would mean that today we are standing right at the edge of the Great Apocalyptic Sh** Show. That is, IF a “generation” literally means one generation. Assuming our lifespan is about 80 years, then Jesus better move fast or this “generation” is going to die out in the next decade or so. However, my NIV notes say that “generation” may mean “race,” as in the human race. In which case we are back to not knowing for sure.
Finally — this is the part that really confuses me — Jesus goes on to talk about what SURE SOUNDS like the rapture, “No one knows the day or the hour,” “one will be taken and the other left,” except it also seems to be a continuation of what he was just talking about, which was the tribulation and second coming, not the rapture. I’ve heard several teachers, mostly Calvary Chapel pastors, insisting that Chapter 24 is all for the Jews and not for the church. I have heard other teachers say that is nonsense.
If “no one knows the day or the hour” is referring to his second coming instead of the rapture, how can that statement be true? We might not know today but people in that time will know the EXACT day that Jesus is coming back. Daniel 9:27 talks about the desecration of the temple, and that it takes place in the middle of the final seven years. That means from that awful day, there will be exactly 1,260 days (based on a Jewish 360-day calendar) until the return of Christ. 1,260 days of hell on earth and horrors that make all of Stephen King’s novels look like Blueberries for Sal by comparison.
So I find all of this very confusing. However, I do know one more thing for certain: Whatever happens is going to happen, whenever it happens, and however it happens. We may indeed be very close to the end. It sure feels that way right now. But God may give this wicked world a reprieve like he did with Nineveh so long ago. We don’t know for sure.
Maybe someone reading this understands this chapter perfectly. Please comment with your thoughts if you do! I doubt that I will until I’m looking back at it from the other side of eternity. That’s okay by me. I think the main point to take from it is actually in Chapter 25, where Jesus tells us to be ready at all times. Whenever he does come, we want to be good and faithful servants, ready and excited to be with Him forever.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might.
Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Learn about Jesus from Bible study and spending time with Him in prayer.
Live a godly life and share the gospel with everyone that you can.
As the apostle John said, “And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming.” (1 John 2:28).
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. …For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. – Romans 10:9-13