It is interesting that Matthew 24 is more about what is not the end than what is.
V. 1-14 are signs of various kinds that the end is not yet here. On a popular level, people will respond to natural disasters and political turmoil as if those are evidence that the end is at hand. but the text says that these are not the end, or that they are the beginning of the birth pains (v. 6, 8) This is a process of ending that does not have a specific end time – ask anyone who has given birth how predictable that is. The real warning in these verses is that one should not be lead astray (v. 4, 5, 10, 11).
v. 15 – 22 speaks of an event that does indicate the end – the “abomination of desolation” which is tied to verses in Daniel (8:13, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11). This is specific and yet not specific. Many scholars think Daniel was speaking of the desecration of the temple which occurred under Antiochus Ephiphanes IV in 168 BC, but Jesus was looking for something later, which is partially realized at the destruction of the temple in 70 AD under the Romans – in both cases the holy place was taken over and desecrated and/or destroyed by the conquering army. Yet Matthew 24 deals with two questions, the destruction of the temple that Jesus spoke of (v. 2) and when would be the end of the age. So there is yet to be a final and greater fulfillment of this abomination of desolation at the end of the age. The tribulation in 70 AD does not seem to fit the idea that it was the worst event that ever has or will be (v. 21). So we have another sign with an end date, but a warning to be on guard.
v. 23-31 assures believers that there can be no mistake on when the Son of Man returns – so we should not look for hidden or far of events to be that fulfillment. When he returns, it will be self-evident – as clear as lightning in the night sky.
So we have to say that the real purpose of this discourse is not to give you a date to circle on your calendar. The purpose is to give both warning and hope. It is a warning that the world will have all sorts of trouble, both normal and natural troubles, and even intense troubles. It is a warning against falling astray or falling for false teachers and prophets, who will always be around. Yet the hope is that when things are seemingly out of control, they are not. The date and time with the Father knows will come about. (v. 36).
This is the sermon series I am working on for the summer at Bethany EFC .
How often have you heard about wars, earthquakes and other natural disasters being signs that we are at the end of days. One has to notice some things – we can capture more of these events than in past decades because of the advance of technology. Are there more earthquakes? Are there more by you or in the world at large?
Then when I read Matthew 24, there is a list of “signs” that do not indicate the end of days. I have compared my listed and compared it to R. T. France and Craig Blomberg and here they are
NOT SIGNS OF THE END – Matthew 24
- False Messiahs v. 5
- Wars and Rumors of wars v.6
- International Hostility v. 7a
- Famines and Earthquakes v. 7b
- Persecution and martyrdom v. 9
- Apostasy and betrayal v. 10
- False Prophets v. 11
- Cold spiritual life v. 12
- The Extension of the Gospel v. 14
Note in verse 6. “but the end is not yet” and v. 8 “these are the beginning of the birth pains.” Verse 13 talks of persevering through these signs to the end and v. 14 speaks of the end coming after all of these, but not how soon after.
Several have noted that by 70 AD all of these things had occurred. That year was marked by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. So it would seem to be that these are signs of normalcy in the age between Christ and his return. It would seem that these signs do not tell us how close the end us, but to remind us that there is an end. As I like to quote Bob Dylan, “there’s a slow train coming.”
I grew up with these sorts of prophecy charts. I think that they are good in that they give some clarity to various theories of how the End Times will occur. I think they are misleading on two fronts.
First, the primary point of prophecy is not to give us a time table. In fact, the thing that is the least clear about prophecy, in the sense of prediction, is the timing of things. I point out that Jesus cited a passage from Isaiah 61 when he gave his message at the Synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16ff), he ended the reading at a comma in Isaiah 61, what follows the comma still awaits the future Last Judgment, which is now 2,000 years in waiting. A comma can be two millennia. Other scriptures got the other way and events that seem far apart are brought together. We call this sort of thing telescoping. The time frame telescopes freely in prophetic and apocalyptic literature.
Second, the charts do not indicate that even those who are in the same “camp” – eg Premillennial – do not agree on the sequence of events.
So with a certain amount of fear and trepidation, this preacher will speak on “The End” from the two chapter long “Olivet Discourse” in Matthew 24 and 25 this summer. Fear and trepidation is not a bad thing in a preacher, as this quote from Isaiah 66:2 makes clear:
These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.
So I will try to chart the future without charts in this series. The first fun thing we discover is that the signs people speak about, wars and earthquakes, are not signs of the end… Matthew 24:6-8
6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains….”