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Matthew 24:1-35 - The Last Days of the Kingdom

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The very last thing we read in Matthew’s gospel are these familiar words from Jesus:
Matthew 28:18–20 NIV
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We can safely assume then that one of Matthew’s aims in writing is to help Christians fulfil this command.
Matthew 28:19–20 NIV
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We can safely assume then that one of Matthew’s aims in writing is to help Christians fulfil this command.
Matthew has organised his Gospel around five major blocks of teaching.
And because Matthew wants disciples in every age to be equipped to teach everything Jesus commanded, he has organised his Gospel around five major blocks of teaching.
Chapters 5-7 - Kingdom Ethics (Sermon on the Mount)
Chapter 10 - Kingdom Workers (Sending of the Twelve)
Chapter 13 - Kingdom Parables
Chapter 18 - Kingdom Community
Chapter 24-25 Kingdom Future
And so we have now arrived at Kingdom Future. What did Jesus say about the future, and in particular his return? What difference should that make to us now in terms of how we live as his disciples?
We have two chapters in Matthew which deal with these specific questions, and we’ll be spending some time here over the next few weeks.
In the previous three chapters Jesus clashed with Pharisees, Scribes, Chief Priests, and finally pronounced Seven Woes of judgement signalling the downfall of the Jewish nation on account of its failure to accept the Messiah.
From the start I want to say that we will not
And as Jesus literally and figuratively turns his back on the Temple and all it represented, his disciples’ ask these questions:
Matthew 23:38–39 NIV
Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Matthew 23:37–39 NIV
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
3:38-39
And the very next thing we read comes in
Matt 23:
Matthew 24:1 NIV
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.
Which was both a literal and figurative description of Jesus turning his back on the Temple and all it represented. And it was this that prompted the disciples’ questions:
Matthew 24:1–3 NIV
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Matt 24:1-
The disciples are asking about two things: “When will the downfall of Jerusalem happen?” and secondly, “How will we know that you’re coming at the end?”
This block of teaching is often known as the Olivet Discourse (because it was delivered on the Mount of Olives).
What follows is the final block of teaching, which is often known as the Olivet Discourse (because it was delivered on the Mount of Olives).
There are loads of details, some of it confusing, and we can’t possibly hope to cover everything! But we can get to the big idea of what Jesus is saying.
We’ll be helped by imagining ourselves on a journey to the mountains. We’re on foot. It’s a long trek, impossible to measure in distance or time. And the guide tells us that we will face many setbacks along the way, and he warns of things to look out for. But if we are to experience the joy of reaching the summit we must keep going!
The journey that we’re on as those who have Christ as their Guide is very similar. The Last Days (the whole period between Christ’s first and second coming) are marked by distress, apostasy and Antichrist, but the faithful must endure to the end.
So we
Keep going when there is...

Distress

And in the Last Days there will be plenty of things to cause distress.
[What are the Last Days?]

The earth will suffer

Matthew 24:6–8 NIV
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. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
4:6-
Suffering is a general reality of post-Fall life, manifested in these macro signs that can be seen in every age. Note the saying: These are the beginning of birth pains. They remind us that the end is certainly coming, but is not here yet.
Note the saying: These are the beginning of birth pains. They remind us that the end is certainly coming, but is not here yet.
But Jesus also speaks of more specific suffering for the church in the Last Days...

The church will suffer

Matthew 24:9 NIV
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
This is a mark of the Last Days, that Christians and the message of Christ will not be welcomed by all. In some cases there will be violent hostility. In many there will be plain ambivalence, perhaps even disdain and pity.
Matthew 10:22 NIV
You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
This is a mark of the Last Days, that by and large Christians and the message of Christ will not be welcomed with open arms by all. In some cases there will be violent hostility. In many there will be plain ambivalence, perhaps even disdain and pity.
A general characteristic of the experience of the church in the Last Days is one of distress. But Jesus also appears to suggest that there will be an intensification of distress in the immediate run up to the end.
Matt 10:22
Verse 15 is a direct reference to the fall of Jerusalem which occurred some 40 years after Jesus spoke these words:
Matthew 24:15–16 NIV
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Matt 24:15
The Romans desolated the Temple and Jerusalem in AD 70, so we can point to specific historical events that fit this prophecy. Clearly this was a time of great distress for the believers.
Matthew 24:21 NIV
For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
But it gets complicated in v29...
But it gets complicated in v29...
Matthew 24:29 NIV
“Immediately after the distress of those days “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
The word “immediately” poses a problem, because these signs did not appear immediately after AD70 and neither did the Son of Man (v30).
So we might expect a period of great distress (unequalled) in the immediate run up to the appearance of Christ and the end of the age (cf. Revelation). But again timing and specifics are uncertain.
We can be certain of two things:
In spite of great distress 1) those who endure through the distress will be saved, and 2) the gospel will be proclaimed everywhere:
1) The gospel will be proclaimed everywhere:
Matthew 24:13–14 NIV
but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:14 NIV
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The gospel will be proclaimed
So what is the big idea? Why is Jesus telling us all this? So that we will keep going. In spite of distress, suffering, even persecution, we must keep going with Him and with the gospel.
So what is the big idea? Why is Jesus telling us all this? So that we will keep going. In spite of distress, suffering, even persecution, we must keep going with Him and with the gospel.
Even though it is hard when we’re distressed, especially because of our faith in Christ, we must endure to the end.
On our journey to the mountain, we can certainly expect all kinds of distress. On our bodies, in our minds. The long trek to the mountain will itself be fraught with sore feet and weary hearts. But we had been warned that it would and so we prepared ourselves! We brought extra socks, creams and lotions for our feet, and we filled our minds and hearts with pictures of the mountain top. The words of the guide are fresh in our minds and we frequently remind each of them along the way, so that we keep going!
And even though we keep moving forwards, the mountain never seems to get closer. So what must we do? Keep going! Endure the physical and mental pain that comes with the journey and keep pressing on towards the end.
That’s why Jesus is telling us these things. Not so we can predict things or match up historical events with biblical prophecies. He’s telling us that it’s going to be hard so that we will be well prepared, so that we will endure to the end. And so that we will work hard to bring others with us on the journey.
But there are more setbacks ahead, because not everyone will want to keep going, and many will turn away. And so we must keep going in spite of...
And so that we will work hard to bring others with us on the journey.
It would be an utter waste of our time if all we took from Jesus’ words was a fascination and obsession with working out what every historical event means, and whether we can predict dates and times of the Christ’s return.
Matt 24:9
Matthew 24:21 NIV
For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
Matthew 24:29 NIV
“Immediately after the distress of those days “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
:

Apostasy

Rejection of the faith by those who have claimed to profess it, is another feature (sign) of the Last Days.
There is a whole letter in the NT which warns against walking away from Christ (Hebrews). Other letters refer to the apostasy problem as well. But Jesus said it first:
Matthew 24:10–12 NIV
At that time many 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,
Matthew 24:9–13 NIV
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many 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 the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Matthew 24:10–13 NIV
At that time many 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 the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Elsewhere, Jesus spoke the parable of the seeds/soil, where some seed falls among weeds, or on rocky ground. The plants grow up but quickly die.
Matt 249-13
Matthew 13:20–22 NIV
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
It is so painful when this happens. Those who seem to profess faith, who seem to make progress and look like they will bear fruit, they sometimes falls away, turning their backs on Christ and on the gospel.
As we journey to the mountain, and our feet grow tired and minds think of the homes they have left behind, it’s disheartening to see some of the group decide to give up and turn back. They’ve come so far with us, but they refuse to go another step.
This is another sign that we are living in the last days. And again Jesus is giving us advance warning, for two reasons:
First, so that we know that this isn’t unusual and somehow think that we have failed or made mistakes with those who fall away from the faith (necessarily!).
James 5:19–20 NIV
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Second, so that we can be warned against it ourselves. Or at least that we can expect to be confronted with doubts about our faith, and temptations to walk away from our faith.
Second, so that we can be warned against it ourselves. Or at least that we can expect to be confronted with doubts about our faith, and temptations to walk away from our faith.
This happened very early on in the church...
Galatians 1:6–8 NIV
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!
:6-9
The remedy when tempted to desert Christ? Keep to the gospel path and don’t be swayed from it.
Some of us will struggle with a greater love for sin than for our Saviour:
Matthew 24:12 NIV
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
Matt 24:
When wickedness gets hots, love gets cold. Jesus says, “Be ready for that. In others, in yourselves.” But there is hope. Not in us, but in him...
Matthew 24:24 NIV
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
Matthew 24:24 NIV
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
Matt 24:24
Prophecies and philosophies might attract us, but those whom God has chosen to be his people will remain his people. Not because they are strong to hold on but because He is strong enough to keep them.
Prophecies and philosophies might attract us, but those whom God has chosen to be his people will remain his people. Not because they are strong but because He is strong enough.
But here comes another setback. If distress and apostasy weren’t enough, we also have to contend with...

Antichrists

In the Last Days there will be those who try to deceive people into rejecting the true Christ and true Christianity. They will set themselves up in the place of God and as enemies of God.
That’s what Jesus is referring to in...
Matthew 24:15–16 NIV
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
The “abomination” is a prophecy from , referring to a king of the north exalting himself against God and claiming to be greater than God. But this was widely thought to have been fulfilled in the second century BC by Antiochus Ephiphanes. So there is another horizon in view.
Indeed the NT seems to say that the Last Days will feature many Antichrists, perhaps with a single figure (The Antichrist) appearing immediately before the end.
Matthew 24:23–24 NIV
At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
In some cases, there might even be some who claim to be the returning Christ, or to know where or who he is...
Matthew 24:26 NIV
“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
But we have a simple way of knowing the truth of these claims, because the real coming of Christ will be unmistakable to all.
Matthew 24:27 NIV
For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
:27
Matthew 24:30–31 NIV
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, 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.
Matt 24:
On the journey to the mountains there may well be some, in the group or who meet us along the way, who claim to know the true way to the mountain, or a shortcut, they might even claim to be the guide. But their intention is malicious. They don’t want us to reach our destination. They want us to miss the mark, to wander off course. But we have been told the way and we must keep to the path we have been shown.
On the journey to the mountains there may well be some, in the group or who meet us along the way, who claim to know the true way to the mountain, or a shortcut, they might even claim to be the guide. But their intention is malicious. They don’t want us to reach our destination. They want us to miss the mark, to wander off course. But we have been told the way and we must keep to the path we have been shown.
Again, we have been warned...
Matthew 24:25 NIV
See, I have told you ahead of time.
And the reason for the warning is so that we will be prepared to recognise and resist the lies of false messiahs and false prophets who would deceive us and deter us from carrying on with Christ.
If ever we are told that we need something more than Christ, it is a lie. If ever we are told that there is a secret about Christ and his coming that only a select few know about, it is a lie. If ever we are told that such and such is the Messiah, and the whole world seems oblivious, we can safely assume it is a lie.
But the one great thing, the overwhelmingly positive message of this passage, is that even though the Last Days are marked by distress, apostasy and Antichrists, we can be utterly certain of this: the Son of Man will appear!
He will gather his people to himself and they will dwell with him forever.
And all the pain of this pilgrimage will fade away and instead we will know pure joy.
Those who are on the journey to the mountain who endure the distress of the journey, who endure and don’t turn back, and who resist the lies heard on the way, when they reach the summit they will know sheer pleasure at having arrived and enjoy the matchless view. And as they gaze back at the way they have come, suddenly it won’t seem like such a long way! And the pain of the journey won’t seem so bad, but utterly worth it to be here.
Although it will be hard to keep going with Christ, we must endure to the end. Eternal joy in his presence awaits us at our journey’s end.
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