Between now and then
Between Now and Then (Matthew 24:1-14)
Tuesday of Jesus' final week of public ministry was a day of controversy and teaching. It was the last day of public ministry to the crowds. The single largest block of Jesus' teaching that Tuesday concerned the judgment of Jerusalem and His second coming. The disciples asked, "When shall these things be?" (v. 3, KJV) It was difficult for them to imagine the destruction of Jerusalem as a separate event from the end of the age.
Matthew 24 is one of the difficult passages in the Gospels. While we may debate the details, it is difficult to miss the main point. Christ describes the problems of the entire age while waiting for the second coming. He also challenges us with the program for the age.
Christ Warns Us About the Problems of This Age
Jesus first warns against deception. The message begins with the words, "Watch out" (v. 4). That which we are to watch for is deception. The most important factor in this age is to avoid deception. The word deception means "to wander off course."
The specific object of our watchfulness is those who claim, "I am the Christ." He means those who pretend to have the authority and the power that belong to Christ alone. He does not mean they will openly make the claim. Those who reject the true Christ leave themselves open to every false Christ.
Jesus warns against the depression that characterizes this age. "See to it that you are not alarmed" (v. 6). The word describes hysterical behavior that issues in crying aloud. He names some depressing things that will not be the sign of the end of the age, but of the entire age before Christ comes.
First, the history of the age will be a history of war. The study of man is the study of war, or the preparation for war. No war or rumor of war is the sign of the immediate end.
This age will be characterized by famine and disease. We should seek to relieve these (Matt. 25). But, their widespread presence is not an immediate sign of the end. They are symptoms of the entire age while waiting for the end.
Unusual physical phenomena are not to cause depression about the end. "Earthquakes" stand for any unusual physical phenomena. These will belong to the entire age of the church. We live in an age when all such things are part of a divine necessity (v. 6). They signal the beginning of such an age, not the end (v. 8).
Jesus warns about the declension that will characterize this age. There will be a falling away from apparent faithfulness by those who claim to belong to Him. There will be two reasons from outside the church why people will fall away. There will be persecution because of His name. The world will never be friendly to the people of the gospel. This will cause some to fall away. There will be lawlessness in the world at large, rebellion against all order. This will cool the agape of the fellowship one for another.
There will be two reasons from within for the declension of Christians. There will be disloyalty within. Christians will hand one another over to persecution. There will be deception from within. False prophets will deceive many within the community of faith. Was not Jesus right? Has not this characterized the twenty centuries since He spoke these words?
"He who stands firm to the end will be saved" (v. 13). In the midst of deception, depression, and declension, the one who endures with triumphant fortitude shows the mark of saving faith.
Christ Challenges Us with the Program for This Age
"This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (v. 14). Although we should do all we can to relieve the problems of this age, these problems will ultimately rest beyond our power to control. Rather than speculate about the problems, we are to be people of the divine program. The good news about the reign of God in Christ is to be taken to every nation in the earth. When all people have heard the gospel, then the end will come. People cannot build the kingdom of God by human effort. But, we can bring back the king by a worldwide effort of witness and evangelism. Christianity has always been at its best when that is its motivation. Not speculation but proclamation should characterize us as we look toward the end.