A former pastor of mine once observed that “the subject of biblical prophecy is like one magnet interacting with another. For many people, it pulls them in. For others, it drives them away.”
Some are drawn to prophecy. Wanting to know the future they enjoy reading, discussing, and speculating about things to come and, perhaps, how current events fit in to God’s revelation. Others are repelled by it, viewing prophecy as a futile topic that divides, confuses, and scares. It pulls some in and drives others away.
I expect both groups are represented here today, along with some apathetic and some uninterested. But regardless of our individual experiences with and feelings toward the subject, Jesus considered it important. So much so that, during the days before his death, he gave his disciples a peak beyond the horizon. And we’re going to look with them and, with God’s help, find what prophecy is supposed to bring: clarity, comfort, and conviction.
Questions About the End
The opening verses of Matthew 24 record the disciples asking Jesus questions about the end, setting the stage for what is our Lord’s longest recorded teaching on prophecy (vv. 1–2).
Remember, Jesus had just pronounced judgement upon faithless Israel and her hypocritical leadership (23:28). The disciples are impressed with the temple and wonder, “How could this become desolate!?” But Jesus doubles-down: “It’s going to be decimated.” For Jews this would mean the end of sacrifices and proper worship—a terrifying prediction. And so, they have some questions (vv. 3–6).
Two questions: When is the end coming? and How will we know it’s here? It sounds bad and they want to be ready. And Jesus is about to answer over the next two chapters, but notice his initial warnings: See to it that no one misleads you and see that you are not frightened. When it comes to the future, don’t be fooled and don’t be fearful.
These warning are good for us too. When thinking about the end, we best avoid being misled. Prophecy often attracts sensationalists spouting speculation pretending to be biblical interpretation. Don’t be misled. We want to think clearly and biblically. We also need to avoid fear. We want to study the end confident in God’s power and control.
A doctor, preparing a new patient for a routine surgery, knows they’re anxious and have some misconceptions (because they’ve been YouTube-ing “surgeries gone wrong”). She helps by reassures them of her expertise, her track record, and asks, Are there any questions?
Events Leading to the End
That’s what Jesus is doing here. He knows the Good Doctor’s sovereign track record and he’s reassuring these patients: There’s nothing to fear and don’t be fooled by other voices. Listen to me as I tell you what’s coming. So, Jesus describes the events leading to the end.
And there are seven identifiable stages or events on the prophetic program mentioned in this chapter; seven events leading to the end. Let’s work through them quickly.
First, there are distressing birth pangs (vv. 6–8). As birth pangs precede intense contractions so wars and catastrophes will precede intense calamity. Notice he doesn’t say how long these will last, just that global groaning signals the coming of something more dramatic. While many today look at world news and cry “the end is near,” Jesus disagrees: “that is not yet the end.” It’s tough for the first-time mother who mistakes the beginnings of birth pangs for the real thing.
Next, there’s a growing intensity (vv. 9–14). Everything’s ramping-up. Persecution of the faithful, martyrdom, false prophecy, lawlessness, and apostasy. But, with all that, the global proclamation of the kingdom!
Before moving on a quick word about verse 13. This is not about keeping eternal life based on endurance. Jesus is simply promising glory to those who remain loyal to Christ amidst the chaos. It’s the lollipop at the end of the dentist’s appointment.
We’ve seen distressing birth pangs and growing intensity. Third, is a heinous act of idolatry (vv. 15–20).
Things are intensifying and, all of a sudden, the abomination of desolation will be seen positioned in the holy place, the temple. What is it? Well, Jesus points us to Daniel’s prophecy which gives a few added details. Whatever it is, it’s detestable to God. In the OT, abomination describes gross idolatry, flagrant irreverence (see 2 Kgs 23:24). And, in the future, this heinous act of idolatry is magnified by its location—the holy place—and will bring with it desolation. It’s arrival is going to make the temple a barren wasteland. The place reserved for God’s presence and worship will be abandoned and used for idolatry.
And when that happens, when that particular act of irreverence takes place, run for cover. Woe to those who are hindered in their flight, mothers with children or people observing the sabbath, because it’s about to get real bad.
In fact, what comes next is unprecedented and unparalleled tribulation (vv. 21–22). Sin entering the world, the global flood, the plagues of Egypt, the wars in Canaan—this is going to be far worse. It’s going to be so terrible we don’t have a category for it. You think WWI and WWII were bad? You think COVID was bad? Those were nothing compared the scope and ferocity of what’s coming. In fact, if God doesn’t stop it, not a single person would last (vv. 23–28).
During this time of horror, more false prophets will come, this time performing miracles—demonic but convincing—and claiming to be Messiah returned or claiming to be his herald, pointing people to find him. Jesus says to his followers, don’t be fooled. When I come back, it’s going to be unmistakable, like lightning in the sky. The vultures, these false prophets and messiahs, they’re gathering around the corpse of unbelief and vulnerability. This is a time of unprecedented and unparalleled tribulation.
And then, number five, there will be powerful cosmic signs (v. 29). I see no reason to spiritualize here. Creation itself will respond to the chaos. The heavenly bodies will tremble and darken as if under a mighty, evil weight. There will be a celestial shuddering, powerful cosmic signs.
Finally, though, comes an unmistakable and glorious appearing (v. 30). Christ’s return is going to be neither subtle nor suspect. All will see him. Those who heard and rejected the gospel of the kingdom will, at that moment, realize their error. Judgement has arrived. And Christ will come on the clouds as only God himself can, and his unmatched power and glory will be manifest and unmistakable. In that moment, those who followed the false prophets and Christs, even with their miracles, will see their foolishness for what it was. They were powerful, but not this powerful They were impressive, but not this impressive.
Lastly, comes the gathering together of believing Israel (v. 31). While the wicked will mourn at his coming, the faithful will be gathered from around the globe, brought to safety with him who they serve.
We’re not to be fooled, brothers and sisters. Every generation has had their Chicken Littles, running around announcing, “The Sky is Falling!” The ice caps are melting. The great reset is happening. So-and-so is the antichrist. Such-and-such is the mark of the beast. The great tribulation is here. Chicken Little brings fear, something Jesus said not to have. So, how do we read this with clarity and fearlessness?
Let me point out something incredibly important: This lesson was not given to us, does not concern us, and is not for us. It was given to the disciples, concerns Israel, and is for Israel. They’re talking about temple destruction, the persecution and martyrdom of those Jews who actually accepted Jesus as Messiah. He’s talking about the kingdom gospel, not the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. It’s the good news that John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed: that the literal, earthly kingdom will arrive. The abomination of desolation is set up in the temple in Jerusalem and discourage Jewish worship. Those in Judea must flee (see also v. 20 and the sabbath). When Jesus says elect he’s talking about his chosen people: Israel. And it’s faithful Israel that will be gathered to their land at the end.
We cannot not divorce this prophetic text from the rest of Matthew’s gospel account. He is, as we’ve seen, concerned with explaining to Israel how it can be that their davidic King came and, yet, how the davidic kingdom is yet absent. It’s because they rejected him and it and, thus, it has been postponed not canceled. It’s now coming on the other side of a great tribulation, a time including what the OT calls the time of Jacob’s trouble and the Day of the Lord. It’s a time of suffering that will judge unbelieving nations and through which Israel will be brought back to their God in repentance, humility, and faith—that which they lacked in his first coming.
The church, by the way, is nowhere in view here. At this point in the biblical storyline, the church is still an unrevealed mystery that comes into existence in Acts and explained in the epistles. The church is not Israel. We aren’t God’s chosen people. The age we live and minister in exists between his two coming, the first in which the King was rejected and the second when he won’t be. The church, as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians, are not destined for wrath. We will not endure the things we’re learning about this morning because, for one thing, we didn’t fail the way Israel did. So, do not be misled and do not be afraid.
How To Wait for the End
The disciples ask questions about the end and Jesus describes for them the events leading to the end. Finally, he tells them how to wait for the end. In other words, what should they be doing in the meantime? And he does this with two parables that will likewise instruct you and I on how to wait for the end.
First, we’re to wait anticipation (vv. 32–34). Keeping that last statement in context I take this generation to mean the generation that’s alive when these things start will be the generation who sees them end (vv. 35–41). Those last two verses are not a picture of what some call the rapture of the church, first, because the church isn’t in view here and, second, because it’s explaining his comment on the great flood. Who were taken away? The wicked, not the righteous. Ultimately, this parable teaches the displaces that their to wait with anticipation. Think clearly and fearlessly and understand that the end will come suddenly.
This is true for Israel and it’s true for the church. Jesus could come at any moment for his church. Perhaps today. No one knows the time but the Father (see Acts 1:6–7). How are we to wait for the end? With anticipation. Perhaps today! Maybe Jesus will come for us today!
Second, we’re to wait with preparedness (vv. 42–51). In concert with our anticipation for the end comes a preparedness for it. When Jesus comes, how do I want to be found? Certainly I want to be found in Christ, having believed in his person and work for everlasting life. But, more than that, I want to be found working for him, serving him, loving him. I want to be found faithful as much as I want to be found justified.
Get Ready, Stay Ready!
I know the subject of prophecy is like two magnets interacting and, even as we’ve studied this morning some of you are leaning in and some are checked out. If you hear nothing else this morning, hear this, the call of this passage for us today: Get ready, stay ready!
Jesus is coming soon. He’s coming for his church. Then he’s going to deal with his chosen people, those selected to bring about the Messiah and King, those who rejected him and turned away. It’s going to be brutal, but no more brutal than is necessary to accomplish his will. He’s in control. He’s powerful and good. Don’t be fooled and don’t be fearful. He’s coming soon. Get ready, and stay ready!
This may mean trusting Christ today. Get ready, and stay ready! Trust Christ today.
This may mean thanking Christ today. You and I don’t have to endure this chapter of Scripture! It’s happening. It must happen. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you for salvation. Thank you for deliverance. Thank you for redemption. Thank you for being a promise-keeping God! Thank you that your Son is going to return and fix all we’ve broken. Get ready, and stay ready! Thank Christ today.
Finally, this may mean serving Christ today. You’ve trusted him, you’ve thanked him, now it’s time to wait for him the way he wants you to wait: with anticipation and preparedness. I want to be found labouring well, being faithful for the name of my God. Get ready, and stay ready! Serve Christ today.
Don’t be fooled, brothers and sisters. Don’t be fearful, either. The end is coming, at some point. Perhaps today. It will be a God-glorifying, perfection-bringing, redemptive and restorative end. Trust him. Anticipate him. Get ready and stay ready.
Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.