The Second Coming of Christ, Part One
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, March 3, 1996
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
See Also Mark 13 & Luke 21
On the Tuesday of the last week of his ministry on earth, Jesus finished teaching in the temple and was walking away when his disciples called his attention to the beautiful buildings of Herod's temple. Jesus shocked his disciples by predicting the destruction of this temple. Later, he addressed two questions brought to him by the disciples: when the temple would be destroyed, and what would be the sign of his own coming and the end of the age. In this passage Jesus answers those questions by giving a prophetic preview of what would transpire between the time of his resurrection and that of his second coming.
The twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, together with Mark 13 and Luke 21, is called the Olivet Discourse, because Jesus spoke these words sitting on the Mount of Olives, which is located directly to the east of the temple. This is one of the most difficult passages in the gospel of Matthew, so we need to pay close attention to understand what Jesus is teaching. It is called an eschatological passage, meaning it contains doctrines relating to the end times. But not only does it speak of the end of the age, but it also addresses what will happen in the interadventual period.
The Destruction of the Temple
After Jesus had finished teaching, his disciples pointed out to him how beautiful and massive the stones were with which Herod the Great had been renovating and expanding the temple complex. The disciples were marveling at these buildings, not only because of their beauty, but because they seemed so solid, so indestructible and so permanent.
This was the third temple construction project. King Solomon had finished his beautiful temple in 965 B.C., but it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. In 536 B.C., under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a smaller temple was begun, and we read how Haggai and Zechariah prophesied during that time to encourage those working on the temple. This temple project was finished in 516 B. C.
In 19 B.C. Herod the Great began renovating and expanding the temple. Herod was crafty and cruel, but he was also a great lover of architecture and a very capable man. The construction on the temple was still going on when the disciples pointed it out to Jesus, and was actually not finished until 63 A.D., long after the death of Herod. This edifice, known as Herod's temple, was the most beautiful building at that time--one of the wonders of the ancient world. From the writings of Josephus we learn that some of the stones used were very large: thirty-seven feet long, eighteen feet wide, and twelve feet high. So these buildings, even while they were being constructed, gave a great feeling of permanence, solidity and security.
Imagine, then, the reaction of the disciples when Jesus answered them. He said, "Do you see these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (v. 2) Jesus' prediction of the destruction of these buildings shocked and bewildered his disciples.
Jesus' prediction came to pass in 70 A.D., only seven years after the temple was completed. If you go to Jerusalem today you can feel the power of Jesus' words as you see how the Roman armies completely destroyed these massive buildings. Only a small portion of the western wall was preserved, and this wall has become the most sacred place for pious Jews all over the world.
The Question of the Disciples
Leaving the temple area, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Kidron Valley and climbed up the slopes of the Mount of Olives. As they sat looking at the buildings to the west, bathed in golden glory, the senior disciples--James, John, Peter and Andrew--had two questions. They asked Jesus when the predicted destruction of the temple complex would occur; and what would be the signs of the coming of Jesus and of the end of the age. It seems clear that, in the minds of these disciples, the destruction of the temple and the coming of Christ were to happen simultaneously.
In all three portions that deal with this, Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13, Jesus corrected this misunderstanding. He explained that the destruction of the temple would take place within the generation of the disciples, and as we have said, it occurred in 70 A.D. But Jesus also revealed that his second coming and the end of the age would not take place at the same time as the destruction of the temple, but rather later on, at a time that no one knows. Then Jesus gave a preview to his disciples of all that would happen between the time of his departure and that of his coming again in clouds with great glory.
Signs of the End of the Age
Deceivers will come
First Jesus said that all kinds of religious deceivers would arise whose work would be to deceive as many people as possible. "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many." In verse 24 we also read that these people will have power to perform miracles and wonders. There will be many false Christs, who will come saying, "I am the Christ." In his first and second epistles, the apostle John wrote about these antichrists, having heard about them from the lips of Jesus himself. Their purpose is to deceive many, not just unbelievers, but also so-called believers in Jesus Christ.
So Jesus predicted a time of great religious revival. Many false religions will arise until the coming of the true Christ. There will also be false prophets whose purpose is to deceive people and turn them away from the true Christ, Jesus Christ (v. 11). This interadventual period is a time of great religious deception, with false religions, cults, false leaders, false preaching, and false promises.
When you study church history, you see that these words of Jesus have been completely fulfilled. Christendom itself has come under deception. There are false Christs and false prophets functioning under the inspiration of Satan, and the naive, the gullible, the emotionally-unstable, and those who will not want to exercise their minds, are being deceived by them. Have you seen cults flourishing throughout the world? Many cult members formerly belonged to Christian churches. We see Jesus' words coming true, that deceivers, false Christs and false prophets, will come and will deceive many, including the vast majority of professing Christians.
Wars and rumors of wars
Next Jesus said, "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars . . . nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." This will happen, not just at the end of the age, but throughout the time between the resurrection and the second coming of Christ, and the United Nations can do nothing about it. Why? Jesus said it would happen. No organization in the world can stop nations fighting against other nations, and kingdoms rising against kingdoms. No group can stop or control this international turmoil. We have heard in our own century how millions of people have been destroyed due to war. This should not surprise us, as it was predicted by our Lord Jesus Christ. But Jesus also exhorts the elect, the true Christians, to be calm and not be alarmed as they hear of these wars and rumors of wars.
There will be famines
Although there is great agricultural research going on today and vast amounts of grain produced throughout the world, Jesus predicted famine, and we see this happening around us. Why? Despite all the research and agricultural expertise available today, there are still floods, droughts, or frosts. Jesus said there will be famine and many people will die for lack of food. That doesn't mean we shouldn't take action to prevent it. We should do everything we can, but we must realize that no man's scientific expertise and no nation's scientific research can completely wipe away famines.
There will be pestilence
In Luke 21:11 Jesus said there will be pestilence during this interadventual period. Wars and famine have contributed to outbreaks of disease throughout history. We read about plague and disease all the time, don't we? Even AIDS is included in this prophecy of Jesus Christ. In the midst of these things, it is comforting to read the scripture and see there is a sovereign Lord who controls all.
There will be great earthquakes
Now, we are used to mild earthquakes, 2.3, 3.7 or 4.1 on the Richter scale, that don't do much damage to us, but Jesus is speaking about great earthquakes. In the nineteenth century alone someone reported that there were seven hundred serious earthquakes. There have been many devastating earthquakes, including one in 1755 in Lisbon, Portugal, in which 60,000 people died. We who live in California are waiting for the great one to come, isn't that true? So during this interadventual period many will lose their lives due to great earthquakes.
These are the beginning of the birth pains
Then Jesus told his disciples not to panic or conclude that he was coming soon simply because there were wars and rumors of war, false messiahs, pestilence, great earthquakes and all. He said these were simply the beginning of the birth pains, the beginning of sorrows, meaning much more would have to happen until the messianic age would be ushered in.
What about us? We also should not conclude, as we see these things happening, that Jesus is going to come right now, or that we are living at the end of the age. These are just the beginning of the birth pains which eventually will bring in the messianic age. Yet we know that people continue to predict the coming of Christ as they read about these events and are impressed by them. No, if you are a Christian, Jesus Christ said, do not be alarmed by these things. This is just the beginning of sorrows. The elect will not be alarmed, but rather, they will study the prophecy of Christ and be forewarned.
There will be persecution
In the book of Acts we read how the disciples of Jesus were persecuted. What happened to Jesus a few days after speaking these words also happened to his followers. The authorities arrested them, dragged them to the local courts, synagogues or the Sanhedrin, flogged them, and handed them then over to the Gentile authorities just as they did to Jesus Christ.
Look at verse 9. What does Jesus say will happen to Christians? "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death." Now, if you are a person who received Jesus Christ just to get out of trouble and be happy, or to get a bigger house and more possessions, then you are deceived and confused. Here we are told by Jesus Christ that many will be put to death.
You will be hated by all
Do you like being hated? We naturally want to be loved by all. But here we are told that Christians will be hated by all, including people in the church who are not authentic Christians. If we don't want to be hated or persecuted or arrested or flogged or killed, then we should not believe in Jesus. Have you ever heard this type of preaching: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so you may be arrested, dragged out, flogged and put to death"? Jesus promised this for his disciples, but then he gives us cause for comfort in Luke 21:18-19: "But not one hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life." You will be totally saved, in other words, in due course.
Why will this happen? It is because of the Christian's identification with Jesus. Because a Christian is a disciple and follower of Jesus, he or she will be hated by Satan, the world and even some in the church. Today many believe in Jesus to get out of troubles, to feel good, or to become successful, but Jesus promises and predicts persecution for us. In Luke 14:26 we are told that as a disciple, you must hate even your own life, meaning that we must love God more than this physical life that we live on this earth.
There will be great apostasy
During this interadventual period, because of the prospect of persecution, troubles, trials, beatings, loss of property and so on, those who are superficial Christians will abandon their faith and become apostate. To avoid persecution, they will turn against Christ and true Christians, and will become complete antinomians. Jesus said, "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. . ." (v. 10) In this time, true Christians will be a minority.
I was recently at a large, evangelical gathering in the Far East where I was surprised to learn that the leaders of this group no longer preach that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, the only Savior of the world. There I saw an example of a vast number of people who have abandoned the faith. As we read in these passages, such people become apostate and antinomian because of the persecution and trouble that is coming to Christians. Then, to further avoid pain, troubles, loss of property and persecution, these superficial, false Christians will join the forces of Satan and begin to zealously oppose true Christians. Look at Mark 13:12-13, where Jesus said, "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands to the end will be saved." Not even the ties of family relationships are strong enough to prevent this persecution of Christians.
God will grant the Holy Spirit to his disciples
As I studied these things, I thought, "O God, this is terrible! There is so much trouble--beating, flogging, arresting, being dragged into court, killing and burning at the stake--predicted for Christian disciples. How can we really live as Christians in a hostile world, surrounded by enemies who want to destroy us--enemies which include our own mothers and fathers and brothers and children? How can we live with people wanting to burn us at the stake or crucify us?" We know these things have happened throughout the history of the church. We can read about them in Foxe's Book of Martyrs , or go to the catacomb of Saint Sebastian in Rome, where thousands of Christians who were killed from the first century to the third century are buried. We are well aware that even in the twentieth century thousands of Christians have been persecuted and murdered for their faith.
Jesus anticipated this question, and in Mark 13:11 he spoke about the Holy Spirit. "Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit."
Many today, even brilliant theologians, say that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer operating, and that there is not much to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit didn't stop working in the first century! We are living in a real world of total hostility, and we cannot live by our willpower alone. Yes, thousands of Christians have been persecuted and killed for their faith even in this century. You cannot tell me that these words of Jesus do not apply to us today. How can we be sustained as clear witnesses for Jesus Christ and die for our faith? Read the book of Acts! God will enable us to do so by the mighty Holy Spirit, who gives us great power and pours upon us his gifts, that we may live for him.
There will be global evangelism
During this period, Jesus said there would be global evangelism. Mark 13:10 says "And the gospel must first be preached to all nations," and Matthew 24:14 says, "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
We must understand that the preaching of the gospel brings about persecution, and therefore many will not preach it, but Jesus said the gospel will be preached in the whole world. In Matthew 24:14 we are told that in the context of this great persecution, pain, trouble, killing and flogging, God will raise up people to declare that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. Not only must the gospel first be preached (Mark 13:10, but there is a promise here: it will be preached. There will be authentic Christians, filled with the Spirit of God and raised up by the sovereign Lord to preach the gospel with power. In Matthew 28:18-20 we read, "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."
We recently met with some people in India. Under the mighty influence of the Holy Spirit, they committed themselves to Jesus Christ and his gospel. These former Hindus, former worshipers of idols, now have a great passion to learn the word of God. Why? The gospel was preached to them. So despite all the troubles and problems predicted by Jesus in this passage, he also declares that the gospel will be preached to all nations. The baptism of the Holy Spirit gives power to the elect of God and they, without fear, will go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations. Those chosen to salvation shall repent and believe and become authentic disciples of Jesus.
The same Holy Spirit will make these disciples bold and articulate, and they will not fear death. As I said before, when I read about people burned at the stake or crucified or stoned or destroyed by sword, my question was, "How did they do it?" Oh, they were given mighty grace. The Spirit that indwelt them also assisted, helped and guided them, and therefore, they became witnesses. Except for the apostle John, all of the disciples were killed, as far as we know. But Satan cannot keep the mouths of God's people shut. The Holy Spirit shall open their mouths and they shall prophesy, as we read in Acts 2: sons, daughters, and even slaves shall receive the Spirit of God and prophesy. And the gifts of the Spirit shall be given to them. We need the Holy Spirit and his gifts for the true preaching of the gospel and for the life of the church in this hostile world until Jesus comes again.
So Jesus said that in spite of false prophets, false Christs, wars, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, persecution, hatred, apostasy, and the killing of Christians, the gospel must and will be preached to all nations. It is his gospel. He is the sovereign Lord, so his will will be done. In Luke 19:39 Jesus said that if his disciples kept quiet, the stones would cry out. But no stones are necessary. God's servants, with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, will cry out, "Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." That is what is happening, even today, throughout the world. True Christians who have counted the cost are energized by the Spirit, impelled by the love of Christ, to declare to the world: Be reconciled to God.
The end will come
In Matthew 24:14 we are told that when the gospel is preached to all nations, then the end will come. We are living at a time when this requirement is being speedily fulfilled. Look at the multiplicity of Bible translations: thousands and thousands of people are now reading the gospel. The Bible is being translated into hundreds of languages and dialects, and people are sacrificing to go to people throughout the world, learn their languages and translate these wonderful words of life, the gospel. Some are killed for their efforts, and some are laughed at by anthropologists and others who say that missionaries should leave people in their primitive, pristine darkness, and not destroy the purity of "authentic living."
So the gospel is being preached in all the world. Much preaching is false, but the true gospel also is being preached, for which I praise God. Our salvation, brothers and sisters, is nearer than when these words were spoken by Jesus.
I will continue this study next time, but let us remember that God's truth is real. No man can prophesy and predict the future, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, told us these things for our comfort and consolation, so that we will be steady and strong as we hear about wars and rumors of wars, and as we are dragged out, hated, persecuted and destroyed for the sake of the gospel. He will cause us to persevere; he who endures to the very end will be saved. May we study God's word, that it may be a light to our path and to our feet, that we may be steady, strong, unmoved, and unshaken by what is going on all around us. Amen.
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Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
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