Book traversal links for Chapter 24 The King Reveals the Future Part 1
Chapters 24-25 are very closely linked. They give us what Sir Robert Anderson has called “the second Sermon on the Mount.” All that we have here was uttered by our Lord on the Mount of Olives in answer to the questions of His disciples, “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and the end of the world [or age]?” They deserve a much more careful consideration than we can give them here. In chapter 24, He shows the conditions that will prevail in the world during the time of His rejection and, more particularly, in what the prophet Daniel calls “the time of the end,” the Great Tribulation immediately preceding our Lord’s return as Son of Man, to set up the kingdom of heaven on this earth in power and glory. In the three parables of chapter 25 we have, first, in that of the virgins, the responsibilities resting upon His people during His absence and the importance of being ready to greet Him when He returns. In that of the talents we are reminded of the account that every servant will have to give in that day for whatever ability has been entrusted to him. In the last we have the judgment of the living nations when the Son of Man comes in the clouds of heaven, with His holy angels, and sits upon the throne of His glory.
This judgment of the nations on the earth at that time is not to be confounded with the judgment of the wicked dead, when the Great White Throne is set up at the end of the kingdom age, which will be also the end of the world. The contrast is very noticeable between that scene in Revelation 20:11-15 and the premillennial judgment of Matthew 25:31-46. The two events are separated by a thousand years.
After His most solemn denunciation of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees and His expression of grief over the blindness and insubjection of the people of Jerusalem, the Lord left the temple courts where He had been preaching and teaching and with His disciples walked across the brook Kedron to the Mount of Olives. Before they left the city, the disciples attempted to arouse His admiration for the beautiful buildings on the temple site.
And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. (vv. 1-2)
When Jesus so spoke, it must have seemed a prophecy that was unlikely to be fulfilled. In the eyes of His followers, those buildings looked substantial enough to stand for many centuries. Yet His words were to be proven true after a probationary period of forty years. Evidently the disciples linked the prediction of Jesus to what He had said on former occasions concerning His second coming. So, after they had reached and were seated upon the Mount that overlooked the fair but doomed city, they put three questions to Him:
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (v. 3)
Note the questions in order:
1. “When shall these things be?” That is, when shall Jerusalem be destroyed? The answer to this is given more fully in Luke’s report of His discourse (Luke 21:20-24).
2. “What shall be the sign of thy coming?” Both Matthew here and Mark in his thirteenth chapter give the answer to this.
3. “What shall be the sign of… the end [consummation, or full end] of the age?” It is not the world as such but the age of which they spoke. This is answered here and also in the corresponding passage in the gospel according to Mark. Each Evangelist wrote as guided by the Holy Spirit. In verses 4-8 Matthew deals particularly with the characteristics of the entire present age until Christ returns. Then in verses 9—14 he emphasizes the signs of the last days. Verse 15 brings in the beginning of the Great Tribulation, as predicted also in Daniel 12:11. Verses 16-28 give details of that time of trouble. Verses 29-31 bring us to the end of the age and the coming of the Son of man. The rest of the chapter gives illustrations and admonitions, all based on what has gone before.
Let us consider the first section.
And Jesus answered and said unto them. Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows, (vv. 4-8)
The conditions depicted here have marked all the centuries since the Lord returned to heaven. They do not in themselves tell us of the nearness of His return, but they show us how badly this poor world needs a competent Ruler and how all creation groans as it waits for His advent.
“Take heed that no man deceive you.” Satan works by imitation. He seeks to ensnare by counterfeiting everything that is of God. Hence the necessity to be on guard constantly against his deceptions. We need to test everything by the Holy Scripture.
“Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ.” The number of impostors or antichrists have been legion. Often such men, and occasionally women, have given every evidence of paranoia; but many have been willful deceivers. No one would ever have been led astray by such pretenders to messiahship if they had remembered that Christ is not coming again to earth as He came before, through the gate of birth. He will come as the Lord from heaven accompanied by the whole celestial train.
“The end is not yet.” Ever since He ascended to heaven, wars and rumors of wars have been constant reminders of man’s folly in rejecting the Prince of Peace, but these are not evidences of the closing up of the age. It is a mistake to look upon the conflicts of nations as being in themselves signs that the Second Advent is close at hand.
Verse seven depicts a series of great wars in which many nations and kingdoms will be engaged. Such conflicts have been frequent during the past nineteen hundred years and have increased in intensity and frightfulness during the last century, so that the world wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 have been the worst mankind has ever known. As the aftermath of widespread warfare there invariably succeed famines and pestilences. To these plagues are added here earthquakes in many places, which would seem to imply a great increase in natural convulsions as the end draws nigh.
“All these are the beginning of sorrows.” They are to be succeeded by far worse and more startling conditions before the Son of Man appears in person to bring in the kingdom that was rejected when He was here the first time.
The secret of the rapture of the church, prior to the end time, is not introduced here in this great prophetic discourse. That was still a hidden mystery when Jesus spoke these words. There is no time set for it, nor are there any signs indicated. The signs here all have to do with His revelation from heaven as the King who is to return to take His great power and reign. The coming of the Son of Man refers always to this event, never to the Rapture.
The conditions depicted in verses 9-14 fit perfectly with the first half of the unfulfilled seventieth week of Daniel; therefore it is quite possible that the Rapture should be fitted in between verses 8-9. On the other hand, similar conditions have taken place again and again during the so-called Christian centuries, but they will be accentuated in the time of the end.1
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (vv. 9-14)
“Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” The martyrdom of the saints, first under pagan rule, then under papal Rome, and later under various other evil systems, is not to be ignored when considering this prophecy. Martyrdom will not cease when the church of God is caught away. Then the Lord will call out a new testimony when He takes Israel up once more; and many of His witnesses, in those dark days, will be called upon to lay down their lives during the reign of the imperial atheistic Beast-power of the last days and his satellite, the personal Antichrist. So that these predictions will have a double fulfillment—during the present age of grace and in the coming period of judgment.
Then there will be great apostasy when many shall be stumbled and faithful servants of God will be betrayed by their closest relatives. This, too, has had a partial fulfillment during this dispensation. History repeats itself, both in the professing church and in the world.
The closer we come to the end, the more active will Satan be, knowing his time is short. So “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.”
Because of abounding iniquity, those professing allegiance to Christ will be grievously tested. Where love was only superficial, it will become cold, and so apostasy will prevail.
The test of reality in any age is endurance. So it is now, and so it will be in the day of grief and sorrow that lies ahead of Christendom. “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” In order to fit these solemn words into the truth revealed elsewhere of the believer’s eternal security, it is not necessary to say that they apply solely to the tribulation period. It is true always that only those who endure shall be finally saved. But when one has been born of God and so received eternal life he will endure. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). He who makes a profession of faith in Christ and then in the hour of testing repudiates it and goes back like a dog to his vomit or a sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:20-22) gives evidence that he was never born of the Word and Spirit of God. Had such an one been a sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd, he would never have been attracted to the hog-wallow.
The Great Tribulation in its full sense will begin in the midst of the seventieth week—that is, of the last seven years of Daniel’s great time-prophecy. It will be ushered in by the setting up of the abomination that makes desolate. To this the next section refers.
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, He is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together, (vv. 15-28)
We have here a graphic portrayal of the outstanding events of the time of trouble, “such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time” (Dan. 12:1).
The abomination of desolation of old (Dan. 11:31) was an image set up by Antiochus Epiphanes, King of Syria, in the temple at Jerusalem, after he had defiled the sanctuary by offering a sow upon the altar and sprinkling its blood in the holy places. The abomination of desolation in the future will evidently be some outward recognition of the apostate power and the antichrist. Forewarned by this prophecy, saints in those days will recognize this, and it will be to them the signal to flee from Jerusalem and from Palestine to “the wilderness of the people” (Ezek. 20:35), where they will be hidden from the wrath of the Beast and his followers, “until the indignation be overpast” (Isa. 26:20). These will be “the brethren” of the Lord of whom He speaks in the next chapter, when He pictures the judgment of the nations which will be living on the earth when the Son of Man shall come in His glory.
These faithful Jews, the remnant so often spoken of in the prophets, will flee in haste, not waiting to take their goods and chattels with them, lest the fury of the Antichrist burst upon them.
They are exhorted to pray that their flight be not in the winter nor on the Sabbath day. This, in itself, indicates a different condition of things to that prevailing in this present age. While this remnant will be waiting for the manifestation of Messiah, they will be on Jewish ground, under law because not as yet having entered into the liberty of grace.
“Then shall be great tribulation.” Such distress as had not been known from the world’s beginning unto that time. So terrible will be the conditions that unless God in mercy shortens the days there should no flesh be saved. But for the sake of the elect—not the elect of the church but of Israel—He will shorten the days. They are numbered as actually 1,260 days in the book of Revelation. This would be three-and-one-half years, made up of thirty-day months, and so considerably shorter than the full time if the years were counted as of 365 days each.
In the time of trouble, all who have turned to God will be looking for the Son of Man to return and give deliverance. Satan will attempt to deceive them by offering false christs, and, above all, presenting the personal Antichrist himself as the expected one. But those who know God and rely upon His Word—”the very elect”—will be prepared to refuse all such deceptions.
If told that Messiah has come already and is manifesting Himself in the desert, they are not to go forth seeking Him there. If told He is hidden in some secret place, they are not to believe it, for His coming will be in visible, manifested glory when He shines forth from heaven as lightning flaming athwart the sky.
As the Great Tribulation moves on to its culmination, apostate Judaism, centering in Jerusalem, will be as a putrid carcass against which the eagles (or vultures) will be gathered together. This is a vivid picture of the gathering of the armies of “all nations against Jerusalem to battle,” as foretold in Zechariah 14 and other Scripture passages.
The Second Advent will take place at the very time when it will seem as though Satan’s triumph is complete.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other, (vv. 29-31)
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days … then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven.” There are many who hold and teach that the Great Tribulation is past already: that it referred to the great persecution for over two centuries under pagan Rome, or to the worse persecutions under papal Rome in the years preceding and following the Protestant Reformation. But our Lord tells us definitely here that His second advent is to follow at once upon the close of that time of trouble, so that it is evident that this day of trial is yet in the future. When it comes to its complete fulfillment, there will be remarkable manifestations among the heavenly bodies, and the Son of Man will be seen “coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” The tribes of the earth, or more properly, of the land, will then mourn as predicted in Zechariah 12:10-12 when they look upon Him whom they once rejected and whom they pierced as they realize at last that He is the King, the Anointed One for whose coming they have waited so long.
Then the great trumpet shall be blown (Isa. 27:13), and the angels will gather together the elect from all quarters of the earth, those who in that time of testing will have received the kingdom message and so be prepared to welcome the King at His return. This is not at all the same event as the Rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4. There the saints living and dead will be changed, raised from the grave, and caught up to meet the Lord in the air. But when the Son of Man descends to the earth, His elect will be gathered from the four winds to greet Him as their King and Deliverer. Thus at long last shall the throne of David be set up again in Jerusalem, and the law shall go forth from Mount Zion, where Christ Himself shall reign in righteousness for a thousand glorious years as we learn in Revelation 20.
In the next section the Lord gives the answer to the question “What shall be the sign of thy coming?”
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away. (vv. 32-35)
The preeminent sign that the time for the appearing of the Son of Man has drawn near is that of the budding fig tree. The fig tree is the well-known symbol of Israel nationally. For many centuries the scattered Israelites, once owned by God as His own covenant people, have had no national existence. But today they are returning to Palestine in large numbers and once more indulging in the sense of again being a distinct nation. Thus the fig tree is putting forth its green leaves, and thereby proclaiming the near return of Him who is yet to be acknowledged as their Messiah and King. At present, they are going back in unbelief, as Scripture indicates they would, for it is after many have returned to the land that the nation will be regenerated. If the new life manifested in the fig tree heralds the approach of the day of Israel’s blessing, how near must be the hour of the Rapture!
How verse 33 should speak to the people of God today as well as to the remnant of Israel in days to come! “When ye see these things, know that he is near, even at the doors” (marg. reading).
His return is certain, for His Word can never fail. Though heaven and earth should pass away, His words shall never pass away.
The very uncertainty as to the actual time of the Second Advent furnishes the basis for the warning words that follow:
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. (vv. 36-41)
The comparison of the antediluvian world with that which will exist at the Lord’s return negatives the idea indulged in and propagated by many that all mankind is to be converted before that day comes. Such an expectation is but an idle dream without any scriptural teaching to support it. As it was in the days of Noah, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. In the days preceding the Flood, men lived carelessly and self-indulgently. Corruption and violence filled the earth. God’s message given through Noah was spurned as an idle tale. While they were insensible to their danger, the Flood came and destroyed them all. So will it be at the Lord’s coming.
Then two will be working in the field, one a believer and the other an unbeliever. The latter will be taken away by judgment; the other will be left to enter the kingdom and enjoy its blessings. Likewise shall it be with two women grinding corn for the morning meal. This passage is often applied to the separation at the Rapture, and it is quite possible to so use it. But in that case we would understand the righteous would be caught away to meet the Lord in the air, and the other left to endure the judgment of the tribulation era.
No one can know beforehand just when the Son of Man will return. It will behoove all, therefore, who live in that day of trial to be ever watching lest He come as a thief in the night.
Responsibility to live for God and witness for Christ while waiting and watching for His appearing is what is stressed in the closing verses of the chapter.
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, (vv. 45-51)
It is a great responsibility to be put in trust with any measure of divine truth. What is given is not for our own information alone but to be passed on to others. “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Those to whom the Lord has made known His purpose and counsels are therefore called upon to act as good stewards of the manifold grace of God, sharing with the household of faith the spiritual food for their encouragement and edification. The servant who fulfills his responsibilities along this line will be duly rewarded in the day of manifestation. But if any attempt to trifle with the truth, putting far off the coming of the Master, and live selfishly, manifesting a haughty, overbearing spirit, they will have to face the Judge at an unexpected hour and will be given their portion with the hypocrites. Such a false servant is, of course, not a true child of God at all, but he will be judged nevertheless according to the profession he has made. It is a very serious thing to use one’s knowledge of the truth of God for selfish enrichment, with no real concern for those to whose needs one is called to minister.
All service is to be in view of the coming again of the King when His faithful servants will have their places appointed in the kingdom according to the measure of their devotedness during the day of testimony.
1 The perplexed reader might find help in the author’s Lectures on Daniel the Prophet and The Great Parenthesis. In these the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is fully explained.