Sunday, October 20, 2013

Leading up to the Tribulation: Matthew 24:1-14

The Scripture
1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.
2 And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things?  Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down."
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you.
5 "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many.
6 "You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.
7 "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.
8 "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
9 "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.
10 "At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.
11 "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.
12 "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.
13 "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
14 "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come."
The Temple

(Image believed to be one of the stones from the Temple!  "To the Trumpeting Place" by Talmoryair.  Wikipedia.  Public Domain in the United States.)

The prophecy of the Temple's destruction was fulfilled only a few decades later, in 70 AD.

This event certainly had significance for the Jews at the time - it was another step, like the veil of the Holy of Holies tearing in two at Christ's death (Matthew 27:51), demonstrating that Judaism was no longer the way to serve God, and that His dwelling place on Earth was no longer a physical building, but in His followers themselves (1 Corinthians 3:16).

But the disciples' questions about the End Times show that they picked up on some apocalyptic significance, as well.  This gets into kind of the mind-bending principle that even though we classify the "End Times" as the 7-year Tribulation of Revelation that is yet to come, the "End Times" basically actually started in Acts.  For example, the prophecy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit identified as fulfilled in Acts 2:16-21 is also End Times in nature.  But what's significant about the Temple's destruction in terms of the End Times is that it marked a critical event in Roman persecution of the Jews - and of Christians, who were considered a Jewish cult by the Romans.  This corresponds with the fact that, throughout history, Christians around the world have been persecuted - something that will intensify more and more as we get closer to the Tribulation.

Brief Elements
How are the false Christs manifested?  Well, in 20th century America we have certainly seen some famous cult leaders literally claim to be Christ and amass followings, and I believe we may see a lot more of that as it gets even closer to the Tribulation.  But we've also seen people presenting false Christs - such as in the "Christian" cults of Mormonism and the Jehovah's Witnesses, who preach a Jesus and a Gospel totally different than the true ones.  And, there have been other religions such as Islam to develop and gain popularity that offer a different identity of God - another type of false Christ.
Next, the passage mentions rampant wars, famines, and earthquakes.  There are two ways to look at this: (1) that these will intensify as the world gets closer to the End, and (2) that they will accomplish the "agenda" of the End Times.  It seems to me that both have turned out.  For example, we've had two world wars in the past century, and major natural disasters certainly seem to be escalating (although I don't have statistics on that).  But as for the second way, the End Times are all about demonstrating judgment and bringing people (with emphasis on the Jews) to repentance.  We can certainly see how wars and disasters throughout history could be used to accomplish these objectives.
But let's take a moment to step back and look at what Jesus said about how we should react to seeing these things:
  • We are to not fear.  We need to remember that even if the world is consumed by war, if natural disasters shatter our nations, and if people seek to kill us because of our faith, that God is still in control.  Easier said than done, obviously, but if we train our minds to remember that God is in control when "little" things go wrong in our lives now, it will be a far more natural reaction when the sky starts to fall.
  • We are to keep it all in perspective - there are so many "birth pangs" leading up to the "actual" End that we shouldn't freak out that "The End is nigh!" every time a flood happens or some country threatens to nuke the world.  That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be psychologically prepared for the possibility of the End Times occurring during our lives, or that we shouldn't actively engage in staying attentive to world events and comparing them with Biblical prophecy, but it does mean we shouldn't go crazy.  That only makes people think that Christians are all morons when the End doesn't happen right away - and that can prevent them from coming to Christ themselves.
  • We need to stay resolute in our faith.  More on that directly below.
The Great Apostasy
We Americans are disgustingly unaware of the persecution of our brothers and sisters around the globe, but frankly, outside of the Western World, it's quite rampant.  And there are certainly many cases where people renounce their faith because of the persecution.  Persecution of Americans has already started on small scales - Christian businesses have been fined for refusing to provide abortion pills to their employees, and we can get fired, suspended from school, and even arrested for "hate speech" for speaking God's Truth.  But one day, probably sooner than many people think, global persecution of the Church will arrive - and that includes America.  If the authorities showed up at your door today ready to cart you off to prison on the charge of being a Christian - would you proclaim your faith in Him?  If the punishment were death - would you still proclaim your faith in Him?  We can all flippantly say, "Well, yeah, of course" - that's easy because we don't really think that will happen.  But think it through - right now.  Vividly imagine that scenario.  Picture the handcuffs.  Picture the prison.  Picture the beatings.  Picture the noose, the electric chair, the firing squad.  Then ask yourself again: Would you claim Him, or deny Him?
But there's another thing still that drives people to fall away, an evil strong and active in the West right now: apathy.  The Church is lukewarm, claiming Christ but not living it out.  It accepts fornication, freely uses God's Name in vain, and is lazy, encouraging Christians and "Christians" to pursue their own lives with God on the side, rather than making every education choice, career choice, and relationship choice centered on Him.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.  Evil and apathy are rampant, and the Western Church clings to the abominable lie that we have a "right" to a "normal life" - and that "God understands" this.  Friends, that is evil.  If a person couldn't look at a random day of your life and tell that you are not just a "Christian" in the American sense of the word, but that you passionately believe it with every fiber of your being, something is wrong.
We cannot stay strong for Christ on auto-pilot - it is a daily war against the flesh, the evils of this world, and Satan's forces.  There can be no resting from it until the day we are called home.
The Gospel to All Nations
One of the prerequisites to the literal, official End is for every nation to hear the Gospel.  I can't locate exact information at this time, but last I heard, all we have left is a few pockets in Asia and Eurasia.  In other words: It's almost fulfilled!
But this brings up another important issue: What about the people who have never heard the Gospel - how is it "fair" that they go to hell when they've never had a chance to get saved?  Well, even though God likes to use us to spread His Good News (primarily for our sake, I believe, as it gives us a purpose and helps us mature in our faith), it's not as if He's limited to only using human words to bring people into a saving relationship with Him.  Romans 1:20 explains that God reveals the Truth about Himself through nature, and elsewhere Scripture makes clear that if someone is truly seeking God, He will reveal Himself to them, no matter if a missionary is around.  In fact, there have been multiple cases in the Middle East where Muslims have sought the True God, and God revealed Himself to them in dreams.  There will indeed be people from every tongue and tribe and nation from throughout history in Paradise.
What, then, is the point of the Gospel being verbally preached to all nations before the End can come?  I believe it's largely symbolic - that God's purpose for the world has been accomplished completely, at long last.
Any comments you'd like to add - insight, thoughts, further Scripture references?
Or any questions about this passage (or anything about the Bible or Christianity) you'd like to ask?
Then leave a comment below. :-)  Or you can e-mail me questions, if you prefer.
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