20th June 2023
Read (Matthew 24v1-14)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
There are few subjects in Christian theology that get people's pulses racing like eschatology. Escha-what? Eschatology. It is the study of the words about the end times. What will happen before Christ's return? Will it involve Russia? Does Scripture predict Donald Trump? These are questions that I've heard discussed in the Christian world over the past few years and they never fail to raise heated debate.
Christ did not leave us in the dark about these things. Matthew 24 is the beginning of what is known as the Olivet Discourse where Jesus spoke eschatological truth to His disciples. What did Jesus say? The first topic that Matthew records for us is the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The disciples were pointing out the great beautiful buildings in the temple complex (v1) and in reply Jesus said “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (v2). This would have been an astonishing claim for Christ to make but we know from history that the Romans tore down the temple in the year 70 and it remains in ruins today. Jerusalem and Israel were left desolate.
Later on the Mount of Olives the Lord's followers asked Him privately “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (v3). Before we jump into the Lord's answer, it is important to note that the "signs" of which He speaks relate to the years leading up to the year 70 AND of the days we currently live. Christ's predications have come true and they are coming true. They have been fulfilled and they are being fulfilled.
So what did the disciples see and what can we expect as we await Christ's return? Six things. Firstly, Jesus said that we can expect many false Christs to rise and attempt to lead many astray (v4-5). The so called "early church" experienced a great many "antichrists" of in simple terms, individuals who sought to take the place of Jesus. There are antichrists in the world today and we can expect more in the future. Secondly, the world will be marked by war and violence (v6) with nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom (v7a). Thirdly, we will witness days of difficulty upon the earth. There will be famines and natural disasters in various places (v7b). These are "birth pains" says Jesus (v8). Just as a mother experiences ever increasing pain before she gives birth, so too will the world know increasing trouble before the return of Christ.
Fourthly, the church of Christ will know persecution upon the earth (v9). The Apostles would experience a life of trouble and strife and the majority would have their lives taken from them for the sake of Jesus. Their experience remains the experience of many Christians today. Believers are hated for Christ's sake (v9b) and tragically when persecution comes, many leave the cause of Christ and even betray one another (v10). False prophets have always been a problem in the faith, the Apostles witnessed this and we do too. These individuals seek to lead many away from the Lord (v11).
Fifthly, this age will be marked by a growing love of evil and a growing decrease in love of God and of neighbour (v12). How often have we lamented this very issue in the modern world? Evil is called good and good is called evil. Sixthly, the Gospel must be proclaimed throughout the entire world before the end will come (v14). This is a work started by the Apostles which continues to this very day. The Gospel must go to the ends of the earth.
What are we to make of this teaching? I offer two words - alertness & assurance. We are to marked by alertness because these days are wicked. We are to grow in knowledge of the things of God and be wise to Satan's schemes. We are to stay awake for we are living in the last days which can be defined as the time between Christ's first and second advents. But to be alert does not mean that we can't rest. The Christian understands Christ's eschatological teaching and finds in it great assurance. Jesus writes the pages of history, He remains sovereign over all and Christ will surely have the victory.
The Olivet Discourse is worth our time and attention for it maps out the experience of both the Apostles and the Church of Christ ever since. Brothers and sisters, read these verses, take them to heart, believe them and stand firm in Christ. For "the one who endures to the end will be saved." (v13).
Q77 What is required in the ninth commandment? The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness bearing.