A Prophecy Lesson. Tuesday 12 Nisan
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matt. 24:1-2)
How this must have astonished the disciples. Over 500 years earlier the prophet Daniel had revealed that beginning with a decree authorizing the reconstruction of Jerusalem, Israel would be given 490 years during which all necessary preparations for the Messianic Kingdom would be made . They would finish transgression, put an end to sin, atone for wickedness, bring in everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and anoint the most holy (place). The most holy place refers to the Temple. Accomplishing this would require the Messiah to come and die for the sins of the people (Daniel 9:24-26).
The disciples knew the 483 year mark had been reached a few days earlier and that the Messiah was among them. He had explained to them that when they got to Jerusalem He would be executed but would come back from the grave three days later (Matt. 16:21, Luke 18:31-33). So there were only seven years left of the 490 years. The Temple had been undergoing a major reconstruction that so far had required 46 years (John 2:20) and wasn’t complete yet. But now Jesus was saying everything would be torn down. Not one stone would be left standing on another. How could that be?
As they began their trek up the Mt. of Olives on their way back to Bethany, four of the disciples (Peter, James, John and Andrew) approached Jesus to ask Him about these things. They had 3 questions for Him. First they wanted to know when this would happen. They also wanted to know what would be the sign of His coming, and what would be the sign of the end of the age (Matt. 24:3).
By their questions we can tell they’d been discussing this among themselves. Wanting to know when the Temple would be destroyed was an obvious reaction to his earlier statement, but the Lord’s 2nd Coming was still a new idea to them. And if the Temple was going to be torn down how would they know when the end of the age would come? They certainly could no longer count on it it happening in 7 years.
Matthew’s account of the Lord’s response does not contain an answer to their first question. But Luke’s does, so let’s go there first.
Jesus told them, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies you will know its desolation is near. There will be great distress in the land (Israel) and wrath against this people (the Jews). They will fall by the sword and be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20, 23,24).
The disciples were to understand that when they saw the Roman Armies surrounding Jerusalem it would mean Temple was about to be destroyed. The Jews mounted an unsuccessful revolt against Rome in 66 AD and by 70AD Jerusalem and the Temple lay in ruins.
In answering their 2nd and 3rd questions, Jesus began with an overview. In the times ahead there would be false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, but they would not signal the end. He said nation would rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There would be famines and earthquakes in various places. He characterized these as the beginning of birth pangs, meaning they would be indicators that the time of the 2nd Coming was near.
He said the Jewish people would be persecuted and hated by all nations because they would be blamed for His death. There would be false prophets, and an increase of wickedness, but he who stands firm to the end would be saved (Matt. 24:4-13).
We know he wasn’t talking about the Church here because our salvation is not contingent upon standing firm to the end. Our salvation was assured from the moment we believed (Ephes. 1:13-14). God has set His seal of ownership on us and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing this (2 Cor. 1:21-22). Jesus had post rapture believers in mind here, because they have no such guarantee. As you’ll see there’s no mention of the Church anywhere in this discussion because Jesus was speaking as a Jewish prophet explaining to His Jewish disciples about the end times as they concern the Jewish people. Remember, their questions to Him were about the remaining seven years of Daniel’s 70 Week prophecy, which is all about Israel.
Then He completed His overview by saying the Gospel would be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14). Now before you say, “There’s where the Church comes in,” let me take you to Rev. 14 to see the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Rev. 14:6-7)
Now the Lord gave them the first specific sign in answer to their questions. He said when the people of Judea see the abomination that causes desolation standing in the Holy place they should immediately flee for their lives (Matt. 24:15-16). The term abomination that causes desolation was well known to them even though it had only happened once previously. In one of history’s clearest models of the anti-Christ, the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes placed an image of the Greek god Zeus with his face on it in the Temple and demanded that the people worship it on pain of death. This rendered the Temple unfit for use and started the three and one half year Maccabean revolt. The annual celebration of their victory over the Syrians is called the Feast of Hanukkah. Every Jew knows the meaning of the abomination of desolation from this celebration. It was a sign they could all could recognize.
Jesus told the people of Judea to pray their flight wouldn’t be in winter or on a Sabbath when that happens again, because that sign would signal the beginning of the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21). It’s more difficult to travel in the winter and it’s against the Law for Jews to travel on the Sabbath.
It’s hard to over estimate the significance of that statement. Even though Jesus had earlier warned the disciples the Temple was soon to be destroyed and the people would be scattered to the nations, He now said there would be a Jewish nation in Israel with a working Temple again as the End of the Age approached. From about 135 AD until 1948 there was no Jewish nation, and since 70AD there hasn’t been a Temple there.
With 20-20 hindsight we can see that with the rejection of the Messiah, Daniel’s 70 week prophecy was suspended 7 years short of it’s fulfillment. The Lord’s brother James explained to the Early Church leaders that this suspension would remain in force while the Lord took from the Gentiles a people for Himself (the Church) and after that Israel would be restored (Acts 15:13-18). Therefore the Church Age didn’t cancel the remaining seven years, it has just postponed their fulfillment. After the Church has been raptured Israel’s final 7 years will resume and this time all their objectives will be reached.
The 3 ½ years of judgment that begins with the abomination that causes desolation will be the worst the world has ever seen or ever will see again (Matt. 24:21) No period of time is more carefully measured in all the Bible. It’s variously described as being 3 ½ years, or 40 months or 1260 days long. And then the Lord will return and put an end to it. He said if it was allowed it to run its course not a single human being would survive, but for the sake of His elect He will put an end to it at its appointed time (Matt. 24:22).
Immediately after the end of the Great tribulation the Sun and Moon will go dark and the stars will fall from the sky. The world will be plunged into darkness. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear as the only light in the sky and all the nations of the Earth will mourn. Then they will see the the Lord coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (Matt. 24:29-30).
Jesus said in effect that the generation of people being born when the first of the end times signs appear will still be alive at the 2nd Coming (Matt. 24:34). Since He began by saying there will be a nation of Jewish people in the Promised Land at the End times, and since that hadn’t been the case until 1948, scholars believe that the rebirth of Israel was the event that kicked off the End Times. If so, then many of the people who were born in 1948 will still be alive when He returns.
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36)
From Matt. 24:29-30 we can tell that Jesus was speaking about the day and hour of his return to Earth after the end of the Great Tribulation, and while you have likely seen different different interpretations of what follows, it’s important for you to understand that all of it pertains to the time immediately surrounding the 2nd Coming.
First He said it would be similar to the days of Noah. Before the flood unbelievers had no idea what was coming and why, and when Noah tried to warn them about it they just laughed, as if he was crazy. Right up to the day of the flood, they kept going about their lives, clueless to the fact that life as they knew it was about to end forever. It will be like that at the End of the Age as well. This is why Jesus said the nations will mourn when they see Him coming (Matt.24:30). They’ll finally realize that what they’ve been hearing is true and it will be too late for them to do anything in response.
He gave three examples of people appearing to be just alike and doing the same things, but one would be received into the Kingdom while the other would be sent away to eternal punishment. Matthew mentioned only two of them, the men in the field and the women grinding with a hand mill (Matt. 24:40-41). Luke added the two people sleeping in the same bed (Luke 17:34). The Lord’s point was that what differentiated them was not external and physical, but was internal and spiritual. It’s what they believe that makes them different.
The key to understanding these examples lies in the words taken and left. The Greek word for taken means to take unto oneself, or receive, and refers to surviving believers who will be received into the Kingdom. The word for left means to send away. These are the unbelievers who will be sent away for judgment. This example speaks of Tribulation survivors who will stand before the Lord upon His return to learn of their destiny.
Then He gave a warning that those who survive the Great Tribulation will not know the day or hour of His return so they should be watching for Him like a homeowner watches for a thief he knows is coming (Matt. 24:42-44).
Next, the Lord told them four parables, each one an example of how it will be just after the 2nd Coming. You’ll see that throughout this discussion there’s been no mention of a rapture or even of the Church itself. Nor will there be. This discussion is about Israel’s last seven years. The Church will be gone by then.
The Faithful Servant. (Matt. 24:45-51)
The first parable is about servants of a master’s house who’ve been given the responsibility of seeing that his other servants are fed . Remember, a parable is a fictional story placed in an Earthly context that’s designed to convey a Heavenly truth. Every character or event is symbolic of something else. Understanding what they symbolize helps us discover the Heavenly truth.
The servants in charge are post rapture ministers of the Gospel, which is symbolized by the food they provide for the other servants, their congregations. Their master is the Lord. None of them know exactly when He will return but when He does those who have been faithfully preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom will be rewarded. Those who’ve misled their flocks and preached a false Gospel will be punished. James warned us that those who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). By their actions, these servants will have shown themselves to be false teachers and will be judged accordingly.
Keep in mind that eternal security is a blessing given only to the Church. Post rapture believers will have to maintain their own righteousness or risk losing their salvation. Rev. 14:12 says they’ll have to keep God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. And Rev. 16:15 says, “Behold I come Like a thief. Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” When used symbolically, clothing stands for righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and post rapture believers will be responsible for their own.
The Ten Virgins. (Matt. 25:1-13)
Next He told the parable of the 10 virgins or bridesmaids. Once again He began by identifying the time frame of the parable. By saying “at that time” He was referring to Matt. 24:36, the day and hour of His 2nd Coming, which follows the end of the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:29).
The story is about 10 young women who’ve been waiting a long time for the bridegroom to come. It’s late and all 10 have fallen asleep. Suddenly they hear someone shouting that the bridegroom is finally coming. They’ve all been given lamps and oil to help light the way but five of them have run out of oil, and the other five can’t lend them any. Those without oil hurry to buy more, but while they’re on their way the bridegroom arrives and the wedding banquet begins. Arriving late, they ask the bridegroom to let them in but he claims not to know them and they’re denied entrance.
This is another example of how some tribulation survivors will be received into the Kingdom while others will be excluded. The key ingredient here is oil, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit and identifies the five who have it as faithful believers, while those without it are not.
Those who try to find the Church in this parable overlook the fact that the timing is all wrong, and the church is the bride, not a bridesmaid. A bride doesn’t need the groom’s permission to enter her own wedding banquet. Also, characterizing the five without oil as backslidden Church Age believers violates the one condition of our salvation, which is belief, not behavior. And finally, a Church Age believer cannot lose the Holy Spirit, who is sealed within us as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. Once again, the Lord warned them to keep watch because they won’t know the day or hour of his return (Matt 25:13).
The Talents. (Matt. 25:14-30)
Using the word “again” to begin this parable indicates the Lord is still speaking of the time just after His 2nd Coming and that means the servants are Tribulation survivors. It’s the story of three servants who were given allotments of money, 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent respectively, by a master who was going away for a time. When He returned he called them in for an accounting. The servants who were given 5 and 2 talents had both doubled their master’s money and were commended. The servant given one talent had buried it in the ground and returned it to him untouched. This servant was rebuked. The talent was taken from him and he was thrown into the outer darkness.
Remember, in a parable everything is symbolic. The key to understanding this one lies in discovering what a talent of money symbolizes. Five talents was a lot of money, so the talents must represent something very valuable to the Lord, but there’s no indication in the Bible that money is valuable to Him. Seeing them as abilities we have is also a mistake because we don’t have anything He needs. Even the most “talented” among us can not contribute anything to His accomplishments. Out of love He sometimes lets us help, but He doesn’t need our help. Job 35:6-8 tells us our sins don’t hurt Him and our righteousness doesn’t help Him. They only affect us. However, according to Psalm 138:2 He values His name and His word above all things.
God must fulfill the promises He has made. We call these promises prophecy. He’s given His word that He will do all that He says (Isaiah 46:11) because His name is at stake (Ezekiel 36:22-23). Study His word and your faith will multiply. But ignore it and you’ll lose even the little bit with which you began. In the Church Age we’re protected against total loss (1 Cor. 3:15), but it won’t be so afterward. If they don’t use, they’ll lose it. And they’ll lose their place in the Kingdom as well.
The Sheep And The Goats. (Matt. 25:31-46)
The Lord’s final example leaves no doubt as to its timing. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on his throne in heavenly glory” (Matt. 25:31) It’s the time just after the 2nd coming when He will bring all the world’s tribulation survivors to stand before Him in judgment. He’ll separate them based on how they treated His brothers during the Great Tribulation. Believers, called sheep, will be placed on His right and welcomed into the Millennial Kingdom where they’ll help repopulate the Earth. Unbelievers, called goats, will be placed on His left and then thrown into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
This appears to be a judgment based on works, but as with everything else the Lord looks at the motive behind our actions. Only a true believer would be willing to take the risks necessary to help protect the Jewish people against the anti-Christ’s determined effort to wipe them out to the last one. If he can do this before they petition the Lord’s return he will have won, so his extermination efforts will be even more relentless than Hitler’s. Anyone caught trying to thwart his effort will share the fate of the Jews. Those who help the Jews will be doing so at their own peril. But it will be as if they are helping the Lord Himself out of gratitude for all He’s done for them. Their faith will be rewarded.
After Jesus had told them all these things they joined the rest of the disciples and continued on their short walk to Bethany, where they were staying. More next time.