[A]. IMPORTANT INTRODUCTION:
In 1Cor 15:51, “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” Paul sets out the revelation from God of the Rapture, developed further in maybe 10 years time in 1Thess 4. He calls it here a “mystery,” which is a Greek work meaning the revelation of a new truth that has been hidden and not previously known. Up until this time, the Rapture had not been known. This was something altogether new.
Therefore, the whole concept of the Rapture was unknown to the disciples when Jesus was here with them. The only slight hint of the Rapture in anything Jesus said may have been in John 14:1-6. It is important to realize these points, because it will determine how we are to look at prophecy passages, especially Matthew 24. There is one passage I’d like you to consider. It is this one here:
Acts 1:6-7 “And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel’? He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.'”
This was on the Ascension Day, some 40 days after the Resurrection, and Jesus had been teaching them during those 40 days. Do you see where their focus was still centered? It was on the Messianic Kingdom that was the expectation of every righteous Jew. That was what was in their minds. It was that kingdom that is set out in the Old Testament by almost every prophet. It was Israel’s glorious hope. In other words, the concept of a Rapture was as foreign to them as the durian fruit (a tropical fruit which I love and grow)! It was the expectation of those disciples on the Lord’s departure that the kingdom would be set up, but they wanted to know just when. The Rapture was an absolutely foreign concept for the disciples at that time and had not been covered by the teaching in the 40-day period.
Not only that, but consider this verse also: Acts 1:3, “To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Do you see those words “Kingdom of God”? I have no doubt that His Kingdom (the 1,000-year reign) was included in that, and is what prompted the disciples’ question in verse 6. Jesus would also have included the gospel (of grace) in His teaching.
I hope you don’t think I have extended this out too much, but the purpose is to show beyond doubt that the Rapture was a Pauline revelation (mystery) and was not what was taught by the Lord while He was here. Therefore, the contents of Matthew 24 and 25 cannot relate to the Rapture but to the events that concern Israel. You know also that Matthew is the Gospel of the Jews/Messiah/King; whereas Mark is the Servant; Luke, the perfect Man; and John, the God Man, the Word in His divinity.
The events that relate to Israel and the kingdom are the matters covered in all the Old Testament prophets and are all included in what is called “The Day of the Lord.” The Day of the Lord covers the wrath of God poured out, the coming Gentile domination under the World Leader/Antichrist, the time of Jacob’s sorrow (Tribulation), the judgment of the Gentile nations and Babylon the great, and the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom.
I can give all the Old Testament references for those. However, Jesus keeps a lot to Daniel as he is one of the key prophets as to the unfolding of events. Now, all the matters I outlined in the previous paragraph are the content of Matthew 24 and 25. Knowing that helps immensely in understanding those two chapters. For example, we can see (I hope) that the Rapture is not part of those two chapters. I think what I have already said covers that. Therefore, the crucial question asked of the Lord is partially answered. This question asked, and which formed the basis of these two chapters, was this one: Matt 24:3, “And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age’?”
To the Jewish mind, the end of the age was fundamentally interlinked with the Old Testament prophetic events concerning Israel; and this is what the Lord knew they were referring to, and answered them specifically. For several reasons already stated, the Rapture was not Jewish, and had not yet been revealed – still a “mystery” – and was foreign to the disciples listening to the Olivet discourse here. “The sign of Your coming” is specifically the coming in glory as we have in Rev 19:1-11, or what we call “The Second Coming.” Jesus directs His answer exactly to this Second Coming.
I trust that what has been said by way of introduction is enough to show that these events of Matthew 24 and 25 are not in any way speaking about the Rapture and are only connected in as far as the Rapture has to happen before the focus again returns to Israel once the Church has been removed. The Rapture is unknown in the Old Testament and rightly so, because the Church is the Bride called from a far country (type of Isaac taking his bride). The Coming is the coming in glory, the Second Advent.
Just expanding this thought on the mystery, we might look at it from another angle – Eph 3:4-6, “And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit – to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel….”
You see, Jesus did not teach the facts of the Church apart from one reference to it (Matt 16:18) or the facts of the Rapture apart from a passing suggestion in John 14:1-6. This “revealing” was left to the Apostle Paul. From memory, there are 7 mysteries in the New Testament, but only two of them are termed “great mysteries.” Here is one of those: Eph 5:32, “This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
What I am attempting to show is that Jesus did not teach about the Rapture or the Church, but His reference to His coming in Matthew 24 is rightly in line with the disciples’ understanding of His coming in glory as taught throughout the O.T. Therefore, when questioned about the signs of His coming and the end of the age, there can be no possible allusion to the Rapture or the Church, because neither is in view at that point in history. Those who want to include these signs from Matthew 24 in the Rapture are doing injustice to the background and interpretation of the chapter.
[B]. INTRODUCING MATTHEW CHAPTER 24:
In my opinion, this chapter is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied chapters in the whole Bible. The chapter breaks into two parts. The first relates to history, and the second to the future. The first two verses form the first part. Matt 24:1-2, “Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him, and He answered and said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another which will not be torn down.'” This was fulfilled in 70 AD with the destruction by Roman Titus.
The remainder of the chapter has not been fulfilled; neither does it contain any prophecy relating to the Church age or to the Rapture. I know people quote it all the time, trying to make it fit into our age, but that is a square peg in a round hole. It simply does not apply. If you think that is wrong, then reread the Introduction above. In fact, the events described by Jesus here slot into the book of Revelation as will be shown.
[C]. THE BEGINNING OF THE TRIBULATION: Matt 24, Verses 4-33:
We must note verse 3 again: “…’Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age”? The “coming” is the coming the disciples knew, that is, the Second Coming referred to over and over again in the Old Testament, and “the age” is the ending of the age of world powers and domination and the passing into God’s earthly kingdom. It is most important to realize that as the Lord answers the question. However, these signs in the chapter light the pathway to His Second Coming, which we have established, is the only one that could have been meant then. Second Coming, not Rapture coming.
It is safe to assume that the Lord begins at the beginning with these signs, that is, what will emerge right after the Rapture. Indeed, that is what He does, and this is in perfect harmony with Revelation. We must realize that the structure of Revelation is paramount to the understanding of that book. Chapter 1 is the introduction, followed by chapters 2 and 3 which set out the picture of the whole Church age until the time of Laodicea, which is right now.
Then, chapter 4 begins this way: Rev 4:1, “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.'”
That is the Rapture call, and John is told he will see what is going to happen right after the “Rapture” (his calling to heaven through the opened door). Well, chapters 4 and 5 feature the Church in heaven, all the saints of God from Adam until the Rapture; then, from chapter 6 until the end are the events to happen, beginning with the Tribulation that commences with the breaking of the first seal. We would, therefore, expect Matthew 24:4-14 and Revelation chapter 6 to parallel each other; and guess what? They do!
Jesus’ answer throughout chapter 24 can be seen to be a progressive one, that is, he reveals the information step by step, beginning at verse Matt 24:4, “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘See to it that no one misleads you.'” From there He moves to the series of events that will unfold, which are leading up to the time of His coming mentioned in the Old Testament, which we call the Second Coming, or His Coming in Glory. In doing this He reveals the “signs” that the disciples asked Him of, the indicators of that event.
SIGN NUMBER 1: This verse begins the signs: Matt 24:5, “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.” The greatest of these will be the Pretender, the Ruler, the Political leader who will want to reign in the place of Christ. He goes under many descriptions – Political leader; the head of the new Roman Empire; World Leader; the first Beast of Revelation 13; The Man of Sin/Lawlessness. Many refer to him as the Antichrist, and he and the False Prophet will be wholly possessed by Satan. Thus, you have a trilogy of evil – the Ruler, the False Prophet and Satan. This is the counterfeit Trinity. Do not be too hung up on terms and get distracted by them.
This is the opening of the revelation Jesus is giving and, therefore, corresponds with the first seal of Revelation 6 that will begin all that happens on earth after the Rapture. The verses: Rev 6:1-2, “And I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come,’ and I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him; and he went out conquering, and to conquer.”
How sad it is that some commentators still want to say this is Jesus. This is the coming evil Ruler who will take control of the earth, the false Christ, who will be received even as Jesus Himself. So confused and deluded the world will be after the results of the Rapture, that this one will come with absolutely no opposition (white = no blood; no warfare) and almost immediately will assume control of the whole political system.
SIGN NUMBER 2: Jesus continued with the second part of the teaching – Matt 24:6-7, “And you will be hearing of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end; for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” The peace that seems to herald the coming of this false christ will not last, and there will be an outbreak of strife. Because of this trouble, some may think the end is right at hand (the coming of the Messiah to Israel), but Jesus lets them know that this is not the end and more must happen.
The parallel, of course, is the breaking of the second seal of Rev 6 – Rev 6:3-4, “And when He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come,’ and another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men should slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.” This will be a terrible time with all trust gone and the shedding of blood rampant (red horse).
We currently live in a violent world, and it is simply the institutes of law and order that hold a measure of peace in check, but even those are failing under riots, ethnic violence and rebellion. When restraints are gone, there will be great violence unleashed. Of course, the removal of the Church will take the restraining factor away (the Holy Spirit), and war and violence will naturally show what is in the heart of man.
SIGN NUMBER 3: Jesus next introduces famines – Matt 24:7, “…and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.” I guess this could be the flow on from warfare, as we have seen this frequently in the African nations where civil war has caused the population to die through starvation. There will be famines and starvation. The breaking of the third seal of Rev 6 corresponds with this. Rev 6:5-6, “And when He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, ‘Come,’ and I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard as it were a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.'”
Black means death (and apparently the color of death through starvation), and this horse proceeding from heaven shows that death will be upon the earth through hunger, famine and starvation. One quart of wheat will cost a day’s wage (one denarius).
Now, we should note here that everything so far, of the things that are happening, have come from the hand of man. God’s direct intervention has not yet happened, but will do close to the time of the 6th seal. This is still in the section called “the beginning of sorrows.” When God’s wrath is really revealed (especially in the trumpet and bowl judgments), then that time will be many times worse. I would challenge all the amillennialists and those who say that all this has been fulfilled in the Roman times (preterists) to explain each of these seals, and show to me that they have happened the way the Word says they are to happen. They have not, and that gives the lie to amillennialism and preterism.
SIGN NUMBER 4: So far in Matt 24, Jesus has mentioned some terrible situations, namely war, famine, death, earthquakes. These have taken their toll and will continue. The fourth seal of Revelation is the magnification of the situation that is existing, gathering up the plagues and multiplying them, and these same things are mentioned – war (sword); famine/starvation; and pests and wild animals. The colour “ashen” is pale and sickly looking. What a terrible multiplication this will be, for one quarter of the earth’s population will perish (or part of that within one quarter of the earth). Even the animals will turn violently feral and attack humans through lack of food.
Rev. 6:7-8, “And when He broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come,’ and I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him, and authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
One can’t help notice the word “pestilence.” The corona virus is the greatest pestilence to hit the earth since the Spanish flu (if you want to count that as a pestilence). God is allowing us right here and now to have just a small glimpse of what will be so tragic in the Tribulation. Incidentally, Australia has the largest fruit bat in the world, the flying fox, and there are millions upon millions of them that come out around sunset and plague fruit farms and defecate on everything, and it takes the paint off surfaces. These bats carry 2 or 3 deadly viruses, but they are fully protected through the actions of green environmentalists convincing governments. It is a catastrophe waiting to happen. It seems the world is preparing itself for the tribulation.
SIGN NUMBER 5: Jesus explains that all which has happened so far is but the beginning of the birth pains – how terrible must be the judgments that follow! Matt 24:8, “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. He has concentrated on the worldwide results and has done so generally. Revelation has supported Matthew 24. Now, the whole emphasis changes, and Jesus hones in on His own saints (the Jewish saints of the Tribulation) – and though He speaks to His disciples with the generic “you,” it is the Tribulation saints who are being addressed, for none of this happened in the disciples’ time. It does not relate to Christians, as they are in heaven.
Jesus continues with this discourse: Matt. 24:9-12, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”
We see in that passage above that it will be a very hard time for the saints. These are the Jewish believers He refers to as later verses of Matt 24 show. The saints will be suffering under great persecution, hated by ALL nations with many killed. It will be a time of fear and betrayal and apostasy and misleading, for ones will arise to teach full error, embracing satanism; lawlessness will prevail, and people’s love (I think it means the saints here) will grow cold, probably because the way is too hard under such adverse circumstances. There will be many defections. That is what Jesus is teaching.
There are several aspects in those verses 9-12 which I would take to challenge those who say this has already happened (such as ALL nations; great apostasy; rise of multiple false prophets; increased lawlessness), but no time here to do that. Some of that has always been – consider Elijah, but this speaks of intensity.
Now we again have the parallel in the next seal broken and this is it: Rev. 6:9-11, “And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained, and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth’? And there was given to each of them a white robe, and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also.”
That is a MOST interesting passage and a total challenge to those who would want to place it in the Church age before the Rapture! The picture here is of the Tribulation saints who had been killed, according to Matthew 24:9-12 verses. John was permitted to see them with the opening of the 5th seal. These faithful saints died because they would not compromise their testimony of faithfulness; worship the beast or receive his mark.
However, we have to consider verse 10 most carefully. The saints here are calling out for vengeance! Is that the teaching we are given for the Church age? Certainly not, for we are told to do the following:
Matt 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
Rom 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.”
In Revelation 6:10 there is no blessing; no forgiveness; no praying for their souls. Instead, there is the call for vengeance upon their enemies. You people who try to tell me that this is the Church in view, explain, please. This is NOT the Church, nor the Church age, and these are not Church saints.
What would you expect the Lord to do with an avenging prayer like this? Reprimand them? Tell them to love their enemies? No. They are given white robes and asked to wait until the full number of martyrs is complete. The Lord knows their prayers are correct. What a revelation this is! This passage is assuredly fixed in the days of vengeance of the Great God in the day of His wrath, and their prayer for an avenging hand is a correct prayer for the age they are in, which, of course, is the Tribulation Judgment. It would be totally inappropriate for the Church age.
To be continued in Part 2