Be Brave Until the End

(Please read Matthew 24.)

           Imagine the General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches in the USA, Roy Medley calling a meeting of all the regional Executive Ministers. When they have all assembled at the national office, Dr. Medley begins the meeting with, “I have some really fantastic news and some very terrible news.” 

          Of course, all the executive ministers want to hear the good news first, so Dr. Medley tells them, “Jesus Christ has returned to the world. The time of judgment is at hand, and our faith in his existence is justified.” 

          There are happy cheers all around the room – the moment we’ve been waiting for!  After the commotion dies down a bit, one of the executive ministers speaks up; “After that, how can there be any terrible news?” 

          Dr. Medley replies, “He was calling from Salt Lake City.”

          That would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?  Fortunately, it’s not going to go down that way.  When He comes again, Jesus is going to appear to all people, all around the world, all at once.  And He won’t be using the ‘phone to call.

          But His appearing will vindicate our faith following a time of judgment. so that much was not hard to imagine.

          Here we are, our last Sunday to take a look at what may be the most significant passage in the Gospels about the last things, Matthew 24.  As we conclude, my prayer is that this series has helped you get a handle on a difficult chapter and has also replaced all your doubts and fears with confidence and faith so we look expectantly for the Second Coming.

REVIEW:       1. The End is near but unclear. (1-3, 32-34)

                      2. Sign #1: False Christs will appear. (4-5, 23-28)

                      3. Sign #2: The world will be in turmoil. (6-8, 29)

                      4. Sign #3: The Church will be persecuted, but will be triumphant. (9-14)

5. Sign #4: The Holy Land will be attacked.(15-22)

          In this passage, Jesus switches back and forth between predictions about the temple and predictions about His Second Coming.  With verse 15, He turned His attention to the temple.  As this prophecy concerns the temple, this section was fulfilled by the Jewish followers of Jesus who escaped when the Romans took Jerusalem.

         What is “THE ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION” to which Jesus refers? It is a phrase that came from the Old Testament prophet Daniel. The point is, this phrase refers an abomination (an awful, evil event) that results in desolation (God’s abandonment of the temple). This is the sign that God has judged Israel & His plans will now be centered on the Church.

          Daniel 9:27 = AND ON A WING OF THE TEMPLE HE WILL SET UP AN ABOMINATION

          THAT CAUSES DESOLATION UNTIL THE END THAT IS DECREED IS POURED OUT ON HIM.

          Daniel 12:11 = “FROM THE TIME THAT THE DAILY SACRIFICE IS ABOLISHED AND THE

          ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION IS SET UP, THERE WILL BE 1,290 DAYS.”

          In history there were at least three occasions when the temple was desecrated. In 168 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus in the temple. Or this may refer to the time members of the Zealot party took over (November 67 or spring of AD 68). They allowed crime and criminals in the temple, – even in the holy of holies.  Or this may refer to the desecration done by Emperor Titus when the temple was taken and Roman flags – with their pagan symbols – were brought into the temple courts.

          “LET THE READER UNDERSTAND” is a phrase that is difficult for us to understand because we do not have the inside information Matthew assumed his readers possessed.  However, what is clear is that this is a warning.  Jesus is saying, “When the sacrilege happens, the faithful are to flee Judea, for its destruction is imminent.” Since it is that serious, in verses 17+18 Jesus warns against making any worldly preparations, just run away. Jesus foresaw that time will be worse for the most vulnerable and immobile people; pregnant women and those who have newborns (v. 19).

          They are to pray it doesn’t happen in winter (v. 20) is because of the rainy weather; also because in winter the streams were swollen and hard to cross.  Jesus also warns them to pray that it doesn’t happen on a Sabbath because fleeing while carrying anything  would be work and that’s forbidden on the Sabbath.

          Verse 21 speaks of a previously unknown severity of suffering and persecution.  Even so, the Greek grammar in v. 22 makes something plain that doesn’t translate into English.  It implies that what Jesus is describing here an unreal condition. The people of God are not really in danger because God will cut short those days of distress.

          In spite of all these troubles, Jesus wants His followers to keep their minds on their witness for Him. God will not allow His people to be harmed by persecution or deceived by false messiahs. The purpose of this chapter is to warn Jesus’ followers about all these things so they’ll be prepared & understand t significance of these events.

6. We have nothing to fear. (30-31, 34-51)

          Starting in vs. 30+31, Jesus further develops His teaching about His Second Coming.  The cosmic signs Jesus gleaned from OT prophets will appear in the sky to indicate the end of reality as we know it & the coming of the Son of Man. This image of the Son of Man riding on a cloud with POWER AND GREAT GLORY is like various OT descriptions of God’s coming. The Son will come to judge all people, which, as is developed in chapter 25, will have 2 outcomes:

– He will recognize His faithful ones and gather them from all parts of the earth.

– He will not recognize those who have refused Him, condemning them to the Second Death.

          As the angels are God’s messengers, they will collect God’s people from the four corners of the earth and from one end of heaven to the other (see Deuteronomy 30:4-5;  Isaiah 60:4ff; Micah 4:1ff.). No one will be overlooked in God’s search for the faithful.

          Verse 35 is Jesus’ assurance that the world will fail before Jesus fails to fulfill all these promises.  His word is more reliable than the seemingly unending universe in which we live.

          Some people have a problem with verse 36 because it asserts that there is something Jesus didn’t know. They shouldn’t think that way because the point of verse 36 is the same point Jesus made throughout His ministry; to direct attention to God. If the master does not know the timing of His Second Coming, neither do His disciples and they should not speculate on when it will happen.

          Verses 37-39 illustrate the suddenness of the Second Coming with the way in which Noah’s neighbors were overwhelmed by the flood (Genesis 6:5-24; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:6).  Prior to the flood, people carried on with all normal activity, right up to the point Noah entered the ark. They were unprepared for what happened. Similarly, nonbelievers will be unprepared for the Second Coming.

          The phrase “took them all away” in verse 39 is the context that clarifies the language about one “taken” and one left in verses 40-41. Contrary to our usual understanding of the passage, the “taken” ones are the unfortunate ones because they are swept away by judgment. The ones left standing are the fortunate ones, like Noah.

          The parable in verses 42-43 is the story of an unexpected break-in and how it might’ve been prevented.

          Verse 44 makes plain what v. 32 made implied—Jesus is talking about being alert and prepared when the crucial moment arrives.  Similarly, the parable that concludes the chapter (verses 45-51) is about a wise servant who is prepared for the return of his owner.  The servant who is found doing his job wisely will be blessed when the master returns. The reward is greater service and more responsibility. The foolish servant goofs off and is wicked because he thinks the master will gone for a long time, and so he has time to misbehave. The punishment of the wicked servant will be swift and unsparing—he’ll be dismembered and assigned a place with the hypocrites, where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth.  The unknown timing of the return motivates wise behavior. The issue here is not knowing the timing of the master’s return, but faithfulness & preparedness whenever it happens.

          From the following website http://www.nowtheendbegins.com/pages/israel/the-coming-third-jewish-temple.htm I learned that rumors I’d heard about preparations being made to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem have been underway for over two decades!

          “It Will Be Built In Time For The Fulfillment Of Daniel’s 70th Week!  Dare To Dream – Dare To Build. The 3rd Jewish Temple is fast becoming a reality in Jerusalem.

          “Daniel was given a vision far into the future, pointing to a time when the Jewish Temple would be rebuilt. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and for nearly 2,000 years now it has laid in ruins, with just parts of the Temple walls and some of the foundations remaining.           “Watchers of end times bible prophecy have long speculated as to whether or not the Temple would be built for a third time. But Daniel, verse 27, clearly sees that there is a rebuilt Temple.  How can you have sacrifice and oblations ceasing if there is no Temple from which to have sacrifices and oblations? Clearly there needs to be a working, functioning, rebuilt Temple, and the only place where God would allow a Temple to be built is exactly where the ruins of the last 0ne stand.

          “People have said that since all the various items need to stock the Temple would take so long to recreate according to the Bible’s exacting standards, that 7 years is just not enough time to complete that mission. And they are correct. It would take years, decades, to rightly create all items needed for proper Temple worship. Items like these:

Oil Pitcher for Replenishing the Menorah

Small Golden Flask

Silver Libation Vessels

Menorah Cleaner

Gold-Plated Shofar

Silver-Plated Shofar

The Crown for the Copper Laver

Modeling the Priestly Garments

The Golden Tzitz

Golden Frankincense Vessels

          “The Temple Institute, in Jerusalem, has been working since 1987, recreating the items that will be needed and used in the about-to-be-built Third Temple. Now, you can argue all you like about what will happen to the Muslim mosque that’s there now, and all the other points.”

          These are NOT the kind of end-times preparations Jesus called us to make.  Based on verses 17+18 especially, material preparations are useless.  The material world as we know it will soon end.  What counts is spiritual preparedness, a vigilant holiness that looks forward to the literal, physical return of Christ, but realizes that loving God and others as self is the best state of preparedness.

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