If you were in NYC on September 10, 2001, you saw the Twin Towers standing as monuments to America’s greatness and wealth. They were powerful symbols of American pride, but also gigantic skyscrapers. At 1368 feet they were the tallest buildings in the world. Other tourists would have stood there with you in awe of their height and status.
What if someone came up and said, “See those two buildings? Tomorrow they’ll be nothing more than rubble on the ground.” You’d think he was out of his mind. Then, you’d scratch your head and wonder how that might happen.
Mark 13:1-2 As Jesus was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down."
Matt 24:3 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?"
The thought of the Temple coming down stirred the disciples with a series of questions: when will the Temple be destroyed, how will we recognize Your second coming, and what about the end of the age?
So, there on the Mount of Olives, Jesus answered these questions, not in full details but in a few, general observable facts. He started with the Temple since that would be the event that would affect them, knowing some of them were in the generation that would see it destroyed. He said: Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Many have contorted themselves to make this mean something Jesus wasn’t talking about. He’s been discussing the Temple being destroyed. It was only 40 years down the road. None of them would see the other things they asked about. But some of them would see this. So, for this event, He gave them what to look for.
Matt 24:15-20 "Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.
In Scripture, many things are listed as abominations to the Lord, but the greatest was desecrating the Temple. What desecrated it was bringing in something unclean. Be that an animal, a priest or a Gentile. So, when the Roman Gentiles went in, looted, ransacked and burned the Temple it was desecrated.
But this had happened before. That’s why Jesus said you’ll recognize it when it happens. It’ll look like that other time.
Dan 11:31 Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.
Daniel saw a man in the future by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes, who was a Greek General, going into Jerusalem in 168 B.C. This was toward the end of Greece’s world dominance ushered in by Alexander the Great. Next to come would be the Romans.
In an act of brazen disrespect, Antiochus raided the Temple in Jerusalem, stealing its treasures, setting up an altar to Zeus, and sacrificing pigs on that altar. When the people exploded in rage, he responded by slaughtering a great number of the Jews. He ordered the priests to sacrifice to pagan gods and forced the Jews to eat pork.
The desecration of Antiochus produced the formal definition of the Abomination they were to watch for. Jesus said look for that same thing to happen again. Matthew and Mark both added [let the reader understand] which was a signal to let history help them. The Abomination was the sign that would tell them this was that event. What happened?
In 66 AD the Jews rebelled against Rome. In response, the Emperor Nero sent an army under the command of General Vespasian to restore order. By 68 A.D., they had worked their way down from the northern part of Israel and now were at Jerusalem. But in that same year, Nero committed suicide which created a power vacuum in Rome. General Vespasian returned to Rome and was declared Emperor. He left his son, Titus, to finish the assault on Jerusalem.
The first thing Titus did was surround the city and build siege ramps to gain access to the gates. Jesus had said through Luke: Luke 21:20 But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.
Let’s talk a minute about how what Jesus said was recorded. Our NT was written in Greek. Greek doesn’t flow as it does in English. We follow an organized pattern of structure. Greek, as does other languages of the area, go with what’s most important in the sentence being placed up front. A word may begin a sentence but doesn’t fit into the context until the middle or even the end. Where our thoughts flow in a straight line, theirs wander around. Even in a paragraph, something originally talked about earlier will cycle back in somewhere later. Or a thought at the end may connect with a sentence in the middle.
In college I took a course in Diagramming Greek sentences. Greek sentences look like a pile of bones and the translator’s job is to reconnect them where they are supposed to go to form a skeleton that makes sense. Where we have modifiers right with the word they modify, Greek doesn’t. So, in Greek, what Jesus said later may clarify something He said earlier, or the other way around.
And then there’s the setting. The disciples were gathered with Jesus on the side of the Mount of Olives. He spoke and they listened. It is unlikely anyone was taking notes. So how did the Gospel writers record what He said and write it down accurately? Memory. But not just theirs alone.
It goes back to something Jesus had promised them: John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
If you’ve read the parallel accounts of the Gospels, you know that each writer remembered things slightly differently. You read their accounts of the same event but you get each man’s perspective of what he saw and what he considered most important about what went on. The Spirit allowed the men their own way of expressing but made sure what they expressed was the truth. He didn’t dictate the words, only brought those incidents back to memory. It’s obvious they didn’t remember word for word or got everything in order, but the Spirit guided their thoughts to record the importance of what Jesus said without error. When they finished writing, it was what the Spirit wanted written.
So, when Matthew put it down on paper, the sequence may not have been as important as what Jesus was talking about. At times it feels like Jesus skipped around a lot as He taught. He didn’t. But when they wrote it down, they did, with the Spirit making sure the important stuff was being told.
So here in Matthew 24, Matthew wrote what Jesus said, but perhaps not as He said it there on the Mount of Olives. For example:
Following the section on the destruction of the Temple, He said: Matt 24:21 For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
He said that, but where it comes in the narrative makes us believe the Great Tribulation was to follow quickly after the Temple destruction. It didn’t. What did happen was the tribulation of death, persecution and turmoil. That was a general tribulation He warned of: ongoing and repeatable. The Great Tribulation is a specific event tied to the end.
Rev 1:9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus,
Rev 7:13-14 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Then He skips back to their second question: what will be the sign of Your coming?
Matt 24:30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. That hasn’t happened yet.
Sign of the Son of Man is a great curiosity. All we have to go on are the other times God revealed Himself in a significant way. What designated the presence of the Lord in OT? The Shekinah Glory. It was the smoke that filled the Temple. The Light that led Israel by night. God’s glory is what represents Him. In other words, whatever the sign is, it will be the unmistakable expression that says: Here I am.
Rev 1:7 BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.
Luke 21:27-28 Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Mark 13:26 Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN CLOUDS with great power and glory.
Zech 12:10 I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
The sign is primarily for the Jews to affirm that Jesus was and is their Messiah. And they will mourn for having rejected Him. But it will be unmistakably clear that when Jesus comes everyone will know He has come. Why is He coming? To collect His family.
Matt 24:31 And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
In most systems that profess a millennial viewpoint, there is a rapture of the church, a calling away that takes Christians directly from earth into the presence of the Lord without dying first. When that happens is a matter of discussion and disagreement. But Jesus says there will be a gathering together, collecting God’s people into one group.
Paul explained it: 1Thess 4:15-18 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Caught up means to seize, catch up, snatch away – From that word the word rapture was constructed. You won’t find the word rapture in the Bible but through what Jesus and Paul said the concept is clear.
It’s interesting that Jesus also said there would be a trumpet signaling this gathering together. Paul says the same thing. A heavenly trumpet blows and the church will be caught up together. Who is the church? Only those who know the Lord as their Savior. The rest, who are the unsaved, will stay behind and face the Great Tribulation.
According to Zola Levitt, a Jewish-Christian scholar. God followed the Jewish feasts to accomplish His work in Jesus. The Crucifixion during Passover. The Spirit descending on Pentecost. Can you guess the next feast on the list to be fulfilled? The Feast of Trumpets.
Jesus’ return is the next event scheduled to move us toward the end, but there is something that precedes it: 2Thess 2:1-3 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first…
Apostasy means the falling away. Next week, we’ll look at the apostasy and see how what’s going on in the world today mirrors what Jesus said would be going on when He returns.
- Everything God has done has been on a time schedule that is precise and unrelenting.
- The day Jesus returns is on that time schedule.
- If we are believers, it doesn’t matter when He comes.
- If we are not, it matters a great deal because our opportunity for Heaven has diminished significantly.