“Emmanuel’s Coming, Part 1” – Matthew 24:1-28

July 3rd, 2016

Matthew 24:1-28

(See also Mk 13; Lk 21; 1 Thess chps 4-5; 2 Thess ch 2; 2 Tm ch 3; 2 Pt ch 2;

Bk of Rev)

“Emmanuel’s Coming Pt 1”

Auxiliary Text: 2 Timothy 3

Call to Worship from: Psalm 119:25-32


Service Orientation:  Jesus gives us a valuable picture of life in the future:  and it is not  pretty.  The only way to insure that you can remain human, loving, and all God created and designed you to be is to keep your eyes on Jesus— because the rest of the world will be going to hell.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Be on guard! Be alert ! You do not know when that time will come. — Mark 13:33


Background Information:

  • Few chapters of the Bible have called forth more disagreement among interpreters than Matthew 24 and its parallels in Mark 13 and Luke 21. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 488)
  • It (ch 24) is difficult for at least three reasons. First, it is difficult because Jesus uses somewhat unfamiliar language, a mix of prophetic and apocalyptic utterances.  Second, it is difficult because Jesus makes few clear chronological distinctions.  As we read we wonder, about what time in history is he talking?  Finally, it is difficult because there is not a consensus among Christian commentators as to its interpretation. In fact, the more one studies the history of its interpretation, including the current debates and perspectives, more questions arise than answers.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 693-4) 
  • There are three major schools of thought on how to understand the time period or periods represented in this passage. The first school is called preterism.  These folks view the whole of Matthew 24 as saying nothing about the return of Christ or the events of the last days of history.  To them Jesus here predicts what will happen from the time of his resurrection to the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 694)
  • A second school of thought is called futurism. This view is nearly the opposite of the preterist perspective.  A futurist sees most (or all) of the Olivet Discourse as relating to the future, particularly end-times prophecies.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 694)
  • There is a third school, and I have happily enrolled in this one. I don’t know if we yet have a label attached to our beliefs.  I simply and humbly call us the “everyone-is-wrong-and-we-are-right school.” . . .we view this discourse as describing both the events before and during the destruction of the temple as well as the last days before and during Christ’s return.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 695)

There are three primary views on the Olivet discourse:

  1. All of chapter 24 describes both the destruction of Jerusalem and the last days before Christ’s return.
  2. The first part of the prophecy deals only with the destruction of Jerusalem (24:4-350, and then the last part switches to the return of Christ (24:36-51).
  3. All of chapter 24 gives a prediction only of the destruction of Jerusalem; it says nothing about the return of Christ. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 466)
  • When most people today read this portion of Matthew, they jump to the conclusion that Jesus was describing things that will happen right before the final consummation of His kingdom, so they keep up with the news to see whether these things seem to be happening in the world. However, I think that if we look carefully at this passage, we can see that Jesus was talking about events that had to transpire before the destruction of Jerusalem.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 688)

God punished His people for rejecting His Son.  So, the destruction of Jerusalem was the end of an old economy.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 687)

  • One helpful insight notes that verses 15-35 answer the disciples’ question, “When will this happen?” (v. 3a), and the remaining verses of the chapter respond in a general way to the second question, “What will be the sign of our coming and of the end of the age?” (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 221)
  • (v. 1) Matthew’s two verbs where one would do, “went out” and “was going away,” draw attention to the significance of this departure. The “house” is abandoned (23:38), and those in it will not see Jesus again unless they change their minds (23:39).  The place which he had hoped to preserve as a house of prayer (21:13) has proved as fruitless as the fig tree which he has symbolically destroyed (21:18-20).  While there is little direct verbal link with Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God leaving the temple (Ez 10:18-19; 11:22-23), the reader might be expected to remember that powerful imagery, especially when Jesus immediately goes and sits on the Mount of Olives, the “mountain east of the city” where the Lord’s glory also stopped after going out over the east gate of the temple (Ez 11:23).  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 887)
  • (v. 1) The sight of the temple at Jerusalem was one of the more outstanding sights in the ancient world. It was built of white marble and plated with gold.  It shone in the sunlight so that a person could hardly look at it.  For the pilgrim to Jerusalem, to come to Mount Zion was an impressive call to reverence and worship.  Some of the temple’s large supporting stones were forty feet in length and weighed one hundred tons.  The cutting and moving of these colossal stones remains a mystery of ancient engineering.  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 268)

(v. 1) The Roman historian Tacitus reported that it was a place of immense wealth, and the Babylonian Talmud said, “He that never saw the temple of Herod never saw a fine building.”  Some of the stones measured 40 feet by 12 by 12 and weighed up to a hundred tons, quarried as a single piece and transported many miles to the building site.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 8)

  • (v. 1) About fifteen years before Jesus was born (around 20 BC), Herod the Great had begun a massive reconstruction project to help the Jews remodel and beautify their temple. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 463)
  • (v. 1) At this time, the temple was still under construction; Herod’s reconstruction project would not be finished until about AD 64 (just a few years before it was destroyed by Rome). (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 463-4)

(v. 2) Titus issued orders to his soldiers to spare the temple, but his word was of no avail against the prophetic word of Christ.  The war ended with the temple going up in flames.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 446)

  • (v. 3) The reason why just at this particular moment these men are thinking of the temple is that Jesus had just told them, “Behold, your house is left to you a deserted place.” Though it is reasonable to believe that the expression “your house” meant Jerusalem, the temple was certainly included.  It is as if the disciples were saying, “Is it really true that also this glorious structure is going to be entirely deserted by and by?”  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 850)
  • (v. 3) A word should be said about the important term “coming,” in Greek parousia. It is sometimes used in the non-technical sense of a. presence; see 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 10:10; Phil 1:26; 2:12; or of b. coming, advent, or arrival (2 Cor 7:6, 7; 2 Thess 2:9).  In other passages–see especially Mt 24:3, 27 (the one now under study), 37, 39; 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1, 8; Jam 5:7, 8; 2 Pt 1:16; 3:4, 12; and 1 Jn 2:28–the term refers to the return or advent of the Lord, his coming in order to bless his people with his presence.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 861)
  • (v. 3) The NT does not ever use the phrase the second coming. The word which it uses to describe the return of Christ in glory is interesting.  It is parousia, a word which has come into English as a description of the second coming; it is quite common in the rest of the NT, but in the gospels this is the only chapter in which it occurs (vv. 3, 27, 37, 39).  The interesting thing is that it is the regular word for the arrival of a governor into his province or for the coming of a king to his subjects.  It regularly describes a coming in authority and in power.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 364)
  • (v. 3) In the disciples’ minds the destruction of the temple would be such a cataclysmic event that it could scarcely occur without the curtain on the world’s story closing at the same time. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 697)

(v. 9) “Because of my name” reveals the inner cause of all this hatred.  The övoìa is really the person of Jesus himself and all that he stands for but as known, revealed, and made manifest to men, i.e., in his gospel.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 932)

  • (v. 14) I believe it is probable that when Jesus told His disciples what to expect at “the end of the age,” He did not have the end of the world in mind. I believe He was thinking about the end of the Jewish age, which end came when Jerusalem fell.  That was the beginning of the times of the Gentiles.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 688)  
  • (v. 14) By the time Matthew’s readers would hear these words, Jesus’ prediction had already begun to be fulfilled. Reaching all the nations occurred at Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11) and was spreading to all the world (Rom 1:5, 8; 15:19; Col 1:6, 23; 1 Tm 3:16).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 472)
  • (v. 15) The siege began in April of the year AD 70, while Jerusalem was still filled with Passover pilgrims. For the terror that ensued one should read Josephus, Jewish War, especially Books IV to VII.  After a siege of about five months the Romans finally overwhelmed the entire city.  According to Josephus the total number of prisoners taken throughout the entire war was 97,000, while 1,100,000 perished during the siege (Jewish War VI.420).  Even though these figures may be exaggerated, the number must have been enormous.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Luke, 938-9)
  • (v. 16) We know from the historian Eusebius that the church at Jerusalem did leave the city, relocating to the hill country, the same place where the Jews hid during the Maccabean revolt. They did obey Jesus’ commands and were saved!  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 711)
  • (v. 16) The Jewish historian Josephus testifies that when Jerusalem fell and was destroyed by the Romans, more than a million Jews were killed, but very few Christians died. They had followed the advice of Jesus and fled to the mountains rather than the city.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 687)
  • (v. 22) The word shortened (NIV – “cut short”) means almost “amputated.” God cuts away the evil thing before it destroys his creation.  Through all the black chaos and persecution of his age Matthew was sure that God reigns.  His Gospel is ours to strengthen our faith.  (George Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, 548)

(v. 22) This is a proverbial way of indicating that God is in control even of these days of horror.  If the wickedness of humanity and the wrath of God were allowed to run unchecked, there would be no end to the terror and no one would survive.  This is a promise that the time of tribulation will not last indefinitely, because God is in control.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 780)

  • (v. 22) Who are the “elect”? In the OT, “Elect” refers to Israel, particularly those who are faithful to God (see 1 Chr 16:13; Ps 105:43; Isa 65:9, 15; Dn 12:1).  In the NT, “elect” refers to the church–all believers (Rom 8:33; Col 3:12; 2 Tm 2:10; 1 Pt 1:1-2).  In this verse, the words “elect” and “chosen” refer not to OT Jews but to all faithful believers, whether Jews or Gentiles.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 475)

(v. 22) By the power of God the Jews were at that time kept from extinction and they are still being kept as a strange phenomenon in the world.  They never amalgamated with other nations and races, and thus they are a sign for the elect of all ages.  The Jews of today are scattered over all the world, without a land, a government, or any other tie such as other nations have, are outcasts from their own country, and thus are miraculously marked for all time for all the elect, whose enlightened eyes cannot but see what God has thus placed before them.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 941) (v. 25) I believe that those who want to see these words of Jesus as a prophecy of a great tribulation that is still yet to come must grant that there was at least an initial fulfillment in AD 70.  Jesus clearly was warning His contemporaries about a disaster that was just around the corner.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 695)

  • (v. 28) I am not sure exactly what Jesus meant by these words. However, some of the finest NT scholars understand this verse as a reference to the Jews and the Romans.  A carcass, of course, is the body of a dead animal.  In the context of Jesus’ prophecy, that which was dying was Israel.  The nation was being slaughtered by the punitive hand of God, and His instrument of vengeance was the Roman army.  The principle symbol of the Roman forces was the eagle, a model of which was mounted on every standard of every legion.  Perhaps, some scholars suggest, Jesus was saying that immediately before the climactic moment of judgment, the disciples would see eagles gathering around the carcass, as the legions of Rome surrounded Jerusalem.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 696-7)

(v. 28) So, says Christ, wherever there is a rotting, dead society, a carcass hopelessly corrupt and evil, down upon it, as if drawn by some unerring attraction, will come the angels, the vultures of the divine judgment.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 157) Such is Jesus’ picture of the sign which marks his Parousia and the end of the world.  It is dark, and the darkness increases steadily.  Does this picture suggest a wonderful golden age that will rise in triumph in the world prior to the end?  No, in his description of the future Jesus says not one word about a millennium.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 934)


Prophetic Foreshortening: (Mat 10:23; 16:28)

  • George Ladd suggests that the historical and eschatological elements are purposely intertwined under a kind of “prophetic foreshortening.” The near event, the destruction of Jerusalem, serves as a symbol for the far event.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 771)
  • It was Christ of whom all the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi spoke. They saw through a glass darkly.  They sometimes dwelt on His sufferings, and sometimes on His glory that should follow (1 Pt 1:11).  They did not always mark out for us the distinction between Christ’s first coming and Christ’s second coming.  Like two candles in a straight line, (or bowling pins – PK) one behind the other, they sometimes saw both the advents at the same time, and spoke of them in one breath.  They were sometimes moved by the Holy Ghost to write of the times of Christ crucified, and sometimes of Christ’s kingdom in the latter days.  But Jesus dying, or Jesus reigning, was the thought you will ever find uppermost in their minds. (J. C. Ryle; Holiness, 305)
  • In order to understand the prophecy, picture yourself standing on a mountaintop looking across a distant mountain range. The mountain peaks appear to be next to each other, while in reality they are miles apart because of the valleys in between.  Jesus’ prophecy pictured “mountain peaks” (significant future events), looking to us as though they would occur together, when, in reality, they may be thousands of years apart.  Some of the disciples lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, while some of the events Jesus spoke of have not yet–to this day–occurred.  But the truth of Jesus’ prediction regarding Jerusalem assured the disciples (and assures us) that everything else he predicted will also happen.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 466)


Abomination of Desolation:

  • (v. 15) The first fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy occurred in 168 BC by Antiochus Epiphanes when he sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the sacred temple altar and made Judaism an outlaw religion, punishable by death. This incited the Maccabean wars.

The second fulfillment occurred when Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple (24:2) came true.  In just a few years (AD 70), the Roman army would destroy Jerusalem and desecrate the temple.  Matthew’s Jewish audience, under Roman oppression for many years, understood the sacrilege that would occur.  The Roman army was notorious for its disregard for the religious life and freedom of the peoples it conquered.

Based on 24:21, the third fulfillment is yet to come.  Jesus’ words look forward to the end times and to the Antichrist.  In Mark’s Gospel, the Greek reads, “the desolating sacrilege set up where he should not be” (Mk 13:14).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 472-3)

(v. 15) About 170 BC Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of Syria, determined to stamp out Judaism and to introduce into Judaea Greek religion and Greek practices.  He captured Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to Olympian Zeus in the Temple Court and by sacrificing pig’s flesh upon it, and by turning the priests’ rooms and the Temple chambers into public brothels.  It was a deliberate attempt to stamp out Judaism.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 357)

  • (v. 15) 26 AD Pontius Pilate first arrives in Jerusalem to begin his term as governor of Judea sets up Roman military standards in the temple area which bore idolatrous symbols of the emperor.
  • (v. 15) 40 AD Roman Emperor Gaius commanded that a statue of himself be placed inside the temple.
  • (v. 15) 69 AD The Jewish Zealots force out the priests and temple workers and set up a military camp in the temple campus deeply offending the religious conservatives.
  • (v. 15) In 70 AD the Roman general Titus marched into Jerusalem and set up banners with the figures of eagles on them in the temple complex. The surviving Jews saw these banners as idols..
  • (v. 15) It is not clear to what coming event this actually refers, but it was most likely the approach of the Roman armies and their surrounding of the city during the Jewish War. The standards bore emblems of the legions and images of the emperor and were virtually worshiped by the soldiers.  They were erected in the temple area after the city was subdued.  The link between these standards and “the abomination that causes desolation” is strongly suggested by the parallel text in Lk 21:20, where “Jerusalem being surrounded by armies” takes the place of “abomination of desolation” found in Matthew.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 502) 


The question to be answered is . . . What is it that Jesus wants us to know concerning the signs of His coming and the end of the age?


Answer:  Watch out.  Don’t be deceived.  No matter how bad it gets, never lose faith in Jesus. 


The Word for the Day is . . . Ready


I believe Jesus and all the other prophetic contributors in regard to the return of Jesus are divinely and purposefully nebulous in their descriptions of Jesus’ return in order to be relevant and effective to numerous cultures and time periods.  For we are encouraged by Jesus to always to be ready. — Pastor Keith


But prophesy about the future is always given for the purpose of affecting behavior in the present.  Every Bible passage I have ever studied with a message about end times always comes in the context of exhortation and warning.  That must never be forgotten.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 792)


The fact is, we have yet to find a scholar who can perfectly unravel the knotty problems of the Olivet Discourse.  Study of it requires a proper humility and a willingness to admit that we do not have all the answers.  We must mind Chesterton’s dictum:  “It is only the fool who tries to get the heavens inside his head, and not unnaturally his head bursts.  The wise man is content to get his head inside the heavens.”  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. Two, 295)


What is it that Jesus wants us to know concerning the signs of His return and the end of the age?:

I-  Watch.  Be alert!  Always!  (Mt 24:4, 25; see also: Mk 13:1-37; Lk 21:7-36; 1 Cor 10:13; 2 Tm 3; 1 Thess 4:12-5:3; 2 Thess 2:1-12; 2 Pt 1:19; 3:10-12)


The NT—indeed, our Lord himself—tells us that we will not know the time.  It’s none of our business.  Our task is rather to watch.  Stay alert!  Be on the lookout for the unexpected Lord!  (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.; Assurances of the Heart, 337)


“Beware” stresses watchfulness and vigilance.  Jesus knew that if the disciples looked for signs, they would be susceptible to deception.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 466)


God wants us to watch diligently, but such a watch does not mean he desires the church to figure out exactly when he will return.  When the disciples posed such a specific question to Jesus in Acts 1:6, he answered by telling them to mind their own business and live out their calling faithfully in the power of the Spirit.  It was not for them to know “the times or dates.”  We know he is coming back for us, and we should keep watching with anticipation.  In the meantime, there is plenty of work for the church to do.  (Darrell L. Bock, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, 541)


Christ will return suddenly, publicly, unmistakably.  Therefore, “stay awake” (v. 42), “be ready” (v. 44), and do the work you have been called to do (24:45-25:46).  Keep the faith and you’ll be eternally saved (v. 13)!  Don’t keep the faith and you’ll be eternally judged (24:39, 40, 51; 25:12, 28-30, 32, 41-46).  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 699)


But because no one knows when this great event will occur (Mt 24:36), Jesus told his followers to be careful and not let the temptations or worries of this life distract them from watching and being ready for his return.  (See Lk 12:13-31, 35-48; 17:26-37 where Jesus warned against materialism and indulgence.)  That day will come unexpectedly, and it will come upon everyone–no exceptions.  There will be no opportunity for last-minute repentance or bargaining.  The choice that each person has already made will determine his or her eternal destiny.  (Bruce B. Barton, D.Min., Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke, 484)


The signs that are not signs are:  (1) false messiahs, (2) wars and rumors or wars, (3) famines and earthquakes, (4) persecutions, (5) apostasy, and (6) false prophets.  It is easy to give many examples of these from the early years of church history.  But that is not the point.  The point is that false teachers, natural disasters, persecutions, forsaking of the faith by many, and false teachers will characterize history.  We will always have these things.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 501)


The main emphasis in both chapters (24 & 25) is on the necessity of always being on the alert, active for the Master, faithful to him.  See especially 24:4, 23, 25, 42, 44-51; and the entire chapter 25.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 848)


We shall never be in want of strength to resist, provided that our weakness be not nourished by indifference.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVII, 142)


Vultures are able to discover a carcass from far away because of their keen sight (Job 39:29), and once they have seen it they take action.  This could be a parable of the keen-eyed disciple who reads the significance of events and acts on it, perhaps reflecting the “when you see. . . then escape” of vv. 15-16.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 918)


Why did Jesus tell them in verses 9, 10 to expect persecution and then in verses 16-18 seemingly to escape from it?  The answer is that here he is not telling them to flee suffering for the sake of the gospel.  He is simply telling them to flee to avoid being slaughtered in a God-ordained military campaign (“The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” [22:7]).  They are to die for the gospel (if it comes to that), but not for the temple.  So while at various times in its history Israel fled into the temple as a fortress of refuge, here Jesus counsels true Israel to fly away from it.  This time the temple will offer no divine protection.  Like a dead and withered fig tree, it is about to be pulled from the ground and burned.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 709-10)


There are twelve imperatives (vv. 4, 6, 16, 17, 18, 20, 23, 26 [two], 32, 42, 44), such as the first “see that no one leads you astray” (v. 4) and the last, “be ready” (v. 44).  I mention those imperatives from the start because whatever we make of the chronology, we must first and foremost recognize that Jesus’ primary aim was to exhort and encourage his disciples to think and feel and do.  To Jesus “the eschatological imagination does not displace practical moral concern”–personal readiness, perseverance, discernment.  So it is both necessary that we start with a proper humility and a willingness to admit we do not know everything about this passage and that we understand that these imperatives are of great importance.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 694)


Preachers on prophecy who count earthquakes in order to determine when Jesus will return have not read Jesus’ words carefully.  Everything will happen according to God’s divine plan.  Our responsibility is to be prepared, to endure, and to continue to preach the Good News to all nations (24:14).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 468)


Jesus redirects the attention of the faithful to attend to the present.  In words that resound with the apocalyptic oracle of Isa 24:16-20 and the Christian apocalyptic tradition of 1 Thess 5:1-11, Jesus counsels sobriety, watchfulness, and prayer now.  These are protections against temptation (see 8:13-15; 22:40, 46), lest the faithful fall away from their forthright witness to Jesus’ reign (see 12:9; 21:12-19).  For you will also stand before the judgment of the Son of man.  (David L. Tiede, Augsburg Commentary on the NT: Luke, 370)


II-  Don’t be deceived.  Seek truth.  (Mt 24:2, 4-5, 11, 23-26; see also: Dt 13:1-5; Mt 7:15-23; Mk 13:1-37; Lk 21:7-36; Acts 5:36-37; 8:9-11; 2 Cor 11:14; 2 Thess 2:1-12; 2 Tm 3; 2 Pt 2; 1 Jn 2:18; 4:1-3; Rv 1:7; 13:11-18)


The disciples asked Jesus for the sign of his coming and of the end of the age.  Jesus’ first response was “Watch out that no one deceives you.”  The fact is that whenever we look for signs, we become very susceptible to deception.  Many “false prophets” (24:11, 24) have counterfeit signs of spiritual power and authority.  The only sure way to keep from being deceived is to focus on Christ and his words.  Don’t look for special signs, and don’t spend time looking at other people.  Look at Christ.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 467)


The design of Christ therefore was, first, to arouse his followers, that they might no longer indulge the hope of ease and repose, and the enjoyments of an earthly kingdom; and, secondly, to fortify their minds, that they might not give way under ordinary calamities.  Such an admonition, no doubt, was far from being agreeable, but, in consequence of their stupidity, and the great weight of the calamities, it was highly necessary.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVII, 136)


It is in times of such stress and distress that people tend to be especially vulnerable to the deceptions of false prophets.  When a man with a magnetic personality comes along and promises to deliver you from your desperate situation, it can be tempting to listen to him.  But Jesus warns us that when it sounds too good to be true, we can be sure that it is not true.  Some of them will be able to “perform great signs and miracles.”  Some faith healers may actually help some people.  But don’t let them fool you.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 349)


Unlike many “prophecy experts” today, Jesus did not prophesy about the future in order to impress others.  Instead, he spoke of the end times in order to realign his disciples’ priorities and to caution them about being deceived.  The disciples were impressed with the external appearance of the temple, but Jesus admonished them to focus not on the building itself but, instead, on God to whom the building was dedicated.  The temple would eventually be destroyed, but God’s Word (which pointed to Jesus himself, 21:12-18, 33) would remain.  Jesus sternly warned his disciples not to be deceived by false messiahs or to lose hope.  No matter what situation they found themselves in, they were to stand firm on the truth of God’s Word.  (Bruce B. Barton, D.Min., Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke, 470-1)


It is quite difficult to break the power of religious self-deception, for the very nature of faith is to give no room for doubt.  Once a person is deceived, he does not recognize that he is deceived, because he has been deceived!  For all that we think we know, we must know this as well:  we can be wrong.  If we refuse to accept this truth, how will we ever be corrected from our errors?  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 30)


Sham Christs have always been poor shams.  The glory of the real Christ is beyond imitation.  But men’s ignorance of the Son of man is still stupendous.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 945)


It is remarkable how often occurrences such as those mentioned in these verses are appealed to by those who are trying to work out a pattern for eschatological events, whereas in fact they are mentioned here precisely in order to discourage such speculation and to assert that the events described are not part of an eschatological scenario, but rather routine events within world history which must not be given more weight than they deserve.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 901-2)


  1. So, that even the elect (if it were possible) will be led into error. This was added for the purpose of exciting alarm, that believers may be more careful to be on their guard; for when such unbounded freedom of action is allowed to false prophets, and when they are permitted to exert such powers of deceiving, those who are careless and inattentive would easily be entangled by their snares.  Christ therefore exhorts and arouses his disciples to keep watch, and at the same time reminds them that there is no reason for being troubled at the strangeness of the sight, if they see many persons on every hand led away into error.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVII, 141)


Satan knows well the value of prophecy, and has always labored to bring the subject into contempt.  The works of Josephus prove repeatedly how many false Christs and false prophets arose before the destruction of Jerusalem.  It might easily be shown that human eyes today are continually blinded to things to come, in many ways.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 226)


To keep believers from being deceived by false messiahs, Jesus explained that his return will be unmistakable (24:30); no one will doubt that it is he.  If believers have to be told that the Messiah has come, then he hasn’t.  Christ’s coming will be obvious to everyone.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 476)


False prophets claimed to receive messages from God, but they said what the people wanted to hear, even when the nation was not following God.  We have false prophets today, popular leaders who tell people what they want to hear–such as “God wants you to be rich,” “Do whatever your desires tell you,” or “There is no such thing as sin or hell.”  Jesus said false teachers would come, and he warned his disciples, as he warns us, not to listen to their dangerous words.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 470)


Christ will appear to the whole world at once according to Rv 1:7.  It will be as clear to us as a dead animal is to a flock of vultures.  It doesn’t take them long to notice a carcass.  In fact, they often start circling before their prey is completely dead.  This illustration suggests another way to understand this proverbial saying:  the returning Christ will be as easy to spot as a flock of vultures circling over their next meal.  Either way it is a macabre image that may have been chosen to emphasize the death that comes upon this world as a consequence of the false prophets Jesus warns us against.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 350-1)


Nothing is easier than self-deceit.  For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.  —Demosthenes  (Patrick Morley; The Man In The Mirror, 286)


These “sign prophets” drew on the biblical tradition of authenticating signs and NT writers do in fact expect such “signs and wonders” to accompany the true work of God (Acts 2:43; 4:16, 30; 5:12; etc.), even though it is also recognized that divine miracles can be counterfeited (Acts 8:9-11; 2 Thess 2:9; Rv 13:13-14; 16:14; cf. Dt 13:1-3).  Even the “chosen people” may not be immune to such deceit, though the addition of “if possible” suggests that they, unlike the rest of the people in the city, have the spiritual resources to resist it.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 917)


Many individuals have claimed to be the Christ or to know exactly when Jesus will return–even some in our own generation.  Jesus warned us about them and said clearly, “Don’t believe them.”  (Bruce B. Barton, D.Min., Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke, 474)


I next want to use our text’s eight imperatives to be our applications for the present: “flee” (v. 16), do “not go down” (v. 17), do “not turn back” (v. 18), “pray” (v. 20), “do not believe” (vv. 23, 26b), “do not go out” (v. 26a), and “learn” (v. 32).  These eight can be grouped together into three groups–obedience, prayer, and discernment.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 710)

For the first step in learning is the capacity to doubt, nor is there anything so inimical to learning as the presumption of one’s own erudition or excessive reliance upon one’s own wits:  the one takes away our interest in learning, while the other diminishes it, and in this way students unnecessarily deceive themselves.  The easiest person to deceive is one’s self, and there is no one our deceit damages more than ourselves.  (Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition, 323)


III-  No matter how bad it gets, never lose faith in Jesus. Jesus wins!  (Mt 24:9-13; see also: Isa 1:9; 61:1-11; Dn 7:13-14; Mt 10:32-33; 13:20-21; Mk 13:1-37; Lk 21:7-36; Jn 8:31; 16:33; Rom 8:18-25, 31-37;  1 Cor 15:52; 2 Cor 4:7-5:10; Phil 1:6; Col 1:21-23; 1 Thess 4:14; 2 Tm 2:11-12; ch 3; Jam 1:2-4; Heb 2:1-3; 3:12-14; 4:14; 6:11-12; 10:39; 1 Pt 1:3-9; Rv 2:17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; chps 4-22)


The “signs of the end” are but the signs of God’s new beginning.  Where death seemed to be the only certainty, life bursts forth like the spring.  The messianic woes usher in the messianic kingdom.  How often do the very facts which seem to contradict a benevolent and beneficent providence validate it!  Out of the womb of evil comes good.  “All these things are against me,” cries Jacob (Gn 42:36); and lives to thank God for them (Rom 8:28).  “Distress” (vs. 25)–“redemption” (vs. 28):  it may be that God has no other way of breaking through the crust of our pride and self-reliance.  (George Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, 369)


Each generation has rumors of war and signs of Christ’s return, because each generation needs to be awakened to expect his coming.  Believers, as well as nonbelievers, fail to ready themselves for the Lord’s return and judgment.  Rather than speculate about when Christ might return, ask yourself the question Jesus asked his generation:  “When the son of Man returns, will he find faith?”  (Luke 18:8b)  (R.C. Sproul, Before the Face of God Book Two, 477)


What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now as they know they must do at the last day.  For each of us the time is coming when we shall have nothing but God.   Health and wealth and friends and hiding places will be swept away, and we shall have only God.  To the man of pseudo faith that is a terrifying thought, but to real faith it is one of the most comforting thoughts the heart can entertain.  — A. W. Tozer


In the Judaic-Christian faith, history is going somewhere because God is acting in history.  The scope of salvation history moves to its telos, its completion, its culmination as we know history.  As Christians we believe that history does not contain its own fulfillment, but that God as the main Actor on the stage of time will bring it to a victorious climax.  He will triumph over all adversity and achieve the ultimate goal of the work of redemption.  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 266)


When we are convinced that the end of the world will only come when Jesus returns visibly and powerfully, we can maintain hope and vigilance no matter how bad things get.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 793)


No matter how bad things may get within public opinion or the political arena, no matter how much government may legislate against Christianity, or no matter how much persecution is mounted against it, the gospel cannot be stopped until the end, when Jesus returns in glory and power.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 795)


Remember, Christians are not saved from trials; Scripture is very clear on this.  Rather, Christians are saved through trials.  Jesus is saying, in effect, “Trust in Me.  Even when it seems that everything is out of control, I am in control.”  With such confidence in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can persevere through tribulation and deception.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 319)


God has not abandoned the world, even in light of all the world’s evil and rejection of God. “It is not abandonment that God contemplates; it is intervention.” (William Barclay; The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, 360)


Do not be discouraged even though it appears as though evil is winning and God has gone on vacation.  “An essential part of the Jewish picture of the day of the Lord is that a complete breakdown of all moral standards and an apparent complete disintegration of the world must precede it.  But, for all that, this is not the prelude to destruction; it is the prelude to recreation.”  (William Barclay; The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, 361)


Many a ship has been lost on the harbor bar; and there is no excuse for the captain leaving the bridge, or the engineer coming up from the engine-room, stormy as the one position and stifling as the other may be, until the anchor is down, and the vessel is moored and quiet in the desired haven.  The desert, with its wild beasts and its Bedouin, reaches right up to the city gates, and until we are within these we need to keep our hands on our sword-hilts and be ready for conflict.  “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 154)


As believers, we should not be shocked or surprised that the world hates us (see Jn 15:18-21).  On the other hand, we shouldn’t be overly suspicious or totally withdraw from the world (see 1 Cor 5:9-11).  To believe in Jesus and stay strong to the end (24:13) will take perseverance because our faith will be challenged and opposed.  Severe trials will sift true Christians from phony believers.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 469)


Part of the effect of this “tribulation,” therefore, is to purify the body of professed disciples:  those who endure are saved, as in Dn 11:32, 34-35, and elsewhere in Matthew (see on 12:32; 13:21, 41; cf. 2 Tm 2:3, 10-13; 3:11; Heb 10:32; 11:27; 12:2-3; Jam 1:12; 5:11).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 499)


Troubled times are ahead.  Heresies and persecutions may soon weaken and distract the churches; a fierce war of principles may soon convulse the nations.  Doors now open to do good may soon be shut forever.  Our eyes may yet see the sun of Christianity go down like the sun of Judaism, in clouds and storm.  Above all, let us long for our Lord’s return.  May we all have a heart to pray daily, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rv 22:20).  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 228)


The shortening of the time will limit their duration so that the destruction will not wipe out God’s people and thus their mission.  God is ultimately in charge of history and will not allow evil to exceed the bounds he has set.  Jesus had predicted the Cross for himself; here he was predicting persecution, death, and resurrection for his disciples.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 475)


This is not a shortening of twenty-four hours, but rather is a proverbial way of indicating that God is in control even of these days of horror.  If the wickedness of humanity and the wrath of God were allowed to run unchecked, there would be no end to the horror and no one would survive.  This is a promise that the time of tribulation will not last indefinitely, because God is in control.  (Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Vol 1, 150)


Worship Point:  Worship the God who knows everything past, present and future.  He knows what you need to know to live life in all of its abundance no matter what circumstances you face.


Many commentators have observed that the signs of the times were fulfilled already in the first generation after Christ.  Believers in every time and place who have taken Jesus’ words to heart have noted the signs of the times in their own experience.  Evidently, Jesus wants each generation in his church to feel a sense of urgency about the Last Day because, when we have no sense of immediacy or imminence, we tend to procrastinate.  We devote ourselves to the pursuit of earthly gain and pleasure and do not make the kingdom of God and his righteousness our first priority.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 341)


Theologian Robert Jenson has argued that in the West, the world has thus “lost its story;” we have lost the sense that the world is a “Nar ratable reality.”  Without a meaningful origin, without a meaningful and purposive eschaton, history becomes a tale not tellable at all, not even by an idiot.  And where there is no origin and no eschaton, there can be no hope.  (Ken Myers, Mars Hill Audio Newsletter, July 2007)


What we need to come to terms with, though, if our origin is insignificant, and if our destiny is insignificant, have the courage and guts to admit that your life is insignificant.  If your origin and destiny are both insignificant, you just don’t matter.  (Tim Keller, sermon on Ecclesiastes)


That Jesus tells these things in advance (v. 25) not only warns and strengthens his followers (cf. Jn 16:4) but also authenticates him (cf. Dt 13:1-4; Jn 14:29).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 503)


But we must not suppose that this part of our Lord’s prophecy is exhausted by the first taking of Jerusalem.  It is more than probable that our Lord’s words have a further and deeper application still.  It is more than probable that they apply to a second siege of Jerusalem, which is to take place when Israel has returned to their own land; and to further great distress for its inhabitants, which will only be stopped by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Such a view of this passage may sound startling to some.  But those who doubt its correctness would do well to study the last chapter of the prophet Zechariah, and the last chapter of Daniel.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 229)


We must never forget that not only individuals but also nations need the wisdom of Christ.  Unless the leaders of the nations are themselves led by Christ, they cannot do other than lead people not only to spiritual but also to physical disaster.  Jesus was no impractical dreamer; he laid down the laws by which alone a nation can prosper, and by disregard of which it can do no other than perish miserably.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 359)


Jesus knew that the way of power politics can end only in doom.  The individual and the nation which will not take the way of God are heading for disaster–even in material things.  The individual and the nation which refuse the dream of God will find their own dreams shattered also.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 356)


Gospel Application:  We will never be saved by our efforts.   We will never be saved by a political party.  We will never be saved by money or medicine.  We obviously will never be saved by a sports team or celebrity or artist.  Those whose faith in Jesus is firm to the end will be saved.


Take Christ for your Savior, and then, when the vultures of judgment, with their mighty black pinions, are wheeling and circling in the sky, ready to pounce upon their prey, He will gather you “as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings,” and beneath their shadow you will be safe.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 166)


Now the true cause of such an awful punishment was, that the desperate wickedness of that nation had reached its height.  For not only had they haughtily despised, but even disdainfully rejected the medicine which was brought for their diseases; and, what was worse, like persons who were mad or possessed by the devil, they wreaked their cruelty on the Physician himself!  Since the Lord executed his vengeance on those men for their inveterate contempt of the Gospel, accompanied by incorrigible rage, let their punishment be always before our eyes; and let us learn from it, that no offense is more heinous in the sight of God, than obstinacy in despising his grace.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVII, 136)


Jesus’ discourse here serves to reassure believers that God is advancing his plan.  The events of A.D. 70 show, as we look back at them, that God was, and still is, directing the affairs of the human race.  Those events include calls to faithfulness and warnings about judgment.  The severe character of the judgment reveals how serious God is about sin and unfaithfulness.  As painful as the fall of Jerusalem was, it is nothing compared to the judgment to come.  This feature gives this text its theological power.  Our culture tends to minimize the authority of God to punish unrighteousness.  Yet that theme is one of the more important notes raised in this passage.  (Darrell L. Bock, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, 540)


Spiritual Challenge:  Get to know the thousands of Biblical texts concerning the return of Jesus and the end of the age.   Allow the Spirit of God to give you a clear understanding when you really need it.


“Birth pains” is a common metaphor from the OT prophets to depict terrible human suffering generally (Isa 13:8; 21:3; 42:14; Jer 30:7-10; Hos 13:13), but also the suffering that Israel specifically will endure prior to her deliverance (Isa 26:27-29; 66:7-11; Jer 22:23; Mic 4:9-10).  The imagery points to an expected time of suffering that will characterize the period prior to the messianic age.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 773)


It is strange to see how Jesus gave practical advice which was not taken, the disregarding of which multiplied the disaster.  Jesus’ advice was that when that day came, men and women ought to flee to the mountains.  They did not; they crammed themselves into the city and into the walls of Jerusalem from all over the country, and that very folly multiplied the grim horror of the famine of the siege a hundredfold.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 358)


So What?:  The Bible says life will continue to get worse and not better.  Mankind will continue to drift further and further from God and our humanity and we will become more and more Darwinian and beasts.   Only faith in Jesus can give you the power and the perseverance to be truly one created in the image of God and totally human.


Although we may feel that the world is in bad shape now, Jesus warns us that it is going to get worse.  But his purpose is not to depress us.  He is warning us ahead of time, so that when it happens we will not be tempted to wonder whether he has lost control of his world.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 342)


These are only a prelude, “a beginning of birthpains.”  Much severer pains and writhings must be added before the new heavenly eon comes to full birth.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 931)


We cannot tell, but God can, when evil has become incurable; or when, in the language of my text, the mass of any community has become a carcass.  There may be flickerings of life, all unseen by our eyes, or there may be death, all unsuspected by our shallow vision.  So long as there is a possibility of amendment, “sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily”; and God dams back, as it were, the flow of His retributive judgment, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth.”  But when He sees that all is vain, that no longer is restoration or recovery possible, then He lets loose the flood; or, in the language of my text, when the thing has become a carcass, then the vultures, God’s scavengers, come and clear it away from off the face of the earth.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 158)


In a century that has seen two world wars, now lives under the threat of extinction by nuclear holocaust, and has had more Christian martyrs than in all the previous nineteen centuries put together, Jesus’ prediction does not seem farfetched.  But the age will not run its course; it will be cut short.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 502-3)


The world of nature is affected by sin in the same way as the world of men, and thus these disturbing manifestations are a sign of the end.  But they are not a sign after which the end is at once due.  Oh no; more of these manifestations will occur, not always consecutively but often concurrently and simultaneously.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 931)


First, much suffering would occur as a part of life on earth, including wars, fighting among nations and kingdoms, and many natural disasters.  These, along with fearful events and great signs from heaven, will mean only that history is moving toward a single, final, God-planned goal–the creation of a new earth and a new kingdom (Rv 21:1-3).  (Bruce B. Barton, D.Min., Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke, 475)


“Judgment and a new creation are certain. . .God’s plan is not the obliteration of the world, but the creation of a world which is nearer to his heart’s desire.” (William Barclay; The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, 361)




Quotes to Note:

Today’s church growth experts tell us that the church grows through trimming the Word and adding worldly trimmings, but the inspired book of Acts illustrates the church growing through proclamation and persecution.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 702)


Who would be worried about retrieving their necessities or valuables, if it was the end of the world?  You wouldn’t need your gold watch or your wool mittens if the sun was to darken and the stars were to fall from the sky (v. 29), would you?  And if this was the last day–the end of the world as we know it and as they know it–what difference would it make if this event happened in the winter or not or whether one was pregnant or not?  And why would Jesus express sympathy for those attempting to flee that region?  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 707)







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