Sunday, February 21, 2021

Matthew 25:1-13 The Parable Of The 10 Virgins


In His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 & 25) Jesus speaks about His second coming and the importance of being alert and ready for that occasion which will come unexpectedly upon this world, like a thief in the night. Now, in Chapter 25 we find three further weighty observations with respect to Christ’s coming:

(i)                 We must be prepared to receive Him when He comes. This is shown in the parable of the ten virgins (25:1-13).

(ii)               We must be ready to give account of ourselves to Christ, when He comes. This is shown in the parable of three servants that have been given responsibility to take care of his property (25:14-30).

(iii)             We will receive an announcement of our final destiny.  This is shown in  the description of the process of the last judgment (25:31-46)

We will take our time to consider each of these separately.

In this sermon  we will deal with the parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)  

This parable speaks specifically to those that assume that   they will inherit the kingdom of heaven.  It speaks to all those that profess to be members of the church, Christians. In that regard Jesus uses the picture of a wedding party, and now specifically the picture of 10 virgins, concerning which He makes a distinction between 5 foolish and 5 wise virgins.

In this parable Jesus speaks  of   10 virgins- unmarried  girls-  that  are  anticipating  the coming of the bridegroom,  whom they  would   escort  to  his bride.  Hebrew weddings could take days.  Somewhere at the beginning of the wedding feast, in the evening, the bridegroom, accompanied by his entourage would go to fetch his betrothed from her father’s house. A procession was formed under the direction of one of the bridegroom’s friends. He would be the master of ceremonies and he would remain by the bridegroom’s side throughout the wedding ritual. On this occasion 10 young, unmarried women formed a part of the bridegroom’s wedding procession at night, and for this purpose they carried their lamps. These oil lamps naturally needed to be replenished from time to time.  The bridegroom, we are told, took his time in coming (25:5).

Keep in mind now that Jesus is applying this parable to Himself. He is the heavenly bridegroom of the church. This is not the first time He has used this designation for Himself.[1]  And He was speaking to His hearers in familiar pictures.  And if they were alert (as parables require us to be), His hearers would have understood that He was making a connection between God (the bridegroom/ husband) and Israel (the bride/wife) of God[2]  and Himself. God  considered Himself to be in a covenant relationship (Hebr. berit)   with Israel. Jesus in identifying  Himself as the bridegroom of God’s people  makes therefore a direct connection between Himself and God!  

Returning to the parable of the 10 virgins we read:  

25:2-4 “Five of them were foolish and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps“.   Five of them were described as foolish because they took no extra oil with them.  Five wise girls were thinking ahead. They made sure that they had adequate oil supplies, just in case the bridegroom was delayed. The point of having these lamps was to provide light for the way ahead  to the bride’s house. By the way, remember that Christians are children of light. The gospel is light, and they who receive it must not only be enlightened by it themselves, but must shine as lights, in this dark world (Phil. 2:15,16).

25:5 “As the bridegroom was delayed they all became drowsy and slept“. Here is the problem for all the 10 girls. The bridegroom was delayed.  This theme is picked up from 24:48. The wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed”, and because of this he grew careless and acted foolish.   Jesus knew that His delayed return (that is how it always feels for every generation) would become a problem for the early Christians, and  for every generation throughout the history of the church.

So, we find that all the girls get sleepy. Not even the wise girls stayed awake.  Let’s face it. Staying awake after a long day is hard. This also happened to the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane when they are called to watch and pray in the hour of Christ’s greatest temptation and trial. They all fall asleep (Matt.26:40,43).

Now remember again that this parable is spoken specifically to remind the church, that with respect to the 2nd coming of Christ we need to be expectant, watchful and alert to the Lord’s coming. Remember that His return will be sudden and unexpected!  Now there is a great temptation in waiting. Our zeal for the things of God diminishes after a time. The ordinariness of daily Christian routines and the lack of spiritual zeal of those around us make us tired.   There is a certain tediousness attached to being a Christian, and this is a common temptation and we all can fall into it. We become less vigilant and expectant, and although all love is not necessarily lost, yet the first love is often absent (Rev. 2:4).  There is of course no sin in sleep itself. We all need it. The fact that Christ’s disciples fell asleep, while they should have watched and prayed, in order not to fall into temptation, was certainly not good, but this did not make them non-Christians.

The point is this - are we prepared for Christ’s coming, even in our sleep? You know that we can be asleep and yet be expectant. I thought about this.  You have a teenager who goes out at night to visit with their friends. In the meantime your light goes out at about 10 pm, while they think nothing of visiting into the small hours of the morning.  So, you go to sleep, but in your heart you are awake. You wait for that key to turn and for that door to open. That’s the difference between those who are asleep and waiting, and those who are asleep and who are fast asleep!  Preparedness is ultimately the real issue. Are these girls ready when the bridegroom comes? Let’s see …

25:6&7 “But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps”.  So, they all got up to meet the bridegroom, but the difference begins to show.  5 of the girls did not have enough oil. They did not plan. They did not think, or anticipate  what might happen if the bridegroom comes late,  and so they asked the wise girls:

25:8-9 “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out“. But there was clearly not enough oil to sustain them all, and so the wise girls answered them, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves …”. This was not selfishness. This was wisdom speaking.  The point is that if the wise girls would share the oil with the foolish ones, all the lamps would go out at some stage of the journey to the bride’s home.  Now, remember that   Jesus did not intend this to be a lesson on sacrificial sharing! The lesson of this parable is that we cannot ultimately rely on one another’s preparedness.  You cannot get to heaven on the back of the faith of your father, mother, brother or sister or friend! In this regard you must enter by the narrow gate yourself! (Matt 7:13,14). We will see this clearly   in conclusion.

25:10 ”And while  they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”  The bridegroom returns while the five foolish girls are shopping for oil.  In the meantime the wedding party goes to marriage feast, “and the door was shut!” Too late for latecomers!  Jesus is making a weighty point here. If you are unprepared at Christ’s coming, though you may try all you can to secure entrance at that time, you will be excluded from the wedding feast.  Being a member of the bridal party, being a baptised member of the church at this stage does not count. The question is this, ”Is your heart prepared? Are you prepared to go with the bridegroom when He comes?”

Now listen to these next words of the parable, and see whether you can relate them to another similar passage in the gospel of Matthew:

25: 11,12:  “Afterward the  other (five) virgins  came also, saying  ‘Lord, Lord open  to us’. But He answered, ’Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”

These words recall the chilling words of Matthew 7:22-23.   This does not literally mean that Jesus does not know them. He knows everyone, for He has created all people (Jn. 1:3,4).  But it does mean that He does not know them as His own (i.e. His sheep Matt.  25:32ff; Jn. 10:1-18). And, think about this carefully! The foolish girls did not think of the bridegroom as their own either!  They had such little anticipation in their heart about His return, and the wedding feast, that their most basic preparations (such as having sufficient oil) was lacking. They were “hangers on “– their heart wasn’t in it, and it is a shock to them when they suddenly discover themselves to be excluded from the wedding feast. ‘Lord, Lord open  to us’. 

God has something to say to such people on that day! 

Those who cry out on that day of His coming … “Lord, Lord …”, but who had never made sure that they were truly prepared in their soul   for His coming, will not be allowed into God’s eternal kingdom.  They will be excluded.   And so Jesus makes the simple and striking appeal again…

25:13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” 

The lesson is plain and simple: A true follower of Christ must watch and be prepared for  His coming. And when He comes we must not have divided hearts like Lot’s wife.  We must  not  first  want to go do this and that.  We must go with Him, …then!  

In this parable Jesus warns nominal, distracted, unprepared, disinterested Christianity and church members. Christianity is not a cultural affair. It is not a casual attachment  to religion. It is not an insurance policy. Biblical Christianity is a state of being – a state of preparedness. Christ is our Saviour and Lord. That means that I  must continue to grow in  my  love for Him.  Continue to serve Him. Continue to obey Him. Continue in fruitful service to Christ. Don’t stop. Don’t backslide. Don’t get distracted. Don’t lose heart. Prepare your soul.  Be constantly ready. Always be ready to face Christ.  It is not enough to be a mere  member of the church. You must be a prepared and ready lover of the bridegroom.  

Remember that the narrow gate is open now. 

Then it will be shut and bolted, and a great gulf will be fixed. This will be like the shutting of the door of the ark after Noah  had entered. When he was in he was safe. Those outside the ark perished.  

Flee to Christ, NOW!

 



[1] See  Matt. 9:15, Mk. 2:18,19;  Lk. 5:34,35 ; Jn. 3:27-30 ; 2 Cor. 11:2 ; Eph. 5:25-27 ; Rev. 19:7-10 , 21:2, 22:17..

[2] There are a couple of references in the OT scripture   in which God is called a bridegroom (e.g.  Isa.  54:4-5; 62:5 ; Jer. 2:2; Ezek. 16:7-34 ; Hos. 1-3) and Israel His bride.  Ps 45   is a wedding Psalm, and it has messianic overtones

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Matthew 24: 36- 51 “Preparing For Christ’s Coming”

 


OUTLINE

1.            When will Christ return?

Ø  We don’t know the time (36)

Ø  It will be sudden  and unexpected (37- 39).  Don’t expect the world  to  eagerly await Christ’s return (38)

2.            What will happen at His coming? 

Ø  There  will be a separation of  people at Christ’s return  (40,41)

3.            How does a Christian prepare for Christ’s coming?

Ø  Stay awake – Keep an expectant  watch (42-44)

Ø  Be faithful  (45)

4.            What can the Christian expect at Christ’s return?

Ø  Blessedness (Happiness) (46)

Ø  Reward (47)

5.            How does a non- Christian relate to Christ’s coming?

Ø  They  expect  that Christ  will never come (48)

Ø  They   abuse   Christ’s  property (49)

6.            What will happen to the non-Christian?

Ø  They will be surprised by  Christ’s unexpected  and   sudden return (50)

Ø  They will  be  consigned to a place of unspeakable suffering (51 cf.25:30)

 

1.         When will Christ’s return be? (vv. 36-39)

a. We don’t know (v.36):  Jesus tells His disciples what the signposts of His return are, but He does not give them a date.  He says that neither He nor the angels know – but only the Father. This raises a big question. If Jesus is one with the Father, co-equal in His God-hood, why did Jesus not know? The answer is that Jesus took on human nature. He voluntarily laid aside His majesty and entered into our world as a humble servant, (Phil. 2; Jn. 13:1-20). As perfect man Jesus learned whatever He did from the Scriptures, by the leading of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 3:21,22; 4:1;14) and in prayerful communion with His Father (Lk.2:49; 5:16, 6:12 etc). In this state His Father revealed many things to Him while He was on earth e.g. His divine son-ship (Matt. 3:17; 17:5); to bear the sins of God’s elect people and to die as a sin offering;  to rise again from the dead (Matt.  16:21;17:22,23,20:17-19); to  ascend  back to the Father in heaven to take up His place in glory once more (Jn. 14:1-3; Jn.17).  In His humanity the Father chose to not reveal the time of His second coming to His Son – for a very good reason. There is a wonderful cutting edge to not knowing the time. People who live in constant expectation are alert. The element of the unknown return of the bridegroom and the Master of the house in the parable of the 10 virgins (Matt. 25: 1-13) and the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) is deeply embedded in the story of Jesus’ return.

b. Jesus says that His return will be sudden and unexpected (vv.37-39) and many people will not be prepared for this event at His coming.  Jesus draws here a comparison with the people in Noah’s day. People were found "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage". They were warned, but they disregarded his prophetic warning. The flood overwhelmed them very suddenly while Noah and family were saved.  Many years ago a family was camping in a dry river bed in the  Namib-Naukluft mountains.  We are constantly warned against camping in dry riverbeds – especially during the rainy season.  A downpour some distance away sent torrents of water down the river and overwhelmed the poor family. The mother and two children perished in that flood. Only the father survived. Our elder, Pieter Slabber conducted that tragic funeral. It was a sudden and unannounced catastrophe and it illustrates what happened to the people in Noah’s day.

Not many people will be eagerly awaiting the returning King (v.38). In Noah’s day many people absorbed in their own pursuits were swept away into eternity - unpardoned, unconverted, and unprepared to meet their God. And our Lord says, "…so will be the coming of the Son of Man." (v.39). People did not listen to God through Noah, and they will not listen to Christ, the Son of God [see the parable of the tenants in Matt. 21:33-41; particularly vv.38,39].  There will be a vast multitude in this entire church age and at Christ’s coming   that will not have entered,  but passed by the narrow  gate and have carried onto the easy  way and  the wide gate that leads to  destruction (Matt. 7:13,14). They will have found the cross of Christ offensive and stupid.  But their eyes will suddenly be opened, but it will be too late. The flood of God’s righteous wrath is coming, and it will not be held back. It is one thing to reject the testimony of Noah, but what have you got left when you reject the testimony of Christ?  Nothing! Only a fearful judgment!

2. What will happen at His coming?  (vv. 40, 41)

There will be a separation of people at Christ’s return (vv. 40,41). Twice we read that "one shall be taken and the other left". Presently the godly and the ungodly are all mingled together – even in the church. The wheat and the weeds grow together in the field until the harvest (Matt.13:24-30). But when Jesus returns there will be a complete separation. We shall consider this in greater detail when we get to 25:31ff. 

For the Christian this will not be a trial, for the glory of the new things will completely overshadow the past. There will be no tears or sorrow when Christ brings in His kingdom.  We must stop thinking like men in this regard.

I must continue to press home the consequences of being in the wrong flock! You will not be able to change your mind after you have died or when the Lord appears!  Everyone shall go to their eternal destiny as they were found at His appearing.  Believers shall be with Jesus, whom they have loved in this life. Unbelievers shall have what they have wanted all their life. They will have no Christ, and therefore they will not have His heaven. If you have not desired Christ with all your heart in this life, you shall not have Him in the next!  The immortal souls of those that have not embraced Christ the Redeemer will possess a Christ-less, God-less eternity. This is everlasting hell.   

3.   How  does a Christian  prepare for  Christ’s  coming? (vv. 42-45)

a. Stay awake (ESV) - keep watch (NIV) (vv.42-44). The Greek word here is “grēgoreō”, from which we get the name Gregory (the watchful one). Every Christian should be a “Gregory”. Listen  to the imperative: “stay awake!”   Jesus’ language is urgent. He knows the sluggishness and sleepiness of our beings.  With respect to the day of the Lord Paul also writes to the Thessalonians: “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but us  keep awake and be sober…” (1 Thess. 5:6). How do you stay watchful?

        i.            Fully expect   the Lord’s coming.   The problem of the 5 foolish virgins in Matt. 25: 1-13 was that they were not expectant and thus they fell asleep.

      ii.            Consider yourself to be at war. You cannot afford to be asleep. You must be vigilant. You have an enemy intent on destroying you (Eph. 6:10-18).  Fight the good fight of the faith (1 Tim 6:12).

    iii.            Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus through personal Scripture reading and meditation upon the Word of God; persevere in prayer; persevere in Christian worship and fellowship; persevere in regular participation in the Lord’s supper.  These are the means of grace that God has provided to keep you from falling asleep.

b. Be faithful (v.45).“Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?  He answers in v. 46: ”blessed is that servant whom His master will find so doing when He comes.”  Faithfulness is one of God’s wonderful attributes (2 Tim 2:13). Christians must be imitators of God. Faithfulness is a major Christian attribute. True Christians are faithful Christ’s servants. They are faithful in to their God. They are faithful to one another. They are faithful stewards in God’s house, while their Master is gone.

4.         What can the Christian expect at Christ’s return? (vv.46,47)

a. Blessedness (Happiness) (v.46). The state of the true Christian can be described in one word: Blessed/ happy! This reminds us of Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-12: “Blessed are the…”. Jesus there teaches us which kind of people are called ‘blessed’ by the Father. A special beatitude is pronounced here upon a persevering, faithful Christ centred person (5:11, 12). It shows that they  have believed Him, and love Him.

b.         Reward (v.47): The Christian’s blessing will be a tangible one.  The Lord Jesus will say to His faithful servant on that day, “take charge of all my possessions”. I am not sure what that means, but we may be assured that there is a material reward which awaits  the  servant of Jesus when the Son of God  comes to give  His faithful  servants their rewards.  We are going to consider the doctrine of rewards in greater detail when we come to Matt. 25:14-30, when we shall consider the  parable of the talents.

Lastly, we must now  consider  the  awful  plight of the unconverted person. 

5.         How does an unbeliever relate to Christ’s coming? (vv. 48-49)

a.         He expects that the Master will never come (v.48). Please note that Jesus makes no distinction between the believer and the unbeliever’s Master. The ultimate truth is that the whole world is created by one God. Therefore this whole world is accountable to this one God.  Christians see themselves as faithful  stewards of God’s creation, taking care of God’s belongings, watching out for  their Master’s return. Unbelievers, agnostics and atheists  by contrast have no expectation of their  Master’s return.  They do not own him as their Master. What follows now is an interesting insight…

b. The unbeliever abuses His Master’s property (v.49). Because such  people think that God is absent or non- existent, they also  believe that He  God doesn’t know and isn’t looking. What is the ultimate result of such thinking? Jesus tells us that the wicked servant becomes careless and cruel.  He abuses his Masters servants.  All the abuse in the world happens because we think that God does not see!  It is  a serious thing to assault a fellow human being – for in so doing you assault the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  There is another aspect to this abuse, and it involves substance abuse (Drunkenness). Notice also that the wicked servant associates with evil companions.

6.  What  will happen  to the unbeliever?  (vv.50,51)

a. He will be surprised by the Master’s sudden return (v. 50) “... he does not expect Him…”  This is the mind-set of an unbeliever. He cuts God out of the picture, and then he will be surprised by his sudden and unexpected return.

b. The unbeliever will be  consigned to “that place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”  (v. 51 cf.25:30). According to the Bible hell is a real place. Hell has no fire escape (Luke 16).  Hell is an ever  accusing conscience. Hell is truth known too late. Hell is living with deep regrets.  In hell there is no opportunity for repentance. This is no place of forgiveness; it is a place of eternal bitterness, and therefore this is a place of real emotional darkness. There is no light and  no laughter in hell. It is utterly impossible to imagine  anything worse.

So  then, please  listen  to the word of God. Listen to Jesus’ words.  Do not ignore this.  Do not be foolish like the people in Noah’s  day  who laughed at him when he built the ark. The difference between him and them is that he and his family were saved. They perished.

Take note of the signposts and be prepared for your Master’s return. Use your time wisely now to invest your life in developing your relationship  with your coming King. Understand that you are living in a hostile, fallen world.  But have pity on this world. Look upon this world right now as an object of God’s mercy and grace, and help those who are yet unbelievers by your prayer and by your evangelistic words. Very soon this opportunity will be gone. Very soon we all find ourselves in one of two God appointed destinations.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Matthew 24: 29- 35 THE SECOND COMING

 


Everything we have looked at so far in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 24 has had to do with signposts of Christ’s coming. 

Today we look at THE SIGN. 

Our key verse is this: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man…” (24:30).The great event of the future is the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible plainly declares that this coming will be personal, visible, sudden and unexpected, glorious and triumphant.[1] 

Do you ever think of that day? 

Be assured that this event, (Jesus is the one speaking here) is the most certain future event to happen. Many people will be surprised when Jesus comes again – but nobody will be mistaken! Be sure that you prepare yourself for this momentous event.  

I want to remind you that the Bible anticipated not only  the Messiah’s first coming  (e.g. the  suffering servant in Isaiah 53), but also His second coming.

Ø  Daniel  7:13,14 [The OT affirms it]   13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Ø  John 14:3 [Jesus Himself said it] "And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."

Ø  Acts 1:11 [The angels said it] "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven".

Ø  [The apostles asserted it]. Paul said, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God" (1 Thess. 4:16). The author of Hebrews writes, "Christ will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Heb. 9:28). James wrote, "the coming of the Lord is near" (James 5:8). Peter said, "The day of the Lord will come like a thief" (2 Pet. 3:10). John wrote, "When he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn. 3:2). And in  Revelation 1:7  he   writes, “Look, he is coming  with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the people of the earth will mourn  because of him. So shall it be!  Amen.

 OUTLINE

1.         The Sign immediately preceding His second coming (24:29)

2.         The Sign of the Son of Man in the sky and the reaction of the nations (24:30)

3.         The Sign of the ingathering of His elect (24:31)

4.         Reading the signs of the times (24:32-35)

 

1.         V.29 The Sign Immediately Preceding His Coming 

Previously, Jesus had spoken about general signs of the end of the age- things that have been happening in this entire church age. One of the greatest signs among these was the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70, and the dispersion of the Jewish nation in accordance with the word of Jesus.  But now in 24:29 Jesus speaks of signs that are truly extra ordinary. It is clear that the world has not yet seen such signs: “…the sun will be darkened…the moon will not give its light…the stars will fall from heaven… the powers of the heavens will be shaken.“ Jesus is clearly referring here to extra ordinary events associated with His second coming. Again, the OT makes reference to this:   

Ø  Isa. 13:10:   “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light. The sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light". The context is the destruction of Israel’s great enemy, Babylon - at this time the mightiest power in the world. The Babylonians worshipped the sun, moon and stars. Isaiah speaks of the coming judgment of God upon Babylon and her ‘gods’, but the ultimate fulfilment is found in the end of the world as we know it.  Similarly in Isaiah 34:4,5 in a judgement  on all the nations  he says,  "All the host of heaven shall rot  away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall…”  

Ø  Ezekiel 32:7 in a judgement on Egypt, uses similar ultimate and apocalyptic language, whilst Joel 2:30-32 speaks in similar language of what will happen when God's judgment comes on Israel: "I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes”.[2]

Jesus was drawing on these well-known images in the Scriptures, and He applies these as signs of His second coming.  And it is this same Jesus, who is now sitting on the Mt. of Olives  overlooking  the city of Jerusalem,  who  would  return  as the Great Judge, with great power and glory,  preceded  by  these  awe inspiring signs.

2. V.30 The Sign  Of The Son Of Man In The Sky  And The Reaction Of The Nations  

The SECOND personal coming of Christ will be very different from the first. When He first came, He was born into a poor family, born in a stable. He lived the life of a poor man. He lived as a servant of others. Although He did amazing things – things that no one had  ever done like  healing the blind, the sick, raising the dead, stilling storms -   He was  rejected and killed as a common criminal on a cross. And when He had risen from the dead, He left essentially as quietly as He had come.  But His second coming will not be like that. He will not arrive in a Lear jet at Hosea Kutako airport in Windhoek.  When He comes again, His appearance in the sky will be universal. It will be so enormous that people in Asia, the Middle East and Europe, in Africa and Australia and in the Americas and all the islands of the world will see Him simultaneously.  The whole sky will be full of Him – just like the lightning that comes from the east which extends to the west (24:27). Every eye will see Him. Your eye will see Him! And we say that because the second coming of Christ will be associated with a general resurrection[3]. Even those who have died will see him, because they will all be raised from the dead in anticipation of the final judgement (Matt. 25:31ff), when Jesus will separate sheep and goats.

The Bible says that Jesus will come with the angels. He will come with His glorified church - those that have died in the Lord. He will come with the voice of the trumpet that raises the dead (Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Whilst the darkened sun and the absence of the light and sight of the familiar moon will be a sobering sign, they are the mere backdrop to the spectacular return of our Lord Jesus. What else will happen?  When Jesus appears in His glory, the world will mourn (Gr. koptō- wail/ cut). What does that mean? This picture of mourning is used in Zechariah 12: 10,12 when  Israel will look upon the one they have pierced, and when they will have an instant understanding that they were wrong about  the Jesus whom they  crucified! In the same way the world will know that it has been wrong all the way, when it disregarded the Word of God, but it is too late.  There will be no atheists on that day. Men and women will be utterly shaken, they will kneel (Phil. 2:10-11; Rom.14:11), and they will fall down before Him, and then they will cry to the rocks and the mountains to fall on them and cover them (Lk.23:30; Rev. 6:15-17). The coming of our Creator will be a great terror for those who have not loved Him in this life. 

3. V.31. The  Sign Of The Ingathering Of The Elect  

Next we are told, "He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”   Who are the elect?  They are His sheep. We shall see this distinction made in Chapter 25:32f. They are the people for whom the Lord Jesus laid down His life (John 10).  The Lord Jesus will send His angels and gather them all.  What if the sheep die before that time? We have already seen that they are alive with Him now, and they will receive their resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:35-54).

And now please remember that when Jesus comes again it will not be to give sinners one last chance. This time He comes to judge. He will separate the whole of humanity into two groups. In that day you will be either a sheep or a goat. The questions you will now have to answer are these: Did I enter at the narrow gate that  leads to life (Matt. 7:13,14)? Did I deny myself and pick up my cross and follow Jesus? (Matt. 16:24-27- note the context here)? Did I bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8-10)? 

Ultimately… we will all be going to the place which we have chosen for ourselves.

4. Vv. 32-35  Reading the Signs of the Times

Jesus closes this part of His teaching with an illustration and a lesson from a fig tree.  "As soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near".  We know that summer is coming when trees begin to bud. 

What is the point which Jesus makes here?

Very simply,  this: All the signposts which  Jesus has given us, indicate  that the time is near. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the emergence of false Christ’s, false prophets, false  religions that deceive;  many natural disasters, wars and famines; people turning away from the  faith  with betrayal; hate and deceit of  one another – all these are signposts of his coming. Other signposts are the preaching of the gospel in the whole world, followed by world-wide tribulations in ever increasing intensity. We are surely  living in the last days, and now even more so,  since more than 2000  years have passed. If you think that the Lord Jesus  is perhaps taking too much time, then be reminded of the words of  the apostle Peter: “8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:8,9)

And finally, vv. 34,35: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away  until all these things take place… What does Jesus mean by this generation?  Some have held that the generation alive at the AD70 event was in view. However that is problematic since the spectacular signs in the sky are excluded. The simplest interpretation is that Jesus refers to this entire end-time generation i.e. all that live between the ascension and second coming.

CONCLUSION: 2 Peter 3:10-14

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.



[1] W.J. Grier: The Momentous event, Banner of Truth, p.9

[2] Peter quotes  these words  on the day of Pentecost ( Acts 2:19,20)

[3] In 1  Corinthians 15:12ff  &  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18  Paul discusses the resurrection of believers;  In Acts 24:15  Paul speaks of the resurrection of the just and the unjust. John speaks  of the resurrection of life and  the resurrection of judgement (Jn. 5:29)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Matthew 24:15 – 28 Signposts Of The End Of The Age # 3 - “The Great Tribulation“

 

Last time we saw that one of the great signs before the coming of the Lord would be the world wide preaching of the gospel (Matt: 24:14).  We are certainly living in these days, when the gospel is being proclaimed around the whole world.  

Not all of it is sound proclamation.   Keep in mind the fact   that the enemy sows weeds   into the field of God (Matt. 13:24-30). But these things must be, says Jesus: ‘Watch out for false Christ’s (24: 5,23,24). Watch out for false prophets” (24:11). Don’t be deceived! (24:4) don’t be alarmed!  (24:6). Despite these setbacks we must continue to sow the seed of God’s Word into the world, remembering  that the final harvest is in God’s hands (Matt. 13:30; 36- 43).  

Following this we now turn to the next significant  signpost of His coming.

 OUTLINE OF   Matthew 24:15- 28  -  THE GREAT TRIBULATION [1]

(i)                 A  prophetic word: When the holy place is desecrated  (v.15)

(ii)               A word of  advice:  What to do  in such a situation  (v.16)

(iii)             A word of perspective:  A time of unequalled  tribulation  (v. 21)

(iv)              A word of comfort  – those days will be cut short for the sake of the elect  (v.22)

(v)                A second  word of warning:  Don’t be deceived!  (vv. 23-26)

(vi)              A word of clarity: Christ’s coming will be clear, it will be visible (vv. 27-28)

 

1. A   Prophetic Word (24:15)

“When you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel…”. Jesus refers to Daniel 9:27. These were prophetic words spoken some 500 years earlier by the angel Gabriel to Daniel. He was speaking about pagan armies invading Jerusalem. Each of them tried to desecrate temple worship, setting up this abomination that causes desolation. There were   multiple fulfillments of this in Jewish history, for example:

(i)                 In 168 BC Antiochus Epiphanes sacrificed pigs on the altar of burnt offering in the temple to the pagan god Zeus.   

(ii)                In AD 40   the Roman emperor Caligula tried to erect a great statue of himself in the temple. It did not succeed.

(iii)             In AD 70, the Jewish  historian  Josephus tells us, "The Romans, upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple, and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them".[2]  The temple and the city itself were utterly ruined a few days later and Jesus’ words in Matt 23:48 came true, “… your house is left to you desolateby “the abomination that causes desolation“. It was deserted! [3]. There can be no doubt that this is the primary fulfilment of Jesus’ words and Daniel’s prophecy. The temple was utterly destroyed, and has never been rebuilt since that time. In fact, Israel seized to exist as a nation from then on until it was reconstituted as a state only in 1948.  It was indeed a great tribulation.

But don’t get stuck on the AD 70 event. Jesus is saying much more here than that.   He points us to a pattern of tribulations in history.  He says, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). HOWEVER, all these tribulations will be superseded by a final great tribulation  before the coming  of Christ.  This is what our text points towards, and this is what the apostle Paul was writing to the Thessalonians in AD 51/ 52:

 "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God." (2 Thess. 2:1-4). 

He is talking about a time just before the coming of Christ, and it is connected with the man of lawlessness, the antichrist. The apostle John also speaks of him: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 Jn. 2:18). In one sense this spirit of the antichrist has always been around, but in another sense   there will be a manifestation of the antichrist in person before the day of Christ’s appearing.  Keep in mind that “anti“ in the original Greek  does not mean ‘against’, but  ‘… in the place of “.  The antichrist ceaselessly works to substitute himself in the place of Christ and today he does that mostly in the Christian temple - the church[4], and all the more as the time for the appearing of Jesus Christ draws near. 

The Pre- Reformation Catholic church had replaced the authority of Christ with popes and traditions. The 16th century Reformation called in the church back to Christ and His Word ALONE.  The main struggle of the 21st century church is the same. Many churches in our day are personality driven, purpose driven, program driven, entertainment driven and success driven. Jesus is talked about but He is not necessarily the life and love of the church. He is not necessary the focus of her worship.  This was the problem with the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7). She lost her light because she had lost her first love for the Lord Jesus Christ and His word. 

Many struggle to read and meditate on the Word of Christ privately.  Many make little effort to hear the Word preached and explained publicly. In fact, relatively few preachers will open the Word up to their people faithfully. For this reason many do not understand the life of faith adequately.  As a result  Christ  is loved insufficiently and His  word  is not taken  to a lost world diligently.  Whilst there are still many churches filled to capacity, the Lord says, “you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”  (Sardis – Rev. 3:1).  Jesus says so in v. 12 “… because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold”. 

This is the prophetic word concerning the church. She is desecrated again and again- until the end by the abomination that causes desolation. There is an important   and powerful picture in Revelation 11:1-14. This describes the condition of the world shortly before Christ’s return! Here we find a picture of desolation. The Holy city (the church) is trampled for a symbolic period of 42 months.

2. A Word Of Advice:  What To Do In Such A Situation  (24:16 - 20)

(i) At that time flee (24:16). When the city was besieged in AD 70  the Jews rushed into Jerusalem. But what happened to the Christians? The fourth-century church fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius of Salamis[5] tell us that before this catastrophic event the Christians had been miraculously warned to flee to Pella in the region of the Decapolis across the Jordan River.

When Mt St Helen’s in the USA erupted in 1980   with a force 500 times that of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, scientists had been monitoring it very carefully for some time.  They advised that everybody in that vicinity should evacuate  and flee for their lives.    One man, Harry Truman refused to move. He said, "Nobody knows more about this mountain than Harry, and it won't dare blow up on him." On 18th May 1980 at 8:31 am the mountain exploded, destroying Harry and everything for 240 square kilometers around Mt. Helens.  Don't be like Harry and think you know better than the scientists who carefully monitored the ever increasing rumblings with their seismological tools.  But more important, don’t think that you know better than Jesus.  This is a reminder that there is no physically safe place to flee to in the great tribulation. But make sure that you have fled to Jesus. He can ultimately  be your only hiding place from the wrath of God.

(ii) At that time don’t hold on to material goods (24:17-18):  The Lord Jesus encourages us here to think practically.  Don’t hang on to   your things. Lot’s wife tried to do that, when at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, she cast one longing eye back – and was destroyed. Make no mistake. This great tribulation will be hard. But know that hanging on to stuff, and pension funds won’t help you then. Flee to a safe place if you can. When Herod was trying to kill Jesus, God told Joseph to flee to Egypt.  The English Reformers fled from the Queen called “Bloody Mary” to the Netherlands. John Knox of Scotland fled to Geneva. So flee if you can by all means.   

(iii) At that time pray for mercy (24:19 - 20):  Fleeing when you are highly pregnant or when you have small children is dreadful. Fleeing when weather circumstances are extreme is dreadful.  What then must you do? Pray!  Speak to your heavenly Father who cares for you more than birds and plants (Matt 6:25-34).  The apostle Peter reminds us that “the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials” (2 Peter 2:9).  The testimony  of many of God’s people in such situations  has been  the refrain found in Psalm  107, “… then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved  them from their distress.” 

 3. A Word Of Perspective:  A Time Of Unequalled  Tribulation  (24: 21)

We have made this point before, and  therefore we will be brief on this point. The church since the ascension of the Lord Jesus has experienced tribulation, and she will continue to experience that, but what Jesus is saying  here is that before His coming there will be a great, superlative tribulation – there will be great tribulation, such as not has been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”

 4. A Word Of Comfort: Those Days Will Be Cut Short For The Sake Of The Elect (24:22).

This time   of tribulation will thankfully be very brief (Rev. 11:9), but for what reason will this time be cut short? “For the sake of the elect …”  (24:22, 24, 31). Bishop John Charles Ryle comments:  “Those, whom God has chosen to be saved through His Son… are those whom God specially loves in this world. They are His jewels.  He cares more for them than for kings on their thrones… He hears their prayers. He orders all the events of nations… for their good, and their sanctification. He keeps them by His Spirit. He allows neither man nor devil to pluck them out of His hand. Whatever tribulation comes on the world, God's elect are safe. Here is the love of God in its supremacy. Those whom He loves, He loves with an everlasting love! [6]

5. A Second Word Of Warning:  Don’t Be Deceived!  (24: 23-26)

Again Jesus warns us  that as the days assigned for this earth come to an end, there will be no shortage of false Christ’s and false prophets.  They will like Egypt’s magicians   performing great signs and miracles by Satan’s power. Make sure that you are not deceived. Remember Jesus’ words  to an unbelieving generation:  “No  sign  will be given   except that of the  sign of the prophet Jonah“  (Matt 12:38-40; 16:1-4). The cross is the sign for our times. And if you have understood and embraced Christ’s death on a cross for you, you need no other signs. There is only one more sign that you will have to watch out for, and I draw your attention to the next  and final words…

 6. A Word Of Clarity: Christ’s Coming Will Be Obvious! (24:27-28).

You won’t have to speculate about Christ’s coming!  “For as the lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.“  What Jesus is saying is this: Just as the lightning lights up the whole sky from one end to the other (and its obvious), so will be His coming. We won’t have to speculate whether he has appeared somewhere in North Africa, Siberia or in New Zealand. We will know!  Where there is a corpse the vulture will gather.  The sign of vultures circling in the sky is the sign of something dead below. It is clear. It is unmistakable.

CONCLUSION:

Why is this important?  It is important, because it affects us all.  We all have to know what to do with false Christ’s and false prophets, and what to do with alarming signs. Don’t allow these to mess with your head. If you don’t know how to handle this by keeping a firm focus on Jesus and His Word, you will be a person not prepared (25:1-13). Look only for actual coming of the Lord Jesus, and trust Him for your life until then. Stand firm to the end, looking to Jesus who will bring you safe home.  Amen



[1] Taken  from v. 21. W. Hendriksen  (Matthew , p 857)  uses this   phrase

[2] Antiquities of the Jews, by Flavius Josephus, Book 10, Chapter 11.

[3]  Gk “ Eremos “ -  the word  also used for  a  desert  i.e. a barren, hence desolate  place

[4] 1 Peter 2:4,5 not a building made of stones, but  of  people professing Christ

[5] Flight to Pella – Wikipedia

[6] J.C. Ryle : Matthew , p.

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