The first story Jesus uses to emphasize the suddenness of his coming and the need to be ready for it was the destruction of the earth by flood in the days of Noah. This was a well known case of God's judgment of wickedness in history, and it is referred to quite naturally by Old Testament prophets like Isaiah (Isaiah 54:9) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14:14-20) and by New Testament writers like the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:7) and Peter (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5). Jesus refers to it in verses 37-39.

There is an important contrast between the verses we were looking at in the last study and the opening verse of the section of Matthew 24 to which we come now. It is the difference between "you know" in verse 33 and "no one knows" in verse 36. What the disciples were to know is that "when you see all these things” the end will be "near, right at the door.” It refers to the terrible characteristics of their age, and ours—false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, apostasy, and false prophets—all of which Jesus' disciples saw in their time and we continue to see today. Having seen these things we should know that the return of Jesus Christ is near, even at the door. That door could be flung open by Christ at any moment.

Let me go back and review the lessons that are to be drawn from the first thirty-five verses of Matthew 24. The coming of Christ and the end of the world is immanent, meaning that it can occur any moment. Therefore, our present responsibilities must be:

We have gotten pretty far in our analysis of these verses. So far so good. But what about the time references, the problem that has led some commentators to the dispensational or preterist positions? I would argue that these must be fitted to the other statements, namely, that distressful times are not signs of Christ's second coming and that his coming will be so unexpected that no one, not even the angels in heaven nor Jesus himself, can say when it will be. Let's take them one at a time.

As we have discovered, Matthew 24 introduces some very difficult passages to interpret. Yesterday we looked at two theories, but noticed some problems with them. We must again ask the question, "how do we solve these difficulties?" History suggests that we probably cannot, at least not to everyone's satisfaction, since disagreements about this chapter have existed throughout church history. But let me try anyway, starting with the flow of thought in the chapter.