Theme: Do Not Be Alarmed God is in control of the world now and until the end of time
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
In verses 4-22 Jesus answers the disciples’ questions. The first part of Jesus’ answer has to do with many bad things that will happen but which are not in themselves signs of the end. He lists these in verses 4-14, then gives a particularly terrible example of such a bad thing in verses 15-22.
The signs which are not signs are: 1) false messiahs, 2) wars and rumors of wars, 3) famines and earthquakes, 4) persecutions, 5) apostasy, and 6) false prophets. It is easy to give multiple examples of these from the early years of church history. But that is not the point. Nothing can be gained from making a sign that is not a specific sign. 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. These are painful things, which Jesus likens to “the beginning of birth pains” (v.8), but they are not signs that the end of the world is near. These things existed in the disciples’ days, and they have existed in every age of church history up to and including our own. Indeed, some of them have taken a great deal of time to develop, nation rising against nation and the gospel being preached throughout the whole world, for instance. But the followers of Christ are not to be deceived by false teaching on this subject: “the end is still to come” (v.6).
This even includes the destruction of Jerusalem (vv. 15-22). This is a particularly terrible example of the birth pains Jesus is predicting, and he goes into it in significant detail, for its own sake—it would be a time of unprecedented suffering—and because of the special significance of Jerusalem in biblical history.
There was to be a warning sign of this calamity. It would when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel. Those words occur four times in Daniel (8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) where they seem to refer to the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 B.C. Antiochus erected an altar to Zeus over the altar of burnt offering and sacrificed a pig on it, which was the worst possible affront to Judaism, a true “abomination.”1 But Jesus was not referring to this past event in Matthew 24. He was referring to something like it that would happen before the fall of Jerusalem and would be a warning to his followers to flee the city.
It is not clear what coming event this actually refers to, but it was most likely the approach of the Roman armies with the standards of the Roman legions when the troops surrounded the city in the Jewish War. The standards bore emblems of the legions and images of the emperor and were virtually worshipped 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 Luke 21:20, where “Jerusalem being surrounded by armies” takes the place of “abomination of desolation” found in Matthew.
Josephus describes the destruction of Jerusalem, and it was indeed a time of distress unequalled in any previous destruction (The Jewish War, V, VI). Eusebius, the Christian historian, and a few other ancient writers say that the Christians fled Jerusalem prior to its fall and found refuge in the town of Pella in Perea (Ecclesiastical History, III, v, 3).
1 See my study of these events in James Montgomery Boice, Daniel: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), pp.99, 121, 122.
What happened in 168 B.C. that was similar to Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24?
List the signs that are not signs that Jesus mentions.
What evidence of false and true signs do you see today?
Why do you think that Jesus referred to these events as birth pains?
Do you spend more time trying to figure out the future then you do working for the kingdom today?