Theme: Always be ready to persevere
In this week’s lesson we hear about Jesus’ discussion of the end times and how we should respond
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
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.
Verse 3. As I pointed out in the last study, Matthew 24 begins with the disciples’ two important questions: 1) “When will this happen?” and 2) “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (v. 3). The first question was about the destruction of Jerusalem, which Jesus had predicted, and the second was about his glorious return, which he had also predicted—two events, though the disciples probably placed them together in their minds. Jesus began by answering the second: “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Verses 4-14. The first thing he told them is that there will be many earth-shaking events that might be thought of as signs, but will not be. The disciples were not to be troubled by them. These include the following: false Messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, persecutions, apostasy and false prophets. These are “the beginnings of birth pains,” but they are not signs of his return. This is because the gospel of the kingdom must be preached in the whole world, and it is only after that is done that the end will come.
Verses 15-22. The next point Jesus makes is that there is going to be one particularly dreadful event, the destruction of Jerusalem, but even this will not be a sign of his return. It is important. The disciples should be warned that it is coming. They should flee the city when they see these things beginning to happen. But this is still not the end.
Verses 23-27. At this point Jesus makes clear that the destruction of Jerusalem is only one example of the bad things that will happen to people in the course of world history by returning to what he had said earlier about false Messiahs. They will appear at this time, as at other times. But they will not be true Messiahs, and the disciples are not to be taken in by them. How will the disciples know that these pretenders are not the true Messiah? By the fact that they will appear in secret (“in the desert” or “in the inner rooms”), while Jesus’ appearance will be sudden, unannounced and immediately visible to all, just like lightning that flashes suddenly and is seen at once by everyone.
Verses 29-32. This leads to Jesus’ specific teaching about the second coming. There will be signs in the sky, including “the sign of the Son of Man” (whatever that may be), a loud trumpet call, and the work of angels in gathering the elect from the far reaches of the earth. But the point of these “signs” is not that they will precede Jesus’ coming, as if they will be given to enable people to see them and get ready. On the contrary, they will be coincident with Christ’s coming and will be sudden. If a person is not ready beforehand, there will be nothing he or she will be able to do then, when Jesus actually returns. Such a person will be lost.
Verses 36-51. In the last section of the chapter Jesus stresses the suddenness of his return by a historical reference and several images. His coming will be like the flood in the days of Noah or like a thief that enters a house at an unexpected time or a master who suddenly returns home. Jesus’ servants must be ready since, “the master will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of” (v. 50).
What singular dreadful event did Jesus predict would take place before his return?
How will Jesus’ return be different than the appearances of false messiahs?
Knowing that you will never know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, how should you be living today? Are you?
Read over all of chapter 24. Be sure that you understand what is being said here.
Jesus tells us that his return will be like a thief in the night. Where else do you find this image in the Bible?