The other day we looked at the “sign of Christ’s return,” learning that many of the so-called signs of the times that people
look at are really just products of the age we live in. The truth of the matter is that no one knows the day or the hour of Christ’s return and that the only clear sign of His return given to us in Matthew 24 is that the gospel will be preached to all of the nations on the earth before His coming. But this does not mean that we should not be prepared for His return at any minute. With this in mind, I would like to turn our attention to the second message in this series entitled “Preparing for His Return.” Please take a moment right now to read Matthew 24:15-44 in your Bible:
1. Jesus prepares us for the trying times that they were going to live through. (v.15-26)
In order to understand this passage you really need to keep two things in mind. First, you need to remember that that the end times span the period from Jesus ascension until His second coming. Second, Keep in mind that there is a telescoping nature to Biblical prophecy meaning that there is often an immediate partial fulfillment followed by a later greater fulfillment. We see this telescoping nature in the case of some of the prophecies concerning the birth of Christ and we also see it here in this passage. Jesus begins by saying that the end times will be marked by erection of something called the “abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel.”— there is a threefold reference in this phrase.
It reaches back into the past — In Daniel 11:31 and 12:11 this term is used to refer to Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid King entering into the Temple in 164 B.C. , erecting an altar dedicated to the Greek God Zeus and offering a pig as a sacrifice.
It looks to the near future — in 70 AD the Roman General Titus entered into the Holy of Holies and erected the image of the Roman emperor. Jesus is telling his disciples who lived in that day to watch for this event because when they see it they know to get out of the city of Jerusalem. Early church writers tells us that when the war between the Jews and the Romans in 66 AD, that the Christians in the city fled to wilderness, most of them going to the city of Pella.
It reaches deep into the future to refer to an event that is yet to happen. Look at what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4:
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”
In this passage Paul tells us that before Jesus comes back there is going to be a repeat of these events and the anti-Christ is going to set Himself up as God in the Jewish Temple.
There are several things that we should note about this teaching:
- This future event requires the temple in Jerusalem to be rebuilt — which is obviously a point of major contrition because presently the third most holy site in Islam is sitting on top of the temple mount.
- There is some debate among Christians about when this event will occur and several different prophetic timetables have been suggested. Let me just mention three of them:
Pretribulation rapture of the church, followed by a 7 year period of tribulation/persecution.
Some Bible teachers argue that this period is going to be broken into two halves each 3 1/2 years long.
The first period referred to as the tribulation and the second portion called the Great tribulation.
The dividing point between these two periods will be the emergence of the antichrist and the setting up of His image in the temple. This view seems to be the best when we combine all of the Biblical evidence together.
Church will go through the first 3 1/2 years of tribulation and then be raptured
Once church is gone the anti-christ will be revealed and set up his image in the Temple.
This view has the least Biblical support.
Tribulational view— church will not be raptured until the end of the tribulation:
Tribulation period refers to the entire church age.
Basically Jesus is telling us that throughout the church age we will face times of trouble, persecution and tribulation. Tribulation is a special period at the end of the church age. That is way oversimplifying this debate but you get the idea of what I am talking about — all of these views have some Scriptural support and none are conclusive. Ithink that this is by divine design, if Jesus wanted us to know He would have clearly told us the fact that He didn’t should be a clue that the timing and sequence of events isn’t really important.
REMEMBER: Jesus primary purpose in this section is not to give us signs of the time but to encourage us to be prepared.
Better to be a panmillenialist- “It will all pan out in the end”
Let me paraphrase Billy Graham – I hope that Jesus raptures the church before the tribulation but I would suggest being prepared just in case he doesn’t.
BUT THERE IS SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT that I want you to notice — even during this period of great tribulation God shows HIs grace. Let me show you three examples of His grace in this passage:
- He is going to cut these days short- v.22 “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.”
- He warns us ahead of time about what is to come- v.23-25.
- Then he describes for us what His Return is going to be like.
2. Jesus teaches us four key truths about what His second coming will be like. (v.27-31)
There are several characteristics of His return mentioned in this passage:
- Sudden (v.27)
- Visible (v.27) – Lightning flashed and lights up the entire sky. V.28 people from far away can look up in the sky and see the vultures circling in the sky above a carcass. This may be a reference to the wide scale death and destruction that will accompany the return of Christ. v.30 “Then in will appear heaven the sign of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” This not a sign of the times but rather an mistakable visible marker that He is arriving. Other passages in the Bible attest to the fact that Christ’s return will be visible:
Acts 1:10-11 “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Luke 21:27 “They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
One reason that this is important is that sometimes cults will claim that Christ has already returned spiritually The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, predicted that Christ would return visibly in 1914 and when he failed to show up, they reinterpreted their earlier prediction saying that Christ has returned spiritually and that Christ had actually returned but it was invisible. This is a direct contradiction of the Scripture, which clearly teaches that His return will be visible.
- Accompanied by a great upheaval and reordering of the world (v.29) This is figurative language referring to the cosmic order being overthrown and reordered by the Second coming. Satan and his minions may have their sway in this age, but the second coming of Christ will usher in a new age. Satan will be overthrown, defeated and locked in the abyss forever.
- Display both God’s grace and His wrath. (v.30-31)
- God’s wrath is shown in the overthrow of the spiritual and earthly authorities v.29. This will cause the nations of the earth to mourn. God’s mercy is shown by the fact that he gathers His elect from every corner of the earth. It is interesting to note that the Bible teaches us that Christ will not return until the gospel has been preached to all of the nations (people groups) on the earth (v.14) but that his return will be looked upon with mourning by all of the nations of the earth. The preaching of the gospel serves a two-edged purpose: 1.) it offers salvation to all who will repent of their sin and trust Chris and it 2.) it becomesbasis by which those who reject God’s grace will be judged.
Revelation 20:11-14 “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. “
- Jesus encourages us to always be prepared for HIs return (v.36-44) No one knows when Jesus is coming back (v.36)Even He didn’t know during the time that He was on earth, so he encourages us to always be prepared.His return will be swift and sudden like the flood of Noah — it will take many people off guard.Therefore we need to stay awake. If you knew that tonight someone was going to break into your house, you would be prepared for it. You would be up waiting for them.
Jesus has promised that He is coming back, we don’t know what day, we don’t know what hour, but we know He is coming, so we need to be ready.
3. Are you ready?
- Have you repented of your sin and put your trust in Christ alone for your salvation?
- Have you joined a local church where you can worship God and actively participate in the mission of spreading the gospel to every tribe, nation and tongue?
- Have you become part of a Sunday School class or small group where you can study the BIble with other Christians and be encouraged in your walk with the Lord?
- Have you surrendered your time, your talents, and you resources to God to be used in the work of His Kingdom?
- The Sign of Christ’s Return (joebuchanan.wordpress.com)