The Essential Jesus: His Life & Teaching

The Coming of the Kingdom

Matthew 24:1-44

Teaching t10176

Introduction

Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God. Matthew records three teachings on this subject--the righteousness of the kingdom (Matt. 5-7), the mystery of the kingdom (Matt. 13)--and tonight’s subject, the coming of the kingdom at the end of the age (Matt. 24,25; Mk. 13; Lk. 21)--not what it will be like after the kingdom comes, but rather the signs that will herald his coming.

This teaching was not a lecture on eschatology--it was Jesus’ response to his disciples’ response to a comment he made. Just days before Jesus’ arrest and execution, Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem. Read 24:1. Herod’s Temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. If any building seemed permanent and immovable, it was this one. Yet Jesus responds (read 24:2).

Later, when they were sitting across the valley from the Temple (still in full view), the disciples ask three questions (read 24:3). They evidently thought that these three things (destruction of the Temple, Jesus’ coming, and the end of the age) must occur at the same time. But Jesus reveals that they are separate events, each with its own “sign.” Matthew, Mark and Luke record different parts of Jesus’ answer--so we have to consult all of them to get the fullest account of his response.

“When will these things happen?”

Luke recorded Jesus’ answer to the first question in Lk. 21:20-24 (read). The sign that the destruction of the Temple was imminent would be the siege of Jerusalem by foreign armies. This siege would end in the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people for a long period of time. This prediction was fulfilled in 70 AD, when after a four-year siege, the Roman army (led by later emperor Titus) breached the walls, destroyed the city and Temple, and carried the people away. (You can read about this in Josephus’ Wars of the Jews.) Not until 1967, during the Six Day War, did Jerusalem come back under Jewish control. (And of course, the controversy of this event is very much with us today.)

NOTE: The accuracy of Jesus’ short-term prediction about the destruction of the Temple provides a sound basis for trusting his long-term predictions will also be fulfilled (like Old Testament prophets’ short and long-term predictions). You’ll see more of this . . .

Matthew records Jesus’ answer to the last two questions: “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” He reverses the order of their questions, because (as we will see) the sign of “the end” comes before the sign of his “coming.”

“What will be the sign of the end of the age?”

Read 24:4-9. Jesus first answer to this question is: “See to it that you don’t get fooled about this.” Many traumatic things will happen that people will assume are signs of the end are not signs of the end--false messiahs, persecutions, wars (including the one that destroys the Temple), natural disasters, and the horrible consequences of these things (like famine). But these traumatic events are not signs of the end. They are significant only in that they are like birth pangs--they are the painful prelude to a wonderful birth (Messiah’s kingdom). They will characterize the entire time between Jesus’ two comings--maybe (like birth pangs) increasing in intensity and frequency.

Why can’t more Christians get this! Why is it that every time there is a wicked “messiah” (religious like bad popes or political like Nero or Mussolini or Hitler) or a major war or a big natural disaster, there are Christians proclaiming that these things prove that the end has come? Why is it that Christians make millionaires of silly authors who claim that contemporary events prove that the end has come? Jesus specifically said that these events do not mean that the end is near!

But why must humanity wait so long and endure so much suffering before the end of the age? Is it because God doesn’t care? No--it is because God cares that he waits so long--read 24:14. When Jesus returns, he will bring God’s judgment to a humanity that is alienated from him. But because God loves humanity, he sent his Son first to die for our sins so we can be forgiven--and he is prolonging history so that the world can have the opportunity to hear the good news about the gift that Jesus has given to them.

This is an amazing, polarizing statement! What kind of person insists that his followers will take the good news about him to every people-group in the world, and that this mission is the determining factor in the duration of human history? Statements like this show why you can’t call Jesus merely a religious leader or moral teacher. He is either a deluded egomaniac, a lying cult-leader--or the Lord of human history!

Even more amazing is the fulfillment of this statement. By human odds, this pathetically weak movement should have evaporated like hundreds of other small religious sects. Yet 20 centuries later, the expansion of the world-wide Christian movement is the best kept secret in human history!1 (CHRISTIANS IN EVERY POLITICAL NATION; GROWING FASTEST IN NON-WHITE, NON-WESTERN WORLD; CHINA AS EXAMPLE IN GROWTH & MISSIONS GOALS2; INDIA GOSPEL LEAGUE’S GROWTH).

NOTE: The incredibly accurate fulfillment of Jesus’ predictions thus far (destruction of Jerusalem; tenor of world history; expansion of world Christian movement) give us a solid basis for believing that the rest of this prediction will also be fulfilled.

Now we come to the “sign of the end of the age”--read 24:15-22. The specific event that marks the beginning of the final chapter of history as we know it is “the abomination of desolation” (24:15). Jesus reminds us that this event was predicted by the prophet Daniel, and that it involves someone “standing in the holy place.”

Jesus is referring to the emergence of a ruler who will succeed for a short time in actually gaining control over the whole world. He is known in Daniel’s visions as “the little horn,” “the prince who is to come,” and the “the king” (Dan. 7,9,11). He is known by the New Testament authors as “the antichrist” (1 Jn. 2), “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2), and “the beast” (Rev. 13). He will be a demonically inspired ruler, the fulfillment of other wicked rulers like Alexander, Nero, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin--who will (for a brief time) accomplish what they wanted to accomplish but were unable (world domination).

At the pinnacle of his power and arrogance, he will go into the Temple of God in Jerusalem (not yet rebuilt) and claim to be God--the only object of allegiance for all humanity. Paul describes this same event in straightforward language in 2 Thess. 2:1-4 (read).

This act of monstrous arrogance and blasphemy will result in a short period of unparalleled suffering as this ruler persecutes God’s people, others rebel against him, and God begins to judge him and all who follow him. Jesus calls this the “great tribulation”--so horrible that all of humanity would be destroyed unless Jesus intervenes to judge this ruler and rescue his own followers (24:21,22). (You can read snap-shots of this period in Rev. 6-18.)

SUMMARY: This will be an unmistakable event, and it hasn’t happened yet (in part because the Temple has not been rebuilt since it was destroyed in 70 AD). When it happens, the “end of the age” (Great Tribulation) will break out, and will be terminated shortly thereafter by Jesus’ return . . .

“What will be the sign of your coming?”

Read 24:26,27--although the Antichrist comes to power by stealth and secrecy, Jesus’ second coming will be anything but secret. The “sign of his coming” will be absolutely unmistakable (like lightening that lights up the whole sky. Read 24:29--the entire natural order will be displaced. Read 24:30,31--all of humanity will literally see Jesus returning to gather his followers, defeat his enemy and establish God’s kingdom over all the earth. (Read Rev. 19-22 if you want to learn more about what this will be like.)

Jesus summarizes his answer to their questions with three important promises:

Read 24:32-34. Just as the leafing of the fig tree heralds the imminent coming of summer, so also the generation that witnesses “all these things” (in context, the horrible signs of the Abomination of Desolation and the great tribulation) will also witness the wonderful coming of Jesus to establish God’s kingdom.

Read 24:35. Jesus’ prediction of these events is absolutely trustworthy, because he is sovereign Lord of history. As noted earlier, we are even more certain of this because of the historical fulfillment of the first part of this prediction.

Read 24:36. We cannot know when this final chapter of this age (“that day or hour”) will happen, because even Jesus doesn’t know when it will happen! When you hear Christians or others claiming to know when the end will come, you know by definition that they are wrong! Therefore, it is a foolish waste of time to speculate on when the end will come!

That’s why Jesus changes the question at this point! He shifts the focus from “When will this happen?” to “How should we live in the meantime?”

“How should this affect our lives?”

Read Mark 13:33-37 (summarizes Matt. 24:37-51). Precisely because we do know that Jesus is coming and because do not know when he is coming, we should keep watch (be ready) at all times. We should be on the alert so that whether he comes sooner or later than we expect, we will be ready.

What does it look like to “be ready?” That’s a big question, and the rest of the New Testament provides a very detailed answer to what this looks like (see below). But Jesus tells a parable in Matt. 25 that tells us the most important way to “be ready”--the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (summarize 25:1-13).

To be ready involves establishing a personal relationship with Jesus before he returns. The five bridesmaids were foolish because they were not ready when the bridegroom came--and the reason they were not ready was that he didn’t know them. Jesus is saying that when he returns at the end of the age, only those who have a personal relationship with him before he returns will be admitted into his kingdom.

It is so easy to do this--just open the you’re your of your heart and ask Jesus to come and begin a relationship with you (Rev. 3:20). If you want Jesus to open the door to his kingdom when he returns, you must open the door of your heart to him before he returns. Have you done this? If not, why delay it?

FOR Q & A: What else is involved in being ready?3 New Testament answers include:

Matt. 25:14-30 - using all the resources God has entrusted to you to advance his kingdom during his absence

Acts 1:6-8 being Jesus’ witness throughout the whole world (cf. Matt. 28:19,20)

Rom. 13:11-14 - being committed to a lifestyle of love instead of selfish sensuality

1 Cor. 7:29-31 - keeping a light hold on material possessions (cf. Phil. 3:18-21)

1 Pet. 4:7-11 - being prayerful and committed to hospitality and ministry

2 Pet. 3:9-13 - sharing Christ with others and pursuing sanctification (cf. 1 Jn. 2:28-3:3)

1 Thess. 5:1-11 - being alert and sober, hopeful and loving/building up one another

1 Cor. 15:58 - being steadfast and immovable, and abounding in God’s work

Eph. 5:14-21 - being wise, making the most of the opportunity, understanding what God’s will is, being filled with the Spirit

1 Pet. 1:13 - girding minds for action, being sober in spirit, fixing hope completely on the grace that will be given when Jesus returns

Footnotes

1 For details on this, see Patrick Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think! (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1998).

2 See David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing and Nicholas D. Kristof, “Christianity Marching Up Tough Roads in Africa, Asia,” The Columbus Dispatch, March 29, 2005.

3 ILLUSTRATION: The French and Belgians and Dutch were occupied by the Nazis in 1940. For a while, it looked like the Axis powers would conquer the world. But by late 1943, it was clear that the tide had turned. The Allies had superior manpower, weapons and supplies--and the commitment to win. When the invasion came on D-Day, liberation and final victory was assured--but no one knew exactly when this would happen. What would demonstrate that believed that the Allies would be victorious? They would be willing to use their resources to help the Allied cause (spreading information; resisting the Nazis; helping Allied operatives; etc.).

Copyright 2004 Gary DeLashmutt