“Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:3-8)
Jesus’ disciples asked Him these questions after He foretold the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. These same questions are being asked by people today, especially in light of the current situation in the Middle East. People want to know when end time events will occur. They want to know the signs that will indicate that end time events are near.
Notice the “signs” that Jesus said would mark the “beginning of sorrows:” false Christs, wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, famines, pestilences (diseases), and earthquakes in different places. Many modern day “theologians” believe that current events are proof that we are approaching the end of the world. While we certainly do see these disasters taking place today, the key question is, Are current day events the fulfillment of the “signs” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24? Are we about to experience
The End of the World?
What were the disciples concerned about when they questioned Jesus about “the end of the world?” Many believe this expression refers to the destruction of the earth itself as described in II Peter 3:10-13, where it is said that the earth will “melt with fervent heat.” Some go so far as to say that this will result from a nuclear war. But, the word for “world” in Matthew 24:3 is not the Greek word “kosmos,” which refers to the earth or the people of the earth. The Greek word used here is “aion,” which refers to a period of time or an age. The disciples were not asking about the physical destruction of the earth. They were looking for signs of the end of the age in which they were living.
The word “end” is also significant in understanding this passage. There are four occurrences of the word “end” used (vs. 3, 6, 13, 14), but there are two different Greek words used. In verse 3, the Greek word for “end” is “sunteleia,” which means a period of time, as opposed to a single event. The disciples’ were asking about signs that would occur during the “last days” of the age, as opposed to the single event which would mark the end of the age. Jesus describes the events of the end period of the age in verses 4 through 31 of Matthew 24.
In verses 6, 13, and 14, Jesus makes reference to “the end” of the age, but He uses the Greek word “telos,” which means a single point in time, not a prolonged period. Jesus teaches that before the end point of the age, certain events must occur. These include “the beginning of sorrows” (vs. 6-8), the affliction and martyrdom of the apostles (vs. 9- 13), the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom in all the world (vs. 14), the setting up of the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet (vs. 15) which marks the beginning of the tribulation of Israel (vs. 16-22), the working of great signs and wonders by false Christs and false prophets (vs. 23-26), the gathering of eagles to feed on the carcases of men (vs. 28), visible signs in heaven above and in the earth beneath (vs. 29), and finally the Son of Man seen coming in the clouds (vs. 27,30).
It is this coming of Christ which marks the end point of the age in question. This leads us to ask,
Which Coming of Christ?
What did the disciples have in mind when they asked about the signs of Christ’s coming? Please note the following facts about this coming:
- The person coming is described as “the Son of Man,” a title used of Christ in connection with judgment (John 5:27) and kingdom authority.
- The place where Christ will come is the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4).
- This coming of Christ is preceded by the terrible tribulation period (Matt. 24:29).
- This coming of Christ was prophesied by Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah (chapter 2), Joel (chapter 2), Daniel (chapter 2), and Zechariah (chapters 12-14) (Matt. 24:15).
- Christ’s coming at this time will be accompanied with powerful signs and wonders in the heaven above and in the earth beneath (Matt. 24:29 with Joel 2:30-31 and Rev. 6:12-17).
- The people who will look upon Christ at His coming will be the tribes of Israel (Matt. 24:30with Zech. 12:10).
- The purpose for His coming will be the harvest of the earth (Matt. 13:36-43). He will gather out all those that offend (the “tares”) and take them away in judgment (Matt. 24:37-41) and those who remain (the “wheat”) will enter into the kingdom.
When we compare the coming described here with the truth of the mystery revealed to the apostle Paul, we can clearly see that this coming is NOT the coming of Christ for His church (I Cor. 15:51-57; I Thess. 4:13-5:11; Col. 3:4; Titus 2:11-13; Phil. 3:20-21). It is Christ’s coming back to earth to establish His millennial kingdom.
The final question to be answered is in regard to the “age” the disciples questioned Jesus about and which He described to them in Matthew 24.
Which Age is This?
The answer becomes very clear if we objectively consider the following facts:
- Jesus was “a minister of the circumcision” to “confirm the promises made unto the fathers” (Rom. 15:8). Here the message was directed privately to His disciples (Matt. 24:1-3).
- The immediate subject was the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 24:2).
- The message proclaimed throughout this age was “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 24:14), not “the gospel of the grace of God.”
- The events described by Jesus were also prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures (Matt. 24:15).
- All of the events described are centered in the land of Judaea and the city of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:16).
- This age includes the time of tribulation (Matt. 24:21), described in Jeremiah 30:7 as “the time of Jacob’s trouble.”
- The age will be brought to a close by the coming of “the Son of Man” back to this earth (Matt. 24:27,30). All Israel will look upon Him whom they pierced (Zech. 12:10) and will mourn for Him (Matt. 24:30).
The age that is described here is not the present age of grace in which we live. It is the age of God’s dealings with Israel. This age has been partially fulfilled (during the Old Testament, the gospels period, and the Acts period), but has currently been suspended during the present age of grace. Today, God is dealing with His church, the body of Christ.
God clearly tells us that His plan and purpose for His church today was a “mystery” or secret NOT made known in other ages (Eph. 3:1- 5). Therefore, it was NOT the subject of Old Testament prophecy. It was NOT made known by the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry. It was NOT made known during the early portion of the book of Acts. It remained a “secret” until it was revealed to and through the apostle Paul (Eph. 3:1-9; Col. 1:25-27).
The “signs” described in Matthew 24 are not associated with the age of grace, but with the “last days” of the Jewish age. The events described will result in the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, but they will not resume until God has completed His dealings with His church of today.
Having considered all this, we conclude that we cannot apply prophecies of a future age to our present age of grace. To do so only causes confusion. We cannot take promises and prophecies for the nation of Israel and apply them to the church, the body of Christ. God clearly has different plans and purposes for these two groups and we must see these distinctions.
God’s plan for ISRAEL was the subject of PROPHECY. Its fulfillment is still in the FUTURE and will be culminated by the coming of Christ back to EARTH to establish His KINGDOM.
God’s plan for the CHURCH was a MYSTERY. It is being fulfilled in the PRESENT and will be brought to a close by the coming of Christ in the AIR to take His saints to be with Him in GLORY.
While it is true that present day events are not the fulfillment of the “signs” of Matthew 24, we do know that each passing day brings us closer to the coming of Christ for His church. We don’t know the exact time of His coming and there are no specific “signs” to indicate that it is near. It could happen at any moment. This is why Paul encourages us to “walk circumspectly (carefully) … redeeming the time … understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15-17). We need to use every moment we have to proclaim the “gospel of Jesus Christ” to a lost and dying world; to let people know that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3-4) and that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
To understand what we see happening in our world today, we need to pay more attention to the REVELATIONS in God’s Word and less attention to the SPECULATIONS of men’s minds.