“When shall these things be?”
“And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, 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 rumours 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. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:1-14)
Matthew 24 is a chapter filled with prophetic things. Much of the prophesy of this chapter is yet unfulfilled. Much of it has been fulfilled already. But all of it is of great interest and very instructive to us. Whenever we approach any portion of Scripture, we should do so with deep humility, realizing that we are reading, studying, and seeking to understand the Word of God. Therefore, we must earnestly pray for the illumination, direction, and teaching of the Holy Spirit, who alone can give us understanding in the Word of Truth.
I suppose that there has been more disagreement among true gospel preachers about the proper interpretation of Matthew 24 than most any other passage of Holy Scripture. That is terribly regrettable. Yet, men who truly love Christ, his Word, and the gospel of his grace sometimes find it impossible to labor together in the cause of Christ because one holds to one interpretation of this passage and one another. I do not pretend to have the answers to all the questions that are raised about the prophesies contained in these verses. I do not think that our Lord intended for us to fully comprehend them until they come to pass. Otherwise, he would not have answered the disciples’ questions so ambiguously. It was our Lord’s disciples who asked, “When shall these things be?” I am certain that the question itself revealed a weakness and an improper curiosity in those faithful men, even as it reveals a weakness and an improper curiosity in those who are overly concerned about prophetic issues today. (See Acts 1:6-8.) Prophecy cannot be fully and clearly understood until the thing foretold has come to pass. (Compare Acts 2:16 with Joel 2:28-32.)
Without question, this entire chapter is the answer that our Lord gave to the question the disciples asked in verse three: “When shall these things be?” It is a question which related to three things specifically: the judgment of God upon Jerusalem, the second coming of Christ, and the end of the world. Some parts of this chapter deal with one of these things, some another, and some the third. Much of what our Lord said in response to the disciples question may be applied to two of those events; and some of his answers must be applied to all three. Spurgeon was exactly right when he wrote, “When we have clearer light, we may possibly perceive that our Savior’s predictions on this memorable occasion had some connection with all three of these great events.”
Our Lord was always practical in his instruction. When he preached, he always gave his hearers practical doctrine. Though they were curious about when these things would happen, he knew that it was far more important for them to know both what to expect in this world and what was expected of them. Rather than directly answering their question, the Master gave them some general hints as to when they might expect to see these things come to pass and seized the opportunity to teach them very important, practical lessons which he knew they needed to learn. Seven of these lessons are found in the first fourteen verses of the chapter. These seven lessons are as applicable to us as they were to them. And they shall be applicable to every generation of believers who shall follow us until time shall be no more.
1. We must never judge God’s blessings, or God’s works by external things. — “And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (vv. 1-2).
When our Lord Jesus went out of the temple, never to return to it, the glory was departed from it. The prophet Haggai wrote, “The glory of this latter house should be greater than the former.” And it was truly made so by the presence of the incarnate God, when he entered it, in substance of our flesh (Hag. 2:9). Yet, the second temple built at Jerusalem, after the Babylonian captivity, lacked much of the glory that was in the original temple built by Solomon. It did not have the Urim and Thummim, the ark of the covenant, the constantly burning fire upon the altar, the manifest presence of God (the Shechinah), or the spirit of prophecy. When the Lord Jesus entered the temple, the presence of the incarnate God was the sum and substance of that glory to which all those things faintly pointed, and fulfilled Haggai’s prophecy.
When the Lord Jesus left the temple, that which he declared in the previous chapter was fulfilled. — “Your house is left unto you desolate” (Mat. 23:38). As they walked away, those words must have echoed in the disciples’ ears. — “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” They turned back to look at that spectacular building, with its great stones, beautiful gates, and rich adornments, and came to show it to the Master. To them it was a glorious thing to behold. To him it was a sad, sad sight. That which had been his Father’s house, which ought to have been a house of prayer, had become a den of thieves. That place, where once God dwelt and manifested his glory, was now the object of his judgment and must soon be destroyed.
How much like these disciples we are. We delight in the temporal prosperity of the church, her buildings, her wealth, her numbers and those things that impress men, as though such things really matter, as though they will last. That is a great mistake. All that is external will perish. “The things which are seen are temporal” (2 Cor. 4:18). Only that which is wrought of God is substantial (1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Cor. 3:11-15).
Our Lord’s prophecy of the temple’s destruction was fulfilled when Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. Not one stone of that magnificent structure was left standing upon another. Micah prophesied, “Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps” (Mic. 3:12); and his prophecy was fulfilled. Let every redeemed sinner, when he reads of the Savior forever abandoning that physical temple and finally destroying it, rejoice in the fact that he will never leave his people (his church), who are his true temple (Heb. 13:5; Mat. 28:20). None shall destroy those he has bought with his precious blood (Rom. 8:1, 33-39).
2. If we care for our souls, we must always exercise great care not to be deceived by false prophets and false religion.
“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 rumours 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. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (vv.4-12).
Our Lord’s plain words are, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” Those are the first words out of his mouth in response to the disciples’ question. Do not take them lightly. It is absolutely wrong to try to make the things described in these verse fit any single period of time. These things could be applied to every age, including the one in which we live. Therefore, this warning is as needful today as it was in the New Testament era and as it shall be in the ages of time that may yet come.
I cannot imagine a more needful warning. “Take heed that no man deceive you.” Satan knows how easily men and women are deceived. Robert Hawker wrote…
False Christs and false prophets are signs always to be noticed in the Church history. Wars, and rumors of wars are all ministering to Christ’s kingdom. Every period in the Church to the present hour hath been marked with these things. They are exercises to the faithful, and truly profitable, under the Spirit’s teaching, to establish the heart in grace.
We must take heed not to be deceived by false Christs (v.5). There were many in the days prior to the destruction of Jerusalem who arose, claiming to be the Lord’s Anointed One. Multitudes followed them, just as multitudes follow the Russells, the Campbells, the Jones, the Moons, and the Koreshes of our day. But there is a far greater deception than that of any mere man claiming that he is the Christ. Modern religion presents men with a false Christ in the preaching of Arminian, free will, works religion. There is but one true Christ. He is that Christ, who is, according to the infallible testimony of God the Spirit in Holy Scripture, God the Son (John 1:1-3). He who is the Christ is the Surety of an everlasting covenant (Heb. 7:22), who came to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21); and he has accomplished all that he came into this world to do (Gal. 3:13; Heb. 10:10-14). He who is the Christ is the Substitute and Redeemer, who shall be satisfied with the results of his redemptive, saving work (Isa. 53:10-12). A Christ who tries to save but fails, who tries to redeem but fails, who seeks but does not find, who calls any who do not obey his call is a false Christ, an impostor, and antichrist!
We must not be deceived by the trials of life we are called to endure, or by the opposition we endure from the religious world around us (vv.6-11). When wars, and famines, and persecutions come, by which many are offended, we must continue looking to Christ, clinging to Christ, trusting Christ. When others fall, we must not allow Satan to get an advantage of us.
We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by any of the many false prophets Satan raises up to destroy our souls (v.11). We face no greater danger to our souls than false prophets and false religion (Matt. 7:13-15; 2 Cor. 11:3, 13-15; Gal. 1:6-8; 3:1-3; 5:1-4; Col. 2:8-23). Do not be deceived by the doctrine of the day. That doctrine which exalts the flesh, making man feel and think well of himself, is antichrist. Any doctrine that abases God our Savior, robbing him of his absolute holiness, sovereignty, justice, and efficacy in all his works, is antichrist. Though heretics come performing miracles and speaking in tongues, though all the world runs after them, our Master says, “Take heed that no man deceive you!”
We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by the apostasy of others (v.12). When iniquity abounds among those who profess to be followers of Christ, and those who once appeared to burn with love and zeal for his name have become altogether indifferent to it, let us seek the company and companionship of those who yet seek to honor our Master, lest we be drugged by the poison that is in the hearts of the apostate.
3. We must never expect to see the triumph of the gospel and the kingdom of God until the warfare between the serpent and the Savior is over.
This is a warning every bit as important as the last one. Far too often men get discouraged in the work of the ministry, and church members get discouraged in the service of Christ, because they expect to see the fruit of their labors in this world. Do not expect peace on this earth until the Prince of Peace has made all things new. Do not expect moral purity from people who do not know God.
Do not expect the world to be converted to Christ.
Our Lord teaches us plainly that these things will not happen while time shall stand. Troublous times lie before us. Heresies and persecutions will continue to abound. Doors that are now opened to us may soon be shut. These are the facts plainly revealed in these verses. But there are other lessons here, too.
4. We must not allow these things to trouble our hearts. — “See that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass” (v.6).
None of these things will ever cause any injury to Christ, his church, or his people. Anything that appears to be injurious to God’s elect, or appears to be overturning his will and purpose will ultimately prove otherwise, and will be seen to have been only the instrument by which our God has wisely and graciously accomplished his will and that which is best for his people. — “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). When the apostle Paul had explained, by divine inspiration, the very things our Savior spoke of in Matthew 23 and 24, he was overwhelmed by the wisdom and goodness of our God in sovereignly overruling evil for good.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:33-36)
5. We must persevere and endure all these things in faith. — “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (v.13).
Though tempted, tried, persecuted, and troubled by many things, we must persevere, we must continue looking to Christ. If we are truly his, we shall. Grace will keep us still! “The righteous shall hold on his way,” because all the righteous are held in the grip of God’s omnipotent grace (John 10:27-28; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:7). Every true believer shall endure in the pure doctrine of the gospel, though many are deceived by false religion. And enduring in the faith of Christ, being kept by the power of his grace, they shall be saved from all temporal trouble, and with everlasting salvation.
Though we are weak, helpless, defenseless sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our Shepherd, wise, good, and strong. Because Christ is our Shepherd, we are secure in him. This is what the Son of God, our dear Shepherd, says concerning all his sheep: “They shall never perish!” With those words, the Son of God declares the absolute, infallible, unwavering security of God’s elect in Christ.
Those who are born of God must and shall persevere. They will continue in the faith of Christ. God’s elect both believe and keep on believing. The true believer begins in faith, lives in faith, and dies in faith. True faith never quits (Matt. 10:20; John 8:31; 1 Cor. 15:1; Col. 1:23; Heb. 3:6, 14). The Word of God is very clear in this matter: Only those who continue in the faith shall enter into glory. This is the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints.
Believers persevere in faith, because we are preserved in Christ by almighty grace. Not one of God’s elect shall ever perish. The Word of God teaches the preservation of the saints just as plainly, just as fully, just as forcibly as it teaches the perseverance of the saints. Perseverance is the believer continuing in faith. Preservation is God keeping his people in faith. Perseverance is the believer holding Christ by the hand of faith. Preservation is Christ holding the believer by the hand of grace.
“Jesus is our God and Savior,
Guide, and Counselor, and Friend:
He will never, never leave us,
Nor will let us quite leave Him.”
Having Christ as our Shepherd, all of God’s sheep are absolutely secure in his hands. It is not possible for any true believer to perish, because we are preserved by the grace of God in Christ.
6. We must learn to look upon this world and everything in it like scaffolding to a building.
This world exists only for the building of God’s church and kingdom. Like scaffolding, it must come down once the building is complete. “Then shall the end come.” Long ago Shakespeare wrote, “The world is a stage.” Perhaps he said more than he knew, but he was exactly right. This world is a stage for action, a scaffold upon which God does his work, and a place for graves, in which the bodies of sleeping saints are laid to rest in hope of the resurrection. When the human race shall have performed their various predestined parts, when the Building of mercy (the Church of God) is complete, when the appointed day of resurrection has come, time shall be no more. That will bring on the long-awaited midnight cry, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh” (Matt. 25:6). Then this stage shall come down. The scaffolding will be put away. All that “sleep in their graves shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame and contempt” (Dan. 12:2). At last, when all that must be has been, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise! His glorious beams shall bring on the blessed morning of that great, eternal day, “in which the upright shall surely have dominion” (Psa. 49:14). In that day, when the Son of God makes all things new, the wicked, the unbelieving, who seem always to prosper in this world, shall be turned into hell; and the righteous, the believing, who seem always to suffer, “shall inherit all things” (Rev. 21:5-7).
“Then shall the end come.” The very last thing that shall be done, the very last act of Christ as the Savior of his people shall be the deliverance of his Church and Kingdom up to the Father, perfect, complete, and glorious, without spot or wrinkle, “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Then our God will make all things new!
7. It is the duty, responsibility, and privilege of God’s people to preach the gospel in all the world. — “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (v.14).
This is the means by which God will save his elect (Rom. 1:15-17). And this will be the basis of divine judgment in the last day (2 Cor. 2:14-17). Let us be stedfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, obeying the commission he has given us, knowing that our labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Mat. 28:18-20)