Matthew 24 begins what is sometimes called “The Olivet Discourse.” In it, Jesus talks about the near and far future for the church. Bible scholars often point out the importance of recalling the precise question the disciples asked that precipitated this entire discourse: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV)
There are clearly two parts to that question. Jesus had just prophesied the destruction of the temple, and the disciples asked when that would happen AND what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age.
The trick is that Jesus understood those two events were not concurrent. The temple was destroyed in AD 70, yet Jesus still hasn’t returned as of today in 2017—but the disciples didn’t and couldn’t have known that. They assumed that the destruction of the temple would be the climactic event of the end times. They didn’t realize that it would only be the beginning. Therefore, as we listen to what Jesus said by way of response, we have to remember that he is talking about a near future and a far future and we have to understand which is which. There are a couple of key indicators in the text. Look for examples at verse 6 and verse 8. After talking about some things that would happen he says: “but the end is not yet” (v. 6) and “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (v. 8).
The end is not yet. This is just the beginning. Jesus seems to be saying that a bunch of things are going to happen that are NOT the end times events the disciples were thinking they were. Things like wars, things like the rise and fall of empires, things like massive natural disasters. Those things ARE NOT SIGNALS OF THE END—rather they are more like table setters. They are like birth pangs. They open the door, but they are not the baby.
After these things, you want to watch for a couple of indicators. Watch for the Great Commission to be completed in an environment of increasing persecution, tribulation, false religion and apostasy; then the end will come. Look at verse 14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV).
Following that, there will be a short season of intense persecution and tribulation after which:
the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:29–31 ESV)
That is the end. After that, according to Matthew 13:43, the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father, forever.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
N.B. Be sure to watch for the next cycle of Into The Word! On July 19th we will begin releasing one episode a day taking you through the entire Gospel of Mark. This series would work well as a shared journey with an inquiring friend. You can check out past episodes of Into The Word by clicking here. For daily encouragement in your Bible readings see here.