Last week we began our study of the prophecy from Jesus on the Mount of Olives. It is a popular text to quote about the Second Coming of Christ but as we tried to show last week we need to listen carefully to the questions Jesus was asked.
“Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” [Matthew 24:3]
There are at least two and possibly three different questions here:
- When will the temple be destroyed?
- What will be the sign of your coming?
- What signs will signal the end of the age?
The first question seems to be answered in the first part of the Luke 21. It is fulfilled perfectly by the conquering of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. it was a time preceded by intense persecution and many false teachers. The temple was completely destroyed and the Gentiles trampled on Jerusalem up and continue to do so even today.
There are some serious students of the Word that believe all of the chapter has already been fulfilled. I believe in verse 25 and extending through verse 27 Jesus gives a general answer to the later questions (regarding His coming and the end of the world). Just listen to the words and see if it seems that way to you.
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
In the first part of the chapter it was easy to see the fulfillment in history. These verses sound like things that are still yet to come. They are “end of the world” words. Many of the earlier signs have happened in every generation since Christ spoke. Nothing like what is mentioned in these verses has happened. Consequently, I believe these verses point to a climatic return of Christ.
The Second Coming (25-28)
There are several things we are told about the Second Coming of Jesus.
First, You are not going to miss it. The events that Jesus describes will be unmistakable. These signs are going to be visible for everyone. His coming is not going to happen on some secluded mountain someplace where only the “privileged” get to meet Him. You don’t have to worry that you are going to miss out unless you know the password or have the right End Times chart in your Bible. His coming will be very public. There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. Entire nations will be in anguish and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. The Son of Man will appear in the sky.
27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
You don’t miss a significant lightning strike. It gets our attention and often will wake us up in the night. The Second Coming will be like this: unmistakable.
In verse 31 in Matthew Jesus said,
31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
Let’s suppose your child played trumpet in the band. One night the child can’t sleep so at 3:00 in the morning they decide they might as well practice for band. Will you notice? You bet you will! You would shoot out of bed and would likely share a piece of your mind that you really can’t afford to lose in a way that will not be productive. To top it off, you would be so aggravated that you’d have a hard time going back to sleep.
When the trumpet of the Lord sounds you won’t sleep through it. The picture Jesus paints is drawn from Daniel 7:13-14,
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)
When Jesus returns the whole world will see Him and bow before Him. You aren’t going to miss it.
Second, Most people will be unprepared. In Matthew’s account we read these clear words,
36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
Jesus says the Second Coming is going to catch people by surprise like the flood caught the people of Noah’s day by surprise. You can’t help but wonder how the flood caught people by surprise. The Ark Noah built was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet tall! It certainly took him a long time to build this boat. Neighbors surely noticed. At the beginning I’m sure people asked Noah, “Hey, what are you building?” and I am sure Noah told them that he was building a boat to survive a coming flood.
If they had coffee shops in those days I’m sure they talked and joked a great deal about “Noah” and the boat he was building to survive a great flood. I don’t believe the people were surprised because they had never heard about the coming flood. They were surprised because they didn’t think it would happen. They made no preparations for the coming flood and instead continued to live life as they always had . . . right up to the day Noah entered the Ark.
When Jesus returns the same thing will be true. People have heard about a coming Armageddon and a Day of Judgment and even the declaration that Jesus is coming again. They are terms everyone has heard. However, people shrug it off. The surprise will not be from ignorance but from indifference.
It is like the child who says they are going to accomplish some great feat (maybe they are going to be a pro athlete, become an astronaut, or invent some great new product.) We hear what the child says, we smile, pat them on the head and maybe even say, “That’s wonderful honey!” but we don’t really take it to heart. Years later when that child actually does what they said, we are startled and surprised and we wish we had been more of an encouragement and more of a friend. Likewise there will be many people who heard about the second coming of Christ who will wish they had paid more attention to what they had heard.
Third, it will not be a day of rejoicing for all. In verse 26 we read,
26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
People who have been through a tornado, hurricane, flash flood, fire, a battlefield or even a severe illness will tell you that these were moments when they were weak from fear. They understood that they were helpless before their circumstances and that vulnerability filled them with apprehension.
I cannot begin to fathom what it would have been like to be in Japan as the giant waves of the tsunami came toward you after an already devastating earthquake. People would have felt a terrifying vulnerability and helplessness.
I think true followers of Christ will also be anxious at first until we recognize what is happening. Then the anxiety will give way to joy as we look for Christ. We will know that our redemption will almost be complete.
However, those who have simply dabbled in faith will see that their faith is not real. Those who felt there would “always be time to get right with God” will see the devastating choice they have made. Those who have declared “God is dead” will find themselves facing the wrath of the God they had buried in their minds. This will be the day when we face the consequences of our choices. The invitation to receive God’s grace and mercy will be withdrawn and justice….terrifying and deserved justice will come.
Jesus gave a sober warning
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
The point of the illustration is clear: we need to stay awake! We need to be alert. Every time we hear of a war, a natural disaster, or of upheaval in the world we should see this as a reminder that the Lord will return and we must remain ready and vigilant.
One more thing. Verses 32 and 33 are problem verses (and the primary reasons many see this whole chapter as referring to what happened in 70 AD).
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
The famed philosopher and social critic Bertrand Russell looked at these verses and concluded he could not become a Christian because it was obvious Jesus had been wrong.
“He certainly thought that his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time,” He added, “In that respect, clearly he was not so wise as some other people have been, and he was certainly not superlatively wise.”1
I understand what Russell is saying, “Jesus said these things would take place before “this generation” had passed away. Here we are many hundreds of years later and He still has not returned.
Some answer the criticism by pointing out that “generation” can also be translated “race”. Using that translation Jesus was saying, these things will take place before the Jewish race is gone. But since God made an everlasting covenant with Israel I don’t see that as a strong option.
I would like to hear the way Jesus said these words. I would like to know what He was doing with His hands. It is quite possible Jesus said, this generation will not pass away until all these things (as He gestures toward the temple) have happened. In that case Jesus was referring back to the original question regarding the temple.
The difficulty with all end times prophecy is that people tend to fixate on the details so they can try to predict the Second Coming. They chart the events of that Coming and have a checklist of signs that must be fulfilled even though such a practice has been proved futile for centuries. The real problem is that these discussions focus on mastering information. Jesus, however takes a different (and I think better) approach. He puts the focus on being ready when that day comes.
Jesus’ Advice (34-36)
Be Encouraged. The first piece of advice was actually earlier in the text. In verse 28 we read,
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
At this time when anxiety will be severe and people are filled with dread Jesus urges His followers to take a different course. When a runner wins a race they don’t put their head down or hide. They look up, raise their arms, and even sometimes take a victory lap. This is the picture we have here. Instead of hiding, those who have served and followed Christ will realize that the day they have been longing for has come. The battle is won, the joy will begin.
The Second Coming of Jesus is not something we should dread, it is something we should long for. It is not something to avoid but something to look forward to with the eagerness of a child waiting for friends to arrive for a birthday party.
Get Ready. In verses 34-36 Jesus gives a paragraph of application,
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
The Lord gives us some practical instruction for being ready for that day regardless of when or how. First, He says, Don’t be distracted by the anxieties, pleasures and indulgences of life. Very simply His advice: be focused and serious in your faith.
Jesus warns us about the way of life that is promoted everywhere we turn. How many people do you know who work during the week with the express goal of getting to the weekend so they can “party” (translated: “get drunk and act recklessly”). People are not ashamed of such behavior; they brag about it. They tell you they are having the “time of their lives”.
Others run around frantically. They chase anything that occupies their fancy. This lifestyle has a price tag (as every lifestyle does). The costs may be: your marriage, your job, your financial security, your health, your friends, your reputation and your testimony.
But most of all, it may cost you your eternity. We cannot truly follow Christ while at the same time embracing the world. Jesus has said, “No man can serve two masters.” Every path leads somewhere. The question to ask is: where is the path of my life taking me?
Second, we are to stay alert. Many of you will remember that at the dawn of the new millennium we were warned about Y2K. We were told that bank records would be lost, essential computers would fail leaving us without gas, water, and electricity. We were urged to stock up on batteries, generators, water, food. We needed to print all essential documents in case of major computer failures. Some of you may still have supplies in your basement from that time (it may be time to refresh your supply). I don’t know if it was overblown hysteria or whether a great tragedy was averted because precautions were taken.
Jesus warns that his coming will come on you “unexpectedly, like a trap.” The best way to be ready for the unexpected is to be prepared. We hear this in every area of our lives.
- Be prepared for computer crashes by backing up your information
- Be prepared for health problems by getting regular checkups
- Be prepared for financial “surprises” by saving money
- Be prepared for changing job demands by taking continuing education classes
- Be prepared for disaster by buying insurance and taking precautions
Some of you may remember your days in school. At the beginning of the semester you were given a syllabus. You were told when assignments and papers would be due. Inevitably people would wait until the very last minute to get started on their assignments. They needed a deadline to activate them. They partied and goofed off all year and then worked like a crazy person to meet the deadline.
Unfortunately, many people live their whole lives this way. Their interest in prophecy is anchored to a desire to know the deadline. Why? So they know how much time they have before they “need to cram” to make it into Heaven. It is a foolish way to live.
Our goal should be that to live lives of such faithfulness, that even if we were to miss the signs of His coming . . . it wouldn’t matter, because our assignments would all be turned in and we would be ready.
You can often mesmerize a crowd by sharing details of the End Times. It’s fun to try to put all the pieces together. We would love to be seen as someone “in the know” who has it all figured out. However, from what Jesus says it would seem to be a whole lot more profitable to spend less time arguing about details and spend more time actually getting ready. There are people who need to hear the good news about God’s love and His grace. There is work that must be done.
Jesus urges us to stop playing and get to work because the final exam may just be closer than we think.