The Future According to Jesus

by Pastor Bob Conway

Matthew 23:29 -25:46

One of the major emphasis of Holy Week for Christ was to reveal the signs of His second coming to His disciples. Surprisingly, I have not heard anyone speak on these prophecies during Holy Week. Therefore, I will!

During the early centuries following the ascension of Jesus into heaven, Christians often greeted one another by saying, “MARANATHA.” This Aramaic expression means “come, O Lord” and echoed the believers’ cry for the imminent return of Christ. During Holy Week, our Lord revealed warning signs that will herald His return. The fulfillment of several of these signs in our generation points to the imminent return of Jesus Christ. 

For centuries the Jews had awaited the first arrival of the Messiah, but when He did come and offer his kingdom and did promise blessing and hope and salvation, instead of receiving Him in faith and love, they rejected Him in unbelief and repulsion. They so despised Him that they wanted to murder Him as their ancestors had done with the righteous before Him. 

As a result they identified with their ancestors who murdered the prophets and the guilt and judgment that had been accumulating since the Fall would come down upon the heads of Jesus’ generation. So in a heart-wrenching lament . . .  JESUS PREDICTS HIS SECOND COMING, Matthew 23:37 -39 — 

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem , you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Jesus was neither cold nor indifferent, even toward His enemies, and on this occasion His judgment is mingled with sorrow and deep pathos. His last public teaching is an exclamation of sorrow for Jerusalem. He had tried to bring the Word of God to the people, but the people of Jerusalem had been true to their reputation. The city which had killed the prophets had rejected Christ and was about to kill Him.
This lament of Jesus is filled with theological significance. Herein Jesus declares Himself to be God — the one who has longed to gather His children together. He shows Himself to be loving, kind, merciful and protecting, and yet be a God of wrath. And He reveals that He will come a second time.

The pages of the OT are filled with the LORD’S efforts to gather His people under His protection through His love and discipline and their The pages of the OT are filled with the LORD’S efforts to gather His people under His protection through His love and discipline and their continual withdrawal from Him.

Here Christ expresses the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Yahweh had chosen Israel as His people but they rejected Him. Though God desired to gather the nation to Himself, the people were not willing. What God desired to come to pass did not occur because He would not violate the free will of man. No doctrine of the predestination of individuals can survive between Jesus’ “I longed” and Jerusalem’s “you were not willing.”

The fate of desolation was chosen by the people, not imposed by God. “Look, your house is left desolate” could refer to (1) the House of David or (2) Jerusalem or (3) the nation of Israel or (4) the Temple . All four are closely allied and rise and fall together. Desolate (erhmov) refers to wilderness, desert or uninhabited region.

It has been well-said that history is destined to repeat itself. In Jeremiah 12:7, Yahweh had predicted what would happen to Jerusalem in 586 B.C. —

“I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies.”

Now Jesus’ prediction is tantamount to what happen to Israel in Jeremiah’s day. Again, God would abandon His inheritance into the hands to her enemies. This time in A.D. 70.

For how long? Until Israel affirms Jesus as Messiah, saying, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.” Jesus cannot return to reign on earth until all Israel is saved!    Ironically, the crowds have already had declared this truth at Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This declaration comes from a section of Psalm 118, which speaks of the LORD God making His light shine upon Israel in the house of the LORD. Unfortunately, Israel rejected the Light so the desolation of your house also includes the absence of Jesus since He is “the Light.”

We know from Zechariah 12:10-13:9 that Israel will acknowledge Christ Jesus prior to His second coming. Until then the House of David will be forsaken by God and left abandoned to its enemies. As a sign of this desolation . . .

JESUS PREDICTS THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE BUILDINGS, Matthew 24:1-2 — Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Mark 13:1 tells us that one of His disciples said to Him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

Jesus’ lament over the desolation of Israel’s house apparently had no impact on the thinking of His disciples as they talked about the Temple complex, which was magnificent by any standard.

At the prodding of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Second Temple (Zerubbabel’s) had been completed on March 12, 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15 ). In the eighteenth year of his reign (19 B.C.), Herod the Great undertook a very great work, to rebuild the Temple of God, making it larger and more magnificent than Zerubbabel’s. Instead of leveling the summit of the mountain, Herod built a vast platform by raising up massive walls enclosing the whole area. On these walls a platform was laid for the Temple .

At the time of Christ, Herod’s Temple was not completely finished, yet it was one of the wonders of the world and its massive stones and the magnificent buildings impressed His disciples. Jesus responded to their observation with a question and statement, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Notice that Jesus specified that the stones of the Temple buildings would be thrown down. The massive stones used to support the platform remain in place today. Fulfilled biblical prophecy is always accurate down to its smallest details.

In A.D. 70, Titus’ soldiers so completely destroyed the Temple buildings that their exact location on the Temple Mount is disputed. The Romans rushed from the Tower of Antonia into the sacred precincts, the halls of which were set on fire by the Jews themselves. It was against the will of Titus that a Roman soldier threw a firebrand into the northern buildings of the Temple , which caused the inferno of the whole structure, although Titus himself endeavored to extinguish the fire (War, 6:4). Gold and silver melted in between the stones and the soldiers turned each and every one upside down to get the precious metals. Josephus remarks that the Temple was destroyed on the same month and day as the holy house was burned by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., that being July 28th. A coincidence! No! A God sighting!

Jesus’ prediction must have amazed and disturbed the disciples as they made their way up the Mount of Olives . As they looked over their shoulders, they could see the Temple standing there on Mount Moriah in all its glory.

The disciples still believed that the earthly Kingdom of God would appear immediately. The destruction of the Temple did not fit the outcome of the Messiah’s arrival that they envisioned.

The Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for the day of God’s intervention, “the Day of the LORD,” at the end of the age. But they were caught between unconquerable optimism and bleak pessimism. They believed God would break into history and rescue them and that this world was so utterly bad that only its complete destruction and the emergence of a new world would suffice. They were not looking for a reformation. The most distant thing from their minds was the spiritual renewal that John the Baptist and Jesus preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” So, we read in Matthew 24:3 — As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The catastrophe of the destruction of the Temple would foreshadow and guarantee the predictions of judgment at the close of the age, but it would not coincide with the signs of His second coming and of the end of the age. The expression “Second Coming” does not appear in the NT, the nearest approximate is found in Hebrews 9:28:

So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

The disciples used the word Parousia (parousia), which denotes the presence, coming, arrival, advent of Christ. At this moment in time, they did not understand that there would be two comings of Christ. So . . . JESUS UNVEILS THE SIGN OF HIS SECOND COMING AND OF THE END OF THE AGE, Matthew 24:4-51.

We call this section of Jesus’ teaching, THE MOUNT OLIVET DISCOURSE. In this discourse, Jesus reveals that at the Parousia this Present Age gives way to the Millennial Kingdom in the Day of the LORD. In doing so, He reveals the conditions on earth as the sign of the time of His return. This is what the future holds according to Jesus.

FIRST, THERE WILL BE THE BEGINNING OF BIRTH PAINS, MATTHEW 24:4-8. Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains. THE FIRST PROPHETIC SIGN THAT WILL SIGNAL CHRIST’S SECOND COMING INVOLVES THE RISE OF FALSE CHRISTS AND DECEIVERS IN THE LAST DAYS. Though there are no historical references to any false messiahs prior to the resurrection of Jesus, many false messiahs have appeared throughout the centuries following His ascension. In our generation alone these impostors and deceivers include Charles Manson, Rev. sun Myung Moon, Jim Jones and David Koresh.

THE SECOND PROPHETIC SIGN THAT WILL SIGNAL CHRIST’S SECOND COMING WILL BE THE HEARING OF WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS. When Jesus spoke these words, the Roman Empire was enjoying a long era of peace. But about four decades later political turmoil would upset the great realm from one end to another. Wars and rumors of wars have occurred since. The end will come with such swiftness that it will be like a flood according to Daniel 9:26– After the sixty-two ‘sevens’, the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. Since the end of World War II the number of wars in our world has increased dramatically. new nations have demanded independence as old empires disintegrate. Though there have been numerous peace treaties, the world has not known a single day without some nation at war with another somewhere on the earth.

How often has the United States been involved in a war in the last hundred years? World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Bosnia, and now the War with Iraq. And there are rumors of wars with Syria and other nations.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that wars are occurring more frequently like the beginning of birth-pains!

While nations have always found reasons to hate one another, Jesus warned that worldwide hatred would increase between nations and kingdoms. What do you think? Is the last month has relations between Arabs and Jews grown closer or further away? How about Arabs and Americans? Or Europeans and Americans?

Wars and rumors of wars are a prelude to the final war at the end of this present age when the LORD gathers the kings of the earth and their armies together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon to be cut down with a sharp sickle, and gathered as grapes and thrown into the great winepress of God’s wrath.

Continue to Part 2

Is This the End?

We’ve made it into the year 2000 without mishap.  There was no Y2K bug and everything is running pretty well.  It turns out that all the doomsday prophets were wrong about the world ending in the year 1999, or 2000 for that matter.  We’ve made it beyond the famed Mayan apocalypse.  And of course we’ve survived Harold Camping’s doomsday (both of them in fact!)  I say shame on the Christians who fell for these supposed doomsdays and woe to the ones making them.  They shouldn’t have been making the predictions anyway.  The Bible clearly states that the day and the hour of Christ’s return are unknown.  In Mark 13:32 states that “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only the father.”  How foolish it is for anyone to say they know when Christ will return and the end of the age will occur when even Christ didn’t know the time.

But are there signs that Christ’s return is imminent?  The Bible clearly lays out a diagram of events that shows the events that will occur around the time of Christ’s return.  So fasten your seatbelts, we may all be in for a bumpy ride coming up pretty quickly.

Despite the fact that no one knows when Christ will return, he gave us signs of when he will return.  Such signs are very apparent in today’s world and have caused many Christian leaders to expect Christ to return soon.  How soon, none of us know.  We know that the signs are all about us though.  In Thessalonians 5 Paul writes “Now brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying ‘Peace and safety’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”  If there has ever been a cry for peace and safety, it is certainly now. 

In Matthew 24 Jesus gives a very straightforward description of what the signs surrounding his return would be.  Verses 4-8 predict that many would come claiming to be he and would deceive many people.  We will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  Today, at any given time there are around 40 wars going on in the world.  Nation will rise against nation actually was written that ethnos would rise against ethnos.  Today we so often hear of Ethnic wars and “ethnic cleansing” and so much more of it isn’t covered by the news networks.  Jesus said that there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  Millions of people are starving over the world today while over 14000 earthquakes rock us each year.  Just thirty years ago, there were less than 1200 earthquakes a year.  “All these are the beginnings of birth pains.” Jesus states, “the beginning of the end.”

Verses 9-13 say that Christians will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death.  In America it may be hard to picture this kind of persecution happening but it is incredible in many countries.  Over 400 Christians are killed for their faith EVERY DAY around the world.  In China it means death if you are found to be a Christian.  In many Middle Eastern countries Christians are tortured and put to death for their faith.  It is possible that America was the last “Christian” nation, but that time has passed.  While the United States continues to send out missionaries, missionaries are also coming in from other countries.  The United States has the third most missionaries in it!  That’s not going out, that’s coming in.  The death knell has sounded for the United States as a Christian nation.  Surely there are still Christians and many of them, but it can hardly be considered a Christian nation any longer.  This gives cause to believe the statement that we as Christians are hated by all the nations, just as Jesus said would happen. 

Many people have abandoned their faith in the face of this persecution.  Others have been led astray by those claiming to be prophets.  i.e. Mormons and their gold tablets found in a field or the many cults that have appeared.  Jesus also stated that there would be an increase in wickedness and the love of most people would grow cold.  Certainly this has taken place as all you need to do to notice this is compare today with the 1980’s.  But Jesus also gives us hope at this time.  “…he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Verse 14 speaks of the way the gospel will be preached throughout the entire world.  This was something with which the people of Jesus’ time must have had trouble.  Today it is easy to understand this with nearly instant communication and planes that will take us into the deepest parts of Africa and allow us to travel anywhere.  Verse 14 ends with Christ saying, “…and then the end will come.”  Once all these things have taken place, the end will come.  Seeing all these things about us, our only question left is how soon it will happen.  After these things the rapture will happen, calling all those who believe in Christ into the sky to be with Him. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 4:17  “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

What happens after all this, is really little concern to Christians because they will already be with Christ.  However it is written as a warning for those who don’t believe.  After this the tribulation will begin, when God releases his wrath upon the earth.  A man known as the Antichrist will appear then and deceive those who are left.  He will set up a temple on the temple mount in Jerusalem, where the Muslim Dome of the Rock sits now, and there he will begin sacrifices once again.  But 3 1/2 years into the tribulation the Antichrist will stop the sacrifices and order the people to worship him only.  At that time the Jews who are still alive will finally realize that they missed the first coming of Christ.  Then they become Christians and will be persecuted by all those around them. 

Plague after plague will fall upon the earth, only causing many unbelievers to curse God instead of worshipping him.  At the end of the seven years of tribulation, a battle between Christ and Satan, known as the battle of Armageddon will occur.  Satan will be defeated and locked up in the abyss.  And Christ will return to reign on earth as king for a thousand years.  This time will be known as the millennial kingdom.  At the end of the thousand years Satan will be set loose and the people will rebel once again.  This is the last time though and brings about a final judgment.

Unbelievers will be sent to the great white throne of judgment where they will be judged accordingly but still all sent to the lake of fire.  Christians will be judged too, but at the judgment seat of Christ and according to what we have done for him.  There we will be given rewards accordingly.  Then we will live with Christ in heaven forever.

Of course no one knows for sure when all things will take place.  Matthew 24:42-44 makes this clear.  But we must keep watch expecting his return.  Most importantly, we must be ready for his coming.  We must have accepted Christ as our savior from our sins and we need to tell all our friends about him too. 

Interpreting Biblical Prophecy

The interpretation of Biblical prophecy is something that is very important for any student of the Bible and is unfortunately very neglected by pastors and lay people alike.  Between 1/4 to 1/3 of the Bible is prophecy and this alone makes proper interpretation important for anyone who wants to understand the Bible.

The interpretation of Biblical prophecy has gained importance all the more in our era however as more and more people are claiming that we are near the end times. 

If this is true, we need to know what we can expect – and whether or not we will even be on earth to witness most of it.  And even if the end time events are still very distant, it is prophecy that gives us a glimpse of heaven and what we can expect.

The most important question concerning prophecy is whether we should interpret it literally or figuratively.  This has been a divisive issue for centuries going well back into the early church of the third and fourth centuries.

Augustine was one who advocated a so called “dual hermeneutic.”  In other words, interpret normal scripture to be literal, interpret anything prophetic to be symbolic.  Certainly, his ideas are popular even to this day.

But the question must be asked, was prophecy intended to be interpreted literally or figuratively.  I believe that the question can be answered by looking at prophecies that we know have been answered.

Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore even though he was old and did not have an heir.  This was fulfilled literally despite the improbability of it.

In Isaiah 7:14 the prophet predicts that the virgin will be with child, we see this fulfilled literally in the birth of Jesus, despite the impossibility of it. 

When Daniel tells King Belshazzar the meaning of the words “mene mene tekel parsin” and informs him that his kingdom will be taken from him that very night, it happens literally that very night.

And of course there are numerous other prophecies, many concerning the coming of Christ that have been fulfilled literally.  So the question must be asked, would God fulfill some prophecies literally and other prophecies figuratively?  And if God would do such a thing, how does one discern which will be fulfilled literally and which will be figuratively?

The second important thing to consider when studying prophecy is the concept of time.  Time means very little with prophecy and this lead many to miss the coming of Christ.  They saw prophecies of a coming Messiah that would overthrow the oppressors and rule from David’s throne.  What they missed was the prophecies that speak of a suffering Messiah and they could not untangle the two.

Looking at prophecy is like looking at a set of mountains.  From a distance, the back mountain looks like it is right behind the first mountain.  It is only when a person is on top of the first mountain that the realize the second mountain is quite a distance off.

It is the same with prophecy.  It may look like all one part, but often there is a time gap.  Only when the first part has been fulfilled are we able to look and realize that the next part is still future.

This is no better illustrated than perhaps in Luke 4:18-21.  Jesus speaks:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-2 in this passage, but he stops speaking abruptly in the middle of the second verse.  Verse 2 in its entirety says, “… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn…”

So why did Jesus stop in the middle of the sentence?  The day of vengeance was still future.  However, if Jesus is speaking the truth, the first part of this prophecy was fulfilled in their hearing.

So how do we distinguish prophecy and prevent the same errors as the Jews of Jesus’ time?  We may pay close attention to what scripture says and understand what has already been fulfilled and what has not been fulfilled.  If a prophecy has not been fulfilled literally, it is safe to conclude that it is yet future, even if part of the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

A third step is to determine what are conditional promises and what are unconditional promises.  God gives some promises that hinge upon a people acting a certain way while other promising are unconditional and will happen regardless of what happens.

For a conditional prophecy, consider the book of Jonah.  It was Jonah’s job to go to Nineveh and prophesy that God would destroy the city.  But Jonah did not desire to do the Lord’s will because Nineveh was a very wicked city and he did not want to pronounce God’s judgment upon it.  If this was an unconditional promise, Jonah would have delighted in seeing the destruction of a wicked city full of the enemies of God.

But when Jonah finally goes and prophecies the people repent and he complains to God in Jonah 4 , “‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home?  That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Jonah had prophesied to Nineveh that it had forty days left, but the unspoken condition was that this was true if they did not repent.

For an unconditional prophecy, consider Psalm 89 where God guarantees an eternal throne for the kingdom of Israel.  Verses 30-37 tell us of unconditional promises:

“If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.  I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered.  Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness– and I will not lie to David– that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.”

The fourth principle in interpreting prophecy should be a given but it is often overlooked.  Scripture does not contradict itself.  If another passage of scripture would appear to contradict your interpretation of a prophecy one of two things must be done.  Either explain why that passage does not contradict your interpretation of the prophecy or re-evaluate your interpretation of this passage. 

The positions many people take on prophecy involve ignoring certain passages of scripture because they can offer no explanation for them.  For a blatant example of this, consider the position taken by some amillennialists.  (An amillennialist is a person who does not believe in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ at the second coming.)

Some amillennialists say that we are currently living in the millennial kingdom, beginning at the first coming of Christ, or at the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Revelation 20 describes that during this time, Satan will be bound.  This means that if we are living in the millennial kingdom, Satan is currently bound. 

Yet, if Satan is bound during this time, one has to explain the casting out of demons that occurs in the New Testament.  If Satan was bound at the first coming of Christ, one has to explain how Satan entered Judas in John 13:27.  And if Satan was bound at the beginning of the church age, one has to find a way to explain 1 Peter 1:8 which says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

If one has found a way to satisfactorily explain these passages, that is fine.  As such, I have not heard an explanation and many choose to ignore these passages.  If one re-evaluates their view on this, they must then re-evaluate how Satan can not be bound and still consider the present age to be part of millennial kingdom.

The important thing is that one considers all of the details and makes sure that they do not contradict other scriptures.

In summary, the four keys to interpreting prophecy are:

Determine if prophetic passages should be taken literally

Understand that time doesn’t matter in regards to prophecy – parts may be fulfilled and parts may yet be future

Determine if the prophecy is conditional or unconditional

Understand that scripture cannot and does not contradict itself.  If your interpretation contradicts scripture, you must either explain the contradictory passage or re-evaluate your view.