Sunday September 24th
I heard a story about these two olives, one black olive, and one green olive, who were best friends, One day they were walking together down the street. They started to cross the street when a speeding car came around the corner and ran over the green olive. The black olive called 911 and helped care for his injured friend as best he could until the ambulance arrived. The injured green olive was taken to the emergency room at the hospital and rushed into surgery. After a long and agonizing wait, a doctor finally appeared. He told the black olive, "I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that your friend is going to pull through." "The bad news is that he's going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life".
This chapter includes Jesus teaching on the Mount of Olives, where he speaks prophetically about three things: the coming destruction of the Jerusalem temple; future persecutions that his disciples will face; and the events that will precede his second coming. Look at verses 1-2:
As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”
This temple was really quite magnificent. Herod the Great had rebuilt the temple using marble and gold. The outer court measured five hundred by three hundred yards, and it was bordered by walls of massive white stones, some of which were sixteen feet long.
But Jesus predicts that a day is coming when not one stone will be left stacked on top of another stone. And this is exactly what happened when Jerusalem was attacked and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman general Titus, less than 50 years after Jesus prophesied it.
But to the disciples, this kind of talk was way too incredible to be true, so they ask Jesus to explain how and when this is going to happen:
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6 Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 8 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
So the disciples ask Jesus “when will these things be”. Their question is mainly related to Jesus’ prediction regarding the destruction of the temple, but Jesus’ reply seems to include both that event and also the end time events leading to up to his second coming.
In verse 6, Jesus warns that “Many will come saying, ‘I am He!’. And in fact, many men like Bar Kochba, the leader of a Jewish rebellion against the Romans, claimed to be the messiah. Even in our generation we have had men like Rev. Sun Young Moon and other cult leaders who have claimed to be the messiah.
Jesus also warned that we can expect wars and rumors of wars, along with earthquakes and famines, but He says that we shouldn’t be afraid.
He refers to these signs as simply “birth pains”.
The Apostle Paul used similar words in Romans 8:22
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
What does this childbirth analogy tell us? We know that birth pains increase in frequency and intensity as the time of birth approaches (so I’ve been told).
Therefore we can expect wars, earthquakes and famines to get more intense and more frequent before the return of Jesus.
Then there is more bad news as well:
9 “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10 The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
So as believers we can certainly expect various levels of persecution before Jesus returns, and so we shouldn’t be surprised if and when it happens. Jesus also tells us that the gospel must be preached to all the nations before he returns, which should cause us to get serious about supporting missionaries!
One commentary compares those two things this way:
“The time between the resurrection of Christ and His Second Coming is not simply a time of suffering and persecution, but a time of grace and of evangelism throughout the earth.”
By the way, Jesus’ statement that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” doesn’t mean that salvation is something that is earned by our faithfulness, (I endured, so now I’m saved) but rather that our faithfulness is proof that we are truly saved!
Then Jesus describes an event that was definitely connected to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, but might also be connected to His second coming:
14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; 16 and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. 17 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18 But pray that it may not happen in the winter. 19 For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20 Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.
Okay, so for starters, who or what is the “abomination of desolation”?
Daniel 11:31 says:
“Forces from him (a king from the North) will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.”
This verse raises an interesting concept which is sometimes referred to as multiple fulfillments.
Daniel’s prophecy was clearly fulfilled in 168 b.c. when a man named Antiochus Epiphanes set up a pagan altar and sacrificed a pig in the Jewish temple. But Jesus couldn’t have been referring to that episode, because it had already happened when he was speaking this to his disciples. Then in a.d. 70 that same prophecy was definitely fulfilled again when Titus, the Roman general who later became the emperor, sacked and desecrated the temple.
If Jesus was only prophesying about the destruction of the temple, then we don’t need to worry about a third fulfillment, but some people believe that this was also an end-times prophesy, which means that if the temple ever gets rebuilt again, we may see one more “abomination of desolation”, perhaps even the antichrist!
So just in case it happens in our lifetimes, let’s look at the instructions that Jesus gave his followers:
The first thing he tells them is to “flee to the mountains”. When the Romans were on their way to attack Jerusalem, the members of a certain Jewish community hid their precious documents in caves high up in the mountains overlooking the Dead Sea. We now refer to those papers as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many Christians also left Jerusalem prior to that time, probably because Jesus had warned them to, and they founded a church fifty miles north of Jerusalem in a safer area.
Should we also be prepared to flee to the mountains? Well if you ask Barbara Mooney, she will tell you that she, and others as well, are making plans on heading to the high country if things get bad!
How bad could it get? How bad did things get back in Jerusalem? In verse 19 Jesus says “For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.”
The Jewish historian Josephus described the destruction of the temple as a catastrophe of supernatural dimensions. According to Josephus the suffering in Jerusalem was unparalleled in human history.
In verse 22 Jesus predicts that there will be signs and wonders, but not the good kind.
Even the enemy can create counterfeit signs, so we must be on guard because these false signs are designed: “to lead astray, if possible, the elect”. And the elect means us as believers. Not all signs and wonders are from God. Make sure you are listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and using the gift of discernment to reveal the source!
Those verses are all part of Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question about the coming destruction of the temple. In these next verses Jesus seems to again be referring to his second coming:
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.”
The fact that Jesus will be sending angels to gather his people from the four corners of the earth sounds like a description of the rapture. What else might happen around that same time? Several things, including:
The heavens tremble,
The sun and the moon grow dark
And the stars lose their brightness.”
28 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.29 Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.32 But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
33 “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. 34 It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert.35 Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’
In referring to the “fig tree” Jesus is simply saying that just as there are signs of what is about to come in the natural realm (such as fig trees blossoming near the start of summer) so too there are signs that we should be able to discern in the spiritual realm. If you can tell when summer is drawing near, then you also should be able to sense when the return of Christ is getting closer.
But knowing that we are getting closer isn’t the same as knowing exactly when Jesus will return. In fact, he tells us very clearly that the “day or hour no one knows”. This means we must always be ready, always be living our lives in such a way that when he returns he won’t find us asleep on the job! So what does Jesus say to close out his teaching?
What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’