End-Times Briefing 10: the centre line – where are we now?

Annex A to Neil Mackereth’s paper Simplicity goes deeper into Matthew 24 signs than earlier Briefings 2: the ‘When?’ and 3: the ‘What?’ of Watching [cross-references to the book of Daniel are mine]:

1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

THE CENTRE LINE OF END-TIME PROPHECY – WHERE ARE WE NOW?

At the start of Matthew 24 the disciples are seeking Jesus’ acknowledgement that the Temple is a beautiful building.  They were shocked by His response, that the Temple would be utterly destroyed, not one stone left on another.  This startling prophetic statement leads them to ask two very significant questions:

“When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Jesus responds to this as two questions, the second having two parts)

Before answering these questions, Jesus warns the disciples against being deceived by people falsely claiming to be Christ. This thread of potential deception by false prophets continues throughout the chapter. 

Question 1: “When?”

The answer to the first is most clearly given in Mark 21:20-24:

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written.  How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  

The exact fulfilment of this prophecy came in 70 AD. It is worth noting that the Roman General Vespasian was in the process of establishing a siege around Jerusalem when he was recalled to Rome to be installed as Emperor. Thus, a lull occurred which allowed many to escape the city before Vespasian’s son, General Titus, fully established the siege which led to the destruction of the city and Temple.  

There was nothing metaphorical about the siege of Jerusalem and its destruction: those who knew what Jesus had said, and were obedient to His advice, escaped.  Since then, the sacred Temple site has been “trampled on by the Gentiles”.

Question 2: “What?” – 2nd Part

In answering the second question, which has two overlapping parts, Jesus addresses part 2 first: “the sign of the end of the age”. He summarises several signs before giving the sign. He makes it clear that while the various catastrophic events constitute the “birth-pains” for what is to come, and these along with persecution will cause many people to turn away from faith, they are not the final sign.  That sign is given in v 14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” 

This can be seen as the required culmination of the “Great Commission”; the task given to the disciples in Matthew 28, to go and make disciples of all nations.  Determining when this task has been completed will be difficult!

These early verses of Matthew 24 emphasise the need for Christians to stand firm during the labour pains that indicate the imminence of the “birth” of the Kingdom of God on earth.

From verse 15 to 25 the focus narrows to Israel. When “the abomination that causes desolation” [Daniel 9:27,11:31,12:11] is seen in the “holy place” [9:23, 8:13 ‘Wonderful Numberer‘] it is time to flee.  The continued warnings of deception, the sense of great distress and the indications of extreme urgency given in these verses cannot be overstressed. The words were spoken by Jesus and he tells us how to pray. Note that Jesus does not say that we should pray against these things happening, rather that they won’t happen in winter, or on the Sabbath.

What is “the abomination that causes desolation”?  It seems that the events of AD 70 were a “model” or “shadow” of what will happen at the end of the age.  When Titus destroyed the Temple, he set up an idol on the site.  Prophecy relating to the end times (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:14,15) says that the antichrist will declare himself god, set up an image of himself in the temple, and order everyone to worship it.  This is the “abomination” that mocks God.

Jesus goes on to say (Matthew 24:24) that some false Christs and false prophets will be so convincing that even the “elect” (well established, strong Christians) may be deceived, and that things will be so bad that no one would survive if the “days had not been cut short”.

Question 2: “What?” – 1st Part

Jesus then addresses part one of question two: what will be the sign of His coming?  

The order in which He answered the two parts to the question is significant.  Jesus’ return will be unmistakeable! If we think that Jesus might have come, then He hasn’t!  If we don’t believe that Christ can make His second and glorious coming to Earth obvious to everyone, then we seriously underestimate the power, authority and capability of our God.

In the closing verses of chapter 24, Jesus urges us to be both watchful and prepared and that His return will be swift and sudden. We are not told the “day or the hour” (verse 36) and it seems clear that we should not speculate on these matters. However, we do have some indication of the events leading up to the end of the age, and that things will be as they were “in the days of Noah” (verse 37). 

IN THE DAYS OF NOAH – END-TIMES’ TRENDS

As shown in Matthew 24:27, the characteristics of end-times world activities and conditions are likened to the circumstances in the days of Noah.  This parallel is repeated in Luke 17:26. In Luke 17:28 the comparison is expanded to include the conditions in Sodom during the time leading up to Lot’s departure from the city.

The account of Noah’s righteousness and the situation before the flood is given in Genesis 6. How do the conditions then and now compare?

The earth was full of wickedness and evil thoughts (v 5), violence (v 11) and sexual corruption (v 12).  It seems that materialism, violence, corruption and immorality were accepted as the norm.

The positive features of the story of Noah are that he was supernaturally warned.  Noah “walked with God” and “found favour in the eyes of the Lord”. He was obedient to God and, as head of his family, took full responsibility for his household and led them to safety.     

The conditions in the end-times are summarised by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

So, are the conditions in the world today as they were in the time of Noah? 

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