THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
THE CONTEXT OF JESUS' TEACHINGS ON THE SECOND COMING IN MATTHEW 24
Introduction to Jesus' Teachings on the Second Coming
Context, context, context, context. I cannot stress enough how important context is in interpreting a passage of Scripture. That past fall we heard so many of the candidates say something which their opponents used against them. Then the candidates squealed, “It was taken out of context!” Then they had to go back and explain the context of their remarks. In the same way context is important in interpreting Jesus’ statements in Matthew 24.
Just what is the context of Matthew 24? First, Matthew 24 does not stand alone. It is part of a much larger section, Matthew 21-25 in which Jesus reaches out one last time to the Jewish people. The Jewish religious authorities try to humiliate Him in front of the people, bringing up such topics as tribute paid to Caesar, the woman with 7 husbands, the source of Jesus’ authority. Each time Jesus overwhelms them, hoping that they will see that their efforts are futile, that they are not dealing with a mere man but with God Himself.
Right in the middle of His discussion with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus utters a parable which accurately explains the situation going on between Him and the Jewish religious leaders. Read Matthew 21:33-41. In this parable the landowner represents God, the vinegrowers represent the Jewish religious leaders, and the vineyard represents the privileges of God’s people. The landowner (God) will send out slaves to receive produce from the vinegrowers. These slaves represent the OT prophets. How did the vinegrowers treat the slaves the landowner sent to them?
The landowner decides to give the vinegrowers one last chance. Whom does the landowner send the last time?
How do the vinegrowers treat this last messenger, the landowner's son?
According to verses 41 and 42 what will the landowner do to the vinegrowers?
This parable explains basically the attitude of the Jewish people towards God since the very beginning of their existence as a nation. To be sure there were some Jews who followed God. Although these are notable exceptions, they are still exceptions. The vast majority of the Jewish people rejected God for 1700 years. God gives them one last chance by sending to them His Son. If they accept Him, all will be forgiven; however, they are not going to accept Jesus. That was not their nature. In accordance with their past behavior they are going to kill Jesus. Verses 41 and 42 state that because the Jewish people rejected Jesus, God was going to destroy them as a nation. The Jewish people would no longer be the ones God would use to bring salvation to the world. From now on God would work through the Gentile church. The vineyard was being taken away from the Jews and was being given to the Gentile church.
This is the context of Matt. 24. The Jews have rejected God one last time; God now is going to destroy the nation of Israel. Remember that Jesus said that His generation would not pass away until Matt. 24 was fulfilled (verse 36). Jesus’ predictions were fulfilled in 70 AD when the Romans under the leadership of Vespasian and Titus destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple itself. After another Jewish revolt in 125 AD the Jews were banished from the city of Jerusalem; it was not until the Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century AD that the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem. (Although God destroyed the nation of Israel, we find out from Rom. 11:25-36 that God is going to work among the Jews one last time at the end of time. How all this plays out we shall look at later.
Just a side issue here. Does this mean that the Jews are no longer God's chosen people, that God no longer has His hand on the Jew? The fact that the Jewish people have maintained their ethnic identity shows that they are still God's people. If you destroyed the nation of France and dispersed the French throughout the rest of the world, they would eventually lose their ethnic identity; the same would apply to almost every ethnic group. But not the Jew. For 2000 years, even though the Jews did not have their own home, they maintained their identity. Disraeli, the great prime minister who served under Queen Victoria, said the existence of the Jew proved that there God lived. No longer though does the Jew reveal to the world the salvation of God. Instead he has revealed to the world God's wrath. A day will come though when God will once more work among the Jewish people to bring them salvation through the Messiah, Jesus.
Although we will return to this context as we study Matthew 24, we want to look at how Matthew 24 also relates to the future, to the final return of Christ.
WHAT ARE not SIGNS OF JESUS’ RETURN (Matt. 24:4-8)
Before listing the signs or events which will occur before He returns, Jesus lists some events which may occur but which do not mean that He is about to return. Too often a major event occurs and we say, “Is Jesus about to return?” According to Matt. 24:4-8 what are some events which do not necessarily mean that Jesus is about to return?
An example of a false sign is that some people will claim that they are the Christ. This statement implies that some people are going to claim to be the Christ and that people will tell others that this person is the Christ. In other words, people are going to have to convince other people that this false messiah is the Christ. Look closely at Luke 17:22-24, especially v. 24. When Jesus returns, will there be any doubt that He has come? Why or why not?
According to Matt. 24:8 the sorrows of verses 4-7 are the “_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ of labor pangs.”
Whenever a woman goes through labor pangs, what is about to happen?
Remember always to think of your sorrows as labor pangs because God is wanting to produce something wonderful through them. In fact the more intense the pain, the greater the thing produced. Just think about times in your life God let you go through a lot of stress to produce something wonderful. That gives you an idea of how God is producing the wonderful new heavens and earth through the great pains of His people in the tribulation. We just need to remember to respond positively during the time we suffer those pangs.
EVENTS WHICH PRECEDE THE RETURN OF CHRIST—THE PERSECUTION OF GOD’S PEOPLE AND THE APOSTASY (Matt. 24:9-13)
In Matthew 24 Jesus is describing for us a sequence of events which will lead up to His return. For example, in verses 4-8 Jesus says earthquakes and wars will occur; they do not signify though the end. At the end of v. 8 Jesus says that these natural disasters and wars are merely the beginning of birth pangs. These events may last for 5 years; they may last for 2000 years. Jesus does not say how long they will occur. He does tell us though that their occurrence does not mean Jesus is about to return.
In verse 9 though Jesus makes a shift. Verse 9 begins with the word “then”; in other words, we’re going to the next stage in the events leading up to the return of Christ. According to verses 9 and 10 what will happen to God’s people before Jesus returns?
(Notice that Jesus says that God’s people will be delivered over to tribulation in v. 9. What do you think Jesus means when He says they will be delivered over to tribulation?
According to v. 11-12 what else will happen to God’s people before Christ returns? What will happen to the love of many people who claim to be Christians?
How should Christians respond to persecution and the emergence of false messiahs (Matt. 24:13)? Why should they respond this way?
Remember that being true to Jesus during times of persecution is not an option. In fact one of the primary purposes of the book of Revelation is to exhort us to remain faithful to Christ during these times. Compromising by receiving the mark of the beast in order to survive results in eternal death.
SIGNS WHICH PRECEDE THE COMING OF CHRIST (24:14-15)
According to Matt. 24:14 what must happen before Jesus returns?
What do you think Jesus means when He says that the gospel must be preached to the whole world?
Has the whole world been evangelized during our lifetime?
Whether or not the whole world has been evangelized is something that only God knows. I do know that the amount of evangelism which has transpired in the last 20 years is impressive. Campus Crusade for Christ alone has evangelized around 2 billion people. The underground Christian movement in places like China is stunning. The internet alone has brought Christianity to places which had been out of touch with the rest of the world. Only God knows if His standard has been met; however, the amount which has occurred is impressive.
Now some will say that Matt. 24 in no way refers to the fall of Jerusalem because the gospel had not been preached to the whole world by 70 AD. According to Luke 2:1 what was the whole inhabited earth:
the whole physical earth, all the lands where people lived including China, or the Roman empire?
Paul says that after he preaches the gospel to Caesar in Rome, he will have preached the gospel to all the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (2 Tim. 4:17).
In other words, the gospel was preached “to all the world” by 70 AD; however, there is a deeper fulfillment of this prediction. Although the “whole earth” was evangelized before His coming in judgment in 70 AD, the whole earth will once more be evangelized before His final physical return at the end of history.
According to Matt. 24:15 what else will happen before Jesus returns?
In next week’s lesson we will look at the abomination of desolations and the antichrist.