What Does Jesus Teach Us about God's End-Times Plan?
By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I’m a new Christian, and I was reading through the Gospel of Matthew. I got really excited when I came to chapter 24 and read Jesus’s teachings about the End Times. I’d like to understand more. Could you please help me?
Matthew 24 is the only place where Jesus laid out his picture of the End Times. Therefore, it’s good to study what He had in mind and how it can apply to our lives today.
This passage is often called the “Olivet Discourse,” because Jesus was with His disciples on the Mount of Olives. Also, note that it was the Monday before He would be crucified on Friday.
The Context Is a Broken-Hearted Christ
The account really begins at the end of chapter 23:
“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.’” (Matthew 23:37-39)
Notice that Jesus did not say, “the Temple;” he said “Your house…” The Temple was no longer God’s House. It had been ruined by materialism, moneychangers, and deceitful leaders…some of the ungodly people in first-century Israel. Jesus then described the Temple as “desolate,” because the glory of God had departed from it.
In response, Jesus’s disciples called His attention to the Temple buildings. Jesus replied, "Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down" (Matthew 24:1-2).
The disciples were speechless. They sat for a while in silence, and then they asked him three specific questions (see Matthew 24:3):
1. When will the destruction of the Temple occur?
2. What will be the sign of Your coming?
3. What will be the sign of the End of the Age?
Jesus answered the second and third questions first—and the first question last. Before we dig into the specifics, I want you to notice that Jesus used a number of literary devices in Matthew 24. His teaching is not chronological. He describes events but not a timeline. It’s like He states an event and then swings it around in a circle that comes back to Him.
For example, when Jesus answered the “sign questions,” He jumped from place to place, from time period to time period, and from the signs of His coming to signs of the end of the Age.
Take a few moments to read Matthew 24.
You may find it difficult to sort out Jesus’s teaching here. Don’t despair; careful reading can bring out the truth.
Several Prophetic Principles to Unpack Matthew 24
The Humility Principle
Any discussion of future events calls for cautious humility.
Jesus Himself said that He didn’t know the day or the hour of His return. This statement brings into judgment all of those who claim to know a specific date.
At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (v. 23-24)
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (v. 42-44)
The Mountain Peak Principle
Imagine driving in the mountains. You see what appears to be one large mountain in the distance. However, as you get closer you recognize that there is not one mountain peak, but two, separated by a long distance. In the distance, now you see a third mountain peak.
What you thought was just one mountain was really three mountains lined up in a row with distance between them.
In Matthew 24, Jesus lumped together three events that seem to occur simultaneously. However, they are separated in time.
Peak One: The Temple will be destroyed.
Peak Two: Christ will return.
Peak Three: The End of the Age will come.
The Multiple Fulfillment Principle
The “Abomination of Desolation” mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24 has a triple fulfillment.
1. The first Abomination occurred in 163 B.C. when Antiochus Epiphanies slaughtered a pig on the Temple altar and began a reign of terror upon the Jews. Thousands were murdered. He was finally defeated by the Maccabees.
2. The second Abomination occurred in 70 A.D. when Titus, the Roman general, set up banners with the image of the emperor on them. He erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple courts and slaughtered a pig in the Holy of Holies. He turned the treasury rooms into public brothels and a great persecution began, leading to genocide.
Rumor had it that the Jews had put gold in the mortar which cemented the walls together. The Romans left no stone unturned looking for it, just as Jesus predicted.
3. The third Abomination, called the “Abomination of Desolation,” occurs during the middle of the seven years of Tribulation when the false prophet will erect an image of the Antichrist in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The statue is speaking blasphemous things against Jesus and the kingdom of God.
Notice that each time that an Abomination appears, incredible waves of death and tremendous persecution follow. That’s why we read in Matthew 24 that Jesus told his people to run away as fast as they could in order to avoid persecution and death.
So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. (vv. 15-18)
For example, when the second abomination occurred, most Jews crammed themselves into the city of Jerusalem and took protection behind the walls—that folly multiplied the horror of famine and siege.
The Jewish historian, Josephus, recorded some of the events in 70 A.D. and gives us a feeling of the horror that occurred in those days.
Josephus (Wars of the Jews, 5.12.3): “Famine devoured whole families. The streets were filled with the dead bodies of the aged. Children and young men wandered the streets like shadows, all swelled with famine. As for burying the dead, the sick were too weak and the stronger were so overwhelmed with the task that they didn’t bother to try.
Nor was any mourning nor lamentations made. Those who were going to die looked upon the dead with dry eyes and open mouths. A deep silence seized the city…and everyone died with their eyes fixed upon the Temple.”
Josephus (Wars of the Jews, 6.3.4): tells the dreadful story of a woman during the siege who actually killed and roasted and ate her suckling child.
Practical Steps to Take as the End Times Approach
Be careful not to assume that every disaster is the beginning of the end:
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ 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.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 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.” (Matthew 24:4-14)
Some Christians would sell tickets to the Battle of Armageddon if they could.
But Jesus specifically warns us that we are not to imagine that events that seem to be cataclysmic—such as wars, earthquakes, wide-spread famines—are infallible signs that the end is near.
They are the normal features of this age. They are what Jesus called the “birth pains” preceding the End. However, they will intensify until they are full-blown during the tribulation.
Signs that Will Have a Double Fulfillment
The signs that Jesus enunciates in Matthew 24 will also be fulfilled in the book of Revelation. They are:
1. False Christs
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.” (v. 4)
These are not only religious fanatics. They could be rebel groups that promise solutions that deceive people so that they themselves can gain control of a nation.
Think of Hitler’s Germany. Or the Holocaust. Or Islamic militants. Or ISIS.
2. Warfare Among Nations
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. (vv. 6-7)
Think of Middle Eastern Conflicts today and the future battles between the country that occupies the land of present-day Russia and a North African coalition versus the Antichrist (see Ezekiel 38-39).
3. Devastations in the Physical World
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. (vv. 7-8)
Consider natural disasters, climate change, etc.
4. Hatred and Persecution of Christians
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. (v. 9)
Think of the two million Sudanese Christians who were murdered by a Pro-militant-Islamic government. Or remember the Campus Crusade missionaries in Turkey who were recently kidnapped from a Bible Printing House and tortured.
5. Apostasy (Falling Away of False Believers)
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (vv. 10-13)
A person who genuinely belongs to Christ continues to confess Him, to serve Him and to suffer for Him when necessary. But it is not a person’s endurance that will produce salvation; his or her endurance will be a Spirit-empowered product and proof of the reality that or she is saved.
6. Worldwide Gospel Presentation
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. (v. 14)
Despite all the hatred, betrayal and persecution, the Gospel will cover the earth. In Revelation, 144,000 Jews for Jesus are commissioned to share the Gospel around the world. Then, just before the Bowl Judgments are poured out and the final holocaust begins, God will send an angel to preach the “eternal gospel” (Revelation 14:6-7).
Eternity in Heaven
Take heart! We who have trusted Christ as Savior will experience eternity in Heaven with Him.
I imagine that Jesus was very excited when He said the next few verses!
Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 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. (vv. 29-31)
These days will bring hope and glory to every person who has received Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Notice these wonderful, glorious truths:
1. God has not abandoned the world.
For all its wickedness, the world is still the scene in which God’s purpose is being worked out. He has not abandoned us.
2. Both judgment and a new creation are certain.
God sees the world in both justice and mercy. God’s plan is not the obliteration of the world but a re-creation of a world that is nearer to His heart’s desire.
3. The focus is not on the Signs. The focus is on alertness, self-control, faith, and love.
4. His return will be without warning. Be ready. He will come when we least expect it.
We are to live as if his coming is in the next 10 minutes; but, plan as if he’s not coming for thousand years.
5. Our security is bound up in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Well, William, I hope that I’ve answered your question. If you have any more questions, please let me know.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Ig0rZh
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].