Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The End Times - Signs or Salvation
Today we're going to study the end times. No, I'm not going to set a date for Jesus' return. No, I'm not going to answer all questions about the Tribulation or the Rapture. But what we are going to see is what Jesus tells us to think about the last days. And it might actually surprise you.
1 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"
This was Tuesday or Wednesday of Jesus' final week. His last visit to the Temple.
The Temple of Jesus' time was indeed magnificent. (show picture). This was not the original Temple built by Solomon - that was destroyed by the Babylonians in the seventh century B.C. The Temple was rebuilt by Ezra, then desecrated in the second century B.C. by the Seleucids. The Maccabees reconstructed it and then it was greatly expanded by Herod the Great.
The thing was really huge - with forty foot high columns carved from a single stone - and foundation stones that weighed more than a hundred tons. You can still see some of these stones today - in the area called the Western Wall - or the Wailing Wall (picture).
The Temple reconstruction wasn't completed until A.D. 64 - just a few years before the Romans destroyed it. But the Jews felt that its size made it a permanent object, as well as the fact that it represented to them God's presence. It's amazing to me how the things men create as so permanent can be so fleeting. And everyone who has an edifice - whether its of stone or of ideas - if it rejects Jesus, God will judge it and tear it down.
2 "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
That's exactly what happened - in 70 A.D. when the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem. The destruction of the Temple was judgment for rejecting Jesus, even as the same thing happened hundreds of years earlier when God judged the Jewish nation, sending them to Babylon and destroying the Temple.
Jesus isn't done showing His disciples the future:
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"
The idea of the Temple being torn down would have been pretty shocking to the disciples - and the first four of His men pull Jesus aside and ask Him a two part question: when will the destruction happen and what should we look for to know its about to come about. In fact, in Matthew's gospel (24:3) the disciples' question is more complete: "what will be the sign of Your coming?"
From their world view - the setting up of the Messiah's kingdom would occur simultaneously to the destruction - they still didn't get the separation between the first and second comings of Jesus - first to save, then to rule.
So Jesus sets for them a picture- both of when the destruction of the Temple would occur, but also far into the distant future - to just before He returns for the second time.
What you have to understand is that these events are not in chronological order. I strongly believe that prophecy can have a dual fulfillment - one in the near future, and one in the far future. One person described prophecy like standing on a mountaintop - you can see the other mountains and they seem so close - one after another - but in reality there are many miles between them. So too with prophecy, it is the high points - but much time can elapse between the events, events that look so close but are in fact very far away.
5 Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many.
Don't follow signs, Jesus says, or you will be deceived. It's still true today. Signs can be misleading because Satan's forces can make it appear as if they have miraculous powers. This will happen in the very end of the end -
Revelation 13:14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth.
This refers to the False Prophet that will lead the nations to worship the Anti-Christ as Lord. Over the years there have been many that have proclaimed to the Christ - Jim Jones, David Koresh, just to name two.
Signs don't matter - miraculous power doesn't matter - because signs can save you, and can mislead you. What matters is a relationship with Jesus Christ and the truth of the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later write that even if an angel came and preached a gospel contrary to the one they had received that that angel was really a demon - Joseph Smith should have read Galatians 1:8!
But now Jesus gives them some general guidelines to look for - not to focus on, but to be aware of.
7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
Now I have read a number of books about the end times during the 28 years I've been a Christian. Some of them have calculated the frequency of wars and earthquakes and determined that because the frequency is increasing that means we are in the end times. I remember a book entitled something like: "88 reasons Jesus will come in 1988." Hmm - perhaps they should come out with an annual revision - "4 reasons why Jesus will come in 2004". It would certainly be much shorter of a book.
Really, a close reading of the passage here seems to say the opposite - that false prophets claiming to be Christ are not a sign of the end - that natural disasters and man made disasters are not a sign of the end - but give us a taste of what the end will be like.
Birth pangs tell you that a birth is coming - but like labor, it can start and stop, slow down and speed up - the onset of labor does not tell you when the baby will come, only that it will come.
Jesus says "watch out" which means to observe carefully or "contemplate earnestly" the people, politics, and problems that occur around you so that you won't be fooled into panicking.
Then He says:
9 "You must be on your guard.
This is the same word as above, but the focus isn't outward, its inward: "watch yourselves"
You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Don't worry so much about what is going on in the world around you - worry instead about what is coming at you. Jesus says that religious, political, and even familial persecution will occur against Christians. I think the Lord is more concerned about the condition of our character rather than us worrying about the condition of the world. We focus so much on world events that we can ignore real lives that need the touch of Christ's love right in our own neighborhood.
The purpose is so that the gospel will be preached to all nations - one person at a time. It seems that Jesus isn't so much interested in how we find out about the end times as much as He is about how we will act when pressed about our faith.
"All men will hate you because of me" and that is becoming more and more true as time goes on. Christianity has gone from the foundation of our country to being the enemy of our country.
This shouldn't surprise us, it should motivate us to be examples of Jesus in a world that is going from darkness to deeper darkness. A light never shines so bright unless it is brought into a darkened room. Jesus says: "its going to get bad so buck up and bear with it and I'll save you in the end."
So - next, even though Jesus has said don't look for signs - He gives them one - actually to be fulfilled three times.
14 "When you see 'the abomination that causes desolation' standing where it does not belong-let the reader understand-then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now-and never to be equaled again.
So what is the "abomination that causes desolation"? This comes from 3 places in the book of Daniel the prophet: 10:1, 11:31, and 12:11.
Essentially it is pagan idolatry in the Temple. The first time this happened was by Antiochus Epiphanies in 168 B.C. Antiochus sacrificed a pig to the god Zeus. This started the Maccabean wars. The second fulfillment occurred in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple.
The third fulfillment is yet to come - when the Anti-Christ enters the Temple and declares himself to be god. (the Greek reads, "the desolating sacrilege set up where he should not be") For more on this see: (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Rev 13:14-15)
Why is this event so important? Because it signals the enemy's blatant declaration that he is God - reminds you of Isaiah 14:13 You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
Satan has always wanted to be God. And he has always hated the Jewish people because he knew that's where the Messiah, his nemesis, would come from - so it also stands to reason that Satan, through the Anti-Christ (which means "replacement Christ") would target the Jews for special hatred during the last 7 years called "The Great Tribulation." Jesus refers to it in verses 20-24:
20 If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it. 22 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect-if that were possible. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
Again, this is both near and far fulfillment - over a million Jews died from starvation and slaughter after the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but Jesus is also talking about the Tribulation - where the Anti-Christ will make peace in the middle east - only to break it half way through - when he will launch an all out assault against the Jews - and anyone who calls on the name of Jesus.
Even now - but certainly at that time, people will long for the Messiah's coming. I believe the church will not be here for that event - we will have been taken up to be with the Lord - but certainly there will be many people who will come to the Lord during that time, especially among the Jews.
But there are always those who claim to be "The Christ." I remember some Jehovah's Witnesses who claimed to me that Jesus came back in 1918 and He is just hiding out - but there will be absolutely no doubt when Jesus returns to the earth:
24 "But in those days, following that distress,
"'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'
This speaks of the many natural disasters and events described in Revelation 6 and other places. (wording is similar to: Isaiah 34:4; Joel 2:30-31; Zech 8:23)
26 "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
Contrasted with the parlor magic of the false messiah's - Jesus return will be unmistakable.
Matthew 24:26-27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
At that time, the angels will gather all those who belong to Jesus, who became Christians during the Tribulation, rescuing them from the peril they've been under - like a huge liberation after a war.
Zechariah 14:1-9 talks about this event - as Jesus feet touch the Mt of Olives.
28 "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
So Jesus tells us that when these events occur - people can take hope that Jesus arrival is soon at hand. The word "generation" here is genea which can mean "race." So the Jewish race will not pass away or be destroyed until Jesus returns.
And I like how He finishes this - "my words will never pass away." We can count on God's Word.
The next question, of course, is: when!
32 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'"
Remember- Jesus gave up His divinity to become human - so He was indeed limited in His knowledge to what the Holy Spirit revealed to Him - and here He is just like us, depending on God every day, no matter how terrible, and holding on until the Father says "now!"
So what should we take away from this chapter?
1. Bad things are coming, but don't let it consume you
Our focus needs to be on what Jesus is doing through us, not what is going on in the world around us. Don't focus so much on all the bad that you stop doing good.
2. People will hate you, but so what, Jesus loves you!
I know that sounds callus, but we should expect opposition to the gospel, and be ready to proclaim the truth, both in season and out. But what really matters is the Master's love for us.
3. There is an end to the madness, and its Jesus
The world will not forever be given over to sin and the devil - we might look around and think - if there's a God, why does He allow stuff like the holocaust to happen? It's not God - it's us and our sin nature, helped enormously by Satan. But God will not put up with it forever. Jesus IS coming back.
4. Focus on your job, not your situation
We each have our "assigned tasks" and if you don't know what yours are, pray about it. Focus on doing those things, rather than on date-setting or fretting.