(Preached by David B. Curtis)
We have introduced the chapter in its context and we have evaluated the disciples questions. Now we want to begin to look at Jesus' answer. This morning we want to look at verses 4-14.
As we begin to look at Jesus' answer we must keep in mind the disciples' question. If you remember from our last study, the disciples asked Jesus, "When will the temple be destroyed? When will one stone not be left upon another?" And they also asked, "What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?" We looked at the fact last time that the disciples didn't understand that Jesus was leaving so they were not asking, "When will you return?" The word "coming" is the Greek word "parousia," which means presence. It signified the full manifestation of His Messiahship; His glorious appearing in power. And the "end of the age" refers to the end of the Jewish age, the Old Covenant age; not the end of the world.
We could put the disciples' question this way, "When will the temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of your presence in power and glory as Messiah and the end of the Jewish age?" Amazingly, there is almost unanimity among commentators that the disciples associated the fall of Jerusalem with the Lord's parousia and the end of the age. Most of them say the disciples were wrong but they admit that they viewed these events as happening simultaneously. With the questions in mind, we move to Jesus' answer.
Matthew 24:4-5 (NKJV) "And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many."
Who is the "them" in verse 4? It is the disciples. Please keep this in mind as we move through this chapter. Jesus is speaking to his disciples. Whatever Jesus' answer means, it must have meaning to them. Any application that we make to ourselves from Scripture can only be made after we understand what it meant to the original audience. Keep in mind the principle of original relevance. Why do I belabor this point? Because most folks today miss it. Walvoord views Matthew 24:4-14 as events of the Church age leading up to the Tribulation (which he views as yet future). He says these signs indicate that the end of the age is approaching (in our time).
James Stuart Russell in his book, "The Parousia," says this on Matthew 24:4-14, "It is impossible to read this section and fail to perceive its distinct reference to the period between our Lord's crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem. Every word is spoken to the disciples, and to them alone. To imagine that the "ye" and "you" in this address apply, not to the disciples to whom Christ was speaking, but to some unknown and yet non-existent persons in a far distant age, is so preposterous a supposition as not to deserve serious notice."
The Lord begins with a warning against expecting His immediate parousia. He doesn't want them to be deceived by false Christ's that would soon be appearing. He wants them to understand that he will be gone for what might seem to them like a long time (forty years actually). Jesus was going to leave them to receive His kingdom (Luke 19:12-13), and in between His departure at the Ascension and His Second coming, these are the things that would be happening to them.
Luke 21:8 (NKJV) "And He said: Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.' Therefore do not go after them."
Luke adds the phrase "the time has drawn near." Jesus was not talking about something that would take place hundreds or thousands of years later! Jesus was warning his disciples about something that was drawing very near in their time! Did such false Messiahs arise and deceive many in those years before the destruction of Jerusalem? Yes! We have a biblical and historical record of many such false Messiahs.
Acts 5:36-37: According to Josephus, the Jewish historian, twelve years after our Lord's death, Theudas persuaded a great multitude to follow him to the river Jordan which he claimed would divide for their passage. "The land," says Josephus, "was overrun with magicians, seducers, and impostors, who drew the people after them in multitudes into solitude and deserts, to see the signs and miracles which they promised to show by the power of God." At the time of Felix (who is mentioned in Acts 23-25), the country of the Jews was filled with impostors who Felix had put to death every day; a statement which indicates their great number in those days! An Egyptian who "pretended to be a prophet" gathered 30,000 men, claiming that he would show "how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down." Origen mentions a certain wonder-worker, Dositheus, who claimed he was the Christ foretold by Moses.
We see another of these false Christ's in Acts 8:9-11. Jesus said "take heed that no man deceive you," yet these Samaritans "all gave heed" to Simon because of his signs and wonders, from the least to the greatest, thus fulfilling Christ's words, "and shall deceive many". According to Irenaeus, Simon claimed to be the Son of God and creator of angels. Jerome says that he claimed to be the Word of God, the Almighty. Justin relates that he went to Rome and was acclaimed as a god by his magical powers.
John, who heard Jesus give this prophecy, recorded the fulfillment in l John 2:18,22; 4:1 and 2 John 7. Notice how John, writing around AD 65, doesn't say it is the "last days" but the "last hour" (1 John 2:18 ). As they have heard from their Lord, many antichrists would come. These are examples of the false Messiahs of whom history says there were "a great number," and of whom Jesus had prophesied that there would be "many."
Greswell in his work "On the Parables," calls attention to the remarkable fact that, while many of these false Messiahs appeared in the interval between our Lord's Ascension and the Jewish war, there is no evidence that any one arose claiming this title before the beginning of His ministry. The appearance of false Christ's in our century should no more cause us to believe we are in the last days than a twentieth-century virgin birth should cause us to believe that Jesus was born in the twentieth century.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
Matthew 24:6 (NKJV) "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet."
Wars are not a sign of the end, as the end of verse 6 clearly tells us. He will tell them later in this chapter that when they see a war, not hear of one, they are to flee. Did the disciples hear of wars, rumors of wars. Yes, they did! Josephus said, in Antiquities 18:5:3, that Bardanes, and after him Volageses, declared war against Aretas, King of Arabia. But the death of Tiberius prevented war (rumours of war). There were wars in the tributaries of Rome and all over Palestine, Galilee, and Samaria in AD 66, preceding the destruction of Jerusalem.
In the Annals of Tacitus, a Roman who wrote a history which covers the period prior to 70 A. D., we find such expressions as these: "Disturbances in Germany," "commotions in Africa," "commotions in Thrace," "insurrections in Gaul," "intrigues among the Parthians," "the war in Britain," "war in Armenia."
Among the Jews, the times became turbulent. In Seleucia, 50,000 Jews were killed. There was an uprising against them in Alexandria. In a battle between the Jews and Syrians in Caesarea, 20,000 were killed. During these times, Caligula ordered his statue placed in the temple at Jerusalem. The Jews refused to do this and lived in constant fear that the Emperor's armies would be sent into Palestine. This fear became so real that some of them did not even bother to till their fields.
But though there would be wars, and rumors of wars, Jesus told his disciples: "See that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet." What end is he talking about? Let's keep in mind their question, they wanted to know when the end of the Jewish age would come. Barnes says, the end here referred to is, "the end of the Jewish economy; the destruction of Jerusalem."
Wars, and rumors of wars were not signs of the end; to the contrary, the Lord wanted them to know that these things were not signs of the end. None of these things would be the sign which would cause the disciples to flee into the mountains.
Nation fighting Nation
Matthew 24:7 (NKJV) "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places."
The word "nation" here is the Greek word ethnos, which means, a race. This past summer I was talking to a man who used this verse to prove that we were in the end times and that the Second coming would be soon. He said, "The word 'nations' is 'ethnos' and just look at all the fighting between ethnic groups today, the end is near."
There are several problems with his view, one of which is these things are not signs of the end. Also, Jesus was speaking to the disciples, this had to have relevance to them! Did they see nation rising against nation? Yes! Josephus says, "At Caesarea in AD 59 the Jews and Syrians contended about the right to the city, and twenty thousand Jews were slain." At Scythopolis, over 13,000 Jews were killed. Thousands were killed in other places, and at Alexandria 50,000 were killed. At Damascus, 10,000 were killed in an hour's time. Jesus is speaking about the conflicts between Gentiles and Jews, which began to take place shortly after this time, and continued to the beginning of the great Jewish war. For some time previously, Gentiles and Jews had been living for the most part, in peace together, but this period was distinguished by wars.
Acts 11:28 (NKJV) "Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar."
Historians record 30,000 deaths in Rome alone. This famine is mentioned by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Eusebius, and is said to have been severe in Jerusalem. Josephus says that many people perished for want of food. Judea was especially hard hit by famine and the disciples sent aid to them (Acts 11:27-29). Tacitus speaks of a "failure in the crops, and a famine consequent thereupon." Eusebius also mentions famines during this time in Rome, Judea, and Greece. The Bible records famines (Acts 11:27-29) which occurred during the reign of Claudius in 41-54 AD.
Yes, there were famines in those years before the fall of Jerusalem.
A pestilence is a the spread of disease, epidemics. Famine and pestilence go hand in hand. Pestilence is often caused by famine. Suetonius wrote of "pestilence" at Rome in the days of Nero which was so severe that "within the space of one autumn there died no less than 30,000 persons." Josephus records that pestilences raged in Babylonia in A. D. 40. Tacitus tells of pestilences in Italy in A. D. 65.
Yes, there were pestilences in the life time of the disciples in those years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Did the disciple experience earthquakes in their life time? Yes, they did. Tacitus mentions earthquakes at Rome. He wrote, "Frequent earthquakes occurred, by which many houses were thrown down," and "twelve populous cities of Asia fell in ruins from an earthquake."
Seneca, writing in the year 58 A. D., said, "How often have cities of Asia and Achaea fallen with one fatal shock! How many cities have been swallowed up in Syria! How many in Macedonia! How often has Cyprus been wasted by this calamity ! How often has Paphos become a ruin! News has often been brought us of the demolition of whole cities at once." In 60 A.D., Hierapous, Colosse, and Laodicea were overthrown from earthquakes. There were earthquakes in Crete, Apamea, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, and Judea. Earthquakes in diverse places!
History records earthquakes in Crete 46AD, Rome 51AD, Apamaia 53AD, Laodicea 60AD, and Campania 62AD. The Bible records earthquakes in divers places after Jesus' prediction and before 70AD (Mat.27:51; 28:2, Acts 16:26).
In spite of what Jesus said, "The end is not yet," many today take this passage out of context and speak ignorantly about "The signs of the times," trying to show that this battle, serious earthquake, or devastating famine is a sign of Christ's imminent return. ALL these things happened in the time prior to AD 70 and the fall of Jerusalem. They are not signs! As we look back over history, when has there been a time when there were not wars, famines, pestilence and earthquakes? These things are not signs. Jesus said to his disciples that these things are the "beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:8), not the end.
The phrase "beginning of sorrows" could be translated "birth pains." This image is sometimes used in the Old Testament simply to express great pain; but it is often used of a woman in pain of child birth. In Isaiah 13:8; 26:17; Jeremiah 4:31; 6:24; Micah 4:9-10, it is used almost as a special term for "the birth pains of Messiah." In our passage it speaks of the period of distress preceding the return of Christ in AD 70. Its use here is expressly chosen to denote the birth pains of a new world.
Let's look at how Jesus uses this phrase in John 16:16. The disciples question Jesus about his statement (John 16:17-19): Jesus explains himself in John 16:20-23. The disciple would be sorrowful during the Lord's absence but their sorrow would turn to joy at his return. This idea of a woman in labor is used for the suffering that precedes the coming of the Lord in his kingdom (Micah 4:9-10).
Jesus said, "All these are the beginning of sorrows." They were not signs to the disciples and they are not signs today. They did not signal the end, but stretches over the entire period between the Lord's Ascension and Second coming.
Matthew 24:9 (NKJV) "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake."
Who will be delivered up and killed? The Disciples! Now it is certainly true that all Christians who live a godly life will suffer persecution, but he is speaking to the disciple here. Did the disciples experience tribulation and death? Yes! All you need do is read the book of Acts.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary has this to say about verse 9. "Jesus began His words with a time word, 'Then'. At the middle point of the seven year period preceding Christ's second coming, great distress will begin to be experienced by Israel." He is saying that Jesus is talking about a time still future to us! What would this mean to the disciples? Nothing! Not only does he fail to take into account audience relevance but he fails to compare the other gospel accounts.
Luke 21:12 (NKJV) "But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake."
Notice that Luke adds, "before all these things," showing that the persecutions are to start at the beginning of this period. The persecution of the disciples began immediately after the day of Pentecost.
Mark 13:9 (NKJV) "But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them."
Mark adds that they will be beaten in the synagogues, brought before rulers and kings for a testimony. All this was remarkably fulfilled in the lives of the disciples.
The apostles were constantly threatened (Acts 4:17): Acts 5:27-28 says "Ye should not teach in His name," this was the command of the Pharisees. We see again the persecution for the name's sake of Jesus from Mat.24:9. Acts 5:40 also says "they should not speak in the name of Jesus." Acts 5:33 shows the Pharisees took council to kill them.
Peter and John were imprisoned (Acts 4:3): So were many other apostles (Acts 5:17-21): Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned (Acts 16:23-24): The Jews laid hands on Paul to kill him (Acts 21:26-33), and brought him before the Pharisees and the Sadducees (Acts 23:12-15), and then brought him before governors (Acts 24:10,22), then Felix (Acts 24:24), and King Agrippa (Acts 25:23; 26:1), and Gallio (Acts 28:12), which fulfills Matthew 10:18 as well. As soon as Paul began preaching, he began to experience persecution (Acts 9:23-24, 29): Paul was stoned (Acts 14:19), and beaten and cast into prison (Acts 16:19-24). Paul was beaten five times by the Jews (2 Corinthians 11:24).
Acts 6:9-15 shows the Jews clearly reproached Stephen and cast out his name as evil, then stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:59). Paul (Saul before his conversion), after commanding the death of Stephen, relentlessly persecuted Christians in a rather violent manner (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2). Immediately upon his preaching Christ in the synagogues, Paul's experience of persecution for the name of Jesus would begin (Acts 9:23-24,29). James, the brother of John, was killed by Herod (Acts 12:2), and Peter was thrown in prison (Acts 12:1-5). The Jews cast out the name of Jason as evil for the cause of Christ (Acts 17:5-8). Paul describes the trying fire that the disciples were enduring (2 Cor.6:4-10; 11:23-27,32-33). Persecution always awaited him (Acts 20:22-24).
Jesus said the disciples would be afflicted, beaten, imprisoned; they would be hated for his name's sake and some would be killed; they would be brought before councils, rulers, and kings, for a testimony; they would be given a mouth of wisdom which their adversaries could not dispute. The disciples experienced all of this before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, just as the Lord said they would. It was unmistakably fulfilled in every detail!
Matthew 24:10 (NKJV) "And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another."
Because of the great persecution of those days, many apostatized from the faith. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 13:20-21: In those days, many Christians were executed because of others who turned on them and turned them in order to spare themselves.
Matthew 24:11 (NKJV) "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.
This is not the same as verse 5, "false Messiahs," but "false teachers" among the believers. Peter, who was present when Jesus gave this prophecy (Mark 13:3), later wrote about "false prophets" that had risen and of "many" that followed their pernicious ways (2 Peter 2). John, who also heard Jesus give this prophecy, recorded the fulfillment in l John 2:18,22; 4:1 and 2 John 7. Paul spoke of these (2 Corinthians 11:13). These false prophets were also fulfilled in Acts 13:6-10; 16:16; 20:29-30, Galatians 1:6-7; 2:4; 5:7-12, Philippians 3:18-19, 2 Timothy 2:16-18, 1 John 2:18,19,22; 4:1-6, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4,12-15, Jude 1:4. The wolves of Acts 20:29-30 are from Matthew 7:15. Jesus associated the presence of these wolves with His coming before the disciples would have gone through the cities of Israel (Mat.10:16-23).
Jesus told the church at Ephesus that they had lost their first love (Revelation 2:4). The testimony of Josephus shows the utter lawlessness of the Jewish society in the disciples' life time (Matthew 24:12).
Matthew 24:13 (NKJV) "But he who endures to the end shall be saved."
There is much debate about what this verse means. I think he is telling the believers that if they remain faithful right up to the end, they will be saved from physical death in Jerusalem's fall. The Greek word "saved" is sozo. It means to save, i.e. deliver or protect (lit. or fig.):--heal, preserve, be (make) whole. The Christians who did not endure, but turned back to Judaism, died when Jerusalem fell. Those believers who remained faithful fled to the mountains as the Lord told them to, thus saving their lives.
Matthew 24:14 (NKJV) "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."
Remember the disciples' question? "What shall be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" What end is he talking about here? Unless we take this verse clear out of its setting, "the end" in view here is the end or destruction which was to come upon Jerusalem and the temple ending the Jewish age. Jerusalem would be destroyed, but "first" the gospel would be preached unto all nations. Did this happen? We have seen that everything else so far took place in the life time of the disciples, but did this? Was the gospel preached in all the world before AD 70?
Probably one of the most common beliefs among Christians is that once the gospel is preached to all the world, Christ will return and the world will end. Most believers would say that this verse has not yet been fulfilled, the gospel has not yet been preached to all the world. How do we know if it has? Well, Jesus said the end would come once the gospel was preached to all the world. And the end that is in view in this context, is the end of Jerusalem, the end of the Old Covenant age. Since Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, we can assume that the gospel was preached to all the world by then or we would have to believe that Jesus was mistaken. Which one can you live with? How can we find out if the gospel was preached in all the world before AD 70? We can go the Scriptures and see if they give us any insight to this matter.
Remember what we saw in Matthew 24:9. Why would the apostles be hated in all nations if they had not preached the gospel in all nations? They were hated by all nations because they preached in all nations (Acts 17:6; 24:5). Paul declares that the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven (Colossians 1:5-6, 23). In Matthew 24:14, the Greek word for preached is kerusso, it is in the future tense. But in Colossians 1:23 the same word kerusso is in the past tense. Jesus said that it is to be preached and Paul says in AD 62, that it has been preached to every creature. The fact that Colossians was written in 62AD, 8 years before Jerusalem was destroyed, is proof that 70AD was the total fulfillment of this passage!
Paul said that the gospel was made known to all nations (Romans 16:25-26). Paul also said that the faith of the Romans was spoken of throughout the whole world (Romans 1:5,8). We know that Paul traveled through Asia Minor, Greece, and Crete; that he was in Italy, and probably in Spain and Gaul (Romans 15:24-28). During this time the other apostles weren't sitting around idle; all the apostles went abroad and preached the gospel to everyone (Acts 8:1-5,14,25); and there is much proof that within thirty years after this prophecy was spoken, churches were established in all these regions (Acts 9:31).
The following verses all fulfil Acts 1:8. Men from every nation heard Peter preach the gospel (Acts 2:5,9-11,14); and Peter said it was published throughout Judaea (Acts 10:37, 1 Pet.4:6). Paul says he fully preached the gospel (Romans 15:19; 16:19), and it appeared to all men (Titus 2:11.), and it was preached and believed on in the world (1 Timothy 3:16). In Romans 10:18, the word "world" is oikumene, same as Mat.24:24, and the word "earth" is ge, same as Acts 1:8. In Romans 16:25-26, the word "nations" is ethnos, same as Mark 13:10. In Colossians 1:6, the word "world" is kosmos, same as Mark 16:15. In Colossians 1:23, the word "creature" is ktisis, same as Mark 16:15. Hebrews 4:2 says the gospel was preached.
Crysostom (375) wrote, "Therefore He added moreover, 'And this gospel shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all nations, and then shall the end come,' of the downfall of Jerusalem. For in proof that He meant this, and that before the taking of Jerusalem the gospel was preached, hear what Paul saith, 'Their sound went into all the earth;' and again, 'The gospel which was preached to every creature which is under Heaven.' Which also is a very great sign of Christ's power, that in twenty or at most thirty years the word had reached the ends of the world. 'After this therefore,' saith He, 'shall come the end of Jerusalem.' For that He intimates this was manifested by what follows."
Eusebius (325) wrote, "Thus, under the influence of heavenly power, and with the divine co-operation, the doctrine of the Saviour, like the rays of the sun, quickly illumined the whole world; and straightway, in accordance with the divine Scriptures, the voice of the inspired evangelists and apostles went forth through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." (Book II, Ch.III.).
The argument might be raised, "The apostles were saying that the Gospel had been preached to the world as they knew it, but the Gospel has to reach the world as we know it before Christ will return." First, where does the Scripture speak of Christ's words being fulfilled during the twentieth century as we know it? This is the world's way of trying to make the Bible fit their view. Second, why would the apostles even mention the fact of the Gospel reaching its destination if there was no prophetic significance? All that would do is confuse those to whom they were writing. After all, their readers were perfectly aware that Christ had predicted His return once the Gospel had been preached in these areas. What other predictions were there besides those of the Lord? From the Scripture we can be certain that all these predictions regarding the destination of the Gospel were fulfilled.
Many today say that the gospel has not been preached to all the world and Matthew 24:14 has not yet been fulfilled. The Bible says that all the nations of the world heard the gospel preached before AD 70. Who are you going to believe? To deny that Matthew 24:14 has been fulfilled is to deny the clear statements of God's Holy Word; it is to call God a liar.
Matthew 24:14 (NKJV) "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."
"Then the end will come." The end of what? What were they asking about? The end of the temple and the Jewish age. He is not saying the world will end when everyone has heard the gospel, or that the Christian age will end. Jesus very clearly tells his disciples that before the temple would be destroyed and before His parousia and the end of the age, the gospel must be preached in all the world. And it was! The temple was destroyed! He arrived in full glory! The Old Covenant age ended!
This does not mean that the gospel was not to be preached after the end had come. It was to be preached for ever and always. Notice the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-7): Notice what he says to his servants after the city is destroyed (Matthew 22:8-10): We dwell in the New Jerusalem in the very presence of God and the invitation is still going out today. Notice the invitation that goes forth from the New Heaven and Earth (Revelation 22:17): I hope that you are faithfully proclaiming this message to everyone who is thirsty -- come!
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