Sermon title:  THE SIGN OF THE END—OF JERUSALEM, AND THIS WORLD

 

 

Matthew 24:1-3, 15-22; Luke 21:23-24

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, October 13, 2019

 

 

 

We saw in recent weeks

that all of Matthew Chapter 23 is devoted to

our Lord’s final public sermon.

 

Jesus delivered this message

before the crowds of Jews

in the courtyards of God’s holy Temple in Jerusalem.

 

And he devoted the entire message

to denouncing the scribes and the Pharisees

as hypocrites,

and warning us not to become like them.

 

And then, at the very beginning of Matthew Chapter 24,

we saw Christ’s disciples

admiring the beautiful buildings of God’s holy Temple.

 

At Matthew 24:1, we saw that,         (NOAH WEBSTER’s BIBLE TRANSLATION)

 

Jesus went out,

and departed from the temple:

and his disciples came to him

to show him the buildings of the temple.

 

They were strikingly beautiful buildings.

 

The parallel passage at Mark 13:1, tells us,

 

1 As he was leaving the temple,

one of his disciples said to him,

 

"Look, Teacher! What massive stones!

What magnificent buildings!"

 

And Luke 21:5 puts it this way:

 

5 Some of his disciples were remarking

about how the temple was adorned

with beautiful stones

and with gifts dedicated to God.

 

So, it was a very beautiful Temple

that drew admiration

from everyone who looked at it.

 

But, in the next verse, Matthew 24:2,

Jesus said to them,

See ye not all these things?

verily I say to you,

There shall not be left here

one stone upon another,

that shall not be thrown down.

 

Our Lord said those beautiful buildings were going to be destroyed.

 

At the end of Matthew Chapter 23,

he talked about punishment

coming upon the city of Jerusalem

within that very generation.

 

The city would be desolated,

and now he tells the disciples

that the beautiful Temple, too, would be torn down.

 

Christ spoke those words just to his disciples,

as they were leaving the Temple,

and heading for the neighboring Mount of Olives,

where they would later spend the night

in the little town of Bethany.

 

They were walking up-hill to get there,

and apparently stopped to rest

in a secluded spot.

 

From that elevated spot on the Mount of Olives,

they had a good view of the Temple,

just opposite on Temple Mount.

 

Christ must have really shocked the disciples

when he told them that the Temple they admired

would be desolated,

without even one stone left upon another.

 

They wanted to know more.

 

So, the account at Mark 13:3 says,

 

3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives,

over against the temple,

Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew,

asked him privately,

 

4 Tell us, when will these things be?

 

and what will be the sign

when all these things shall be fulfilled?

 

The parallel account at Matthew 24:3

tells us that they also asked about

the timing of Christ’s return

and the end of the world.

 

It says,

 

3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives,

the disciples came to him privately,

saying,

Tell us, when will these things be?

 

and what will be the sign of thy coming,

and of the end of the world?

 

The rest of Matthew Chapter 24

and all of Matthew Chapter 25

is devoted to Jesus’ answer.

 

The disciples may have assumed

that everything they asked about

would all happen at the same time:

that Jerusalem and its Temple would be destroyed,

that Christ’s Second Coming would occur,

and that the world would end

all at the same time.

 

We know today,

that Jerusalem and its Temple were desolated

back in the First Century,

but we are still waiting

for Christ’s Second Coming

and the end of the world.

 

And Jesus knew, of course,

that all those things would not happen at the same time.

 

Still, he chose to answer

all of the different parts of the disciples’ question,

without clearly differentiating

which parts of his answer

applied to Jerusalem’s destruction

within that generation,

and which parts of his answer

applied to his Second Coming

and the end of the world.

 

Our Lord obviously did that on purpose.

 

If he had wanted to,

he could have spelled it out clearly and unmistakably.

 

And, someday, when we get to heaven

we can ask the Lord

why he left us puzzling

over this and certain other matters.

 

In several passages, Christ told us to Keep on the watch

for his Second Coming,

and he gave us signs to watch for—

clues as to when his Return was getting close—

but not enough for us to pin it down, exactly.

 

At Matthew 25:13 he said,

 

Watch therefore,

for you know neither the day nor the hour

in which the Son of Man is coming.

 

So, Bible scholars have spent centuries analyzing

our Lord’s answer to the disciples’ question.

 

These passages are some of the most controversial

in the whole Bible.

 

There are many different interpretations.

 

Some scholars (who are called “preterists”)

see ALL of it as fulfilled

back in the First Century.

-----------------------------------------------

Some who are called “dispensational futurists”

see ALL of it fulfilled

during a future 7-year-long tribulation.

 

They believe that our Lord switched

from talking about his generation back then

to a different future generation

at the end of the world.

 

And they think that the Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt,

in modern times,

that animal sacrifices will be offered there again,

and then the prophecies will be fulfilled

in regard to that future Temple.

 

-----------------------------------------------

 

Between the full preterists

who say everything was already fulfilled

during the First Century,

and dispensational futurists

who say it will all be fulfilled during a future 7 years,

there are all sorts of intermediate interpretations.

 

Some see Jesus’ words as having a dual fulfillment—

during the First Century

and at the end of this world.

 

-----------------------------------------

 

But, over the past 500 years

the prevailing understanding among commentators

until recently,

has been that

some of what Jesus said

related to the destruction of Jerusalem

      within the generation he was speaking to,

and the rest of what he said

related to the return of Christ

when this world will come to an end.

 

That was the understanding

of men like Luther, Calvin,

Wesley, Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards.

 

And that’s my understanding, too.

 

Martin Luther,

the father of the Protestant Reformation back in the 1500’s

said that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ words

mixes it “all into one soup.”

 

But, Luther said that comparison with Luke’s account

helps us sort out

what part of Jesus’ answer

relates to Jerusalem’s destruction in the First Century

and what part relates

to Christ’s Second Coming

and the end of the world.

 

Many modern commentators

show more interest

in dispensationalism and preterism.

 

But, I personally hold pretty much

to Martin Luther’s approach.

 

So, on that basis,

we’ll look today at the parts of Jesus’ answer

that applied to the First Century desolation

of Jerusalem and its Temple.

 

Then, starting next week,

we’ll look at what our Lord said

about his Second Coming and the end of this world.

 

In Luke Chapter 21,

he talks about the end of the world in Verses 9 through 11,

but then in Verse 12,

he tells his disciples

how they will be persecuted by the Jews

before Jerusalem’s destruction.

 

After talking about the distant future prophecies,

he jumps back to the First Century in Luke 21:12, and says,

 

12 "But before all this,

they will lay hands on you and persecute you.

 

They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons,

and you will be brought before kings and governors,

and all on account of my name.

 

13 This will result in your being witnesses to them.

 

14 But make up your mind

not to worry beforehand

how you will defend yourselves.

 

15 For I will give you words and wisdom

that none of your adversaries

will be able to resist or contradict.

 

The mention of “synagogues” when Jesus said,

They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons

makes clear

that he was speaking here about

the First Century persecution of Christians

by the ruling Jewish authorities in Jerusalem.

 

Jesus also predicted that in his public sermon

when he denounced the scribes and Pharisees

and said that punishment would come upon Jerusalem

within that generation.

 

Toward the end of Matthew Chapter 23,

he had said,

34 ...I am sending you prophets

and wise men and teachers.

 

Some of them you will kill and crucify;

others you will flog in your synagogues

and pursue from town to town.

 

And then our Lord went on to say

that their innocent blood would come upon Jerusalem

and that the Temple would be left desolate.

 

When would that happen?

 

When would the stone temple be completely torn down?

 

When would the city be desolated?

 

What would be the sign,

warning ahead of time

that it was about to happen?

 

That’s what Jesus addressed next,

in Matthew Chapter 24, beginning at Verse 15.

 

He said,

 

15 When therefore ye shall see

the abomination of desolation

spoken of by Daniel the prophet,

stand in the holy place,

(whoever readeth, let him understand,)

16 Then let them who are in Judea

flee to the mountains:

 

That would be the signal

to quickly get out of Jerusalem and Judea

and to flee to the mountains as refugees

to escape the destruction and killing.

 

But, what if the reader doesn’t “understand”

“the abomination of desolation”?

 

That’s where looking at the parallel accounts in the other Gospels

proves helpful—particularly Luke Chapter 21.

 

Matthew’s Gospel was written originally in Hebrew

for a Jewish and Jewish-Christian audience.

 

They would have been familiar

with the Hebrew prophet Daniel’s reference

to an “abomination causing desolation.”

 

But Luke wrote his Gospel in Greek

for a Greek-speaking audience

who would have been less familiar

with the Hebrew prophet Daniel.

 

So, Luke 21:20 includes Jesus’ additional words

where he explained what he meant

by “the abomination causing desolation.”

 

Beginning at Luke 21:20, our Lord Jesus said,

 

20 And when ye shall see

Jerusalem compassed with armies,

then know that its desolation is nigh.

 

21 Then let them who are in Judea

flee to the mountains;

 

People who haven’t compared

Jesus’ words side-by-side in Matthew, Mark and Luke

often paint “the abomination that causes desolation”

as some sort of frightening monster—

like the “creature of the black lagoon”

emerging out of the darkness.

 

But comparison of Matthew, Mark and Luke side by side

shows that Jesus was simply telling his disciples

to look for armies surrounding the city

as a signal to escape Jerusalem

before the desolation took place.

 

The Jews would have looked at the Roman armies

as an abomination.

 

They were unclean Gentiles,

they carried idolatrous symbols on poles,

and they didn’t belong in the Holy City

or anywhere near God’s holy Temple.

 

And these pagan armies—this abomination—

was about to cause desolation:

the desolation of the Temple

and the desolation of the whole city of Jerusalem.

 

All three synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—

all three say that seeing

this thing to watch for—

this “abomination that causes desolation”

--these armies surrounding Jerusalem—

this would be the signal to get out.

 

At Luke 21:21, Jesus said,

 

21 Then let them who are in Judea

flee to the mountains;

 

and let them who are in the midst of it

depart from it;

and let not them that are in the countries

enter into it.

 

22 For these are the days of vengeance,

that all things which are written

may be fulfilled.

 

The Jews who believed in Jesus

would watch for that signal

and would escape the desolation of the city.

 

The Jews who rejected Jesus

would stay put in the city,

and a million of them would be killed by the Romans.

 

At Matthew 24:17 the Lord emphasized how urgent it was

to flee to the mountains

    when the “abomination,” the armies surrounding Jerusalem,

came into view.

 

At Matthew 24:17 Jesus said,

 

17 Let him who is on the house-top

not come down to take anything out of his house:

 

18 Neither let him who is in the field

return back to take his clothes.

 

It was that urgent.

 

And then he went on to say how bad it would be:

 

19 And woe to them that are with child,

and to them that nurse infants in those days!

 

20 But pray ye

that your flight may not be in the winter,

neither on the sabbath:

 

21 For then shall be great tribulation,

such as hath not been

since the beginning of the world to this time,

no, nor ever shall be.  

 

22 And except those days should be shortened,

there would no flesh be saved:

but for the elect's sake

those days shall be shortened.

 

That “great tribulation” on the Jewish people

would be horribly intense.

 

It would be so bad that,

if it weren’t cut short,

there wouldn’t be any Jews left—‘no flesh would be saved’—

but it would be cut short.

 

The parallel passage in Luke Chapter 21

makes clear that it would be

a “great tribulation” on the Jewish people.

 

Luke 21: 23 says,

 

23 But woe to them that are with child,  

and to them that nurse infants in those days!

for there shall be great distress in the land,

and wrath upon this people.

 

Jesus’ words in Luke show that the “great tribulation”

he spoke of in Matthew

would be

great distress in the landthat land around Jerusalem,

and wrath upon this people—the Jews.

 

In Luke 21:24 our Lord goes on to say,

 

24 And they shall fall

by the edge of the sword,

and shall be led away captive

into all nations:

 

and Jerusalem shall be trodden down

by the Gentiles,

until the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled.

 

And that’s exactly what happened:

 

After desolating Jerusalem and its Temple,

and causing a million Jews to fall

by the edge of the sword,

the Romans led the rest away captive

into all nations.

 

And that’s the situation that prevailed for nearly 2,000 years.

 

When most of us in this church were born,

the Jewish people

still didn’t have a homeland of their own.

 

They were still scattered among all the other nations.

 

It wasn’t until 1948 that the nation of Israel was restored.

 

And when most of us in this church were born,

Jerusalem was still being trodden down by the Gentiles.

 

It wasn’t until 1967 that the Old City of Jerusalem

came back under Israel’s control.

 

And that’s an indication

that the rest of Jesus’ words

are about to be fulfilled—

his words about his Second Coming

and the end of this world.

 

Jerusalem was to be “trodden down by the Gentiles,

only

until the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled.

 

Other translations say,

 

Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles

until the time of the Gentiles will be finished.

or,

Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles

until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end.

or,

the heathen will trample over Jerusalem

until their time is up.

 

Yes, there is a set time in God’s timetable

for Christ to return,

and for this world to come to an end.

 

Our Lord concluded Matthew Chapter 24 by

talking again about the desolation of Jerusalem.

 

Beginning at Verse 32, he said,

 

32 Now learn a parable of the fig-tree;

 

When its branch is yet tender

and putteth forth leaves,

ye know that summer is nigh:

 

33 So likewise ye,

when ye shall see all these things,

know that it is near, even at the doors.

 

34 Verily I say to you,

 

This generation shall not pass,

till all these things shall be fulfilled.

 

That generation he was speaking to

did indeed see their Holy Temple destroyed

and their city desolated.

 

And today’s world is facing similar desolation.

 

Only people now don’t need to leave and flee to the mountains

as refugees.

Instead, people today need to take refuge in Christ.

 

Those who belong to Christ

will be whisked away to safety

just before the desolation strikes.

 

Next week,

we’ll begin looking at what Jesus said

about the end of this world.

 

And that includes the promise he made

at Matthew 24:30,

when he said

we would be whisked away to safety:

 

 

“...they shall see the Son of man

coming in the clouds of heaven

with power and great glory.

 

And he will send his angels

with a great sound of a trumpet,

and they will gather his elect

from the four winds,

from one end of heaven to the other.”