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This is the second of a series of four messages on the theme “And Then the End Shall Come.” Our first message dealt with biblical prophecy and it was entitled “Ignore It at Your Peril.” That was the substance of what I sought to communicate, that we are obligated by scripture to give very careful heed to biblical prophecy. Peter calls it a light, or a lamp, that shines in a dark place. And if we continue in darkness when God has made the light of prophecy available to us, we’re responsible for the consequences. God is not responsible.
I’d like to turn back to a scripture that we looked in the previous message. This message is titled, “The Spine of Prophetic Revelation.” I’ll explain in a little while what I mean by that. But let’s go back to Deuteronomy 18:18–19. Moses is delivering a message from the Lord to Israel and he says:
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you [that’s like Moses] from among their brethren, and will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear my words which he speaks in my name, I will require it of him.”
The New Testament writers all concur that that prophet there predicted was Jesus of Nazareth. And actually the apostle Peter quoting that prophecy is even more severe. He says whoever will not hear it, I will destroy him from among my people. So if Jesus is the prophet, as I believe He is, as the New Testament declares He is, the word of God places a tremendous responsibility upon us to hear Him as a prophet. Not just as a teacher, not just as a savior, not just as a shepherd, but as a prophet. He is the greatest of all the great Hebrew prophets. And in Him prophecy found its perfect expression. Therefore, we need to give very careful heed. That’s what Peter says. We need to give careful heed to the prophetic word as a lamp that shines in a dark place.
Now the culmination of the prophetic ministry of Jesus while on earth is found in what’s commonly called the Mount of Olives discourse. That is, a prophetic discourse that Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives less than a week before He suffered in Jerusalem. And this discourse is considered so important by the Holy Spirit that we have three records of it. In Matthew 24, Mark 13 and in Luke 21. Each of them differs just a little from the others. You might perhaps compare it to this message that I’m preaching being photographed by three video cameras. Each camera is in a different location and presents a slightly different angle on me, but each of them presents the same message.
I have called this discourse the spine of biblical prophecy. It’s a metaphor that I use just to help you understand. If we were presented with the bones of a skeleton and we were told to assemble them as they ought to be—now you need to know you’re looking at a nursing orderly Class 2. So don’t underestimate my qualifications! They aren’t high but they are there. If we wanted to assemble those bones there’s one part of the skeleton we’d need to put in place first. What would that be? The spine, that’s right. When you have the spine in place it becomes comparatively easy to put the head on, to attach the main limbs, and to finish off the thing. But if you start with the left arm you’ll find yourself in a state of confusion.
I think that’s one reason why some people get into trouble with biblical prophecy, they start way out in some obscure passage and try to build the body from there. It doesn’t work. So I’m going to start this evening with what I believe to be the spine, which is this discourse that Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives. He gave it only to His disciples, it was not addressed to the public. It’s a message for His disciples today. I think every sincere disciple of Jesus needs to give heed to this message. We’re going to go mainly to Matthew 24 but we will also look a little while later on in Luke 21. I strongly recommend all of you to take time privately to read all three versions, all three records. We’ll begin now at Matthew 24, and I’m going to work through the first part of this chapter verse by verse. I love expounding the Bible verse by verse. I wish I had more time to do it and other people had more time to listen. But this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to go through it systematically verse by verse. We’ll start with the first two verses.
“Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple. And His disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the temple.”
Now you must understand the temple which had been greatly enlarged and beautified by King Herod was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. And it certainly was the chief pride and joy of the Jewish people. It was the symbol of their special relationship as a people with God. And whether they were strictly Pharisees or just observant Jews, the temple was the heart and soul of their worship. And they were proud of it. And so they thought maybe Jesus didn’t sufficiently appreciate the building, so they gave Him a little tour and said, “Have you see this? Have you seen these stones?” Of course, the building was also adorned with special votive offerings that wealthy Jews had made. And if it’s anything like what wealthy Jews today in the land of Israel, they were careful to have their names on them! I don’t know, I can’t say for that. But if you go to any major site in Jerusalem today which has been restored by the offerings of Jewish people worldwide, there’ll be a list of all the people that offered. So this is something that goes back a long way in Jewish history.
Now, the disciples were absolutely astonished at the reaction of Jesus. Had He struck them a blow in the solar plexus they wouldn’t have been nearly so disturbed. Because, this is what He says:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things [all these buildings]? Assuredly I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another that shall not be thrown down.’”
It was like the bottom had dropped out of their world. Our temple, the center of our life, is going to become a total ruin? Well, they didn’t immediately respond but they waited for an opportunity to talk to Him privately about it.
Let me just draw one important lesson, I think, that God is not impressed by religious buildings—unless they fulfill His purposes. Personally I have to say I think a great deal of unnecessary money is spent by the church on religious buildings. And most of them are going to suffer a fate somewhat similar to that of the temple. I believe we need buildings but I certainly don’t believe that we need excessively expensive and ornate and elaborate buildings. There are some churches in the United States which have cost at least 30 million dollars to construct. American dollars.
So, after that Jesus and the disciples went out of the temple, crossed the brook Kidron eastwards, walked up the slope of the Mount of Olives and apparently sat down somewhere on the crest of the Mount of Olives. This is so vivid for me because I lived for one year in the British army on the Mount of Olives. I would say from the temple area it’s certainly not more than a fifteen minute casual walk down the Kidron and up the other side. When you’re on the Mount of Olives you have a wonderful view of the city of Jerusalem and in particular you look down on the temple area. So we can picture Jesus and the disciples now looking down on this building of which He had spoken to them. Now they just can’t wait to question Him about this.
You see, in their thinking if that temple was to be destroyed that would certainly mark the end of the age. They couldn’t conceive that the age would continue after the temple was destroyed. So they put two questions together which historically are very separate. But they didn’t understand that. So this is what they said, we’ll read it now.
“Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be [the things you’ve just spoken about], and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?’”
You see, they assumed that the destruction of the temple would mark the end of the age. They asked basically two main questions. One was what will be the sign when the temple is to be destroyed? The other is what will be the sign of your imminent return? And in each case they did not say the signs, they said the sign.
Now, in the discourse that follows, Jesus answered both questions. But in Matthew, primarily He answers the question: What will be the sign of your coming, and in Luke He answers the other question: What will be the sign when the temple is about to be destroyed. Because we’re in Matthew we’ll continue here. So we’ll look first at the answer to the second question: What will be the sign of your coming? What will be the specific indication that you are about to return? Jesus begins by warning them against deception. I would like to say that almost every passage in the Bible that deals with the close of the age contains some warning against deception. I think the greatest danger that threatens us as Christians at this time is being deceived. I don’t believe any one of us is immune to the danger. I certainly don’t count myself immune. I pray continually together with Ruth that God will keep us from deception.
I fastened on some words of the apostle Paul some years ago in 1 Corinthians 7:25 where he says:
“I give my opinion as one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be found faithful.”
And it became so clear to me at that time that it’s only through the Lord’s mercy that we can be found faithful. I think Ruth would bear me out there’s scarcely a week passes without our praying specifically for mercy to be found faithful and to be kept from error.
I would like to say the wedge that Satan uses to insert error is pride. I don’t believe any Christian who remains humble will fall into error. But when we become arrogant and think we’ve got all the answers and we know everything, we are almost certain to be deceived. So I want to give this warning collectively to all of us. Let’s be humble before the Lord, let’s be teachable, let’s not imagine we know it all or we have all the answers. Let us acknowledge our dependence upon the Lord to keep us faithful to His truth.
So this is what Jesus said in verses 4–5:
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Take heed that no one deceives you.’”
That’s His first response. Then He says:
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ ...”
From now on I’m going to use the word Messiah. You understand Messiah is the Hebrew form, Christ is the Greek form. But Messiah has much more meaning in this context.
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.”
One thing about Jesus is He’s a true prophet. The Jewish encyclopedia records in the centuries that followed Jesus about forty false messiahs who came to the Jews and deceived some of them. One of the most famous was Bar Kockba who led the revolt against Rome in 132 A.D. Another was a man named Sabbatide Spee in the year 1666 who claimed to be the messiah and led a whole lot of Jewish people back to the Middle East, and ultimately converted to Islam. There was one called Moses of Crete about the 5th century of this era who claimed to be the messiah and led hundreds of Jewish people into the sea to meet the messiah, and they all drowned. So, Jesus was perfectly right when He said many will come in my name, saying, I am the Messiah, and will deceive many. And many have come in this century. It’s not out of date.
As a matter of fact, Bruce and I, as you know, live in Jerusalem. This past summer very beautifully printed signs appeared in Hebrew in the main streets of Jerusalem saying the messiah will be on the Mount of Olives on Sunday morning, such and such a date, go and meet him. I don’t know who put them there but there they were. I don’t think many people went out to meet him. I don’t think even the media turned out. But it’s just a symptom of what’s happening.
Then Jesus begins to answer the question, “What will be the sign?” But He doesn’t come immediately to the answer. In verse 6 He says:
“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.”
In other words, the whole age will be marked by continual turmoil and wars. I don’t suppose there’s been a single century, perhaps not even a single decade since that time to this that there has not been a war somewhere in the world. Since World War II I think some American news magazine calculated there’d been nearly fifty wars in the world. But Jesus says that in itself is not the sign. That will be going on all the time.
Now, the next two verses are crucial and we need to read them together. That’s verses 7–8.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places. [verse 8:] All these are the beginning of sorrows ...”
That’s the New King James but it obscures the real meaning. I think all the more modern translations say “birth pangs” or “labor pains.” So, putting those two verses together, verse 7 describes what the Lord calls the beginning of the birth pangs or the labor pains. That’s very important.
Now, what is to be born? If there are birth pangs there has to be a birth. My answer is what will be born out of the birth pangs is the kingdom of God under the kingship of Jesus established on earth. I just refer you to one verse in Matthew 19:28 because I want to pick out a phrase.
“Jesus said to them [his disciples], ‘Assuredly I say to you that in the regeneration, when the Son of man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”
Notice when he says “when the Son of man sits on the throne of His glory,” that’s speaking about the establishment of His kingdom visibly on earth. And He says it will happen in the regeneration. You know what regeneration means? Rebirth. We talk about regeneration in the experience of a Christian, being born again. But here Jesus is using the phrase not of an individual but of the whole earth. One of the exciting things about the kingdom of God is it comes only by a birth. You can’t organize it, you can’t promote it, you can’t plan it. Jesus said about the individual, no one can see or enter the kingdom of God unless he has been born again, regenerated. What is true of the individual is true of the earth. The earth cannot experience the kingdom of God until this period that Jesus calls the regeneration. Then He said in the regeneration I’ll be sitting on my throne and you apostles will be sitting on your thrones.
So what is to be born through these birth pangs is the kingdom of God established on earth. It’s coming only by a birth.
Now let’s go back to Matthew 24 and look at what are the beginning of labor pains. It’s verse 7:
“Nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom...”
That’s different from the wars and rumors of wars. There have been wars going on, a background of wars all the time but now these wars erupt into major international conflicts. Nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom. One of the significant phrase we never used before the 20th century was “world war.” But this century has seen two world wars. I believe that’s what Jesus had in mind.
Personally, and this is personal opinion, World War I was probably the distinctive beginning of the labor pains. Since that time the world has never really recovered. It’s gone from crisis to crisis and each crisis tends to be more severe than the previous one. If I am right, and this is something for you to consider for yourself, the beginning of the labor pains will be the great world wars, but associated with them there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places. So, take them together—world wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes—when they occur in the same period of time on a major scale are the indication that the birth pangs have begun.
Now, just for the sake of convenience we’ll take one brief look in Luke 21:11:
“And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines, and pestilences, and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.”
Jesus speaks about the same signs—earthquakes, famines, pestilences—but He also adds great sights and signs from heaven. Which, I believe, is a later phase of the same period. I would say basically all those are taking place in this century.
We are the first century that’s had two world wars. In fact, there could have never been world wars before that because the means of travel and communication didn’t permit it.
The number of earthquakes recorded is continually increasing.
There are various diseases, particularly at this time aids, which are sweeping the human race and will ultimately wipe out certain nations if changes don’t take place. Sub-Saharan Africa is in danger of becoming a ghost community because of aids.
Then famine, there are now a quarter of a million children between ages 1 and 5 dying every week of famine. That’s 13 million children. That’s not the whole story, that’s just the children. There are probably 40 or 50 million people dying every year of famine today, mainly in Africa at the present time, but in a number of other areas of the earth.
Going back to Matthew 24:8:
“All these are the beginning of birth pangs.”
Now we have what I believe are some other birth pangs that follow. And I want you to notice the repetition of “then’s” in the following verses, the word “then.”
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.”
How many of you would agree that’s a birth pang? Who’s you? Us, that’s right. That’s not good English but you is us. I think many Christians just read that happily and just toss it by. But it’s a warning to us. We will be hated by all nations.
Now, in a country such as this that’s not very real. But in probably half the nations of the earth it’s already true—and the nations with the highest population, particularly China.
And then verse 10:
“Then many will be offended and will betray one another and will hate one another.”
Many who? Christians, that’s right. What does it mean “will be offended”? It means they’ll give up their faith, they won’t be able to take the pressure. Not merely will they do that but to save themselves they’ll betray their fellow believers. This has happened frequently in the Soviet Union, in China, and in other countries like that.
“Then many false prophets will rise, and deceive many.”
Basically a false prophet produces a cult. Every cult is the result of a false prophet. It’s estimated that in this century there have been approximately 10,000 false cults. These statistics are given by very responsible sources.
“And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”
Many who? Christians, that’s right. The word love that’s there is agape. So, because of abounding lawlessness, those Christians who are not insulated spiritually from the world will lose their first love.
How many of you in your lifetime have seen an alarming upsurge of lawlessness in your nation? That’s right. I put my hand up for two nations, Britain and America. This abounding lawlessness is going to threaten us as Christians with losing our love. Unless, as I say, we’re insulated from the world, we aren’t affected by what goes on in the world.
Then verse 13:
“But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”
Who will be saved? The one who endures to the end. You’re saved already, those of you that believe in Jesus and have committed your life to Him. But to remain saved, what are you going to have to do? Endure to the end.
Just keep your finger there and turn to Luke 21 again. We turn backwards and forwards from time to time. Luke 21:19, Jesus is speaking about the same kind of situation and He says:
“In your patience possess your souls.”
That’s the New King James, it’s not very clear. I would say by your enduring, purchase the salvation of your soul. The price you’re going to have to pay to stay saved is endurance. Are you preparing for that? I have to say mentally I am. There’s a pray that I’ve begun to pray pretty regularly, the last part of the Lord’s prayer. When I see what’s coming, I pray this, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” I say to God, “God, you know how much I can stand. I don’t want to betray you, I don’t want to deny my faith; so don’t lead me into temptation. Don’t lead me into a situation that’s too much for me. But, deliver me from the evil one.” This has become very real to me.
Going back to Matthew 24. You’ve noticed the then’s. We’ve had now a number of signs, probably about seven or eight specific signs but we haven’t had the sign. Now, in verse 14 we get the sign. This is one of the most crucial verses for us at this time. What is the sign?
“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.”
That’s very specific. Jesus is asked what will be the sign of the end, here He has answered. 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. That’s a specific answer to a specific question. It’s very important for us because whose responsibility is it to preach the gospel? Ours, that’s right. We can’t expect the political leaders to do it, we can’t expect the educators to do it, we can’t expect the scientists to do it or the military commanders. We’re the ones to do it. And the destiny of the nations is in our hands. We are the most significant people on earth. Not because of what we are in ourselves but because of what we can do.
In 2 Peter 3—maybe we should look there for a moment. Keep your finger in Matthew 24 and look in 2 Peter 3:11–12.
“Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved [and that is really the entire earth], what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God...”
We are supposed to be doing two things: looking for it, expecting it and, hastening it. You see, if we can hasten it we can also delay it. How do we hasten it? By proclaiming the good news of the kingdom to all the nations. If we don’t do it when we could, what are we doing? We are delaying the coming of the Lord. And when you consider the agony that earth is suffering until the Lord comes, it’s a fearful responsibility for the church to take upon itself to prolong that agony. If I can leave one thing on your mind it’s this truth. If you don’t get anything else, what will actually precipitate the return of the Lord is the proclaiming of the gospel of the kingdom to all nations. Because, when He left He said to His disciples, “Go into all the world, preach the gospel to every creation, go and make disciples of all nations.” He is not coming back till we’ve done it.
Having spent five and a half years in the British army, I know about military orders. Orders are orders. And the first thing they tell you in the army is ignorance of orders is no excuse for disobeying. Can I say that to you? Ignorance of orders is no excuse for disobeying. And then they said once orders are given by an authority, they’re in force until they’re canceled by someone with authority. Jesus is the authority, He gave those orders, He’s never canceled them. They are still in force. And He’s not going to come back for a church that has failed to carry out His orders.
I’d have to say for Ruth and myself, I think we can say honestly this is what makes us tick. This is what we live for. This is what we dream about. This is what we think about. This is what we talk about—proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in all nations. I want to say this humbly to the glory of God. We have been enabled to do at least a part of that in at least 100 nations by radio, by cassette, by books and now by video. I tell you one thing, brothers and sisters, it won’t happen by accident. It’s going to take determination. I doubt whether a large majority of the church is going to do it. I think it’s going to be done by a relatively small minority of totally committed people. Jesus said go into all the world. Brother Andrew has commented on that. He said nothing about coming back. If we’re prepared to go and not to come back, we can go to any nation. In that sense there are no closed nations. I’m not saying we have to do that automatically but it depends on the measure of commitment, doesn’t it?
Now, let’s go on in Matthew 24. Very interesting, after verse 14 there’s a complete change of perspective. Verse 14 has looked at all nations, the whole world. Verse 15, the perspective is on a very small area of the earth’s surface—Judea. Essentially what is more or less the state of Israel today but the state of Israel is a bit more than that. Incidentally, forgive me for saying but the Bible doesn’t call it the West Bank. Nor do the Jewish people. They call it Judea still today.
Now let’s look in verse 15:
“Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house; let him who is in the field not go back to get his coat. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on the Sabbath...”
Now, when it speaks about the abomination of desolation in the holy place, I have to say to you frankly I don’t know exactly what that is. But I believe in the context the holy place must be the temple area in Jerusalem. And whatever the abomination of desolation may be, I’m inclined to believe it’s some kind of idolatrous sign set up in that temple area proclaiming that the antichrist is to be worshipped. It comes to the point where the antichrist declares himself as god and demands the worship of the Jewish people. They’re going to be faced with a crisis because no Jew will voluntarily bow his knees to any human being. And in a certain sense, I think they’re going to be faced with a decision is the antichrist the messiah or was Jesus the Messiah. I think God is deliberately bringing them to the place of confrontation.
Anyhow, Jesus says whatever this sign is, when it appears you’ve got to act without a moment’s delay. I mean, the urgency of this is frightening. He says let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. It’s not very clear what mountains they are. I’m inclined to think they’ll be in the Negev, but that’s my personal opinion.
“...let him who’s on the housetop not come down to take anything out of the house...”
You know that in that part of the world many of the houses have flat roofs and they have outside staircases leading up to the roof. Jesus says if you’re on the roof and you get this information, come straight down the staircase and go off. Don’t go into the house to take anything. That’s the measure of urgency.
“...let him who is in the field not go back to get his coat.”
All right. You’re working out in the field, you’ve let your coat behind somewhere, don’t turn back to get it, you won’t have time. You’ve got to take off immediately. There’s no way you could overemphasize the urgency of this statement. Then He says:
“Woe to those who are pregnant, and to those nursing babies in those days.”
In other words, it’s going to be a very tough time. And particularly tough for pregnant women and nursing women.
And then He makes a statement which is very significant. He says:
“Pray that your flight may not be in winter, or on the Sabbath...”
First of all, why would it not be good to flee on the Sabbath? Well, you see, I was in Palestine, before it became Israel, under the British mandate. It wouldn’t have made any difference at that time whether you fled on the Sabbath or not. But since the Jewish state has been set up the religious Jews demand special observance of the Sabbath and most public transport doesn’t run on the Sabbath. And any large group of people moving a distance on the Sabbath would immediately become conspicuous. Can you see the implications of that? It assumes that at this time there will be a Jewish state again established in Judea. Otherwise, this prophecy would make no meaning. People say Jesus didn’t predict the restoration of Israel. He did very clearly predict it, here’s one of the places.
Now let me point out something else to you. He tells them how to pray. I say them but it could be us since we live in Jerusalem.
“Pray that your flight may not be in winter, or on the Sabbath...”
A very important principle. Prophecy sets limits to what we can pray. It would be foolish to pray that we may not have to flee because Jesus says we will have to flee. But He says you can pray that you won’t have to flee in the winter or on the Sabbath. In other words, if you see the crisis coming and it’s winter, you say, “Dear Lord, please hold it off till the fine weather.” Or if you see the crisis coming and it’s Friday afternoon, which is the eve of the Sabbath, say, “Lord, hold it till Sunday.” But you see, what I’m trying to emphasize is if we’re not familiar with prophecy we can pray a lot of silly prayers. It’s silly to pray that something will not happen which Jesus has said will happen. See that? I think a lot of Christians are praying for things that will never happen because Jesus has said they’ll never happen. Or, they are praying that things won’t happen which Jesus has said will happen. That’s a waste of time. Your prayer has got to be set within the boundaries of the revealed purpose of God.
All right, let’s go on. Verse 21:
“...for then there will be great tribulation,such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the sake of the elect [the chosen ones] those days will be shortened.”
So, at this point there’s going to be a period of the most intense agony and suffering ever recorded in human history. Nothing like it has ever taken place before. And when you think back to the Holocaust in l939 and following, and reckon that 6 million Jews perished in the most horrible way and that this is going to be worse than that, I would say it requires our careful attention. To me so many Christians are like people who would have been in Britain in World War II, if they were there on D minus three day and they didn’t even know there was a war on. So much of our Christianity is so flippant and irrelevant to the realities of the situation. And one main reason is ignorance of biblical prophecy. I’m not an alarmist and I’m not a pessimist, I’m an optimist. I believe God has control, I believe the best is going to come out of it. But it’s silly not to bear in mind the fact that it’s going to be tough. If Jesus says it’s going to be tough, I think it will be tough.
Jesus said the situation will be so terrible that life on earth actually will be threatened. Statistically there are enough nuclear weapons now in being in the world to destroy life 250 times. A few years ago people scoffed at this remark and said how could anything ever happen that would threaten all life? There’s nothing to scoff about now. I’m not saying there will be a nuclear war, I’m just saying at least it’s scientifically not merely possible but most scientists think it’s probable. Scientists are probably the people who are most alarmed. Christians are sleeping.
I believe this tribulation—this is my opinion, you can disagree with me and still go to heaven—but I believe this tribulation will be in two, shall I say, phases. The first phase will concern Israel which is where this is set. But it won’t stop there. Let’s look at two statements about Israel, first of all, in Jeremiah 30, beginning at verse 3. This is a very clear prediction of the restoration of Israel to their land. There’s only two alternatives. You either believe it or you don’t believe it, but you cannot explain it away. Jeremiah 30:3:
“For behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I’ll bring back from captivity my people Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.”
Now anybody who knows even a little about the Bible knows which the land is that the Lord gave to Israel’s fathers. There’s only one land, it’s the land of Canaan, or the Holy Land, or Israel. God says I will bring my people back, return them to the land, and they will possess it. Regardless of what the United Nations says. I’m not much impressed by the United Nations. If I depended on the United Nations for my security, I would be an insecure person.
Verse 4. Listen, this is in reference to the return of Israel. I say this because a well known Charismatic Anglican minister who happens to be a friend of mine said recently the return of Israel to the land is not from God because if it were from God there would be peace. He just doesn’t know his Bible, that’s all. Which is true of some Anglicans, would you agree to that? Lord forgive me for saying that. But I’m an Anglican so you have to...
All right, are you ready, verse 4:
“These are the words that the Lord spoken concerning Israel and Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord: We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, not of peace.’”
Does that sound like peace?
“Ask now and see whether a man can is ever in labor with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, all faces turned pale?”
Here is the birth pangs, you understand? It’s so terrible that men are behaving like women in labor.
“Alas, for their day is great, so that none is like it.”
That’s what Jesus said, there’s never been one like it.
“And it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.”
Never leave out that part. When Jesus speaks in Matthew 24, I think He’s talking about the time of Jacob’s trouble.
Then in Daniel 12:1 and following, about the same period:
“At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people.”
This is addressed to Daniel so who are the sons of his people? The Jewish people, Israel. And notice Michael is the archangel charged with watching over Israel. So whenever Michael is in the forefront you know that Israel is center stage because that’s his job. So Revelation 12, where Michael is the main figure, tells you Israel is on the stage.
“At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time.”
Again, exactly what Jesus is saying.
“And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
This is the first resurrection.
“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever.”
So in the midst of the darkness it’s possible for God’s people to shine like stars.
In Genesis 15:5—you don’t need to turn there—when God wanted to show Abraham what his descendants would be like, He took him out on a dark night, showed him the stars in the sky and said, “So shall your descendants be.” And God gave this to me by revelation years ago. When the sun and the moon and the other lights are shining you don’t notice the stars. But when every other light has gone out the stars shine brightest in the darkness. And Paul says we are the descendants of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. So when every other light has gone out and the world is in darkness, God is expecting us to shine brighter than ever before.
Keep your finger in Matthew 24, we’ll be back there, and turn to Romans 2:9–10:
“Tribulation and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek [the Gentile], but glory and honor and peace to every one who works what is good, for the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
So there’s a divine order in the outworking of God’s judgments and God’s blessings. The order is to the Jew first, also to the Gentile. So when tribulation comes on Israel, that’s a prelude to worldwide tribulation. It’s very important to remember that even in the contemporary situation. The problems that hit Israel, which are numerous, are probably going to hit the rest of the world pretty soon. So don’t sit back and say it doesn’t concern us because you may find it concerns you much more than you think. Terrorism essentially began against Israel. Now it’s worldwide. That’s just one example. So though the tribulation will begin in Israel, it will spread to the whole world.
In Revelation 7 we have a reference to that. Revelation 7:9–10, this is part of John’s vision:
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands; crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
And then one of the elders said to John:
“Who are these arrayed in white robes and where did they come from? And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”
So there is the great tribulation. It is now worldwide. All peoples, nations, tribes and tongues. Exactly as Jesus predicted.
Now we must go on quickly. Verse 23–26 is another warning against deception.
“Then 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 arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
Bear in mind false prophets can show miracles. You do not believe a man is a true prophet merely because he shows miracles. There are satanic miracles.
Then Jesus says:
“See, I have told you beforehand, [verse 26] therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the desert,’ do not go out, or ‘Look, he’s in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.”
Why? Because when He comes it’s going to be visible to the whole earth simultaneously like lightning. There’s not much secret about this, is there? The preparation is secret, the manifestation is very public.
“For as the lightning comes out of the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of man be.”
It will be like lightning. It’ll straddle the earth in one moment. No question of having to go to some secret place to find Him. You know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach Jesus has come back. Did you know that? And He’s in the 20th floor of some building in New York City. See? That’s a typical example of deception.
“For wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will be gathered together.”
How many of you have seen vultures? I suppose you don’t see them in this country much but in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, you see these birds up in the sky hovering, circling, coming lower and lower and lower. What do you know? You know there’s something dying down below. So Jesus says when you see all the vultures gathering around in a certain place you’ll know something’s dying. Well, I want to tell you I believe the certain place is the land of Israel. And I would have to say we’ve got just about all the vultures there already. Every kind of error and deception and anti-Christian force is represented somewhere in that little nation.
We must go on quickly. Verse 29, I want you to notice the first word.
Did you hear that?
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, the moon will not gives its light, the stars will fall from heaven, the powers of the heavens will be shaken, then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
I want to point out to you that word immediately. Immediately after what? The tribulation. What will happen? The signs that immediately precede the return of Jesus will take place and then He will be seen by all nations coming in power and glory. So what’s the last major condition on earth before the visible return of Jesus? Tribulation, that’s right, vultures.
Listen, some of you will understand why I say this and some won’t. But if the church is going to be responsible for the condition on earth immediately prior to the return of Jesus, then the church is going to be responsible for the tribulation. I don’t want to accept that responsibility personally. In other words, I don’t believe the church is going to have the last say on the condition on earth before Jesus returns. I think many evil forces are going to move in and assert themselves. We are not going to have to accept responsibility as the church of Jesus Christ for the state of affairs immediately prior to the return of Jesus. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does that make sense to you? You see, there is a teaching that the church is going to take over the world and present it to Jesus. We’re going to present to Him a situation of tribulation according to this. I’d rather not be responsible for that. I trust I can say this charitably but that kind of teaching arises out of a deliberate ignoring of biblical prophecy. And it’s very dangerous. You remember the title that I gave to my previous message? “Ignore It At Your Peril.” This is not something to argue about or play about, it’s something that’s life and death. We need this light in a dark place.
I’ve got about three or four minutes, let’s turn to Luke 21 and we’ll get the answer to the question when will the temple be destroyed. You remember, that was the first question, we haven’t looked at the answer. Luke 21, we’re going to read from verse 20 and following.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.”
What is the sign? When Jerusalem is surrounded with armies. That was exactly historically fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Roman army surrounded Jerusalem. But Jesus said to those who believed him:
“Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the countries enter...”
He warned his believing disciples when you see Jerusalem surrounded with armies, get out as quickly as you can. Historically this was fulfilled. The Roman armies laid siege to Jerusalem and then for political reasons withdrew the siege briefly. The Jews who believed in Jesus as a prophet heeded the words of Jesus, escaped out of the city and went to a place called Pella, across the Jordan, and were saved. Then the Roman armies restored the siege and did not raise it till the whole city had been destroyed and 2 million Jews had been killed. See, it pays to listen to the prophet.
I believe exactly similar principles apply today. We need to listen to that prophet.
Now let’s go on and see. Verse 22:
“...for these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written will be fulfilled.”
Written where? In the Bible, and primarily in the prophet Moses.
“But woe to those who are pregnant, to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress in the land, and wrath upon these people...”
What people? The Jewish people.
“...and they will fall into the sword, and be led away captive into all nations...”
Fulfilled. 2 million killed, 1 million sold on the slave markets of the Roman world. That’s not the end of the story. The last half of verse 24:
“...and Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
What’s the next thing that happens? Read on, the visible return of the Lord in glory. So when Jerusalem is delivered from the dominion of Gentile nations and restored to Jewish government, it’s an indication that the next thing that’s going to happen is the return of the Lord.
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