Here is my fourth study in Matthew 24.
The Lord Jesus gave to His disciples a picture of the state of Christianity in the days just prior to His return.
There has been a very obvious decline and, as is always the case, error and the lies of the devil have enlarged.
In mercy to those believer who will be found in Jerusalem in those dark times, He issues a warning regarding the Antichrist and also directions regarding their response to that which will signal the start of the “great tribulation.”
I trust the opinion I give on verse 28 will prove to be helpful and edifying for you all, though I emphasise it is only my attempt at explaining a difficult verse.
Sincerely in Christ’s name,
THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS, Part 4
“All these are the beginning of sorrows,” Matthew 24:8.
Thoughts arising from my reading of this chapter as part of my daily reading and which form the third section of a brief study of Mathew 24:1-31.
I hope to continue the study on a weekly basis.
In our last study, we considered how that the Saviour indicated to us all that in the midst of the darkness of the final years of this age, just before His return in glory and great power, there would be a faithful remnant upheld in the very heart of the ‘fire’ of tribulation, in the Antichrist’s dominion.
1. I repeat, while many will “wax cold”, others will “endure” and bear witness to Christ and His gospel. They will ‘bear patiently’ the trial that will beset God’s people. By their endurance the light of the gospel witness will be maintained.
So it has ever been. Paul said to Timothy: “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry,” 2 Timothy 4:5. Enduring affliction and doing the work of the evangelist have always gone hand in hand! Even in the best of times it has been so. The record of the labours of men such as George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley testify to that.
Just before the end of this age, the “gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come,” Matthew 24:14.
Quite some time ago I observed that today there is hardly a land, if indeed there is one, that the gospel has not entered. The arrival of the ‘internet’ has made this possible. Lands where no human messenger would be permitted to enter with God’s Word, have been penetrated with the gospel via the internet. I have noted visitors to my own website (www.ivanfoster.net) from many Muslim lands and even China and Iran, places considered beyond missionary reach. The word ‘preach’ in Matthew 24:14 carries the meaning of ‘publishing’. So it is a word that means more than mere verbally announcing God’s message. It refers to any method by which God’s truth is communicated to needy sinners. The word appears in Mark 7:36 “And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.” That was the communicating by those healed to others, in simple conversation, what the Lord had done for them. In like fashion the Word of God is being conveyed by many means through the internet to all lands.
I really believe that we are seeing the words of the Lord Jesus, on this matter, coming to pass.
Calvary, the ‘place of a skull’, where the Saviour was crucified.
2. Another evidence of the near approach of the end is declared by Christ in verses 15-21. “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
Please note these words: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation.” These words are addressed to believers. That is made clear in verse 3 of this chapter. The Saviour is speaking unto His disciples. Believers will see “the abomination of desolation”. They will not have been raptured away secretly. Furthermore, they are told that when they do see “the abomination of desolation”, they are to “flee”, verse 16. That again signifies that there will be no secret rapture. If there is to be such, surely the Saviour would have said words to the effect: “Stay where you are for I will rapture you away from the tribulation.” But no, He gives every indication that believers will be required to take whatever measures they can to avoid the wrath of the Antichrist. “Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day.” All of this clearly indicates that there will be no escape from the Antichrist’s persecutions by a ‘secret rapture’. Rather, as God’s people have ever had to act wisely and prudently in the face of the enemies’ fury, so it will be in the final three and a half years of this age.
3. We ought to notice that the words are especially directed at dwellers in Judea. “Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains.” The great tribulation will break out in JERUSALEM when the “the abomination of desolation”, an idol, is erected “in the holy place”, which is a reference to the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. As I have said before, the main target of Antichrist’s wrath is the Jew. However, believers, Jewish and Gentile, will also fall under his persecutions.
In allowing the Jews so to suffer, the Lord is working out His purpose amongst them whereby they are made to realise their great wickedness in their rejection of their Messiah. Heed the words of Jeremiah. “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them,” Jeremiah 30:7-9.
The sufferings that the great tribulation will bring upon the Jewish people will be the ‘rod of God’ to induce repentance and faith amongst a people who for centuries have utterly rejected the truth of God. The nation of Israel is epitomised by the actions of those who gathered to stone Stephen, the first martyr, in response to his setting the truth of the gospel before them.
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep,” Acts 7:51-60.
The rocky mountains of the southern part of Israel, a region in which David sought refuge when hunted by Saul
4. The ‘ears’ of the Jewish nation have long been stopped. It has been so since that day when they responded to Pontius Pilate’s profound question: “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children,” Matthew 27:22-25.
The ‘great tribulation’ will be fruit of that most dreadful choice and also God’s means of humbling the heart of that proud people and the beginning of the opening of their hearts to His truth.
Throughout the days of the ‘great tribulation’, the Lord has His heart and mind upon His elect. “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened,” Matthew 24:22.
5. Please note that during the ‘great tribulation’, there will be a consciousness of the approach of Christ’ return. “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together,” Matthew 24:23-28.
It will be a time of tribulation but it will also be a day of much consciousness and awareness of the nearing of the end of the age and the return of Christ. Men shall be talking about the return of Christ. We see something of this phenomenon in the production of films from Hollywood on the subject of Christ’s return. Hollywood mocks all that the Bible says but even ungodly men can understand something of the ‘signs of the times’! Even wicked Herod was made aware of the birth of Christ at the first advent (Matthew 2:1). So it will be at the end of this age, the ungodly will sense something of the approach of the climax of Christ’s return.
6. But it has to be noted that man’s consciousness of the nearness of the end of the age is riddled with falsehood, lies and error. These who declare “Lo , here is Christ” are not to be believed, even when they “shew great signs and wonders”! These signs and wonders will indeed be truly great for the Saviour says that the very elect would be deceived by them, were it not for the sovereign grace of God keeping back the elect from being deceived. The musings of corrupted hearts are not to believed on the wonderful subject of Christ’s return. It is the BIBLE ALONE that is our map and compass on this solemn matter.
7. One verse in particular we should note. “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together,” verse 28.
If you were to consult the most revered of commentaries, invariably they will carry you from a time in the future back to AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army, which they claim the ‘eagles’ represent.
From a contextual point of view that seems a very strange way of understanding what the Saviour is here saying. I believe that such a view is an imposing of a notion of men upon the Holy Scripture. Sadly, many Christians rejects the ‘futurist’ view of this prophecy and try to squeeze what is here said by the Saviour into events back some 2000 year ago.
I freely confess that I do not fully understand and I am not fully convinced of what the imagery of the Saviour’s words represents. I hesitatingly offer this explanation of the words with an emphasising of the tentative nature of my explanation.
There is a dealing in the verses surrounding verse 28 of a future event, that of the return of Christ. That is the context in which it is set. “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. . . . the coming of the Son of man. . . . the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. . . . the coming of the Son of man . . . . the coming of the Son of man. . . . . the Son of man cometh,” verses 27, 30, 37, 39, 44.
The reference to the eagles gathering together on the carcase is, I suggest, the use of a very common sight, especially in Israel, as an illustration of another feature of the days just prior to the Saviour’s return.
Eagles have been known to act as do vultures, gather where there is a carcase upon which they can feed. In a like manner there will be ‘carrion’ in those days just prior to the Saviour’s return, upon which those given to an unclean appetite will gather to feast. Up to this verse the Saviour has been highlighting the lies and deceits that threaten to deceive even the very elect, verses 22-26. I am inclined to think that the ‘carcase’ the Saviour is referring to is the ‘lie’ of the deceivers who are the devil’s agents attempting to mislead the true believer regarding the return of Christ. Only the ‘unclean’, the unbeliever, will heed such lies and feast on the carcase the devil sets forth.
There is a verse which comes to mind that I feel is instructive. “And the fat of the beast that dieth of itself, and the fat of that which is torn with beasts, may be used in any other use: but ye shall in no wise eat of it,” Leviticus 7:24. This warning is repeated a number times of which these are examples.
“And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs,” Exodus 22:31. “That which dieth of itself, or is torn with beasts, he shall not eat to defile himself therewith: I am the LORD,” Leviticus 22:8. “Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth,” Ezekiel 4:14.
An animal which “dieth of itself” is forbidden to believers as a source of food and is fit only for “dogs”, vultures and eagles and other carrion eaters. Likewise, the lies of the false prophets, who will abound just preceding the Saviour’s return, is as such a carcase which and must be rejected.
I set this explanation before you for your prayerful consideration.
The coming of Christ will not be a secret matter, verse 26, but a most public, visible display, likened unto that unequalled, undisguisable display of power that the flash of lightning represents. A typical flash of lightning is about 300 million volts whereas our household supply is 220 volts, or 1/1363636 as powerful!
Likewise, the lie man puts forth on the subject of the Saviour’s return is as far short of the truth as is our light bulb from a flash of lightning and more! Those who feast upon such lies are as the eagles and vultures which delight in the corrupting carrion to which they gather.
8. The ‘great tribulation’ will not last forever! “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory,” Matthew 24:29-30.
Please note the Saviour’s use of the word ‘days’! The very thought of this event being measured in days will make the terrors of ‘the great tribulation’ bearable indeed. It is said of Jacob’s love for Rachel that it made his seven year wait as but a few days. “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her,” Genesis 29:20.
Seven years is the period of Antichrist’s dominance, when he will at the first appear as a benefactor of the Jews and make a covenant with them. “And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many,” Daniel 8:25. Halfway through that seven-year period, he will throw off his apparent friendship toward Israel and break the covenant he made with them after three and a half years and become their oppressor. Daniel speaks of this matter. “ . . . and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week (seven years): and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate,” Daniel 9:26-27.
For the child of God, ‘the great tribulation’ will have a definite commencement — the erection of the ‘abomination of desolation’ in the temple, and a most definite end three and a half years later, at the return of Christ. As Jacob knew how long he had to wait for Rachel to be his wife, and Rachel to wait for Jacob to become her bridegroom, even so shall the child of God in those future days know how long they have to wait for their Bridegroom to come and claim them for His own!
Today, we ‘know not the day nor the hour’ when Christ shall come BUT, when that sequence of events begins at the erection of the ‘abomination of desolation’, those Christians who are alive at that time can begin the countdown to the Saviour’s return.
Next time we will consider the final and glorious sequence of events that will signal the return of the Saviour and our gathering unto Him when, as Paul puts it,“we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord,” 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
(End of part 4 of our study)