“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 are the third section of a brief study of Mathew 24:1-31.
I hope to continue the study on a weekly basis.
The bullet-scared Jaffa Gate, the result of the battle for Jerusalem when it was reunified by the Israeli army in the ‘Six-Day War in 1967.
In our last study we considered how that ‘the beginning of sorrows’ would lead on to the full harvest of sorrow and that it would be the Jews in Jerusalem who would chiefly suffer in that time of the ‘great tribulation’ at the end of this age, just before the Saviour returns in glory.
1. The Saviour makes clear in verses 9-14 just how the ‘sorrows’ will commence and what it will entail in its early stages.
“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”
The gospel will not be welcomed amongst the nations. History has testified to the truth of this statement. The word ‘afflicted’ refers to a ‘squeezing together under pressure’. This a very elucidatory setting forth of the persecution that would come upon the people of God. The ‘wine press’ has ever illustrated the troubles that come on God’s people. The Lord uses that instrument as a picture of His crushing wrath against sinners. “And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God,” Revelation 14:19. In like fashion, the world directs its rage in an attempt to crush the life out of the witness of the gospel. There is no room in this world, as far as man is concerned, for the message of God!
Such treatment inevitably causes offence in the ranks of the believers. All who profess Christ are not able to take such abuse. We need to remember the words of the parable of the sower, as told by the Saviour. “Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. . . . But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended,” Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21.
2. As the affliction increases, so too does the taking of offence. This will result in very wicked reactions amongst those who prove to be mere false professors. The mere ‘profession’ peels away and the true, unregenerate nature surfaces. It must ever be remembered that Scripture indicates that the number of empty professions is much greater than many Christians are ready to acknowledge. Let us remember the solemn words of the Saviour in Matthew 7:22-23. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Parents need to take heed to these words for all too many are content to rest on the words of their children who claim to be saved, but whose lives are void of any evidence of true grace.
It behoves us all to consider Paul’s word to the Corinthians. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” 2 Corinthians 13:5. What horror there will be on that day when men shall give an account to God, only to discover that their profession was a sham! Betrayal of Christians to their persecutors by those who once professed faith are the fruits of a false profession, as the afflictions increase in ferocity. “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Nothing dampens the fervour of the child of God like the abounding or multiplying of ‘iniquity’, which necessitates the abandoning of God’s Law.
Is that not all too evident today? The increasing lawlessness within society is paralleled by a decline in the passion and devotion of Christians to the truth of God. Do we not see in public life an abandoning of an allegiance to God’s Word and a going along with the ways of the world. This is particularly evident amongst politicians who within recent days have turned from such slogans as ‘The Truth shall set you free’, once the slogan of the Democratic Unionist Party, to an embracing of just about anything which they vainly believe will gain them votes, no matter how abhorrent to God such things that they embrace may be!
An ancient stone stairway which the Saviour likely used as he would have gone down from the city of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives.
3. At the very heart of this Satanic mix is, of course, the ‘false prophet’! “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many”. The affliction, the hatred unto death, the offence, the betrayal, the decline in love and loyalty to Christ all spring from the work and witness, the unscriptural innovations and evil influences of these messengers of the devil, with their deceptions!
In Ulster, we can trace very clearly the corrupting impact of the rising up within the pulpits of the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian and the Methodist churches of men who openly abandoned the Word of God as their ‘rule of faith and practice’ and clung instead to fabrications and fancies of blinded men.
From such pulpits there flowed out a foul stream of lies which quickly poisoned hearts and homes of a land once renowned for its allegiance to the gospel. It is almost 75 years since the World Council of Churches came into being and the three main denominations here in Northern Ireland became foundation members of this axis of evil. While the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thessalonians 2:7) was already working within the ranks of these denominations and there had been very clear evidence of apostasy amongst them, from 1948 that apostasy accelerated until today women ministers, sodomites, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender movement (LGBTQ+) and same sex marriage are promoted and embraced and flaunted within the ranks of these denominations.
I am reminded of Matthew 27:20-22. “But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.” The word ‘persuaded’ means to ‘induce by words to believe’. That is what has happened in our land. The deceivers in the pulpits have induced their flocks to believe the lies of Ecumenism and Popery and reject the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. In consequence, there has come upon us the judgment of God for such wicked treachery.
Such a state of affairs marks the near zenith of the apostasy and marks its ripeness for God’s judgment, as was the case with the earth in Noah’s day and in the rebellion in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in Lot’s day.
The Saviour said that the false prophets “shall deceive many.” That certainly is the case within our nation. That deception has brought about the utter confusion we see in the united Kingdom’s political affairs, religious activities, moral opinions, civil administrations, business pursuits and the private lives of men and women and children!
The ungodly man, Pilate, tried to persuade the people to release the Saviour. “And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.” The blinded multitude would not listen. So it has been here in Ulster. For over 75 years a witness against the deceptions and lies of the modernist preachers has been raised, but very few have heeded that witness of God’s truth. The guilt of this dreadful folly rests upon this generation and like the Jews of old, a terrible price will be paid for the rejection of Christ and His testimony.
4. In the midst of this all, the Saviour indicates that there will be those who are ‘out of step’ with the latter-day trends. “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved,” Matthew 24:13. The little word ‘but’ introduces a contrast with what has just been mentioned. There will be a people who reject the devil-inspired lies, increasingly embraced by this world’s society, as it slithers downward. The word ‘endure’ means to ‘take patiently’, to ‘quietly remain firm’. The word first appears earlier in Matthew’s gospel. “But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved,” Matthew 10:17-22.
Endurance has ever marked the true believer. Paul highlights the virtues that should ever be seen in the Christian’s life. “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:9-21. These graces will most certainly distinguish the believer in these darkening days. They will also cause them to be the subjects of increasing animosity!
5. The Saviour indicates that despite the world sinking down in ever-deepening darkness, the light of the gospel will continue to shine. “And this 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.
The ‘affliction’ and its resultant terrors, will not stop God’s Word being preached. As the age began so, it would appear, it will end. Remember the prayer offered by the persecuted band of believers in Jerusalem shortly after Pentecost?
“And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all,” Acts 4:29-33.
The Lord will show His power by maintaining the preaching of the gospel even in the face of the fiercest of opposition, just as was the case in those early days of this gospel age. I have often felt that the parable with which chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel begins, illustrates that return to first century Christianity in the last days.
“And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps,” Matthew 25:6-7.
The trimming of the lamps by the ‘wise virgins’ indicates a turning away from their slumbering and sleeping, verse 5, and a returning to their duties of holding aloft the lamps they had left off in their carelessness.
How we should pray for such in these days of great slumbering and sleeping amongst the ranks of the people of God.
(End of part 3 of our study)