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The Life of Christ: Jesus and the End Times

Matthew 24-25

In my experience, there seem to be two prevalent attitudes towards biblical matters of the end, “end times,” the last days and the subject of eschatology. The first is significant interest, study, reading, contemplation and conversation. This group works hard to connect Scripture to other Scripture and understand the times. They may also interpret the daily news through this lens. The second prevalent attitude is one of near complete indifference, lack of attention and a shallow understanding or interest in prophetic or eschatological bible passages.

The wiser attitude for the follower of Jesus is the first. Prophecy and end times were important to Jesus and the early church and they should remain so for us today. Indifference or worse, disdain, for this area of study is anything but beneficial to the heart of the believer. Attention, interest and respect is the wise way. The one warning would be to not allow this subject to overwhelm other important areas of study and application, such that it slips into an unbalanced and sensational attempt to set dates, identify the Antichrist and search all possible permutations of the number 666.

In this great book The End, Mark Hitchcock identifies the following ten reasons why prophecy and end times study is important.
  1. Prophecy is a major part of divine revelation (He calculates 27% of the bible is prophetic)
  2. Special blessing is promised on those who study prophecy and pay attention to what it says (see Revelation 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 22:7. 22:14)
  3. Jesus Christ is the subject of prophecy
  4. Prophecy gives us a proper perspective in life (it tells us the truth of the end of the story)
  5. Prophecy helps us understand the whole bible
  6. Prophecy is a tool for evangelism
  7. Prophecy helps protect people from heresy
  8. Prophecy motivates us to live godly lives in light of eternity
  9. Prophecy reveals the sovereignty of God over time and history
  10. Prophecy proves the truth of God’s Word

When it comes to eschatology (a big word for the study of last things) and end times prophecy, there are three major bible passages that rise above a host of other verses and insights in both Old and New Testament. These chief three are the Book of Daniel, the Book of Revelation and Jesus’ Olivet Discourse found in Mark 13, Matthew 24-25 and Luke 21. We turn today to the longest of the records of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse found in Matthew.

These two chapters, and specifically the first chapter, Matthew 24, are among the most debated passages in all of the bible. This is so because there is great diversity in thought on three major subjects in eschatology, each having a bearing on Matthew 24: the timing and fulfillment of prophetic events, the 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth (the Millennium or Millennial Kingdom) and the Rapture of the church. Besides these three, there are added layers of diversity, discussion and debate concerning the interpretation of the Tribulation period, the Judgment seat of Christ, the Great White Throne judgment, the resurrection of Old Testament believers, specific prophecies and covenants, signs, symbols and much more.

There are four major views regarding the timing of these events.
1. Past - Most (if not all) of the New Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the years before the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. This is called the Preterist view.
2. Present - The NT prophecies are viewed as a full history of time from the apostles until the second coming of Jesus. This is called the Historicist view.
3. Symbolic - The prophecies and events are a symbolic description of the ongoing struggle between good and evil. This is called the Idealist view.
4. Future - The prophecies and events of the NT describe real people and events yet future. This view is called the Futurist view and it is the one that I hold personally.

Regarding the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus, there are at least three major views.
  1. There is no literal kingdom of Jesus on the earth; this is a spiritual kingdom and is being fulfilled now as Christ sits on the throne in heaven. This is the amillennial view.
  2. There 1000-year kingdom is not literal but develops gradually as the gospel spreads and all things get better and better. Christ returns at the conclusion of this “golden age.” This is the Post-Millennial view.
  3. There is a literal, yet-future, 1000-year kingdom of Jesus on the earth. Jesus’ return occurs before this kingdom. This is the Pre-millennial view and is the one I hold personally.

Finally, there are at least four views concerning the placement of the Rapture of the church in regards to the tribulation period (7 years of intense persecution and suffering).
  1. The Rapture of the church happens before the Tribulation. Pre-Tribulation Rapture. I hold this viewpoint.
  2. The Rapture of the church occurs before the “wrath” of God is poured out in the Tribulation. This is a nuanced view and is called the Pre-Wrath Rapture view.
  3. The Rapture happens in the middle of the Tribulation. Mid-Tribulation Rapture.
  4. The Rapture happens after the Tribulation period. Post-Tribulation Rapture.

Now back to Matthew 24 and 25. Jesus makes a comment to his disciples about the Temple. And history tells us clearly that in August of 70AD the Romans, under General Titus, finally squashed the Jewish rebellion and completely destroyed the Temple and tore down most of the wall around the city. But 37 years before, Jesus’ disciples struggled to understand His comment. What is more, they struggled to understand how the temple’s destruction connected with the end of the world and Jesus’ reign. For them, all of these things were connected, which led them to ask three questions (24:3).

1. When will these things happen?
2. What will be the sign of Your coming?
3. What will be the sign of the end of the age?

Jesus answered these questions in reverse order. It seems His focus was on His return - the Second Coming - and thus the terrible events He illustrated most likely describe the tribulation period. His answers are simple:

1. There will be many signs and events before My return - the terrible truths of the tribulation.
2. When I return, no one will miss it.
3. Only the Father knows the timing of My return.

This chapter, along with Daniel and Revelation (and many other critical revelations in Paul’s writings), help us place the prophetic timeline rather accurately, although we do not know when this timeline will begin. The Rapture of the universal and invisible church - meaning all believers everywhere - is the next event in the calendar and there are no signs that come before it, there are no prophecies that need to be fulfilled beforehand. After the Rapture, we can begin to count, with some apparent wiggle room, seven years of increased tribulation. In the middle of that seven years, the Antichrist breaks a treaty and things get even worse. This last three and a half years is called the Great Tribulation or the time of Jacob’s trouble. At the conclusion of this time, Jesus returns in great power and in a great battle. Victorious, He will set up a literal kingdom for a thousand years, and the end of which there is another skirmish and the final judgment. At that point history ends and eternity begins.

But much more than timelines and calendars, the Scriptures say that we should have a certain heart and missional perspective during our sojourn here. The repeated encouragement and command is to not be misled by imposters or necessary precursors, what Jesus calls “birth pangs.” These things must take place. He also commands that we not be distracted by waiting. In the waiting there is a wise stewardship that must be our heart’s center. Each and every day, as The Day approaches, the wise will increase their faithfulness (both holiness and stewardship), watchfulness and Kingdom impact.

Family Discussion Questions:
  1. Does the thought of the future make you happy, nervous or something else? Explain
  2. What about the future makes you most uneasy or unsettled? What is the biggest question you wrestle with?
  3. What do you think it will be like when Jesus comes back?
  4. During His time with His disciples, what did Jesus say about His return? When it would happen? What the world will be like before?
  5. What does Jesus say about how we should expect and await His return?
  6. When Jesus comes back, what are some bad things that He could find us doing?
  7. When Jesus comes back, what are the great things He wants us to be doing?
  8. How will everything change when Jesus comes back?

Small Group Questions:
  1. What has been your general opinion or engagement with end-times and prophecy studies, books, conferences, etc.? Why?
  2. Do you have a specific understanding or opinion about end-time events and chronology? Share briefly with your group.
  3. In Matthew 24, why do you think the disciples asked Jesus these three questions (see 24:3)?
  4. Can you clearly identify in the text Jesus’ answers to these questions? Discuss with your group.
  5. What surprises you about Jesus’ answers?
  6. What specific heart attitudes, postures and activities does Jesus command and encourage prior to His return?
  7. Take some time to read the parable of the Ten Virgins and the parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. Discuss how Jesus uses these parables and what are His main points.
  8. What does Jesus say about judgment at the end of Matthew 25? What specific judgment does He mention and where does it fall in the prophetic timeline?
  9. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Discuss how this aligns with Jesus’ words in Matthew and what applications you can discern from it.
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