One of the primary passages for the study of eschatology (end times) is Matthew 24-25 and its parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21.
There is a strain of end times theology that believes the fulfillment of Lord’s prophecies in this portion of Scripture is still future to our time. Such a view includes a rapture in which all believers are taken out of the world (popularized in the “Left Behind” series of books and movies) and requires a rebuilt temple which will be destroyed in connection with the last days.
This is the view that I grew up with, one which was popularized by writers such as Hal Lindsey and others in the ‘70s. I graduated from a seminary which is the fount of pre-millennial, pre-tribulation rapture eschatology. Consider my thoughts below as a friendly contribution to our intramural discussion as brothers and sisters in Christ about end times events.
There may be a better and simpler way to understand what is known as the Olivet Discourse (since it was delivered to the disciples on the Mount of Olives). Perhaps the best way to understand it is that every prophecy, except for his return, was fulfilled by 70 AD. The one prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled is his physical return, his second coming.
In Matthew 24, the disciples were looking at the magnificence of Herod’s Temple from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley. “His disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.” That is, the temple of their own day, not a temple to be built at some point in the future.
Jesus, referring to the temple they were all looking at, said, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Jesus pointed to the building they could all see, and said not one of the stones that made up that temple would be left standing when his prophetic word was fulfilled.
This prophecy was fulfilled quite literally when the armies of Titus finally broke through the perimeter of Jerusalem’s defense in 70 AD. In their fury with the Jews for the lengthy siege – they’d been stuck on the outskirts of the city for two years – the Roman soldiers set fire to everything they could, then literally pried the temple stones apart to get at the gold that had melted into the cracks.
The disciples were naturally curious and asked Jesus in verse 3, “When will these things (i.e., the destruction of the temple) be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The disciples asked two questions, not one. The first was “when” will the temple be destroyed, and the second was “what will be the sign” of your second coming. In other words, there were two separate questions here, one dealing with the timing of the destruction of the temple and the second dealing with what would signify his imminent return.
Jesus then proceeded to answer their questions by saying that his prophecy concerning the destruction of the temple would be fulfilled within forty years. “This generation will not pass away,” he said in verse 34, “until all these things (the demolition of the temple and its stones) take place.” Jesus spoke these words in 33 AD. A biblical generation is 40 years, and so the math speaks for itself.
The destruction of the temple, Jesus said, is the “sign of his coming.” Now he did not mean that his coming would happen right away. He indicated in verses 29-30 that there would be a gap of indeterminate time between the destruction of the temple and his return. His return would be “after the tribulation” of those days, which would result in Israel’s destruction. Israel was not going to be rescued from its fate.
The destruction of Israel, which happened “immediately” in 70 AD, is symbolized by the darkening of the sun and the stars falling from heaven. This was a frequent metaphor used by the prophets to signify political upheaval. Israel was destroyed as a political power in 70 AD; its star fell from heaven as the Roman armies reduced its capital city to rubble. It did not rise from the ruins again until 48 AD.
And “then,” that is, at some indeterminate point of time after that political upheaval, the whole world “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Thus the destruction of the temple would be the last major prophecy to be fulfilled before his return could take place. Jesus’ point was that his return would be imminent from that day forward. He could have come back at any point since.
It could not have happened before 70 AD, Jesus said, but could happen at anytime after. It could have happened in 71 AD, or it might not happen until 2071 AD. As he said in verse 38, “Concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
His point was that his second coming could happen at any time after the Roman armies destroyed the temple. As he says in verse 33, “When you see all these things (i.e., the destruction of the temple), you know that he is near, at the very gates.”
If we picture a pair of French doors with Christ on one side and history on the other, he has had his hand on the door knobs since 70 AD, waiting for the right moment to fling them open and re-enter history.
We can also offer a correction to what is a common interpretation of Jesus’ commentary on the days of Noah. Drawing a parallel between the flood and the Second Coming, he said, “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be take and the one left” (verses 40-41).
While these verses are interpreted by many as a reference to the rapture, this understanding turns Jesus’ teaching on its head. This is for the simple reason that in Noah’s day, the ones who were “taken” were taken away by the waters of the flood. In other words, they were taken in judgment, not in salvation. It was the ones who were “left” – those who entered the ark – who were saved. The simplest understanding of Christ’s words is that those who are taken are taken in judgment, not in the rapture. It is the ones who are left who are saved, not the ones who are taken away.
The first of Jesus’ prophecies – the destruction of the temple – was fulfilled exactly as he described. The second of his prophecies has yet to be fulfilled, but also will be fulfilled exactly as he described. On that day, he will gather his elect from the four winds (v. 31) but will send the rest “into eternal punishment” (25:46).
Bottom line: The real question for us is not how precise our eschatology is but whether we are ready for that day, the day of his appearing. For it will surely come.
by BRYAN FISCHER
2 Peter 1:3-4
God’s promises are very precious. Not only do they remind us of His personal interest in our lives, but they also provide hope and encouragement during difficult times.
Before claiming a promise, we must check ourselves in three areas: faith, obedience, and patience. First, we must trust Jesus as our personal Savior and live on the basis of our belief in Him. Obeying God is also necessary. If we willfully continue to disobey the Lord, then He is not obligated to fulfill His promise (1 Pet. 3:12). Finally, patience is required. God operates on His timetable to accomplish His purposes according to His perfect plan. Waiting on Him is necessary.
At times it will seem as if a divine promise is not being fulfilled. When that is the case, take a second look at the biblical passage to be sure it applies to you. Then verify that you have met the necessary conditions, and examine whether there is a genuine need. If you are still convinced the promise applies, then you can look a little deeper at your request. Will the Lord be honored when this promise is fulfilled? Can He answer this prayer without harming others or hindering His will in their lives? Will this help you grow spiritually? These additional questions will assist you in claiming a promise of God.
The Holy Spirit is our instructor, who will teach us about the Lord’s promises. He wants to build our faith through Scripture, provide the strength necessary to obey, and develop in us the fruit of patience. These qualities are necessary and will help us as we look to God to fulfill His promises.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6)
Perhaps the greatest purpose of Christianity is to take that which is only flesh and see it reborn as Spirit—to see spiritual life born where before there was only death. But then, even in the most mature of believers, there remain aspects of the old nature mixed in with—even at war with—the new. In frustration Paul cried, “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:21). But each Christian should, through the power of God, be winning that war.
Christ came to regenerate the spiritual side of man. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
Too many Christians still have their spirits buried deeply within the flesh, having “yielded [their] members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity” (Romans 6:19). But Christ came to change all that. “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).
Through faith, “according to his abundant mercy [He] hath begotten us again” (1 Peter 1:3). To “beget” means to reproduce a like kind. Since He has “begotten us,” we should be becoming like Him in attitudes and aims. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). This is the object of Christianity. JDM
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he
might have the preeminence. —Colossians 1:18
God’s servants are not to be competitors, but coworkers….
A local church, as long as it is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, cannot entertain the psychology of competition. When it begins to compete with another church, it is a true church of God no longer; it has voided its character and gone down onto a lower level. The Spirit that indwells it is no longer divine; it is human merely, and its activities are pitched on the plane of the natural….
The Holy Spirit always cooperates with Himself in His members. The Spirit-directed body does not tear itself apart by competition. The ambitions of the various members are submerged in the glory of the Head, and whatever brings honor to the Head meets with the most eager approval of the members.
We should cultivate the idea that we are coworkers rather than competitors. We should ask God to give us the psychology of cooperation. We should learn to think of ourselves as being members in particular of one and the same body, and we should reject with indignation every suggestion of the enemy designed to divide our efforts.
Lord, forgive us for the sin of comparison and competition. Replace it in our hearts with a spirit of cooperation as coworkers. May the glory all go to the Head. Amen.
For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth; Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. Ephesians 5:9, 10
Many church groups have perished from too much organization, even as others from too little. Wise church leaders will watch out for both extremes. A man may die as a result of having extremely low blood pressure as certainly as from having too high, and it matters little which takes him off. He is equally dead either way.
The important thing in church organization is to discover the scriptural balance between two extremes and avoid both!
It is painful to see a happy group of Christians, born in simplicity and held together by the bonds of heavenly love, slowly lose their simple character, begin to try to regulate every sweet impulse of the Spirit and slowly die from within.
Yet that is the direction almost all Christian denominations have taken throughout history, and in spite of the warnings set out by the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures of truth it is the direction almost all church groups are taking today.
Churches and societies founded by saintly men with courage, faith and sanctified imagination appear unable to propogate themselves on the same spiritual level beyond one or two generations. In all our fallen life, there is a strong gravitational pull toward complexity and away from things simple and real. There seems to be a kind of sad inevitability back of our morbid urge toward spiritual suicide!
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. ACTS 16:31
A notable heresy has come into being throughout our evangelical Christian circles—the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need Him as Savior, and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to Him as long as we want to!
The truth is that salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred Scriptures. Peter makes it plain that we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience” (1 Peter 1:2).
It seems most important to me that Peter speaks of his fellow Christians as “obedient children” (vs. 14). He knew their spirituality—he was not just giving them an exhortation to be obedient.
The entire Bible teaches that true obedience to God and His Christ is one of the toughest requirements in the Christian life. Actually, salvation without obedience is a self-contradicting impossibility!
Humans do not want to admit it, but the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans long ago that “by one man’s disobedience” came the downfall of the human race (see Romans 5:19).
Dear Lord, I pray today for all the “nominal” Christians in our churches who are straddling the fence of faith. I pray that Your Spirit will impress upon them the need to become fully devoted followers of Christ who will become actively engaged in the battle for men’s souls.