March 23, 2010

(Matthew 23:37 – 24:1-14) “What shall be the sign of thy coming?”  is one of the questions asked by the disciples in the Olivet discourse. This question is answered by the Lord, and His answer should be a beacon light for all who are looking for His return.

During the last week of our Lord’s earthly ministry He went daily into the city of Jerusalem, but returned to the Olive Garden where He spent the night. These nights were given almost wholly to prayer. On one occasion the Lord uttered His lament over Jerusalem as recorded in Matthew 23:37:

 “0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” He then pronounced Israel’s fate in the words of verse 38: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”

One must fix in his mind that the Lord prophesied desolation upon the city, the temple and the people. The word house in regard to Israel is used to refer to the land, the city, and the people. This prophesied desolation made an impact upon the disciples, and as they left the temple on that evening they pointed out the massive building to the Lord as if to refute His prophecy of desolation. This temple was the building which Herod had taken forty-six years to build. It was reputed to have many stones in it 12x20x40 feet — stones quarried out of rock of that dimension making it an architectural and engineering phenomenon. The beauty of it was such that a common saying was, “If you have not seen Herod’s temple, you do not know beauty.” It was inconceivable to the disciples that such a building should be made desolate. Our Lord’s reply was, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.” The magnitude of the desolation was overpowering; and when they reached the Mount of Olives and were alone, the disciples asked Jesus these three questions: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” This is so important that we repeat:

1) They wanted to know when the temple would be left desolate.

2) They wanted to know what would be the sign of His coming.

3) They wanted to know what would be the sign that the age was coming to an end. (The Greek text sets forth the fact that it is the age and not the world, as such, of which He speaks.)

These three questions concerned the disciples in the day of our Lord. These three questions concerned the Lord when He was here on the earth. These three questions should concern all students of the Word of God today. The Lord spoke more about His second advent than His first; the prophets spoke more of His second advent than of His first; and we should have more than a passing interest in His second advent. The plea that the study of the second coming of Christ gives people the wrong perspective is ill-founded, for there is no Scriptural truth that is not invariably placed in the wrong perspective by some of its adherents. The first advent had no significance apart from the second. Our redemption is incomplete until Christ returns. Christ’s ministry is incomplete until He returns, and all Scriptural truth is rendered outof focus without a clear-cut conception of Christ’s second advent. It is important to know about the coming of the Lord to this earth. Now let us take up the questions in their order:

“Tell us, when shall these things be?” (That is, when is our house going to be left desolate?) In Luke 21:20, 21, we have these verses: “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.”

The sign of the approaching desolation was that Jerusalem would be encompassed with armies; and since there is no specific number as to which siege was meant, it follows of necessity that it must be the first one after the uttering of these words. The next time an army moved down against Jerusalem and surrounded it, then the disciples and the inhabitants were to know that the desolation of the city was in the offing. They were to know also that its desolation was as certain as the Word of God. The exhortation was given by the Lord that when the city was encompassed with armies then those in the city were to flee to the mountains, and those outside the city were not to enter therein. This would be a rather difficult thing to do with the city in a state of siege. But wait and see how the Lord fulfilled His Word. There is a space of approximately 40 years between the time that the Lord uttered these words and the time of the desolation — 40 years during which the Jews had opportunity to repent as a nation and see the fulfillment of Acts 3:19. Three decades passed and there was no evidence of armies or a siege against Jerusalem; but in October of 66 A.D. Cestius Gallus and his Roman legions came against the city and threw up a siege that virtually paralyzed it. Our Lord had said that this would be the sign of the approaching desolation of the house of Israel.

 One cannot help but wonder how many people recognized it as the sign. Subsequent events prove that the first generation of Christians believed far more in the signs of the times than our present generation of believers. Of course those in the city could not flee to the mountains as the Lord had urged; neither could those outside enter in. But wait! About a month later, in November of the same year, for no visible or understandable reason, Gallus and his legions withdrew and left that part of the country. The disciples and believers within the city then fled to the mountains. Josephus, in his Antiquity of the Jews, tells us that so far as the record goes, there was not a single Christian who perished in the fall of Jerusalem some four years later. They believed the word of the Lord and accepted that first siege as the sign; and as opportunity presented itself, they fled.

It is doubtful that many inhabitants of the city, hearing again of the Lord’s prophecy, attached any importance to it but reckoned it as a mere coincidence. But in the year 70 A.D., the Emperor Titus threw up a siege against the city and ultimately reduced it to shambles, slaying two or three million Jews who were in the city at the time. So great was the blood shed that Josephus speaks of whole houses on fire in the southern part of the city being extinguished by the wall of human blood that flowed down into that area. Tradition has it that between the stones of the building was gold leaf which had been placed there to enhance the beauty of the temple. Its dome also was of solid gold, and the Roman’s need for gold caused them to remove each stone separately and scrape the gold from it, leaving no stone upon another when they had finished. The prophecies of the Lord were fulfilled in minutest detail concerning the desolation of the house of Israel. If the Lord went to such pains to prophesy and fulfill the destruction of Jerusalem, who can say that the prophecies pertaining to His second coming are not as valid and worthy of study? The second question of Matthew 24:3 was, “…and what shall be the sign of thy coming?” This question is answered in the immediate context when Jesus says, “Take heed that no man deceive you.”

 There has been much deception pertaining to the coming of the Lord — all of which originated with Satan. He has sought to bring the doctrine of the coming of the Lord into disrepute by mishandling and perversions on the part of sincere but misled folks. Some of them deceive by saying that His coming is already past; others by saying that the destruction of Jerusalem was His second coming; others say that the conversion of an individual is the second coming; others, that the advent of the Holy Spirit was the second coming; others say that the death of a Christian is the second coming; others, that His coming is spiritual and not literal; and still others deceive by saying that He is not coming back at all. One can readily see the need of the exhortation of our Lord when He said, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” The Lord also warns against deception in Matt. 24:5 when He says, “Many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” False Christs were in evidence during the Lord’s time on earth and also during the time of the apostles. John the beloved says in I John 2:18, “Even now are there many antichrists. “From the time of Christ until now many have claimed to be the Christ. A couple whom we sent to India as missionaries reported that there were some 14 or 15 natives of India who said they were Christ, claiming to have died and risen again from the dead. Our missionary in Miami Beach, attended a meeting where she was introduced to a man from the Middle East who claimed to be the resurrected Christ. She asked to see his hands, and when they revealed no nail prints, she asked him, “Where are the wounds?” Of course he was a false Christ, as are all the others. Our Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven and has been there since His ascension. He will not return to the earth until after He has appeared in the air and called His own to meet Him there (I Thess. 4:13-18).

 All these false Christs make their appearances with the preaching of a false gospel. In the preaching of a false gospel we do not mean that all their preaching is false; but error is mixed with the truth in such a subtle way that few can distinguish between truth and error. The one true test is the Word of God. We have the simple statement in Isaiah 8:20 that if they speak not according to the law and to the testimony “it is because there is no light in them.”

The best antidote in this time of deception is a thorough knowledge of the Word of God.


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