By Ryan Shaw
Ryan is the international lead facilitator of SVM2 and lives among the unreached.
Matthew 24 and 25 are two chapters that are essential for the Church of Jesus Christ globally to grasp and to give herself to considering with attention and intention. The implications of these chapters are great for the Student Mission Movement.
They help us prepare for events internationally that are to come and cling to Christ in the midst of them while also reminding us to remain focused on the work of the Kingdom while we wait in anticipation for His return.
Chapter 24 unveils with staggering clarity what the days surrounding Jesus’ return will look like. The disciples had asked Jesus about the things that were to come and what some of the signs of His coming would be (v.3).
In response, Jesus discloses these things very openly by laying out four primary “signs” of His coming and of the end of the age.
Through this chapter we are given specifics to prepare ourselves effectively for living in the generation which the Lord returns.
Then from chapter 24:45 – 25:46 Jesus paints a picture concerning the posture which His true disciples will possess concerning His return. He does this through teaching four parables differentiating between a right response and a wrong one.
In this article and the subsequent series of articles in later issues of the Abandoned Times, we will look first at the four “signs” of His coming as laid out in Chapter 24. In this same article we will consider the hinge information Jesus conveys between the events of chapter 24 and the examples of the parables to help us grasp more of His intent concerning the posture His true believers will walk in while living in preparation for the return of the Lord.
Subsequent articles will look in detail at the four parables themselves and the implications of them for us today in the Student Mission Movement.
The Four Signs – Matthew 24
Jesus lays out four primary “signs” of His coming and of the end of the age in Matthew 24. Jesus is helping His disciples recognize that their will be an unfolding taking place before His return. A series of happenings will precede the great event.
As a result we are to guard our hearts from potential deception as many will rise to deceive God’s people in those days. Yet He never comes even close to giving a specific time, only that certain events will surround it.
These four “signs” take place in four distinct spheres: (1) In the World (2) In the Church (3) In the Middle East (4) In the Heavens.
In the world there will be great crises (vs. 6-7). Such happenings as wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes are to evoke a response of ongoing personal watchfulness over our own hearts, minds, souls and devotion to Christ.
There prevalence is a call to seriousness and wholeheartedness among the people of God. They are a gift to prepare us with courage, perseverance and steadiness for the coming days of difficulty. In the Church there will be much persecution, decline in love and powerful evangelism released (vs. 9- 14).
Hatred toward God and His people will increase among every ethnos (nation). Jesus is seeking to cultivate a steadfastness and faithfulness in the face of persecution, even martyrdom, and other hardships.
Many believers will be offended at God because of what they perceive He is “allowing” among His people. These will allow their love to grow cold and will fall away from Christ. They will turn on Him and then turn on one another.
As this happens, the great divide between the wheat and the tares, highlighted by Jesus in the parables of Matthew 13, is beginning to become clear. The true and false believer, which both make up the current visible church, will be recognized and show their true colors.
Next, vs. 14 lays out the essence of God’s heart in these things. As believers remain vigilant and perseverant until the end, with hearts ablaze with love, their responsibility is to preach the gospel to all ethne as a witness.
The implication in the verse is power being added to the preaching that unleashes great fruitfulness in the last hour. This is the charge of the church, her mandate! It is not to build bigger buildings or ministries but with all commitment, give herself (time, money, energies) to the missionary movement with vigor and attention.
The end of the age cannot and will not come until every people group has had a viable opportunity to receive or reject Christ’s beautiful good news in a culturally appropriate way. In the Middle East the rise of the man of lawlessness will be revealed (v.15-22).
This person is the antichrist who will arise and bring great desolation in the Middle East, but have influence and power throughout the world. The last sign will be in the heavens. There will be an actual darkening of the skies as the sun and the moon cease to provide light (v.29).
When this takes place we know His return is literally at hand. The natural realm (like so many other times in Scripture) is under the complete control of God and in that moment the stars will fall and darkness will prevail.
Jesus’ Hinge Information – Matthew 24:36-44
In 24:36-44, Jesus in essence is saying that no one knows the specifics concerning the timing of His return, so don’t try to figure it out. Some explanation is needed here. Jesus is not advocating as unnecessary the study of what Scripture outlines concerning His return, but the attempt to fix dates to these things.
Why would Jesus have just laid out in clear detail facts concerning the four signs of His return if it didn’t matter whether we grasped these things or not? In fact in other places in Scripture it is clear that we must be very aware of what the Bible lays out will take place during the generation which the Lord returns.
Matthew 24 is a clear example of Him laying specifics out that we are to prepare for. The reason this is important is not for the sake of trying to pinpoint timelines, but to prepare the body of Christ for events that are to come so that we will be ready and respond rightly when they come.
Too many in the body today seem to have a laissez-faire outlook on things that are to come. This is dangerous as we must prepare our hearts to not be deceived or offended or taken by surprise by what comes, but ready and girded by the strength of Christ to prevail.
Continuing on Jesus notes instead of seeking to know the precise “when” of His return that we are to be ever vigilant to protect our hearts and recognize that others will act like nothing is wrong and will be proceeding with business as usual (v.37-39).
The example given is the times of Noah when every man was living for himself, blind to judgment and to the fact of anything changing from how life had been lived for hundreds of years. This is a prevailing mindset today as well and will pointedly characterize the outlook of most of the world’s population near the time when Christ returns.
Though Noah was declaring the need to repent, no one heeded his word. These were lulled to sleep and believed the “peace, peace” of that hour.
Jesus clearly was not teaching only about unbelievers in this discourse. He had in mind many weak believers who would be lulled to sleep by the culture which they lived in and whose faith would be swept away.
This is a call to watchfulness (42-44). Not in anticipation or external watching, but in internal watching over one’s heart. As the days get darker believers will be more tempted to allow their passion, love, and vibrancy to get dull.
Instead we are to “watch” our hearts in order that they may be bright and alive with fervent love in the midst of increasing darkness around us. Be ready and prepared in heart, in relation to the world, in purity, in what you are holding onto as important, in identity, and in your hope of His coming and all that it means.
Christ’s second coming will enforce that authority and rule which Jesus purchased at the cross and through His resurrection. Currently, the enemy is the “prince of the power of the air”. God has allowed him freedom as the world under the curse (right now) is his. Through the cross freedom has been purchased for all who will believe.
Jesus has won the ultimate victory and the world and all that is in it will be used for Him upon His return. God is working in the earth with greatness and power and calling out for Himself those who will choose Him with their will and make Him their Lord and Savior.
Victory over sin has been made through His blood and is totally available to all who will choose it, yet most are not doing so.
In that day, sin, Satan, and his hordes will be bound up and their authority utterly removed from the earth realm. Jesus will then set up an earthly kingdom where He will establish justice and righteousness in power.
Jesus clarifies that “the end” will come when we least expect it as neither He nor the angels even know the appointed time. Thus, don’t focus on this, but on cultivating your heart in preparation to faithfulness and wholeheartedness in that generation.
When Jesus returns there will be only two groups of people on the earth: Those who are ready (saved) and watching and those not ready (given to idleness and not saved). The four parables that Jesus gives, teaching about the heart response to what is to come in chapter 24, highlight these two groups dramatically.
These four parables have the express purpose of teaching different lessons surrounding the posture God’s people are called to possess as we anticipate Christ’s return. We will look at these in the subsequent article in next month’s Abandoned Times.