The coming birth pains, 24:1-14
The disciples ask Jesus a two pronged question. They want to know about the destruction of the temple and the end of the age. They want to know what will be the indicating signs when these events are about to take place. Jesus then runs through the events that will be experienced by God's people leading up to the end of the age.
v1-2. Jesus has just concluded his teaching ministry in the temple, a building he will never ever enter again. As he walks away from this most majestic of buildings, radiant in its brilliant white stone inlaid with gold, he comments to his disciples that it will soon be destroyed; not one stone left upon another.
v3. A little later, as Jesus and his disciples are sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, the disciples ask Jesus a question about the temple's destruction. They want to know what signs will herald Jesus' coming in judgment upon Jerusalem and the temple, "and the end of the age." Of course, the disciples see the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70AD, closely linked to the end of the world. This is actually not a mistake on their part, for in Biblical prophecy Jesus' judgment upon Jerusalem and the temple serves as a paradigm for his judgment upon the world. What he says for one applies to the other.
v4-8. Jesus first describes what he calls "the beginning of the birth pains." For Jesus, the pain of childbirth well illustrates the troubles humanity will have to face leading up to the end of the world. Messianic leaders selling their wares in the areas of religion, politics and commerce, will claim the loyalty of many. The panic caused by wars and rumors of wars, nations in conflict, famines and natural calamities, will similarly shift the focus from God to the things of this world. These events do not herald the end, but they do remind us that it is inevitable. So, "take heed, but don't be panic-stricken."
v9-12. These troubles will have a direct impact upon the church. Believers will be persecuted and the faith of many undermined. There will be treachery in the ranks as members betray each other. False teachers will emerge confusing the faithful and further undermining their faith - cold to God and cold to each other. And as the dreadful day draws near so wickedness will increase.
v13. Only those who stand firm in their faith, those with their eyes set upon Jesus, only they will be carried through the tribulation to the new age of God's kingdom.
v14. In the meantime, the task of the church is to announce to indulgent humanity that God's patience is at an end.
The increase of lawlessness
It's interesting how people view the movement of time. For example, the Romans saw time as cyclical - concentric circles of repeated history. We, on the other hand, see time in linear terms, of a beginning and end with a time-line of events in between. Yet, although the Biblical prophets, and this includes Jesus, saw time as having a beginning and an end, they didn't see the events of history listed out on a time-line.
From my front verandah I can see Mount Bulli. It's a volcanic plug rising about 100 metres above the Comboyne plateau. Just to the right, and slightly lower, I can see Mount Gibraltar, another volcanic plug. Yet in reality, Mount Gibraltar is much higher and many kilometers away from Mount Bulli. A side-on view from a low flying aeroplane would easily reveal the distance between the two mountains. This is the way we view the events of history, but the Biblical prophets don't take the side-on view. Their perspective is front-on such that future events compound together.
The disciple's question to Jesus reflects this compounding of future events. They want to know about the signs that lead up to Jesus coming in judgment upon Jerusalem and the temple and his coming in judgement upon the world. In time terms, both events are eons apart, but in the prophetic perspective they stand in line with each other, representing each other. What Jesus says about the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem apply in like manner to the destruction of the world. Both are acts of divine judgment, the first a type of the second. Of course, the Old Testament prophets were doing exactly the same thing as Jesus when they spoke of future events. When Isaiah prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians in his day, he is speaking not just of that day, but of like days to come.
So, what Jesus has to say of the preliminary events leading up to the destruction of the temple in 70AD apply to us today who await his coming in judgment upon the world. He warns us of two sets of troubles, troubles outside the church and troubles inside the church. As the terrible day draws near so the troubles, the "wickedness", will increase.
In the face of this reality Jesus gives us some practical advice:
i] Don't be panic stricken. There have been terrible times of tribulation in human history, the ebb and flow of wickedness, but this is just the way things are in a sinful world. So, don't get into a panic.
ii] Persevere in faith. The troubles of life can strengthen our faith, but they can also undermine it. Keeping our eyes on Jesus in the rough and tumble of daily existence will carry us through to the new age.
iii] Pass on the word. Together, as a church, we are entrusted with a message from God to lost humanity. The message concerns the coming day of judgment; good news for those who trust Jesus, bad news for those who don't.
1. Discuss the issue of prophetic perspective evident in the disciples' question to Jesus.
2. Consider the preliminary events leading up to the end of the world. How should we respond to these tribulations?
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