The 24th chapter of Matthew opens with Yeshua shocking His disciples with the news that the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem that they admired so much would be utterly destroyed. If this centerpiece of Jewish faith were to disappear, surely it would be the end of the world. Therefore, their logical response was, "When will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and of the consummation?" (Matthew 24:3)
There were six components to Yeshua's answer to the disciples' questions. Knowing them helps us realize that whatever crises we may face, it is not yet the end. And if that is so, the grace to overcome is yet available.
First, Matthew 24:4,5,11,23-28 speaks of rampant deception in the world and even among believers. False prophets and false messiahs, whether secular or religious, will lead people away from the one true God of Israel, and from the knowledge of Yeshua HaMashiach who has purchased redemption for mankind by His sacrificial death and resurrection. Yet, we are not to despair or desire to escape, but Isaiah 60:1-3, tells us that in the midst of the deep darkness that clouds the minds of the whole world we are to stand and shine with the glory of the Lord.
Second, Yeshua said there would be wars, rumors of wars, and a proliferation of natural disasters like famines and earthquakes. (Matthew 24:6,7) But He told us in verse 8, that these were not the end, but just the beginning of birth pangs. We have certainly seen enough bloodshed just in the "enlightened" 20th century. This combined with the staggering death tolls of events like the major earthquakes in Iran and the Tsunami in Southeast Asia make us ask how it can possibly continue. It may be the end for the dead, but the living must move forward in faith knowing that "The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear." (Psalm 27:1,3) And, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea." (Psalm 46:1,2)
The third thing to which Messiah alerted us was the coming apostasy among His followers and persecution upon those who would stand for Him. (Matthew 24:9-12) Already in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 "the mystery of lawlessness" had begun to permeate the believing community. Rav Shaul warned of the spirit of anti-Christ rising among them.
Historically we've seen the church take extreme detours, far from its roots and foundation. The consequence was the persecution of true followers of Yeshua down through the ages, not just by pagans, but by those who claimed to represent Him. There also came persecution upon Yeshua's earthly brethren the Jews. They were hated for the name of Yeshua until His name became hated and feared among them. Yet suffering for the Lord is not the end, but a means to demonstrate faith until all things are accomplished. Hebrews 11:36-40, says that those who "experienced mockings and scourgings... chains and imprisonment... death with the sword... being destitute, afflicted and ill-treated... gained approval by their faith."
Fourth, Yeshua said the message of the Kingdom of God must reach into the entire world before His return. This is a message not just of personal salvation - "Believe in Yeshua and you can go to heaven." While that is true, it is only the first step in impacting a lost and dying world. In the midst of false prophets, bloody conflicts, out of control nature and persecution, there needs to be a people with a different Spirit. A people whose lives demonstrate that their "citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Yeshua HaMashiach." (Philippians 3:20)
Matthew 24:15-22 along with parallel passages in Luke 21:20-24 give us the fifth point. It begins with what Yeshua spoke of at the beginning of this discourse - the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the subsequent scattering of the Jewish people throughout the world. Forty years after He spoke these words, the armies of Imperial Rome began their work of destruction, dispersion and death. Sixty years after that, the failed last attempt to defeat the Romans by Bar Kochba resulted in the utter devastation of Jerusalem and more exile and death followed by nearly 1900 years of tribulation for the house of Israel. It had been warned of in Deuteronomy 28 and in Leviticus 26. Yeshua pointed out that this was not the end but a sign pointing to the future as Leviticus 26:40-45 promised that even in the land of their enemies the Jewish people would not be utterly rejected by their God.
This brings us to the sixth and last point. Matthew 24:32 and Luke 21:24 speak of the fig tree once again bringing forth life and the exile coming to an end. The restoration of the people of Israel to the land of Israel connected to the God of Israel by the Messiah of Israel is the sign that He is very near. Acts 3:21 says that "heaven would receive Yeshua until the period of restoration of all things... spoken by the prophets from ancient times" We don't know how much time is left, but we do know that in spite of great challenges and difficulties ahead we are in the "period of restoration" and it's time to "straighten up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28)
When we feel overwhelmed it's good to remember that it's not the end of the world until it's the end of the world, but then it is the end of the world! And halleluyah, He's here!
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