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Some notes from the 2013 Bible conference
January 5, 2013
First study: Signs of the times
Second study: The Son of Man's coming | Third study: Faithful servants
First Bible study: Signs of the times - Matthew 24:1-21
Study 2: Coming | Study 3: Faithful Top
Chapters 24-25 of Matthew's gospel are often called the Lord's "Olivet discourse" since He was on the Mount of Olives at the time. This sermon is the longest recorded answer the Lord gave to any question asked of Him. His disciples have asked Him a three-fold question (Matt. 24:3), namely: 1) When will these (future events) be; 2) What is the sign of Your coming; 3) What is the sign of the end of the age?
The Lord Jesus had indicated the temple would be destroyed (24:1-2), and most of those who heard Him were living when that actually happened in the year 70. Thus, they could be confident that these events would also take place.
The disciples did not ask about His "coming for us," and so the Lord did not address that question. Teachings are revealed later in the New Testament about the Rapture (a term derived from the Latin phrase for "caught up" in 1 Thessalonians 4:17), when Christians of today's era are taken to heaven. But here the Lord gives an answer about His coming in power and glory, when all will see Him.
The disciples certainly knew the Hebrew Scriptures about these events, when their Messiah would come as King. He will come when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20) and also after a time of great trouble and judgment by God.
Prophecy is not for fortune-tellers or just for information, but it is God's Word, given to us so we will be watchful (24:42). These details are given for our learning (Romans 15:4), and the Lord tells us about them because we are His friends (John 15:15). Furthermore, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10). As an example of this point, the apostle Peter said the prophetic word they received was made even more secure because they saw the transfiguration of Christ in His glory (2 Peter 1:17-19). Therefore we understand that prophecy should always have the impact of helping us appreciate Christ Himself even more.
What the Lord Jesus says must be fulfilled. As an example, He later indicates that He will be crucified in two days, and this took place exactly so, despite the intention of the rulers not to take Him during the feast of Passover (Matthew 26:1-5).
Regarding the temple, in the year 70 the Roman general Titus led his soldiers against Jerusalem. He ordered them not to destroy the Jewish temple there. Despite the legendary discipline of Roman soldiers, they disobeyed him when the temple was burned; they took apart every stone of the building in order to scrape up the gold that melted in the fire. Thus the Lord's prophecy was fulfilled, literally and precisely. His words about future events will also be fulfilled, literally and precisely.
The Lord answers the disciples' questions in a different order than they were asked. He first explains the signs of the end of the age, through verse 14. Then He speaks several times of "the coming of the Son of Man" (e.g., 24:27, 30). It's significant, though, that the very first words of His answer are, "Be not deceived." This is an important warning. It is easy to be deceived if we don't seek to understand these things. However, these events can indeed be understood (cp. 24:15), and we should desire to do so!
Those living at this time will have to recognize deceptions that use the name of Christ or that claim special knowledge about Him. There is a lesson in this for believers today, too. Further, following a false Christ would especially be a temptation for Jewish believers. Today, Christians are warned against false teachers, false prophets, and false spirits (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1-3).
Another sign of the end is that the world itself will be falling apart, both morally and physically. There will be worldwide unrest and war among all nations, and there will be earthquakes, plagues, and famines. One-third of the entire world's population will die (Revelation 8-9). We are struck with the dreadfulness of sin, which is the root cause of all of these things. What is more, those following God in these days will be subjected to personal attacks and suffering because of their attachment to the name of Christ. Yet they will be faithful. How much more should we be faithful in our days, too?
The encouragement is that they should not be troubled (24:6), despite the extent of the horror at that time. Anyone who does not know Christ as Savior would be troubled by these events or even by present-day unrest. At that time, lawlessness will abound, and there will be wrath from the nations, wrath from Satan, and wrath from God (Revelation 11:18, 12:12, 15:1). The storms and troubles we live through today are not like the severe experiences those faithful ones will have. What holy living we should display now, since this world is not our final home, and since we want to warn people about the wrath to come!
Another sign the Lord mentions is the defection of false believers (24:12), who will fall away because the suffering is too great. They will also be drawn away by the false prophets or by the overwhelming atmosphere of sin at that time. By contrast, true believers will endure much in those days "for My name's sake," said the Lord (24:9). How dear His name will be to them! Are we living for Him that way?
There will be the need for those believers to "endure to the end" (24:13). This is not related to the security of salvation, because other Scriptures assure us of that; but at that time, living people will need God's preserving care through these experiences. Some are martyred for their faith (Revelation 6-7); but others are preserved so they can preach the gospel of the kingdom.
This preaching will be a world-wide evangelistic event. There are scattered Jewish families throughout many nations even now, and likely some of these will be among God's messengers at that time. There will also be two unique individuals (Revelation 11:3) who are specially used by God as His witnesses in those days.
Today we preach the gospel of the grace of God, presenting the problem of sin, the invitation to repent, and the deliverance offered through Jesus Christ. The gospel of the kingdom was preached by the Lord Jesus when His earthly ministry began (Matthew 9:45, Mark 1:14). It is a message about God's judgment on ungodly sinners and about Christ's promised reign as King. However, when the Lord was on earth His message was not accepted by His own people, so the message of grace went to Gentiles who did receive Him (John 1:12).
It's important to realize that those who have hardened their hearts against the gospel of grace before this time period begins will no longer have opportunity to be accepted by God. Furthermore, the Scriptures indicate that when the "man of sin," the so-called Antichrist, becomes prominent in the world, all those who did not love the truth will believe his lies and will be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12). No one should wait longer to come to Christ, for "today is the day of salvation!" (2 Corinthians 6:2).
That "man of sin" initiates the sequence of events that begins in Matthew 24:15. The "abomination of desolation" spoken of by the prophet Daniel (9:27, 11:31, 12:11) refers to an evil act that invites the desolating judgment of God, because that wicked man will sit in the temple and proclaim himself to be as God-- perhaps even sitting on the temple's mercy-seat itself, where God's own presence was to be! This person is going to be empowered by Satan himself (2 Thessalonians 2:9), for the devil will have intense rage in those days because he knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12).
This man will become a world leader who will appear to have all the answers for a troubled world-- economically, politically, religiously. He will institute a mark on people's bodies that will be used to unify the world's businesses (Revelation 13:16-17). He will set up a statue that actually begins to speak (Revelation 13:14-15) and will display great acts of power (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
When these things happen, believers are told to flee the city of Jerusalem! They must escape that man's new world order as well as the terrible coming judgments. There will be a period of "great tribulation" (24:21) that cannot be compared to any other time.
From other passages of Scripture we can determine that this will be about three and a half years. Revelation 13:5 speaks of "forty-two months;" Revelation 12:6 mentions "1260 days," which is understood as a forty-two-month period with 30 days in each month; and Daniel 7:25 describes "a time, and times, and half a time," which is understood as a year, two years, and half a year.
This period is also related to the "70th week" described in Daniel 9:24-27. The leader mentioned in verse 27 of that passage is the same as this man of sin. He interrupts the Jewish sacrifices and brings in the abomination "in the midst of the week," leaving three and a half days in that week. If we understand those days as years, this time period matches the three and a half years mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Those who are deluded by this wicked leader will never turn back to God. They are like Esau in Genesis 25:28-34, who despised his birthright by selling it for a bowl of stew; and when he sought for blessing later, he was rejected (cp. Hebrews 12:17).
It's good to realize that it is a "despiser" who is rejected by God, not just one who may be troubled about the security of salvation. If we have trusted Christ for salvation but feel troubled because we have not been faithful, we can confess our sins and know we will be forgiven (1 John 1:9). God saves all those who come to Him through Christ (Hebrews 7:25), because Christ's sacrifice has such incomparable value.
Second Bible study: The Son of Man's coming - Matthew 24:22-44
Study 1: Signs | Study 3: Faithful Top
The days of great tribulation will be so difficult that God will shorten them, showing mercy (cp. Habakkuk 3:2) for the sake of preserving His chosen people, called here the "elect."
At the same time, the signs and acts of power done by the wicked during this time will be very persuasive. However, God's elect will not be deceived.
It is a scriptural teaching that Christians today are God's elect, by God's own sovereign choice (e.g., Romans 8:33, 9:11, 11:5; 1 Peter 1:2). God has never predestined anyone for condemnation, and if mankind had not rejected Him through sin, there would have been no judgment. Still, we should not confuse the Christian elect with the "elect" of Matthew 24. Those are also chosen in advance by God, for He is always in control! But they are chosen and sealed as His in a different time period than the Church era. They will inhabit a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34), whereas the Christian position is in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
Yet how encouraging to see that despite great tribulation, they will not be overcome; despite great deception, they will not be deceived. They are God's; they are sealed and washed (Revelation 7).
Then the coming of the Son of Man takes place. This will be a brilliant display of the power and glory of Christ, which every person on earth will see. It is different from the Rapture, when He will appear only to those who look for Him (Hebrews 9:28)-- to Christians, who are His loving bride. The Rapture itself will be like a secret event, although the worldwide disappearance of Christians will certainly be noticed. Christians of every generation have been taught by the Scriptures to wait for their Lord, to look eagerly for Him (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Philippians 3:20), indicating that there are no signs which precede that aspect of His coming. But the coming of Matthew 24:27 will be preceded by the very definite signs of the previous verses.
There was a sign announced by the angels at His first coming: a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. The sign at His second coming will be the glory of the Son of Man. In between these two events, there was the sign of His crucifixion (Luke 2:34-35).
Every eye will see Him at His coming (Revelation 1:7), just as everyone in a storm knows when lightning has flashed. There will be great destruction at His coming, for the nations will be amassed against Jerusalem and will resist Him (cp. Revelation 19:11-21; Joel 3:11-16; Zechariah 14:1-13). His coming will be accompanied by visible changes in the sun, moon, and stars (some also interpret this as the overthrow of various powers on earth).
When He comes, He will send His angels to gather His scattered people from all corners of the world. By contrast, what a blessing to know that in grace He Himself will gather the Church, not even employing angels for this (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)!
Notice, too, that these are His angels who are sent and His elect (24:31). These are words of deity for the Lord Jesus. Some false teachers minimize His deity because only the Father knows the time of His return; but that is a false teaching that is countered by the proof of His authority.
Reading through the book of Revelation, we realize that the vast portion of that book takes place in the same period that comprises Matthew 24:4-31. All those detailed and terrible judgments will come to pass. God has not forgotten all the wickedness that has been done, even from the first murder (Matthew 23:35), and He will recompense it. Yet despite the Lord's power displayed, there will later be another uprising against Him, and then a final judgment will be made (Revelation 20:7-10).
The Lord next answers the very first question of the disciples: "When shall these things be?" His answer is not a specific time but an exhortation to watch. Just as the budding fig tree shows that summer is near, so "these things"-- the signs of this chapter-- indicate that His coming is near. They will actually take place, and so will His coming! Besides this symbolism, other Scriptures link the fig with the nation of Israel (e.g., Jeremiah 24); so, we also realize that the Lord will again have a special focus on Israel in those days. (However, we should not over-interpret current events involving the nation of Israel, as though every news item implies a budding fig tree.)
When these things take place, the generation alive then will be the generation to experience His coming. Another view of the phrase "this generation" (24:34) is a reference to the unbelief of the nation of Israel, which has continued all this time since the Lord was on the earth.
Although His people have experienced great tribulation, they will receive rest. This is God's principle even for us today, as in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-8; when we suffer for Christ's sake, we know God has not forgotten! And when He appears, we shall appear with Him, adding a reflected glory to His coming because He will have His saints with Him (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
There will be a time when heaven and earth actually do pass away, but we can have confidence in His words. This will establish our hearts. In addition, some will actually pick up abandoned Bibles during the tribulation period, reading about the truth and desiring to understand. They also will have cause to trust God confidently.
Although the waiting time has been long, we are encouraged to be watchful. The days of Noah are difficult to discern, because they simply present a "life goes on" philosophy. This world already has its tragedies, but life should not go "back to normal" for God's people. We should be all the more energized to speak of the Lord Jesus.
Just as the flood took away the unbelievers in Noah's day, so judgment will take some away at Christ's coming. Anyone who is taken at that time, such as from the field or from the mill, will instantly be judged.
Watching and being ready are the overarching themes of this section. Although Christians will not personally experience this time period, we are those who love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). Thus we should also be characterized by watching for Him and living in readiness for His return.
Third Bible study: Faithful servants - Matthew 24:45 - 25:13
Study 1: Signs | Study 2: Coming Top
The Lord knew the disciples would not experience these future events, yet these parables would be instructive for them. They are instructive for us, too.
These stories illuminate what it is like to be both watchful and to ready for the Lord's return. They still focus on the "power and glory" aspect of His coming, not the Rapture; yet they provide exhortations for faithful believers of any age.
The Lord Jesus is the great Prophet, who not only explains the facts about things but also applies them to His listeners, exhorting them to consider the appropriate response to the facts.
The faithful and wise servant in the household is commended because he is providing food for the other servants. The great need for the people of God at any time is to have spiritual food. If there is no food, whether physically or spiritually, there will be no activity in any other aspect of life. Presenting the Word of God and the Person of Christ as spiritual nourishment will energize our fellow believers.
The other servant is classified as evil, and the only reason given is that he has lost sight of the return of his master. Forgetfulness about Christ's return has a severe impact on the way we live! He spends time with drunkards, who have no self-control and are subject to immorality; and he begins to mistreat his fellow servants. Believers have only one master, and this servant has lost sight of who that Master is. If a follower of the Lord acts with arrogance and anger towards other believers, perhaps there has been a loss of appreciation of the Lord's coming. We can help each other by sharing reminders of His return.
Faithful servants are reliable because they know they have been entrusted with responsibility.
Wise servants recognize the need for prudence in their service. The food provided is given in due season: in the time that it is needed, and in the time that it is fresh. For example, the New Testament writer Jude had planned a letter about our common salvation; but he allowed the Spirit of God to change his subject to our need to contend earnestly for the faith.
No doubt the food provided by the faithful servant was enjoyable. No one likes to eat the same exact food every day. Not only was it in season, but it must have been varied as well. Consider the food that would have been served at a king's table like Solomon's! Some of God's servants specialize on one theme and forget to provide food that is fresh and varied.
The faithful servant in this story is found, at the very moment of Christ's return, engaged in the precise activity entrusted to him. The evil servant does not have a service problem but a heart problem. He believes his master's coming is delayed, which results in bad behavior and wrong friendships. Even though he was among the servants, living in the same atmosphere of the master's house, he had no appreciation of the master himself.
He wanted to be the master's servant while keeping drunkards as his friends; he wanted to have it both ways. His judgment displays this, for he is cut in two (24:51) because he never really knew the Lord. He is classified with those who were hypocrites, for that's what he was. The leaven of the Pharisees is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1)-- having accurate knowledge but a lack of corresponding behavior.
"Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man?" (Proverbs 20:6).
Psalm 14:1 and 53:1 indicate that only fools do not keep God in their minds.
The commended household servant is faithful and wise. Notice that, later, the servants who are busy trading are called faithful and good (25:21, 23). Their service is outside the house, so goodness is important, for good works must be part of their public testimony (Matthew 5:16).
The ten women of the next story are also waiting for someone, in this case the bridegroom and the feast that would follow. In the Jewish culture, the bridegroom's coming would be announced, and he would arrive at some later point to receive his bride. All of them are virgins, suggesting their purity; but only some are wise. Upright living is not enough to ensure our relationship with the bridegroom.
All of them had lamps and oil, but only the wise virgins truly had a personal, enduring supply of oil. We could say that only they were true believers, having the Holy Spirit to personally empower their testimony for God. The others were foolish and had only a superficial connection to God's power; their lamps were "going out," as many Bible translations say (25:8). They ought to have been prepared by seeking the oil at an earlier time, but they did not. "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (Isaiah 55:6); there will be a time when seekers will be too late!
However, we should notice that even the wise virgins were not considered faithful in this story. They were sleeping just like the foolish women. From a distance, those who are sleeping may even appear dead. Sleeping Christians look spiritually dead and need to be woken up! See Ephesians 5:14 and Romans 13:11.
There is sweet sleep for the one who has worked faithfully, but there is also a sleep that brings ruin when one is slothful (Ecclesiastes 5:12; Proverbs 6:10-11). We will have sweet rest when we have been tired in the Lord's service, but Christians who are sleeping instead of serving will suffer loss.
There are three bad examples in the Lord's stories. The first is an evil servant (24:48), and we would all shun this! But the next group is simply foolish (25:2). This does not seem so bad; yet foolish servants are really no servants at all. In the next story the Lord told, the condemned servant is slothful, or lazy (25:26). This hardly seems worthy of condemnation, but it is. We would not wish to be evil, but are we foolish in our choices and watchfulness? Are we lazy? None of these characteristics brings honor to the Lord.
By contrast, it is a marvel to read in Luke 12:37 that the master who finds faithful servants will himself serve them in the end. Imagine the Lord Jesus, who is worthy to be glorified by all, girding Himself as a servant and making us to sit at His table! He is pictured in the devoted servant of Exodus 21:1-6, who becomes a servant forever. Even while we wait for Him, Jesus Christ is the model for our service.
[A message on Romans 13:11-14 followed these studies. This passage led to the conversion of St. Augustine. The final aspect of our salvation-- the Lord taking us to heaven and removing us from all of sin's effects-- is nearer than when we believed! While we wait, are we characterized by strife and envy, even with fellow believers? Let us put aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.]
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