Signs of the Times

Matthew 24

Dear Christian,

I want to warn you ahead of time that this is going to be one of our longest studies for a chapter of Matthew, but the context of this chapter with it's promises and warning regarding Jesus' return and the End Times make it well worth studying thoroughly. Please take your time and break up the reading if you need to.


Have you noticed the tone shift here in the last week of Jesus' life? Up through the Triumphal Entry, it seemed to everyone surrounding Jesus that wonderful and extraordinary things were going to happen! The King had finally come as He was promised, He was healing people, forgiving their sin, and pointing them to profound truths. Then Jesus enters the temple on that first day and violently overturns the tables of the moneychangers driving them from His Father's House. He answers every word trap the religious leaders can throw His way and after shutting them up gives a resounding speech of harsh judgment placing the guilt for all the shed blood of His messengers on their heads!


By the middle of the week, Jesus had to be exhausted, especially knowing as He did that the horrific end of His life was now so near. In the last chapter we saw Him conclude His public ministry on this earth, now He leaves the temple with His disciples.


Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Matthew 24:1-2

It always strikes me how abrupt this short conversation is. In the next verses, you will see that an unknown amount of time has passed and the disciples are now with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Yet this prophecy would have landed like a slap to the face to any Jew who heard it. How could anyone tear down the House of God? Who would dare and not face judgment? You will see that the religious leaders will bring up this remark later at Jesus' trial. In fact, this is the nail in the coffin or the perfect conclusion to the judgment He had just proclaimed against the people of Israel who had so long waited for their King but refused to welcome Him when He stood right in front of them.


Around twenty years later, just as Jesus had predicted, the Romans in response to another religious uprising utterly destroyed the Temple tearing stone from stone until not one was left standing atop another. At this point in history the Old Testament system of sacrifices meant to redeem the people in the eyes of God ceased to exist. Oh! If they had only recognized that final perfect sacrifice had already been made on their behalf! But let's not get ahead of ourselves...


As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:3

Naturally, the disciples come to Him after this terrible prediction to ask Him two questions.

  1. When will these things happen?

  2. What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?

First of all, these questions had to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. Because on these men's best days they were struggling to put together why the Messiah would need to die or what would happen to Him after that. "What will be the sign of your coming?" Where on earth did they think He was going? Another thing that my favorite resource, Bible Reference, pointed out was that the disciples seemed to link the occurrence of these judgments to be happening concurrently with Jesus' return. However, Jesus Himself doesn't confirm that to be necessarily true in His answer to them. This is important because there are people today who continue to share that belief and interpret their view of Revelation and other end-times prophecies based on the idea that the End of the Age has already happened at the same time as the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, in fact, they believe that everything in the Bible has already taken place. This is called Hyper Preterism and if you want to hear a decent and fairly thorough explanation of end-times theories, I would recommend this video by Pastor Mike Winger.


Equally as guilty in the misinterpretation of what Jesus is about to say, are all of us in the camp that think these things are still yet to come. We're so busy looking for the neon signs of the end of the world that we miss what Jesus is actually commanding us to focus on until His return!


The study and discussion of these things can get overly complex and that's not the purpose of this post. As a young Christian, what I want you to pay attention to here is simply the actual answer that Jesus gives them, and to the best of our discernment to take Him at His Word trusting that whether some of these things or all of these things are to take place in the past, present, or future that God will always be working throughout human history to bring us back to Himself and the truth of His glory and grace.


The Long Delay

For the first part of Jesus' answer, He gives the disciples a list of signs that most people think of as end-of-the-world type events but tells them that when they see these things happening, it is not yet the end. He indicates that there is going to be a significant portion of time before He returns and the end of the age has finally come. Nations will rise and fall, natural disasters will occur, the temple will be destroyed but will be built again, and many will come claiming to be the Christ leading many astray but we are to be alert and waiting.


1. Many Will Come Claiming to Be the Christ

And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. Matthew 24:4-5

This answer has three parts:

a. Warning - "Many will come in my name, saying 'I am the Christ.'

b. Command - "See that no one leads you astray."

c. Further Explanation - "they will lead many astray."


You may have heard of a figure called the Antichrist. Many Christians anticipate that there will be a final false Christ at the end of the age who will signal the true Armageddon. In the meantime, let us agree that just as Jesus said: many have come and/or will come in Jesus' Name claiming to be Him and they lead many astray.


As you contemplate this sign, I want you to consider people that have come to us claiming to be the Messiah. How many thousands of people have been led to their destruction by these subtly false Saviors? Then take an inventory of your own view of Christ, has it been distorted or changed by recent ideologies claiming that you can disregard in part or in full the Word of God. Jesus warns His disciples, "See that no one leads you astray." How do we do this? First, we must know the true Christ so that we are able to spot any counterfeit.


2. There Will Be Wars, Rumors of Wars, Famines, and Earthquakes

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Mattew 24:6-8 (emphasis my own)

If you're anything like me, about half a dozen headlines just popped into your head about growing conflict around the world and rumors of conflicts that have not yet begun. You may also be thinking of the predicted food shortages and maybe about how a changing climate brings increased chances of natural disasters. Sometimes, it's fun to speculate that perhaps this means the "signs" are finally coming true and Christ's return is just around the corner. However, these events also cause very real stress, the promise of loss, grief, and sacrifice. Ask anyone in Russia, Ukraine, or the Middle East right now how war and hunger have characterized their every waking moment! We worry over the future of our own nation and the ever-swinging pendulum of power that goes from one ideology to the next only seeming to add to the division. Pastor Mike, also pointed out in his study of the parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus very clearly says, "but the end is not yet." Unlike what we've popularly been led to believe, these things are not signs of the world ending, they are simply things that Jesus said must take place before even the beginning of the end would come.


See again the pattern that Jesus gives in this answer.


a. Warning - "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars."

b. Command- "See that you are not alarmed,..."

c. Further Explanation


The focus here is not on what is going to happen but on how the followers of Jesus should be living out the mission of the church through the common course of turbulent times. The headlines may be too crazy to imagine these days, but God is not surprised. It may feel like the world is falling into utter chaos but we have no reason to be alarmed because we know God is still on His throne, He is still in control and He has warned that these things must take place.


3. You Will Be Persecuted and Hated for My Name's Sake

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. Matthew 24:9

If you want to know what a real Christian looks like, they are not a person who gets along with the world. They stand as witnesses both to the grace of Christ in His willing sacrifice for the salvation of all those who would accept Him and against those who have heard this Gospel and rejected Him. The United States has been an anomaly in the long course of history for its religious tolerance and Christian founding, but those days are decades behind us. The culture we live in now wants nothing to do with true Biblical Christianity. Every day more Christians wonder when the day will come that even in America death will become a very real potential consequence for continuing to live for Jesus.


It should not surprise us when the world hates us! After all, the world hated our King! What should surprise us and cause us to reflect and perhaps repent is when the world accepts us with open arms... loving everything we have to say. Yet, notice again that persecution of Christians has continued from the death of Christ through our present day. It is not something that started happening in sequential order as if a sign of Doomsday.


4. Many Will Fall Away and Hate One Another

And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. Matthew 24:10

Remember that those false christs are coming to deceive people. Think very critically about the condition that the Church is in today. There are studies out now, whether valid or not, that claim 3,500 people are leaving the Church every day. That is a frightening number! Something has gone terribly wrong for that to even be a conceivable statistic on a biased report! However, I would venture to guess that the only thing that surprises you about this number is that it isn't more... we've seen firsthand the failures of the Church over the last few decades and even more so in the last few years.


Outside of the Church people are increasingly more divided every day, with intense rhetoric of hate coming from all sides. We've lost the art of being able to agree to disagree. Yet again, this kind of malice was present even in the early Church.


5. Many False Prophets Will Come and Lead Many Astray

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. Matthew 24:11

I would argue that this right here is the key to why so many people are leaving the Church. False teachers have infiltrated or founded some of the biggest churches in the world, teaching their followers to pick and choose which parts of the Bible they think are applicable and twisting the parts they find inconvenient to fit their narrative. Then others get up and teach great Bible-driven sermons but are committing heinous crimes of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and embezzlement. People around the world are hungry for truth and whether they can explain to you the true Gospel or who Jesus really is, they can tell you when they see a liar and a hypocrite who gives false promises and leads people into more pain and destruction... all in the name of a man called Jesus.


Those who remain in these churches are deceived into a false gospel by their leadership and are still living lost in their sin bound for eternal judgment. Those who leave may never let anyone speak to them of God, Jesus, or the Gospel again, because the fraud of those they once trusted has poisoned the well of their faith. Still, false teachers abounded in the 1st Century Church and likewise, the early church was commanded not to be led astray.


6. Lawlessness Will Be Increased, The Love of Many Will Grow Cold

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:12-13

Lawlessness has increased and so certainly has hatred, but even the disciples in their time could see the marks of these things already coming to pass. The Roman Empire was always at war, Christians were persecuted to the point of being burned as garden torches for the Emporer's parties, false teachers and doctrines abounded, people were led astray and the hearts of many grew cold.


These things must happen, but this next part of Jesus' answer speaks to what our focus should be instead of looking for signs of the end of the world.


7. The Gospel of the Kingdom Will Be Proclaimed Throughout the Whole World

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (emphasis my own)

That dear brothers and sisters is our goal. The Gospel of the Kingdom must be proclaimed throughout the whole world before the true end can come. No one will be able to say that they were not given the opportunity to know of the Gospel and either accept or reject it!


As Pastor Mike reminded us in the videos I linked above, proclaiming the Gospel is the mission of the Church... not the Sunday Service... the Church. While we're taking an inventory of the health of our religious organizations today, we should also be convicted over our own dedication to proclaiming the Gospel as we ought to be doing!


The Abomination of Desolation

After all of that, Jesus begins to answer the question of what will come at the end of the age and what His followers must be watchful for as they wait for His return.


“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Matthew 24:15-22

There is a lot of baggage we need to go through in just these few verses. First, what is the reader to understand Jesus is pointing to in Daniel? Second, what is the abomination of desolation? Third, what does Jesus mean by great tribulation? Fourth, what does Jesus mean by the time being cut short for the sake of the elect?


Jesus' disciples would have been familiar with Jesus' reference to Daniel and the abomination of desolation. However, they would have been surprised at Jesus informing them that this pivotal event had not yet happened. The Jews of Jesus' day believed that this prophecy had already been fulfilled in 167 B.C. when the Greek King Antiochus IV Epiphanes captured Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple by entering it and making a sacrifice to Zeus of a pig on the altar. The name he gave himself, Epiphanes, means God manifest, but the Jews called him Epimanes meaning the Mad King. His desecration of the temple led to the Maccabean Revolt. The Jews led by the Maccabees retook Jerusalem and reconsecrated the temple in 164 B.C. Every year that historic restoration is celebrated at Hanukkah.


The Prophet Daniel's Prophecy


To understand why Jesus' disciples would have thought that event of desecration fulfilled Daniel's prophecy we have to look at the prophecy itself. In Daniel Chapter 8 verses 1-14, the prophet has a vision at the end of which he overhears two holy beings discussing how long the regular sacrifice shall be interrupted and the holy place desecrated. Daniel himself struggles to understand what everything he has just seen and heard means. Then another man appears to him and commands the angel Gabriel to give Daniel an understanding of the vision he has just seen and here we see Gabriel say something very interesting.


So he came near where I stood. And when he came, I was frightened and fell on my face. But he said to me, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.” Daniel 8:17

Then Gabriel gives further explanation of the vision that Daniel has seen, but you will find that it still takes a very similar form to Jesus' explanations of parables leaving several unanswered questions for someone trying to decipher it now. However, what Daniel understood the vision to mean affected him so greatly that he became physically ill and was unable to rise from his bed for several days. Even when he says that he recovered to go back to work, he was still greatly upset by what he had seen and heard. He had this vision in the third and final year of King Belshazzar's reign. Nearly seven years later, in the first year of the reign of King Darius Daniel in chapter 9 verses 1-19 stumbles across a prophecy by Jeremiah the prophet that he perceived to be connected to the vision God had given him and he begins to pray regarding his people and what has been foretold.

in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Daniel 9:2 (emphasis my own)

Jeremiah had prophesied that the Israelites would be exiled from the land and the temple desecrated for 70 years, then God would allow them to return and restore them as His people. In Daniel's prayer, he acknowledges that what God has done as he promised through the words of Jeremiah and warned through the Law of Moses is righteous, holy, and just. Then Daniel begs God to have mercy on His people, to forgive them and deliver from their exile.


Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” Daniel 9:17-19

In Daniel's own time, the temple and the city of Jerusalem were desolate already. In fact, the temple had been utterly destroyed. His vision of a future abomination of desolation being set up in the temple would first be a cause for hope because it meant the temple would be rebuilt. But it would also be a cause for great alarm because it would mean that Daniel's people had learned nothing from their time of exile. In response to Daniel's prayer, Gabriel is again dispatched to give him clarity in verses 20-27. Before we get into his clarification, I need to make one of my own: in English, the time words used in this prophecy make it extra confusing. Where it says weeks in vs. 24,25, & 26 the Hebrew word more accurately means a group of seven of something which could mean days, weeks, or years. In this case, scholars today believe it more likely means - 70 groups of 7 years. I will add that in parenthesis to the applicable verses so that you see what I mean.


“Seventy weeks (70 groups of 7 years) are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks (7 groups of 7 years) . Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks (62 groups of 7 years), an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week (1 group of 7 years), and for half of the week (half of 7 years) he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” Daniel 9:24-27

This prophecy from Daniel gave the exact time when the Messiah would come as well as when to expect the abomination of desolation. Doing the math from when the actual decree went out from King Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem 483 years pass. According to ancient calendars that brings us all the way up to March 33 A.D. and the final week of the Messiah's life when it was foretold He would be cut off and have nothing (be killed). Why? "To finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place."


The prince who is to come is Emporer Titus who ordered the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. Then notice that the next sentence says "its end shall come with a flood," not that the end of all things will come with a flood but that either the city's end at that time or the emporer's end would come with a šeṭep̄ which our text translates flood, but also means a deluge, overflowing, outrageous, or downpour. This has been interpreted both figuratively to mean violence or even information and literally. However, the next half of the sentence transitions us back to the true end of time, "and to the end there shall be war." Of that time what we know is that desolations have been decreed (these things must happen) and that the abomination of desolation will occur. Specifically, this prophecy makes clear that the abomination of desolation is directly related to a person. While this is certainly a frightening prediction, there is still hope because an end has been decreed for this evil person and time.


Daniel has and records yet another vision in chapter 10, he has been fasting and mourning for three weeks when a person whom he describes in that chapter appears to him, to explain more of the things that are to come. What is interesting in this prophecy is that it says Daniel "understood the word and had understanding of the vision," unlike the vision that he had seen earlier. This person who greatly resembles John's description of the resurrected Jesus whom he describes in Revelation chapter 1, also makes it clear to Daniel that the vision he is being given has to do with future things far removed from his own lifetime.

and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” Daniel 10:17

Daniel chapter 11 gives us that very specific timeline of history that tracks all the way up to the Messiah's arrival. Pastor Mike Winger, is again a great resource for getting into all these nitty-gritty details. In this timeline, it very clearly describes the events of 167 B.C. as an abomination of desolation.


Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time. Daniel 11:31-35 (emphasis my own)

Even here in Daniel, it says that though these events have occurred the wise who do still stumble do so that they may continue to be refined, purified, and made white UNTIL THE TIME OF THE END. The one giving Daniel the prophecy says, "It's still not time yet. Keep waiting for the appointed time."


Our final reference in Daniel to the Abomination of Desolation is in chapter 12. The vision that he has been having is coming to its conclusion. Two other beings appear with the one who has been speaking to him and ask, "How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?" The one who has been speaking answers them but the answer is sealed and Daniel does not understand it so he asks a question of his own, "O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?"


He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.” Daniel 12:9-13

Daniel is perhaps not given the answer he wanted as to the outcome of these things, but he is assured again that the evil of the abomination of desolation will have its end. It will not last forever!


Now that we have a context from Daniel about what Jesus is referring to we can answer the second question: what is the abomination of desolation? We know that "it" is set up in the temple and that people worship it which would make it an idol, but we also know that it is connected to a person who comes and sets it up as an image of themselves to be worshiped as if they are God. Finally, we know that this person and the image they set up in the temple has only a short time decreed that they should be able to commit this heinous act against the One True God, then they shall be destroyed.


Lastly, let's clear up Jesus' wording regarding "great tribulation" and "the elect." When we hear great tribulation, if you've spent any time in the church studying End of Times prophecies your mind likely goes to the seven-year period that some theologians interpret the prophecies to mean will be at the end of time. In the context of Matthew 24, Jesus is not affirming or denying that particular theory, He is simply stating that during the period of the Abomination of Desolation there will be great cause for trouble and suffering. So great, in fact, that the world will never at any other point in time experience anything to compare with it! As far as the reference to "the elect" remember what we learned earlier about this word meaning picked out or chosen by God. In this context, it probably refers to the church (you'll why I say that when we look at the following verses) however, it does not specify what they have been picked out or chosen for. It could mean that they have been chosen to live through those terrible days and to live faithfully for Christ despite the great suffering they will endure. Let us not jump to conclusions based on our own assumptions surrounding that verbiage today.


False Christs and False Prophets in The Time of Desolation

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Matthew 24:23-28

Just as Daniel's timeline kicked off clearly with the edict of the King to rebuild Jerusalem, we will know that the true end has come when we see the Abomination of Desolation set up where it should not be in the Temple in Jerusalem. That means there at least needs to be a fully built temple in Jerusalem with sacrifices begun again before they can be stopped again and this Abomination be set up. Even during that time, Jesus warns that many will come claiming to be Him and claiming to be prophets, but He warns that even if they perform great miracles... don't believe them!!! They have only come to deceive and lead as many astray as they can, even those chosen or picked out by God (remember for what isn't clear). Then Jesus says something that should greatly encourage us, "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." In other words, "Don't worry! You won't be able to miss me! Everyone will see and know that I have come!"


The Signs for the Messiah's Return

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:29-31

After the great suffering and trouble of those days then and only then will it finally be the end. Here is the answer the disciples had been waiting for, this is when Christ will return. At long last, He will gather His elect to Himself from one end of heaven to the other. Notice, that the people of the earth do not run after the true Christ and watch Him perform miraculous wonders at His return... no! All the tribes of the earth mourn at His coming!


“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Matthew 24:32-35

When we see these things taking place, we will know that the day of Christ's return could happen at any moment. Before we get confused about Jesus saying that the generation contemporary to His own would see the end of time, let's head back to the Greek word being translated "generation."


The word according to Blue Letter Bible is genea which has been translated 37 times or most commonly in the Bible to mean generation. However, it has also been translated (though less commonly) to mean Time, Age, or Nation. Therefore, it would be far more accurate in this context to translate genea to mean Time or Age in reference to the Age of the Church as it fulfills its mission to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. However, I think it could also be referring to Nation in re