JESUS’ PROPHECY Matthew 24–25
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36).Jesus did make specific predictions about the future. But He emphasized what His servants are to do until the future arrives!
Jesus answered His disciples’ questions about the end of the age (24:1–28), the signs of His coming (vv. 29–35), and when these things will happen (vv. 36–44). He went on to emphasize the importance of being ready (vv. 45–51), emphasizing the importance of service in two parables (25:1–30). Ultimately Jesus will come again and establish His kingdom (vv. 31–46).
Understanding the Text
“Every one will be thrown down” Matt. 24:1–2. The Jerusalem temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Pagans as well as Jews traveled from all across the Roman Empire to see it. No wonder Jesus’ disciples were stunned when Christ said that every stone of the magnificent edifice would be thrown down—a prediction fulfilled by Roman troops inA.D 70, less than four decades after Christ’s crucifixion. As you and I think about the future, we need to do so with the attitude displayed by Christ. This world, with all its wonders, will come crashing down. Every material thing we hold dear will crumble into dust, or be destroyed with earth itself in blazing fires (cf. 2 Peter 3:10). We can appreciate all man’s accomplishments. But we must fix our hopes on the world to come. “What will be the sign . . . of the end of the age?” Matt. 24:3–29 Jesus answered the three questions His disciples posed (v. 3), but in reverse order. First Jesus warned against mistaking the ordinary tragedies of war, pestilence, famine, and natural disasters as an indication the world is about to end. All these things are the stuff of which human history has always been woven, ever since Adam’s fall. The world will not improve, nor will Christ’s kingdom come through a gradual uplifting of our fallen race. The course of human history is downward, not upward. Ultimately it will plunge into the abyss described by Daniel, when one known as the Antichrist desecrates the holy place and the world is plunged into the most dread Tribulation of all (vv. 15–21). Many have tried to fit what Jesus taught here into a rigid sequence of prophetic events. There is no doubt that Christ’s words are in fullest harmony with those of the Old Testament prophets, and that they “fit” the picture of history’s end drawn in the older revelation. But there is a more important point made here. Don’t fix your heart on what this world offers. For this world is doomed. This does not, of course, mean that you and I should not do all we can to promote interpersonal, societal, and international peace. It simply reminds us that mankind requires redemption. Apart from a transforming work of God, no lasting change can or will come. And, tragically, most human beings will persist in rejecting Jesus and His claims. “The Son of man will appear in the sky” Matt. 24:30–35. Jesus will return. How will He come? His first coming was quiet. He slipped unobtrusively into our world, a tiny Infant, and grew up in the guise of an ordinary Jewish man. His second coming will be spectacular: all the nations of earth will see Him appear in “power and great glory.” We need never wonder if Jesus has slipped in among us, unnoticed again. His next appearance will command the attention—and the respect—of all. We need never be ashamed or embarrassed to witness of the unnoticed Jesus, whom our friends so successfully ignore today. They won’t be able to ignore or overlook Him when He comes again. “No one knows about that day or hour” Matt. 24:36–44. I can’t imagine how many books and pamphlets have been written, promising to name the date of Christ’s return. How could anyone be so foolish, when Jesus Himself said, “No one knows about that day or hour”? Yet there’s one positive characteristic in each writing. The authors expected Christ to come back in their own lifetimes. Ever since the first century, Christians have looked forward to the return of Jesus. I well remember my mother, some 53 years ago as I write this—I was five then—telling me she expected the Lord to come in her lifetime. Today I expect Jesus to come in mine. He may not. But the important thing is that He could. Why is it important? Because Jesus emphasized it. He said, “You also must be ready, because the Son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” If we recognize the perishability of this world, and expect Jesus to come at any moment, how our values and priorities will change! May God give each of us a deep sense of the imminence of Jesus’ return. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant?” Matt. 24:45–51 This parable is directed to leaders—those responsible for the care and supervision of others. Leaders are to be considerate and concerned with the others’ well-being. The good servant, who treats others in this way, will be rewarded when Jesus comes back. But there are “wicked” servants in leadership who exploit and mistreat others. Ignoring the likelihood of the master’s return, such servants shear rather than feed God’s flock. As I was writing this paragraph I stopped for a break, and switched on the TV. I saw a news flash. Jim Bakker has just been convicted of 24 counts of fraud: of lying to his TV partners about projects he knew could not be completed, and taking $3.7 million of their contributions for himself and his wife. Later Tammy Faye broke out into song, and told the assembled reporters that this earthly jury doesn’t give the final verdict. I wonder if she or Jim ever read this parable? Or its conclusion. In the most graphic and severe terms, Jesus speaks of punishment for those wicked servants of God who “beat . . . fellow servants and . . . eat and drink with drunkards” (v. 49). “Ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” Matt. 25:1–13. Jewish marriage custom dictated that the bridegroom go to the house of the bride and escort her to his own house. The friends of the bride waited for him to come. While many fanciful interpretations of this parable have been advanced, the basic point is clear. The bridegroom did not come when expected, but was delayed. And some of the young women waiting to join the bridal party didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps, and the oil ran out. In this set of illustrations about waiting for the delayed second coming of the Saviour, this parable makes a simple point. Expect Him at any moment. But be prepared for a long wait. This is the perspective you and I are to adopt as we live our lives on earth. We are to look forward each morning to Jesus’ return, and live as though He were to appear before evening. Yet we are to prepare for a lifetime here, ready to wait as long as it takes for Him to come. “Entrusted his property to them” Matt. 25:14–30. This familiar parable too focuses on what we are to do while waiting for Christ to return. It makes the point that God has entrusted us with resources—of money, personal gifts, and abilities—and that He expects us to use those resources in His service. Perhaps the greatest wonder here is that God trusts so much to us, and then gives us the freedom to use what He has given as we choose. God doesn’t stand over us, barking out orders, dotting every i and crossing every t. Instead He steps back. He lets us have the pleasure of taking the initiative, the joy of achieving. He gives us freedom and support, and while He does hold us responsible, He wants us to succeed. The servant who buried his talent in the ground portrays every Christian who has been afraid to risk stepping out for God, while the servants who made a profit represent each of us who has experienced joy in acting by faith to serve our God. Like the other parables in this section, this one concludes with a grim picture of the punishment suitable to the failed servant. What we do in this life really does count. We truly must be about our Master’s business.
Lord, When Did We See You?(Matt. 25:31–46)
Sometimes it’s best to ignore theology when we read the Bible. Oh, I don’t mean that theological questions shouldn’t be asked. Or that we shouldn’t try to answer them. I just mean that sometimes our earnest study gets in the way, so that we miss something simple that contains a great blessing. Matthew 25:31–46 is a case in point: the story of the sheep and the goats. The meaning of the story is hotly debated. The “hungry and thirsty” Jesus called His brothers have been variously identified. They are the poor and oppressed, or the Jewish people in the Tribulation era, or the inhabitants of Christendom. In the same way, the sheep and goat peoples have been taken in a variety of ways. Are they national groups, or individuals? If the passage is talking about salvation, is a “works righteousness” really intended? While these are important questions, perhaps it’s enough for our devotional reading to note one or two key facts. First, Christ identified Himself with “these brothers of Mine” who live on earth. What we do to meet the needs of others is not just done “for” Christ, but in a significant sense, to Him! Second, as disciples of Jesus who do hunger or thirst, we can take comfort that Christ shares the experience with us. He does not watch: He participates. Both the righteous, who help the brothers of Jesus, and the wicked, who do not, were surprised when the basis of their judgment was explained. Just as we may be surprised when Jesus returns to learn how deeply He was involved in our every experience. Yet, if we tune our hearts and minds to what Jesus teaches here, a great and wonderful peace will come. We truly are not alone, whatever suffering we experience or need we have. Jesus is with us. In His presence we can find comfort and peace.
As you wait for Jesus to appear, remember that He is with you.
“Receive every inward and outward trouble, every disappointment, pain, uneasiness, temptation, darkness, and desolation, with both thy hands, as a true opportunity and blessed occasion of dying to self, and entering into a fuller fellowship with thy self-dying, suffering Saviour. Look at no inward or outward trouble in any other view; reject every other thought about it; and then every kind of trial and duress will become the blessed day of thy prosperity.”—William Law