By Pastor Glenn Pease
Don't feel bad if you feel confused by Matt. 24. The greatest Bible scholars in the world are confused by this chapter, and the preachers of the world are so confused they contradict their own system of theology in preaching on it. Dr. Earl Rudmacker, the President of Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland, is a leading promoter of the Pre-trib rapture school of thought. He is so angry at the preachers in his system because they do the very thing their system rejects. They teach that none of the signs are relevant to the Christian. They are all meant for the Jews after the Christians are raptured out of the world. There will be no signs of Christ coming for His church.
That is a fairly simple principle to grasp, no signs for the Christian. But if you go to your Christian Book Store you will see books on the signs everywhere, and who writes the vast majority of them? Those from the Pre-trib school of thought. Dr. Rudmacker is embarrassed about this, and he responds to his critics with these words: "I would admit that there is a glaring inconsistency in those who preach about the signs of a sign less event. There are no signs of the times because we are not in the time of the signs."
Here is a leading scholar of our day admitting that most of the authors who write about Matt. 24 and the signs of the times are confused. So you have every right to be confused if these who are the so-called experts are confused. The only way to avoid endless mysteries and confusion is to believe every word Jesus speaks in this passage just as He states it. It is hard to believe Him when He says in verse 34 that all of the signs up to that point would happen in that generation. But if you don't believe it, you are forced to join the ranks of the perpetually confused.
Now as we come to the last part of this chapter we are compelled to again state what ought to be obvious: Believe Jesus and take His words literally, or you will again go astray into endless nonsense of interpretation. I can't believe all the sermons I read that take this text and use it to prove the very opposite of what Jesus is teaching here. In fact, most everything that gets into the hands of people distort this passage beyond recognition, and to the shame of Christians they listen to the popular authors and ignore the words of their Lord.
For example, I just read a sermon that was spread across this country in a major periodical. The title was "The Days Of Noah Repeated." The point of the message was that when we see the conditions of our world become like those in the days of Noah, then we know the end is near. In other words he is saying that Jesus is giving us signs to look for so we can know when His coming is at hand. He then goes on to show how our day parallels that of Noah, and so we see the signs of the end everywhere. There is only one mistake in the sermon, and that is that he totally ignores the point of Jesus in this paragraph.
The essence of what Jesus is saying here is that there are no signs of His coming. It is, in fact, so secret that no one knows just when it will be, not even the angels in heaven who are in on all God does, and not even the Son. This is one bit of information so highly classified that only God the Father knows. Then Jesus illustrates the point of it being totally unknown by referring to the days of Noah. In those days before the flood he says they were eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage, and just living life as usual with no sign of judgment about to fall, when all of the sudden the flood came and swept them all away.
That is the way it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. People will be just carrying on life as normal. Two men will be in the field, and one will be a Christian and the other an unbeliever, and the Christian will have no more idea than the unbeliever. Two women will be grinding at the mill, and neither will have any idea that the day of the Lord is near. The whole point of this passage is that the coming of Christ will be totally unknown, and be a surprise to Christians and non-Christians alike. Those who greet it with joy, and those face it as judgment, are all in the same boat. They have no idea when it will happen.
The people of Noah's day were wicked, but Jesus does not refer to that here, for that is not the point. The point is, they were totally unaware to the judgment coming on them. It took them completely by surprise, and so they coming of Christ will be completely unexpected. People will be eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, and suddenly in the midst of life as usual the end will come. Many twist this passage to say that Jesus is giving signs of His coming, and they ramble on for pages about how Jesus is saying how awful they were in their eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage. They take what Jesus is saying to be just normal life of any generation of people, and they go on and on about drunkenness and adultery, and point out how we live in just such an age like that of Noah. It is all true, but it has nothing to do with what Jesus is teaching here.
If you think eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage is describing awful wickedness, then you need some therapy. This is the description of life as usual for Christians as well as non-Christians. To twist this into some kind of description of depravity is to ignore the meaning of language. Jesus does not refer to a single sin of that generation, because that is not His point. His point is that they just went about life as usual unknowing of the fact that the end was right at the door. In contrast to the thousands of sermons preached on this passage as a sign passage, Jesus is teaching that there are no signs. That is the point. You have to be ready at all times, for He will come when life is just going along as usual, and nobody is expecting the end.
This is in total contrast to the teaching He has just given on the signs of the coming of judgment on Jerusalem in 70 A. D. Jesus knew every detail of that event, and of His coming in judgment. In verse 15 He says when they see the abomination of desolation that is the time to flee to the mountains. Luke clarifies this for us and tells us exactly when this is in Luke 21:20. "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." Jesus makes the sign of the end of Jerusalem so clear that the blind could see it. Then in verse 29 He says the other signs in the heavens will be immediately after the tribulation of those days, and He goes on to say that when you see the leaves on the fig tree you know summer is near, and so when you see all these things you know the end is near right at the door.
Now notice that everything about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. is sign oriented, and there is evidence galore when it is to take place. All of it will happen in that generation Jesus said. The whole point of all the signs is because Jesus wanted His people to escape this awful judgment. Then in verse 35 there is a transition where Jesus says that "heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Just when will this final end take place-this passing of the heaven and earth, and the beginning of the new heaven and earth? This is not just the end of Jerusalem and the temple, but of the whole world. Jesus now deals with His final second coming, and it is in total contrast to that of 70 A. D. with all of its signs. There is no sign whatever, for He was without a clue, and so is everyone else.
There is no sign to watch so that you can flee anywhere. There is no where to go for this coming anyway, for it is the end of the world. Getting to the mountains can save you from the Roman army, but it won't do you any good at the end of the world. The whole point of Jesus in dealing with His final coming is, nobody knows, and there are no signs to be given, and so you have to be ready for the end at all times. Those who are careless in not watching for the Lord's return will risk getting side tracked and out of His will, and they will face judgment when He comes.
Jesus will come like a thief in the night, and no thief gives signs of his coming. He does not put a marker out front saying, "Hit this home at 11P.M. on Saturday night." So also Jesus does not give us signs of when He will come, for if He would have said it will be in the year 2002, then every generation of Christians up to that year could be careless and unprepared for it. In order to keep every Christian in every generation on alert, Jesus had to keep the time of His coming secret and unknown, and that is the whole point of the closing part of this chapter. There is a sign filled coming of Jesus in judgment in 70 A D., but His final coming is a sign less coming.
Jesus expected all Christians to see through a glass darkly on the issue of His coming. Nobody who listens to Jesus will be persuaded by any sign fanatic that they have figured out the schedule. God did not let Jesus use that schedule, and it is presumptuous for any man to think he has been able to calculate it. But in spite of this clear teaching of Jesus many godly men and women have spent a major portion of their lives trying to figure out the exact time of the second coming. They are often ingenious, and when you read them you are almost persuaded they must have some validity. The only problem is that they are trying to go over the head of Jesus. He said you can't know, but they are saying that you can. Many have chosen to follow them, but I choose to follow Jesus and recognize that all schemes for prediction His coming are not only always wrong, but they are a form of rebellion against His Lordship.
Life will be going along as usual, and there will no particular reason in the world why this should be the end, and then like a lightening flash it will be over, and the day of judgment will be upon the world like the flood in the day of Noah. You don't need to be a Sherlock Holmes to find the clues Jesus is dropping all over the place in reference to His coming in 70 A. D. in judgment. But the best in the business will not find a clue to His final coming, because Jesus says there is no clue. It will be a surprise for everyone, and so be ready.
What does that mean? Do we stand gazing into the sky? Of course not. By watching He means be doing what He expects you to be doing. Don't be like a servant who thinks his Lord is gone for a long time, and so he can goof off and abuse his privileges and power, and let his duties go undone. The watching servant is one who goes on faithfully doing the master will, and taking care of his household no matter how long he is away. Watching is simply being faithful so that whenever he comes it doesn't make any difference, for you are ready to meet him as one who is living in obedience.
It you are not living for Jesus and seeking to fulfill His will as a servant of the body, He will not be impressed that you have calculated that there are more people eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage than ever before, or any other such nonsense. He did not leave the church in the world to calculate and collect signs of His coming. He left the church to fulfill His purpose for coming, which is to gather His bride from all the nations of the world to live with Him in a new world forever. It was the Christians job to figure out the signs of His coming in 70 A. D. so they could escape the tribulation. It is not their job to figure out when the final coming will be, for there is no escape from that coming for anyone. You need to be ready for it at all times, for there will no sign to warn you ahead of time.
So what do Christians do in their lust for signs of the times? They get around Jesus on a technicality. Jesus says in verse 36 that no one knows about that day or hour, but He does not say they do not know the month or week. So you can't nail it down to the day or hour, but they go off seeking all the signs that will tell you when it will be approximately. I'm sure Jesus is just telling us we can't know the exact day or hour, but that we can get real close. This sort of thing is seen in every book on the signs of the times, and Christians eat them up like they were inspired by the Lord Himself, when, in fact, they are calling Jesus a liar. I agree with the judgment of Charles Spurgeon, that king of preachers. He wrote, "Some would-be-prophets have rested this verse from its evident meaning by saying, though we can't know the day and hour of Christ's coming, we may know the year, the month, and even the week. If this method of treating the words of Jesus is not blasphemous, it is certainly foolish, and betrays disloyalty to the King."
The whole attitude of sign seekers is contrary to that of Jesus. He is teaching that since it can't be known when the end is coming, you have to be ready always and live life constantly in consistency with His Lordship. The sign seekers are saying its time to shape up, for we see the evidence that He is near. Dr. Robert Mounce said this in an article in Eternity Magazine: "This approach seems to say that what is really important is to be in good shape at that particular point in time when Christ returns. (Its the old I-don't-want-to-be-caught-in-there-when-Jesus-returns syndrome). It suggests in a veiled way that the mark we get on ethical report card is the mark we happen to receive on the pop quiz given at the Parousia rather the cumulative grade for the entire course."
If the threat of war, economic turmoil, unprecedented earthquakes, and other natural disasters motivate you to a deeper Christian life, you are marching to the wrong drum. If you listen to Jesus, you will live that life regardless of any signs, for it is those Christians who always seek a deeper walk in good or bad times who will be ready when He comes. Those who only get deeper when things get terrible will not be ready when He comes at a time unexpected, and when all is normal and routine.
If the words of Jesus are not enough for you, and you need a sign to motivate you, there is a danger that the sign is your idol. Sign seeking is a form of idolatry, and Christians dance around it like the people of God in the Old Testament danced around the golden calf. Because Christians will not believe Jesus, and be ready for His coming regardless of any signs, they are living in disobedience. Spurgeon says of verse 36, "There is a manifest change in our Lord's words here, which clearly indicates that they refer to His last great coming in judgment." There is no escape from this event. All you can do is be ready for it, and be prepared to face it at any time.
The greatest danger of the Christian is to think there is no sense of urgency. It has been a long time now and no second coming, and so it is not something to be very concerned about. There is a story about three demons who came to Satan with a plot against man. One said, "I will tell then their is not God." Satan said, "That will not be very effective, for the evidence is too great." The second said, "I will tell them there is no hell." "That is better," Satan responded, "but still man knows there has to be a judgment." The third said, "I will tell them there is no hurry." "Excellent," said Satan, "go, for your plan will be most successful."
Christians fall for it too, and think there is always time in the future to be more committed to Christ, and more time to do His service. Even Christians can get so caught up in the routine of life and forget they have a mission. When were Christians to be ready to flee from Jerusalem? When they saw the signs that Jesus gave them. When are Christians to be ready for His final coming? They are to be always ready, for His coming will be unexpected and sudden. It could be that you haven't heard of an earthquake for months, and wars are not in the news, and disasters are rare, and then like a thief in the night, or like a flash of lightning, Christ will come and all will be over, and there will be no more time to do His will. Wise is that servant who is always doing what pleases his master, for he will never be taken by surprise by His return.
The Israelites did not know when Moses would return from the mountain, and so they fell into idolatry. The not knowing is a test of loyalty, and they failed the test. Not knowing when Jesus will return is a test of our loyalty. The one who needs signs to get ready is like the unfaithful wife who only stops seeing other men when she gets a letter saying her husband is arriving back from his trip the next day. The faithful wife is ready at all times for she is faithful regardless of when he will return, and she lives in constant anticipation of his return. The unfaithful wife needs signs to get ready, but the faithful wife needs no signs for she is always ready. The unfaithful Christian may be dabbling in false cults, and new age thinking, or questionable practices, and needs some sign to know when to shape up and put his full trust in Jesus. The faithful Christian does not need any sign, for he walks in obedience to Jesus all the time.
Being ready for the coming of Christ is not a seasonal thing, or a matter of some sensational news event in the world. It is a matter of just solid commitment to Christ, and a living of the life that pleases Him. It is a seeking first the kingdom of God. The unfaithful servant in v. 48 just forgets his master's will and does his own thing. He becomes a pain in the household of the master. We need to have the spirit of Luther who said, "I live as though Jesus Christ died yesterday, rose today, and were coming again tomorrow."
Someday Jesus is going to say, "Here I come, ready or not." The wise Christian does not need to fear that day, for he, or she, lives with a spirit that is ready any day. Signs just get people alarmed, and that is just what Jesus did not want to happen. He did not want all of the wars and other bad news to get Christians all upset and emotional so they do not keep a balanced Christian witness. John R. Rice was one of the most anti-sign preachers I have ever known about. You cannot escape his logic if you believe what Jesus is saying. He writes,
I do not mean to state emphatically that "Jesus is coming soon,"
as so many people say. He may; He may not come for five hundred
years. No one knows. But His coming is possible at any moment and
something we should expect.
I do not mean that certain signs have appeared which indicate His
coming is soon. We do not need signs; we need only to believe and heed
His plain statements in the Bible. He commanded us to watch, and we
should watch, knowing that He may come at any time.
I do not mean that there is any evidence that we are "in the end of the
age" or that these are "the closing days," as so many people say. That is wrong and unscriptural. Nobody knows how close to the end we are.
When we say that the coming of Jesus Christ is imminent, we do not mean that there is any special evidence that this age is drawing to an end.
We simply mean that He may come at any moment, as He said, and we should watch.
We should not expect Christ's coming because of world events but because He said for us to expect Him. We should expect His coming
Not by sight but by faith; not by the newspapers, but by the Word of
God. An any moment-day or night-He may come to call all the redeemed-
Those who sleep in Christ, and us who are alive and remain-up with them to meet Him in the air.
The time of Christ's return is deliberately and intentionally left in the
Realm of the unrevealed. It is presumptuous for people to set out to know what God has plainly declared is not to be known.
Nearly all fortunetellers play on this carnal longing to know the future. Nearly all the false cults some way appeal to me on this basis.
The debate over when Jesus will come has been going on for centuries, but way back in the 4th century St. Augustine settled the issue according to the words of Christ. He said, "He who loves our Lord's coming is not he who asserts that it is near or he who asserts that it is far off; but rather he who, whether it be near or distant, waits for Him with sincerity of faith, steadfastness of hope and fervor of love."
There are many books written on the signs of Christ's coming. The one thing they all have in common is that they have always been wrong in predicting the coming. Some sign expert will eventually be right, for he will live in the day that Jesus actually does come, but meanwhile all sign literature will go the way of the history of such literature, and end up in oblivion. Wise are those who cease to play the sign seeking game, and get busy doing something constructive for the kingdom of God. Jesus will be pleased with such a servant when He does arrive and fulfill His sign less coming.