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What Will Happen to the Temple
The following two chapters, Matthew 24-25, contain prophecy and are also teaching to the disciples for their guidance on the path they should follow in the midst of the coming events. The Lord departs from the temple for good. He is thus exercising the judgment which he has just pronounced. As a result, the temple has become a soulless body. It is now “your house” (Matthew 23:38).
This is a repeat of what happened earlier in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 10:18-Psalms :; Ezekiel 11:22-Isaiah :). There the glory of the LORD, Yahweh, disappears. The same glory disappears here also in the form of the humiliated Man Jesus Christ. Whoever has eyes to see sees in Him the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father (John 1:14).
Yet the hearts of the disciples remain attached to the temple. They point out the imposing building to the Lord. Because of earlier prejudices, they cannot be separated from its outer beauty. But because He is no longer in it, they are busy with nice outward appearances, the display of pomp and splendor in the service of God.
The Lord looks with them when He says: “Do you not see all these things?” But He looks in a different way. He sees that these buildings have become symbols of self-willed worship. He therefore pronounces the verdict on everything they admire in the most radical way. He wants to free them from their vain thoughts. Therefore He communicates His thoughts to them and sheds the light of the future on the present. There is only interest in this if our hearts are not attached to the things of the earth. How will I long for His coming when that coming draws a line through everything I try to build up in the world?
The Beginning of Birth Pangs
The Lord sits down on the Mount of Olives. He sat down on a mountain in a similar way to preach the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1). Now He is sitting on the Mount of Olives and here He also holds a discourse, His end time discourse. He does so in response to questions from the disciples. They would like to know from Him when the things He has just spoken about are going to happen. They also want to know what the sign of His coming and of the end of the age is, because they feel that these things are interrelated. The “coming” of the Lord means that He will be present with them on the earth. “The end of the age” is not the end of the world, but means the end of the period that the Lord will be absent, or the end of the period that He will not be with them.
The Lord Jesus is the omniscient God for Whom the future is present. He alone can say with certainty what the future looks like because He determines it. Before He does that, He warns His disciples. We should not see the disciples here as representatives of us, Christians, but of the believing Jews in the future. A Christian can never be misled by people who come to him under the Name of Christ. A Christian does not expect Christ on earth, but will meet Him in the air.
The believing Jews will be exposed to that danger. Israel has given up the true Christ. Now they are in danger of receiving a false one. The unbelieving mass will do the same (John 5:43). The Christian is not warned of false Christs, but of false spirits (1 John 4:1) because it is characteristic of the church that the Holy Spirit dwells in it. We must be wary of the deceit of false spirits, not of pseudo-Christs.
In addition to deception in the form of false Christs, the enemy tries to induce fear through wars and rumors of wars. Christians do not receive such a warning either, although it does not mean that this warning has no application for us. Because of their earthly perspective, wars will have a major impact on the Jewish remnant in the future. Therefore the words of the Lord are a consolation for them. They need not doubt that He will deliver and fulfil His promises of peace.
The enemy will also be able to use famines and earthquakes to shake their faith in the prosperity and unshakeability of the kingdom of their Messiah. There are many means available to the enemy to try to overthrow the disciples’ faith. The true believers will endure; the confessors will be deceived and robbed of everything they have believed they can trust.
The things the Lord has just described are bad. But it will all get much worse because He has only presented them with “the beginning of birth pangs”.
Endurance to the End
They will experience for themselves how great the hatred against Christ is, for the enemies will indulge their hatred against Christ on those who confess Him. Nowhere in the earth will there be a nation who will treat them kindly. At that time, many will be become public as false confessors. Such persons will then fight in the army of the enemy against the true disciples. But there will also be hatred between the enemies themselves. They do act as if united, but they are not.
However, the difficulties and trials do not only come from the outside, they also come from the inside. The false confessors will not only become public through external threats. False confessors will also become recognizable because they will follow the many false prophets that will be there at that time, blind as they are for being misled.
Together with a turning away from God and His truth lawlessness will increase, which is the rejection of any authority. At the same time, the love of the many will grow cold, for selfishness will reign supreme. In this terrible time, with all its terrors and deception, it is a matter of enduring to the end.
There is a beginning of the birth pangs, but there is also an end to the birth pangs! Those who endure are those who have a living connection with the Lord Jesus, their Messiah. When the end comes, the kingdom will be preached everywhere. It is the kingdom that will be established on earth, as John the baptist and the Lord Himself preached it. The establishment of the authority of Christ, Who went into heaven, will be preached throughout the world to test the obedience of the nations. Those who have ears to hear will see the object of their faith, Christ, in His glory on earth.
The Great Tribulation
To underline the seriousness of the situation in the days preceding His coming, the Lord points to what is spoken of by the prophet Daniel. By this He means parts in the book of Daniel that bring us to the last days (Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:31Daniel 12:11), or the end time (Daniel 11:40). The place that the Lord speaks of where these things will play out is Judea, that is Jerusalem and its surroundings. “The holy place” is the temple in Jerusalem. The “abomination of desolation” will be there.
An abomination is an idolatrous image. The abomination of desolation means that the idol will cause desolation. Because of that idolatrous image God will bring great misfortune upon the land through the antichrist, the one who set the image up, to which he also commits himself by showing himself as God (2 Thessalonians 2:4). The statue is the image of the beast from the sea and represents the dictator of the restored Roman empire (Revelation 13:12-Ezra :).
It is a word to the remnant of Israel and not to the church. The Lord tells them that those who are near to that area must flee to the mountains. The mountains will be the only suitable location to hide from the antichrist and his followers. There will be no time to lose. The persecution comes like a storm in the desert. Any delay can be fatal. If you are on the roof, you shouldn’t go back into your house to pick up essential items. If you are on the field, you must not attempt to pick up your cloak that you have placed somewhere else on the field. The watchword is: flee for your life. To give in to any other thought will result in death.
The Lord speaks with compassion about the pregnant women, those who are about to bring new life into the world, and those nursing babies, those who have just brought new life into the world. They are the vulnerable. He even thinks of the weather conditions and religious duties. They must pray that they will play no part. Any obstruction to their flight can be fatal.
He says these things because He knows how terrible that time will be. It will be a time of unparalleled tribulation. There has never been such a thing and never will be. It is a time that, as far as the abominations are concerned, is unparalleled. The Lord emphasizes the horror of that time by saying as a consolation that those days will be shortened. If He did cut those days short, no one would survive that time. This cutting short is made for the sake of the elect. He knows all those who belong to Him and, in view of them, ensures that the maximum suffering is not exceeded (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13).
He points out once again that this time will be particularly hard because of the false Christs. If, in the midst of the greatest ordeal, people present themselves as those who want to give help, there is a huge temptation to respond to it. Those false Christs and false prophets will present themselves by doing great signs and miracles. It will all seem so real that even the elect are in danger of falling into this deception. They should not do so, especially now that the Lord has told them so in advance. Forewarned is forearmed.
They should not let themselves be lured out of their hiding place by fine words to go to a wilderness or an inner room because the Messiah would be found there. The wilderness, where John preached (Mark 1:4), is not the setting of the Messiah. He is also not in the inner room. They are all traps. When He, the true Messiah, appears, it will be like the lightning that comes from the east and flashes to the west. With this the Lord also answers the question the disciples have asked in Matthew 24:2. His coming will be seen everywhere. They only have to pay attention to the ‘flash of lightning’ to know it is He Who comes and not another.
He will come as “the Son of Man”, that is to say to rule over all the earth and not only over Israel. The first acts of His government will be judgmental acts. Where the objects of judgment are, there He will appear, as vultures gather where dead bodies are.
The Coming of the Son of Man
The plagues that will come over the earth during the great tribulation, will find their end in a total darkening and chaos. Any orientation based on the heavenly bodies is gone. We can also see in these heavenly bodies a picture of different forms of authority (Genesis 1:16). The total darkening and chaos then means that all authority has disappeared and there is complete anarchy on earth.
The sign that will then appear in heaven is the Son of Man. He appears to assume His dominion. He will appear unexpectedly, not as a Messiah Who answers the worldly pride of the unbelieving masses, but as the Christ despised by them, coming from heaven to judge. His coming will bring about a lamentation in all Israel (Zechariah 12:10-2 Chronicles :). They will look on Him Whom they have pierced (Revelation 1:8). Then the Lord Jesus appears for the second time on earth, this time in power and majesty. He comes as the Son of Man, that is to say as the Ruler over all creation, heaven and earth.
The splendor of His majesty is additionally empowered by the sending out of His angels. This will be accompanied by a great trumpet. His angels are instructed by Him to gather together His elect who are scattered throughout the earth. Here we see the bringing together of the scattered ten tribes of Israel. This will happen after the Son of Man has appeared.
The Parable of the Fig Tree
The Lord gives His disciples directions from nature (cf. Matthew 16:1-Numbers :). In nature they can see from certain signs that winter is coming to an end and summer is near. We can think of the winter of tribulation that will be over and the summer of the kingdom of peace that will come after that. The Lord uses the picture of the fig tree. That tree represents the people of Israel. Signs of life will become visible in it. The softening of the branch and the sprouting of the leaves can be recognized in the national restoration of Israel, the restoration as a nation which has been a fact since 14 May 1948. The summer with its fruit indicates the spiritual restoration of Israel when it has accepted its Messiah.
When the disciples see the things He has just described, they will know He is about to come. All His warnings for an abomination of desolation and for false Christs are all proof that His coming is imminent. But first these things must come over this generation that rejected Him.
Heaven and the earth will pass away in their present state. If that happens, it will prove to be a confirmation of His words. He speaks the truth and all that He says happens as He has said it.
Day and Hour Unknown
There is no exact time known of His coming. The signs will point to His coming, but when it will be, only the Father knows (Acts 1:7). It sounds strange that the Son does not know about it either, because we know that the Son is also God after all. This is one of the wonders of His unfathomable Person. As Man, He does not know the day and hour either. Just as His whole life on earth was led by the Father, so He is also in glory completely surrendered to the Father.
Even if the day and hour are not known, the circumstances that announce His coming are. His coming will resemble what was going on in the days of Noah. There seemed to be no problem, everyone lived his own life. That life came to an abrupt end with the flood. The flood was, just like the great tribulation will be, a judgment of God over the whole earth. Just before the flood the earth was full of people of whom the Lord says here that they ate and drank, and married and were given in marriage. Those things were not wrong, were they? No, but life consisted of that. Life was lived without any thought of God.
The people’s way of life made them blind to the impending judgment. No matter how Noah preached (2 Peter 2:5), they did not allow themselves to be persuaded, but lived on happily. Their horizon did not go beyond what they saw. God was completely out of the picture. Serving Him did not occur to them, they were blinded so much by the pursuit of pleasure. But the judgment came and took them all away. What they did not want to think about, came irrevocably. Then it was too late for all except Noah and his family who were safe from judgment in the ark.
The judgment that comes will work to separate men who are working in the field. Working is a good thing, but those who only work for a good life will be taken away by judgment. He who looks forward to the coming of the Messiah will be left behind and may enter the kingdom of peace. This separation also exists between two women who are working in the same task. One does it only for herself, the other because she lives for the Lord.
The message from the Lord is that they must watch because it is not known exactly on which day their Lord will come. If they watch every day, they will be ready for His coming every day. He wants them to understand the importance of constant vigilance. If someone knew exactly what time a thief would come to break in, he wouldn’t sleep. This attention must be continuous. Therefore, attention must not slacken. A thief always comes at the moment when it is not suspected, when attention is waning. That is not allowed. They must be ready, without dozing off.
The Good and Evil Slave
The Lord is now going to give directions for the time of His absence. He teaches three parables (Matthew 24:45-Colossians :; Matthew 25:1-1 Chronicles :Matthew 25:14-Amos :). Then He speaks again about His future connection with the earth and the Gentiles. The three parables should be read in brackets, as it were, as they form a kind of parenthesis. They are three separate parts, but they are all related to His coming. As throughout Scripture, we see perfect order here too.
The first parable is about behavior in the house (Matthew 24:45-Colossians :). The Lord has spoken of vigilance. Now He is going to talk about food. We will only remain attentive if we feed ourselves well. For the present time we know that the house is a picture of the church (1 Timothy 3:15), but then seen in this parable from the aspect of man’s responsibility and not as God building the church. This similarity is especially important for those who have the responsibility to teach in the church. In this parable, the state of the church is also seen as a whole.
Whoever is busy distributing food is called “blessed” by the Lord Jesus. It proves one is thinking of Christ and others and not of oneself. The condition of the responsible church depends on their waiting for Christ, or on saying in their hearts that He is absent. Those who have been busy looking forward to Him and serving Him in serving His own will receive a rich reward.
The way in which the goods were administered in the time of the Lord’s absence forms the basis for the servant to be entrusted with the putting in charge of the Lord’s possessions when He returns. Loyalty will be rewarded at the coming of Christ. Those who, in humility, have been faithful in His service during His absence will be made rulers of all that belongs to Him.
But there may be a situation where the faithful slave turns into an evil slave. Note: it is about “that evil slave”. It is the same slave who was first faithful. This transformation of a faithful slave into an evil slave is evident in the history of the church. After initial faithfulness to the Lord, as we find in the book of Acts, decay came quickly.
The slave’s unfaithfulness begins in his heart. It is not forgetfulness. The will is involved. The result of the Lord’s staying away is that the flesh will reveal itself. When the expectation of His coming is no longer operative, the Christian is turned to earth. Except thinking only of himself, he also starts to mistreat others. Furthermore he seeks other company than that of the fellow Christians. He goes to eat and drink with the drunkards.
It is no longer a devotional service for God’s house with the heart focused on the Master’s approval upon His return. The daily expectation has been given up. That is the cause of the decay.
When the coming of the Lord is set far into the distance (cf. Ezekiel 12:27), the true Christian position is lost. But not only that. Forgetting His coming will lead to debauchery and tyranny. It does not say that the slave himself is drunk, but that he eats and drinks with those who are drunk. He connects with the world and follows its habits.
A person who loses sight of the coming of Christ, who no longer looks forward to His coming, will be surprised by His coming. The Lord’s judgment of this slave is in keeping with his actions and the appearances he made. He did as if a Christian, but he is not. He is a hypocrite. Hypocrites are two-faced. That is why he is cut ‘in two pieces’. This slave is a hypocrite and will share in the fate of the hypocrites. This is the fate of Christianity which, according to confession, is religious, but who in essence participates in the world. It is important to remember that what applies to the whole is also true for the individual.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 24". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany