THE END OF THE AGE
Students of the Bible know there is a large gap of more than 400 years between the last writings of the Old Testament prophets (Malachi in 432 B.C.) and the appearance of the first Gospels, those of Mark and Matthew, about 60 A.D. Since the Old Testament prophesies never covered the time frame stretching from when Israel went into exile some 400 years before Christ and the total restoration of Israel foretold as taking place at the beginning of the Messianic Age, Jesus Himself filled in the gap.
Please take out your Bible so we can reason this out together. Turn to the Book of Matthew 13:24-30. You are no doubt familiar with the parable of the wheat and the weeds, or tares. In verses 36-50, Jesus goes on to interpret the parable, teaching the disciples that the world would be allowed to be populated by both good and evil people (wheat and tares), the wicked being sown by the devil and the good by God, and at the end of the age, He, the LORD, would send out his angels, "the reapers," to "gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, i.e. everyone that is offensive and without principles, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. In that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But the righteous will (at that time) shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
He repeats the analogy in verses 47-50, comparing wicked people to bad fish and the righteous to good fish. As before, in verse 49: "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire--" Again, with weeping and gnashing of teeth.
To make sure his students got the point, He asked in verse 51 whether they undertood this prophesy of the end of the age. "Yes," they assured Him, they did understand. But they really didn't understand, because Jesus was speaking to them about a large time gap never described by the prophets, an angelic harvest of the good and wicked set to be launched at "the end of the age."
But which age was He referring to? Matthew never mentions it again until Chapter 24, when the disciples, obviously worried about this "end of the age" business and still puzzled by the time gap, stopped Jesus outside the Jerusalem Temple. When He told them that this great temple they so admired would be torn down to the very ground, that really impressed them because some of those "stones" were actually massive boulders, some of them as large as 65 feet long, 12 feet high, and 18 feet wide. Christ's judgment on the Temple sparked some of the disciples to quiz Him about the end times.
Sitting down in a private setting on the Mount of Olives, with the crowds left behind and a few of His disciples around Him--how many and who were they? Turn to Mark 13:3--we learn that four disciples--Peter, James, John and Andrew--asked Him the key question--"Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?" Obviously by their question, they understood that He would be leaving them but that He would return to judge and rule the earth at some future time. What they really wanted to know was when He would be coming back to "reward the righteous," among whom they counted themselves.
In MATT.24:2, as previously noted, He begins by answering their question about the destruction of the Temple. "Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be upon another, which will not be torn down." When did that happen? In 70 A.D., by Roman soldiers on orders of Titus.
In MATT.24: 3-10, He goes on to list a series of events that signify "the beginning of birth pangs": namely wars, rumors of wars, ethnic strife, conflicts between countries and alliances, famines, and earthquakes. Then, He said, "they will deliver you up to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another."
The question arises--is He here speaking to the disciples, their people Israel, or as many expositors argue, Jewish believers only? Or in fact does He here really include in this prophesy a great falling away among all believers, the entire Church made up of both Jews and Gentiles, who are destined to be around during this time of great tribulation? The Gospels appear to present two sets of similar prophesies, one long-term still to be fulfilled, the other short-term and fulfilled in the 1st Century. Please turn to LUKE 21:5--and read thru verse 24.
Note that in verse 12, there is a break from what went before--"But before all these things, they will lay hands on you" and so on up to verse 24. Clearly, this prophesy was for Jewish-Christian believers of the First Century, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the captivity and exile of the Jewish people--until when? Verse 24 tells us "until Jerusalem is no longer trampled underfoot (ruled over) by the Gentiles, and so the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." When is that? It happened on June 11, 1967, during the 6-Day War, when Israel regained control of Jerusalem for the first time in 1,893 years!
Matthew's version, however, contains a double-prophesy--the first long-term, then a short-term set of events echoing Luke's version. But in Matthew, the context leads us inexorably to interpret it as long-term, not yet fulfilled. For example, verse 21 in MATT.24 reads, "for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall." That description is certainly not satisfied by what happened in 70 A.D. Though a million Jews were slaughtered and four millions dispersed, it nowhere comes close to what happened at the time of the Great Flood when all flesh was destroyed except for Noah and his family. Even in our own time, six million Jews were slaughtered, a full third of all Jews in the world, which makes what happened in Israel back in 70 A.D. pale in the comparison of horrors. So we are forced to regard Matthew as foretelling far future events, while Luke 21:1-24 is short-term.
Back to Matthew 24 again, look at verse 5, then at verse 10. These are two different warnings about the same danger. The first applies to the disciples in the 1st Century, the second to the times after the fall of Jerusalem, when both Christian and non-Christian Jews are to be scattered among the nations. In both instances, He warns: "Let no man deceive you." In other words, check every person's words against the Word of God. Believers must be on guard not to be led astray. During times of great disstress, such as happened in the 1st Century and will happen again, people are desperate for reassurance and security. This is as true in our personal lives when the bad times come as it is in the affairs of nations.
In verse 5, he warns the disciples that many will come in His name--"For many will come in My name, saying 'I am the Christ (or Messiah)' and will mislead many." Later, in verse 11, he states a similar thought diferently--"And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many." What does He mean by false Messiahs coming in His name? This doesn't mean they'll necessarily claim they are Jesus, or even that they are the Jewish Messiah. Though down through the centuries, many have done exactly that. Examples that come to mind are characters like Judas Maccabeas in the 2nd Century B.C.; in the 1st Century A.D., Rabbi Hillel's grandson Gamiliel was touted for the Messiah job; in the 2nd century, Simon Bar Kochbah said he was the Messiah, many people believed him and started a revolt against Rome that killed a half million Israelites; in the 11th century A.D. David El Roy, the Ukranian Messiah, had a run for the title. Then there was Shabbatai ben Zvi, the Turkish Messiah of the 17th Century, who had a good run but when he was arrested and given a choice between conversion to Islam or death, he quickly faced Mecca and became a Moslem.
Closer to home in our own times, disciples of the Korean Messiah Rev. Sun Yun Moon claim the Christ mantle for him; there's the Pakistani Messiah now hiding out in London; and over in Brooklyn the followers of Chabad Lubitscher Rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, believed he would be revealed as the Messiah of God. Then Schneerson died and they awaited his resurrection--and they're still waiting.
For true Bible-based believers, however, the real threat comes not from false pretenders to the Messianic throne, but from world leaders in positions of power who seek to use the political process to bring in Messianic results, promising us peace, prosperity, One-World unity and spiritual togetherness, along with a thousand years of paradise on earth without the Lord Himself to usher it in. Just like Adolph Hitler's promise of a 1000-year Reich that lasted less than ten years. We'll come back to this subject a little later on.
In Verse 6, He warns--"And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end." Wars and rumors of wars abounded in the 1st Century, as indeed in our very own time. The 20th century alone has seen two devastating World Wars with 50 million dead, along with hundreds of localized conflicts, including America's own dozen or so wars in Korea, Lebanon, Vietnam, and elsewhere. The fact is that, even eliminating World Wars 1 and 2, since 1945 in actual number of battles there have been more wars than have ever been recorded in history. At the start of the last decade of the 20th Century, Operation Desert Storm focused its military wrath on Modern Babylon (Iraq) and the Middle East, and now Saddam Hussein of Iraq is spoiling for another round in this war.
But Jesus tells us in verse 6 "see that you are not troubled." These wars by themselves are not the signal of his imminent arrival. During World War 1, many Christian ministers proclaimed the end had arrived and the Messiah would come then. The same thing happened during the Stock Market collapse in 1929, and when Hitler took over Germany, many named him the antichrist. But Jesus told us not to be troubled by these wars, the end was not yet in sight.
In the first part of Verse 7 He informs us that this warfare will not only be among kingdoms--or power blocks of nations allied against each other--but also among "nations," that is ethnic groups. Tribal warfare in the 1st Century was prevalent, and again today one looks at Yugoslavia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the remnants of the old Soviet Union for proof that ethnic warfare is in full swing--with the beginnings of ethnic unrest already sprouting in North America, namely in Canadian Quebec, the African-American neighborhoods of the inner cities, and the Latino Barrios of the Southwest. Here in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, there have been several riots at Chatsworth High School between black and Latino students. But Jesus tells us that this, too, does not yet signify the end.
He describes three kinds of disasters in verse 7--famines, earthquakes, and pestilence or plagues. Let's look at those. In Africa alone, some six million people are expected to starve to death this year. In the Middle East, the Kurds of Iraq and Iraqi Sunni tribes have horrendous starvation rates, and even today Russia is begging us for American wheat to stave off mass starvation in the Soviet republics.
How about pestilences? Medical experts estimate that more Iraquis and Bangladeshis perished from the disease aftermath of Operation Desert Storm and the Bangledesh typhoon than died as a direct result of the actual original disaster. In Costa Rica and Peru, a disease which has been thought conquered for centuries has been killing off tens of thousands, namely Cholera, the black death of the Middle Ages. And in this country, though we do not much read about it, some 150,000 young homosexual men have already died from AIDS.
Finally, we come to earthquakes. While major earthquakes have occurred throughout history, NEVER BEFORE have there been so many as in our century.. To put this in perspective, of the 13 most destructive earthquakes in recorded history, ten have occurred in the 20th century. In terms of "major" quakes, those evaluated as having registered the equivelant of six or more on the Richter scale, only six such major quakes occurred between 1800 to 1896. But during every decade since 1900, there were 2 or 3 major quakes per year, growing in intensity and destructive power. From 1947 to 1956, there were 7 per year; from 1957 to 1966, 17! From 1971 to 1980, an average of 18! From 1981 to 1990, a new record of 28 per year! And as we enter the 21st Century, there have already been more than 50 in 1997, 86 in 1998 and over 100 in 1999!
To underline the point, during this final decade of the 20th century, there were thirty monster quakes including those in Costa Rica, Panama, Soviet Georgia, Alaska, Iran, India, and a half dozen in Russia. A horrendous natural disaster hit Bangladesh in 1992, typhoons and flooding that killed over a quarter million people! I believe it is significant that Bangladesh is a Moslem nation under a fully Islamic Republic like Iran. At this time of the end, the greatest threat to Bible-believing Christians and Jews are those who give their allegiance to "the last and greatest prophet of God," the man Mohammed who wrote the Koran which claims to correct all the "gross errors" found in the Christian Bible.
All this, the Lord says in verse 8, is just the "beginning of birth pangs." What does He mean by "birth pangs?" What is being born? Just as a newborn baby is delivered in pain and suffering, so the Lord told us the Millenial Kingdom will come into being by much pain and suffering.
Now Verse 9--"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation. They will kill you" and "hate you because of My Name." Who is He talking about? Has this happened yet? (1st century persecutions) Though it happened back then, in context it is fairly seen as foretelling long-term to happen again during the Great Tribulation. "Many will fall away.. and betray one another and hate one another."
Many such betrayals took place at mid-Century in lands ruled by Nazi Germany and the old Soviet Union. More recently we find fierce pro-life/abortion battles where zealots shoot and bomb clinics, or where gay rights activists throw excrement at pastors and invade churches to disrupt Sunday worship services. Militant homosexuals set fires at state offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles to protest an initiative outlawing special preferences for gays.
Verse 11, "Many false prophets will arise and deceive many.." Where in verse 6, he warned of false Christs, here he speaks of something quite different, the "false prophets." What is a false prophet? Turn to DEUT.18:22. (read) Also JER.5:30-31. (read) Is this happening today? You bet it is! Now turn to 1 Timothy 4:1 (read) Paul tells us there will be a departure from the true faith on the part of supposed believers. Let me give a recent example--The Jesus Seminar, a six-year project consisting of a 200-member group of so-called "Biblical scholars," met in Sonoma, California and agreed that the following Bible verses were never written by the Apostles, Gospel writers or ever claimed by Jesus Himself:
Start with John 3:16, we all know that by heart--"For God so loved the world--etc." How about John 14:6, the sword of Jesus--"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me." Try MATT.5:11--"Blessed are you when people revile you..(read) Or Mark 10:32-34--(read) Finally, turn to Mark 13:25-30 (read) These Jesus seminar scholars concluded that all these sayings and prophesies attributed to Jesus were never spoken by Him. Oh, no? Turn to IS.13:9-10--(read).
In Mark 13, Jesus was simply restating Isaiah's prophesy regarding the culmination of the Tribulation, the terrible time called the "Day of the Lord." Why wouldn't any rabbi of the time, including Rabbi Jesus, have logically been able to quote a well-known prophetic verse? Let alone Jesus, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings? Yet these so-called "Biblical scholars" reject these verses as "inauthentic!"
There are many more examples of today's falling away from sound doctrine. Take the Metropolitan Churches of Christ, who teach homosexuality is a perfectly acceptable "Christian" life style and that God honors homosexual and lesbian love partners. Then there are all the liberal and even renegade evangelical denominations who believe we should not interpret the Bible literally, but read it only as a guidebook of ethics and philosophy, denominations, seminaries and ministers who question the miracles of the Bible, the divinity and bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the Biblical promise of Christ's physical return to earth.
Just recently, the Presbyterian Church USA agreed to adopt rules allowing practising homosexuals to be ordained Presbyterian ministers. Likewise the Anglicans and Methodists. They disavowed the 7th Commandment condemning adultery, as well as rejecting all prohibitions against sex outside of marriage. They did this using a doctrine called the "justice-love" test to replace the Word of God's clear statements on these matters. This "justice-love" doctrine was finally adopted in an amended form, and acceptance of homosexual love affirmed. Turn to 1 TIM.4:1-4 (read).
Now turn back to MATT.24:12 (read) "Lawlessness will increase, and the love of many will grow cold." Can you relate to that? In our modern world, crime rates are at record levels and the Courts are failing to render justice. Murderers walk the street, guilty men are set free on technicalities, and breaking the state's laws is not a question of what is right or wrong but for many people, simply what you can get away with. On a human level, those who feel for others and look out for the rights and welfare of people outside one's own family are considered fools. Even among family members linked by blood, we find much selfishness and greed, but little true affection. If we need any convincing, just look at the divorce rate even among professing Christians, which is now well over 50%!
Verse 13 of MATT.24 reads, "But the one who endures to the end, it is he who shall be saved." Are these ones who must endure believing Christians? Some expositors have interpreted this verse as warning that believers need to show bravery and steadfastness during these terrible times of trial, or they will not be saved. Can that be true? I don't believe so, not in the context of this chapter. Three times Peter denied he even knew Jesus, but that did not disqualify him from being used mightily in the formation of the Christian Church. Let's keep in mind here that the Lord was speaking this verse directly to the disciples but through them also as King of the Jews to His own Jewish people. Seen through that lens, it must apply to the still unbelieving unredeemed remnant at the time of the end. As we know, the Jews who are back in Israel are still in a state of unbelief. The majority are worldly and secular, and look at Jewish Bible believers as semi-lunatic fanatics. Yet this is exactly as it had been prophesied.
Turn to MICAH 5:2--we're all familiar with the prophesy identifying the very small town in which the Messiah would be born. (read 2-5) But less well known is this prophesy that the Lord would "give them up" (v.3) "until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child." The child who was to be born is, I believe, the beginning of the Millenial kingdom. This same imagery of childbirth is used by the Lord in MATT.24:8, and by Paul in 1 THES.5:3 to refer to the Tribulation preceding His Second Coming. MICAH 5:3-5 prophesy that at that time the remnant of Israel will return to the land, and the Lord Himself will shepherd His flock and safeguard them from that time on.
Now Turn to ZECH.12:10 (read). And now to ROM.11:26 (read). What the Lord here prophesies is that those Israelites who succeed in surviving the terrible destructions of those latter days, all these survivors, Paul assures us, will see Christ when He sets foot on the Mount of Olives, they will recognize Him by the nail-holes in his palms, they will all mourn, all repent and all become believers in the Lord of Lords. What a great day that will be, friends, and we'll all be there to see it! That is, all those who belong to Him and come with Him for this spectacular event.
Read for yourself MATT.24:14--Has this happened yet? Wycliffe Associates, the ministry that translates the Bible into all conceivable languages, is now into doing versions that can be read by as few as a thousand people using obscure dialects in the middle of the Amazon and African jungles. One of my friends, Martha Jakway, is a Wycliffe missionary in Peru, who reported just a year ago that there is not one headhunter village in the remotest part of all South America that does not have transistor radios broadcasting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their people on a daily basis. This also holds true of Africa and Asia. What does that signify? Only that once the good news of His Messianic sacrifice on the cross and universal redemption is offered to the whole world as a witness, no nation, ethnic group or person can use the excuse that they never heard it or had the chance to accept His free gift of eternal life. When that has happened, only then He says, "shall the end come." Has that happened yet? Maybe so, I don't know. But if not, we're very close.
Just as Daniel and many other Old Testament prophets, Jesus focused his prophesies on Jerusalem as the center of prophetic action. In verse 15 and following, we read: "Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads this, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains.. for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor shall ever be. And unless those days had been shortened, no life will have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short."
Some expositors claim that this has already taken place in the year 70 A.D. when Titus destroyed the Temple, slaughtered a million Jews, and drove the rest out of the land. There's a big problem with that analysis, though. We've just read in Verse 14 that, "--this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to the whole world for a witness to all nations, and then the end shall come." And we know that even today there are still a few tribal dialects that still need Bible translations.
Back in 70 A.D. when the Temple was destroyed, only a relatively few gentiles had heard it the Good News, and there were even some Jews outside Palestine who hadn't heard it. Paul's evangelical travels took him no further away than the Grecian isles, Turkey and Rome--hardly "the whole world" and "all nations." So the destruction of Jerusalem Jesus is talking about must refer to a time later than 70 A.D. Since there has been no Jewish Temple since the 1st century A.D. nor did a Jewish nation called "Israel" exist in all those years from the First Century A.D. until May 14, 1948, when Israel was miraculously resurrected by God, clearly the destruction is still ahead of us. How far ahead? Let's look further at the "signs" He gave us.
First off, what is this "abomination of desolation" Jesus says will trigger the outbreak of the great devastation, and who will be the person who puts it in place? Turn to Daniel 11:31 (read): "they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate." Turn to LEV1:1-3 (read), LEV.11:1-following (read some, paraphrase rest). Now turn to DEUT.17:1 (read), 18:3 (read). This clearly specifies that only a few specific animals were acceptable to the Lord as sacrifices, most were merely "unacceptable," and some--those animals that God named as being ritually unclean--were "detestable" abominations.
In the 2nd century B.C., the Assyrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by offering up a female pig on the sacrificial altar, which not only was ritually unclean but also the wrong gender, and then he compounded the sacrilege by placing a statue of the pagan god Jupiter Olympius in the Holy of Holies. As a consequence, God in His wrath allowed the Syrian armies to slaughter Jews, rape their wives and carry their children off into captivity as slaves and concubines.
But God also punished Epiphanes for his role in the desecration, raising up the Maccabees whose rebellion ultimately defeated the Syrians. The day Antiochus heard the news of the Jewish uprising, he was struck down and died a few days later. This "abomination of desolation" also proved to be the trigger that shortly destroyed the entire Assyrian Empire. This is the model Jesus referred to in MATT.24:15 as the "abomination that causes desolation." It symbolizes the just outpouring of God's wrath, heaped on both the Israelites who ignore and despise His Sabbath, holy days, laws and ordinances, as well as punishing the heathen who arrogantly dishonor and mock His Temple altar. Though the Roman general Titus totally destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D., he never desecrated the altar or sacrificed an unclean animal on it. So Jesus's prophesy in MATT.24:15, relating to the "abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet," is still in the future waiting to happen.
The stage is now set, the handwriting is clearly etched on the wall, and the signs of the times are laid out. In following articles, we'll examine those things which need to take place immediately before the return of Jesus Christ. We'll consider the prophesies that pinpoint the New World Order, the long-predicted peace treaty between Israel and her enemies, how we can know for sure the identity of the world leader called the "antichrist," and exactly where we stand today on the rebuilding of a Jerusalem Temple that completes the stage setting immediately preceding the Great Tribulation.
The bad news of MATT.24:21 tells us "for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall." The Word of God tells us that two-thirds of all those alive will die during this tribulation, in other words four billion of the six billion present-day inhabitants of planet earth. The good news is that the Scriptures promise all believing Christians that they will be spared from the worst of these horrors called the Great Tribulation and the terrible Day of the Lord.
Our hope and prayer for you, dear reader, is that you will be among those who escape the Great Tribulation looming on the horizon. Just as Noah and his family found their salvation in the ark that carried them away from the destruction, so for this last generation our Ark is the Lord Himself who will descend from heaven with a shout. (see 1st Thessalonians 4:16-17). Today, we--as did the first believers--cry out "Maranatha! Even so, come soon Lord!" Unlike them, however, the signs for our generation are now all in place.