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Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year
Matthew 24:1-14

by Dr. Jeff Gibbs

Context: "Jesus in Jerusalem" might serve as a description for the Matthean context leading up to this text. To shouts of "blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" Jesus entered the city that seems to receive Him aright, although signs of Jerusalem's ignorance are found already in the Palm Sunday pericope (cf. "This is Jesus, the prophet," 21:10). Jesus' time in Jerusalem is a time of conflict, rising to a crescendo in the religious leaders' inability to acknowledge the promised Christ as more than Son of David, yes, as Son of God (21:41-46). The crescendo breaks out into Jesus' savage denunciation of scribe and Pharisee, and of "this generation" of His contemporaries that has refused to repent and believe (23:13-33). Accordingly,judgment will come upon this generation. They will, in the time after Jesus' resurrection, reject, persecute, and kill the messenger/missionaries whom Jesus will send to them (23:34-36). Lamenting, Jesus predicts the laying waste of Jerusalem's house and leaves the city that, in spite of their Palm Sunday words, does not and will not confess Him as the one who comes in the name of the Lord (23:37-39).

The text: The first three verses of this pericope serve as the narrative introduction to Jesus' great Eschatological Discourse (24:4-25:46). As He is leaving the temple precincts, Jesus predicts the destruction of those buildings, thus repeating and clarifying the intent of His words in 23:38. Outside of the city on the Mount of Olives, Jesus' disciples question Him. The proper understanding of both the number and the character of the disciples' questions is crucial for the interpretation of the Eschatological Discourse.

Owing to the presence of two interrogatives in 24:3 ("when" and "what"), it seems best to conclude that the disciples ask two questions. The first, naturally enough, refers to Jesus' prediction in 24:2. The second question, however, shows the disciples' own misconceptions about Jesus' parousia. They reveal by their double question that they are associating the destruction of the temple with the consummation of the age. As Jesus begins the Eschatological Discourse, His first purpose is to correct their error: "Watch, lest anyone deceive you."

The chief purpose of Jesus' words in 24:4-14 is to offer the proper "lens" on the terrible tumults of history and nature which, from time to time, will characterize the entire course of history until the parousia. False christs and their deceptions (24:5), upheavals in politics and nature (24:6a) must not be interpreted as indications that Jesus' own return is at hand. To be sure, these things are part of God's mysterious plan in history, but these events do not signal the nearness of the end (24:6b). Rather, such upheavals (24:7) are merely the beginning of the eschatological birth pangs (24:8). Such troubles and even persecutions should not deceive the disciples into thinking that the Christ will come soon (24:9-12). The positive side of the warning against being deceived is the call to endurance in the face of these troubles, when they come (24:13). One focus only must characterize the work of the disciples until the end: the preaching of the Gospel of heaven's reign in Jesus to all the nations. Then the end, the parousia, the consummation of the age, will come (24:14).

Homiletical application: A fairly direct line can be drawn to the experience of Christians today, and especially as the official though mis-numbered turning of the millennia approaches. (See B. Rosin, "Woodsman, Fell That Tree-It's Later Than You Think," Concordia Journal, January, 1996, pp. 6-8.) The terrible and tumultuous events of history need not alarm us, at least in the wrong sense of the term "alarm." Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, even persecution of believers are, to be sure, "signs" of the end in that they are part of the beginning of the birth pangs that will issue forth in Christ's second coming. But the Day cannot. be associated with the destruction of Jerusalem, or with any other specific event. The troubles of history rather cause us to look forward to and to long for that Day, and to take our Lord's mission charge with utmost seriousness.

Introduction: Do you, like I, sometimes let the difficult events in our lives and in our society "get" to you? It's easy to be disturbed, even twisted around into thinking that surely this tragedy, this horrible atrocity is proof that the Lord Jesus will return soon. Then, when He doesn't return, our hope and faith waver.

The little daily "sayings" calendar said it well: "Remember that nothing is the end of the world except the end of the world." God has neither lost control of history, nor have His priorities changed. Jesus' words call us to right understanding, and to joyful devotion to the mission to all the nations, even as we long for His glorious return.

Clear Heads and Clear Direction (Matt. 24:1-14)

I. Jesus warns both His disciples and us of the danger of misinterpreting the signs of the times.
......A. He knew how they might misconstrue the horrible events of 66-70 A.D., and so be led astray by false christs or shaken in their faith.
......B. Such troubles continue, both personally and on the grand scale of history. Jesus' words are for us: "See, lest anyone deceive you!" (24:4).
II. Jesus clears our heads and our thinking.
......A. Yes, the birth pangs have begun (24:8).
......B. But God is in control; these things are necessary (24:6).
......C. We do not minimize the terror and horror of these tumults; but we trust in the God who has all things in His control. More, we realize that these things are "birth pangs," and we long for the final issuing forth of Christ's final and complete victory over sin.
Ill. Jesus gives clear direction for the life of His disciples, for His church.
......A. The task will not always be an easy one (24:9). Those who claim to be able to predict and control the automatic numerical growth of the church are claiming a power they do not possess!
......B. Yet this proclaiming of the Gospel, near and far, is to be the joy and the task of Jesus' disciples until the end comes (24:14).
......C. Together, each according to his calling and gift (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11), Jesus' disciples seek to share the joyous Gospel of knowing and believing in the Savior.

Conclusion: Clarity To any who announce the end or claim to know its timing, we respond, "Not yet! Only the Father knows that day and hour"(24:36). Clarity. With the multitude of things for the church to do and say, this one thing remains our priority: to herald the Gospel of Jesus who suffered, died, and rose for all the nations. Jesus' words give us clear heads and clear direction.

This article was used with Permission granted by the Concordia Journal.

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