How Jesus longed to show the love of the Father to His treasured nation. They would not have it…it went unrequited. He left the courts of the Temple and walked away with His disciples. As they went He looked up at all the massive stone walls and buildings that made up the vast Temple complex. It took King Herod’s family over forty years to build it. The Lord Jesus pointed up towards it all and said, “‘Do you see these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'”
And thus, the beginning of another great teaching from the Lord Jesus. You might remember that early on in our reading through the Gospels, we learned that when Matthew wrote his Gospel, he clumped the major teachings of Jesus into five main sections. He took all the beautiful things the Lord taught as He ministered for three years and broke them up into five major ideas. Then, when he wrote out the story, he created a section for each of those ideas so that when people read his book, everything would be laid out nicely and clearly. We talked about how the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) was the first section. It is about how the members of God’s Kingdom are supposed to live their lives before a holy God. The next section was Matthew 10, where Jesus taught about how He wanted His disciples to go as they proclaimed the Gospel. There are two more sections that we haven’t mentioned, even though we have already read the stories. The third section was from Matthew chapter 13, where we see the parables that Jesus told as He preached across the land. The fourth section is found in Matthew 18-20, which gathers up all of Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness…and how He doesn’t want any of His followers to block the way for others to enter His Kingdom. Now we are going to read Matthew’s last section, where we learn what Jesus taught His disciples about how God is going to bring human history to an end. It is a fascinating epic and frightening topic. It is important for us to understand because we have to be ready…and we have to know how to live until that day comes.
As Jesus and His disciples continued on their path out of the Jerusalem, they walked down through the Kidron Valley. As they moved up along the side of the Mount of Olives they found a place to sit down and look out at the City of David. Imagine the thoughts of the disciples. Jesus had just declared that the Temple would be utterly destroyed. What could it mean? What epic events were thundering towards them? “‘Tell us,'” they said. “‘When will this happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?'”
For you see, they were still looking forward to the Day of the Lord. They were beginning to understand that it was still to come, and that Jesus would somehow return to usher it in. Now they were learning that in the midst of these things, the Temple was going to be destroyed. They were curious to know when.
Jesus had an answer ready for them. It was time for them to know:
“‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.'”
Wow. Jesus was giving a glimpse of the end of time. All of these things would come like the birthing pangs that give warning when a woman is about to have a baby. Wars and famine are the warning of the terrible wrath that will come on the Day of the Lord.
We can look throughout human history and see the vicious pain and malice of war. These are things that remind us that an end is on the way. We know that many false prophets have come and tricked people into believing Christ has returned. We can look at the earthquakes and terrible famines and know that they point us to the time when Jesus will return and end all of the problems that the curse brought into the world. Yet it seems Jesus is saying here that when the end draws near, these things will increase with intensity.
The time will come when God will not let humanity live out the fullness of our sin and hatred any longer. In the midst of these great, cataclysmic events, the followers of Christ will spread the bright truth of the Gospel. They will also bear the terrible brunt of humanity’s rebellion. Jesus explained it to His men like this:
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will increase, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
And there it is…the map to the end of the story…the conclusion of the grand plot of human history. His disciples were getting the inside scoop. It was a privilege that let them in on the story of their own lives, but it was a sobering message. Their task would be to fill the world with the proclamation of the Good News of Christ…and to offer up their lives in the name of Jesus. The nations would hate them, many would choose the lies of false prophets over the servants of God, and resolution would not come until the world itself was over. It was a breathtaking challenge. Would His disciples rise to it?