Jesus was sitting with His disciples on the Mount of Olives. It was evening. As they looked out on the City of Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus described to what the last stages of human life on Earth would be like, and it was a devastating picture.
There would be wars between nations. There would be great famines where many people and animals would take the long, slow path of death from lack of food and water. False prophets would rise up and claim to be the Christ, and many would follow them. It would be a time of terror, confusion, and pain.
Even in the midst of these horrors, God would continue to pursue humanity with His love. As human society and the earth groaned under the intensified suffering and weight of the Curse, the followers of Christ would carry the Good News of salvation out into the world. They would declare that the Lord Jesus had already won the way to freedom and peace, and that the end of the story was filled with hope. But just as the religious leader of Jesus’ time rejected Christ when they met Him face to face, many would reject the message of His Kingdom when His followers proclaimed it to the world. In fact, they would persecute and destroy them.
Even as the Lord explained this hard truth to His disciples, He promised that everyone who followed Him to the end would receive a gift that is worth far more than anything they could lose in this world. They would receive everlasting life in the presence of Christ Himself. The eternity before them was a place of perfect, overflowing abundance, a feast of happiness that would never it. It would be more than they could ever ask for or imagine. It was worth standing with Christ in this world to gain the immeasurable blessings of the world to come.
Imagine what those moments were like for the disciples that evening on the Mount of Olives…the cooling air, the darkening sky, the breeze, the holy city laid out before them with the massive edifice of the Temple rising up and dominating the skyline. The history of Israel’s past stood before them in physical form as God’s Son explained the how future history of the whole world would unfold. He began to describe what was going to happen in the final days, often called the Great Tribulation.
“‘So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand–then let those who are in Judea fall to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–never to be equaled again.'”
What is this abomination of desolation? What could be so terrible that people will have to flee from their homes and fields to the mountains? Well, there is a prophesy about it in the Book of Daniel. It tells of an evil prince who will come and lead the people of earth into a time of terrible corruption. Here is how Daniel 9:27 describes him:
“And he will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he shall put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, even until complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
These verses are challenging to understand. The Lord used terms like “weeks” as symbols of time that we don’t fully understand. Many think that the week was a symbol for seven years. Each day as a year when this terrible ruler will work great evil on the earth. When he puts an end to the sacrifice and offering, that is a symbol for the worship of the Most High God in the Temple that went on every day in Jerusalem. This evil leader will try to force the end of worship of the living God.
Many scholars believe that this prophecy has already been partly fulfilled. Several hundred years before Jesus, a terrible enemy of Israel named King Antiocus IV Epiphanes had the image of a Greek god put up in God’s holy temple. He ordered his men to do everything they could to desecrate and dishonor the Jewish God. He oppressed the Jewish people and made the life of Israel miserable. Other scholars believe this prophesy points to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD, just forty years after the death and resurrection of Christ. But it is clear that the full and final fulfillment of this prophesy will happen at the very end of time, when the great enemy of God, the Anti Christ, comes in power in his service to Satan and brings the worst corruption and wickedness that the world has ever seen. There is more to this prophecy to come in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul wrote about it in his letter to the Thessalonians. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, also wrote about it in the Book of Revelation. This is the last book of the Bible and it describes how Christ is going to bring this world to an end and create a whole new Heaven and Earth. As that time comes near, the world will go through a Great Tribulation.
Jesus had more to say about it to His disciples:
“‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.'”
Jesus was being very careful to warn his followers. He wanted them to know, but He also wanted them to warn the generations of the future by writing this message down in the Bible. Someday, and it could be in our own time, believers will read these words and watch them happen right in front of them. We don’t know when it will happen, but the followers of Christ have clear directions about some things they can be sure of. The Lord went on:
“‘So if anyone tells you, “There he is, out in the desert,” do not go out, or “Here he is, in the inner rooms,” do not believe it. For as lightening that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man. Where ever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.'”
The Lord made it very, very clear. When He returns, He will not come back as a man walking around on the earth. He will come with a supernatural, glorious flash across the sky that everyone on earth will see.
A vulture is a bird that eats the remains of other animals. Before a flock of vultures descends on the dead body or a zebra or a cow, they will circle high, up in the sky. The people for miles around might not be able to see the dead animal on the ground, but they know that it is there because of the vultures flying way up in the air. In the same way, when Jesus returns to judge the death and destruction of sinful men on earth, He will come brightly flashing above. It will happen in a way that nobody will be able to mistake Him. The believers in Jesus through all the centuries of history can be sure that the men and women who claim to be Christ are false. We don’t have to pay any attention to them or give them our devotion. Our Lord and Savior is going to come again…but this time He’s coming across the sky! Jesus went on:
“‘Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.””
Wow! What a glorious time that will be! After all the years of suffering, of hatred and malice and war, the Lord Jesus will come on the clouds. Read the prophecies of Daniel 7:13-14 and Zechariah 12:10-14 to see how God foretold of this magnificent time through His servants. The stars of the universe will shake, and He will be revealed to all the world as the eternal King. He will send His angels to gather the elect, His faithful and chosen servants on the earth, and bring them to Himself. Wow! Can you imagine what it was like for the disciples that evening as they sat on the Mount of Olives? Picture the lights coming on in the city of Jerusalem as twilight set in and the quiet appearance of stars in the darkening night sky.