And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? [Matt. 24:3].
(1) “When shall these things be?”—when one stone would not be left upon another; (2) “What shall be the sign of thy coming?”—The answer to this question is found in verses 23–51; and (3) “What shall be the sign … of the end of the world (completion of the age)?” The answer to this question is found in verses 9–22. The Lord Jesus is going to answer these three questions, and we call His answers the Olivet Discourse because it took place on the Mount of Olives.
The first question, “When shall these things be?”—when one stone shall not be left upon another, is not answered in the Gospel of Matthew. We find it in the Gospel of Luke, and we find segments of it in the Gospel of Mark. Why is it not included in Matthew’s gospel? Because Matthew is the gospel of the kingdom; it presents the King. The destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 has something to do with this age in which we live, but it has nothing to do with the distant future when the King is coming. Therefore, Matthew does not carry that part of the Olivet Discourse.
Let’s look at our Lord’s answer to the first question, as recorded in Luke’s gospel: “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20–24).
Undoubtedly, many of those who heard the Lord Jesus say these things were present in a.d. 70 when the Roman armies surrounded the city, laid siege to it, cut it off from the rest of the world, then finally breached the wall and got in. What the Romans did was terrible. They demolished the city. It was the worst destruction in its history, more devastating than that conducted by Nebuchadnezzar over six centuries earlier. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in a.d. 70, the first part of the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled.
The next two questions asked by the disciples were these: “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world [age]?”
The Lord is going to answer the disciples’ questions in their chronological and logical order. He will answer their last question first and their second question last. The first thing the Lord deals with is the sign of the end of the world, or more accurately, the end of the age. The world will never come to an end. The old world will pass away and a new earth will be brought on the scene. It will be similar to trading in your old car for a new one. You don’t say “This is the end of the car-age for me. I don’t have a car anymore.” You do have a car because you traded your old one in and got a new one. And the Lord is going to trade the old world in for a new one. The world will never come to an end. But it will be the end of an age, and that is the word the disciples are using in their question to the Lord Jesus.
In this Olivet Discourse, when Christ speaks of His coming, He is referring to His return to the earth to establish His kingdom. The church is not in the picture at all. In fact, by the end of the age, the church will have been removed, and it will be the last days of the nation Israel. He is speaking about the Great Tribulation Period and so labels it in this discourse.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, take heed that no man deceive you [Matt. 24:4].
The phrase “Take heed that no man deceive you” is characteristic of this entire age. The Lord gives this word of caution because there will be much deception, especially during the Tribulation Period when the Anti-christ will appear. Peter warns us in 2 Peter 2:1, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” We don’t have to worry about false prophets, because if anybody starts prophesying in our day, we Christians can pooh-pooh him right off the scene because prophets are not for this period. However, we are to beware of false teachers, and there are a great many of those around. We must test them by Scripture. In this morning’s mail a letter has come to me which illustrates this fact. It has come from a woman who apparnently has an important position in an insurance company. She tells of a well-meaning friend who introduced her to a cult. After going to her friend’s church for one year, she heard our Bible-teaching radio program, and the Scripture alerted her to the error of the cult. Then she tells of how she and her entire family went to a good church in her area. My friend, we need to beware of false teaching. There is a lot of it around in our day. Our Lord warns, “Take heed that no man deceive you.”
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many [Matt. 24:5].
Near the end of the age many people will claim to be Christ. We have such people present with us now. One man established a “holy city” in Northern California and expected any minute to be called to Washington, D.C., to solve the problems of the world. There are no “holy cities” on the face of the earth, but someday the Lord will come from the Holy of Holies in heaven to earth and solve the problems. It should be remembered that even now there are many antichrists, but at the end of the age there will come one Antichrist who will oppose Christ and set himself up as the only authority.
I believe that our Lord, up there on the Mount of Olives, looked down to the end of the age and to the Great Tribulation Period, but that at the beginning of His discourse, He bridged the gap by giving us a picture of the present age of the church. I recognize that there are many good Bible teachers, much better than I am, who take the position that in verses 5–8 He is speaking of the Tribulation Period, also; so if you want to disagree with me, you will be in very good company. However, it is my view that our Lord is not referring to the Great Tribulation until we reach verse 9 of this chapter.
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these must come to pass, but the end is not yet [Matt. 24:6].
Wars and rumors of wars are not the sign that we are at the end of the age, by any means. The Lord is bridging the gap from where the disciples are to the end of the age. It is easy to think of major wars as indicative of the fact that we are at the end of the age. They are not! There have been many major wars in the past few thousand years and only about two hundred years of peace. When I was a little boy at the end of World War I, I remember hearing my dad and others talking about the books being printed declaring it was the end of the world. World War I caused this type of thinking. But after the war, we had a worldwide depression, World War II, and the atom bomb. By this time, I was a pastor in Pasadena, and I told my congregation that a wheelbarrow load of books would come out saying that we were at the end of the world because of World War II. You know something? I was wrong! Two wheelbarrow loads of books were printed, and they were sensational.
We have come a long way from World War II, and the end of the age still has not come. We should listen to the Lord and stop listening to false teachers. We will hear about wars and rumors of wars, but we should not be troubled because all these things will come to pass, and still it will not be the end of the age. Friend, we should also keep in mind that man will never solve the problem of war. The League of Nations could not solve this problem, and the United Nations will not be able to solve it either. There will be no peace until the Prince of Peace comes.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
All these are the beginning of sorrows [Matt. 24:7–8].
These are characteristics of the entire age and are therefore not signs of the end of the age, “but the end is not yet” (v. 6). False christs, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes characterize the entire church age, but they will apparently be intensified as we draw near to the end of the age. Right now the population explosion has the world frightened and rightly so. People are starving to death by the thousands and the millions. And this situation is going to increase. The old black horse of famine (see Rev. 6:5–6) hasn’t appeared yet, but at the end of the age the black horse and its rider will come forth. What we see today is just the beginning of sorrows.
The next verse begins with our first “time” word:
Now the Lord begins to speak of the time of tribulation. You and I are living in the “age of the church” or the “age of the Holy Spirit,” as some people like to speak of it. The Bible divides the world today into three groups of people: the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God (see 1 Cor. 10:32). In this age God is calling out a people to His name from both Jews and Gentiles to compose the third group, the church. It is this third group which will be taken out of the world at the time of the Rapture. Then the Great Tribulation will begin, and I believe that verse 9 speaks of this beginning—
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake [Matt. 24:9].
“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted”—who is the you? Obviously, He is not addressing the church but the nation Israel. The affliction He is talking about is anti-Semitism on a worldwide scale.
At this point let me inject an important fact for Christians in our day. As long as the true church is in the world, there could not be worldwide anti-Semitism because the church would resist it. No genuine believer in the Lord Jesus could hate the Jews; it is an impossibility. It is my feeling that the liberal wing of the church is presenting a false front to the Jews and that in the final analysis it will turn against them. But as long as the true church is in the world, there won’t be worldwide anti-Semitism; it will break out after the church has been removed at the Rapture.
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many [Matt. 24:10–11].
As we saw earlier, the church is warned against false teachers while Israel is warned against false prophets. So here, after the church has been removed, again the warning is against false prophets.
And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold [Matt. 24:12].
This is a principle, and there are many principles in this Olivet Discourse which we can apply to our own day. Not long ago I met a preacher who had been a schoolmate of mine. He has become liberal in his theology; he drinks his cocktails, smokes his cigarettes, and lives just like the rest of the world lives. He told me, “McGee, you don’t fight city hall; you join it!” He told me about how sinful practices had gotten into his church and how he is not planning to fight them. When iniquity abounds, the love of many grows cold, and this will be even more true at the end of the age.
This next verse is very startling to some folk—
But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved [Matt. 24:13].
The question is: Who endures to the end? Well, when I study the Book of Revelation, I find that God will stop all the forces of nature and of evil and even the forces of good while He seals a certain number of folk. So who is going to endure to the end? Those whom He seals at the beginning, of course. The Good Shepherd—in all ages—will bring His sheep through to the end. When He starts with an hundred sheep, He comes through with an hundred sheep.
When someone says to me, “So-and-so was very active in the church and has gone into sin. Is he saved?” I can only reply that I do not know. We will have to wait to see what happens. I tell people that the pigs will eventually end up in the pigpen, and the prodigal sons will all find their way back to the Father’s house. It is confusing to find a son in a pigpen and a pig in the Father’s house. Peter says, “… the sow that was washed [has returned] to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet. 2:22). Let’s say that one of the little pigs went with the prodigal son to the father’s house, that he was scrubbed clean, his teeth brushed with Pepsodent, and that a pink ribbon was tied around his neck. But he wouldn’t stay in the father’s house. Sooner or later he would go back to the pigpen where he belonged. “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” You’ll just have to wait and see. Sometimes a son, a Christian, will get into a pigpen, but since he is a son, he will get out someday. Why? Because he has a wonderful Shepherd. “The same shall be saved.”
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come [Matt. 24:14].
The gospel of the kingdom is what John the Baptist preached—“Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). And the Lord Jesus began His ministry with that message—“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Also, He sent His apostles out with that message (see Matt. 10). But in Matthew 11:28, we saw that our Lord’s message changed to “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And in Matthew 20:28 He said that He had come to give His life a ransom for many. But during the Tribulation Period the gospel of the kingdom will again be preached. It is not for our day, because we are to preach the gospel of the grace of God. Is the gospel of the kingdom another gospel? No, my friend, it is not. It is the same gospel with a different emphasis. We have no right to say that the kingdom of heaven is at hand because we don’t know. But when the Great Tribulation Period begins, the people will know that they are close to the end, although they will not know the day nor the hour. Therefore, the message will be, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Now let me answer our critics who say that we who hold the dispensational view of Scripture teach that there are two or more ways of being saved. No, God has never had more than one basis on which He saves men, and that basis is the cross of Christ. Every offering before Christ came looked forward to the cross of Christ, and every commemoration since He has come looks back to the cross of Christ.
To illustrate this, let’s go back to Genesis 4 and look at the offering which Abel brought to God. He brought a little lamb. If you had been there, you could have asked Abel, “Why are you bringing this little lamb? Do you think that a little lamb will take away your sins?” He would have said, “Of course not! I’m bringing this little lamb because God told me to do so. I am bringing it by faith.” Then you could have asked him, “Well, if it won’t take away your sins, why would He ask you to bring it?” Abel’s answer would have been something like this: “This little lamb is pointing to One who is coming later, the seed of the woman, my mother. That One will take away our sins. I bring this little lamb by faith, recognizing that I am a sinner and need a substitute.” You see, Abel was looking forward to the One who was coming.
John the Baptist not only said, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2), but he also said, “… Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John identified Him. Before the coming of Christ everyone who had come to God on His terms was saved on credit. And they were forgiven on the basis of the death of Christ. In the Old Testament God never saved anyone by Law. At the heart of the Mosaic system was the sacrificial system. They brought a lamb to God because the Law revealed that they were lawbreakers, that they were not obeying God, and that they did need to have a substitute to pay the penalty of their sins. The Law was given “… that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). My friend, you and I are lawbreakers, we are sinners needing a Savior. The thing to do is to receive Christ as your Savior before He comes as the Sovereign of this universe when He will be your Judge.
Now, going back to the verse we have been considering, “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” This does not mean that while the church is here in the world the end can’t come until the gospel of the grace of God is preached worldwide. I know there are those who use this verse to promote their Bible-teaching programs. While it is laudable to want to get the gospel to the ends of the earth, this is not the verse to use to promote it. You see, my friend, it is important to interpret Scripture in its context. Remember that our Lord is answering the question, “What is the sign of the end of the age?” (see v. 3). He is speaking of that end time.
McGee, J. Vernon: Thru the Bible Commentary. electronic ed. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1981, S. 4:124-128