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.
(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.
JESUS ANSWERS 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
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.
JESUS TRACES THE
CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS AGE
And Jesus answered and said unto them, take heed that
no man deceive you [Matt. 24:4].
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
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:
THE BEGINNING OF
THE TRIBULATION WITH ITS SIGNS
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
“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted”—who is
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
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
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
before He comes as the Sovereign of this universe when He will be your
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