Signs of The End

Good morning.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey.  And this morning we are in our second week in a five week series investigating what the bible says about “The End.”  Last week we talked about what will happen when we die – today and the next three weeks we will talk about what the Bible says about the end of the world – so we will look very briefly at the book of revelation next week.

Today we are looking at an interesting chapter in the bible in the book of Matthew.  If you had a bible on your lap you could open it to the table of contents and you’d notice that the Bible is divided into two major sections.  The Old Testament – which concerns everything before Jesus was born – and the New Testament – which begins with the birth of Jesus.  Matthew is the first book of the New Testament – it is one of only four books in the bible that detail the life and times of Jesus.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Now just because only four books of the 66 books in the Bible detail the life and times of Jesus, don’t misunderstand – the entire Bible is about Jesus.  All of it.  The Old Testament points to Him.  The New Testament teaches us about the life he came to give us.

And there are many parts of the Bible that talk about the return of Jesus.

In the past twenty years of ministry, I feel like there’s been one person or book or event after another that people have declared to be the ultimate sign that the end of the world is near!

I remember a booklet that came out in 1988 called “88 Reasons why Jesus will come back in 1988.”  Why?  Because it was forty years since the re-birth of the nation of Israel.  And people who like to speculate about the end of the world love the number 40.  Love it! If you can work a 7 in there too – even more proof!  Anyway – the result of this fine sounding argument was that many parts of – I should say American church world – people were really worked up!

In fact – next year will be the 70th year anniversary of modern Israel – and I promise you – I have not check on the internet yet – but I promise you there will be someone out there convincing people that Jesus will be coming back in October of 2018.  And it will likely just be the next one of many times when people speculated about the end of the world.

Remember the Y2K?  Remember the Mayans calendar? Remember in 2011 that the world was ending – a guy named Harold Camping had billboards all over town?   Remember the blood moons?  The eclipse?

Well, in all honesty, we must admit that it’s understandable why people think that the world is coming to an end.  We are living in some weird times right now.  And there have been many headline capturing things going on – one devastating hurricane after another in the Atlantic.  Earthquakes in Mexico city.  Wildfires destroying towns in the west? An eclipse to boot?

So many unusual things in such a short amount of time that even the NY Times felt compelled to ask whether it’s rational for us to wonder if it’s the end of the world.  And their response was – hey, it’s understandable.

But what does the Bible say.  Let’s take a look.  And for answers we will turn to Matthew chapter 24.

24 As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

The Disciples are walking with Jesus in Jerusalem and they are talking about how beautiful the temple looks – and Jesus tells them – all of it will be completely demolished.   Did you know that Jesus’ prediction about the Temple already took place? In the year 70AD – in fact – in the lifetime of some of the disciples.

In 66AD Jewish rebels began a revolt against Rome that lasted more than four years – it ended with a siege around Jerusalem – people literally starving to death inside Jerusalem, fighting over crumbs of bread.  Plagues, disease, chaos. Eventually Rome broke through the walls around Jerusalem and the Roman soldiers were so full of rage they utterly destroyed the temple burning everything in it and leaving it completely devastated.

And I say that because it illustrates part of the difficulty of biblical prophecy.  And that is trying to figure out what of the prophecy has already been fulfilled, and which is yet in the future.   And it’s not as easy to figure out as one might think.

The Disciples assume that the destruction of the temple must be something that occurs at the end of time- they couldn’t imagine life without the temple – so later that night they follow up Jesus’ remarks with this question.

3“Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?”

And what follows in the rest of the chapter is Jesus peering into the future to tell us what to be on the lookout for that signals the end of the world, at least as we know it.

So let’s start by talking about what we know for sure.  What about the future is crystal clear?  Because not everything is, but some things are.  These things are crystal clear.

  1. Without question, Jesus is coming back again. Three times in this chapter, Jesus says he is going to return to earth.  Except this time – he will not come as a tiny baby in a manger.

Why did Jesus come as a baby?  To show mankind that God is humble and approachable.  But the next time Jesus comes to earth he will split the sky and arrive with a host of angels to declare – the party is over – and to declare – the party is just beginning.

Matt 24:27  As the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes.  In an instant – in a flash in the sky –

30And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

What is unquestionable is that Jesus promised he would one day return to earth. He’s coming back to set all things new and make all things right.

Now I suppose, someone might ask – what’s taking him so long?  Why has it been 2000 years?  What’s the problem?  Well, Peter answers that as clearly as anyone in the Bible.

2 Peter 3

I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? 

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. 

Peter tells us that the reason the Lord has tarried is to give people more time to place their faith in Him.  He is patient because he is loving.  And He desires all to  change the way they think about reality and accept his invitation to live life as one of his apprentices.

He is patient, but Jesus is true to his word.  And as the Angels told the disciples in Acts 1:11, as they watched Jesus fly into the clouds

Acts 1:11 “Why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

He will come back again, the bible is unquestionably clear about that.  What else is it clear about?

  1. You don’t know when.  Unquestionably – crystal clear – we don’t know when it will happen.  Let’s go back to Matthew 24 and listen to Jesus tell us himself.

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

Wait- did Jesus just say he doesn’t know?  Right – that’s what he said.  Within the trinity, Jesus has allowed that knowledge to remain with the Father.  Now the fact that Jesus would even throw himself into the mix of “People who don’t know when Jesus will come back” should resonate rather loudly and clearly – if Jesus doesn’t know, then neither does the guy peddling the conference, or the book, or the website, or the billboard.

The bottom line is that anyone who plasters a date on a billboard announcing it to be the day when Jesus returns is automatically wrong and his or her teaching should be rejected.

Now you’re probably wondering – If Jesus was crystal clear that no one knows the day or hour, then why on earth do Christians have the slightest interest in bible prophecy and why would a single christian be sucked into this kind of teaching?  Do they not know what Jesus taught.

Well, yes, they do know.  But the tension comes in because they also know the third undeniable truth about the end times.  Well, listen to how Jesus puts it and then we can all scratch our heads together and think about it.

And – well, let’s hear Jesus for himself.  He tells his disciples, “3“Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. 

So – and here’s the deal – the third unquestionable, crystal clear teaching of Jesus is, that 3.  There will be signs of his return.   You will not know exactly when he returns.  But keep an eye out for the signs of his return.

This is a bit maddening, isn’t it?  Didn’t Jesus just say you will not know the hour or day?  Yes he did.  Did he also just tell me to keep a watchful eye on the signs?  Yes he did.  And we’ll talk about why he did it and the effects of doing it in a minute, but first let’s look at the signs- some more clear than others.

  1. The Good news of Jesus will be Preached to the whole world.

14 And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.

Part of God’s patience involves getting the message – the good news about Jesus to as many people as possible – in fact – all people, period.  And can I just say that I think we are tantalizingly close to seeing this in our lifetime?  I mean, when I drive for six hours into the Sahara Desert in Mali Africa to dedicate a health Center that you all built, and I drive into the village and people are taking pictures of us with their cell phones – that are pinging off of Chinese built cell towers in the middle of Timbuktu?  What a world!  The message of Jesus is getting out.

And that is a sign, that perhaps the end is near.

  1. There will be a time of great distress.

19 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 20 And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again.

  1. Christians will be persecuted.

“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.

2. 11 And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.

 3.12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

  1. Cataclysmic world events will be occurring

Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.

  1. Possibly – there will be some unusual celestial activity.

the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

The question is whether these should be taken literally or not, or whether this is biblical language that would be something like us saying, The world will be turned upside down!”

These are the signs that Jesus mentions in Matthew 24.  Now if you went to a prophecy seminar they would take each of these signs- and try to convince you that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are being fulfilled presently in our day and age – and there would be plenty of headlines that would seem to support their argument.

Can anyone here argue that Christians are being persecuted?  How many heads need to roll in the Middle East before we say, yeah, maybe not here in America, but elsewhere it’s true.

Who on this earth could argue that – if indeed earthquakes and hurricanes and famines and floods are signs of the end times, that perhaps we are in fact in the end times right now?

If rampant sin is a sign of the end of the age, who is going to say, well, that doesn’t apply to us, we’re peachy.

But – and this brings me to an important point.  I think that if we made a time machine and we dropped you on any year on the timeline – I think you could make the same point as bible prophecy people are making today.

I mean, if famine and disease are signs of the end times, what were people living in the middle ages thinking?

If war is a sign, what were people thinking in America during the civil war?  Or when 16 million people died in ww1, or when 60 million died in WW2, go on and on.

If persecution was a sign of the end times what were Christians thinking who watched as Nero lit up his garden using Christians as torches.

Pick an age – any age – any time period.  And what you will get is people reading these words from Jesus and wondering – is today the day when Jesus is coming back?

And I actually think that this is what Jesus is setting out to accomplish with these three unquestionable truths.  He intends to create a tension we live in today – and that believers have lived in for two thousand years.

See, if Jesus had simply stopped and said, you will never know when I’m coming back – then how would you live?  With no eye to the sky.  Little thought of his return.

If Jesus had said – these are the signs and you can surely figure out the day and hour, then what would have happened?  As it has happened many times in church history, there would be people standing on top of a mountain looking up intently – how many times would that happen over 2000 year period?  There would be no end to the spectacle of these christians setting themselves up for one great disappointment after another.

Instead, we get what we have – which is believers saying to themselves – I think that Jesus is ready to come back, but we can’t really be sure.  We just don’t know.  And that is how Jesus intends for us to live.

Now one of the consequences of all three of these unquestionable statements is that people will often find themselves in one of two camps.

Some people find themselves being drawn into the “I think the signs are pointing to a return of Jesus soon” camp.  And perhaps they are given to buying books about the end times.  Or going to Bible prophecy seminars or researching online…

And can I tell you something – this might shock you to hear me say this, because people who know me know I can be rather cynical about these kinds of things – but the truth is that I think most people who teach that the end of the world is close at hand teach it out of pure motives.  They really and truly believe it.

Sure there are people out there trying to peddle their books – but most people who get wrapped up in trying to decipher the signs of the times do so out of love and because they are excited for the return of Jesus.  The problem for them is that sometimes they can get out of balance and then they sound like the boy who cried wolf.  And pretty soon people are scoffing at their efforts – and I think I have to admit I’ve been one who scoffs at times at “End time prophecy” people.

And that’s because I find myself in the other camp.  I’m in the “No one knows the day or hour” camp – so why waste time trying to figure out the signs.  I tend to be one of these people, who think it’s fools gold to try to pin down today’s events to biblical prophecy.  You are chasing the wind.

So how then shall we live, in light of these three unquestionable truths from Matthew 24?  What do you get when you push these two things – “Look for the signs” and “No one knows” together into one thought?

You get what Jesus wants.  Which he tells us, 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

Be ready.  Be ready.  Don’t waste your time.  be ready even if you think it’s unlikely to happen today.  You know that’s why you buckle your seatbelt when you get in the car, right?  It’s unlikely that you will need it, but you prepare for the unlikely event.  That’s why you put batteries in your smoke detectors.  It’s unlikely you will need it tonight, but you are prepared in case something does happen.

So, be ready.  Jesus might come today.  Don’t wait until tomorrow to give your life to Jesus – to spend your days for the sake of the Kingdom.  Now is the day.  Cease it for the sake of God and his kingdom.

So now let me interject my personal opinion.  Someone asked me once if I thought we were in the end times.  Want to know what I said?  It doesn’t matter.  Because I am speculating.  I would be speculating to say that I think we might have another thousand years or two before Jesus comes back – just as much as my friend would speculate that he thinks the end is near.

Both of us though are living the same way.  We are ready for His return, and long for it.  Bring it Lord.  Make this miserable world right again.  Come Lord Jesus.

So as I wrap this talk up – I want us to look at one more piece of scripture.  It’s Paul, writing to his friend Titus.  And he writes about how we then live our lives, in light of the reality that Jesus might return at any moment…  He writes,

Titus 2:12-14  We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.

How then shall we live as we await the Lord’s return?

First, we live fearlessly.  One of the privileges of faith is the joy of living life without fear.  If Jesus if for us, what can stand against us?  Nothing.  Nothing.  The Lord is our shepherd and we fear nothing.  Least of all the events surrounding his return.

Secondly.  We labor feverishly. 

We’ve got work to do.  We are the salt of the earth.  We make life taste better for those around us by loving them and caring about them.  We carry with us the good news that through faith in Jesus, we can be transformed into different kinds of human beings.  We are committed to doing good works so that others might see our good deeds and end up giving glory to God for it.

  1. We love furiously.

Time is short.  God has sent you into the world as agents of grace and truth and love.  So love those God has placed into you life.  Love them with that unconditional, godly, selfless, strong love – the kind of love that God displayed to us.

And finally.  We long fervently for his return.  Do you know how the Bible ends?

Revelation 22:20 He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

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