Bible Studies In Matthew 24: Watching & Waiting
#1 – The Beginning of Sorrows. Matthew chapter 24 verses 1 to 8
On the Mount of Olives, the Lord Jesus told His disciples about things to come – things that would be fulfilled in their lifetime (see v.34). His teaching shows that we live in what the Bible calls the last days – the time from Christ’s death and resurrection (see Hebrews 9:26) until the end (see v.14 here). Jesus described elements of this time as “the beginning of birth pains” (v.8). They mark a time of anguish that will turn to joy (compare John 16:21). In this regard, the Lord taught:
1. Don’t be distracted. The disciples were awed by the Temple buildings, (v.1). Despite the Temple’s grandeur, however, Jesus knew it was “desolate” (23:38) and told His disciples that it would be destroyed. They were not to be distracted by it!
To the Lord’s foes, the Temple was somewhere that would serve; a place for them to meet God. But the Temple was one of the ways in which the Old Testament prefigured Christ’s ministry, and these are no longer needed since He has come. We must not let temporary helps to our faith (such as our buildings or customs) distract us from the eternal heart of our faith, which is the Lord Jesus Christ.
To the Lord’s friends, the Temple was something that would stand. The massive blocks used in its wall made the buildings seem indestructible. But nothing in this world lasts forever. If we look for things to be permanent and secure now, we will be distracted from watching and waiting for the Saviour.
2. Don’t be deceived. A key part of the beginning of birth pains is the appearing of false Christs (v.5; also v.24). In the last days (the time after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection), men look for a Messiah. Having denied the power of godliness, they want its form! People look for someone who seems more than human; someone who commands a following, someone who promises a better world. And so, messiahs have arisen in the sphere of religion – in cults and sects. They have also emerged in the fields of politics (the “great leader”), of philosophy and of popular culture – the lifestyle gurus who promise a happy life. False Christs have arisen all through the end times (from the days of Jesus on), and “deceive many” (v.5), but only Jesus can bring us to eternal life. Don’t be deceived!
3. Don’t be disturbed. The other key part of the beginning of the birth pains are described in vs.6-7. There will be bad things in the natural world (famines and earthquakes) and in the human world (wars and rumours of wars). The Lord said, “Such things must happen” (v.6). They are demonstrations of God’s wrath on this fallen world, which is under His curse and they will continue to the end. The Lord also said, “See to it that you are not alarmed” (v.6). If we are caught up in any of these bad things, we might think that God was no longer in control, or that He no longer cared for His people. Jesus told us these things in advance so that we would know that God is in control (v.25), and went to the cross so that we might be sure that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Him (Romans 8:31-39). In these days, then, we keep watching and waiting for Him!
#2 – Persecuted and Preaching. Matthew chapter 24 verses 9 to 14
The word “Then” at the beginning of Matthew 24:9 indicates that these verses describe matters that happen at the same time as the events of Matthew 24:5-8. The Lord was telling His disciples what to expect in the last days – that is, in the time between His ascension and His return. Having described how things would be in the world, He described how things then would be in the Church.
1. The Church and the World: Hated (v.9). True Christian faith brings life to the full, but there is a cost to being a Christian. Jesus foretold that His followers would face opposition. The word “persecuted” (AV, “afflicted”) gives the idea of being put under pressure. Even UK Christians experience this; in other countries, believers have been put to death. The reason for this hatred is clear in Scripture. In our sin, we rebel against God. We therefore resent whatever reminds us of God’s claim on our lives, including those who have decided to follow Jesus (see John 15:18-25). There is a cost to be counted by every Christian in these last days.
2. The Church in the World: Hassled (v.10-13). Sadly, the Church does not stand true and faithful, watching and waiting, in the end times. The Lord also warned the disciples of how many in the professing Church would fall away. He spoke of:
- Many Compromised (v.10). The word underlying “turn away” (AV “offended”) is often used, as here, in connection with the shock of discovering that a cross lies at the heart of God’s plan. Jesus warned that many supposed Christians would turn on each other in betrayal and hatred rather than accept self-denial or suffering.
- Many Confused (v.11). False prophets bring a religious message dressed up as a word from God. The range of sects and cults show that they do deceive many. We need to stay true to Scripture alone – to faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.
- Many Cold (v.12). The Lord foretold that people would increasingly reject God’s Law, and that in consequence the love of many (for God and for others) would cool. Love for, and obedience to, God are closely linked (see 1 John 5:3). Turning from law means turning to what suits oneself – and selfishness cools love. When the spiritual temperature around us drops, we need to stay close to the Lord!
To the prediction of many falling away, the Lord added the promise of some staying true (v.13). Who will be saved? “He who stands firm to the end will.” This is both a promise that God will give persevering grace and a promise of God’s grace to those who persevere. It calls us to keep watching and waiting!
3. The Church to the World: Heralding (v.14). Even though it faces external pressures and internal problems, the Church in the end times keeps preaching. It brings the gospel of the Kingdom – the message Jesus proclaimed (Matthew 4:23) of salvation through Him. The Gospel will be brought as a testimony to all nations. God’s mercy is for all, even as all will face His judgement. But when the good news of Jesus is brought to the whole world, then the end will come. At that time the watching and waiting will be over; until then, we are to stand firm in faith and make Christ known!
#3 – The great, unequalled distress. Matthew chapter 24 verses 15 to 21
Matthew chs.24 & 25 turn our attention to the end times – the period between Christ’s resurrection and His coming again. The disciples, however, had asked the Lord about more than this. Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple (v.1-2), and they asked (v.3) “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” There are two things here: the last days (which in God’s mercy are cut short v.22) and a specific event within the last days – the destruction of the temple. The references to Judea, housetops and Sabbath show that v.15-21 refer to this specific event - the fall of Jerusalem, which happened in AD70.
1. What was to be understood. The Lord made reference to the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet (v.15), and added, “Let the reader understand.” “Abomination of desolation” means “something horrible that brings ruin.” It is mentioned in Daniel 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11; Daniel 8:13 refers to the rebellion that causes desolation. Daniel foresaw a Greek ruler, Antiochus IV, who in 167BC sought to destroy everything associated with faith in the Lord. Daniel therefore spoke of a rebellion against every remembrance of the Lord. Jesus told His disciples that they would see this in the holy place (v.15). His words were fulfilled when the Roman army came against Jerusalem (Luke 21:20). In these end times there is always that spirit of rebellion against every remembrance of God.
2. What was to be unequalled. As the Lord foretold the fall of Jerusalem, He warned of a great distress (AV great tribulation), unequalled in history before or since (v.21). The same phrase is used in Revelation 7:14, so we need to be clear. Christ spoke of an unequalled episode in the last days, but all the last days are the great tribulation. We see this from Revelation 7: all “the great multitude ... before the throne” (v.9) are “they who have come out of the great tribulation” (v.14).
The Bible doesn’t explain why the distress of AD70 was unequalled. Most likely it is because the fall of Jerusalem obliterated the temple, walls and priesthood and brought the curtain down on the OT ceremonies. That time is unequalled, but the great tribulation continues. “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (v.13).
3. What was to be undesired. When this unequalled distress came, the disciples were to run! They were not to die for Jerusalem, or for their possessions. Vs.19-20 recognise that there are times of life, and times of the year, when it is more difficult to be a refugee. Two truths are thus brought together: the distress was destined to happen, and the distress was not to be desired! There is a mystery here: we trust in God’s tender love, but know that He permits us to face severe trials. The trials lead us to see that we need His grace every day and that we need to ask for God’s mercy on our lives. The Lord told His disciples to pray (v.20).
The distress predicted by Jesus did come; Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed. Those who live for God through Jesus still face times of trial in this world. In Christ, however, there is the promise of an eternal city and an eternal temple - and the precious promise that God will wipe every tear from their eyes (Rev 7:17).
#4 – Many False Christs. Matthew chapter 24 verses 22 to 28
Matthew 24 records the Lord’s teaching on the last days, in which He foretold the fall of Jerusalem (which happened in AD70) and showed how this would be an example of what was to be expected (vs.15-21). The overall picture of the end times is therefore very solemn. Christ’s words describe a world that is rushing on to destruction, a world’s whose only hope and salvation are found in God.
1. Cutting short (v.22). The doom of the world appears in the Lord’s promise, “those days will be shortened.” Those days are these days – the time between the resurrection and the return of the Lord Jesus. If these days were not cut short, then the world would continue on and on in its wars, famines and earthquakes (v.7). To put it another way, if this world is not brought to an end, there will be no salvation! We generally think of salvation in a personal way. Each person has a soul to be saved, and each needs to trust Christ as Saviour. But Scripture sets this personal salvation in a framework of total salvation. It tells us of the resurrection of the body and of eternal life in a new world, no longer marred by the effects of sin. V.22 says, in effect, “If the world is allowed to go on, no one will be saved; but God is determined to save His elect (that is, all who are brought to faith in Christ). And because God is determined to save His people, this sinful world will end.”
2. Counterfeits (v.23-26). Another indication of the doom of the world is given in the Lord’s prediction. For a third time, Jesus warned His disciples that the end times would be marked by the appearance of many false messiahs (see v.5, 11). On the one hand, this shows that people feel a need for a deliverer. They sense that they need someone to free them from the curse that sin brings. Hope and salvation, however, are found only in God, in Jesus; so – on the other hand – the many false Christs show the delusion that leads man to think he can be his own saviour. People want to make the world work without God! Compounding this is the deception carried out by the spiritual forces behind the signs and miracles (v.24). Such is their power that even God’s elect would be deceived, but for His keeping grace. It is clear, then (and we have Christ’s forewarning, v.25); a world that turns away from God to evil spirits to find a better life is a world that is doomed.
3. Coming (v.27-28). The follower of Jesus is not to be taken in by counterfeits. The coming of the Son of Man will be as unmistakeable as the lightning flash that momentarily lights up the whole sky. We will know when He appears, wherever we live. And although Jesus is the only hope and Saviour, His coming also brings judgement. The Lord’s proverb shows the doom of the world. He said, “Wherever there is a carcase, there the vultures will gather.” (See Luke 17:37). Spiritual death brings destruction, and no one who is spiritually dead will escape it!
Jesus taught that the clock is ticking on this world of ours. God is determined to bring it to an end in order to bring in the total salvation He has promised. Judgement will fall on this world. But Jesus already has borne God’s judgement on the cross, so that all who trust in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
#5 – The Coming of the Son of Man. Matthew chapter 24 verses 29 to 35
The disciples asked Jesus (v.3), “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In reply, Jesus taught that the sign of His coming is the distress, endured by His followers (v.4-28), that shows up the wickedness of a fallen world. Because God is determined to save, the days of distress will be brought to an end (v.22) by the coming of the Son of Man (v.27). In speaking of His return, Jesus set out four truths, to which He added the assurance: “My words will never pass away” (v.35). Human promises and plans often change, but these truths are unalterable:
1. It will be a time of worldwide judgement. The distress experienced by the Church will continue to the last. Then the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light (v.29). This is the language of the Old Testament prophets (see Isaiah 13:9-11; Joel 3:14-16) and probably is to be taken literally - although at times it is used in a figurative way (see Ezekiel 32:7-10). In every case, darkness implies judgement (see Amos 5:18). When the Son of Man comes this judgement is worldwide: all the nations of the earth will mourn (v.30). To those who have rejected the Lord, His return will be no source of joy.
2. It will be a time of glorious revelation. Everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds (v.30), and thus see that Jesus is Lord. In Scripture, it is God who makes the clouds His chariot (Psalm 104:3). Furthermore, Daniel 7:13-14 describes how the Son of Man, coming with the clouds, is given authority, glory and sovereign power. Again, the angels do His bidding (v.31); every detail here shouts, "He is Lord!” To say that He has “power and great glory” is to say that the Lord has real authority and that His very person commands respect. The loud trumpet call and the sign in the sky (probably to be understood as a flag or banner as in Isaiah 11:12) further show that Jesus will be revealed as the Lord of glory.
3. It will be a time of final ingathering. The angels will bring the elect from all over the world. At other times Jesus used parables to describe this harvest (see Matthew 13:37-43) but here the emphasis is on how the angels will gather all who trust in the Lord, no matter how far they are scattered. This is both an assurance to those who have to flee because of persecution (see v.16) and an anticipation of the Gospel being preached in the whole world (v.14). The one point not spelled out here is that the ingathering also involves the resurrection of the dead in Christ (see John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1Thessalonians 4:16). This, however, follows, in that the Lord’s word (and promise of salvation) shall never pass away.
4. It will be a time of imminent expectation. The return of the Lord Jesus is the ‘next item on the agenda’! The Lord reminded His disciples how they knew the tell-tale signs that show that summer is on the way (v.32). In the same way, the distress described in v.9-11 is the tell-tale sign that the Lord is on the way (v.33). Jesus told His disciples that they would see the sign fulfilled in their generation (v.34). In other words, from Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension we await the coming of the Son of Man. This expectation and hope shapes our lives!
#6 – No one knows the day or hour. Matthew chapter 24 verses 36 to 41
When Jesus warned the disciples about the future destruction of Jerusalem, they asked Him, “When will this happen and what will be the sign of Your coming?” (v.3) The Lord explained that the tribulation faced by the church would be the sign (vs.9-14). We can, then, expect the Lord’s return, but we cannot say precisely when it will happen. His coming will be unexpected (see v.44).
1. It is known only to the Father. Many have tried to pinpoint the date of Christ’s return, or to interpret particular events as omens, but the Lord taught that no man or angel knows about the day or hour (v.36). Some texts of Matthew 24 also have words found in Mark 13:32: even the Son did not know when He would return. This is a deep mystery. The second person of the Godhead, by His incarnation, is God and Man in two distinct natures, and one person. As eternal God, the Son is immortal, yet He came to die. As only-wise God, the Son is omniscient, yet in His earthly ministry His knowledge came by revelation from the Father, as in all things He submitted to His will (on this, see Matthew 20:23 too). Jesus was not keeping back information; He genuinely did not know!
No created being may know when the Son of Man will come, but all of creation cries out for His appearing (Romans 8:18-23). Rather than crossing off days on a calendar, then, each day is a day to pray, “Come, O Lord!” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
2. It is going to be like the Flood. To explain the unexpected way in which He would return, the Lord Jesus reminded the disciples of the cataclysm that befell the world in the days of Noah. Human society had continued on as normal up to the day Noah entered the ark (v.38). We may have a notion that there should be some sequence of catastrophes and calamities to give advance warning, but the Lord highlighted how the people of Noah’s day knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them away (v.39). When the day came, it was sudden, abrupt and unexpected.
We may draw one other thought from the parallel with Noah. He and his family found salvation in the ark, and the flood did not strike until they all were safely inside. God has provided a way of salvation for people now too: Jesus saves.
3. It is shown to be Final. The reality of the Lord’s unexpected return is spelled out in the description of how it would overtake people in their everyday lives. Jesus spoke of field and mill (vs.40-41); we might think of factory, supermarket, office or school. When the Lord said, “One will be taken” it might mean ‘gathered with the elect’ as in v.31, or ‘taken away in judgement’ as in v.39. Whichever way we chose to understand it, the sense of final separation is unmistakeable.
The main point here is that the Lord’s coming will overtake people going about their business, but note also that there would be no major outward difference between two men in a field, or two women with a hand mill. The difference is inward; it is faith. The Son of Man will come to take His loved ones home (vs.30-31). It is as we trust in Him that we are ready for His coming, whenever it may be!
#7 – Be ye also ready Matthew chapter 24 verses 42 to 51
Matthew 24 records how the Lord taught His disciples that His coming would be sudden, unexpected and final - just like Noah’s flood (v.38-39). No one knows the day or hour (v.36). Christ therefore told His disciples (and us) always to be ready.
1. Be ready, because the day will arrive (v.42-44). Jesus used the thought of a burglar breaking into a house as an illustration. Clearly, if the homeowner knew the burglar’s plans, he would be prepared (v.43)! If he knew at what time of the night the thief was coming, he might even be able to take a quick sleep beforehand. But the homeowner does not know when the thief will strike. He does not even know if the thief will strike. Disciples of Jesus, however, know that their Lord will come. His word is sealed by His death and resurrection. We know He will come, but not when, and so we are to be ready at all times (v.43). The day will arrive.
The call to be ready parallels the call to keep watch (v.42) - that is, to be wakeful or alert. Those who trust in Jesus must not slacken in their faith or following of Him. We are called to be ready: to watch and pray (see Matthew 26:41).
2. Be ready, by doing the task assigned (v.45-47). There is more to being ready than just ‘keeping an eye out.’ The Lord used as a second illustration the idea of a servant who is left with work to do. The faithful and wise servant (v.45), who gets on with his task, is ready for his master, whenever he may come.
In the parable, the servant was to feed his fellow servants. That may suggest that the work of the apostles (and ministers of the Word) is particularly in focus here, but the same point applies to every believer (see Mark 13:37). We are to be ready by doing in the same spirit both what we may call the Lord’s work and what we may call our life work; we are to do everything as unto the Lord. To those who are faithful in doing the task assigned, the Lord promises His reward (v.47).
Faced with this call, it is important to remember that Christ gives grace for service. Jesus is the true faithful servant (Matthew 12:18) and it is only in Him that we may give our service to God, and be ready for the Lord’s appearing.
3. Be ready, because you will give account (v.48-51). If the servant actually is wicked, not faithful, he proves to be unreliable. His real attitude to his master emerges (v.48); he grabs the chance to not bother trying! His real attitude to his fellow servants comes out too; he isn’t prepared to serve them (v.49). In all, he doesn’t want to do the work given him. This can happen spiritually. Someone may profess to follow Jesus, but then turn away from the Lord. Love for others soon grows cold too, and any appearance of Christian life quickly disappears.
We will all give account. In the parable, the wicked servant’s master returned unexpectedly (v.50), and found him unprepared. Each of the three things named by Jesus in v.51 is a description of punishment. We are warned to be ready!
The Lord calls us to be ready, and gives the grace to heed His call. We may not know when He will come, but we may know Him with us now. And, as we trust and follow Him, we watch and wait for His glorious appearing.