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Eschatology in the Bible 5: Birth Pangs, Mat 24

Really, is the end near?

We have gone through Jesus’ warnings to his disciples about false Christs, false prophets and wars and rumors of wars. These are things they see and hear but it will be worse, for He goes on to say that this is just the beginning of sorrows.

They will be exposed to hardships, some will be killed and hated because of Jesus’ name’s sake (Matt. 24:9). There are many places in the Bible that tells us that they were subjected to oppression and that they were murdered. One of the worst persecutor of them was even Paul, before he met by Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts. 9:3-9).

Here is some places in the Scripture you should check out about Jewish persecution of the Christians: Acts 4:3; 5:18-33; 6:12; 7:54-60; 8:1ff; 9:1-4, 13, 23; 11:19; 12:1-3; 13:45-50; 14:2-5, 19; 16:23; 17:5-13; 18:12; 20:3, 19; 21:11, 27; 22:30; 23:12, 20, 27, 30; 24:5-9; 25:2-15; 25:24; 26:21. You can also read 2.Cor. 11:24; 2.Thes. 2:14-15; Heb. 10:32-34; Rev. 2:9; 3:9.

As we see, it was not easy and some were killed by the Jews who persecuted them (Acts 7:54-60). This is according to what Jesus said to the Pharisees and the Scribes: “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city” (Matthew 23:34).

Then comes the warning that they would be hated by “all nations” which is the imperial persecution and the big man grabbed (64-68 AD) before the destruction of the Temple (AD 70). This persecution began with Nero and is termed as the worst and most painful Roman persecution. (Nov. 64 AD until Nero’s death in June 68 AD). Tacitus writes:

“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.” (Ant. 15:44) 

In Mat. 24:10, Jesus deals with the offense and denounce, “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” This can also be found in different documents. For example Paul says to Timothy in 2. Timothy. 1:15 “… that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me,…” And then in 2 Timothy. 4:10 “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world,…”

And John says:

“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”  (1.John 2:19).

Paul’s letter to the Hebrews shows us that there actually was a falling away from Christian-converted Jews. In Heb. 10:25 we read that Paul urged them not to forsake meeting as the manner of some is. He also says that “… as ye see the day approaching”, which indicates that they are expecting a special day, which is “the end”. As mentioned before, this is not the day to the Lord’s return but the day of the Lord coming in cloud of judgment over Jerusalem.

In Tacitus’s works “The Annals” and the continuation of the verse that I used above, there are clear traces of this denounce of the Christians:

“Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” (Ant. 15:44). 

In Mat. 24:12-14 Jesus says that there will be lawlessness, the love will grow cold, the one who endures shall be saved and the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached throughout the world as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come.

We have looked at some of this already, when the denounce and the prosecution does not exactly qualify for obeying the law and love. Lawlessness is not only to break the law of God but also to go agains a true Christian “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22: 39-40, see also Gal. 5:14).

The statement “He who endures to the end shall be saved” is like an echo and repetition of what Jesus said to his disciples in Mat. 10:22, when He sends them out for the first time among their own in Israel. There, he says, “And ye shall be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” Maybe not so much physical but spiritual in that they adhere to the faith. It is as if he already here warn them and show them what they really have to wait for, after the resurrection of Christ and before God’s judgment upon Jerusalem.

When we read verse 14, we can now wonder if the Gospel was reach out to the world before the year 70 e.kr? (24:14), it sounds quite impossible and it was also impossible, in the thought that it was the whole earth.

The word “World” (oikoumene) used here occurs several times in the NT and is very often meant the Roman Empire, like: “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.” (Luke 2.1), or “One of them, one named Agabus, stood up then, and by the Spirit he noted that there would be a great famine throughout the world” from Acts. 11:28.

If we go back to Mat. 10:5, we see that the disciples should not go to the Gentiles / nations and that they where limited to Jews. But in verses 18 and 19 we see that they will be delivered to the “land chiefs and kings … which is a testimony to them and the Gentiles(see Mat.24: 14), which suggests that Jesus looked forward to a continued future of widespread the Gospel.

Furthermore, in verse 23 of Matthew 10, Jesus says: “When they persecute you in one town, then flee to another! For verily I say unto you, Ye shall not be finished with the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

Then in Matthew 24:14 Jesus takes away the limits only Israel, to now also include the nations / Gentiles. This is also reasonably clear in his second “The sending of the disciples” in Mat. 28:18-20 “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, in baptizing them of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even unto the end. Amen”. In other words, he actually says that the gospel should be spoken out to other groups of people outside the Jewish, before the end (of the temple) comes.

It is interesting to read in Acts. 2:5 that “there were people from every nation under heaven”, gathered and heard the testimony of the gospel, and I think this also meets the requirements in 24:14 “… as a testimony to all nations, …”, at least it represents.

Regarding to speak the gospel, Paul says in Rom. 10:18 “But I say; Have they not heard? Yes indeed: Their voice has gone out into all the earth and their words to the end of the world.” He said this about the year 55 AD, and there should be enough time left to the year 70 AD when the end came. He opens the letter to the Romans by saying “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because their faith preached in the whole world (Rom.1: 8).

We could ask, can we really expect that the gospel was spoken out over the western world (eg. America) before the year 70? Can we really expect that Claudius counted all the houses and the people who lived in them in the Western world, China or Australia. Can we really believe that the famine did all the way across the Himalayas to China during the reign of Claudius?

Why do I have time to explain the word “world” in verse 14 of Matthew 24? Because dispensiationists have a tendency to use verse 14, and the word “world” in the Bible to apply to the entire globe and to get it to fit into their learning about the Millennium and the Lord’s judgment upon Jerusalem in the near future.

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