The End of the World
Matthew 24-25 and Luke 21
An interesting discussion is recorded in Matthew 24-25 and Luke 21. Matthew wrote, “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple” (24:1). Luke gave a little more detail when he reported, “Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations…” (21:5).
To get a full understanding of the
discussion, one has to understand the events immediately preceding
it. Jesus had just said, “See! Your house is left to you
desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say,
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew
23:38-39). The disciples likely wondered how God could leave
such a beautiful temple empty. Josephus says the temple was
made of green and white marble blocks 67’ X 5’ X 6’ and up to 100
tons. The back of the temple stood on
Yet, Jesus answered, “Do you not see all
these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be
left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew
24:2). Luke’s parallel account gives a little more insight
into the Lord’s words. “These things which you see—the days
will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that
shall not be thrown down” (21:6). Imagine the shock of the
disciples. As a result of the shock, the disciples approached
the Lord in private on the
Signs of the Beginning of Sorrows
The disciples may have viewed this as one question with three parts.
In their minds, something cataclysmic enough to leave the temple in
such a state would surely only come at the end of the world.
Jesus answered it as two questions with two parts each.
Initially, he gave signs of the beginning of sorrows. The
first was of those who would try to deceive. “And Jesus
answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives
you’” (Matthew 24:4). Specifically, with the Jews looking for
a Messiah to lead them in conquest of
Then the Lord said, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.
See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to
pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against
nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6-7a). Though
war has been common during the world’s history, peace was the norm
when Jesus spoke. Notice, Jesus said, “the end is not yet.”
McGarvey says Alford mentions three separate threats by emperors and
three uprisings of Gentiles against the Jews which occurred in the
years following the Lord’s words. Jesus went on to say, “And
there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various
places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew
24:7b-8). In Acts 11:28, Luke recorded Agabus’ prophecy of a
worldwide famine. According to McGarvey, at least one Roman
writer refers to a pestilence which killed some 30,000 in
Actual Signs Preceding the Destruction
Following the beginning of sorrows, Jesus stated, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9). Several incidents in Acts would seem to fulfill this prophecy. For instance, Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:1-22). The high priest arrested the apostles. They were beaten and told not to speak the name of Jesus (Acts 5:17-41). Also, James was killed by Herod and Peter was arrested (Acts 12:1-3).
The results of such hateful acts toward his followers are seen in his next statement. “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another” (Matthew 24:10). Paul said he was “in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26b). In Galatians 4:16, he asked, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” The apostle to the Gentiles encountered false prophets and warned of their coming (Galatians 1:6-9; 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 11:11-13; Titus 1:10-11), which would seem to related directly to the Lord’s next comment. “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11). In similar fashion, Peter and Jude confronted false prophets and warned the brethren concerning their works (2 Peter 2:10-22; Jude 4).
The next sign, “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” seems to have found its fulfillment in the Ephesian church (Matthew 24:12; Revelation 2:4-5). Thankfully, the Lord paused to note those who remain faithful to the end of their lives will be saved (Matthew 24:13; Revelation 2:10). He went on to deliver a very hopeful message, when he said, Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). He thus anticipated the carrying out of his great commission, with the message going into the whole world by about A.D. 62 (Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 1:23).
The Final Signal to Flee from
One last sign was given by Jesus to warn his followers to flee from
the city because destruction was imminent. “Therefore when you
see the ‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet,
standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand)”
(Matthew 24:15; Daniel 9:26-27; 11:31). Luke has, “But when
The nature of the destruction is seen in Jesus’ next words.
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been
since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall
be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be
saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened”
(Matthew 24:21-22). This statement called for a further
warning against false prophets. “Then if anyone says to you,
‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For
false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and
wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:23-24).
He went on to say, “See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore
if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or
‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as
the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also
will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:25-27). The
Lord compared false prophets to vultures which naturally flock to
dead bodies, in this case
The Lord’s Coming in Judgment
The next few verses in Matthew describe the Lord’s coming in judgment which is very reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets. Deaver cited similar references to the destruction of Idumea (Isaiah 13; 34:4-5) and Egypt (Ezekiel 32:7-8; Isaiah 19:11).
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (24:29-31).
The Lord immediately followed his description of a coming in
Signs of Christ’s Coming at the End of the World
The Son of God had completed his answer to a two part question,
“When will the temple be left with not one stone on top of the other
and what will be the sign of that coming?” He next turned to
answer a second two part question. “When will the end of the
world be and what will be the signs of its coming?” One clear
indication of this change is seen in the words Jesus chose.
Four times in verses 19, 22 and 29, the Lord mentioned “those days.”
In verse 36, he says, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not
even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” It seems
everything before verse 35 concerned the destruction of
The clearest sign the world is coming to an end is everything going on like normal (Matthew 24:37-41). Notice the things listed in these verses occur every day. Thus, the Lord is saying his followers should be ready for the end of time every day. In fact, in verse 42 he clearly stated, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” Because of the unexpected nature of his final coming, the Lord urged watchfulness. Two illustrations serve to deepen this understanding. First, he compared his coming to that of a thief, therefore, unannounced (Matthew 24:43-44). In the second, Jesus used an illustration of a householder who left his property and servants in the care of a servant. He stressed the importance of such a servant always handling his master’s affairs in the right way because his return could come unexpectedly (Matthew 24:45-51). Such is also the nature of the Lord’s second coming.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
The Lord then told three parables emphasizing the need for preparedness. He opened the first by saying, "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened unto ten virgins." In other words, the church is like ten virgins. Knowing the background, the word "then" clearly refers to the time of the Lord's return to earth. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the parable comes when one realizes those awaiting the Lord’s return are divided into two groups. "Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish." Thayer defines the word translated "foolish" as, "imprudent, without forethought or wisdom" (Matthew 7:24‑27; Luke 12:13‑21). Such is precisely the problem Jesus next described.
McGarvey says weddings in Christ's day "began with a feast in the house of the bride's father. After this the bridegroom led the bride to his own home, and it was the duty of his servants and household (of whom the ten virgins in this case were part) to honor him and the bride with an enthusiastic welcome." Edersheim explains, "The lamps consisted of a round receptacle for pitch or oil for the wick. This was placed in a hollow cup or deep saucer...which was fastened by a pointed end into a long wooden pole, on which it was borne aloft." Interestingly, he also noted Jewish authorities say there were usually ten such lamps in a wedding procession.
When the bridegroom delayed his coming, all nodded off to sleep. Around midnight, someone announced the groom was coming. The virgins began trimming their wicks and lighting their lamps to go out to meet him. The foolish, perhaps expecting to draw oil from a common supply, had brought no oil in their vessels in which the wick could be lain. They asked the wise to share. However, the wise declined saying they all might run out of oil before they could return to the house. They suggested the foolish go to merchants and buy oil.
While the foolish were out searching for oil, the bridegroom came. The wise entered into the wedding with him and the door was shut. Later, the foolish came knocking on the door. The Lord said he did not “know” them, in a favorable sense of the word. So, they were shut out of the wedding feast!
The Need for Preparation
The foolish virgins were expectantly awaiting the groom's coming. Their failure was in the area of preparation. The importance of preparation can be seen in the words of Jesus. "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). The rich fool in Luke 12 assumed he would live for many years, so he focussed his efforts on providing for the flesh. Of course, he found out eternal provisions should take priority.
Another reason for preparation is found in 1 Peter 3:15. "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." Our readiness to preach the gospel can cause others to be ready to meet their God (2 Timothy 4:1‑2; John 8:32; 17:17).
Some Things Cannot Be Borrowed
The foolish virgins wanted to rely on someone else's provisions to be ready. It is apparent some people expect to get to heaven based on the efforts of the whole church. Like the man who drives around looking for time still on a parking meter, they hope to park on the other fellow's quarter. This parable clearly shows such will not be possible in judgment. There are some things that simply cannot be borrowed.
Character is one example. Our parents' good character will not carry us through deceitful and cheating ways we might have. Obedience is another thing we cannot borrow from others. "So then each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Some are trying to live in a dream world where there are no consequences for immorality or lawlessness. However, Paul said, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Galatians 6:7‑8).
The Greeks pictured opportunity as a woman with long flowing hair in the front and bald in the back. Their thought was, if one does not grab her before she passes, there is nothing to grasp! Similarly, the Lord warned his followers to be watchful, or actively ready, because they did not know when his return will be. The Christian's opportunity to prepare for eternity will be past when this life ends at the second coming of the Lord.
The people around Noah abused over a hundred years of God's patience and failed to turn in time to be saved from destruction (2 Peter 2:5). The rich man wanted Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his brothers. Abraham made it clear God has given those on earth the opportunity to learn and obey the truth. "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).
In recent years, numerous books have been written on the end of time. Often a date for the Lord's return is confidently set forth. Yet, the Lord himself made it plain that knowledge belongs exclusively to the Father. "But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only" (Matthew 24:36). To be truly watchful, we must be in a constant state of readiness. "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15‑16). Because the wise virgins were ready, they had the joy of entering into the wedding feast. We must learn from them to be ready so we can enter into the joys of heaven!
Stewards of the Lord's Goods
Literally, the second parable begins, "For as a man going into another country...." Obviously, Jesus is again likening the church, or kingdom of heaven, to something his followers could understand. Notice, the man in the story gives his own servants a sum of money for which to care. They are his servants and the money is his. It is important each of us recognize that we and all we have belong to the Lord.
Paul told the people on Mars Hill, "For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring'" (Acts 17:28). The Psalmist sang in behalf of the mighty God who is Lord, "For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine" (50:10‑11). These and other verses indicate we are simply stewards of things belonging to God, even including our own selves.
Good stewardship involves proper use of the things belonging to another. The servants in this parable were expected to gain even more, not just hold on to what they had. Paul described himself as a steward of God's mystery. Then, he said, "Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:1‑2). A part of his faithful use of that mystery was entrusting it to others who would, in turn, place it in the safe keeping of others. "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2).
"Faithful Over a Few Things"
Each servant was given a number of talents, with a talent being between 75 and 131 pounds, depending on which author one reads. It could have been gold or silver. Each man received a number of talents based on his lord's assessment of his ability to wisely use it to gain more. While their lord was away, the five and two talent men doubled what they had been given.
When the lord came back from his journey, he called his servants together to see what they had done with their trust. The five and two talent men both received the same words of commendation. "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord" (Matthew 25:21, 23). The lord saw each man as having well used his trust. It did not matter that one earned five while the other earned only two. Instead, both were rewarded for faithful work.
God will judge each based on how he lived his life. Our concern need not be with what we have or do not have as compared to others. Instead, we must strive to faithfully use the Lord's trust! Our question should be, "What has the Lord given me and how can I use it to his glory?" Our goal should be to let our light shine so God can be glorified (Matthew 5:13‑16).
"You Wicked and Lazy Servant"
The one talent man hid his money in a hole in the ground. When his master came back, he dug it up and brought it to him. Lightfoot sees three specific things which caused him to fail to please his master. First, he did not believe in himself. The Lord had evaluated his ability and given him what he was capable of appropriately using. Yet he did not believe he could use it wisely.
Second, he let fear keep him from working. Fear is a dangerous and immobilizing force. Jesus said the fearful would have their part in the second death, or hell (Revelation 21:8). Third, he envisioned his lord as a man looking for failures for which he could punish his servants. We need to realize God does not rejoice over our failures. Remember, God is love. His love for lost mankind was so great he sent his Son to die in their stead (John 3:16‑17; Romans 5:6‑8; 1 John 4:7‑11). Out of that true love comes a willingness to be longsuffering, kind, not rejoice in our sins, but rejoice in our obedience to the truth (1 Corinthians 13:4‑8).
The lord in Jesus' parable describes the one talent man as wicked and lazy. He knew his master would want him to work with what he had been given. Still, he failed to seize his opportunities for work. Do we really have to wonder what the Lord thinks of the church today? We are in the middle of a technical revolution. We can communicate around the globe in a matter of minutes. Through television and radio, we can reach multiplied millions with the gospel at any moment. Many of our friends and neighbors have heard more about our lawns than they have about Jesus. How will the Lord describe our efforts? What will our reward be?
Our answer to these questions may give us a different view of the judgment against the one talent man. "And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:30). This is in stark contrast to the "joy of your Lord" which was given to both the five talent man and the two talent man. If we would have joy and avoid the place where crying and teeth grinding is incessant, we must put what the Lord has given us to use!
"All the Nations Will Be Gathered Before Him"
The third parable depicts the judgment scene. Though some have taught to the contrary, Jesus plainly said everyone in the grave would be raised. "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29). The parable of the judgment pictures what will happen following that resurrection.
Jesus said he would be seated on his glorious throne, where he has been seated since the days of the new birth began (Matthew 19:28). Peter told the crowd assembled on Pentecost that our Lord was then seated on his throne (Acts 2:32-36; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). All nations, that is every person from those nations, will come before the throne. Jesus will divide those people into two groups; the sheep, who are representative of those who accepted his leading, and the goats, representing those who would not be led but had to be driven. The sheep will be placed on the right hand because that is the place of honor, while the goats will be on the left where, according to tradition, those condemned in their trials before the Sanhedrin stood (Matthew 25:31-33).
"Come, You Blessed of My Father"
Even before the world began, God planned a kingdom for the redeemed to inherit. "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory" (1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:4, 9-14). In the judgment, the King, Christ Jesus our Lord, will invite the faithful to come into that kingdom (Matthew 25:34).
Jesus then listed six separate acts of service done for others as the reason those on the right hand will be invited (Matthew 25:35-36). McGarvey says, "The acts here enumerated indicate more than a mere outlay of money. They are not such as are the offspring of impulse, but such as call for the sacrifice of time, strength, sympathy, etc., and clearly demonstrate the fullness of the Christian life." True love for the brethren, without which one cannot claim to love God, will motivate one to act in their behalf. "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18; 4:20-21). Only an actively loving faith is truly alive (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; James 2:14-17).
Interestingly, Jesus portrayed those bidden to enter asking when they had seen the Lord in such situations and helped him. He said he will respond by saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:37-40; compare Mark 9:41). This is reminiscent of the Lord asking Saul of Tarsus why he persecuted him, when in fact he had been persecuting the church (Acts 9:4). Jesus so closely identifies with the members of his body that to hurt them or help them is to do the same to him!
"Depart from Me, You Cursed"
Just as surely as God has prepared a kingdom for his own, he has prepared an everlasting fire for the devil and his angels. It is sad to hear the King saying some men will be condemned to that fire because they have not ministered to those in need. In case the point was not understood before, we find Jesus telling those on the left hand that they will not enter in because they failed to tend him when they saw him in need. Like those on the right hand, they asked when they saw him in such a condition and did not attend to him. His response was, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me" (Matthew 25:41-45).
In verse 41, hell was described as an everlasting fire. In verse 46, he says it will be a place of everlasting punishment. McGarvey says, "The word 'punishment' expresses misery and suffering purposely inflicted." He also noted the condemnation of the wicked will be just as long in its duration as the reward of the righteous. There is no doctrine of a second chance taught in this parable of our Lord. It is imperative that we all prepare to stand before his judgment seat today!
Other Questions Related to the End of the World
While it is very important to see the urgency of being prepared, there are other things revealed about the end of the world which are of interest to Christians. For instance, the order of the resurrection is discussed in a few passages. Paul had to help a troubled church in Thessalonica which had somehow come to believe those who died before the Lord’s return would miss out on the resurrection. His encouraging words to them let us know the dead in Christ will actually be raised first, then those who are still alive in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Though we do not know the timing, the wicked dead, according to the Lord, will be raised in the same hour (John 5:28-29).
The binding of Satan in Revelation 20 has intrigued many who have read God’s word. Now, it is important to see the binding is not portrayed as happening at the end of the world. Revelation 20 opens with one of God's angelic messengers being sent down from heaven with a key to the abyss. In the New Testament, this word is particularly used of the abode of demons and their leader, Satan (Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1-2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3). The key represents power over Satan (compare Revelation 1:18.) The great chain is literally "upon the hand" (A.S.V. margin) of Satan and may be the same as the little book of Revelation 10:2, which was also in, or upon, the hand of an angel.
Satan is again described as the dragon
because he is ferocious; the old serpent, because he was the deceiver of
Satan was cast into the abyss and restrained from doing the work he desired to do. He will be loosed for a little time, which may simply be a loosing for judgment.
The end of the world is a topic of great interest. Those who see
signs of the Lord’s imminent return in every tragedy find no solace in
the signs given by the Lord in Matthew 24. Instead, a full
understanding of the passage helps one see the definite signs refer to
his coming in judgment against
Gary C. Hampton