The beginning of the End
The passage of Scripture before us today is known as The Olivet Discourse. This sermon, which was delivered by Jesus, is also recorded in Matt. 24+25 and in Luke 21. In this sermon Jesus talks about the end of time and the events which surround the end of the world as we presently know it.
This passage is one of the most difficult to interpret in the New Testament. Because of this fact, various false teachings about the end times, the Second Coming of Christ, and even about salvation have arisen. We want to take our time as we move through these verses. We want to get a correct understanding of what the Lord Jesus is trying to teach us.
In order to properly understand this prophecy, we need to keep a few truths in mind.
Firstly, this passage never mentions the church or the Rapture. Why? It doesn’t mention these things because this passage was not written to the church, it was written to the nation of Israel. This is primarily a Jewish prophecy. Still, there are many truths we can learn from these verses.
Secondly, this prophecy covers a tremendous expanse of time. Over 3,000 years of human history are in view here. These verses contain prophecies that have been partially fulfilled and that will be completely fulfilled in the future. So, we will be looking backwards and forwards at the same time.
Thirdly, as with any prophetic passage of Scripture, we need to move cautiously and with the knowledge that no one has all the answers. No Bible scholar has ever been able to solve all the theological riddles hidden within The Olivet Discourse.
Thus, we must approach these great verses with a humble heart, knowing that none of us knows it all.
With those thoughts in mind, let’s listen in on this conversation between Jesus and His disciples, as He teaches them about the events that will characterize the end of time. I trust that what the Lord says here will be a challenge and a help to us as we study this text together.
In my Sermon today entitled The Beginning Of The End
I want you to see A Strange Prediction; A Startling Panorama and A Sobering Promise. Let’s look at these truths as we think about The Beginning Of The End.
v. 1-2 reveal A STRANGE PREDICTION
In verse 1 we note The Temple And Its Design – Jesus is leaving the Temple. For the last two chapters we have seen Jesus and His encounters there with the religious Jews. It had been a tense time to Jesus and His disciples. Surely they are baffled by the Lord’s words and behaviour in the Temple. They probably thought the Jesus would try to win the favour of the Jews and the Jewish leaders. Instead, Jesus did everything in His power to expose them as religious phonies. Now, their time in the Temple is over, and one of the disciples tries to lighten the mood. After all the negativity they have experienced, this disciple wants to say something positive. So, he calls the Lord’s attention to the Temple, its construction and its beauty.
The Temple in Jerusalem was considered to be amongst the most spectacular wonders of the ancient Roman Empire. The original temple constructed by King Solomon was a magnificent building that took seven years and much wealth to build. Yet that temple was completely destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in about 600 BC.
When the Jews returned to the homeland 70 years later, they constructed the second temple. This temple served the Jews for nearly 500 years, but by the time of the New Testament, it had suffered great damage due to the passage of time.
When King Herod assumed the throne of Israel, he wanted to gain favour with the Jews. So, he offered to rebuild their temple. They accepted, and in 18 BC, the work began.
By the time of Jesus, the work had been underway some 46 years, John 2:20, and would continue for another 20 years. The temple that Jesus and His men visited was an amazing building.
It sat on top of Mount Moriah and literally dominated the skyline of the ancient city. The temple mount covered about a
sixth of the land area of Jerusalem. The temple itself was 172 feet long and 20 stories high. It could be seen from many miles away and from anywhere in the city.
You will notice that the disciple who spoke called the Lord’s attention to “the stones” and “the buildings”. Let’s talk about those two descriptions.
The stones that made up Herod’s Temple were enormous. Some were forty feet long, eighteen feet high and fifteen feet wide. They were cut by hand from pure white limestone, and fit together so tightly and perfectly that a sheet of paper could not be inserted between the stones.
The doors, walls and even the floors of the Temple were overlaid with pure gold. There were jewels, ornate carvings, and many awe inspiring sights. It was said that when the sun came up over Jerusalem, you could not stand to look at the Temple because of the light gleaming from its golden walls. Anything that was not covered with gold was of the purest white.
Whether the Temple was seen during the day or at night,
it was a sight that no one ever forgot.
Like every other Jew, this disciple was impressed by the Temple. He was proud that it was a part of his nation and his religion. So, he calls the Lord’s attention to the building and to its wonders.
Then in v. 2, we note The Temple And Its Destruction –
The response of Jesus is somewhat strange. Jesus hears the exclamation of this disciple and responds by telling him that the temple he loves so dearly will eventually be dismantled and destroyed. This was literally fulfilled in 70 AD when the Roman general Titus and his army conquered the city. Titus had ordered his men to preserve the temple, but the building was gutted by a fire set by one of his soldiers. As a result, the general ordered the temple and the whole city to be totally destroyed. The Romans dismantled every stone in the building to get to the gold that melted into the cracks during the fire. Today, there is not a single stone left from that great temple that Herod built.
Incidentally, there will be a new temple built in Jerusalem. During the Tribulation Period, the Jews will rebuild their temple and offer animal sacrifices once again. Then, during the millennial reign of Christ, a final temple will be built in Jerusalem.
From v. 5-8 we are given A STARTLING PANORAMA
– After they have gone out of the temple and the city, Jesus led His men up the Mount of Olives. This mountain stood some 150 feet higher than the city below. It offered a commanding view of the temple and its grounds. Notice first of all the request of the disciples. As Jesus sat there on the mountain, He is approached by four of His disciples. Two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, and John and James, come to Jesus with a question. Apparently, the disciples are baffled by what they heard Jesus
just say about the destruction of the temple. They want to know what He is talking about, so they come to Him for an explanation. – These men come asking the same questions people still ask about the end times. Everyone wants to know “when” it will happen, and “what” will be the signs that it is here.
All you have to do to guarantee a good crowd in any service nowadays, is to announce that you will preach on the end times. People will come to hear that?
Jesus answers their last question in these verses. Later on in the chapter, He will answer their first question. Today, we want to consider our Lord’s response to the question about what the signs will be, as the end of time approaches.
Remember that there is the potential here for deception. Jesus warns His men that they needed to beware of deception. Even the disciples could be drawn away by the things they may hear and see. That potential still exists.
This is why you and I need to be grounded in the Word of God. We need to be familiar with what the Bible says and what we believe, 1 Pet. 3:15. We need to have our doctrine nailed down tight in our hearts, so that when the deception comes, we can be faithful to Gods word.
In v. 6 he warns that There Will Be False Messiahs – Jesus said that many false Christ’s would come along and draw many away into deception. By the time of Jesus, several Jews had come along claiming to be the Messiah. There were some living even during the time of Christ. Many more have followed down through the years.
Acts 5:36-37 mentions two would-be Messiahs that lived before the time of Jesus. One was named Theudus. He claimed that he could part the Jordan River. He deceived about four hundred
people and led them to their deaths. Another was named Judas the Galilean. He was a radical anti-Roman revolutionary and he founded the Zealot movement in Israel. One of our Lord’s disciples, Simon the Zealot, was one of his followers.
After the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus many more would-be Messiahs came to prominence in Israel. In our own day many so-called Messiahs have paraded across the stage of history. Many of you will remember Jim Jones, the founder of The People’s Temple, and the nearly 1,000 people he led to commit mass suicide in 1978.
As the end of time approaches, there will be more and more people who will step forward claiming to be the saviour of the world. Beware that you are not deceived by their slick words and evil deception. The appearance of such people is merely a sign that the end is approaching. Then Jesus adds in v. 7 that
There Will Be Wars – Our world has been marked by war since the beginning of time. The history of our world is one of war. Jesus said that wars and rumours of war would increase
as the end of time approached.
We are seeing that prove true in our day. Wars ravage our planet, even as man claims to be climbing ever higher on the ladder of intelligence, compassion and peace.
Jesus cautioned us against getting caught up in the wars we see raging around us. When the United States invaded Iraq, many believed it was the end of time. All those who believed that were wrong! Jesus said, “these things must needs be.” That is, God is using the terrible tragedy of war to shape the world for the coming of His Son. God uses the wrath of men for His Own glory! Do not be dismayed by warfare, it is merely God moving His pieces into place for the end game. In v. 8 we read that There Will Be Constant Upheaval In The World – Jesus tells us that as long as this world stands, there will be strife among the nations. We should not be overly concerned about this either. Again, it is merely a sovereign God preparing the world for the
appearance of His Son.
Yet, when we hear the sabre rattling of Iran, Russia, Syria, China and North Korea, it tends to make us a little afraid. We start thinking about the end of time. All of these things are just a part of living in this present world. As the end approaches, we will see an increase in this kind of activity. We must not allow these things to make us afraid. Jesus adds in v. 8 that There Will Be An Increase In Earthquakes – This world is no stranger to earthquakes. Scientists tell us that more than 13 million people have died in earthquakes over the past 4,000 years. We saw with our own eyes what an earthquake can do when a powerful quake occurred on December 26th of 2004. That earthquake spawned a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries bordering the Indian ocean!
On May 18, 1980 a volcano named Mount St. Helen’s in Montana erupted. This eruption was triggered by a violent earthquake that caused a rockslide comprised of one-half square mile of rock. As the summit and north slope of that volcano slid down her sides, it toppled 150 square miles of forest in six minutes. The total energy output, on May 18, was equivalent to 400 million tons of TNT – approximately 20,000 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs. The explosion showered towns as far away as 250 miles with ash. Earthquakes are increasing in their frequency and their intensity. They will continue to do so as the end of time approaches. But, we should not be unduly disturbed by such activity. Jesus said it would be this way!
Again in v. 8 he says There Will Be Famines – Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of starvation. Every year 15 million children die of starvation and of hunger related illness. 1.3 billion people live on less than 50 pence a day. Another 3 billion survive on less than £2.00 per day. Famines devastate the poor nations of the world, and we are all, just one bad harvest away from starvation. So Famines will also increase as the end nears. Do not be disturbed by these things. Jesus said it would be this way.
There Will Be Troubles Of Every Kind according to Jesus – In Matthew’s account of this conversation, he tells us that these troubles will be “pestilences”. There will be an upsurge in disease and plagues as the end times approach.
Medieval Europe was afflicted by the “black death”. Whole villages and towns were destroyed by that plague. Other plagues have swept through cities and nations leaving millions dead in their wake. Think back to the Spanish Influenza outbreak during World War I. 25 million people died with the flu in a world without overnight, intercontinental air travel. Did you know that – Three times more people died of the flu during World War I -than actually died in any battles!
We may think something like that cannot happen today. Just stop to think of the AIDS epidemic. It is estimated that 70% of the people in Africa are HIV positive. Think of the SARS and Bird Flu scares of a few years ago. Think of the horrors of viruses like Ebola. There are killer diseases out there just waiting for an opportunity to devastate the human race. An outbreak of deadly
disease in our world has the potential to kill hundreds of millions of people in a just a few short weeks. An outbreak like that would shut down society as we know it. But, we must not allow that kind of thing to fill us with fear. Jesus said that there would be diseases and pestilence and trouble of every kind increase as the end approached, and things we have never seen before, and will never see again …
What a Startling Panorama?
Finally Jesus gives us A SOBERING PROMISE
v8 – After telling His men some of the things that will cause people to believe that the end is near, Jesus lets them know that they can’t really know when the end will come. Jesus tells them that when they see these things, they are just “the beginning of sorrows”. These men were looking for signs. But what Jesus gave them were not signs at all; they were non-signs.
That phrase means “the beginning of the birth pangs.” Nearly every woman who has given birth would tell us that when those first contractions strike, they are just an indicator of a long,
and laborious hard time ahead.
Jesus wants His people to know that He is coming. That what His promise was while He was here, “if I go I will come again” John 14:1-3. That was the promise of the angels when He ascended to Heaven, Acts 1:9-11. That was the promise of the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 Thes 4:16-18;
We have this wonderful promise … But, Jesus does not want us to get caught up in speculating when that day might be.
The Lord wants His people to live their lives like He might come at any moment. We are not to be caught up in guessing about when the Lord might or might not appear.
We are not to be looking for a sign, but looking for a Saviour!
NOW THIS FINAL WORD
If you are not a believer today, the things Jesus mentioned here ought to serve as a wake-up call for you. The fact is, Jesus Christ is coming again. The world as we know it right now has entered its last chapter. And as we have been told, by Jesus himself, the world will go into a time of terrible tribulation. Billions will die due to war, disease, starvation and other terrible plagues. The only way to miss that horrible time is to be ready when the Lord Jesus returns to catch away, or rapture His people.
Are you ready for Jesus to come? Are you ready to face death? Have you settled the question of your eternal destiny? The choice is yours, don’t wait too long, make the right choice now.
And to his Church I say: Jesus is coming! But, things are likely to get tough for us before He does. Let us not be deceived or discouraged by the signs of the times. Let us determine in our hearts that we will stand on His Word and live faithfully for Him until He comes for us – either in the Rapture or in the Reunion we call death.
Jesus is coming, but when He does, it will not be announced. When Jesus comes, He will come as a “thief in the night”,
1 Thes. 5:2. Sermons or Messages like this are the only warning you will get. Be ready, or be left behind!
God Bless you.