Summary: Why did Jesus give his disciples a prophecy about the End Times - and what can we learn from it?
The End Times.
Mt 24 is one of the hardest chapters in the Gospels to understand. Because Jesus speaks of future events.
Jesus prophesies quite clearly the Fall of the Temple in Jerusalem in Mt 24:2 - that actually happened in AD 70 – and with it came the end of the Jewish era.
But he also prophesies the end of the world too.
And we will be wise to learn from history.
As Michael Green so ably put it:
“ History is going somewhere. It is not meaningless. It is not random . It is not eternal.
There will be a real end just as there was a real beginning. And at the end of it, we will find Jesus Christ. (Michael Green – The Message of Matthew p.253)
History is in a real sense Jesus’ story.
“He made the world, He came to dwell in it. He will return at the end of history to wind it up”
(Michael Green – The Message of Matthew p. 250)
We can learn from history - and we live in the present - but why did Jesus bother to tell us about the future.
I can think of three reasons:
1. Firstly to warn us so we are not led astray by false prophets
There has always been a propensity for people to be attracted by prophetic utterances about the future
Story: In the late 19th Century in America there was an enthusiasm for such prophecies predicting the actual date for Christ’s Second Coming.
One such prophet was an Adventist leader William Miller (1782-1849). And it is in his movement that both the JW’s and the Seventh Day Adventists find their roots.
Miller first predicted that Christ would return on 21st March 1842, but then revised the date to April 3, 1843.
You might have thought that the movement would have died. But it didn’t. Rather it continued to grow.
Miller decided to recalculate his date for the Second Coming and soon publicised a new date - April 18, 1844.
When the messiah did not show up on that date, there was again frustration and some followers left the Adventist ranks.
Undeterred by these failures, Miller came up with a third date - 22nd October 1844.
As doomsday approached, the Millerites began to prepare.
One account notes that “Fields were left unharvested, shops were closed, people quit their jobs, paid their debts, and freely gave away their possessions with no thought of repayment.”
William Miller himself began peddling white “ascension robes” to the faithful, many of whom waited for the miraculous event in freshly dug graves.
But as we all know, the Second Coming did not occur on 22nd October 1844.
Christ is eager to spare his followers the pain of the let down that false prophets bring – and the real sense of loss that accompanies it.
2. The second reason Christ gave this prophecy was to remind his Church that he wants us to keep his mission in the forefront of our hearts and minds.
For Jesus summed up the End Times like this
14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The primary goal of the Church is to preach the message of the kingdom of God – and not to be sidetracked by “idle speculations”. We need to keep our eye on the ball.
3. But the third reason I believe Jesus gave this prophecy was so we could be ready for the events when they come
It is a bit like hazard lights on a motorway. They warn you of a hazard up ahead before you reach it
Many of Jesus’ hearers were going to live through a cataclysmic event – the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.
It turned out to be a terrible siege that lasted four years. The city was defended with fanaticism.
The Romans tried to starve the Jews out and in the end, the inhabitants resorted to cannibalism.
A million Jews were killed and almost a hundred thousand were taken into captivity.
Story: The 3rd Century historian Eusebius records an interesting story. Some Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem got out just before the siege and fled to Pella in Transjordan. Why – the reason Eusebius gives is that they left in response to “an oracle given by revelation”. Were they were simply heeding Jesus’ words?
1. Jesus gave us prophecy so that we will not be led astray by false prophets.
2. As we see cataclysmic events around us – it is easy to take our eye off the ball .
The Church is called to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom – and not to be caught up in star gazing