Summary: Jesus gives His disciples some signs to look for in the end times - but not so they would focus on the signs, but so that they wouldn’t panic and would do the Master’s will instead
Today we’re going to study the end times. No, I’m not going to set a date for Jesus’ return. No, I’m not going to answer all questions about the Tribulation or the Rapture. But what we are going to see is what Jesus tells us to think about the last days. And it might actually surprise you.
1 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"
This was Tuesday or Wednesday of Jesus’ final week. His last visit to the Temple.
The Temple of Jesus’ time was indeed magnificent. This was not the original Temple built by Solomon - that was destroyed by the Babylonians in the seventh century B.C. The Temple was rebuilt by Ezra, then desecrated in the second century B.C. by the Seleucids. The Maccabees reconstructed it and then it was greatly expanded by Herod the Great.
The thing was really huge - with forty foot high columns carved from a single stone - and foundation stones that weighed more than a hundred tons. You can still see some of these stones today - in the area called the Western Wall - or the Wailing Wall.
The Temple reconstruction wasn’t completed until A.D. 64 - just a few years before the Romans destroyed it. But the Jews felt that its size made it a permanent object, as well as the fact that it represented to them God’s presence. It’s amazing to me how the things men create as so permanent can be so fleeting. And everyone who has an edifice - whether its of stone or of ideas - if it rejects Jesus, God will judge it and tear it down.
2 "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
That’s exactly what happened - in 70 A.D. when the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem. The destruction of the Temple was judgment for rejecting Jesus, even as the same thing happened hundreds of years earlier when God judged the Jewish nation, sending them to Babylon and destroying the Temple.
Jesus isn’t done showing His disciples the future:
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"
The idea of the Temple being torn down would have been pretty shocking to the disciples - and the first four of His men pull Jesus aside and ask Him a two part question: when will the destruction happen and what should we look for to know its about to come about. In fact, in Matthew’s gospel (24:3) the disciples’ question is more complete: "what will be the sign of Your coming?"
From their world view - the setting up of the Messiah’s kingdom would occur simultaneously to the destruction - they still didn’t get the separation between the first and second comings of Jesus - first to save, then to rule.
So Jesus sets for them a picture- both of when the destruction of the Temple would occur, but also far into the distant future - to just before He returns for the second time.
What you have to understand is that these events are not in chronological order. I strongly believe that prophecy can have a dual fulfillment - one in the near future, and one in the far future. One person described prophecy like standing on a mountaintop - you can see the other mountains and they seem so close - one after another - but in reality there are many miles between them. So too with prophecy, it is the high points - but much time can elapse between the events, events that look so close but are in fact very far away.
5 Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ’I am he,’ and will deceive many.
Don’t follow signs, Jesus says, or you will be deceived. It’s still true today. Signs can be misleading because Satan’s forces can make it appear as if they have miraculous powers. This will happen in the very end of the end -
Revelation 13:14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth.
This refers to the False Prophet that will lead the nations to worship the Anti-Christ as Lord. Over the years there have been many that have proclaimed to the Christ - Jim Jones, David Koresh, just to name two.
Signs don’t matter - miraculous power doesn’t matter - because signs can save you, and can mislead you. What matters is a relationship with Jesus Christ and the truth of the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later write that even if an angel came and preached a gospel contrary to the one they had received that that angel was really a demon - Joseph Smith should have read Galatians 1:8!