Summary: We are halfway through our adventure into the end times tour known as eschatology, the study of last things.
We are halfway through our adventure into the end times tour known as eschatology, the study of last things. We have looked at all kinds of millennial names – post, a, pre, post trib, pretrib, and midtrib. Hopefully I have convinced you that whatever position you desire to take, if you do, that you will agree that Bible believing Christians have valid reasons for holding different positions.
I know this series is stretching you and more than a few of you may be wondering why is it necessary to go into all these theological terms. My reason is that, whether you know it or not, you are being bombarded by theological teachings about the end times from a perspective that runs counter to what our heritage of Reformed teaching understands about Bible prophecy. I want to make you aware of the teaching you are receiving so that whether you choose to believe it or not, you know that it is not the only position that Bible believing Christians take. The Left Behind series of books, the books written by Hal Lindsey, indeed, probably any of the books you may have read on end times prophecy, the movies you may have seen and the radio programs you may have heard – all of these present a theology labeled dispensationalism and a view of the end times labeled pretribulation premillennialism. Right or wrong, this has not been the view of traditional Reformed Christians. If understanding the subject of the end times is something you must know, then you need to make further effort to read and study writings that present the other views I have presented.
Let’s go to our text. Recall how I have presented the chapter. Verses 1-4 introduce the subject. Jesus prophesies that the Temple will be utterly destroyed. The disciples ask when “these things” will take place and what will be the signs they are about to happen. We know from Matthew that they equated the destruction of the Temple with his coming. In verses 5-13 Jesus warns them not to confuse troubles as being signs of the end times. Indeed, these disciples can expect to see many troubles and be persecuted. In verses 14-23, he warns of the great tribulation that will come which result in the devastation of the Temple of which he was speaking. Even then, do not be deceived thinking that he has come. Now, in verses 24-27, he does speak of his coming.
24 “But in those days, following that distress…
In those days is a critical phrase in understanding the end times. Does it mean “in those days just after the destruction of Jerusalem”? The dispensationalist says, “Of course. That is why the nation of Israel must be re-established (which it has) and the Temple rebuilt before Christ can return.”
Others say “not so fast.” One can trace through OT prophecy that same phrase used to introduce the days being prophesied. We have all talked about the future in such a way. We might say something like, “Some day I am going to have a house by the beach and take life easy. In those days I’ll be able to…” If someone asked, “What days?” We reply, “Those days.” It becomes a phrase speaking of a time undetermined.
Jesus has just answered the question about the destruction of the Temple and the troubles the disciples will face. He concludes in verse 23 by saying: So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. In other words, he is saying, “But, having said all that, let me talk about “those days” of my coming. He then borrows the language of apocalyptic writings. (There’s another big word! It refers to writings that speak of a cataclysmic event such as the end time.) Listen.
”‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
As I said, such language is borrowed from writings that speak of momentous events to come. Isaiah, for example, uses it in 13:9-10 to speak of the downfall of Babylon. It can be simply a figure of speech to mean that ominous events will happen to make everyone pause and fearful. They will make everyone believe that something big is about to take place. Or the words can be taken literally. Indeed, I would think they should be if Jesus is speaking of what will take place at his coming. These events do not portend Jesus’ coming, i.e. serve as signs to prepare us for Jesus’ coming; rather, they are what take place as part of his coming.
26 “At that time (at the onset of these things) men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”