September 5, 2010

How Will The World End? - Part Three

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Matthew Scripture: Matthew 24:23–31


How Will The World End?-Part Three

Matthew 24:23-31
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Pastor Randy Smith

I have had the privilege of witnessing the birth of each of our four children. Words cannot express the amazement of beholding a living being that was created by God in your wife's womb, the joy of welcoming your child into the world and the weighty responsibility you assume at that very moment as a parent. I suppose all parents will say that the delivery of their children was the most memorable day of their lives.

But up until the point when we cut the umbilical cord, we dads have it pretty easy. We see it firsthand, but none of us can empathize with our wives as to the hardship they must undergo for the previous nine months. We witness the morning sickness, the changes in her appetite, the inability to find a satisfying temperature, the weight gains, the uncomfortable pressure on the inner organs, a small kick to the side, the increasing labor pains and then the excruciating delivery itself. A lot to undergo, but a woman's perseverance is maintained by the joy that awaits in the arrival of a precious child.

In Matthew 24 we learned that Jesus compared His return to this very process. In verse 8 He referred to the events leading to the His return as "birth pangs." There will be false Christs and wars and famines and earthquakes and tribulation and apostasy in the church and lawlessness. Naturally we have all of these now, but similar to birth pangs, they will increase in frequency and intensity until we experience the joy of the Son of Man being "delivered" back into the world.

As birth pangs get the strongest just before the arrival of a child, we learned last week that the ultimate birth pang before the arrival of Christ will be the arrival of antichrist. He will make a covenant with Israel seven years before Jesus returns (commonly called Daniel's seventieth week). At the midpoint (three and one half years) he will reveal himself for the wicked, diabolical, Satan-inspired individual that he really is. He will set his sight on those who refuse to take his mark. As Jesus said in verse 21, there will be an all out persecution on the Jews and Christians "such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will" (cf. Rev. 12:13-17).

Verse 22, "Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short." I believe God in His mercy will cut short the final three and one half years, the period that witnesses the most intense and severe birth pangs. At a climaxing moment He will return to crush His enemies and deliver His people. This is the event we commonly call the Second Coming. Exceeding even that of a new born baby, this is the event that all Christians anticipate with the greatest eagerness (Phil. 3:20; Heb. 9:28). As Paul said in Titus 2, "[We are] looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ" (Tit. 2:13).

We have spent the last two weeks talking about tribulation. This morning as we prepare for the Lord's Table, I would like to examine verses 23-31 as Jesus teaches us about the victory that awaits Himself and those who are united with Him in faith. This morning we will look at the revelation and the result of the Second Coming.


Let's begin with "The Revelation." Though there is much debate amongst believers as to when Christians are raptured, there is no debate as to how Jesus Christ will return. His return will be visible and in bodily appearance (Ac. 1:11). The following verses clearly teach us that this revelation of His coming will be glorious and witnessed by the whole world.

That is why Jesus warns in verse 23, "Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him." Why? Verse 24, "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect" (cf. Mt. 7:15-16l 24:5, 11).

We said that during this time of antichrist that there will be massive deception. Revelation says, "All who dwell on the earth will worship him" (Rev. 13:8). Christians will be in the minority. Christians will be heavily persecuted. The temptations to follow imposters aligned with the enemy, especially when you consider their ability to do signs and wonders, will be quite persuasive. We know our relief will come when Christ returns, therefore, any promises that He is back will be very convincing and very attractive. So in our desire to want something so bad, we are susceptible to deception. We could easily fall for the counterfeit.

Jesus sounds the warning again. Verses 25 and 26, "Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them." We need to be careful.

As a side note, in these verses we are confronted (as the Bible often does) with the delicate balance between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. Though humans often attempt to emphasize one at the expense of the other, both sovereignty and responsibility must be maintained and kept in proper harmony.

For example, on the one hand (the sovereignty side) we know that God will keep those who belong to Him. We did nothing to write our name in the Lamb's book of life and we can do nothing to erase it. Jesus said, "I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand" (Jn. 10:28). We know from Scripture that "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). The Scripture is clear, God will keep His own. Our future salvation is secure.

On the other hand, we are not robots. We have the responsibility by God's grace to take responsibility for the life in which we live. We are accountable to make wise decisions, heed God's warnings and persevere by daily trusting in the gospel and abiding in Jesus Christ.

So we know the elect will persevere to the end, but we also know the reality of verse 13 that only "the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." We know the reality of verse 24 that these false Christs will show "great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect" (Mt. 24:24). In other words, the elect will not be deceived. But we also know that we must be vigilant to avoid falling for such deception.

Another side note, I have had a few people approach me over the past two weeks concerned that they may fall away if they are around for these final days of antichrist. Let me be very clear. God always sustains His own with sufficient grace, and the proof of God's true children will be their ability to persevere to the end. So our hope for the future is not wondering how we will respond, but rather examining our lives today and determining if we are truly saved based on the way we are conducting our lives right now.

All of God's children will persevere. So the questions to ask is, "Am I a child of God?" Is God bearing fruit through me? Am I persevering in the spiritual disciplines? Revelation 14:12, "here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and faith in Jesus." Evidence of God working in my life now is the promise that I belong to Him. And the assurance of my salvation now is the assurance that He will continue to work in my life in the future.

Verse 24 says "False Christs" will seek to deceive even with "signs and wonders" (Mt. 24:24; cf. 2 Thes. 2:9; Rev. 13:13-14). So how obvious will the true return of the Lord be? Answer: it will be unmistakable to all. Verse 27, "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." The return of our Lord will be universal and sudden and glorious and public and unquestionable. Listen to Revelation 1:7: "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him."

Verse 28, "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." Though this is a strange verse and one that has held many interpretations throughout the centuries, I believe the point is still to highlight the unmistakable return of Jesus Christ. Possibly it means that it will be as impossible for humanity to miss His coming as it is impossible for vultures to miss a corpse. Or, as vultures swoop down on a dead carcass, the Son of Man will suddenly swoop down on a spiritually dead and decaying world (cf. Mt. 24:12).

The point is that the return of Jesus will be unmistakable. In verse 29 Jesus elaborates. "But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken."

Verse 29 is clear that there will be a time called "the tribulation." But it is also clear that "immediately" following this period, the period that begins with the revelation of antichrist and the "abomination of desolation - Mt. 24:15 and ends with God cutting those days short - Mt. 24:22, "immediately" following this Great Tribulation unlike anything the world has ever seen or will see (Mt. 24:21), "immediately" Jesus will return.

And according to verse 29, His return will be attended with spectacular astronomical events. The sun will no longer shine. The moon, as a reflector of the sun, will obviously darken as well. The stars will be shooting throughout the hemisphere as one commentator said "deviat[ing] from their orbits and rac[ing] to their doom" (William Hendricksen, Matthew, p. 863).

All of this is Old Testament prophetic language that spoke of the universe being shaken to its core to announce the return of the King of kings. Consider Isaiah 13:10, "For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light" (Isa. 34:4; Eze. 32:7; Jo. 2:10, 31; 3:15; Hag. 2:6, 21). And this language is also used again in the New Testament in the book of Revelation with striking similarity. "I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth madeof hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up" (Rev. 6:12-14a).

The One who "upholds all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:3) for the first time in history releases His control. Interestingly, what you have is God altering the very heavenly bodies He created. Genesis 1:16 says that on the fourth day of creation, "God made the two great lights [the sun and the moon], the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also." And on the Day of the Lord the glory of the sun and moon and stars will give way to set the stage for the most glorious event that the world will ever behold.

Verse 30, "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. The Jews continually requested a sign (Mt. 12:38; 16:1). For the most part, their request was denied in the past (cf. Mt. 12:39-41). Was this one they would never forget? The disciples in verse 3 asked Jesus for "the sign of [His] coming." Was this an answer to their question? No matter how you slice it, the sign will be, the end of verse 30, "The Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory."

This is fulfillment of the prophecy spoken of by Daniel hundreds of years earlier. In Daniel 7 we read, "I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed" (Dan. 7:13-14).

We already heard Jesus speak this way in Matthew 16:27: "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds." And we will hear Jesus speak this way again in Matthew 26:64: "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."

This is our Lord's declaration of assured victory. He will come in power to alter the created universe, deal out retribution, judge the world, rescue His people. He will display "all authority" that has been given to Him by the Father (Mt. 28:18). He will come in glory, "glory as of the only begotten from the Father" (Jn. 1:14) - glory that exceeds anything from His presence in the Old Testament as an angel of Yahweh, to His birth in Bethlehem attended by a multitude of angels, to His walking on water, to His appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration. Power and glory that have been held back from the entire created order throughout history will now be manifest for all to see and experience, things that were hidden in a sense throughout eternity. Patient with the world as it rejected its Creator, now His revealed will will be enforced and His kingdom will be consummated.


This takes us to our second point. First we looked at His revelation. Now let's examine the result of His revelation. First we see how unbelievers will act. The middle of verse 30, "And then all the tribes of the earth will mourn."

We know from Zechariah 12:10, written before the first coming of Jesus Christ, that in these future days it was prophesied "that [the Jews] will look on [Him] whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him." Yet the mourning described in Matthew 24:30 pertains to "all the nations of the earth" (NIV) (cf. Rev. 1:7).

I believe the mourning spoken of here is out of sheer terror. We have all seen people in times of danger with eyes wide open, jaws dropped, muscles tense, faces as white as a ghost. Now if that response can be created from being swept out by a riptide or intruder at the front door or a child missing at the pool or a lightning storm, how much more will it be when these unbelievers who are not prepared for the day we just read about personally see Jesus in all His power and glory. This is the One they have been rejecting all of their lives? The world will indeed mourn as will many carnal and backsliding so-called Christians in the church.

You say, well, they will definitely repent at this time, right? Unfortunately, there is not much in the Bible that gives us this assurance. Luke in His account says, "Men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken" (Lk. 2:26). It seems their primary response will be fear for their safety. According to Revelation 6, "Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?'" (Rev. 6:15-17). Even as the wrath of God intensifies, Revelation 16:9 says, "Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory" (cf. Rev. 9:20-21; 16:11).

Well, what about the other camp? What will happen to believers when Jesus returns? Verse 31, "And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other." It is at this point, just before His wrath is dispensed (the trumpets and bowls spoken of in Revelation) that I believe all true Christians will be raptured.

As consistent with all Second Coming passages, Jesus will announce His presence with a trumpet (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thes. 4:16). How literal we do not know, but we do know the trumpet was the Jewish means for calling an assembly (cf. Jud. 6:34; Isa. 11:12; Jer. 51:27). At that point the angels (God's messengers) will gather His people, "His elect," from the "four winds" (every corner of the world, all points of the compass). The gospel will have been proclaimed to all (Matthew 24:14), and those from "every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9) will be taken by the Lord.

"And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, 'King of kings, and Lord of lords'" (Rev. 19:11-16).

The bride of Christ is under attack. In our moment of desperation our Groom comes back on a white horse to slay His enemies and bring us safely to His glorious kingdom.

I leave you with two verses. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8 we read that at the Second Coming there will be "dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." And in Hebrews 9:28 we read, "So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him."

The return of Jesus Christ. Only two sides. Based on these verses where do you find yourself? Regardless of what you profess are you failing to obey the gospel? Or are you following the Savior and eagerly awaiting His return?

other sermons in this series

May 1


The Great Conclusion

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 28:16–20 Series: Matthew

Apr 24


Resurrecting Hope (2)

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 28:1–15 Series: Matthew

Apr 17


The First Prerequisite To Resurrection

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 27:57–66 Series: Matthew