The New Testament book of Matthew begins by presenting the context surrounding the birth and early life of Jesus. It continues as Jesus meets John the Baptist, faces intense temptation, and calls his first disciples to follow him. Beginning in chapter five, the ministry of Jesus is chronicled. In this and the following several chapters we see Jesus teaching, healing, performing miracles, and fulfilling ancient prophecies that demonstrate that he is, indeed, the long awaited Messiah.
In chapter ten Jesus chooses twelve men who would become his closest followers. They travel with Jesus as he continues teaching the good news about the Kingdom of God. During this time Jesus begins to face more opposition from the religious leaders of the day. Despite the challenges, Jesus and his Twelve Disciples travel to a number of areas as Jesus continues to teach, heal, and train the Twelve.
Chapter twenty-one represents a transition point. After reminding the Disciples yet again in chapter 20:17-19 that he will be arrested, killed, and raised on the third day, Jesus and the Twelve arrive in the city of Jerusalem for what would be the last time until Jesus was crucified. As Jesus entered the Temple area, he faced increased opposition. This culminated in chapter twenty-three as Jesus vividly reveals the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and laments the fact that those in Jerusalem were unwilling to accept him.
This brings us to an amazing portion of Scripture, Matthew chapter twenty-four. As they walked away from the Temple, the Disciples pointed out the buildings to Jesus. They were apparently amazed at the grand nature of the complex. At this, Jesus noted that there would come a time when not one stone of these buildings would be left upon another.
This shocking statement of Jesus must have caused the Disciples to wonder about the end of time. This can be seen in Matthew 24:3 (ESV):
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus had previously taught the Disciples about his second coming and the judgment that would follow. This can be seen in Matthew 16:27, and elsewhere as recorded in the books of Mark, Luke, and John. Now the Disciples wanted to know when this would happen and what the signs would be as the end of the age drew near. In other words, they wondered about the “when” and the “what” that will precede the end.
This is one reason why Matthew chapter twenty-four is so extraordinary. Jesus gives us a glimpse into the future. He describes that many people will falsely claim that they are the Christ and will lead multitudes astray. He speaks of wars, intense global conflict, famines, earthquakes, etc. He also shares that those who remain true to his teachings will be hated by all nations, and that many believers will apparently fall away, betray, and hate one another.
Jesus also mentions a great tribulation that will take place before the end. This period is to be so intense that nothing like it will have been experienced before. Again, during these times false christs and false prophets will appear to lead people astray. Jesus warns his Disciples about this, and notes that when he does appear everyone will know it and see it. There will be no doubt that the end has come, for as Jesus noted in Matthew 24:29-30 (ESV):
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 heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
The second coming of Jesus is a central theme of the book of Revelation. Much more detail is offered there. In this and various other portions of Scripture, details surrounding the end of time as we know it are mentioned. This is obviously a topic of much interest. Like the Twelve Disciples, many throughout history have wanted to know the when and what surrounding the second coming of Jesus and the end of time.
Jesus clearly taught in Matthew 24:36 that we cannot know the day or hour that this will take place. In essence, Jesus said that the “when” question is off the table. That leaves the focus on the “what will be the signs” question. For some two thousand years believers have wondered if the signs of their own times signaled that the end is near. In fact, this is a popular question today as the breakdown of civility seems to be accelerating, and evil, hatred, and conflict seem to be increasing.
It’s natural as things go from bad to worse to think that the end is near. I can imagine that during the World Wars many thought that the end was at hand. That’s not to say that we’re not close to the end now. We may very well be. One thing is clear, we are closer now than we have ever been before.
There’s a few other things that are perfectly clear. First, the fact the Jesus will return is certain. This is the hope of all Christ followers. No matter how bad things get, we know Jesus will come. This truth offers great joy and encouragement to every believer. Those who scoff at this will be among those who “mourn” at his returning as noted in the passage quoted above. This mourning will be more intense than any ever known.
Second, it’s clear that at this moment in time everyone is welcome to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. The invitation is open to all who would receive him.
Finally, it’s very clear from Matthew 24:36-51 that Jesus wants us to focus on the “how” rather than on the when and what. Rather than spending our time debating about the signs of the end, Jesus wants us to know how we can live in a “faithful” and “wise” manner. This will be the focus of Part Two of this series on As the End Draws Near.
For now, it’s enough to say that living as Jesus wants us to live represents the most fulfilling, extraordinary, and thrilling life that anyone could imagine. It makes the most exciting adventure novels or movies seem tame in comparison.