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Matthew 24:36-51 BLB-HFBC

Lesson: Matthew 24:36-51
Motivation: Uncertainty about the future is a primary cause of anxiety.  So, no matter how crazy the headlines or how threatening the world events, Jesus wants us to know Who holds the future, even though we don't.

I.    Teachings About the Future (24:1-51)

A.   The Destruction of the Temple (1-3) Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of the temple (2) was immediately followed by three questions from the disciples:  1) "when will these things happen?", 2) "what is the sign of Your coming?", 3) "...and of the end of the age?" (3) In the minds of the Twelve, the three questions referred to the same event; yet, Titus' destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple came in 70 A.D.  We are still awaiting the answer to questions 2 and 3.  One's interpretation of this Olivet Discourse hinges on what answers by Jesus pertain to which questions of the disciples.

B.   Difficult Times (4-26)

1.   Two Parameters: Verse six clearly says "the end is not yet;" verse 14 states "and then the end will come."  The signs presented did not all occur before the destruction of the Temple but are ongoing, even being fulfilled in the present tense.  The phrase "this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations" became a rallying cry for EvangelismExplosion which in March of 1996 became the first Christian ministry to establish a gospel-sharing presence in all 211 nations.

2.   Time's Progression: "All these events are the beginning of birth pains" (8) - Dr. Tim LaHaye notes that this phrase is used to describe labor pains (1 Thes 5:3).  In this birthing of a new age, once the pains begin, they became more pronounced and closer together.  Killer earthquakes are good example: From 1900 - 1940 there was an average of between 3 and 4 such earthquakes reported per decade.  In the 1950's there were 9; in the 60's - 13; in the 70's 56; in the 80's - 74; from 1990-1993 - 125!  Nowadays it seems that we read of them almost weekly. The phrase "you are going to hear"(6) may speak to improved communication in modern times.  Creation itself is signaling the birth of a new world order (Isa. 66:8).

3.   Tribulations Pronouncement: Just as the "abomination that causes desolation" (15) has multiple fulfillments, so verses 15-26 have multiple references. 

a.   First Century - "then those in Judea must flee to the mountains!" (16) Was this a warning to the Christians of A.D. 70?  Absolutely, yes.  When the Roman legions swept toward Jerusalem, much of the Jewish population packed into the city of Jerusalem, rather than fleeing to the safety of the mountains.  When the food ran out, 1.2 million people starved, committed suicide or were killed in the fighting.  Is this a double-edged warning to the end times?  Once again, absolutely.

b.   Final Countdown "For at that time there will be great tribulation, the kind that hasn't taken place from the beginning of the world until now, and never will again!" (21) Since the original questions of the disciples had to do with the "sign of Your coming...and...the end of the age..." (3), we cannot limit this discourse solely to A.D. 70.  Notice that these signs apply to Christ's Second Coming.  The Rapture of the Church (1 Th. 4:16-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 2 Th. 2:1) is a sign less event.  While most Premillennial scholars place the rapture seven years prior to Christ's Second Coming, some have placed as much as 50 years separation between the two events (Tom Lee, When Will the Temple be Rebuilt, Sermon, 1994).  The tribulation mentioned here is world-wide and unprecedented (Rev. 7:9-17), and is referred to as The Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:14).

C.   Coming of the Son of Man (14:27-31)

1.   The Timing "Immediately after the tribulation of those days. . ." (29) The tribulation is so horrible that it is "limited because of the elect." (22). We studied about the Tribulation martyrs in Revelation 7:9-17.

2.   The Tribes "all the peoples of the earth will mourn" (30).  We can assume that those who would mourn at His coming would be unbelievers, particularly those of Israel who refused the invitation (22:3), scoffed (22:5), and were spiteful (22:6).  Rev. 9:21, 16:21; Zech. 12:10-13:2

3.   The Trumpet "He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet" (31) This verse certainly compares to Rev. 19:11 as Christ comes in "power and great glory."  "They will gather His elect" would apply to those believers of all ages gathered from "one end of the sky to the other."

D.   Lesson from the Fig Tree (24:32-35) The signs are related to His coming as surely as the greening of the fig tree is related to summer's approach.  Six times in the Old Testament Israel is related to a fig tree.  Scholars since 1948 have particularly related this prophecy to the return of a Jewish homeland.  Relating "generation" (34) to a generally accepted time of forty years, there was a wave of expectation in 1988; A book entitled "Eighty-Eight Reasons Christ Will Return in 1988" received widespread attention.  Some believed the clock began in 1967 with the capture of all of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, others see it as purely symbolic.  The issue is not to set a date (36); rather, Christians are to live in anticipation of Christ's glorious return to set things right.

II.   Be Reminded

    "Now concerning that day and hour no one knows-neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son-except the Father only. 37 As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 38 For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark. 39 They didn't know until the flood came and swept them all away. So this is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be: 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and one left." (24:36-41) Jesus now addressed an unspoken question of His disciples, "What are we to do in the meantime?"  These verses have often been applied to the Rapture of the church.  However, they might well apply to Jesus' Second Coming (30-31), especially regarding God's plan for the Jewish nation.  For instance, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost (Things To Come, p. 162) writes that 40-41 apply not to one being taken up to heaven but rather to one unbelieving Jew being taken up to judgment. 

A.   Uncertain- The timing of the Son's return is a closely guarded secret, limited to the One Who is omniscient. God wants us to be aware of the season but will not reveal the 'day and hour'.

B.   Unexpected- The people of Noah's day had at least 100 years of warning while he built the ark (Genesis 5:32; 11:10). Peter called Noah a 'preacher of righteousness' (2 Peter 2:5). Yet, most ignored the warning and were taken completely by surprise. The application to Jesus' day (and ours) is obvious. We must be the ambassadors and witnesses that He commanded us to be.

C.   Unaccompanied- The division of friends and households by Christ's coming is stark. Two people working side by side will be separated for eternity.

III.  Be Alert

"Therefore be alert, since you don't know what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this: If the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed alert and not let his house be broken into. 44 This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (24:42-44) Paul used this imagery in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 "For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, "Peace and security," then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains come on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape." While we can't pinpoint the exact time, Jesus clearly wanted us to live in a state of readiness. Perhaps nothing promotes such readiness as a study of the signs of His coming.

IV. Be Faithful "Who then is a faithful and sensible slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the proper time? 46 That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded.47 I assure you: He will put him in charge of all his possessions." (24:45-47)

A.   Faithfulness requires Expectancy- This is a part of the 'Why' of faithfulness.  By treating each day as the possible day of His coming, Christians are motivated to avoid evil and embrace good.

B.   Faithfulness requires Exertion- 'Work' is sometimes viewed as a dirty four letter word. Yet clearly, as Jesus was about His Father's business, so must we.

C.   Faithfulness results in Exaltation- While the reward may not be evident in the daily work of the Kingdom, Jesus promises great rewards for faithfulness to His mission.

V.   Parables about the Future (25:1-46)

A.   Parable of the Ten Virgins (1-13) Considering the return of Christ (the Bridegroom), the church (the Bride of Christ) must be faithful in preparation.  The problem with the foolish virgins was procrastination.  They fully intended to go to the marriage feast and were fully aware of the need for lamp oil.  They delayed doing what they knew they should. 

B.  Parable of the Talents (14-30) HCSB: p. 1662-63: 25:14-30 "The man on the long journey symbolizes Jesus and the lengthy delay that will precede His second coming.  The talents (Greek coins whose value equaled 6,000 days of wages) represent the financial resources, gifts, privileges, and opportunities that Jesus entrusts to His disciples.  The faithful servants (true disciples) used their gifts and resources responsibly and were generously rewarded.  The evil, lazy servant (a false disciple) failed to use the resources and was severely punished.  He attempted to excuse his failure by assaulting the character of his master (v. 24).  However, the master's treatment of the other servants demonstrates that the wicked servant's slander was unfair."

The ultimate answer to all our hurts is the power of Jesus Christ.  Yet, so many Christians want Him to be Lord of all (except the pocketbook).  However, Jesus taught on the subject of material possessions more than any other single topic!  Half of Jesus' parables focused on money; in Matthew's gospel alone, Jesus talks about money close to 100 times.  In the New Testament, there are about 500 references to prayer and over twice that many Scriptures dealing with a Christian's relationship to possessions. 

1.  Characteristics of the Culture

a.   The master owned the talents

b.   He displayed confidence in the stewards by entrusting them to manage.

c.   The stewards had complete freedom to manage the master's resources

2.  Categories of the Caretakers

a.   Each steward had the potential for equal reward "well done"

b.   Each steward faced personal accountability to the master - Luke 16:11 (parable of the unjust steward) "so if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?"

3.   Conclusions of the One in Charge

a.  The Master was angered by disinterest

b.  The unfaithful steward's error - treated the money as if he was the owner.

c.  Prodigal son's error - claimed ownership of what belonged to his father.

d.  Adam's error - assumed rights & privileges that belong only to the Owner, he made his own rules.

e.  Lucifer's error - Is. 14:12-14; Phil. 2:9-11 - When managers behave as owners, usurping rights and privileges thereof, they became thieves.

C.   A Final Judgment (31-46) In this passage, Jesus picks up the theme of Matthew 24, namely God's plan for Israel in relationship to last things.   HCSB: p. 1663-64: 25:31-46 "This passage uses figurative language (shepherd...sheep...goats) drawn from Ezk 34:17-19 in Mt. 25:32-33, but the rest is too literal to be classified as a parable.  The passage is therefore best taken as a literal description of the final judgment.  Verses 31 and 34 define the title Son of Man as King.  The King, Jesus, will judge people based on their reception and treatment of the least of His brothers.  In light of 12:50, the words refer to Jesus' followers who seek to do God's will.  Humble and compassionate treatment of Jesus' followers necessarily accompanies acceptance of the gospel that they proclaim (10:40-42).  Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me means that a person's treatment of Jesus' representatives expresses their love for and commitment to Jesus Himself.  Those who show no compassion to Jesus' followers betray their lack of devotion to Him.  As in 7:21-23, Jesus identifies Himself as the final Judge, a role that Jews expected Yahweh to fulfill." 

            Some have used this passage to support a works-based salvation.  Such is not the case.  The good works mentioned (35-36) were clearly not done in order to gain an eternal reward.  Rather, they came from a changed heart that desired to serve (37).  Even though the judgment is future in time, from it, we can learn lessons for the present.

1.   Sheep and Goats Are Different by Nature (33) They behave differently because they are radically different by nature. (II Cor. 5:17)

2.   Human Need Is a Priority of Service (35) Our mission remains unchanged:  to seek and to save the lost.  While about that mission, we must attempt to minister to the entire person.  Calvin Miller says, "Unless they like you, they probably won't like your Jesus very much." (I Cor. 9:20-22)

3.   The Best Ability Is Availability (37) These acts of service are not exactly high-tech:  food, water, shelter, clothing, time (James 2:15-16).  The key is that anyone can do them. (I John 3:16-19)

4.   Service Is a Means to Touch God (40) The greatest word of encouragement is that when we do simple acts of service, Jesus takes note.  In fact, He says to imagine you're doing it to Him (not just for Him).  Leo Tolstoy used this theme to compose the short story Where Love Is, There God Is Also.  (I John 4:11-21)