Matthew 24:1-14 Part 4

As our Lord has stated (at the end of chapter twenty-three), all those things which are shortly to take place (in this generation, He said) will come to pass in this context:  the persecution of the Church and its apostles, and the judgment of Israel for all the blood of the righteous.

And then, with great interest and curiosity and astonishment, the disciples come to Jesus privately to gain information about when these things will be, and the “sign” of Jesus’ Parousia and consummation of the age.  (And remember that “Parousia” has more to do with “active presence” than it does with “coming,” as it appears in the translations.)

When Jesus begins to respond to them (vs.4), He first warns them about false Messiahs and the need for the disciples to open their eyes so they won’t be deceived by them.  Because there will be many who will claim that they, themselves, are “anointed of God” (which is what the word “Messiah” – Christ – means)!  And many people will follow this or that deceiver.  But there is only One who is God’s Messiah; and none of those who claim to be is He!

The word that Jesus uses here in verse four – to see – means simply to open the physical eye (and keep it open – present tense).  Look at them!  When you see someone who claims to be God’s Anointed, that’s a deceiver!

This may (at least partially) account for the fact that Thomas would not believe it was Jesus when He appeared to the disciples shortly after the resurrection (he could see Him!).  And if that is the case, then all the Biblical stories and illustrations about “doubting Thomas” have to be revised, don’t they?  He would become “absolute Thomas” instead!  He didn’t believe anything he saw!

Remember what we said about this word “deceive.”  It means “practical seduction.”  And Jesus said that these deceivers would come “upon My Name….”  Not “in My Name…,” but “upon My Name.”  They will arrogate to themselves the Name that only One could have, and they will build themselves up upon it!  And many people will be seduced by them.

Turned aside and wandering aimlessly in a fog which they think is the light of truth, they give themselves over to the seduction and believe everything they see and feel – rather than holding to what God the Son said!

But Jesus said to His disciples, “See….”  Open your eyes and keep them open.  When you see them coming upon My Name, many will be seduced by them.  But don’t you be deceived.  That’s not Me.  That’s a false Messiah, a false prophet – a deceiver.

“But you will hear fighting and reports of fighting; see, lest you be terrified; for it is necessary to be.  But it is not yet the end” (verse six).  There will be great violence in and around Israel and Jerusalem, and they would hear reports of great battles and fighting from many other places.  It would all sound as if the whole world was at war with itself.  Violence and chaos and bloodshed and death; with great multitudes of men doing battle with others.  And one great kingdom sweeping away countries and nations before its might!

And as one nation was swept away, another would rise up to do battle – until the third great society (the Greek world order) was under siege from the fourth (the Roman world order)!  An entire kingdom was being raised up against another!  A world culture which was Greek was being replaced by one which was Roman!  And a fifth – the Christian culture – would clash with everything that came before it!

A clashing of cultures was a clashing of nations and kingdoms!  The world looked like it was on the verge of disintegration; and it was terrifying!  (All of that is described to Daniel in the later chapters of his prophecy.)

And Jesus says that, in addition to that, there will be famines and earthquakes – shaking!  God was about to shake heaven and earth to remove the things that were and to alter the state of the Church.  Cities died and mountains fell as the cosmos was subjected to terminal interruption.  The consummation of the age was near in the parousia of the King of Kings!

The writer of Hebrews refers to these very things in the twelfth chapter:  “See that you not disobey Him that speaks.  For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more we – if we turn away from Him Who does so from heaven; Whose voice then shook the earth (referring to Sinai).  But now He has promised, saying, ‘yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.’  And this… ‘yet once more’ signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.  Wherefore we receiving a Kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire.”

Now, just so we might better understand that the context is “this generation,” let me read for you a few of the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning famine and shaking… judgments of God leading up to and including the siege and destruction of Israel and Jerusalem.  I’ll limit myself, for now, to the prophecy of Ezekiel whose vision is identical to that of St. John in the Revelation

Ezekiel five.  Listen.  This is God foretelling what Israel and Jerusalem will suffer as a result of her sin, which He reveals fully before this passage:


“A third part of you shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of you; and a third part shall fall by the sword found about you; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them….  Moreover I will make you waste, and a reproach among the nations that are round about you, in the sight of all that pass by.  So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations that are round about you, when I shall execute judgments in you in anger and in fury and in furious rebukes.  I the Lord have spoken it….  So will I send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave you; and pestilence and blood shall pass through you; and I will bring the sword upon you.  I the Lord have spoken it.”  (5:12-17)


“He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remains and is besieged shall die by the famine; thus will I accomplish My fury upon them.” (6:12)


“The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within; he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him.” (7:15)


“For thus saith the Lord God; How much more when I send My four severe judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the wild beast, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?” (12:21)


And whoever has read the Revelation of St. John must, indeed, recognize the four sets of judgments clearly written against that great harlot city – Jerusalem.  And they are the same four sets of judgments found in Leviticus twenty-six!

And lastly, from Ezekiel thirty-eight:


“For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath have I spoken, surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; so that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men upon the face of the earth, shall shake at My presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord God; every man’s sword shall be against his brother.  And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.  Thus will I magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord.” (38:19-23)


These things must be, says Jesus (verse six).  “It is necessary for them to occur!”  Why?  To bring judgment upon idolatry and harlotry.  To fulfill the Word of God through the prophets.  To consummate the age.  To alter the state of heaven and earth – and the Church.  So that the nations “shall know that I Am the Lord.”

This is the second great “interruption” (radical discontinuity) of history (the first being the flood) – as God in His great wrath and fury “shakes” heaven and earth, “decreating” that which He has made!

It is written in the prophets.  And it is written in the Revelation.  The exact same things written about Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s vision are written about Jerusalem in John’s vision!  It is the Word of God which fulfills the covenantal sanctions spoken to Israel in Leviticus twenty-six and Deuteronomy twenty-eight and twenty-nine.  It is the Word of God which, unless you believe and hold fast, you have been deceived by deceivers!

See, lest someone deceive you.  These things must occur – “in this generation!”  Don’t be terrified,” Jesus said to His disciples.  Have no anxiety.  It is written – it is necessary for these things to be!

But all these “beginning of travails.” (verse seven)

What does Jesus mean by “beginning of travails”?  Most just “gloss over” the words here; they say, “Oh, that just means ‘trouble!’”  We know there’s “trouble” already, don’t we?  But why does Jesus say, “beginning of travails” if He just means “trouble?”  We have to ask these questions!

We already know that Jesus is going right back to the prophets in order to respond to His disciples’ curiosity; so why should we think anything different with this term?  Why should anyone be satisfied in interpreting this as simply “trouble” when the entire Older Testament prophetic Scriptures are ours to read in the light of the New?!!

And when we do that, we find that in every case in which the word is used by the prophets, it has to do with the pain and the work and the anguish associated with childbirth!  Travail has to do with birth!

Listen now to Jeremiah as he writes the very Revelation of God concerning the perversity and adultery and impiety and corruption of Israel and Jerusalem.  The weeping prophet cries out in lament:


“My bowels, my bowels!  I am pained at the very heart.  My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.  Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled….”  “I beheld the earth, and, lo, it is without form and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.  I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved.  I beheld, and, lo, there was no man; and all the birds of the heavens were fled.  I beheld and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by His fierce anger.  For thus hath the Lord said, ‘the whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end.  For thus shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken, I have purposed, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.  The whole city will flee for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen; they shall go into thickets, and climb up upon the rocks; every city forsaken, and not a man dwell therein.  And when you are spoiled, what will you do?  Though you clothe yourself with crimson, though you bedeck yourself with ornaments of gold, though you cover your face with painting, in vain shall you make yourself fair.  Your lovers will despise you, they will seek your life.  For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, the anguish as of her that brings forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, bewails herself, spreads her hands, and says, ‘woe is me now!  For my soul is worn out because of murderers!’”


And listen to Isaiah as he cries out a hymn of praise to God for His redeemed people:  “Like as a woman with child draweth near the time of her delivery is in pain, and crieth out in her travails; so have we been in thy sight, O Lord.” (26:17)

And the prophet Micah also prophecies the travails of Israel to bring forth the New covenant Church in the day of salvation:


“…for pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail.  Be in pain, and labor to bring forth, O Daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail….”  “But thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.  Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travails has brought forth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return unto the children of Israel….” (4:9; 5:2-3)


And, in connection with those prophecies, who can ever forget (who has read it even once) the great sign of John’s Revelation (chapter twelve) – the woman in great travail, ready to give birth to the Son; and the dragon pursuing her in order to devour Him as He comes forth!

So there is no doubt whatever that, as Jesus speaks to His disciples here, he is recalling the prophetic Word of God concerning the “travails” of Israel in giving birth to the Son and to His Kingdom and to the New Covenant and the New Heavens and the New Earth!

And the “shaking” of heaven and earth, and the famines, and the wars and rumors of wars, the pseudochrists are just the “beginning of travails” as there is labor in pain and anguish and tribulation to give forth the New Kingdom of God’s Son!

The point is here that there is not just pain and sorrow and tribulation in the judgment of Israel, but there is birth!  The great tribulation which was about to occur (in Jesus’ words) “in this generation” was one of judgment and salvation!

The first century Christians reading Jesus’ words and the words of the prophets and the words of St. John’s Revelation would not see themselves in the midst of tribulation and persecution and sorrow and death!  They would have their eyes open; and they would not be terrified.  Because the travail would give forth a New Kingdom!  They would see themselves as the New Israel of God – sealed and protected – an innumerable multitude victorious in Christ – their robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb!  Not scattered and isolated individuals persecuted by demonic Israel and demonic Rome; but a nation of conquerors; and throng of the Redeemed of the Lord – the New Israel!

Just “the beginning of travails” Jesus said… the prelude to birth.

And now, as we begin to close the preaching of God’s Word, I’d like for you to listen to St. John, as he wrote in the Gospel of John, warning His disciple of those things that were about to be.  Chapter sixteen: 


“I have said these things to you that you might not be entrapped.  They will put you out of the synagogues.  And whoever kills you will think that he does God service.  And these things will they do to you, because they have not known the Father or Me.”


Matthew says (verse nine of our text), “… then they shall deliver you into tribulation, and they will kill you, and you will be the ones detested by all the nations because of My Name.”

This begins a five verse section concerning the relentless persecution of the Church and its apostles during the entire period between the resurrection and the destruction of Jerusalem.  We’ll complete that next time.

But it is interesting to note from the history books, that during the three decades of the Church prior to the “consummation of the age” in 70 AD, that all worship services were concluded with a prayer – the content of which Paul records at the end of his first letter to Corinth.

And the prayer concluded with the words, “Anathema” and “Marana tha.”  O Lord, come!  And bring the curse on those who love not Christ.

In deep persecution and anguish, from Judaizers and from Rome, detested by all nations everywhere, their innermost longing was for the Parousia of the King; for the execution of vengeance on the harlot; for the consummation of the age; for all the travail to bring forth… birth.  A new covenant.  A new humanity.  A new Zion of God.  A new creation.  The remnant of Israel joined with the elect from every nation and tribe and tongue.  And, behold, all things are made new.