There’s an entire section of your local Christian bookstore devoted to the “End Times”. Let’s be brave and take Jesus at His Word and believe Him literally. What does this passage say to you when you take it just as Jesus has said it, in the order He’s said it?
Read verses 1-4
Q: Let’s start out with a hard question: What do the disciples’ questions reveal about OLD Testament prophecy?
A: They knew to ask such a question! It shows an understanding of the prophetic teachings of the likes of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, et al through whom God gave not just the specific events but the signs leading up to them in order to provide time for repentance and returning to God. They understood how to interpret Old Testament prophecy and understood its context.
Q: They’re actually asking Jesus two questions. What is the first?
A: “…when will these things be…” (v.4) They’re asking for the specific date and time. It’s important to note that this is succinctly answered in v.32, “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
Q: What’s the second question?
A: “…and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” The teaching from here to v.32 will focus on answering this part of the question, not providing a specific date but the signs indicating “The Date” is very near.
Note: The word “sign” in verses 4 and 22 is a special phrase that literally means “attesting miracle”. It’s something akin to a miracle so great that it can’t be mistaken for anything but proof that God Himself is with the person through whom the sign is performed. (Something like Moses parting the Red Sea.)
Up until this time, this word has not been used by the disciples but by those who opposed Jesus, demanding a sign – or “attesting miracle” from God – to prove His authority. It’s important to note that for the first time Jesus doesn’t rebuke someone asking about “attesting miracles” – they will accompany the End Times. However, note in v.22 that not all “attesting miracles” will come from God!
Read verses 5-6
Q: What is probably the most important “attesting miracle” that Jesus begins with?
Q: What kind of deception? Moral? Legal? What specifically?
A: Not just coming in the name of Jesus, but actually proclaiming to be Him.
Q: What will they achieve? What is their goal?
A: To mislead MANY.
Q: Why would they use such a tactic?
A: Although the End Times are accompanied by tremendous physical signs, destruction, etc., those actions don’t guarantee success where it actually counts: In the spiritual realm. Deception is the only way to attack BOTH believers and non-believers by preventing both from worshiping the One True God.
Q: So…WHO is responsible for not being misled?
A: We are.
Note: If you study the teachings of Jesus and His Apostles in the New Testament you will discover that – like this passage – they spend far more time warning about the coming deception and apostasy than anything else.
Read verses 7-8
Q: What is being taught by calling these initial signs “…merely the beginning of birth pangs”?
A: A woman’s contractions can go on for awhile – they don’t necessarily mean the baby will be born this very minute – but they won’t go on forever; birth is imminent.
Read verses 9-13
Q: Look at the verbs and list the things that will happen to Christ’s followers as “attesting miracles” that Christ’s return is imminent:
Delivered to the courts (v.9)
Flogged in the synagogues (v.9)
Brought before leaders to testify about Christ (v.9)
Preach the gospel (v.10)
Arrested and handed over (v.11)
Q. What are the 3 specific commandments we’re given in this passage?
“…be on your guard…” (v.9) We should not be taken by surprised when this persecution comes to us.
“…do not worry beforehand about what you are to say…” (v.11) We are to be Spirit-led.
“…the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (v.13) We will not escape these things but must endure them; it’s part of a Christian’s End Times “job description”, so to speak.
Observation: Note that the overriding activity during the End Times as far as Christians are concerned is preaching the Gospel, whether to all the nations or to those before whom they’re brought.
Read verses 14-16
Q: What is the obvious difference between this sign and the ones previously presented by Jesus?
A: Up until now, Believers are to stand their ground and continue preaching the Gospel and basically not react to the signs; this one elicits our reaction.
Q: What exactly is the “ABOMINATON OF DESOLATION”?
A: This originates from Daniel 11:31, “Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifices. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.”
It’s one of the key “attesting miracles” as to the identity of the antichrist who will go into the temple in Jerusalem and erect an idol – or “abomination” – to another god. It’s a despicable use of the temple during a time of great trouble.
Q: Hasn’t this already happened?
A: While it’s true that idols/false sacrifices occurred at the hands of the Greek ruler of Syria and twice by different Roman leaders, it’s important to note that not ALL of the criteria were fulfilled. It’s deception to believe that something that “mostly” fulfills the requirements is the actual thing. God’s standard for His Word through His prophets is 100% fulfillment – not “mostly.”
“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.”
— 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
Read verses 17-20
Q: Up until the Abomination of Desecration we were being shown “birth pangs”. What does the Abomination of Desecration seem to kick off here?
A: The Tribulation.
Q: For whom will God shorten the Tribulation?
A: The “elect”. This can be translated literally as “God’s chosen ones.”
Read verses 21-23
Q: In the midst of the Great Tribulation, what continues as a sign for us?
A: More deception.
Q: Who will provide “attesting miracles” according to v.22?
A: False Christs and false prophets.
Q: What is the goal of these false “attesting miracles”?
A: “…in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” (v.22) It’s still all about spiritual warfare, particularly against Believers.
Q: What does “if possible” mean?
A: IT WON’T BE POSSIBLE to deceive the elect who are aware, on their guard, heeding Christ’s warnings of these activities.
Read verses 24-27
Q: When do these signs occur – when is Christ’s return effected? When are the elect gathered from the earth to Him?
A: AFTER the Great Tribulation.
Comment: This sequence of events is something you should keep coming back to as you study Revelation.
Read verses 28-32
Q: Jesus now answers the first part of their question posed in v.4, “…when will these things be…” What is His answer?
A: No one knows the specific day or hour – we’re only allowed to know the “birth pangs” and to know it is imminent.
Read verses 33-37
Q: What is the key word in this passage?
“…keep on the alert…” (v.33)
“…stay on the alert…” (v.34)
“…be on the alert…” (v.35)
“…Be on the alert!” (v.37)
Q: In other words, Jesus is not providing a puzzle to be solved or an equation to be worked. What is the standard Jesus is setting for the “End Times Christian”?
A: It’s not a test of knowledge but faith. Facts and figures concerning prophecy is not the requirement but faith, obedience, and the willingness to share the Gospel through every circumstance.