Session #140 Expecting & Expected
Scripture Matthew 24:3-14
Summary When it comes to the topic of the end times – eschatology – Matthew 24:3-14 is one of the go-to passages, as well as the proof text, that Jesus is coming very soon. Was that the Lord’s intent? Context will reveal that the emphasis is more on what to expect while expecting His return. And what Jesus expects of all who are expecting. Henson reviews the eschatological setting and what is expected of disciples as we expect the end.
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:3-14
Getting into Matthew 24, we continue our study of Jesus’ fifth and final kingdom discourse. Although the focus is about kingdom readiness for the coming of the King, it must be considered alongside all the other four discourses about kingdom ways, kingdom assignments, kingdom wisdom and kingdom relationships.
The fifth discourse has two parts. Matthew 23 is public, in the temple. Matthew 24:1-3 transitions to a private teaching, on the Mount of Olives, also known as the Olivet Discourse. In Matthew 24:3, the disciples ask about the predicted destruction of the temple and the expected restoration of the kingdom, marked by the coming of Jesus the King at the end of the age. Instead of answering directly, Jesus shares generally about what will take place and how things will be before He returns. While expecting His coming, Jesus tells His disciples that certain events are to be expected, and also what is expected of them.
In Matthew 24:8, Jesus said, “All these are but the beginning of birth pains.” This use of language of childbirth in scriptures is not new but one drawn from Old Testament prophetic passages that described extremely difficult times, causing Israel to yearn for God’s intervention and deliverance, looking towards the Messiah and the restoration of the kingdom (Isaiah 26:17, Jeremiah 6:24, Micah 4:9-10). By the time of Jesus, this term of ‘birth pains’ came to mean ‘the birth pains of the Messiah’, denoting a period of distress preceding the Messianic Age. When the Messiah finally comes, in the Day of the Lord, the tables will be turned. These pains once experienced by God’s people will now be experienced by Messiah’s enemies (Isaiah 13:6-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)
In light of this, as we are waiting for and expecting Jesus’ coming, certain events and developments can be expected. Understanding this helps us interpret Matthew 24:3-14 more accurately. Before we get to what can be expected and what is expected of those who are expecting, we need to consider seven general observations that will help us approach and apply the passage more accurately. We are to keep in mind that the passage presents a general setting – the eschatological backdrop, not a list of specific events. We are to observe generally, the scenarios and the emphasis of the summary. We are to remember that these scenarios are not “the sign”, not sequential and not short-term. We need not be surprised by all that takes place. These are all expected while we are expecting the Lord’s return.
Now that we understand how to approach the passage, we are ready to examine the list a bit more closely. What is to be expected while expecting? These seven scenarios that make up the eschatological setting are expected: false Messianic claims (Matthew 24:4-5, 1 John 2:18), wars and rumours of wars (Matthew 24:6-7, James 4:1-3), famines, pestilences, earthquakes (Matthew 24:7b-8, Romans 8:22), tribulation and persecution (Matthew 24:9, 7:13-14, 10:16-20, 2 Timothy 3:12), offence and falling away (Matthew 24:10, 10:21, 2 Thessalonians 2:3), false prophets (Matthew 24:11, 7:15-23, 24:24, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1, 2 Corinthians 11:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:9), and lawlessness (Matthew 24:12, 1 John 3:4, 10).
As we are expecting the Lord’s coming, all these are to be expected and will take place. We should not be surprised at all. Instead of trying to pray these away, we are to be prepared for what is expected by knowing what is expected of us. From this passage, Jesus expects two things:
Whatever happens around us or to us, we are to endure to the end of our lives or the end of the age, looking to the promise of the hope of a future salvation and the fullness of the kingdom. This is expected of us who are expecting the coming of the Lord. It is only possible if we know our King, are well grounded in the things of the kingdom, and living in kingdom community (Matthew 24:13)
Against the backdrop of bad news, we are all expected to declare the good news of the kingdom – everything that Jesus taught (repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, and the five kingdom discourses on kingdom ways, kingdom assignments, kingdom wisdom, kingdom relationships and kingdom readiness), and be a testimony and witness in word and deed, fulfilling our kingdom assignments (Matthew 24:14, 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:2,5).
Matthew 24:3-14 is not about date setting or event tracking, but about remaining faithful to what we are supposed to do against a very challenging backdrop. It is more on what to expect while expecting His return; and more importantly, what Jesus expects of all who are expecting. As far as Jesus is concerned, two things are critical: Endure to the end, and Declare the greatness of the King and the good news of His kingdom.