The doctrine of the “End Times” (eschatology) is, sadly, controversial, with some Christians polarising over different views and (many) others avoiding the subject, perhaps regarding it as a happy hunting ground for extremists. Yet nearly 10% of the New Testament is about eschatology. It is not a fringe subject. We should not neglect it.

 

The problem is that some people have a natural tendency towards naivety – readily believing assumptions about what prophecies mean and how they relate to current events. Others have a natural tendency towards rationalism – being rather cynical about the subject. I am more like the latter group but because of the importance of the subject in Scripture I seek to overcome it. However we do need to be careful in our approach.

 

Yes, there are those who jump to naïve conclusions about the eschatological significance of current events. Nevertheless I do find an approach which regards prophecies as totally symbolical, rather than referring to literal events unconvincing in the light of the evidence. For example, it is difficult to see Jesus’ prophecy of the End Times return of the Jewish people to Israel as symbolical in view of the remarkable event which has happened 2000 years later. In addition, so many of the Old Testament prophecies have come to pass.

 

One of the main areas of disagreement is over the biblical prophecy of the millennium (the future thousand year reign of Christ on earth). Some believe that happens after Jesus returns, others before he returns and others that it is symbolical about the on-going influence of God in the world. Some years ago, we brought together 75 clergy, ministers and teachers from various denominations for three days of intensive discussion on eschatology. Initially, there was a good deal of tension and apprehension. But, as we listened to one another, that disappeared and, whereas there were respectful disagreements, the conference put out a united statement as to what it agreed over (we must avoid falling out over secondary disagreements over eschatology). You can find the statement on my Christian Teaching website at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/ChurchLeadersAgreeReturnofChrist.pdf. It ended with the words “We urge all Christians to recognize that eschatology is a vital context and incentive for growth in holiness and for evangelism.” I personally would now add “and as a motive for prayer for Revival” but that was before the Lord spoke to me about Revival.

 

We are called to live in the light of the Return of Jesus

 

On several occasions Jesus says this.

 

“Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42; 25:13). “‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’(Mark 13:32-37).

 

“‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or towards daybreak. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’(Luke 12:35-40).

 

Similarly, Paul writes:

 

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober” (1 Thess 5:2-6).

 

Unfortunately many Christians seem to ignore this teaching. But, the Lord says we need to be eschatological in outlook.

 

We are called to take note of the “signs of the times.”

 

It is also clear that Jesus wants us to note the signs of the End Times.

The disciples askedWhat 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 rumours 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” (Matt 24:3-8).

He is speaking here of long term, repeated signs pointing towards his return – false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution. They do not mean the End is imminent. They are like motorway signs repeatedly pointing towards a distant destination. But he goes on to refer to later signs which are closer to the destination – the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ antichrist, the great distress (often called “tribulation”), cosmic signs – and he adds “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it [the End] is near, right at the door” (Matt 24:33). He also speaks of the fall of Jerusalem, the exile of the Jewish people to the nations and their eventual return to Jerusalem. (See the footnote for comment on the controversies surrounding Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians).[i]

 

So Jesus wants us to take note of what is happening in society and the world and to understand its significance vis a vis the End. In other words, we have to be prophetic (although we need to be careful and properly critical, rather than jump to conclusions). But many of us never stand back to see the bigger picture. We have our eyes down on the details of everyday life, including church life.

 

The interesting thing is that some secular scholars do stand back to see the bigger picture in connection with the threats to the future of the world and they speak about it in the ways prophets should do. So there is a secular eschatology over such things as dangers from global warming, viruses, war (nuclear and cyber), genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.

 

Many Christians need to wake up to what is going on. And we need to be discerning because often something developed for good reasons can go wrong and have bad effects. Here are some concerns very briefly:

  • The dangers in globalisation in our ‘global village’ becoming oppressive. (The current moves against globalisation could misfire and are very likely to be reversed by the pressures of inevitable international interdependence in trade, security, etc).
  • The dangers of the development of dictatorships (including through the growth in populism, political leaders on the extremes of politics, surveillance etc).
  • The growing influence of a major world religion, Islam, which believes in a Christ who is not divine, didn’t die on the cross or rise from the dead but who will come to earth in power.
  • More widespread worldwide persecution of Christians than has ever happened previously (Jesus foretells an increase in persecution).
  • Huge problems with water sources, extreme weather, mass migration, starvation, conflict caused by global warming, pollution etc (which seems relevant to New Testament prophecies)
  • The possibility of sudden global economic collapse (foretold in the New Testament in the End Times).
  • Israel becoming more central to world affairs and the nations (particularly the UN) becoming more negative towards her (also prophesied in Scripture). There is also a growth in antisemitism.
  • (I might also refer to the serious concern that NASA etc., have about the possibility of a large asteroid or meteorite colliding with the earth which seems to relate to the prophecies about cosmic signs, even though some of the language may be symbolical).

 

See my Christian Teaching website for detailed teaching on eschatology in both a full version and a summary http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html.

 

I find no difficulty in seeing the relevance of all these issues to biblical prophecy about the End Times and I think this is justified by reasonable thinking, not naïve jumping to conclusions.

 

We are called to hasten the return of Christ by praying for revival

 

We have noted that the New Testament makes it clear that we are not to ignore the “signs of the End.” Nor are we, as some do, just to be excited by the subject. We are to “look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:12). The apparent delay in the coming of the day of God is because God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Similarly, in Acts 3:19-20, Peter says: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.” Hence in the predominantly eschatological Book of Revelation Jesus called the church not just to take an interest in the End Times but to come to repentance (Rev 2-3).

 

So praying for Revival (alongside evangelism and living “holy and godly lives”) is a very important way of speeding the coming of the day of God, the return of Christ.

 

What Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost is very significant:

“This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:16-21).

 

He uses the term “the last days” and we need to remember that the last days began at the time of Jesus’ first coming. When we use the term we often mean “the end of the last days.” But Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of the Spirit is definitely related to “the end of the last days” or what we call the End Times. It is associated with cosmic signs of the End e.g. by Jesus in Mark 13:25 and Luke 21:25. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that there will be a major outpouring of the Spirit (Revival) in the End Times.

 

Some Christians who are interested in eschatology focus on doom and gloom and almost seem to be excited about it. Others are fascinated by eschatology but it doesn’t affect their lives or motivate them to greater obedience and witness. But if we are truly eschatological we will seek to do something positive in the light of the doom and gloom, including living holy lives, doing evangelism, but also praying and preparing for revival, which is much more far reaching, in terms of the numbers affected, than our evangelism. In that way, we will be speeding the return of Christ.

 

When the Lord spoke to Patricia (my wife) and me about Revival he seemed to be underlining Luke 1:17 “Make ready a people prepared for the Lord” which was John the Baptist’s calling. And that is an excellent motive for prayer and preparation for Revival. We are praying for the formation of a people prepared for the Lord – a more numerous people than can be achieved by evangelism (although evangelism remains an important priority).

 

So, by the grace of God, we are seeking to hasten the return of the Lord by making ready a people prepared for the Lord through Revival.

 

However we are also seeking to have a positive impact on society and the world by praying and preparing for Revival. It is a historical fact that the Wesleyan Revival had a profound positive effect on 18th century society which previously was described as a spiritual and moral quagmire. How we need that again.

Conclusion

 

Prayer and preparation for Revival is properly related to eschatology. We Christians are not only called by God to
live in the light of the End Times and to take note of the “signs of the times.” We are also called to pray and prepare for Revival in order to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” for his return and to seek to counteract the negative “signs” in society and the world.
Tony Higton

 

[i] I am very aware of the justice issues in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I was General Director of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People and Rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem and had contact both with Jewish Israelis and Palestinians/Israeli Arabs. I have seen the conflict first hand (and heard the bombs going off). For years I have encouraged Christians (via a mailing list and website http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk) to pray about the needs, pain and fears of both Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides act wrongly at times. But we must not ignore Jesus’ prophecy about the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem (plus Old Testament prophecies on the issue) as a sign of the End Times.

 

I have recently defended my understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the End Times in Matthew 24, including by quoting various scholars. Here is an outline of Jesus’ teaching (plus a little from Paul and Revelation):

 

We might call the preliminary signs “Reminders of the End” because they are repeated and Jesus said when we see them “The End is not yet.” However they can and should remind us that the End is coming. Obviously when they occur, our first concern should be to pray and show compassion for those adversely affected by the occurrences.

       I.            THE PRELIMINARY (REPEATED) SIGNS (OR REMINDERS OF THE END)

                Wars, uprisings (Matt 24:6-18)

                Famines (Matt 24:6-18)

                Earthquakes (Matt 24:6-18)

                Pestilences (Luke 21:11)

    II.            THE INTERMEDIATE SIGNS

Persecution (Mt 24:9ff)

Turning away from the faith (Mt 24:10)

False prophets and messiahs (Mt 24:11, 24)

Worldwide evangelism (Mt 24:14)

 

 III.            THE IMMINENT SIGNS

Cosmic disturbances (Mt 24:29)

The Jewish people regaining control of Jerusalem (Lk 21:24).

The rebellion and deceptive ‘signs and wonders’ of the man of lawlessness (Antichrist) who proclaims himself to be God (2 Thess 2:1-12)

The sudden financial collapse of the world system (‘Babylon’) (Rev 18)

 

As you may know, I have written an important article on all this, entitled “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is available at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf. It is a quite long article, so I plan to summarise it on Facebook for the benefit of those who might find that helpful. This will be my policy, to put articles on the blog and summaries on Facebook.

However, from time to time I will comment on current events relating them to the signs of the End, because that is what Jesus encouraged us to do. The first one is now written and I will add a description of it very soon.

 

The purpose of this paper is to show that there is a good deal of scholarly opinion that in Matthew 24 (and Mark 13, Luke 21) Jesus is referring to the signs pointing towards his Second Coming, as well as to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.

There are three main views about these chapters:

 

1.      Jesus was only speaking about the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD70.

 

2.      Jesus was only speaking about the signs of the return of Christ.

 

3.      Jesus was speaking about both.

 

In my paper on “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” (see

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf ) I added an appendix critiquing the views of N T Wright.  He claims that these chapters which have long been understood as referring to a still future return of Jesus in glory actually refer to the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem

and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

 

In my paper “Which aspects of the teaching of Jesus on the Mt of Olives refer to the Second Coming?” (see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=349#_edn1) I refer to the views of Dick France. He and others interpret “the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven” as a reference to Daniel 7:13-14 in which Jesus is not referring to his return to earth but as “coming to God to receive vindication and authority.”[1] They interpret “all the peoples of the earth” mourning when they see the Son of man returning as “all the tribes of the land” (i.e. Israel) mourning at the events of AD70. They see the angels gathering the elect as the worldwide growth of the church after AD70 and the kingdom being preached to all nations as meaning only those nations known and reached between AD30 and AD70.

 

I give my reasons for rejecting interpretations 1. and 2. above and for believing that Jesus is speaking both about AD70 and about his future return in my two papers. Then I came across a paper I wrote some 20 years ago which recorded a fair amount of scholarly opinion on the matter and which I have updated. I include this material below as an appendix to the above papers. These scholars may differ on their interpretation of various aspects of the Olivet discourse but they do relate the passage to the events leading to the Return of Christ as well as to those of AD70.

Professors W D Davies and D C Allison in the International Critical Commentary on Matthew write that they are “unpersuaded” by Dick France that Matthew 24 is only about the events around AD70.[2]

They write: “

“Our own view holds that w. 4ff. are a depiction of the entire post-Easter period, interpreted in terms of the messianic woes.21 This means that the discourse, which freely mixes experience with topoi [literary conventions], concerns the past, the present, and the future. What has happened will continue to happen and only get worse: ‘the mystery of lawlessness is already at work’ (2 Thess 2.7). Whether the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 is directly referred to in vv 15ff. or is instead indirectly included in the tribulations of vv. 15ff. we are uncertain. But if the former, AD 70 does not exhaust the significance of vv. 5ff, which plainly envisage eschatological events to come. So the answer to the disciples’ two-part question in v. 3 is this: the temple will be destroyed during the tribulation of the latter days, which runs from the first advent to the second; and after that tribulation the end—whose date cannot be known—will come.”[3]

 

Professor Leon Morris says:

“There is a problem for the student in that sometimes what Jesus says refers to the coming judgment on Jerusalem, a judgment that was consummated in the destruction of the city in A.D. 70, and sometimes what he is saying refers to the judgment at the end of the age.We may well argue that there is a theological unity between the two judgments, and that some of what Jesus says could apply equally well to both.”[4]

 

He adds:

Some commentators take the whole discourse to refer to a single judgment. They hold that Jesus confidently expected his return within a comparatively few years and that there would be a judgment on Jerusalem as part of the judgment of the whole world. But the language used is against this. Far from promoting speculations that he would soon return in glory, Jesus seems to be discouraging this kind of thing (cf. vv. 6,8,14, and 23-28). And we should not overlook the important fact that he said quite plainly that he did not know the date of his coming back (v. 36). If he did not know it, how could he say confidently that it would occur within a few years?”[5]

Professor F D Bruner writes:

“The emphasis in Matthew’s version of the sermon is certainly on the end of the world, but the destruction of Jerusalem is everywhere that end’s classic precursor. Thus Jesus’ sermon about current events, especially the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, becomes a window through which to see Jesus’ view of end events, especially the coming of the Son of Man … The destruction of Jerusalem was the prototype of the end of the world … we most profitable read Matthew’s sermon when we read it in this irridescent way, seeing both Jerusalem’s end and Jesus’ coming in most texts, not always being sure which of the two events is meant …”[6]

Professor Robert Mounce says:

“It is helpful to remember that apocalyptic literature is a genre that does not share our Western concern for orderly continuity. If we allow Matthew the freedom to enlarge on a specific discourse delivered by Jesus by adding material from other settings, we are not at all surprised to find the chapter as fluid as it appears. It is not uncommon for prophetic material to move between type and antitype without calling attention to exactly what is happening. Predictions of the future were of necessity couched in language taken from the prophet’s own setting.”[7]

 

He adds: “Biblical prophecy is capable of multiple fulfillment.”[8]

Professor Douglas Hare writes of Matthew 24:

“….it speaks of a series of future events climaxing in the arrival of Jesus in glory…..”[9]

 

He adds that the prediction of the destruction of the temple

provides the basis for the apocalyptic discourse, which addresses two fundamental concerns of early Christians: When will Jesus come in glory, and what are we to do in the meantime? The structure, accordingly, is relatively simple: (a) events prior to the great tribulation (24:3-14); (b) the abomination and the great tribulation (24:15-28); (c) Jesus’ coming in glory (24:29-31); (d) the time when all this will happen (24:32-44); (e) three parables about faithful waiting (24:45—25:30); and (f) the judgment of the pagans (25: 31-46).”[10]

 

He also writes:

It is sometimes argued that for Matthew the events of verses 15-21 have already occurred: ‘the abomination of deso­lation’ refers either to the siege of Jerusalem or to the final capture of the temple by the armies of Titus and the offering of pagan sacrifice on the holy site; the flight that follows is either the migration of the Jerusalem church to Pella east of the Jor­dan prior to the siege or the escape of refugees following the fall of the city; the great tribulation of verse 21 describes the desperate situation in Palestine in the months following the Roman victory. All of this is most improbable. The flight of which verses 16-20 speak is not any historical event, and most certainly not the escape of refugees from the burning capital in the summer (not winter) of 70 C.E. It is not clear why Matthew’s version adds ‘nor on a Sabbath’ in verse 20, since it seems to acknowledge that the flight will take place whether it is winter or on a Sabbath or not, but it certainly indicates that the event has, for Matthew, not yet taken place; there would be no point in praying about a past event. No, it is best to treat these various events as representing familiar apocalyptic motifs.”[11]

 

He adds that in view of the teaching about the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2:3-4 who “sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God”

It seems likely, therefore, that Matthew understands the abomination of desolation as referring to some supernatural Antichrist.”[12]

Professor R V G Tasker quotes B C Butler with approval:

Matthew xxiv. 5-14 gives a straightforward anticipation of the whole of future history (in reference to the question about the consummation of the age), warning the disciples that secular catastrophes must not be taken as signs of the imminent end of history; forecasting, briefly, the world’s persecution of the Church; and working to a poignant climax which foretells defections from the Church, false prophets and spiritual decay and treason within the Christian body itself,… and reaching its culmination in the prophecy of the universal proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom—‘and then will come the end.’”[13]

 

Professor C E B Cranfield, writing on the parallel passage, Mark 13, says that it is an eschatological prediction of the End leading to the return of Christ. He writes that although we must take careful note of Jesus’ teaching and we cannot know the time of his return we must nevertheless take note of the signs of the End:

“To disregard the signs of the End as a mere relic of Jewish apocalypticism is to be in danger of reducing eschatology to something purely academic and of losing sight of its relevance to the present. For the signs are reminders in the midst of history of the coming Lord.”[14]

He continues:

“It may well be asked whether the disparagement of this chapter by much recent scholarship has not resulted in a serious impoverishment and weakening of the Church’s life. Its insistence on the signs is perhaps a help to faith and obedience that we cannot afford to dispense with; for the recognition that the events of history are signs of the End and pointers to the coming Lord rescues eschatology from the realm of merely academic discussion and makes it relevant for faith and obedience. As our faith recognizes the signs as they occur, we are again and again put in remembrance of our Hope, and our gaze, that is so easily distracted from the Lord who is coming to us, is again and again directed back to him. The events of the present become for us reasons for lifting up our heads (Lk. xxi. 28) and so many summonses to renewed penitence, obedience and joy.”[15]

 

He goes on to point out that 2 Thess 2:3-10 supports the identification of the “abomination that causes desolation” with the Antichrist. He says that neither an exclusively historical nor an exclusively eschatological interpretation is satisfactory but rather a mingling of the two.[16]

 

Scholars also comment on the difficult verse: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30).

The interpretation of “generation” (“genea”) in Matthew 24:34

 

Professor Robert Gundry makes a very helpful comment on Jesus’ condemnation of the Jewish leadership in Matthew 23:29-36:

“Retribution for all the righteous blood of the OT martyrs will take the form of the tribulational events yet to be described as fulfilling the forecast concerning ‘this generation.’ By context ‘this generation’ means the scribes and Pharisees (‘lawyers’ in Luke). Matthew’s next verse narrows the reference further to the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem. But his involving them in the by­gone murder of an OT prophet (v 35) shows that he does not take ‘this generation’ in a sense chronologically limited to Jesus’ contemporaries, but in a qualitative sense concerning the ‘unbelieving and perverted’ in the whole of Israel’s history (see 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17 and synoptic parallels for the same qualitative emphasis in pre-Matthean tra­dition; cf. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). Hence, we read, ‘in order that on you may come … you murdered [for a centuries-old incident]… will come on this generation.’ In other words, if the ‘you’ who constitute ‘this generation’ includes those who murdered Zechariah in OT times, ‘this generation’ can hardly bear the chronological limitation usually imposed on it cf. Ex 20:5 34:7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:9.”[17]

 

The inference is, of course, that if “this generation” in 23:36 is clearly not chronologically limited to the literal present generation, the same is true of “this generation” in 24:34.

 

Professor Robert Mounce writes:

“If genetai (happened) is taken as an ingressive aorist, the sentence would indicate that before the generation alive at the time had died, all things described in connection with the end will have started to take place.[18]

 

Leon Morris quotes Professor D A Carson as saying:

“All that v.34 demands is that the distress of vv.4-28, including Jerusalem’s fall, happen within the lifetime of the generation then living. This does not mean that the distress must end within that time but only that `all these things’ must happen within it.”[19]

 

Dr David Hill quotes Professor C H Dodd:

“It is probable that we have here an example of that `shortening of historical perspective’ which is so frequently in the prophets. ‘When the profound realities underlying a situation are depicted in the dramatic form of historical prediction, the certainty and inevitability of the spiritual processes involved are expressed in terms of the immediate imminence of the event’”[20]

 

Donald English comments on Mark 13:

“The best solution to hold together all the diverse considerations in [Mark 13] seems to be that which joins to the destruction of Jerusalem and the ultimate Parousia as two parts of God’s one activity, the former prefiguring the latter.  The `signs of the end’ begin when Jesus’ ministry is complete and Jerusalem’s destruction was terrible evidence of the end times. Jesus’ generation would see that, and proleptically would be recipients of the promise of the rest.”[21]

Robert Mounce writes about Matthew 24:34: “One thing we do know is that by the time Matthew wrote, the mission of the Twelve was history and the parousia had not taken place.”[22] It is not likely therefore that Matthew was referring to the AD30-70 generation.

Tony Higton

 

 


[1] R T France, Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, IVP, Leicester 1985, p. 344.

[2]W D Davis & D C Allison, Matthew 19-28, International Critical Commentary,  T & T Clark,  2004 p. 328

[3] Ibid, p. 331.

[4] The Pillar NT Commentary, The Gospel according to Matthew, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 593

[5] Ibid., p. 594

[6] F D Bruner Matthew: A Commentary – Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28, p. 473.

[7] Robert Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, Incorporated, 1991, p. 222.

[8] Ibid, p. 228.

[9] Douglas R Hare, Matthew, Interpretation, a commentary for teaching and preaching, Westminster John Knox Press, Lousiville, 2009, p.  273.

[10] Ibid., p. 274.

[11] Ibid., p. 277.

[12] Ibid., p. 277.

[13] B C Butler, The Originality of St Matthew, 1951, p. 80 quoted in R V G Tasker, The Gospel according to St Matthew, Tyndale Press, London 1961, p. 224.

[14] C E B Cranfield,, The Gospel according to Saint Mark, Cambridge University Press, 1959, p. 389.

[15] Ibid., p. 391.

[16] Ibid., p. 402.

[17] Robert Gundry, Matthew: a commentary on his handbook for a mixed church under persecution, Eerdmans  Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1994, p. 472

[18] Robert Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, Paternoster Press 1995, p. 228.

[19] D A Carson, Matthew: Chapters 13-28 v. 2 (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), Zondervan 1995, III, p. 97 quoted in Leon Morris, The Pillar NT Commentary, The Gospel according to Matthew, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 612.

[20] C H Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, p. 71 quoted in Dr David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible, Oliphants, London, 1972).

[21] Donald English, The Message of Mark, IVP, Leicester, 1992, p.209

[22] Robert Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, Incorporated, 1991, p. 95.

 

The “now and the not yet” is an important factor in understanding the Bible’s teaching on the End Times. It teaches that:

·         There are two ages – this age and the age to come, but they overlap like two intersecting circles and believers now have a foretaste of the age to come.

·         Believers have received eternal life now, but this is only a foretaste of the fullness of eternal life they will experience when Jesus returns.

·         Believers live in the kingdom of God now but this is only a foretaste of what it will be like when the kingdom will be fully revealed in glory when Jesus returns.

·         We already live in the Last Days and yet there will be a Last Day when Jesus returns.

 

Understanding this “now and not yet” factor will help us come to terms with our experience of some prayers, e.g. for healing, not being answered. In the age to come and the fullness of the kingdom and eternal life all sickness will be healed. In the present age not all sickness will be healed. Not all other suffering or injustice will be removed either. So there is the ‘now and the not yet’ of healing and deliverance from suffering and injustice.

 

This age and the age to come

 

Jesus speaks of the two ages – this age and the age to come.[1] The present age is under the influence of Satan, “the god of this age.”[2]

 

However the age to come has already begun. The “culmination of the ages” was inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus.[3] He died to “rescue us from the present evil age”[4] and now he reigns high over all in this age and the age to come.[5] He has promised to be with believers “to the very end of the age” and so God will protect them until Jesus visibly returns.[6]

 

This age is characterized by a worldly ‘wisdom’ which is foolishness in the eyes of God[7] so we believers must not conform to this age but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.[8] When Jesus returns we shall be made like him, so we should seek to be like him now.[9]  In fact, if we are rich in good deeds in this age we are laying up treasure in the coming age.[10] God can enable us to live godly lives as we wait for the return of Jesus[11] and the great thing is that we can taste the powers of the coming age in this age.[12] Jesus gives rewards to committed believers in both this age and the coming age.[13]

 

Jesus will visibly return at the end of this age[14] and he will carry out judgment, separating the wicked from the righteous.[15] We believers will be raised imperishable.[16]  We “will shine like the sun” in the kingdom of the kingdom of God[17] and God will show his kindness to us.[18] We shall see God and understand fully.[19] Jesus will destroy all ungodly “dominion, authority and power” including death.[20]

 

Eternal Life – Now and Then

 

The New Testament teaches that believers receive and enter into eternal life now, in the present age.  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.[21] It is a gift[22] which is in Jesus so when we invite Jesus into our lives he brings us eternal life.[23] In fact, Jesus is eternal life[24] and eternal life is knowing God.[25]  However, if we have the faith in Jesus which brings eternal life we will be prepared to make sacrifices for him[26] and to do good.[27]

Nevertheless the full experience of eternal life will only happen when Jesus returns.[28] It will be a reward for believers who have shown their faith in good deeds.[29]  Jesus promises to keep them safe until they enter the fullness of eternal life.[30]

Kingdom – Now and Then

The kingdom, or Rule, of God, came into the world with Jesus.[31]  He told the Pharisees: “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”[32] It is an eternal, otherworldly kingdom,[33] characterised by righteousness, peace, joy,[34] justice [35] and the power of God.[36] So it cannot be shaken, like earthly kingdoms[37]  and it grows phenomenally.[38]  It is a kingdom of believers, all of whom are priests.[39]  They enter the kingdom by being born again.[40]  Characteristics required in the kingdom include humility,[41] penitence,[42] forgiveness,[43] obedience[44] and perseverance.[45]

Jesus majored on preaching the kingdom[46] and he commanded his disciples to do the same[47] as a matter of urgency,[48] so this characterised the ministry of the early church.[49]  They urged people to strive to enter the kingdom by faith[50] as a priority.[51]

However, Jesus not only proclaimed the kingdom, he demonstrated it in healing and exorcism.[52]  He taught that the kingdom interfaced with the kingdom of Satan[53] and he sent his disciples out to heal the sick[54] and to cast out demons as a sign of the kingdom. We also are called to preach the kingdom.[55]

Jesus said in Matthew 16:28 that some listening to him would not taste death before they saw the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. He may have been referring to the Transfiguration (which happened shortly afterwards) or to Pentecost. Either way it was not the ultimate revelation of the kingdom. He also said at the Last Supper that he looked forward to eating with his disciples at the messianic “wedding supper” when the kingdom is fully revealed.[56]

After Jesus returns his kingdom will be fully revealed[57] and will replace the “kingdom of the world”[58] and the power of Satan.[59] The saints will share in his rule over the nations.[60]We should be ready and watching for the kingdom to be revealed[61] and pray regularly for it to be revealed.[62]  One of the signs of that time drawing near is the message of the kingdom being preached throughout the whole world.[63]  Ultimately Jesus will hand over the kingdom to the Father.[64]

The Last Days and the Last Day

 

We already live the in Last Days. The coming of Jesus 2000 years ago ushered in the Last Days.[65]  Peter makes it clear that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a fulfilment of the prophecy by Joel that God would pour out his Spirit “in the last days.”[66]  The fact that the New Testament teaches that we are in the Last Days shows that we are meant to live in the light of the return of Jesus.  It warns that there will be terrible times in the Last Days in terms of sinful human behaviour. “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.[67]

 

Another characteristic of the Last Days in which we are living will be people scoffing at the idea of the return of Christ. People will say: “Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”[68]

 

However there will be a Last Day when Jesus will raise up all believers.[69] All will be judged on this Last Day,[70] and those who reject the gospel will be cast out from God’s presence.

 



[1]Matt 12:32; 13:22

[2]2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:1-2

[3]1 Cor 10:11; Heb 9:26

[4]Gal 1:4

[5]Eph 1:20-21

[6]Matt 28:18-20; 1 Thess 5:23-24

[7]1 Cor 1:20; 2:6; 3:18-20

[8]Rom 12:2

[9]1 John 3:1-3

[10]1 Tim 6:17-19

[11]Titus 2:11-13

[12]Heb 6:4-6

[13]Luke 18:29-30

[14]Matt 24:2-3

[15] Matt 13:38-42, 49-50; John 5:24-29

[16]1 Cor 15: 50-54

[17]Matt 13:43

[18]Eph 2:6-7

[19]1 Cor 13:12

[20] 1 Cor 15:22-26

[21] John 3:36, compare John 3:14-16; 4:14; 5:24; 6:47, 54; 1 Tim 1:16; 6:12

[22] Rom 6:23

[23] 1 John 5:11-13

[24] 1 John 5:20; compare 1: 2

[25] John 17:3

[26] Matt 19:28-29; Rom 6:22

[27] Rom 2:6-7; Gal 6:8-9

[28] John 6:40; Titus 3:5-7; Jude 21

[29] Matt 25:46; Mark 10:29-30

[30] John 10:27-28

[31] Matt 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15

[32]Luke 17:20-21

[33]Luke 1:30-33; John 18:36-37

[34]Rom 14:17-18

[35]Heb 1:8

[36]1 Cor 4:19-20

[37]Heb 12:28-29

[38]Matt 13:31; 33; Mark 4:30; Luke 13:18-21

[39]Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10

[40]John 3:3, 5; 1 Cor 15:50

[41]Matt 5:3 “poor in spirit”; 18:1-4; 19:12-14; 22:2-3; Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17

[42]Matt 21:31

[43]Matt 18:23-25

[44]Matt 5:19-20; 7:21; 8:11-12; 16:19; 21:43; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Col 1:9-13; 1 Thess 2:11; 2 Peter 1:10-11

[45]Matt 5:10; Acts 14:21-22; 2 Thess 1:4-5

[46] Matt 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1

[47] Luke 9:2

[48] Luke 9:59-62

[49] Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23-32; Col 4:11

[50] Matt 9:47-48

[51] Matt 6:33; 13:44-50; Mark 10:24-25; Luke 14:15-18

[52] Matt 12:28

[53] Matt 13:24, 38-39, 41; Mark 4:26-29

[54] Luke 10:9-11

[55] Matt 10:7

[56] Rev 19:7

[57] Luke 21:27-31

[58] Rev 11:15

[59] Rev 12:10

[60] Mt 19:28; 1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 3:21

[61] Matt 25:1

[62] Matt 6:10; Luke 11:2

[63] Matt 24:14

[64]1 Cor 15:22-28

[65]Heb 1:1-2

[66]Acts 2:16-18

[67]2 Tim 3:1-3; James 5:3

[68]2 Peter 3:3-4

[69]John 6:39-40, 44, 54

[70]John 12:48