Sunday, September 17, 2006

Signs of the Times - Part 4

We continue our study of Mathew Chapter 24:

"So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Mathew 24:26-31)

Jesus also tells us here about the sun, moon and stars being darkened ‘after the distress of those days’. So, I believe that the Lord’s prophets and Jesus Himself are all speaking of the same events. I believe they are speaking of worldwide events that are going to cause widespread ‘desolation’. What are these events? I think we can safely say that nuclear weapons are going to be part of this. Nothing else on earth could cause such destruction. This may only be one part of everything that is happening during this time. What results from these events? Our atmosphere is going to be polluted to the point that all heavenly bodies are darkened. This sounds horrible and it’s going to be a very difficult time, but there is hope. Never forget that our focus should not be on this world, but on God’s kingdom. Jesus tells us that after these events, He will appear in the sky with power and glory. While these events may seem horrible to unbelievers on earth and fill them with fear, they will be a sign to believers that the end is near. They will know that their Savior is at the door. Why will the nations mourn when Jesus returns? Because they will see the Truth and it will be too late. Many will have rejected God’s offer of salvation and will realize that they face eternal judgment. Imagine persecuting God’s faithful and rejecting Him, then seeing Jesus coming in the clouds. Finally, we’re told that Jesus gathers His faithful. Those that have remained faithful to the end will inherit eternal life in the kingdom of heaven with Jesus and our Father. They will have endured unto the end.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mathew 24:32-35)

What are we told here? We’re told that when we begin to see these signs, the end is ‘right at the door’. We’re also told that the generation that sees these events ‘will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened’. Don’t miss the significance of this message. Even though Jesus is speaking to our generation and we will see all of these things, the most important piece is that those of us who survive to the end will see Jesus return. So, we’re not told a definite date of the Lord’s return, but we are told that we will see Him. We are getting very close to the end of this age.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” (Mathew 24:36-41)

Here we are told that only our Father knows the time of Jesus’ return. I know that many in the world try to determine when Jesus will return, but I believe these verses make it clear – we are told of the events that will tell us when the time is near, but we will not know the exact time. We’re told by Jesus to be ready at any time for His return. We should always focus on God’s plan for us and not worry about what is or is not going to happen. I know this is difficult. It is something that I struggled with for some time. As you mature spiritually, this will become easier as you place your complete trust in the Lord.

Jesus mentions the story of Noah for a reason. Imagine for a moment that you are Noah. The Lord speaks to you and tells you to build an ark because the world is overcome with wickedness. Through faith, you do what is asked of you. Imagine building an ark in a wicked society. Do you think that Noah was ridiculed for building this ark when nothing was currently wrong? I’m sure he endured a few insults. I’m sure that people probably laughed at him. Did he build it in his backyard? Based on the dimensions of this ark, I’m sure it looked very out of place to everyone else. In spite of what everyone else thought, regardless of what was said to him in this world, he did what the Lord asked because he trusted the Lord. Now, think about the world today. Are true believers who trust the Lord ridiculed? If someone speaks a word of prophecy, how does the world respond? I imagine that today we endure the same type of ridicule that Noah endured. Those who do not know the Lord are spiritually blind, and just as in Noah’s day, they will be caught unaware of what is coming.

Verses 40 and 41 then tell us what will happen when Jesus does return at the end– some will be taken (His faithful believers) with Him, others will be left (unbelievers). If you are left, you will face eternal punishment. There will be no second chances at this point.

“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that 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 labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons 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 alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-9)

We are given some very important guidance in these verses. We are told that the Day of the Lord will come unexpectedly to unbelievers. They will not escape the Lord’s wrath. As always, we’re then given a message of hope. The Lord tells true believers that we are not blind as unbelievers. The Day of the Lord will not be a surprise to us. We will be prepared for it. We are of the light and therefore, will not be uninformed of what is happening and why. Verse 8 then gives us similar instruction as Ephesians chapter 6 – put on the armor of God so that when your day of evil comes, you will be able to stand. Knowing that we have eternal salvation through God’s grace, we will not fear what is happening in the world.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Mathew 24:42-44)

Once again we’re told that we do not know the exact time of our Lord’s return, so stay faithful and keep watch. Do not let the world draw you away from the Lord.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mathew 24:45-51)

Mathew chapter 24 then concludes with a clear warning to us. Jesus is telling us to remain faithful until the end and endure. Do not let the world pull you away from the Truth and deceive you. If we are faithful until the end, we will receive our reward. Do not be like those who fall away from the Truth because Jesus has not returned according to their own timetable. Those who do not remain faithful to the end, but return to the world are given a clear warning – ‘…and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Those that fall away will face the same fate as unbelievers. Eternal punishment.

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