Now let's take a look at Matthew 24 again. First notice that this is the second longest discourse of Christ recorded in the Gospels. It takes place within a few days prior to His crucifixion. Within that same period Jesus told these same disciples (and us) "I will come again and receive you unto myself". The discourse was addressed initially to four of His disciples who were with Him on the Mount of Olives. But we know it was also intended for us, the readers of Matthew's account, because Vs 15 says "whoso readeth, let him understand". The Apostles were representatives of the soon to be founded Church. In fact they were the founding members of the body of Christ, the church.
The four asked Him a question with three parts. "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming (parousia), and of the end of the world (aeon)?" The first refers to the timing of the destruction of the Temple which took place in 70 AD. The second and third are answered together, because Christ's coming effectively ends the present world (aeon = age). They asked Jesus to tell them of the sign that would portend His return, that is His parousia, His second coming. In verse 4 Jesus begins to answer their questions. (Only Luke records Christ's answer to the first one concerning the destruction of the Temple). Lets look at what He says concerning the sign of His parousia.
Remember He is answering "what shall be the sign of thy coming". Therefore what He has to say is in the context of that future day.
First He warns that there will be deceivers in that day, and false Christs.
Mat 24:4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. Mat 24:5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
He speaks of a time of conquest, war, famine, pestilences, and earthquakes that He calls the beginning of sorrows. He lets us know that these are not the end of the age. It is important to recognize that these conditions closely correspond to what John sees at the opening of the first three seals in Rev 6:1-6.
Mat 24:6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. Mat 24:7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. Mat 24:8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
He goes on to say that next there would be violent persecution upon followers of Jesus Christ for Christ's name sake.
Mat 24:9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
Because of this persecution many will be offended, that is fall away. Just like those who were represented by the stony ground, in Matt 13:20-21, which gladly received the Word but were offended when persecution came along, so these also will fall away.
Mat 24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
At that time many false prophets shall contribute to the falling away by their deception. Lawlessness will be so rampant, that many dare not make themselves vulnerable by loving others.
Mat 24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. Mat 24:12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
However, He says that those who survive to the end of the persecution and the end of the age, will be saved (delivered Dan 12:1, raptured).
Mat 24:13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
Jesus then says, the gospel shall be preached throughout the world before the end comes. It is interesting that the Great commission which was given to the founding members of the church and continues to be the responsibility of the church today, closes with these words "...lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." Jesus said He would be with us in the making of disciples and in the teaching of those disciples, all things whatsoever He taught. He said he would be with us unto the end of the world (aeon). The disciples understood that His coming would inaugurate a new (aeon), the present would end at that point. We continue in Gospel ministry until the second coming of Christ.
Mat 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
Jesus now gives further details concerning the persecution He began to speak of in verse 9. We know this by the use of "therefore" in verse 15. He says the unprecedented persecution begins when the rebuilt temple is defiled (abomination of desolation) in the middle of the week by the revelation of the man of sin (the Beast). He says to the inhabitants of Judaea that when they see that happen to flee. Most prophetic statements of the Scripture are centered around Jerusalem in Judaea, so we would expect Christ's warnings to be centered there. However, Rev 13 makes it clear that this persecution will be world-wide.
Mat 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Mat 24:16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Mat 24:17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
Mat 24:18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. Mat 24:19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
Mat 24:20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
Jesus further describes the severity and scope of this persecution saying that it is unprecedented.
Mat 24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
He says that it is so violent that it will threaten to extinguish every believer form off the earth. To save some of the elect alive upon the earth He says those days are cut short. We should note that this is the first use of the word elect in the account. We see that it is the elect who are being killed in the unparalleled persecution. Remember from verse 9, those that are being persecuted, are persecuted for the name of Christ. These elect are not unbelieving Israel, they are us, the saints of God, the church.
Mat 24:22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
Again Jesus warns of false Christs, and the lying wonders that they will use to deceive those who profess Christ. He says the deception will be so great that if it were possible even the true believer would be deceived. This is the second use of elect in the text. Here Jesus implies that the true elect cannot be deceived by the signs and wonders done by the false prophet. However, unbelieving Israel is still in blindness because the fullness of the Gentiles is not yet come in. Rev 7:9-17 describes an innumerable multitude of primarily gentiles that came out of great tribulation. These are said to be saved just as we are, in the blood of the Lamb. If God is still calling out a people for His name from among the Gentiles during the great tribulation than Israel still remains forensically blinded (Rom 11:25). Therefore, the elect, who cannot be deceived, must be the Church.
Mat 24:23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
Mat 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
The age-old adage is, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”. With these warnings Christ has armed us against deception, specifically that deception related to His arrival at His parousia. He says that His coming (parousia) will be unmistakable, as unmistakable as the smell of the dead to carrion eating birds.
Mat 24:25 Behold, I have told you before.
Mat 24:26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
Mat 24:27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Mat 24:28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
Jesus then tells us what event signals that the unprecedented persecution is over. It is an identifiable cosmic sign, the very sign that Joel said would precede the day of the Lord. Following the cosmic sign, the whole world will see the wonder of Christ in heaven, as He comes with His holy angels. They will mourn in fear, having been caught unawares, like a thief in the night catches the unsuspecting home dweller. He will then send His angels to gather His elect, the persecuted, to Him in the clouds.
Mat 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
Mat 24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Mat 24:31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Understanding Christ's answer to the disciples' questions is not really that difficult. Jesus says that there will be an unprecedented persecution of His followers before He returns to gather us to Himself. We will know the great tribulation is over when the cosmic sign appears. At that point, those of us who remain alive will have our eyes on the skies and be encouraged, for our redemption is about to happen.