Matthew 24:21-27 ~ "Getting What You Want, Getting What You Need"
Please turn in your Bibles with me to Matthew chapter 24.
If you were here last week and you find yourself in the position of holding to the eschatological views of amillennialism or post-millennialism, specifically the idea that the events described in Matthew 24 were fulfilled in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem, you undoubtedly felt that I beat upon you quite a bit last week. I am sorry for that, but I am right and therefore you understand that I had to do that (laughter from the congregation). For those of you who are here this morning and who hold to a pre-tribulation rapture commonly associated with the teaching of dispensationalism, this is the moment for the amillennialists and post-millennialists to say “aha! Now you get your comeuppance.”
Now it's the moment for us to look at the text and say “what does the Bible really teach about the sort of thing?” We are going to touch on it briefly this morning and will be looking at this more in depth, particularly as we are working our way through Matthew chapter 24 when it comes to the one that is taken and one that is left behind. Later on in the chapter we will be talking more specifically about what Jesus says about rapture, but what we will be touching on this morning is this particular text; knowing brothers and sisters who truly love the Lord can and do disagree on these issues and that it's okay to disagree. One of the things that we always need to make sure that we do, whether your post-millennial, amillennial or pre-millennial, you always need to make sure that we approach this message and approached the preaching of God's word with a heart to hear him speak to us and not to approach it with an intellectual sort of perspective where we kind of nitpick all the different facts and figures that are there and we just want to arm ourselves to be able to have a heated debate on these type things. We are brothers and sisters and we can amicably disagree on these issues, but at the end of the day agree that the Lord is coming back. We all agree on that do we not? Amen! I offended half of you last week and I'm going to offend the other half of you this week. I'm an equal opportunity offender (laughter from the congregation). We need the Lord to humble our hearts and make sure that we hear his voice.
Would you please join with me for prayer; Father, would you help us to see the beauty and the truth that your son is coming again as a conquering King. Father, regardless of all the different views and positions that are held nobody denies that you are coming for your people in victory and with power and strength, glory and majesty. Father, as we hear your word this morning, as we hear your son's instructions to the disciples, I pray that we will also be instructed; that our hearts will also be encouraged to cling tightly to the hope that you are coming as lightning flashes from the East to the West and there is no other person that we look for, there is no other hope to which we cling. We look for the return of Jesus and him alone. Father, we pray that you would strengthen our hearts this morning with that glorious truth. It is in Christ name that we pray, Amen.
In the 1700s a new King came to power in France who was Roman Catholic. A law was passed at that time outlawing all other forms of faith, in particularly any other form of Christianity. Protestants were deemed to be heretical and were persecuted severely at that time under that Roman Catholic king. There was at that time a young girl by the name of Marie Durand who’s father was a preacher, her brother was a preacher and at the tender age of 15 she became engaged to a man who himself would go on to be an incredible preacher in France at that time. They were Huguenots. They held to the fact that you could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that you could talk to him directly and that you did not need the permission of a priest or pope in order to come, by faith, to the throne of Jesus Christ. Of course their faith was outlawed and as a result read Marie Durand was arrested. They were able to capture her and they used her is a pawn in order to lever pressure on her family. Her brother, her father and even her fiancé were running from the French authorities at that time as they preached the truth of Jesus Christ. In order to leverage pressure on them they took this young woman and they locked her in a tower with some 40 other women in southern France, along the coast of the Mediterranean, in a tower by the name of Aigues-Mortes. They said it is very simple, if you want out if you and want freedom you just need to say one word – J’abjure - I recant. If you do not say that word you're going to stay here and for 44 years. Marie Durand went from being a 15-year-old girl to a fairly elderly lady in her 60s. For 44 years she could've bought her freedom with just one word. Although there are many conversations that happened in that tower amongst those women there was one word that, for Marie Durand, was never spoken. She never said J’abjure. To this day visitors to the tower at Aigues-Mortes can go into that room. It's just a closet. The first thing that the tourists who flock to that attraction ask is “how in the world did 40 people live in this room for 40+ years?” There's no toilet, there's no running water, there's nothing but a little hole in the floor that looked down into the guard room below. Marie Durand carved into the rock of that room not J’abjure. It is a different word; reistez! Resist. One author commenting on this says that you can still see that word to this day and he makes the observation that we as evangelical Christians living here in the West with religious freedom, we do not understand the terrifying simplicity of a religious commitment which asks nothing of time and gets nothing from time. We can understand religion that enhances time, but we cannot understand a simple faith which is not nourished by the temporal hope that tomorrow things will be better; to sit in a prison room with 40 other women, to be able to look out a narrow barred window at the sunshine and the grass, to smell in the distance the salt breeze of the ocean and to know that freedom is but two syllables away. She chose instead to age in that room, to sit in that prison day after day as day changes to night, summer to autumn and to feel the slow steady changes within one's own body. The drying and the wrinkling of the skin, the loss of muscle tone, the stiffening of the joints and the slow yet noticeable stupefaction of the senses such as the loss of hearing and the loss of sight, to feel all of this and to still persevere seems idiotic to our generation which has no capacity for patience and endurance.
Much of evangelical Christianity here in the West in the 21st century approaches their faith and their participation the same way that we approach shopping. We want convenience, we want speed of access, we want it to be done on our time in our way and we don't want this steady persistent suffering of a faith that can be drawn out across decades of torture and persecution. That's exactly what Jesus is calling for here in Matthew chapter 24. As we come to what Christ is saying we need to understand that we have had it really well here in Canada. It's not perfect, it never is, don't misunderstand me. There are movements happening here in our country which have a decided antagonistic bent to Christianity, but we still have it really well. As we come to this text this morning regardless of whether your amillennial, post-millennial, or pre-millennial, you understand Christ is calling all of us to a faith that can resist the persecutions of the world. Look at what Jesus says he starting in verse 15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place.” We looked at it last week. Jesus gives us some very definitive characteristics that we can look for. Jesus describes a diabolical figure he alludes to in the prophecy mentioned in Daniel; this abomination of desolation. He says, when you see that thing standing in the holy place (this is a clear reference to the holy of holies in the temple) then let those that are in Judea flee to the mountains, “Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on Sabbath.” Jesus is making the point that when you see the abomination of desolation, when you understand it, when you know it for what it is then run! Get out! Specifically it is mentioning people who are in Judea. He is restricting that warning to them (we looked at that this past week in care groups.) Now, holding to the belief that the text matters we have to approach the Scripture with an eye the time references. Verse 21 starts off with “For” which is significant as it references an abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. Then he makes a statement in verse 21 “For then.” That is a conjunction in the Greek and according to the Greek-English lexicon of the Greek New Testament (the koinonia Greek language) “for” is a conjunction which shows a strong relationship to the preceding idea. Often it is translated “therefore” which is intended to help you to understand that the verse that is now coming, the sentence that is now about to happen, is tied to the preceding sentence and it depends upon the preceding verse or the preceding sentence and is the cause which leads to this particular verse. That's what the “for” is there for. He makes a statement, for then at that time you're going to have this abomination of desolation which is going to stand in some holy place, somewhere; obviously this is a reference to the temple which we don't presently have. Then he makes a statement, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” A number of individuals suggest that what is being described here is the suffering of the Jews living in Jerusalem who endured the destruction of that city in 70 A.D. If Josephus is to be believed, there are about 1 million people who lived in Jerusalem and who were put to the sword or were sold into slavery as a result of the Romans destroying the city in 70 A.D. Now modern scholarship questions Josephus and this modern scholarship looks at a number of different records deciding this is a bit of an exaggeration. It is probably closer to 600,000. It doesn't matter whether you take the number 600,000 or take the number 1 million; there has been incredible suffering that is happened in our modern world and you could easily make the argument that it is of a greater degree and a greater nature than what you see here; for example the Holocaust by Adolf Hitler in World War II where 6 million Jews were murdered. That's a conservative estimate as they didn’t keep an exact record of who they were murdering. So, even if you take the higher end of Josephus's numbers of 1 million killed in 70 A.D. when Jesus makes a statement “there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no and we never will be” he is talking about cataclysmic conflict which we have not yet observed, at least that's this humble pre-millennialists interpretation of this passage, for then at that time with the rise of this Antichrist figure there will be unbelievable persecution. How bad is it going to be pastor? Look at what he says “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved.”
Nobody survives the terror that comes upon the earth. The horror, torture and persecution from this Antichrist figure in conjunction with all sorts of natural calamities, being it earthquakes or natural disasters, all of these things come together to create an environment that is so unstable and so cataclysmic that it is imploding and if God the father himself does not step in and intercede nobody, believer or unbeliever, survives. But God the father does step in and intercedes. It says, “But for the sake of the elect those days will be short.” Perhaps the greatest danger to which we must be attentive is not the physical; although, that is a very real thing to be mindful of, the greatest danger is actually the spirit trial. Notice what he says here verse 23, “Then if anyone says to you Look, here is the Christ! Or There he is! Do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
Jesus is saying that there is going to be such incredible miracles performed that are false in order to support teachers and antichrists that are false. They're going to be so persuasive and so believable that the whole world will go after these things. They will be so persuasive that the only thing that keeps the true Christian from buying into it is the preserving nature of God's merciful grace.
We as believers will be caught up with the power and the grandeur and the majesty of these false miracle workers. What sustains us from being swept away with that kind of spiritual deception? What sustains us from engaging in that kind of idolatry? One simple truth. Jesus says in verse 26, “So, if they say to you, Look, he is in the wilderness.” Jesus the Messiah or whomever this individual is going to call himself, Bob the Messiah or Joe the Messiah, is in the desert don't believe it. That's what Jesus says. Don't put your faith in that report. Jesus says don't put your hope, don't put your faith in any of these reports that Bob in the wilderness or Joe in the closet is really Jesus in the flesh whose come back to restore his kingdom on this earth. Don't put your faith in this is “truth.” This is how we know that none of those guys are the real deal because the real deal is coming back in a very specific way and his return will be unmistakable. Look at what Christ says here in verse 27 “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the West, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” You will not miss it. If someone comes to you says Bob in the desert is really Jesus or Joe in the closet is really Jesus you know that that is not true because Jesus, the real deal, the genuine article, our King and saviour whom we worship, when he comes back it's not going to be some guy who pops up in the desert or who pops up in the closet. It will be as Jesus describes here in Matthew chapter 24, as brilliant and as obvious to see as a lightning flashing across the sky.
You're not going to miss that. You are not going to be confused. It is going to be clear as day. Our hope in that truth that Jesus is speaking here in his word is what is intended to sustain us. If we encounter persecution, and for great many of our brothers and sisters around the world that sentence should be reworded to say when you encounter persecution, and indeed for us here in this room, maybe not for you and me but for perhaps our for our grandkids, we should say to them when the tribulation comes upon you and when the persecution arrives and when you are being tortured to renounce your faith in Jesus Christ and when they are giving you every reason to alter the word J’abjure “I recant” there is one promise given which as far as Christ is concerned ought to have the power to sustain us. It is simply this, your King is coming.
Jesus is returning and if they should try to entice you with the silly notion or the silly story that your faith is in vain and that your misplaced in the object of your worship, that Jesus is really a guy named Bob out in the desert, even though it is ludicrous, it will seem plausible and even when you are in immense pressure, even under torture; nevertheless, Christ's statement here is the one thing that should sustain you, the fact that Jesus the real deal is coming again.
You know much of our Christianity here in the West in the 21st century evangelical church has no stomach for this sort of thing. We have no patience to put up with hardship and no endurance to deal with any kind of difficulty. We seem to draw our understanding of the Christian life more from the secular world around us than we do from the Bible. Any sort of persecution or any sort of pushback from the world around us and the church tends to say, well I'm not going to share my faith because I don't feel led to in that moment. I'm not going to try and share the gospel with this person because they'll make fun of me and ultimately the spirit didn't create an opening. Those are the sentiments that are expressed. We tend to learn more of our experience of Christianity from secular cultural influences than we do from the Scriptures. I think one individual who has had tremendous undue influence on the church is a little fellow by the name of Mick Jagger and his band the Rolling Stones. They sang a song which I've heard quoted so many times in different counselling sessions in my office and it is:
“You can’t always get what you want.......
But if you try sometimes, well you just might find you get what you need”
So often the idea is I need help enduring because I find that I am not even getting what I need and what we need is often times described by what preacher Mick Jagger preaches in his song. You will notice that he talks about seeing this girl that he used to date at the grocery store and he talks in that song about this loved one that has since passed away and how he misses them and over and over again the refrain is preached from Mick Jagger and his band the Rolling Stones “you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.”
But what if you don't get what you need? What if need is redefined and Mick Jagger is wrong? What if we consider our needs from the perspective of Jesus Christ? We sometimes reassure ourselves with the notion that as bad as things are they can't get any worse, but what if they could? What if they did? We tell ourselves that what we need is we need shelter, we need food, we need to be able to lay down at night in peace and have a sense of safety and security, but what if we don't get any of those things? What if we live our lives like some of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who every waking moment are paralyzed and terrified by the prospect that if they were discovered and caught they would be killed? Their lives are lived like dogs running from one shelter to the next always in paranoia and looking over their shoulder knowing that sooner or later they're going to get caught.
Sometimes you find you don't even get what you really need. It begs the question what do we really need? We need patience; that ability to endure under difficult circumstances and persevere in the face of provocation. We need to understand that in Christ we have contentment.
Once upon a time, there was a man who lived with his wife, two small children, and his elderly parents in a tiny hut. He tried to be patient and gracious with all the clamor and cacophony around him, but eventually the noise and the crowded conditions wore him down.
In desperation, he consulted the village wise man. “Do you have a rooster?” asked the wise man.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Keep the rooster in the hut with your family, and come see me again next week.”
The next week the man returned and told the wise elder that living conditions were worse than ever, with the rooster crowing and making a mess of the hut.
“Do you have a goat?” The man nodded. “Take your goat into your hut with you.”
As this went on through the weeks, the man was advised to also bring in another goat, two dogs, three cats, his brother and sister in-law, and all their five children.
Finally, “Do you have a cow?” the man nodded. “Take your cow into the hut as well, and come see me next week.”
Finally, he could take no more, and in a fit of anger, kicked out all the animals and guests, leaving only his wife, his children, and his parents. The home suddenly became spacious and quiet, and everyone lived happily ever after.
What he ended up with what is what he started with. In the secular world if you go to see a counsellor who doesn't believe in biblical principles and you're struggling with anxiety or stress that's exactly what they're going to recommend. It is called desensitization. Whatever your stress is, whatever difficulty that you're experiencing or goal you are seeking to achieve is handled by desensitization, also referred to as the behavioural modification. What they want to do is desensitize you. It is the clinical term for introducing more of whatever it is that is causing the stress in your life. The object being to get you to where once you remove the additional stressors you can now cope with the pre-existing stress.
Is that what the Scripture teaches with regards to persecution and torture and tension? If you're persecuted and you don't like that, what you really need is more of it? No. That is not the counsel of Scripture. What's interesting is that the Bible says while none of us likes torture or persecution or stress and none of us enjoy being ostracized or belittled or marked for our faith, the solution to that problem is not taking on more stress or trying to introduce yourself to more strain, the solution has always been look to Christ. To believe that whatever your situation is, whatever your circumstances are Jesus is working in the midst of that circumstance to bring a greater sanctification into your life. As we are looking here in Matthew chapter 24 I want to step way back from the text for second to remind you of the context in which the disciples come to Jesus. They say, Lord what is the sign of your return and when will all of these things happen. When will the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and all that sort of stuff happen? Jesus begins to tell them what the sign of his return will be and he describes to them what can only be understood, regardless of your eschatological position, as the most terrifying sets of circumstances imaginable. Regardless of what kind of interpretation you put on verse, he is saying there is going to be a great tribulation such as the world has not seen before or will ever see ever again. That's how you know that my return is near.
If you're the disciples then you are undoubtedly filled with fear and trepidation at that notion. If you're Jesus and you want to strengthen the disciples and if you want to give them something to place their faith in and that well help to hold them up, do you pat them on the back and say it's okay you need some more of this in your life? Do you say, I'm going to desensitize you of all pain and suffering? That is not what Jesus does. He says, you will look to the coming of the Son of Man, the return of the King. Church, you say “preacher, I think that all Jesus is trying to do here in Matthew 24 is to describe the events that are indicative of his return. I don't know that you can actually look at this passage and draw some sort of devotion or reassurance from it.” There is a passage that does that very explicitly and that mirrors this passage. I want you to turn with me for moment to second Thessalonians chapter 2. The apostle Paul planted the church in Thessalonica. He was on the run and there were a group of Jews who were chasing after him quite literally when he planted the church at Thessalonica. According to first Thessalonians 4 he was there for about four weeks. He had about a month with this group to preach to them before the persecution got so severe that he was basically run out of town. He goes to Berea and plants a church. In Berea the persecution comes and he flees south again. He ends up in Athens and finds he is curious to know how things are going at the church that he planted where he only had one month with the group; so, he takes his trusted friend Timothy for a trip. He is thinking, “I'm worried because of the persecution and because of the suffering. This little church that we just planted in Thessalonica has probably succumbed to the pressure and the false teachings of the Judaizers. As the tension dies down he takes Timothy and goes back to Thessalonica to find out how they're doing. Timothy reunites with Paul and Paul travels a little farther south to Athens where they connect in Corinth. From Corinth he writes that letter in 1st Corinthians in which he says "I was worried that we had somehow run in vain but I hear that you are standing firm in the faith.” He relays that when Timothy came to him he was overjoyed that the church is standing up under the persecution and false teachings.
Then Paul writes 2nd Thessalonians. He writes a pastoral type letter to reassure them and comfort them because false teachers have crept into the church at Thessalonica and they have essentially told them the day of the Lord has already come and they missed it. They are basically telling them they have been left behind. The parishioners are wondering "what is the point of all of this?" Are we really Christians? Have we really been saved? How is it possible that the day of the Lord has happened and we missed it, we missed our King?
Paul writing to them from a pastor's heart offers them the most unusual form of comfort and encouragement. Second Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 1 “Now concerning the coming of our Lord.” Notice the first person plural pronoun, our Lord. Undoubtedly Paul understands that he as a Christian writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is sure of his salvation. He says my Lord, but he also includes all of the church. With the use of his first person plural pronoun “our,” this possessive pronoun, he is assuring them the fact that they are as he is; Christians. He is going to use three expressions synonymously concerning the coming of our Lord, being gathered together to him, and then later on to the effect that the day of the Lord has already happened. Notice those three expressions - concerning the coming - the gathering, and - the day. He uses all three of those expressions interchangeably in verses one and two. He identifies that these believers in Thessalonica are genuine legitimate believers. He says to them in verse one concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, which is elsewhere interpreted into Latin as rapturo; this where we get the English word rapture from.
“We ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” Paul’s statement is that at some point the false teachers are even forging correspondence from the apostle Paul and sending it to the church of Thessalonica. That is horrible is it not? Paul is saying "I don't want you guys to be deceived." Verse three “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”
Now here's what Paul just said “are you worried that you missed the day of the Lord? Are you worried that you missed Jesus? They are in grief and they are in pain. Paul is a pastor and it is like he is coming up alongside of them, giving them a Kleenex, patting them on the back and saying “it is okay guys. You didn't miss Jesus. You have to be tortured and persecuted first. Isn't that a wonderful relief?” That's what he says is it not? Think about what Jesus says now in Matthew chapter 24. He says “when you see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy of holies let the reader understand the reference to Prophet Daniel. For then at that time there will be great tribulation.” The great tribulation accompanies the arrival of the Antichrist. These believers, these brothers and sisters in the church at Thessalonica were worried that they had missed it and the tool that the apostle Paul uses to comfort and encourage them is indeed nothing less than don't worry you still have to be tortured first. What a relief. That is what he is saying. You didn't miss the coming of the Lord. You didn't miss the persecution. You didn't miss our being gathered to him because you've yet to endure the persecution. He is using that as a means of encouragement.
I look at the promise of persecution and my 21st-century Western evangelical Christian mind doesn't see the redemptive benefit of it. We know that there are multiple redemptive qualities about it, not least of which is the assurance that we have not missed out on our King until we have entered it. As we are gathered here this morning the faith that we are being called to have in Christ is the kind of faith that can regard persecution, that can regard suffering, that can regard torture and ostracism for faith, the kind of faith that Jesus Christ is alluding to in Matthew chapter 24 and that the apostle Paul clearly uses as a form of comfort in Thessalonians chapter 2. It is the kind of faith that can trust in Jesus even despite the worst forms of persecution and can even look at those forms of persecution as a means of comfort and encouragement.
One of my favourite quotes of all time in helping to explain this idea comes from a work of fiction, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers’ Karamazov”. The problem of suffering, the problem evil and of the reality that we are in immense pain is brought up as a reason to question and doubt the reality of Jesus and the truth of God. In the book Father Zosima, the Christian figure in the novel, speaking to Alyosha who was saying I don't know if I believe in Jesus and God and faith or any of that, responds in this partial excerpt
“This is what I mean. Let me make it plain. I believe like a little child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidian mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with me.”
We can't see it now and we certainly can't appreciate it and none of us would ever dare to say that we enjoy and want just a little bit more persecution, but the Scriptures are uniformly clear, Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love god all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Even though we can't see it, we are able to strengthen our suffering by looking at our present situation from the lens of the future coming of Jesus Christ. I think that Fyodor Dostoevsky hit the nail on the head when he put into the mouth of Father Zosima these words, the return of Jesus will look at all that has happened and how horrible it all truly was. When we see it from God's perspective in the final moments it will not only make up for all of it, but it will justify all that has happened and we would be able to look back and say it was good that it happened this way. It isn't desensitization that we need; it is a deeper faith in the coming of Jesus Christ. I pray for all of us here at First Baptist Church that we would strive to learn from the faith of Marie Durand who spent 44 years in a tower in Aigues-Mortes. Marie Durand talked a lot and said many things, but never said this word J’abjure. She didn't believe that God had dealt her a bad deck of cards and she didn't believe that she ended up with the short end of the stick. She believed that she had been given a precious opportunity to witness her faith in him by standing stranded and locked in this tower for 44 years. I pray all of us would see the glorious opportunity in any moment of suffering.
Let's bow for word of prayer. Father we thank you for your word. We thank you for your teaching to us through your son Jesus. I pray God that our hearts would be strengthened and that we would look in faith to the return of your son, our King, coming on the clouds of heaven; coming with authority and power as brilliant and as majestic and as awe inspiring and dread inducing as flashing across the sky like lightning. I pray we will look forward to that day. It is in Christ and in that we pray, Amen.
The Gospel of Matthew is a story about a once and coming King. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the long awaited for Messiah. He has come once, and Matthew tells the story of His arrival, ministry, sacrificial atoning work on the cross, and His promise to return soon.