Matthew 24:29-36 ~ "The Unfair Christian Life"
Father, we look forward to that day in which our great King, our great high Priest, our saviour our, Redeemer comes for those whom he has ransomed. Father, we wait expectantly for that day in which we get to see Jesus face-to-face. When we get to say hallelujah we have waited so long, you have come! Father, as we look at your word this morning, as we look to the teaching of our King this morning I pray Lord, that if there are any here who may suspect that serving you and walking after your son leads to an unfair difficulty or an unfair reality, I pray Lord that you would drive that thought from their minds. I pray Lord that is we look at your word this morning they would see that it is unfair, but that it is heavily slanted in our favour for our blessing and our goodness. We thank you for your unfair mercy and grace in our life. We celebrate and we worship you and thank you and pray these things in Jesus name, Amen.
Undoubtedly, you heard this last week that Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, was coming to do a revival in Vancouver. The mayor of Vancouver has essentially put out a statement saying that he discouraged him from coming stating that his values were not the values of Vancouver that Vancouver had different values than those that were being represented by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and that revival that Franklin his son was attempting to hold there.
I had opportunity to sit and have coffee with several of you this last week and the comment was made, and we understand this to be the reality of our situation, that the Christian life at times can just seem so unfair. Here’s a man who has come on behalf of his God, the one whom he worships, in order to present the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation with a mighty merciful Christ. This man is ostracized, he is ridiculed and he is made fun of for that. We think “why is the world so tolerant of so much depravity and yet when the offer of forgiveness is presented free of charge, when grace is proclaimed, that should be met with such hostility and such ridicule.” It seems so unfair. We take it a step back and we reflect on this and we realize there are many things about being a Christian that are just extremely unfair. If you are here this morning and you consider yourself and amillennial or post-millennial, undoubtedly you think that my preaching these last several weeks is been unfair. The truth is that if you’re here and you are pre-millennial you think that maybe those sermons from a couple times before that were also unfair. I’ve had every stripe and every type of individual that adheres to an eschatological position including my own come to me and say I’m unfair. Well I’m glad to hear those reports because if I’m unfair to all of you than I think I’m being fair to all of you, so I feel like I am hitting the nail on the head (chuckles from the congregation). Undoubtedly, as we are working our way through the text you will recall from the very beginning the very first message that was preached on Matthew chapter 24, the Olivet discourse, I said essentially what we need to do is we need to recognize that this is not a point of division for Christians. We can hold to different beliefs with regards to eschatology. We are called by Christ not to be deceived. This means we need to come to some concrete conviction about this and yet at the same time we are not necessarily called to argue with our brothers as and sisters about what we’ve come to a conviction about with regards to this particular doctrine.
Some of you say “well that is kind of unusual. We are called to believe something firmly in order to not be deceived and yet we are called to have grace and charity with regard to holding that belief. How is that supposed to work?” We circled around to the idea that we are called to hold this belief with love. That we need our brothers and sisters who may disagree with us to love us, but we need to be humble enough to suspect or to at least be open to the possibility there we are wrong in they are right. And yet, we are convinced that we are right. You understand those tensions. “Yeah pastor, I do. There’s tension in that we are called to have conviction and yet to be open to the fact that we are wrong. That seems unfair!” Yes, many things in the Christian life are unfair. That is one of them. We worked our way through this passage and we recognize that there is going to be, as we approach the end, an increase in frequency of hurricanes and earthquakes and that the environment was going to become incredibly destabilized and indeed many legitimate righteous men and women of God who worship God might themselves be caught in natural catastrophes that are a part of the judgment coming on this world. That seems unfair. We also looked at the reality that there will be growing apostasy that will spring up even from within the church. We will look around the room and we will think “is it is even possible here at First Baptist Church that dear brothers and sisters whom we are absolutely completely convinced would never turn their back on Jesus Christ; that as these dark days of apostasy approach we might encounter such cruel and heartbreaking betrayal.” That seems unfair. And indeed it is. We then returned to this last point here in verse 15, the abomination of desolation. We talked about the reality that there is a coming cataclysmic dark time. It is going to be a horrific period of intense tribulation coming upon the world. It will specifically persecute, it will identify and single out and target Christians. We hear that and we think to ourselves “that is just so unfair.” This is the nature of what it means to walk with Jesus. Our definitions and our ideas of fair and what we deserve and what we are entitled to are not necessarily his. Jesus is King. Jesus is Lord. So as we walk through this passage whatever ideas or notions of fairness or unfairness that you may have there is no way to read through this Olivet discourse in Matthew chapter 24 and continue to hold on to any preconceived idea or notion of what it is that you think you’re entitled to.
We are going to see more of that today. We are going to pick it up with verse 29. You’ll recall that I am a pre-millennialist. I believe in a literal millennial reign of Jesus Christ. I believe that these events being described here in Matthew chapter 24 are yet future and they have not happened yet, they have not taken place. The reason I come to that conclusion is because I have looked at verse 15, Jesus’ statement about the abomination of desolation. I’ve decided that he was referencing the character described in Daniel chapter 8. That seems so clear, so crystal cut to me. I take that expression along with all of the other time markers that are mentioned here immediately after the tribulation of those days, when you see this person standing in such a such a place, I understand that the time markers are to be taken literally. I read them literally and I take this expression the abomination of desolation as mentioned in verse 15 to be a literal antichrists type figure. Then we come to the section pertaining to the rapture and the resurrection of the church. As a pre-millennialist when I come to this verse I recognize right off the bat that there is no way I can hold everything that I’ve held up into this point literally and then come to this verse and hold it something other than literally. I want you to read with me verse 29; Jesus makes a statement “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” You’re saying “pastor, you don’t take that literally.” I do, but there are others among us who don’t necessarily take that literally. Verse 30 “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Then is this what you’re saying is not to be taken literally? Yes, I do take that literally. Verse 31 “And he will send out his angels with a large trumpet call, and he will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” You don’t take that literally do you?” Yes, I do. Verse 32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” There is no reason to take that literally. It is a metaphor to start with so you’re supposed to always understand that metaphorically, but you understand that metaphor in a literal sense. You can identify when the return of Christ is drawing nigh.
If you’re a pre-millennial like me, it is this next verse that is your gut check moment. Verse 34 “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” That verse for us as pre-millennialists is a gut check. First while the millennials and post-millennials are all saying, “Yeah, that’s right. Here’s where it comes down to.” When we consider those who are in different theological camps than us with regards to their view of the end times it can be tempting particularly, from the pre-millennial position, to suggest that perhaps others don’t take the Bible literally. We interpret these particular Scriptures and passages a certain way, we think that because we are looking at them from the pre-millennial perspective, and that we are interpreting these things in a straightforward manner just as exactly as they’re presented on the page. When we encounter some of the interpretations and some of the different methods of understanding these passages that are held by an individual who may be of the preterist school, being the amillennial or post-millennial who view all of the events described here in Matthew 24 as having already taken place around the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., they believe that all these events have already occurred in past time.
The reason for that comes down to verse 34. See, you and I as pre-millennialists have to make a decision in regards to how we are going to interpret this passage. As pre-millennialists we see these time references immediately after this. When you see this, immediately after those days then this is when you see all these things taking place is like the fig tree you know he is near you know he’s on his way. You see these time references and have to start to figure out what this time reference is related to and how they are to work together. We have to pick a starting point and so for us in the pre-millennial camp we have picked as our starting point verse 15, the abomination of desolation. You say “that’s right, we read this passage literally.” But we don’t. When we come here to verse 34 there is no way to take this verse at face value for what it would have meant for the 12 disciples who were gathered there. You recall they question at the very beginning of the chapter “tell us when will these things happen and what will be the sign of your returning and of the close of the age.” Jesus begins to describe all of the stuff and then if you’re one of those 12 and your sitting here listening to him, he comes to verse 34 “truly I tell you this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” If you’re Peter, James, or John do you want to know what your understanding of that verse is? Do you want to know what you take away from Jesus in that moment? You understand that this is all going to happen in my lifetime.
When we interpret Scripture the golden rule, the thing we say over and over again is context, context, context! This means that when we want to understand a passage of Scripture the first thing that we have to discover when we are looking at it is what it meant to the original audience that heard it. If we are being brutally honest with ourselves we recognize that when we come to verse 34 it sounds an awful lot, if not exactly like, what Jesus is saying to the 12 guys who were sitting there with him outside of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives is you guys won’t die until the end of the world. Now from a pre-millennialist perspective we’ve read it literally all the way through and now we’ve come to this verse where we have to step back and say “Yeah, he’s talking to them, but there’s a little bit of confusion here. Perhaps what he is referencing is the generation that is still alive or the generation that is alive at the time in which the abomination of desolation shows up.” You see, we have to make a decision between two verses; verse 15 the abomination of desolation or verse 34. Here is why we should never ever accuse our amillennial or post-millennial brothers and sisters of being liberals and loosey-goosey with the text. For those individuals who approach Matthew chapter 24 and they make the argument that all of these things happened in the first century, the reason why there arguing that perspective is verse 34. If they have taken it literally you see that’s where what it all boils down to. That’s what makes the Olivet Discourse so incredibly challenging. If you choose abomination of desolation as your starting point you come to verse 34 and have to kind of get inventive. I say this with grace, but it’s charitable. Nevertheless the fact of the matter is we can’t take it at point blank face value for what it would have meant to the 12 disciples; you just can’t.
For our preterist friends, that is the amillennial and post-millennial guys and gals, they look at this passage and they say we have got to start somewhere in terms of were going to pick this thing apart and they choose verse 34 and they take it literally. If you take verse 34 literally you have to look at all these other things symbolically and if you take verse 15 literally you come to verse 34 and you have to start picking that apart to come up with some sort of creative way to understand that verse.
This is the struggle. This is why we need to have humility as we approach this particular passage. Jesus says heaven and earth truly I say to you this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. So, what’s your take on that pastor? I admit this is an arbitrary decision. I hope that my post-millennial and amillennial preterist friends can say the same thing and that they have the courage to be honest and look at all this evidence we have got to decide for ourselves, as individuals, what seems the most clear to us. At the end of the day it can be a coin toss. This is the struggle that we have and this is why we are called to have humility. Taking the position that this passage was fulfilled in the first century in its entirety we come back to verse 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the power of the heavens will be shaken.” You recall that I said “how in the world how did that happen in the first century?” What this interpretation offers is the room for phenomenological language, hyperbole, it is a statement that is given and is intended to convey a certain idea, but it doesn’t mean it has happened literally. The stars didn’t really fall from the heavens or the sun darken or the moon give up its light. We didn’t see those things literally so it is understood to be phenomenological language. They look to different passages in the Old Testament in which when everything is going really well in the nation of Israel the hills are described as dancing and the grass is described as swaying with joy and then you find other passages in the Old Testament when Israel is carted off into exile to Babylon that say that the trees are grieving and the stars are sad. That’s not necessarily stuff that is happened literally. It has all been understood as metaphorical. So the preterist, that is the amillennial and post-millennial guys, say this stuff happened in the life of the apostles and so when we encounter this passage here it is not to be understood literally, it is to be understood metaphorically.
For some of you who are here, you will argue that it could be literal. I would argue that it is. In the book of Numbers a prophecy was made about the coming of the Saviour. It says, “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17). At the birth of Jesus, Magi living way in the East saw in the night sky something happen in the celestial heavens above. They saw something happen amongst the stars. Matthew is quite clear and quite explicit in his taking of a passage from the Old Testament, which we would probably just assume was pure metaphor, and understanding it to be literal. These three Magi understood it literally. They came and beheld the birth of Jesus because of a literal interpretation.
You look at verse 29 and wonder could it have been literal? Could it have been metaphorical? Or, could it be just a way of describing how bad things are going to be? It could be either or. There’s no reason to say it’s not literal if you’re going to hold to the fact that these events have not yet happened. Could it also be that this is just a description of how bad things were in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.? Absolutely. Could it be a combination of the two? Sure it could. We are going to see that the weeks ahead; this near/far fulfilment of Scripture. The very next verse says “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Flip over with me to the book of 1 Thessalonians. In chapter 4 verse 13 Paul’s statement to the church of the Thessalonica he says “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep.” He uses the word asleep to describe the status of Christians that died. They haven’t actually died in Paul’s mind because he believes in the resurrection so he describes them rather as sleeping. He says concerning those that are asleep, we don’t want you to be uninformed, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Now Paul’s statement here is to the church of Thessalonica where he says when you have a loved one who passes away, when you have a loved one who dies, here’s another way to describe it; they have not died if they worshiped Christ. They haven’t passed away if they had trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. They are, in Paul’s estimation, just asleep and waiting to come back to life, waiting to be restored, waiting to be awakened. We shouldn’t mourn the death of Christians the way that we should absolutely grieve and mourn the death of those who do not know Christ. For those who are in Christ just sleep, but for those that are not in Christ they have died in the truest sense of the word. Paul goes on, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord.” Paul here hints at the fact that there will be Christians on this earth who will still be alive, who have not fallen asleep, and are awake when Christ returns. His statement is “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ (those who have died, who are “sleeping”) will rise first.” Verse 17 “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” Paul’s statement here to the church of Thessalonica is that the return of Christ is going to be something so spectacular no one’s going to miss it. Not even those individuals that have gone to sleep, who have passed on to be with the Lord.
The teaching of Scriptures is that when the rapture happens, when the resurrection takes place, the Christians of this world both past and present and future believers in Christ everywhere will have the front-row seat to the coming of the Lord. Even those who are not Christians and who do not worship Jesus, they also will get a front row seat, but it is not a front row seat that you want; it’s from the other side of the field so to speak. You will see it firsthand, you’re going to encounter firsthand, but for the Christians who worship Christ they’re going to see it and experience it firsthand with Christ as he returns to this earth.
Look at what it says here in verse 30, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man.” If you recall from last week, lightning flashes from east to west then those who are dead in Christ will be raptured, they will be resurrected, they will be caught up into the air with the Lord and those who are still alive after the other guys go, then we get to go and everybody’s going to be with the Lord.
As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, “we will always be with the Lord for ever more never to die again.” When considered from the perspective of those who do not know the Lord verse 30 forewarns “then all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” They will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
This past week I was meeting with my friend Harry Little who is another esteemed gentleman who has served this church for decades with honour and distinction. He asked me to come and meet with him as he wanted to plan out some of the specific details regarding his funeral. Harry you may recall is 99 years old and he’s been with this church since the mid-50s. We set down and we got to talking. I said to him “Brother Harry is there any favourite passage that you would like for me to preach.” He hinted at something that was very clear in my mind because I just heard this comment made at the Logan like care group. The comment was made as Christian child coming up in the church we talked an awful lot about sin and death and the reality that all this world is under a curse and we need forgiveness. We talked an awful lot about the cross and the fact that Jesus provides us forgiveness on the cross. You know what sort of got short changed and really wasn’t mentioned at all? The fact of the resurrection. I’ve heard that comment Tuesday night. Then I went out to meet with my friend Harry on Thursday and when I asked brother Harry what passage what his favourite passage was, he referred me to 1 Corinthians 15. He said if in this life we have hoped in Christ only to find there is no resurrection from the dead then we are, of all men, the most to be pitied. He said I want you to say whatever you want to say, whatever the Lord lays on your heart, but he said to lead with the resurrection. He said a gospel that talks about the cross but omits or overlooks or downplays the significance of the resurrection is not the full gospel. Amen?
There is a reason that we need forgiveness but there is a glorious promise to what Christ is doing on this earth regardless of whether or not men and women come to him for forgiveness. The fact is that he has a plan and a purpose that moves beyond forgiveness. It includes forgiveness and the cross is at the heart of it, but the flip side to the coin, the complementary piece is that he is going to achieve in creation that which he’d always purposed to do from the moment he said “let there be light.” Now he calls us to the waters, he calls us to meet him there, he wants us, to forgive us, but for you and I who have trusted in Jesus it has started with our forgiveness. The good news is this: it ends with us enjoying life the way our Creator intended us to always enjoy it; with him. Walking with him, talking with him as it was in the days of the Garden of Eden before the fall. That is what our Lord purposed for us. As I came to the end of my conversation with brother Harry he said thank you Pastor for coming and visiting me. Now that I’ve got my affairs in order regarding my funeral I can turn my thoughts and my prayers to the next step. I said what will you be thinking of when you get to heaven? Will you be looking forward to seeing some of your loved ones? He said yes there’s that. He said I am looking forward to that, but I’m going to be praying about when I step foot back on this earth again someday.
This Christian life that you and I live truly is unfair. Among other things we get grace that we don’t deserve, we escape punishment that we do deserve, and we get to walk again with the Lord. We get a second chance at a life that will never end. So if you find yourself thinking this Christian life is unfair, you don’t know how right you are. There is a day coming in which you will be so glad that it is so unfair. Let us live this unfair Christian life together.
Bow with me for word of prayer. Father, we thank you for the unfair Christian life that you have blessed us with. We thank you Lord that because of your grace and your mercy we get a second chance to walk this earth. I thank you because of your grace and your mercy in the resurrection of your son from the grave, conquering over death, that we Lord get to experience life very soon in the fullest sense in which you intended to be enjoyed; without the fear and the threat of death. We look forward to that. We look forward to the promised rapture and we look forward to the coming of your son. Lord we say thank you that this life is so unfair. Thank you for your unfair forgiveness to us. We pray this in Jesus name, 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.