Last Day Events
The second coming of Jesus is the climax of the Christian faith. The First Advent of Jesus and His death on the cross are the crucial precursors for the Second Coming. The Second Advent couldn’t happen without the first, and the first is fruitless without the second. Both are inseparably linked, if not in time yet in purpose, which is the redemption of humanity and the end of the great controversy. The first coming is over and done, complete and finished; we now longingly and eagerly await the second.
This week we will look at what is recorded in Matthew 23, with Jesus’ final appeal to some of the Jewish leaders to repent and accept Him, their only hope of salvation. Next, in Matthew 24, Jesus responded to questions about what events will unfold prior to His second coming. Here Jesus presents a rather solemn picture, linking the destruction of Jerusalem with what will precede His return.
And yet, no matter how hard things become (i.e., war, famine, betrayal), we are left with the promise of “ ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ ” (Matt. 24:30, NKJV). In other words, despite the toils and sorrow, we do have every reason to rejoice.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 11.
It was Jesus Himself who had led the children of Israel into Jerusalem, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. On eagle’s wings He had carried them out of Egypt and brought them to Himself. “ ‘Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ ” (Exod. 19:5, 6, NIV).
In a sense, Jesus had proposed to Israel on a beautiful mountain called Sinai. Exodus 24 says that leaders and elders “went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. . . . They saw God, and they ate and drank” (Exod. 24:9–11, NIV). Christ offered the cup of His covenant to Israel, like a man offering a cup to the woman whom He desires to marry and to give a wonderful future. Israel received the cup and said, Yes, we want to live forever with You in the land of promise.
Matthew 23 was Jesus’ final desperate plea for reconciliation with His beloved. But His beloved left Him. He accepted her decision, and for the final time He walked out of their house—the temple. “ ‘Look,’ ” He said, “ ‘your house is left to you desolate’ ” (Matt. 23:38, NIV). As Jesus left the temple, it became desolate, empty, abandoned, like the wilderness from which the Lord had first rescued them.
A great transition in salvation history was about to take place, and these leaders, and those they would lead into deception, would miss it. Meanwhile, many others, Jews and soon Gentiles, open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, would continue the great work and calling of Israel. They would become Abraham’s true seed “and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). We, too, today, are part of the same people, with the same divine calling.
After Jesus rebuked the specific Jewish leaders who rejected Him, John 12:20–26 records a fascinating request. Christ is told about Gentiles who wanted “to see Jesus” (NKJV). Yet, these Gentiles first make their request to Jews who are faithful to Jesus. Before long, something similar would happen on a much larger scale: while some Jews would reject Jesus, others would be the primary means through which many Gentiles would come to the knowledge of Him. How fascinating that this request would come right after Jesus told the leaders that their house would be left desolate. Truly, the old would soon give way to the new, and to that which had always been God’s intention: the salvation of the Gentiles, as well as the Jews.
Jesus gives this answer in response to the questions about the sign of His coming and the end of the world: “Jesus did not answer His disciples by taking up separately the destruction of Jerusalem and the great day of His coming. He mingled the description of these two events. Had He opened to His disciples future events as He beheld them, they would have been unable to endure the sight. In mercy to them He blended the description of the two great crises, leaving the disciples to study out the meaning for themselves. . . . This entire discourse was given, not for the disciples only, but for those who should live in the last scenes of this earth’s history.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 628.
One thing is very clear in Jesus’ answer: the events leading up to His return are not pretty. Jesus doesn’t predict any earthly utopia or earthly millennial reign of peace. War, betrayal, natural disasters, a church facing persecution, false christs, and even false brethren. The most positive thing depicted here is the promise that the “ ‘kingdom shall be preached in all the world’ ” (Matt. 24:14).
“The abomination of desolation” is generally understood as some kind of sacrilege or desecration of what is holy. Jesus is obviously talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, which would come in a.d. 70. As we saw yesterday, Jesus mingled His depiction of this event with those surrounding the state of the world before His second coming. “Christ saw in Jerusalem a symbol of the world hardened in unbelief and rebellion, and hastening on to meet the retributive judgments of God.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 22.
Yet, even amid the desolation, the Lord seeks to save all who will be saved. In Luke, Jesus actually tells the disciples to flee before the abomination is set up: “ ‘When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written’ ” (Luke 21:20–22, NIV).
When Christians in Jerusalem saw this happen, they fled out of the city as Jesus instructed, whereas most of the Jews were left behind and perished. It is estimated that more than one million Jews perished during the siege of Jerusalem, with 97,000 more taken captive. “However, during a temporary respite, when the Romans unexpectedly raised their siege of Jerusalem, all the Christians fled, and it is said that not one of them lost his life. Their place of retreat was Pella, a city in the foothills east of the Jordan River, about 17 mi. (c. 27 km.) south of the Lake of Galilee.”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 499.
Jesus’ response here in Matthew 24 was in regard to “the sign of Your coming” (Matt. 24:3, NKJV); that is, of Christ’s coming to reign.
Here’s Jesus, from a worldly perspective nothing but an itinerant Galilean preacher with a small following; yet, He predicts that many will come in His name, claiming to be Him? Of course, that’s exactly what has happened through the centuries and even into our day, a fact that gives us more powerful evidence for the truth of God’s Word.
After warning that many will come claiming to be the Christ, Jesus then describes what His return will really be like.
First, the second coming of Jesus is personal, and literal. It is Jesus Himself who is coming back to the earth. “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven” (1 Thess. 4:16, NKJV) is a blatant refutation of those who claim that Christ’s return is an ideal or simply a new era in human history. His return is going to be visible, like lightning across the sky. “Every eye shall see him” (Rev. 1:7). The trumpet imagery reveals that it’s going to be loud, loud enough even to wake the dead! And most important, if the first coming was one of humiliation, at the second, Jesus will come as a triumphant King (Rev. 19:16) victorious over all of His (and our) enemies (1 Cor. 15:25).
The second coming of Jesus is the culmination of all Christian hopes; it is the fulfillment of all that we have been promised. Without it—what? We would rot in the ground after death just as everyone else does. Without the Second Coming and all that it entails, everything else about our faith becomes a lie, a farce, everything that the critics and opponents have claimed against it.
No wonder, then, that in eager anticipation of His return, some Christians have set dates for His return. After all, so much hinges on that return. Of course, as we know, every past date set for the return of Christ has been wrong.
Precisely because we don’t know when Christ will return, we are told that we must be ready and that we must “keep watch.”
Jesus is clear: we do not know when He is going to come back. In fact, He’s coming when we don’t expect Him. So, we need always to be ready for Him when He does come back. We need to live as if He could come back anytime, even if we don’t know when. The thinking that, Well, He isn’t coming back for a long time; so I can do as my heart desires is precisely the attitude that Jesus is warning against. We should seek to be faithful because we love the Lord and want to do what is right by Him, regardless of when He returns. Besides, too, with all the texts that warn about judgment, especially against those who treat others badly, the timing of the Second Coming doesn’t really matter. Sooner or later, judgment will come.
Further Thought: In the context of the events depicted in Matthew 24, Jesus also said, “ ‘Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place’ ” (vs. 34, NKJV). This text has led to confusion because, obviously, all these things didn’t take place in a single temporal generation. Dr. Richard Lehmann, writing in The Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, says that the Greek word translated “generation” corresponds to the Hebrew word dôr, which is often used to designate a group or class of people, such as a “stubborn and rebellious generation” (Ps. 78:8). Thus, Jesus was not using the word to depict time or dates but to depict the class of evil people whom He had been referring to. “In harmony with this OT usage, Jesus would have used the term ‘this generation’ without a temporal meaning, to refer to a class of people. The evil generation would include all who share evil characteristics (Matt. 12:39; 16:4; Mark 8:38).”—Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown: Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 2000), p. 904. In other words, evil will remain until the end of time, until Jesus comes back.