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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Preached At:Lynwood United Reformed Church
 Lynwood, IL
Title:The Coming Tribulation
Text:Matthew 24:15-28 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:End Times

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation beloved of our Lord Jesus Christ, it’s a commonly held perception that the future holds something better for us; that the future is a ray of hope; that the future will bring improvement, and progress, and development. Generally, people are inclined to think that way because of ever the increasing technology, because of advances made in the field of medicine and science; because people are of the mind that we live in a “kindler and gentler world”.

The idea of having bright hope for tomorrow isn’t a foreign concept for Christians, either. We sing about it in the hymn, ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’, (strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with ten thousand beside!). We certainly don’t defer all our bright hope unto the life hereafter; we anticipate present and future blessings here and now.

Not to mention the fact that many of our own forebears came to this country (generations ago) in search of bright hope, of a better tomorrow. They came to America because this nation was known as ‘the land of opportunity’. They came, knowing full well that even though they would have to struggle, even though they would have to make tough sacrifices, it would all be worth it for their children and grandchildren, for their posterity for generations to come.

So, even we can understand and appreciate the concept, the perception, that the future is a ray of hope; that it holds out the promise of something better. But beloved, while we may be among those who look to the future with great expectancy, while we may yet live to see many bright and glorious days, the fact is, God’s Word has something to say about the future that isn’t as optimistic or hopeful or as glowing as we like.

In fact, what the Bible has to say about the future is downright scary, so much so, that many people in the world, and even many people in the church, want to turn a deaf ear to it. They’d rather not hear the Bible’s version of the future. For the Bible (our Lord) speaks quite clearly of the coming tribulation.

It is that tribulation that is the focus of the verses before us in Matthew 24. We need to look at the nature of this tribulation: Is it only ‘future’ oriented? How will it manifest itself? We have to see this comes not in the context of doom and gloom and fearful pessimism, but in light of the glory of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. We have to realize that even something as daunting as tribulation is all to God’s glory and our edification. Let’s consider God’s Word as: The Lord forewarns His church of the coming tribulation.

    1. The Sign of its Beginning (vs. 15);
    2. The Warning to Flee (vs. 16-22);
    3. The Call to Persevere (vs. 23-25).

1) The Sign of its Beginning (vs. 15);

People of God, as we turn our attention to verse 15, let’s recalls that Jesus is speaking privately with his disciples atop the Mount of Olives. He is answering their questions about the destruction of the temple and the signs that will accompany the end of the age.

Up to this point, Jesus has been talking about the signs that will signal the coming of the end. There will be false teachers, anti-christs, wars and rumors of war, famines, earthquakes, etc. But Jesus makes it clear that despite the occurrence of these things, the end was yet to come.

Here in vs. 15, Jesus makes the transition between the signs of the end of the age, and the calamity that will befall Jerusalem, particularly the temple. But in a broader sense, Jesus is at the same time looking beyond Jerusalem, to the coming destruction of the world itself (just as Jesus does with the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah).

The Lord used those incidents as a “type” of the destruction that would eventually come upon the world. So the church is to read this prophecy as applying particularly to the people in Jesus day, but also generally to the church in the future, in the days of coming tribulation.

Jesus says When you see standing in the Holy Place the abomination that causes desolation spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

This abomination of desolation is spoken of through Daniel. Daniel actually makes reference to that phrase several times, but the two passages that most directly relate to what Jesus says is Daniel 9: 24-27 and Daniel 11:31-32.

There Daniel foresees a day when an enemy force will not only infiltrate Jerusalem but will desecrate the temple itself. That enemy will abolish the daily sacrifices and offerings of the temple and in the Most Holy Place, he will set up the abomination that causes desolation. This enemy will defile the holy temple.

What’s so fascinating about these words of Jesus is that Daniel’s prophecy was believed to have been fulfilled already at an earlier date. In the time between the Testaments, before Christ’s birth, Israel was subject to the reign of Alexander the Great (332 BC). Alexander’s vision was to unite the whole world under one language and culture (Greek, a.k.a. Hellenization).

After Alexander’s death, two of his generals split the kingdom. One ruled the southern region of Egypt, the other ruled the regions of Syria and Mesopotamia (included Israel). The general who was king over Israel took on the title, Antiochus Epiphanes (‘God Made Manifest’). He was a very brutal and ruthless man.

Antiochus shared Alexander’s passion to Hellenize the world, to force Greek culture and religion on all peoples. In his determination to eradicate (wipe out) Jewish religion, he destroyed all the copies of the law he could find. When the Jews resisted he slaughtered thousands of Jewish men, selling their wives and children into slavery.

Of course, Antiochus’ “crowning achievement” was when he ordered that a pig (the most ceremonially unclean all animals) be sacrificed on the temple altar and after that he erected a statue, an idol to the Greek god Zeus right within the temple of Jehovah (an altar?).

Undoubtedly, this was the abomination of desolation to which Daniel refers. But then why would Jesus mention it as if it was yet to come to pass, as if it were still off in the future? Notice Jesus says—let the reader understand. Certainly Jesus knew his Jewish history. He could no sooner forget what Antiochus did than we would forget 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.

Jesus is actually referring to another occasion (like the first) where Jerusalem would be invaded by an enemy and the temple would be sacked and desecrated. As Jesus stated in Luke 21: 20, ‘they would know that the desolation was near when they would see the (Roman) armies surround Jerusalem’. So it is associated with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

But in his commentary on this passage, Lenski notes that the abomination happened before Rome’s armies ever entered the city. The abomination was brought about by a fierce battle between the Jewish Zealots who controlled the temple and a band of Idumeans (Edomites). Josephus, a Jewish historian of that day, wrote that the Idumeans stormed the temple with swords in hand, and the temple literally ran with the blood of 8500 victims.

Certainly that’s part of it, but as John Calvin notes, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of temple by the Romans was also in view here. The armies of Rome would enter the holy city carrying royal standards which had the image of Caesar—their god--upon them.

So beloved, what are we to make of this? Obviously, this passage is aimed directly at the disciples and the believers who lived in that generation. But as was the case with Daniel’s prophecy, the words of our Lord also point to other instances, to other points of fulfillment. Think of the man of lawlessness in II Thessalonians 2:4: He will also be guilty of committing the abomination of desolation, He will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming to be God.

As we said last week, the antichrist, and the spirit of the antichrist is not found in just one person or in one age, but rather, it is prevalent throughout history. So, too, in our own day and age we see sinful man setting himself up as God, pitting himself against all that is holy.

But eventually, God’s Word leads us to believe that there will be one figure who will stand out above all the rest, one individual who will “distinguish” himself as the antichrist above all others. That will signal the escalation of the tribulation, or as some have called it Satan’s little season (referred to in Rev. 20:3), shortly before the Lord’s triumphant return.

2) The Warning to Flee

What is the church to do in the face of such news? In vv. 16-20 we find Jesus’ command to flee (2nd point). Once they saw the abomination of desolation the believers in that generation were to flee straightaway to the mountains. Swift devastation would fall upon the city, so this was no time to stick around or look back (like Lot’s wife); no time to go back and grab valuables; if you were in the field, no time to go back and grab your clothes (run for your life!).

We see evidence of our Lord’s sympathetic heart (in verses 19-20) as he reflects on the difficulties and hardships that such flight can present. His heart melts at the prospect of pregnant women and nursing mothers fleeing to the mountains. That was especially touching in a day and in a culture when women were rarely shown any consideration or kindness.

Our Lord even takes into account the cold weather of winter and the strict Sabbath laws that restricted travel. They were to pray that their flight would not take place on a day or in a season that would delay them. For, as verse 21-22 states, there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

Allow me to make some general observations regarding these verses. In the first place, we have to answer those who would argue that the church is not called to endure the tribulation (to live through it), but rather they are called to run from it, to flee the coming tribulation. These Christians are of the mind that when the great day of tribulation comes (spoken of in Revelation), God’s people will not be here to experience it. Rather, we will be raptured out of it, into heaven.

We can answer best by pointing out that the believers in Matt.24 are fleeing not to escape the tribulation, but on account of the tribulation; the tribulation is upon them; the tribulation is causing them to flee. Sure, they desire to escape with their lives, but how could anyone suggest that leaving behind one’s worldly home and possessions; fleeing with the clothes on their back; fleeing in the midst of winter if need be—was not a form of tribulation? Of course it is.

Secondly, God’s Word is filled with passages which address the Christian’s calling to endure the tribulation of the age in which we live. In II Thessalonians 1:6-8 Paul comforts the church with the promise that all those who gave trouble to the saints in Thessalonica, would be paid back double-trouble from God on the day of Christ’s return. The sufferings of the present tribulation were to be soothed by the peace and rest associated with Christ’s coming.

In this same vein, think of what Paul wrote to the church in Rome, Romans 8:18 I am convinced that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed! As we know, and as Christ Himself said, our tribulations and trials come as a result of our commitment to the Lord. John 15. 18 if the world hates you keep in mind that it hated me first! John 16: 33 in this world you will have trouble!

Think of what Peter says to Christians scattered across Asia Minor: (I Peter 4: 12-13) Dear friends do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. Finally, James 1: 2-3 consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance…

In every age, to one degree or another, tribulation goes hand in hand with the Christian life. We are not called to flee the tribulation, nor are we to live under the illusion that Christ will rapture us out of the tribulation. No. God’s will is that we face tribulation in order to refine and strengthen our faith. No servant is greater than His master. If we are part of Christ’s body, we too will face persecution and tribulation. Tribulation, then, is an ongoing reality.

Permit me one final observation. While the church experiences ongoing tribulation in every age, God’s Word suggests that the church will face one last ‘coming tribulation’. This is believed to be a brief period of escalation and intensification of the tribulation against the church. We don’t know if this is a worldwide tribulation--if every Christian head for head across the world will be made to endure it, or if it is localized. And, we know better than to fall into the trap of identifying a certain age or action with the great tribulation. But what we do know is that God will give us the grace to endure it, and that in the end, the perils of the tribulation will be nothing compared to the glories of God’s Kingdom.

Now let’s go back to the text of Matthew 24, particularly to what is said in verse 21 and put that verse into context (great distress unequaled…). The Jewish historian Josephus chronicled much of the horrors and misery endured by the Jews at the time of Jerusalem’s fall. The history books record that during the fall of Jerusalem over one million Jews were killed, and 100,000 were sold into slavery.

Jerusalem was ravaged; its citizens who did not flee were slaughtered, cut down like cattle in the streets; and the temple was torn down and razed with fire, so that not one stone was left standing on another. Our Lord’s tearful lament for this great city comes to mind, when he said, O Jersualem, Jerusalem, you who killed the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often have I longed to gather your children together, a a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…but you were not willing. Look your house is left to you desolate.

Think also, beloved, of the day of Christ’s crucifixion when the men and women of Jerusalem cried out in defiance to God and to Pilate, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children”. They had no idea what kind of a awful judgment they were calling down upon themselves. But the Lord answered their request in the severity of his strict justice.

But, you see beloved, along with the judgment of His people, along with the destruction of the city and the ruined walls of the temple, God had destroyed their entire system of worship. But that was also the purpose behind this. This was not mere judgment and destruction. This was the passing away of the Old and the institution of the New.

God’s people no longer needed a holy city on earth. Their holy city was a heavenly city, a city with foundations whose builder and architect was God. And God’s people no longer needed an earthly temple, because Jesus Christ had offered Himself as the once for all sacrifice for sins, and when Jesus made his sacrifice, He sat down at the right hand of the Father.

Now our hearts are God’s temple, our lives are his altar, and each of us are priests who everyday bring before our God sweet smelling sacrifices of praise and prayer and obedience! So beloved, as we look to the future, as we anticipate the coming tribulation and the coming Day of the Lord, let us not fall prey to the teaching that the Lord must first restore the so called “holy city” to the Jews, and that the Jews must restore temple worship and the daily sacrifices. Such a thing, we pray, ought never to be done. It is nothing short of a tragedy to see the ongoing struggle and warfare and bloodshed that has occurred in the Middle East all because of a belief that God’s people must restore the temple sacrifices on Mount Zion.

People of God, the city of Jerusalem and the temple mount are nothing more than tourist’s attractions at best. They hold no significance for us whatsoever.

3) The Call to Persevere (vs. 23-25).

Finally, and very briefly, I want to touch on the third point of our passage: the call to persevere. In verses 23-25 Jesus repeats the earlier warning and admonition to His people not to listen to those who claim to be the Christ, For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.

You know, while I was in school I got the impression that some of my teachers got a strange sense of satisfaction in seeing their students squirm, in seeing that look of surprise and fear on their faces when they announced a pop quiz or a new assignment.

Beloved, we can at least be thankful that our Lord Jesus isn’t interested in surprising us with the trials and tribulations of the future. Our loving Lord doesn’t derive any pleasure or satisfaction in seeing the look of surprise on His people’s faces when they meet up with trials.

No, our Lord is not full of surprises. He is not holding back information from us. Our Lord has told us everything we need to know so that we can endure the present and ongoing tribulation, and so that we can be prepared for the coming tribulation.

Yes, beloved, there is still a lot that we do not understand about the coming tribulation, and about Christ’s coming and the end of the age. There’s so much we do not know. Yet we can be absolutely sure of this: whatever the present trial or distress, whatever the intensity of opposition to Christ’s gospel and cause, Christ our Lord must reign until He has put all his enemies under his feet (I Cor. 15:25).

Not only that, but tribulation, even the great tribulation foretold in God’s Word cannot and will not separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord. So you see the future is indeed bright with hope and promise. Our future in Christ is secure, come what may. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Pastor Keith Davis

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