The “end times” are an often talked about, much debated, popular topic of the church, and even with some outside of it. The newspaper, the television, and social media feeds are filled with news of trouble and calamity; a fact that leads some to tie the conversation of “end times” into all that trouble and tribulation. Christians, when drawing eschatological conclusions from the troubles in the news, must carefully and wisely discern what they view in the world with the words of Christ in Scripture.
In the following entry, the topic of eschatology, or the end times, will be explored in consideration of Matthew chapter 24. The light shed on the topic, by Jesus’ words Himself, will give sound advice for parishioners who may question or have trouble with what they view on the daily news. In consideration of the end times, and in reflecting on the world in which one lives, one can find hope, anticipation, and optimism in Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 24, amid the trouble, trial, and despair that surrounds them.
Advice Concerning End Times Based on Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse
Matthew chapter 24 is a difficult section of Scripture, both to understand within its overall context and to apply to our own hopeful anticipation. When one looks at the world around them, there is often much to be negative about, and it’s easy to become apprehensive and anxious instead. Sadly, much literature and teachings on the end times, and Jesus’ return, falsely assume that certain events will signify the specificity of Christ’s return date. Just as the disciples were curious concerning Jesus’ foretelling of the destruction of the Temple (Mt 24:1-2), the modern believer is curious as to when the earth will be destroyed, or similar eschatological belief concerning the end. Rather than focus on the happenings in the news and other such events in the world, one would be better served to realize that not a single event that can occur will point to a direct time or date of Jesus’ second coming.
Jesus’ “parousia”, or second coming “presence” is not signaled by events of the world, however the events of the world display the age in which one lives. Currently, in this post-resurrection, post-ascension world, the age of “overlap,” humanity experiences both the anguish of sinfulness and the hope-filled joys of the coming eternal Kingdom. Although Jesus has defeated sin and death, Christians experience victory, but not the fullness of it. That means that the world will still experience trouble, hardship, war, despair, false hope, and so on. Jesus called these troubles “the birth pangs” (Mt 24:8 NRSV). The birth pangs and Messianic woes are not signals of the coming of Christ, but instead, reminders of the age in which one lives. Just as a pregnant woman prepares for the birth of her child, so too Christians should always be prepared for the return of the King, Jesus. When one focuses too much on a specific event as evidence of Jesus’ exact time of return, they miss the breath of the signs of the age, pointing not to specifics, but motivating believers for preparedness and readiness. Blomberg says, “Like a woman’s contractions before her labor and delivery, these preliminary events remind one of the nearness and inevitability of Christ’s return. But just as a woman may experience false labor and just as genuine contractions still leave her uncertain about the exact time of delivery, so too the events of vv. 4-8 do not enable us to predict the time of Christ’s coming” (Blomberg 1992, 354).
Jesus drives the point of preparation and readiness multiple times throughout his eschatological discourse. For some, the misreading of the signs of the times, as mentioned above, can lead to the opposite effect. Rather than viewing the trouble, despair, and whatever else is going on in the world as a direct sign of Christ’s return, some view the lack of certain events, as time to spare. Instead of an overall sign of an age, some may translate that specific events must occur before Christ will arrive, therefore giving them time to live unpreparedly. For example, if there is no current war, or no current false-Christ that they can interpret, then Christ must not be coming soon. Blomberg rightly says, “Christians who claim they can narrow down the time of Christ’s return to a generation or a year or even a few day’s period, while still not knowing the literal day or hour, remain singularly ill-informed” (Blomberg 1992, 365). Sadly, misreading eschatological events can lead to both unpreparedness or over-anxiousness. Christ points instead to hopeful anticipation amid the fallen world, while always being ready; because no one knows the specific time or date anyhow. Blomberg says, “All these questions about the time of Christ’s return are misguided because no one but the Father knows their answers anyway” (Blomberg 1992, 365).
For those who place their faith, trust, and hope in Christ the end times, although certainly filled with conflict, misfortune, and difficulty, are an anticipative cue that Christ will return. The focus should always be less on the specificity of certain events, and more so on the overall age in which one lives, the overlapping of the ages, the “Messianic woes” (Davis 2018, np). These woes, though painful, point to the great and beautiful day of Christ’s return, the glorious resurrection, final judgement, and the ushering in of the sole reign of God’s Kingdom. As one lives in history, on this side of Jesus’ resurrection, may they be encouraged and confident as Christ’s return is always imminent. Blomberg says, “People must constantly be ready for the possible return of Christ, since he might come at any time and catch some off guard” (Blomberg 1992, 367).
The “End Times” Through the Lens of Matthew Chapter 24 (Past, Future, Present)
Through the lens of Matthew 24, the answer to the question of when, is “Yes” to all three perspectives of past, future, and present. When Jesus speaks with his disciples, he foresees and foreshows several different occurrences, each with varying time sequences. The events that have already happened are Jesus’ fulfillment of the “messianic expectations of Judaism” (Allison 1992, 208). Jesus is the Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies and promises of Israel, ushering in with Him the very eschatological age, the Kingdom of God. Also, included in the past was the physical destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which Jesus foretold would be another sign of the birth pangs of this age. The events that will happen in the future are the physical return of Christ, ushering in with it the final judgement, the punishment of the unrighteous, and the creation of the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:1-8). The events that are happening now, which are detailed in the paragraph above, is the current age, the overlap of the ages, and the messianic woes. The present time is “simultaneously the age of tribulation and the age of the kingdom’s presence” (Allison 1992, 208). Jesus speaks to all three eras.
Eschatology, or the end times, was investigated in consideration of Matthew chapter 24. The light shed on the topic, by Jesus’ words Himself, gives sound advice for Christian parishioners who may question or have trouble with what they view on the news each day. In consideration of these “end times,” and in reflecting on the world in which one lives, one can always find hope, anticipation, and optimism in Jesus’ words, especially in Matthew chapter 24, amid the trouble, trial, and despair that surrounds them. May the believer always live in a prepared state of readiness, as one awaits the glorious day of Christ Jesus’ second coming.
Allison Jr., Dale. 1992. “Eschatology.” Pages 206-209 in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by G. Green, J., S. McKnight, and I. H. Marshall. Downers Grove: InterVarsity.
Blomberg, Craig. 1992. Matthew: The New American Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group.