What end? Not that of “the world,” but of the age then, and still, present.
The coming of the Messiah in power and glory was, in the minds of the disciples, coincident with the end of the age.
That age should terminate, and the Messiah would inaugurate, by His coming, another and very different one. He would introduce what we call the millennial age.
As He and they sat on the side of the Mount of Olives, after the Lord had departed from the Temple, thereby leaving it utterly desolate, they asked Him: “What shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the age?”
He answered both questions—the latter first—stating precisely when that end should come.
He fixed no date; He marked out no year; but He described signs and portents which should, to the willing mind, indicate, without fail, the gradual approach of that end.
This is most interesting to us, albeit we, the church, require no such portents to apprise us of our end here below. We look for the Saviour—the Bridegroom; we listen for “the trump of God,” which shall, in a moment, raise the dead and change the living, so that, together, we shall meet the Lord in the air and be with Him in glory, heavenly and eternal (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:16-17).
It is of interest to us because it is so to Him. It rests on the prophetic page; it fell, in clear and perfect detail, from His own lips, and comes to us, for edification, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is, in short, the Word of God; and, while claiming our attention, it furnishes us with light on a subject of present and profound importance.
“Then shall the end come!”
Let us look at the detail. You will notice that, in the passage above (Matt. 24:9-31), the word “then” occurs eight times, and that each marks off a distinct and special event. This, I think, is helpful; only let us clearly understand that this passage is occupied solely with the future history of the nation of Israel, at a crucial point; and that it has nothing whatever to do with the history of the church.
No doubt the disciples, to whom the Lord communicated these prophecies, became, when the church took the place of the nation, no longer Jews but Christians; but here they are addressed as representing the nation at the time when the sign of the Messiah shall appear. We can all see how that the nation has been displaced, for the time, by that which is called in Scripture “the church.” But the passage in question must be viewed as exclusively applicable to Israel at its coming national crisis.
Hence we read of “the beginning of sorrows,” presaged, as they shall be, by nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, with attendant famines, pestilences and earthquakes in diverse places; and, although these are not peculiar to that special moment, yet they are precursory to it, and are, so far, a distinct premonition of worse to follow.
“Then” (mark the first occasion of our word and its significance here) “shall they deliver you up,” says the Lord, “to be afflicted and shall kill you and ye shall be hated of all the nations for My name sake.”
The one nation shall incur the hatred of the other nations, and that for the sake of His name, whom, as His (the Messiah’s) missionaries at that time, they boldly proclaim. It is “His saving health” (as Psalm 67 beautifully calls it) which they make known “among all nations.” Their testimony causes them to be rejected by many, as the close of the following chapter (Matt. 25) shows.
Not only so, but “then” (punctuating another event) “shall many be offended and shall betray one another and shall hate one another.” Bad as is opposition from without, it is far worse from within. There is mutual hatred, betrayal and offence. False prophets should arise, and iniquity abound, while love waxes cold. The loss of mutual confidence, esteem and affection is the greatest of all losses. In such a case, where man cannot be trusted, there must be very pronounced faith in God whose support can alone sustain. Hence we read: “he that shall endure to the end shall be saved.” But the end of what? The end of this crisis The survivor should be delivered; the overcomer alone should be crowned.
The testimony must be borne worldwide, amid every species of trial, and the witnesses must fight the good fight in the power of faith; but “when this gospel of the kingdom” (not merely the gospel but this gospel—that of the kingdom) “shall be preached in all the world for a witness (nothing more) to all the nations, then (notice this third recurrence of our word) shall the end come.” The preaching of this gospel of the kingdom, throughout the habitable world, is the immediate harbinger of the end.
The conversion of the world today by the preaching of the grace of God, or by that of the kingdom of God by and by is an unwarranted dream. The coming of the Lord, in person, will close the day of grace. The sign of the Son of Man in heaven will be the end, for one thing, of Israel’s travail and woe. “Then shall come the end.” But it may be safely affirmed that the world, as such, is not going to be converted, although, thank God, individual souls shall be, whether by the gospel of the grace of God which is being preached now, or by that of the kingdom of God which will be preached then. Wise and happy the man who, in his one little day, obeys the gospel.
But narrowing the circle of outward signs, “When ye shall see,” the Lord now adds, “the abomination of desolation standing in a holy place” (no doubt somewhere in the land) “where it should not” (Mark 13:14) “then” (note our word used a fourth time) “let them that are in Judea flee into the mountains!” And why? Because in that locality—chiefly in Jerusalem the greatest of all convulsions, the direst of all distresses—is to burst on the dwellers therein. The presence of this Idol would be the signal for the concentrated wrath and judgment of God. Those who had ears to hear were to flee: to places of safety, nor allow themselves to be impeded in their flight, by any means at all.
For “then” (a fifth repetition) shall there be great tribulation such as was not from the beginning of the world; no, nor ever shall be.” Misery unprecedented on earth shall be focussed there at that moment; and so awful that its curtailment is mercifully granted for the sake of the elect involved in it. “The days shall be shortened.” Pitiable plight, no sign of a Deliverer.
“Then” (sixth occasion) “if any man shall say unto you: ‘Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there’ believe it not.” False Christs and false prophets shall arise showing signs and wonders, so that, were it possible, they should deceive the very elect—a thing, thank God, beyond their wicked power. Should they state that He is in the desert, go not forth—in the secret chambers (a strange place for the great Messiah) believe it not. Faith must endure to the end for the Deliverer.
But the moment comes! As a flash of lightning athwart the darkened sky. “So also shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” The corrupt carcase of unbelief shall receive its merited judgment. Sun, moon and stars—every earthly luminary shall suffer a fearful eclipse, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (May not our sixth “then” be read along with the sixth seal of Rev. 6?)
Very well, “and then (seventhly) shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven.” For where else could the sign of the once crucified, but risen and ascended, Christ be expected? As He ascended in the clouds of heaven, so will He in like manner return. That return will be public, powerful, glorious! But woe to His foes!
And then (the eighth and last occasion of the word in our passage) shall all the tribes of the earth mourn (solemn fact) and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. The mourning will not then be limited to Judea. It is universal. But amid these mourning tribes are scattered His elect; and these, by angelic means, and trumpet-sound, He gathers together from one end of heaven to the other, and recalls them to their own promised land.
As their Deliverer He comes out of Zion and turns away ungodliness from Jacob, and accomplishes for them a future on earth long predicted but as long retarded; for “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”
Thus the foretold “end” shall surely come, even though reached through wars, and opposition, and treachery, and the powers of Antichrist, and great tribulation, and the raving of false prophets, right on till the lightning flash illuminates the sky and His sign is beheld which strikes terror among the tribes of earth, but is the signal for Israel’s glad lifting up of head, and her redemption near at hand.