2 ________________

What We Already Can See

How can anyone prepare someone properly for something they have no idea of? It would be like trying to teach a recently discovered tribesman in Papua New Guinea what a rocket flight to the moon is about. There is an anomaly, though, in this example. To be in a position to meet that tribesman and try and explain to him what a space rocket is one needs to come from the modern age. And through meeting one from a different civilisation he would have to be open to the idea that there is still something more that's new out there. He must be wondering who you are and how you got there. Still, to convince him that there are even more phenomenal things he hasn't yet seen, is another thing than the wonder he has from meeting you.

The disciples were in a similar situation. They had met the Lord Jesus - in fact they had been with him for three years. Three years which certainly opened their eyes to who Jesus was and what He could do. But they hadn't really suffered. There was always food somewhere - sometimes miraculously so. None of them had been thrown into prison and tortured and murdered for following Jesus. The world itself was much as they had always known it - there were no great natural disasters and the Romans still ruled in their thoroughly stable way - their `Pax Romana'.

On one occasion when Jesus had warned them that He had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, Peter showed his horror at such a thought by taking Jesus aside and beginning to tell Him off for such a thought (Matt.16:21ff). Do you remember, though, how Jesus answered him? Was it in the way of accepting that Peter didn't know any better? Quite the contrary! Jesus knew that by not accepting the way of the cross Peter was doing the work of someone else. And so it was that Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

By continually reminding them of what He had to go through not only did Jesus prepare His disciples for His suffering and death and resurrection. He was also teaching them about what they would be going through in their own lives as His followers. This is why the apostle Paul could write later that he bore the marks of Christ, since as part of His Church he was carrying his own cross (2 Cor.4:10).

When they needed to know why, later on, the disciples would remember. As on one occasion Luke notes of Peter, “Then I remembered what the Lord had said...” (Act.11:16).

Digging Deeper

Read Matthew 24:4-14

1. Compare verse 4 with verse 14. What do they tell us about what is going on in this passage?

2. There are a number of signs mentioned in the verses 4 `til 7. Identify each of them, giving examples of each of them.

3. Why would Jesus call these cataclysmic events `the beginning of birth pains'? How do we understand this phrase?

The Beginning of the End

The key to the verses 4 to 8 is in that interesting and very vivid phrase of verse 8: “All these are the beginning of birth pains.” “All these” refers to the four separate and yet completely related man-made disasters of the verses 4 to 7. It is a list that seems extensive enough, and certainly one would have to agree that it was bad enough, and yet our Lord chooses to call it simply “the beginning” of birth pains.

So what are these “birth pains”? The word used is the same as that referring to a woman who has the pains of contraction come suddenly upon her. While we know that the end of the pregnancy birth is close, the contractions always send us into a spin! The beginning of birth pains means the baby due - now! While it is quite well know that a woman can have a false labour, or else labour pains that go away for a while, labour pains themselves tell us it's time to get one lady off to hospital very quick!

The birth pains as they begin are usually different than the contractions at the end. While no two experiences are the same, it can generally be said that the initial indications are a general sense of strangeness, or tingling. It is certainly obvious that something is different.

Mind you, as with a woman experiencing the initial onset of labour we can easily dismiss it. I well remember my wife trying to convince me on the way to hospital, while expecting our first, that she was fine now - and could she please go home!

This is where the Lord draws in this first series of signs. They are general and pointing to something about to happen. It is the beginning of the end:

So far the general list of tragic events, a big picture which anyone can see. Though now Jesus brings the unfolding panorama of history a lot closer for His followers. We cannot miss what's happening.

Digging Deeper

Read Matthew 24:9-14

1. Draw out what you know of the disciples' sufferings and deaths, and where Scripture confirms this:

2. Name some modern martyrs:

3. Does our denomination have a martyr(s) as such?

4. If Jesus has already referred to a type of false prophet with the false messiahs of verses 4 and 5, why does He allude to them again here (v11)?

5. Verse 14 definitively states that the whole world will hear the gospel. Why do you think it is mentioned here and what difference is it here than what we read earlier in Matthew 10:16-23? (Read that passage out)

The End of the End

It is all coming a little closer to home now. It wouldn't be that long before the disciples themselves go through the fire of persecution and even martyrdom for the sake of the gospel. It seems a long way, however, from the kind of character the disciples were showing now and would also show when they fled the Lord upon His arrest.

Still, it would be through such weak and inadequate people that the Lord would bring His good news to the farthest ends of the earth. That this would be so for the many generations to come of believers is shown by the Lord's differing use of personal pronouns. For instance, when He uses the second person pronoun, “you”, the disciples are indicated. Then when He uses the third person pronoun, “he”, the believer of a future time is usually understood.

But everything the Lord relates in these verses is common to both - the disciple and the later believer. Thus when the disciples had words and terms spoken to them by Jesus that they were familiar with, we need to know them too. Take the Greek verb translated “handed over” in the N.I.V.. It is the same word used to describe the imprisonment of John the Baptist earlier in Matthew 4. It is also used to show what Judas would do against Christ by the word “betraying”. The same “betraying” word appears following its use as “handing over” in verse 9, as “betraying” in verse 10. The parallel is brought out again of the believer's life alongside his Master. It is this following of Christ which will be reviled the world over.

To further help guide the Church in this coming time, Jesus attributes a number of characteristics to those who are false believers in this time. Not only will they work to offend the faithful, they will also turn them over to the persecuting authorities. On top of that Jesus mentions their “hate” - the strongest emotion most opposite to love

Further to this false prophets arise, naturally working to distract the Church from the only Word, and actually appearing to successfully do this. Then in what seems to be a parallel to the hate of verse 9 “the love of many grows cold.” Church history proves this to be so, with distinct periods when believers seemed few and far in-between, or if they were there in number their action was little shown. Such a time as preceded the Reformation. Such a time, some would suggest, as we are in now. A time when the Church has so much become an alternative entertainment centre, forever seeking the latest and greatest thrill. What a contrast to the times of genuine revival where the simple and spiritual worship of God's people really did please God.

Verse 13 makes the future of the believer in this lifetime to be very grim. As it is! Anyone following the Master shouldn't expect a different road in his or her own life. But verse 13 is at the same time the highest note of confidence. He will be saved! The Lord is keeping His own.

And furthermore, the Lord is adding to His own. Until the full number of the elect come in the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world. Interestingly, the same root word used for martyr is used in the word `testimony'. This is a testimony to the nations - through saints who give their all. Once the Lord has completed this witness to Himself upon the earth times up!

Thinking It Through

1. Which way should we react when yet another natural or man-made disaster is flashed across our television screens?

2. Matthew 10:19 tells us that when we really need the words to say to stick up for our faith, we will be given them by the Holy Spirit. How does this encourage us in our witness for the faith, especially when it becomes publicly hard?

3. Much of the so-called Christian television programmes spend much of their time preaching about health and wealth, so that those passages of the Old Testament relating to the physical well-being of Israel becomes literally used today:

I- What have those preachers chosen to ignore?

II- How does our passage describe such who misrepresent the gospel?

III- What about the rest of the Bible?

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Faith in Focus / NZ Reformed Church / thirty@paradise.net.nz / Copyright 2001