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05 April 2019

The Definitive Sign of the End of the Age

Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem during his final visit to Herod’s Temple. Because Israel had rejected her Messiah:
All these things shall come upon this generation. Behold, your house is left to you desolate. Truly I declare to you, there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 23:34-39; 24:1-2)!
In response, his disciples asked two questions: when will the predicted destruction of the Temple occur, and what will be the sign of Christ’s coming and the end of the age?
Jesus responded with a dire warning: beware false messiahs and false prophets that point to wars and reports of wars, earthquakes, international conflicts, and famines as indicators of the end. Deceivers would raise false expectations about the last days and “signs” of the end’s imminence (Matthew 24:4-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).
Human and natural catastrophes occur regularly around the world; earthquakes, wars, famines, and plagues are characteristic of the entire era. But disciples must "not be alarmed." Such events are NOT signs of an imminent end, "the end is not yet," or chronological markers by which one can calculate it. At most, they constitute the beginning of birth-pains, harbingers of the eventual end of the age. Nor did Jesus predict that the frequency or intensity of earthquakes, wars, and famines would increase as the end drew near.
To the first question, Jesus answered, within “this generation” (Matthew 23:36; 24:34). “This generation” consistently refers to the one contemporary with and hostile to Jesus (Matthew 3:7; 11:16; 12:34, 39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:33; 23:36). This occurred when a Roman army destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Regarding the timing of his arrival, Jesus stated unequivocally that no man knows the day or hour of his coming, except God alone (Matthew 24:36). Disciples must, therefore, always be ready for that day’s unexpected arrival (Mark 13:33). Knowledge of the “times and seasons” belongs only to the Father (Acts 1:7-9). Those who claim such knowledge arrogate to themselves what is His prerogative.
As to the requested “sign,” Jesus gave one explicit goal to be achieved before his arrival. This would be the “proclamation of this gospel of the kingdom in the entire world for a testimony to all nations.” Only “then will the end come” (Matthew 24:14). The message of the kingdom is good news to all who hear and obey it. No national or ethnic group can lay claim to it.
The Greek demonstrative pronoun in the clause, “this” (houtos), is emphatic. “THIS gospel of the Kingdom,” presumably, the same one preached by Jesus. More is required then simply naming the name “Jesus” on every continent or disseminating a watered-down version of the faith.
This is the main task assigned to the Church. Disciples must “go and teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; behold, I am with you even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). The Church must continue this mission until the end arrives. Only its completion will bring this evil age to its conclusion.
This linkage of the mission to Christ’s return occurs elsewhere in the New Testament.
Just prior to his ascension, the disciples asked Jesus when he would restore the kingdom to Israel? He responded: “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has put in his own authority.” Instead, the disciples were to tarry in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit, then they would become “my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria, even unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8; Luke 24:46-49).
The present age must continue “until the full number of the Gentiles comes in; in this manner, all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26; Luke 21:24; Revelation 6:9-11, 7:9).
And how does one know when this task is completed? According to Jesus, when the end arrives! The fact that the End has not arrived demonstrates the task remains unfinished. No one can ascertain the progress of this mission; God alone knows that; only He will determine when the full complement of the elect has been gathered. Christ’s “logic” is circular but deliberately so.
This saying of Jesus is as much exhortation as it is prophecy, an admonishment to the church to engage tirelessly in gospel proclamation. The mission’s completion is the “sign” of the End, a “sign” that cannot be used to calculate its nearness. “The Father alone” has that information.
The human desire to know when Jesus will arrive is understandable. The desire for certainty about the future drives attempts to discern “times and seasons,” to calculate end-time chronologies and the date of Christ’s return. But all past attempts to ascertain this information have failed; date-setting always produces disappointment and failure.
Christ’s explanation is clear. His Father alone knows the timing of the End. In the interim, his Church is to remain busy completing the task assigned to it.
It is high time for believers to accept the clear teachings of Jesus on this matter, get over the fact that we do not and cannot calculate the timing of the end, and get on with the task at hand. What matters is to be found busy about the Master’s business on the day he arrives in power and glory.

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