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05 August 2019

Three Repeated Warnings of Jesus

SynopsisThree specific warnings to disciples are repeated by Jesus in his Olivet Discourse to help them avoid deception.

Storm Seay by Barth Bailey on Unsplash
By Barth Bailey, Unsplash.com
The final block of teaching by Jesus before his death is referred to commonly as the ‘Olivet Discourse.’ It was given to his twelve disciples while on the Mount of Olives shortly before his arrest and trial (Matthew chapter 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). Three warnings are repeated in the discourse that require our attention. First, his warnings about deceivers. Second, the timing of his Parousia. Third, the need for vigilance.

1 - Coming deceivers

The first statement at the opening of the Discourse is a warning to “beware lest anyone deceive you.” This warning was given to disciples of Christ, not to unregenerate sinners. And such deceivers will “deceive many.” Moreover, “many false prophets” will come, not just a few. The targeted victims of their deception will not be humanity in general, instead, they will work to mislead the very “elect” of God. This warning is repeated at least three more times in the discourse (Matthew 24:4-11, 24:23-24, 24:26).

The content of this deception is linked by Jesus to false information propagated about his future coming. Thus, for example, deceivers will claim that Jesus “is here” or “there”, that he is “in the wilderness” or “in the secret chambers.” Some will claim that “the season has drawn near” (Matthew 24:23-26, Luke 21:8).

In context, the prediction that believers will “be hearing of wars and reports of wars” refers to what deceivers will claim, “signs” to which they will point as harbingers of the nearness of the end. Jesus did not deny that wars, earthquakes and the like would come, but they are not indicators or “signs” of the proximity of the end, contrary to what many have and will continue to claim (Matthew 24:4-6).

It is the deceivers who point to wars, earthquakes, and famines as “signs” of the rapidly approaching end. But “the end is not yet.”

2 - Our inability to know the timing of the end

Jesus stated explicitly, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, except the Father alone.” He ended the sentence with the term “alone” to add emphasis, and the term is quite emphatic in the Greek sentence. The Father is the ONLY exception to the rule, period.

This theme is repeated in Matthew 24:42, 24:44, 24:50 and 25:13. In addition, Jesus stated that believers also do not know “on what kind of day” the Lord is coming. He will come “at an hour you think not.” This theme is repeated three times in Mark’s version of the Discourse, which adds, “for you do not know when the season is” (Matthew 24:42-44, Mark 13:32-35).

The most inclusive such warning was made by Jesus just prior to his ascent to heaven. The disciples asked him if he would at that time restore the kingdom. To this, Jesus responded:

(Acts 1:7-8) - “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has set within His own authority. But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

Rather than calculate end-time chronologies, the followers of Jesus must concern themselves with disseminating the gospel of the kingdom to all nations. In the interim, they are to be prepared always for the sudden and unexpected arrival of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:14).

3 - The Need for constant vigilance.

Rather than instruct his disciples to watch for precise signs, since they cannot know the timing of that day, Jesus admonished them to be prepared always for its sudden arrival; he will come “at an hour you think not.” In the version found in Mark’s gospel, Jesus also reiterated this instruction three times (Matthew 24:42-44, 25:13, Mark 13:32-36).

The Olivet Discourse is viewed by some as an outline of future events by which astute believers can ascertain the nearness of Christ's return. Instead, the key themes of the Discourse constitute warnings about coming deceivers who will raise false expectations about the end despite explicit statements by Jesus that no one except the Father knows the timing of the End, along with his exhortations to remain vigilant and prepared.

The conclusion Jesus draws is that disciples must be prepared at all times for the sudden arrival of the Son of Man. What matters is not knowing the timing of that day, but whether one is prepared and found busy about his business when the Son of Man arrives.

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