The Sign of The End of The Age
The die was cast — the decision was final — Jesus was leaving. Israel’s tragic plight was now sealed. They had brought it on themselves. During three years of public ministry Jesus had pleaded with His nation to repent of their sin and to acknowledge His messianic claim to rule over them. His credentials were in order; He was the rightful heir to the throne of David. But the leadership would have none of that. Through the centuries they had corrupted the inspired writings of Moses and the prophets of Israel, For the Word of God they had substituted the vain traditions of men. Only the vestigial skeleton of pure, God-given Judaism remained. Many of the Pharisees of the first century were corrupt hypocrites. In the words of the Lord, they were whitewashed sepulchers (Mt. 23:27) — well manicured on the outside but decaying and rotting on the inside. They had become “blind leaders of the blind” (Mt. 15:14). The holiness of Jesus condemned their sin and the truth of Jesus rebuked their error. And tragically, through lies, distortion, manipulation and false witnesses, they misled the Jewish people.
And so, Jesus was leaving. He had wanted to lovingly gather His beloved Jewish people to His bosom to experience His glorious presence, omnipotent power, and perfect peace — but they would not have Him to rule over them (Mt. 23:37). As a result of their rejection, the Temple in Jerusalem would be left desolate (Mt. 23:38). The tragic implications of that statement are staggering beyond comprehension.
The first Temple had been built almost a thousand years earlier through the impetus of King David and by his son, Solomon (1 Chr. 17:1-12). And although the heaven of heavens could not contain God (2 Chr. 6′:18), He chose, in a specialized and localized sense, to be present with His people and to manifest His glory at the Temple from within the Holy of Holies. This divine presence among His people was a privilege which no other nation had ever known. But about four centuries later, the Prophet Ezekiel described the departure of the glory of God from the Temple. His description is one of the most heartrending stones in all of the Word of God. The Sovereign of the universe— the One who cast the stars into space, who spoke the world into existence, who fashioned man from the dust of the earth, who breathed into man the breath of life, the One of whom it is said, ” . , , heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool …” (Isa. 66:1), and who chose Israel as His “peculiar treasure” (Ps. 135:4) — was driven out of the Temple by the nation’s grievous sin (Ezek. 8:6). First, the glory of God departed from over the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies to the threshold of the Temp!e (Ezek.10:4); then from the threshold of the Temple to the east gate of the Lord’s house (Ezek. 10:19); and finally from the east gate across the Kidron Valley and over the Mount of Olives on the east side of the city (Ezek. 11:23). With that event, over Israel was written “l-chabod” –the glory is departed (1 Sam. 4:21).
And now, six hundred years later, history would repeat itself. Jesus was God in flesh. In Him the glory of God was present once again. He was eager to dwell among His people — to provide His glorious presence, omnipotent power, and perfect peace. But by their sin (Mt. 23:13-36); they drove Him away. He departed from the Tempie, through the Eastern Gate, across the Kidron Valley, and from the Mount of Olives He ascended to His Father — exactly as the Jewish Prophet Ezekiel described the departure of the Shekinah glory on that earlier occasion. When Jesus said, “Behold, your house [Temple] is left unto you desolate” (Mt. 23:38), He was saying, I-chabod — the glory is departed.
And in precise fulfillment of His Word, in 70 A. D. the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were scattered throughout the world. For two thousand years they would experience the burning flames of indescribable persecution and hardship. This can be directly attributed to the departed glory of God. To men and nations there can be no greater tragedy than the withdrawing of the divine presence.
In the case of God’s departure from Israel, there was one saving grace. He tempered the horror of His departure with the certain hope of His return. ” . . . Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 23:39).
It was these facts, clearly understood by the disciples, which prompted their questions,’.. . what shall be the sign of thy coming, and [the sign] of the end of the age?” (Mt. 24:3).
Because the glory was departing, they desperately wanted to know when the glory would return.And since in this age lsrael would be without God’s glory and attendant blessing, they wanted to know when this age would end so they could get on with the glorious messianic age.*
* “The Sign of Christ’s Return” was the featured article in the April/May 1983 issue of’.ISRAEL MY GLORY. This article concerns itself with “The Sign of the End of the Age.”
THE FIRST HALF OF THE TRIBULATION (MT. 24:4-8)
“The Tribulation” is a theological designation for a period of time seven years in length. It is also referred to as “the time of Jacob’s [Israel’s] trouble” (Jer. 30:7), and is to be identified as the seventieth week spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Dan. 9:24-27). It is this period of time which is brought into view by the disciples question concerning the sign of the end of the age. It is also clear from Scripture that something happens midway (three and one-half years) into this period which distinguishes the first half of this seven-year period from the second half.
Those who believe that the true Church will be caught up, or raptured, to meet Christ in the air before this seven-year Tribulation period begins, are Pre-Tribulation Rapturists (the author’s position). Those who hold that believers will go through this period of time to await Christ’s return are Post-Tribulation Rapturists.
In answer to the disciples’ question concerning the sign of the end of the age, Jesus said, “… Take heed that no man deceive you” (Mt. 24:4). The Lord does not give warnings when there is no danger. It is precisely because there will be false signs and false teachers that He begins with a word of warning not to be deceived. In quick succession, he characterizes the first half of the Tribulation period. There will be false Christs, war, famine, pestilence and earthquakes (Mt. 24:5-7). This is a clear parallel with the four horses and riders of the apocalypse (Rev. 6:2-8). The white horse and rider represent the Antichrist (Rev. 6:2), the red horse and rider represent war (Rev. 6:3-4), the black horse and rider represent famine (Rev. 6:5-6), and the pale (actually sickly green) horse and rider represent pestilence and death (Rev. 6:7-8).
The progression is logical. The Antichrist, in his quest for power, will plunge the world into war, and war in turn will generate famine, and famine will lead to disease and death. This carnage will affect one-fourth of the earth (Rev. 6:6). There are presently more than four billion inhabitants on the planet Earth. Therefore., more than a billion people will be touched by these judgments.
And then the Lord makes this mindnumbing statement: “All these [that is, the calamities mentioned above] are the beginning of sorrows” (Mt. 24:8). The imagery is that of a woman in travail who has just begun her birth pangs (1 Th. 5:3). In other words, Jesus was saying, The worst is yet to come—what I’ve described is simply for openers — you haven’t seen anything yet!
THE SECOND HALF OF THE TRIBULATION (MT, 24:9-14)
In continuing His answer to the disciples’ question concerning the sign of the end of the age, the Lord makes six succinct, critical statements. First, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake (v. 9). in context, the “you” refers to Hebrew Christians in Israel (Mk. 13:9)., who will be hounded, hunted, and slain both by unbelieving Jews and the nations of the world because they will not submit to the Antichrist or receive the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:7).
Second, “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another (v. 10). Tragically, the suffering and persecution will be so great, the flames so hot, that some will bend and break. To preserve their own lives, many will betray family and friends. It would appear that unbelieving family members will betray believing members of the family for self-preservation (Mk. 13:12).
Third, “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (v. 11). “Religion” is not dead in America or on the planet Earth. During the last days of this age, false prophets will abound — and as will be shown, empowered by Satan they will do counterfeit miracles to authenticate their teaching. Many wil! succumb to these false teachers.
Fourth, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold (v. 12). During this time, darkness will appear to be triumphant. Holiness and justice wilf seem to have been mortally wounded. It will be the wicked who will be prospering. And those who have tried to live holy for God will be getting it in the neck. As a result, some will ask, Where is God? Doesn’t He care? Has He gone off to some distant corner of the universe? Has He forgotten His promises? Or worse, Is He impotent to stop what is happening to His own? And as a result, the love of many (for God) will grow cold.
Fifth, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (v. 13), Some have pitched camp at this verse to teach that a believer can lose his or her salvation. If he that endures to the end wit! be saved, it seems logical, these teachers suggest, that he who does not endure to the end will be lost. This verse has nothing whatever to do with salvation as we know it today. The context is the still-future seven-year Tribulation period. Believers will be hounded, hunted, betrayed — they are in danger of being deceived — iniquity is abounding. Therefore, their love for God is growing cold. And here is the divine promise— Hold on, remain steadfast, endure to the end (of the Tribulation period), and you will be saved or, better, delivered from these afflictions to enter into the glorious Millennial Kingdom on the earth.
Sixth, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (v. 14).
This verse, properly understood, has nothing whatever to do with getting the gospel out to every nation in this age so the Lord can return, though it is often presented that way. Again, the context is the Tribulation period. After the Church has been raptured, it is the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-12, the 144,000 Jewish evangelists of Revelation 7:4-8, and those who have been saved through their ministry who will herald the message. And the message itself will be the same as was proclaimed by John the Baptist (Mt. 3:2), by the disciples (Mt, 10:7), and by the Lord (Mt. 4:17). It will be the message of the Kingdom, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
THE MIDDLE OF THE TRIBULATION (MT 24:15)
Few texts of Scripture have greater prophetic significance than do these words of the Lord, “When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whosoever readeth, let him understand)” (Mt. 24:15). It is ironic that the Lord should impress upon men the importance of this verse by saying, “ … whosoever readeth, let him understand,” and so very few do. It is prayerfully hoped that this article will give understanding into this important truth.
What is the abomination of desolation, or more accurately, the abomination that maketh desolate of which Daniel the prophet wrote?
In the year 168 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of Syria, marched against Israel after an unsuccessful military campaign against Egypt. He wanted to be sure that the small state of Israel remained a buffer between his nation, Syria, and their long-standing enemy, Egypt. He also wanted to be sure that the Jewish state paid him taxes. To fulfill his plan, he had his soldiers kill a pig on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem. To the Jewish people who, under the Mosaic Law, were forbidden to eat pork and for whom the sow was an unclean animal, the sacrifice of a pig on their holy altar was an abomination of the highest magnitude. Of even greater significance, Antiochus Epiphanes then had a statue of his god, Zeus Olympus (this heathen deity was fashioned as a man), carried into the Temple, and then demanded that the Jewish people bow down and worship it. The purpose behind the action of Antiochus was to humiliate the Jewish people by polluting the Temple, and then to assimilate them into the Syrian empire by getting them to worship the chief Syrian deity.
Antiochus Epiphanes’ plans would not be realized. A band of godly Jews under the leadership of the priest, Mattathias, and his five sons rebelled against the Syrians. They fled to the wilderness to begin a guerilla-style war against Antiochus and his Syrian army. In the year 165 B.C., the Syrians were defeated and eventually driven from the land.
The first order of business was the cleansing of the polluted Temple. The abomination (the killing of a pig on the altar and the placing of a statue of the heathen deity, Zeus Olympus, in the Temple in the place of the true and living God) made the Temple unusable — desolate. Returning to the Temple, the Jews encountered a problem. There was no sanctified oil to light the Temple to make cleansing possible. The problem was compounded by the fact that the oil had to be prepared by the priests within the Temple. They needed oil for light so that they could cleanse the Temple, but the oil had to be prepared inside the Temple where there was no light. They appeared to be confronted by an insoluble dilemma. Jewish tradition says that one cruse of sanctified off was found. It should have lasted one day but miraculously lasted eight days. It was during this time that more oil was purified and the Temple cleansed. This occasion gave rise to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah or Lights. And because the Temple was rededicated to God after its cleansing, this holiday is called, in the New Testament, the Feast of Dedication (Jn. 10:22).
Ail of this and more is behind Daniel’s description of the abomination that maketh desolate (Dan. 8:9-14).
From today’s frame of reference, the event described in Daniel, chapter eight, is history. It happened in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria and Mattathias and his sons of Israel.
However, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, the prophet speaks of a second and still-future abomination of desolation (Dan. 9:27). And whereas Antiochus Epiphanes came out of the Grecian Empire, this later persecutor of Israel is identified as the Antichrist who will come out of a revived Roman Empire at the end of this age.
During the first half of the Tribulation period, the Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the ancient sacrifices reinstituted. In the middle of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will desecrate the Temple and introduce an image for worship (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 13:14-15). This image will be human in appearance, exactly as was the god, Zeus Olympus. The Jewish people will be commanded to bow down and worship. This is the abomination that will make the Temple desolate, to which the Lord is making reference.
The Apostle Paul wrote succinctly about this ultimate blasphemy in his letter to the church at Thessalonica. “Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come the falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition [the Antichrist], Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped, so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Th. 2:3-4). The great apostle continues, “Even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders (2 Th. 2:9). It is important to note that the Antichrist will be empowered by Satan to perform signs. It is important because the question asked by the disciples related to ” … the sign of thy coming, and [the sign] of the end of the age.”’ The apostle makes it clear that because men received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved . . . God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe THE lie” (2 Th.2:10-11). !t is not any lie or all lies that is being referred to. Rather, it is a specific lie that is in view here. It is a lie that is as old as the Garden of Eden, and it comes from the same source — Satan. He said to Adam and Eve, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:5). The lie that men will believe is that man is God. It is the logical and final plateau to which the godless humanistic philosophy that is dominating the twentieth century will lead.
In the end man will seek to deify himself. Zeus Olympus was a statue fashioned in the image of man. And so too will be the image of the Antichrist. The height of folly is this — that man, simply day formed from the dirt of the earth, will worship himself instead of worshiping the Creator who fashioned him in His own image and breathed into him the breath of life so that man became a living soul. Here is the height of pride and idiocy — the pottery will worship the pottery instead of the Potter! Under satanic influence, mankind will forget the rock from which he was hewn (Isa. 51:1). Many educators, philosophers and scientists already have men programmed and well on their way to denying the divine existence and man’s responsibility and accountability to Him. Were it not for a believing remnant in the Tribulation who, like the three Jewish youths in the fiery furnace, will not bow, and therefore will not break, Satan would succeed and God’s purpose in creating man for His own glory would have failed.
But still you remain unconvinced — man would never do that, you say. Well then, hear the beloved Apostle John as he writes of Satan’s influence in the latter days. “And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels. And prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, who deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Rev. 12:7-9). Satan is a defeated foe. But Job reveals that Satan has access to the throne of God where he is the accuser of the believers (Job 1:6; Rev. 12:10). When, in the middle of the Tribulation period, there is war in Heaven and Satan and his followers are cast to the earth, against whom does he launch all of his fury? Is it against Moscow, Peking, London, Bonn, Paris, Washington? No. It is against Israel because she is the woman who gave birth to the man child (Christ). Hear John once again. “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman who brought forth the male child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place [a believing remnant from among Israel who will flee almost certainly to the rock fortress city of Petra about seventy miles southeast of the Dead Sea], where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent” (Rev.12:13-14). The time period of “a time, and times, and half a time is the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation period. The Antichrist and his false prophet will be empowered to do wonders and signs to deceive men because they will be energized by Satan, who is now confined to the sphere of earth. Listen to the beloved Apostle John one more time as he gives added insight concerning this final abomination of desolation. “And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke like a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them who dwell on it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles [signs] which he had power to do in the sight of the beast, saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, that had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he hath power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed” (Rev.13:11~15).
An image of the Antichrist (a man) will be placed in the Temple by the false prophet. He will command that men bow down and worship. Empowered by Satan, the false prophet will give counterfeit life to the image — a false miracle — a false resurrection — a false sign. Man will deify himself when he thinks that he has the power of life over death. This is the sign of the end of the age, and the Lord’s answer to His questioning disciples. This, then, is the abomination that maketh the Temple desolate — an image of a man, made lifelike (a counterfeit resurrection), and to which mankind is to bow down and worship. In the final analysis it is directing worship to Satan which should be given by man to God alone.
WARNING TO FLEE (MT. 24:16-22)
The trip-hammer — the flash fire — the catalyst of the Great Tribulation is the abomination of desolation. And so a loving Shepherd, looking down the corridor of time, gives a word of warning to His sheep, who will be living at that time. When you see the abomination of desolation, flee (Mt. 24:15-16). This warning will only be heeded by true believers who have been saved during the Tribulation. Time and distance from Jerusalem are of paramount importance, so the Lord warns: If you are in Judea, don t return home, flee to the mountains. If you are on the housetop, don’t come back into the house — that is, don’t worry about valuables or food, use the outside steps (a common sight in Israel) and flee quickly. If in the field, farming, don’t return for clothes. And woe to those who are pregnant — because it will hinder rapid movement. And pray that your flight is not in the winter — because the desert nights in the winter can be deadly cold. And pray that your flight is not on the Sabbath — because the Sabbath laws will have been reinstituted, automobiles will not be permitted and distances of travel will be restricted (Mt. 24:16-20). What the Shepherd is saying to His sheep on that occasion is that speed and distance away from Jerusalem are critical for survival. That moment will be so severe, the Tribulation so intense (worldwide in scope but centered in Jerusalem), that unless those days were shortened, no flesh would survive (Mt. 24:21-22).
The Prophet Zechariah gives us something of an understanding of that moment in history and the reason the Lord warns His own to flee Jerusalem quickly. “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city” (Zech. 14:2). This is the opening volley of the campaign of Armageddon. It is ignited by the abomination of desolation. And, if prophetic events cast their shadows, then the Rapture of the Church and the Tribulation period are fast approaching.
How should this truth affect the child of God today? First, it must be remembered that mankind is not going to bring in a golden age. Things are not going to get better and better, things are going to get worse and worse until the Savior invades human history a second time to establish a golden age.
Second, the child of God had better have his roots sunk deeply into the Word of God. It alone is the ultimate standard for life. As during the Tribulation period, so today there are false prophets who are leading many astray and making shipwreck of lives. It is tragic beyond description to see the lack of discernment on the part of many of the saints in being able to “test the spirits whether they are of God” (1 Jn. 4:1).
Finally, even a superficial understanding of the terror of the Tribulation period — of the physical suffering and, more importantly, the spiritual blindness — should pierce our hearts. !t should cause us to cry out to our Heavenly Father to be pleased to use us to touch souls for eternity before the curtain descends on this age of grace. True believers can’t afford to “play”at Christianity — to be content with “cutting out paper dolls” — to give time and energy to trivia. Sou!s are in danger of perishing!