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Endure To The End

March 24, 2019, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev Enoch Keong (Matthew 24:1-21) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Matthew
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service

Tags: Matthew 马太福音

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Title: Endure To The End
Date: 24 & 31 Mar 2019
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong

The passage that we are looking at this morning is a tough one to interpret. One commentator begins his comments on it with these words, “Few chapters of the Bible have called for more disagreement among interpreters than Matthew 24...” 【1】So, when I got to know that I am supposed to share from this passage, I taught to myself, my tribulation has come.

This is a tough passage not only because it poses challenges of interpretation. It also comes across as one that’s about tough times to come, where many people will die because of wars, natural disasters, betrayals and killings. And I believe most of us in hearing this would hope that what it says will only happen in a future far far away from today. But is ours the correct understanding of the passage?

For this morning, I like us to relook at our understanding of this disturbing passage. We will be suggesting an interpretation that is somewhat different how the church has understood it all this while.

We will begin by asking what was in the disciples’ minds, for them to have asked Jesus the 2 questions found in verse 3. Matthew tells us that when Jesus was leaving the temple, the disciples wanted him to take a good look the temple building, the very same building where he had just spent time in it teaching the people and scolding the scribe and the Pharisees. Did Jesus enter the temple through some shopping center’s underpass across the street earlier on? Had he already behold the temple? Why point it out to him all over again?

The magnificence of the building was of course the reason . A Jewish rabbi once said, “He who has not seen the Temple of Herod has never seen a beautiful building." (B. Bat. 4a) The disciple wanted Jesus not only to look at the temple, but to admire it and to feel proud of it. The value of the temple in the hearts of the disciples can be seen through the way the asked their questions. In one and the same breath, they asked Jesus when the temple will be destroyed and what will be the sign of his coming and of the end of the age. To them, the 2 are 1. As long as the temple remains, the world tarries. Once the temple is gone, the world should also have come to its end. That was how the disciples thought it to be.

Nothing could have been further from the truth than this. What is true is that Jesus had just walked out of the temple for the last time, he was abandoning it for good. The temple had served its purpose and was now ripe for destruction. Soon to come, God’s temple would be taking a new form. Upon the resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, the temple shall no longer be a physical building, but will consist of the communities of the followers of Jesus. Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Corinthian Christians, “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16-17)

Isn’t it is nice to hear these words as Christians? Certainly.

Yet, the same cannot be said for Jews and Christians who lived in Palestine during the first century. In answering the disciples, Jesus gave 3 sets of warning concerning what was to be expected in the years leading up to the destruction of the Herodian temple. Let’s look at them in turn.

First, there will be birth pangs, referring to wars and natural disasters. Life threatening events as such take place from time to time throughout human history, which was why Jesus said that they do not signal the end. But to make things worse, there will be self-proclaimed Messiahs in those days, says Jesus. These self-proclaimed Messiahs would promise help and claim that they know the way forward. Many people, panicked and needy, would be led astray. Such false messiahs did appear not long after Jesus’ ascension. We read in Acts 5 someone by the name of Theudas, who led a group of 400 people in some revolt. And in Act 21, Luke reports an Egyptian who started a revolt, where he led 4000 people out into the wilderness. Physically endangered and spiritually deceived, such were the dangers prophesized in the first set of warning; dangers originated outside the church.

The second set consist of dangers originated not only outside but also within the church. Hatred against Christians would lead to believers being persecuted and killed. Then, the Christians themselves, probably because of the pressure they faced, would be seen falling away from faith and betraying one another. This sad state of affair in the faith communities would be a widespread phenomenon. Matthew conveys this decline in the church scene by using the word “many” 4 times in verse 9-12. Furthermore, it would be a time where lawlessness would gain steam, while people’s love for God and for one another would grow cold. And we know the implication of it don’t we? Love, according to Matthew, is the key principle of living as Christian (Matt 22:36-40). When Christians stops loving, there goes also effective discipleship.

The third and final set of warning prophesized the imminent destruction of the temple. The disciples were told that the appearance of the “abomination of desolation” would mean that the temple would soon become ground zero. The description “abomination of desolation” in verse 15 calls for a little elaboration. Most interpreters agree that Matthew is here referring his reader to the sacrilege that Antiochus Epiphanes committed in 167 BC. In that year, the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes conquered Jerusalem and prohibited Jewish sacrificial worship. But he didn’t do just that. In the Herodian temple, he built an altar to Zeus on top to the altar for burnt offering and on it slaughtered pigs. Pigs on the altar, that’s totally offensive to the Jews; that’s sacrilege. We don’t actually have historical record that matches what Antiochus Epiphanes has done when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, but that doesn’t mean that something like that had never actually happened. In any case, people were to run for their lives once they see something akin to the sacrilege committed by Antiochus Epiphanes, because what follows would be a disaster that will inflict pain to a degree unheard of from the beginning of the world. And that was probably the reason for Jesus expressing sympathy on the pregnant women, the nursing mothers, people who might have to brave the winter and people who need to flee on Sabbath, where it will be harder to find help. The Jewish historian Josephus who survived the event claims that “none of the disaster since the world began can compare to the fate of Jerusalem. (War 1.12)

If we have not also become casualties – not because of the Jewish war but because of the lengthy bible study that I am leading here – we would have noticed that there was hardly any mentions of “end times” when we talk about the 3 sets of warnings. The reason is because according to the interpretation I like to share with us this morning, Jesus is not here talking about the end times.

Are there good reasons to go against the traditional understanding of the Christian church? The key to interpreting this passage lies in how verse 14 is to be understood, especially what is meant by “the whole world”. To the people back then, “the world” refers to places where there are inhabitants and people groups. In other words, “the world” is used in the bible to refers to the Mediterranean and the lesser known areas toward the east. Let’s try some biblical examples to make this clearer:

Luke 2:1, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Jubileans are good in general knowledge right? How far did the Roman Empire stretched in the days of Caesar Augustus? Did Singapore, Malaysian and Thailand have to participate in the census called by Augustus?

Act 11:28, “And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).” What is the chance that the whole globe would experience famine at one and the same time?

Let’s read just one more passage.

Act 19:27, “And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship." The whole world was worshipping Artemis?

Some of us might want to survey other parts of the bible and even literature outside the bible before coming to any conclusion, which would be a good things to do. But I believe the above examples should suffice to demonstrate that “the whole world” was not used to refer the entire world. Rather, “the whole world” was a phase to refer to the known world, and to places that people back then were able to reach by land or by sea. And if that’s the case, then the phrase “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” could not have referred to worldwide evangelization, but that the gospel had been preached in their known world.

But what’s the big deal about this. To me, there are 2 things that’s “big deal” here. First, when we read Acts and Paul’s letter, we can say “job done” since “the whole world” is to refer to the known world back then. Perhaps we shouldn’t say that the job is done, since there are many who have yet to hear about Jesus. But it won’t be wrong to say that the prophecy made by Jesus has been fulfilled. Remember the word of Jesus in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." In light of what we have discussed this morning, we must also affirm one other thing, that is, everything that Jesus would happen, will happen. Wars, revolts, natural disasters, what’s the big deal about them, what Jesus said would happen, had indeed happened. Friends, do we believe in Jesus? Brothers and sister in Christ, do we believe in Jesus? Do we really believe in Jesus?

The next “big deal” is this. If the prophecy has indeed been fulfilled, then Jesus can come back anytime! How prepared are we to face the Lord?

Well, we are reading this passage in this Lent season, not the advent season. So let’s try to make sense of the passage in light of the themes of the Lent period.

Question. Will we be facing times of difficulties similar to what has been prophesied concerning the years leading up to the destruction of the temple? Honestly, nobody knows. But who would dare say that it would never ever happen. We have had in recent times the Afagan war, the Syrian war, terror attacks and more attacks. There may be tough time ahead. What the passage is beseeching us to do, is to live a life of “deliberate, sustained faithfulness to the values and demands of God's kingdom”. 【2】(see v.13) Be ready to endure to the end if ever need be.

And to me, faith is a gift; to live a life of faithfulness would requires training. Agree? Presuming that we do agree to this statement, then how are we to go about it?

Christian Education traditionally focuses on 5 aspects in teaching and training God’s people, to develop their understanding, endurance and so forth. May I suggest that we use the 5 aspect as a guide in training to live a life of faithfulness. For this morning, we can perhaps begin by using the 5 aspects as a guide to reflect on a question, “How faithful have we been as follower of Christ?” And let us do so in the spirit of the Lent season. What I mean is that as we reflect, we will also draw near to God with a repentant heart and make amends, set new directions, as the Sprit leads us.

The 5 aspects: Worship, are we doing it in Spirit and in truth? Is our life by and large a life a worship? Fellowship, in today’s passage, this is one important aspect that had gone wrong. Are we our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers? And are we helping one another to do the same? Teaching and learning God’s word, is God, is Jesus, is the Holy Spirit someone that still fascinates us? Someone that we want to know more about? Preaching the gospel, today’s passage urges us to preach not only as and when it is convenient. But to stand firm in faith and see that the gospel be proclaimed against all odds. Serving others, God’s people are being blessed to bless. Amen?

【1】 Carson D. A., The Expositor Bible Commentary, Vol. 8: “Matthew”, The Zondervan Cooperation: Grand Rapid, 1984. 488.
【2】 France R.T., NICNT: The Gospel Of Matthew, Grand Rapid: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapid, 2007. 907.

Matthew 24:1–21 (Listen)

24:1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.

(ESV)