Tribulation and Endurance
Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 24:4-14
Last Sunday, we began a new series through Matthew 24–25. These chapters are commonly called the Olivet Discourse, since Jesus was on the Mt. of Olives when he spoke. This is Jesus’ most significant prophetic speech in the Bible.
Last Sunday, I blasted you with a lot of information regarding the background of the OD, and some of you probably felt overwhelmed. But don’t be discouraged. It will all become clearer as we work our way through the OD. And as you understand what Jesus is saying, you will gain a fascinating perspective on what is to come and be encouraged about how you should live right now. So hang in there!
That being said, our text for today is Matthew 24:4–14 (read vv. 1–14). To understand the OD, you have to understand the disciples’ eschatology. Like most Jews of their day, they had a simple view of end times’ events. Messiah comes back, defeats the Romans, and sets up his kingdom. Even though Jesus’ warned them about his death and the trials ahead, they couldn’t get the kingdom out of their heads.
Just a few days earlier, just before the Triumphal Entry, Luke 19:11 says, “Jesus…was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” So when the disciples ask in v. 3, “Tell us…” they are assuming that Jesus’ kingdom is just around the corner. Jesus knows he must address this assumption. In particular vv. 4–14 respond with 2 realities about “the end” or the second coming of Christ.
I. 2 Truths about “The End of the Age”
“The end” is not near. Luke’s record of the OD makes this explicit, when it discusses the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Luke 21:20–24). Jesus says, “The times of the Gentiles (must be) fulfilled.” In other words, the church age must come before the kingdom, “So hold your horses.” Matthew’s account also emphasizes patience. Notice the emphasis in 6, 8. So Jesus is warning, “Strap in for the long haul, because a lot of things need to happen before “the end.”
Specific signs will reveal that the end is near (Dispensational Chart). When we talk about the “end of the age,” we are talking about the 2nd coming of Christ. The disciples want to know when Jesus will come and establish the kingdom, and Jesus answers in vv. 4–14 by describing signs that will occur during the 7-year Tribulation to reveal that Jesus is coming soon. Here are 3 reasons why I believe these signs occur during the Tribulation. First…
“Endures to the end” (v. 13) means enduring until Christ returns. If you believe vv. 4–14 are describing AD 70 or just general conditions in the church age, then you have to take “the end” in v. 13 as meaning death, but in vv. 3, 6, 14, “the end” is the return of Christ. Therefore, we should assume it means the same thing in v. 13. And the only people who can endure until Christ returns are Christians who are alive during the Tribulation. Second…
Birth pangs don’t continue indefinitely. And all the mothers say, “Amen!” “The beginning of sorrows” (v. 8) should say “birth pangs,” because that’s what the Greek means. And what do birth pangs indicate? They say that labor is ramping up, and the end is near.
We always need to be careful not to read too much into illustrations, this illustration in this context about the end indicates that Jesus is describing the pains just before the end. If he wanted to illustrate the pains of 2,000+ years of church history, he would have used a different illustration. Third…
Revelation 6 prophesies that these same judgments will occur during the Tribulation. Revelation 6 describes the “Seal Judgments” that open the Tribulation, and we’ll see that the first 5 seals parallel the judgments in our text, so we should assume they are talking about the same thing.
In sum (chart), it’s not cool in our day to hold to a dispensational eschatology, and many good people would disagree, but I believe that a natural reading of Scripture requires this view. So 4–14 lists signs that will occur during the Tribulation indicating that Christ is about to return.
However, that doesn’t mean that these things don’t occur to a lesser degree In fact, all of things happen frequently, so there’s a lot of important, weighty application for us in what Jesus says. But we must not get too far from Jesus’ point, which is to say, so to speak, that the “Braxton Hicks” contractions of our present day, will some day reach a whole different level during the Tribulation. With this foundation in place, notice 4 signs that will precede Christ’s return.
II. False Messiahs (vv. 4–5)
The Scriptures teach that the times just before the Tribulation will be scary and dark. And false prophets and apocalyptic teachers always take advantage of people’s worries during unsettling times. Jesus says that in these dark times, many false Messiah’s will claim to be Christ.
But one of them will rise to worldwide domination. Daniel 9:27 says that the Tribulation will begin when Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel for 7 years. Revelation 6:1–2 say that his rise will be the first “seal” judgment of the Tribulation. Revelation 13:1–8 expands on his rise and cruel reign.
I know we get frustrated with our politicians, but Antichrist will take political power and oppression to a level the world has never seen. It will be a terribly dark time of God’s judgment.
But even today we should heed Jesus command of v. 4. False prophets come and go all the time. Some of them can seem very sincere, and some even claim to have supernatural powers. But Jesus says, “Don’t be deceived.”
There is one Christ and one gospel, and both are revealed in the Bible. It doesn’t matter how genuine someone may be, and it doesn’t even matter if he can perform miracles. If he contradicts God’s Word, he’s wrong. Don’t be deceived. The 2nd sign that will precede Christ’s return is…
III. Violence and Natural Disasters (vv. 6–8)
It’s true that ever since the fall, there have been wars, and earthquakes. But, to use Jesus’ illustration, the violence and natural disasters of our day are only the small contractions a woman feels, long before the baby is born. But someday, genuine birth pangs will begin.
The second seal judgment in Revelation 6:3–4 parallel’s Jesus’ prophecy about war. God says that during the Tribulation all “peace” will be “take(n)…from the earth.” When God removes his restraining hand of grace, violence and war will spread like wildfire, and God says that even the great wars of history will look very small.
There will also be terrible famines. The 3rd and 4th seal judgments in Revelation 6:5–8 parallel Jesus’ prophecy about famine and its effects. Probably mostly because of the terrible violence, v. 6 says that food will become scarce and very expensive. A day’s wages will only but a quart of wheat. That obviously won’t feed a family or meet other needs.
There will be mass starvation, and you can imagine the violence that will ensue as people fight to survive and provide for their families. And 8 is stunning. A quarter of the world population will die from violence and starvation. If that were today, it would be over 1.5 billion people.
Jesus also predicts terrible earthquakes during the Tribulation. Revelation 6:12 says that the 6th seal judgment will involve among other things “a great earthquake.” If this is a “birth pang” level earthquake, it must be the mother of all earthquakes. It’s hard to imagine how bad things will be.
But notice Jesus’ command in 6. Do we ever get “troubled” or “terrified” by world events? Of course we do. Sometimes you want to jump into the TV and smack some of these people. At other times we are dumbfounded at how evil people are and at how bad the world is.
But Jesus says, “don’t be troubled” for 2 reasons. First, v. 8 says, “these are (only) the beginning of sorrows (i.e., birth pangs).” In other words, the Tribulation will only get worse during the second half of it, so the Tribulation saints must strap in for the long haul.
I believe Jesus would say to us, “Yes our world is bad, but what do you expect a sin-cursed world to look like?” We should grieve over the suffering and evil of our world, but we shouldn’t be surprised. And we certainly shouldn’t waste our days fretting over it all as if God has lost control.
But that’s exactly what we do. On Monday, I was looking for sermons on our text that I could listen to, and I was amazed at how many of them were about America’s destruction. We fret and stew all the time as if God has lost control. But Jesus says, “Don’t be terrified. I am still in control. I said the world would be bad, and it’s only getting worse, so stay focused on the goal.”
The second and ultimate reason why we shouldn’t be terrified is that (v. 6), “All these things must come to pass.” In other words, the evils and the suffering of the Tribulation and of our day are not resisting the purpose of God; instead, God has decreed all of it.
Of course, we would love it if Jesus had given us a point-by-point explanation of why he decreed so much evil and suffering, but he doesn’t. We just have to trust that his purpose is good. But it’s also fair to assume that if God will send such severe judgment, sin must deserve far greater consequences than we like to think.
The reason we struggle with judgments like this is not because something is wrong in God; it’s because we don’t appreciate the offense of our sin. So be reminded of how dark sin truly is, and remember that God is always in control, no matter how bad it gets. And then trust that God’s purpose is always good, even when you can’t see it. The 3rd sign that will precede Christ’s return is…
IV. Persecution and Betrayal (vv. 9–13)
These verses transition from tribulation in the world at large to tribulation among those who profess to be saved. The church will be raptured before the Tribulation, but Revelation teaches that many people will turn to Christ during the trials of the Tribulation. However, not all of them will be truly saved. This will become apparent as the pain of the Tribulation turns against Christians in four ways.
The world will turn against Christians (v. 9). These descriptions are hard to swallow. Jesus says, “You will be hated by all nations.” The world won’t respect Christians for their family values and good citizenship; rather, they will despise them.
Why will they do so? “For my name’s sake.” Their real hatred is for Christ. They hate the fact that he sets a standard of righteousness they don’t want to obey, and they hate that his gospel declares them to be sinners worthy of judgment and that Christ is the only solution.
So they will turn against Christians and hand them over to persecution, cruelty, and imprisonment. Not only that, Jesus says they “will kill you.” Revelation 6:9–11 describe this horror through the 5th seal judgment. There will be many martyrs during the Tribulation.
It’s hard to believe, except for the fact that it’s happening today. All over the world Christians are suffering mightily for the sake of Christ. So there is a lot of significance for us in this verse, even if we won’t be here during the Tribulation.
Jesus said over and over that if they hated me, they will hate you also, so we have to decide if we are going to please the Lord or the world. We can’t have both. May God help us to stand no matter what lies ahead in our day, because we clearly see that the name of Christ is worth it all. But sadly, not all professing believers will stand. The second pain for Christians will be that…
False believers will turn against Christians (v. 10). Frankly, this verse is more troubling than the previous one, because it’s one thing when your enemies fire at you; it’s something entirely different when your friends do. Jesus says that under the pressure of persecution, some who professed faith in Christ will “be offended.” The Greek verb is scandalidzo, from which we get scandalized. It means “to stumble, to fall.” They will fall away from the faith. Paul picks up on this in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
There will a great apostasy during the Tribulation. This is not because they have lost their salvation, because genuine faith always perseveres by the sovereign grace of God. Rather, they never had genuine faith, and they will show their true colors, when the heat is turned up.
And then, sadly, they “will betray one another, and will hate one another.” These false believers will become Judas and turn on each other, and they will betray true believers to Antichrist. They will wilt under the heat of the fire.
It will be interesting to see who stands and who fades as true Christianity becomes less culturally acceptable. And we should be challenged to prepare for the hostility and hardship that are coming by staying firmly rooted in God’s Word and by building trust in God’s protective grace. And when trials come, rather than running from them, we should accept them, grow through them, and embrace the opportunity to glorify our Savior.
False prophets will deceive many (v. 11). Jesus makes this statement in the context of apostasy among professing believers, so he is saying that false prophets will deceive some who profess to be Christians. I’m reminded of 2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, becausethey have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers.”
I imagine that in the heat of persecution, false teachers will teach a form of Christianity that will be culturally acceptable, but it will compromise essential truth. And false converts will get in line to avoid suffering.
Sacrificial love will give way to self-protection (v. 12). Again, in context Jesus is talking about professing believers. He says again that the fire will reveal their true nature, and they will grow “lawless,” and “the love of many will grow cold.” They will turn on God and on each other.
And so Jesus paints a depressing picture of how many professing Christians will respond to the fire. But not all will wilt. v. 13 says that many will endure to the end of the Tribulation no matter what pressure Antichrist applies. There will be nothing he can do to overthrow the faith of true believers, because Christ will not let go of his children. He will carry them through the darkest of times. I love Jesus’ words to Peter a couple days later as Jesus prepared the disciples for his death (Luke 22:31–32). Christ will hold us fast.
And Jesus promises that those who endure “shall be saved.” Salvation is always by grace, so he’s not saying they will earn salvation. Rather, their endurance proves their salvation. And just imagine how incredible it will be for these weary believers who have endured so much to watch the scene of 30–31. That will be awesome, and Christ will more than reward them for their faithfulness. And the same is true of us. If you are feeling the cost of faithfulness to Christ, then keep enduring, because some day you will see Christ, and you will have joy for how you endured.
And so vv. 9–13 present 2 very different responses by professing believers to the Tribulation. Some will fade, and others will shine. It should drive us to examine ourselves. Do you have a genuine faith that will stand in such times, or do you have a faith of convenience? The fact that you look the part and talk the talk doesn’t mean your faith is real. What matters is if you are in Christ, and he is truly your Lord. If you are not confident this is true, then get it settled today. Bow your heart at the foot of the cross.
And if you are saved, are you growing the kind of endurance you need for when hard times strike? Do you do what’s right rain or shine, or is your obedience about as consistent as the weather?
Let’s be faithful disciples who are ready for whatever may come. And then let’s rest confidently in the power of Christ to keep up, because he will hold us fast. And then let’s clearly see the reward that is on the other side of endurance. You will be saved, you will be rewarded, and it will be worth it all.
And so to this point we have seen 3 ominous signs that will precede the end. But through it all, some will endure. And then v. 14 closes with a 4th sign that will declare that despite all the darkness God is still on the throne.
V. The Spread of the Gospel (v. 14)
Notice that Jesus specifically mentions “the gospel of the kingdom,” not just the gospel. This gospel will still be based in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but in the context of Matthew, it especially emphasizes the promise of Israel’s kingdom. Tribulation evangelists will proclaim that even though Antichrist appears to have won, Jesus is coming again. He will defeat Antichrist, and establish is glorious kingdom. So repent and believe on Christ. Revelation 14:6–7 say of the Tribulation, “…”
And incredibly, despite the fierce opposition of Antichrist through persecution and martyrdom, the gospel will continue to advance. Many will be saved, and “the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations.”
I’m reminded of Jesus’ promise to the church in Matthew 16:18. Christ will save souls and build his church, and not even the hell itself, can stand against his purpose. We don’t know what may be ahead for America. We don’t know what suffering we may have to endure. But we do know the only thing that matters. Christ will build his church, and for us, just like the Tribulation saints, “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” God will win, and we will be rewarded.
And returning to our text, once the gospel of the kingdom has successfully penetrated every corner of the world and many have been saved, “the end will come.” Jesus will return in glory. Oh what a sight that will be for those who have endured.
Are you ready for Christ’s return? Do you know him as your Lord and Savior? If not, see that your sin is dark, and it deserves the judgment that is coming, but there is salvation in the death and resurrection of Christ. Come to him in repentance and be saved.
And if you are saved, patiently endure the hardships of life and the cost of discipleship knowing that Jesus is accomplishing his kingdom purposes, and he will come again with his reward.