Glory, Part 6

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When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.”   (Matthew 25:31 | NIV84)

In our sixth study of the how the word “glory” is used in the New Testament, we turn to The Olivet Discourse, so called because Jesus gave a series of teachings while on the Mount of Olives.  The Olivet Discourse is found in all three Synoptic Gospels and most of it deals with the the Second Coming of our Lord and of the end of the age.  

Setting the scene

Jesus began this lengthy teaching in Matthew 24, as He left the Temple grounds for the last time.   He had been soundly rejected by the leaders of Israel, and His word to His people was a solemn one:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.  “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  (Matthew 24:1-2 | NIV84)

Herod’s Temple was a magnificent structure, which took a long time to build.  Herod’s desire was to build a religious edifice as great and as glorious as Solomon’s temple.  He began to restore the old Temple around 20 BC and believe it or not, work was still in progress during the days of Jesus!  It must have been a shocking thing for Jesus’ disciples to hear that this great Temple would be laid waste.  The literal fulfillment of this prediction occurred in 70 AD.  Jewish historian Josephus was an eyewitness, and here is his account:

The Temple area was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.  

For their part, the disciples were befuddled; they needed more information, so they asked Jesus three questions related to His prediction:

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  (Matthew 24:3 | NIV84)

For some reason, Jesus started off by answering the third question first:  “What will be the sign of…the end of the age?”  Actually, in the verses that follow, the great Teacher gives no less than 10 signs of the end of the age.  

  1. False messiah’s will appear, verse 5, declaring that they are the Christ – the Messiah.
  2. Wars and rumors of wars will abound, verse 6.   Of course, there have been wars in every generation, though apparently near the end they will increase, probably in intensity and frequency.
  3. Famines,
  4. Plagues,
  5. Earthquakes, all in verse 7.  Famines and plagues frequently go together and, as in the case of war, while there have always been earthquakes, at the end there will be more of them in strange places.
  6. The sixth sign is persecution, found in verse 9.  The followers of Christ will face mounting stress and pressure as they seek to live out their faith in the face of constant persecution.
  7. The seventh sign, found in verse 10, goes like this:  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,  (Matthew 24:10 | NIV84). That’s a frightening thought, that at some point in the future there will be a great “falling away” from the faith.  But read how the KJV translates this sign:  And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.  (Matthew 24:10 | KJV).   You begin to see what the end times will look like; a time of lawlessness when people both inside the church and outside will be “offended” or “scandalized” and many will just give up on God and the good life altogether.  
  8. In verse 11, the eighth sign is given:  false prophets.  This makes sense.  In a time of hopelessness and despair, devious people will come along with words of false hope.
  9. The ninth sign is a disturbing one:  In the last days, there will be a decided lack of love, verse 12.  
  10. The final sign is the evangelization of the world, verse 14.  

Conditions in the world just prior to the return of Jesus will be dreadful.  As we read through these verses in Matthew 24, we can see parallels in the book of Revelation.  Much of what Jesus predicted is what John saw in his vision:  the state of the world during the Tribulation.  

That brings us to this verse, which is linked to what Jesus had spoken about in regards to the Temple:

So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand…(Matthew 24:15 | NIV84)

That phrase, “abomination that causes desolation,” is seen three times in the Old Testament prophetic book of Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11) and refers simply to an unholy, detestable thing that will cause the Temple to become useless or unusable.  In the far future tense, this prophecy of Daniel’s is seen when the Antichrist sets up an image of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem in Revelation 13:14 – 

Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.   (Revelation 13:14 | NIV84)

But here is a prophecy with several fulfillments throughout history.  In 168 BC, an altar dedicated to Zeus was set up on the sacred altar in the Temple, rendering the Temple useless for the Jews.  It was also fulfilled in 70 AD, some four decades after the Olivet Discourse, when Rome desecrated the Temple before it was destroyed.  But the final fulfillment of this prophecy will be happen during the Tribulation period of the end times.

The Second Coming

If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.   (Matthew 24:22 | NIV84)

This is another one of Jesus’ predictions that carries a dual fulfillment.  In 70 AD, when the siege and fall of Jerusalem took place, Josephus tells us that over one million Jews were killed and up to 100,000 were sold as slaves.  But there will be a future fulfillment during the Great Tribulation at the end of the age.  

The main theme of the second half of this very long chapter is a call to remain faithful to the Lord no matter what; in the face of dangerous persecution and in the wake of many false messiah’s.  

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.  For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.  See, I have told you ahead of time.  (Matthew 24:23-25 | NIV84)

There has always been and will always be a very real temptation for Christians to “latch onto” the “next best thing or person” that comes along in the Christian sub-culture, especially during rough times.  During the Tribulation, that temptation will be all the more intense.  But Jesus described what His coming will be like.  He won’t be like the false teachers and false Christ’s.  When He returns, it will be miraculous, sudden, and surprising:

Immediately after the distress of those days “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  (Matthew 24:29-30 | NIV84)

It’s certain that the Lord will return and it is certain that difficult days are in store for believers.  And in His wisdom, Jesus gave His followers, both the disciples and us, these teachings so that we won’t ever be ignorant.  Nobody can know for sure when Jesus will return, so believers need to be ready all the time; no believer wants to be caught off guard at the moment of Christ’s glorious return.

Three parables

In chapter 25, Jesus keeps going with His end times teachings with three parables.  The first one, the parable of wise and foolish maidens (25:1 – 13), is a story emphasizing the need for believers to be prepared for His return.  Jesus could come back any time, and His people need to be ready – watching and waiting.   

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 | NIV84)

The parable of the talents, 25:14 – 30, deals with the believer’s responsibility to use his God-given gifts in the days prior to the Lord’s return.  While you’re watching and waiting for the Lord to return, you shouldn’t be sitting around, twiddling your thumbs.  Remember what Paul wrote:

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  (Ephesians 5:15-16 | NIV84)

And that gets us to the parable of the sheep and the goats, 25:31 – 46.  Of the three, this one is, to my mind, the darkest.  It’s simply about the final judgment.  In the parable, Jesus is the Judge, King, and Shepherd.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  (Matthew 25:31-33 | NIV84)

Why sheep and goats?  Sheep were prominent animals in the Jewish sacrificial system.  They were also very valuable sources of food and clothing.  Goats, on the other hand, are very destructive animals – they gorge themselves on vegetation, often ruining fields and contributing to erosion as they simply rip up plants out of the soil, roots and all.

The interesting thing about sheep and goats is that they grazed together in the same pasture, and freely mingled together so closely that from a distance, you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart.  At some point, though, the shepherds would have to go and separate the two because invariably the male goats would turn very hostile toward the sheep.

In the final judgment, Jesus as Judge, King, and Shepherd, will separate the sheep (His people, true believers), from the goats (non-believers) and the sheep will be invited to share in the Kingdom.  For the sheep, it will be a beautiful moment.  They lived lives, not just doing good deeds for people in need, but ministering to the Lord in how they lived.  Everything the sheep did, they did for the Lord.  People were just the beneficiaries of their Christ-centered living.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  (Matthew 25:35-36 | NIV84)

But not so for the goats:

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  (Matthew 25:41-43 | NIV84)

The goats will be people who were so busy, they never gave a thought for Jesus.  God will  judge the people and nations of the world, based on their response to the Gospel and how they lived out their faith on earth.  

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