Rapturists continually use the “Signs of the End” given in Matthew 24 as evidence of the imminent “rapture”. Terry James of the Rapture Ready Website writes,
“In Matthew 24:8 we are told the last days will be the tail end of an exponential curve of activity. Jesus mentioned a great variety of signs — spiritual, natural, societal, and world political — and then He said these signs will be like "birth pangs."”
James then proceeds to list events that he feels to be a fulfillment of those signs, such as the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and Israel’s 34-day war with Hezbollah. (See Nearing Midnight by Terry James).
But are these the events that Jesus had in mind when he warned His first century disciples “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” (Matthew 24:6)? Were the Apostle’s really concerned about the US-Iraqi War or North Korea’s nuclear program. Who was it that was to hear “war and rumors of wars”? It was the Apostles.
After Jesus pronounced judgment on First Century Jerusalem in Matthew 23, He left the temple and was questioned by His disciples concerning the unthinkable idea that the Jewish temple, the centerpiece of the Jewish faith, would actually be destroyed. What follows in chapter 24 has been named the “Olivet Discourse”. Many who fail to see the apocalyptic imagery correctly in Matthew 24 have concluded that this is a prophecy about future events, but as I will show in this summary, the Olivet Discourse saw it complete fulfillment in the First Century, just like Jesus Christ said it would (Matthew 24:34). One of the most valuable companion books to study alongside the Olivet Discourse is “The Wars of the Jews” by Flavius Josephus. Josephus is valuable because he gives us a look at the Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD from a point of view of a Jew from inside Jerusalem. We need to keep in mind during this reading that Jesus is addressing the concerns of His First Century Apostle’s (verses 1-3). He never hints at the idea that he has the 21st Century in mind. Also during this summary, I will analyze and refute some of the flawed interpretation of our modern day end time’s doomsayers.
“And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
First Century Fulfillment:
“AND now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.” (Josephus – Wars 6.6.1)
“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world (Gr. Aion)?” – KJV
“Now 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?” - NKJV
R.C. Sproul, in his "Last Days According To Jesus", provides the following example to help understand the scope of "the world" in Scripture:
The World in Matthew 13:38-40
|38||The field is the world, the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;||The field is the world, the good seed are the sons of the kingdom; but the tares are the sons of the wicked one.||kosmos|
|39||The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.||The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are the angels.||aion|
|40||As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.||Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so will it be at the end of this age.||aion|
Sign #1 - FALSE CHRISTS AND PROPHETS DECEIVING MANY: (Matt. 24: 5, 11, 24).
These “signs” are surely nothing new. Moses had to deal with false prophets back in his day (Deuteronomy 18:22).
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.”
“Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
Josephus writes that many false prophets and false Messiahs appeared during the government of Felix (A.D. 53-60), deluding many. Such figures played a leading role in the Jewish revolt in late A.D. 66 that led to the Jewish War.
First Century Fulfillment:
“Now as for the affairs of the Jews, they grew worse and worse continually, for the country was again filled with robbers and impostors, who deluded the multitude… These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God.” (Ant., XX, viii, 5-6)
Sign #2 - WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS (Matt. 24: 6-7).
"And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet."
Myth: Tim LeHaye Warns: "…the 20th century has seen 180 million killed in wars…more than all the wars of history put together.” (Tim LeHaye – “Twelve Reasons Why This Could Be The Terminal Generation”, 1995)
Fact: A 1974 study of war shows that approximately 3 Billion people have been killed in over 14,000 wars since 3600 BC. There is nothing significant about the 20th Century. (See Richard Abanes End Times Visions).
Wars and Rumors of Wars would not have been perceived as an unusual sign during most periods of world history, but during the pax Romana war was extremely rare. E.g., Epictetus writes that "Caesar has obtained for us a profound peace. There are neither wars nor battles" (Discourses 3:13:9) Josephus and Tacitus both write of the unsettledness of the empire leading up to A.D. 70.
First Century Fulfillment:
“So Vitellius prepared to make war with Aretas, having with him two legions of armed men; he also took with him all those of light armature, and of the horsemen which belonged to them, and were drawn out of those kingdoms which were under the Romans, and made haste for Petra, and came to Ptolemais. But as he was marching very busily, and leading his army through Judea, the principal men met him, and desired that he would not thus march through their land; for that the laws of their country would not permit them to overlook those images which were brought into it, of which there were a great many in their ensigns; so he was persuaded by what they said, and changed that resolution of his which he had before taken in this matter. Whereupon he ordered the army to march along the great plain, while he himself, with Herod the tetrarch and his friends, went up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice to God, an ancient festival of the Jews being then just approaching; and when he had been there, and been honorably entertained by the multitude of the Jews, he made a stay there for three days, within which time he deprived Jonathan of the high priesthood, and gave it to his brother Theophilus. But when on the fourth day letters came to him, which informed him of the death of Tiberius, he obliged the multitude to take an oath of fidelity to Caius; he also recalled his army, and made them every one go home, and take their winter quarters there, since, upon the devolution of the empire upon Caius, he had not the like authority of making this war which he had before. It was also reported, that when Aretas heard of the coming of Vitellius to fight him, he said, upon his consulting the diviners, that it was impossible that this army of Vitellius's could enter Petra; for that one of the rulers would die, either he that gave orders for the war, or he that was marching at the other's desire, in order to be subservient to his will, or else he against whom this army is prepared. So Vitellius truly retired to Antioch; but Agrippa, the son of Aristobulus, went up to Rome, a year before the death of Tiberius, in order to treat of some affairs with the emperor, if he might be permitted so to do. I have now a mind to describe Herod and his family, how it fared with them, partly because it is suitable to this history to speak of that matter, and partly because this thing is a demonstration of the interposition of Providence, how a multitude of children is of no advantage, no more than any other strength that mankind set their hearts upon, besides those acts of piety which are done towards God; for it happened, that, within the revolution of a hundred years, the posterity of Herod, which were a great many in number, were, excepting a few, utterly destroyed. One may well apply this for the instruction of mankind, and learn thence how unhappy they were: it will also show us the history of Agrippa, who, as he was a person most worthy of admiration, so was he from a private man, beyond all the expectation of those that knew him, advanced to great power and authority. I have said something of them formerly, but I shall now also speak accurately about them.” (Josephus - Ant. 18:5:3).
Having established the time frame, scope, and original audience of Jesus’ Olivet Prophecy, we’ll continue with more signs in the next post, as well as their first century fulfillment.
For More Information, See The Last Days According to Jesus by R.C. Sproul