When Shall These Things Be? (1)

Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to show 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. 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?

Matthew 24:1-3

It was Tuesday evening of the passion week when Jesus was leaving Jerusalem with His twelve disciples, who were filled with anxiety and perplexity. Jesus had spoken to chief priests, rulers, and others who were gathered in the temple. His message had been powerful and bore a note of absolute finality. The Lord had pronounced His woes upon the scribes and Pharisees, exposing their hypocrisy. He had charged them, saying: "Ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" His concluding indictment still rang in the ears of His disciples: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matt. 23:37).

Even as a hen gathers her own chicks to herself, Jesus had gathered those given unto Him of the Father, yet the wicked rulers had done their utmost to prevent Him. Therefore, shaking, as it were, their dust from His feet, He declared: "Behold, your house shall be left to you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:38, 39).

While leaving the holy city the disciples looked back upon the city, and more particularly upon the beautiful temple with all its buildings which Herod had built and which now stood out boldly in the light of the setting sun. If Jerusalem would be destroyed and its inhabitants killed, would God no longer dwell among His people? Would this be the end of the ages? But how about Christ's kingdom?

Without further explanation Jesus assures them that not one stone would be left upon another, but all would be destroyed. God's judgment rested upon its wicked inhabitants. Israel as a chosen nation would cease to exist.

When the entire party had arrived at the Mount of Olives, where they likely intended to spend the night, four of the disciples, Andrew, Peter, James, and John, approached Jesus privately to ask Him in deep concern: "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?"

These were pertinent questions that burned in the souls of these men. In their minds they associated the destruction of the temple with the end of the world, for God certainly would not forsake His chosen people, His heritage and portion forever. But that only raises other questions: How about Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem just two days earlier? The disciples were still expecting an earthly kingdom, deliverance from the power of Rome, and the glorious restoration of the throne of David. Even after the Lord's resurrection they asked Jesus: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?"

Now they must know, when will Jerusalem be destroyed? What signs will point them to the glorious appearance of the Son of Man when He comes into His kingdom? And when will all things be accomplished, when will be the culmination of the ages or the end of the world? Important questions indeed!

It is very obvious that the disciples were troubled, even perplexed. They realized that Jesus would soon be leaving them. Tremendous changes would take place. Their first question was: When shall these things be?

These were crucial times. Old things would soon pass away. In a sense, all would become new. The dispensation of types and shadows was drawing to an end. All the prophecies and signs that spoke in the old dispensation of the coming of the Son of Man were being realized. Israel as a nation would no longer hold any typical significance. In fact, the nation itself would perish under the righteous judgment of God after they had openly and deliberately rejected Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. The presence of God would no longer be symbolized by the Most Holy Place in the temple, for the temple would be destroyed.

The new dispensation was about to dawn. Christ's death and resurrection would introduce a new era. The church would no longer be bound within the narrow confines of Israel as a nation but would become universal. God would gather His church from all nations, tribes, and tongues, even unto the ends of the earth and the islands of the sea. God would no longer dwell in a temple made by man, but would come to dwell in the hearts of His people by the Spirit of the exalted Christ. All God's promises spoken by the prophets of old would be realized. God's counsel would be accomplished at the consummation of the ages, the end of the world, "For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts" (Hag. 2:6, 7).

In a sense, this was fulfilled when Christ died, arose, ascended, and poured forth His Spirit in the church. Yet Hebrews 12:26, 27 informs us: "Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven."

We should bear in mind that as the prophets of old stood on the mountaintops of revelation and beheld the future that was revealed to them, they saw the entire panorama of the new dispensation as one great future event. We can best understand this by picturing before our minds a large mountain range looming into view in the distance before us. Our first impression is that the distant peaks are all close together, almost in one line. Only when we arrive at the mountains and begin to travel through them do we realize that those various peaks are separated by large distances. Only by traveling many miles do we pass through the entire mountain range.

We now stand between the first and second coming of the Lord. For us He came once burdened with our guilt and sin, in order to bear it away. He is coming again in all His glory to make all things new. Thus we can even distinguish between various comings of the Son of Man throughout this dispensation. There was, first of all, His coming on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent into the church (John 14:28). There is also a coming for each of His saints. The Lord Himself tells us that He is now preparing a place for us and that when that place is ready, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3). Moreover there is a continuous coming of Christ throughout this present dispensation, since our Lord is carrying out the counsel of God unto the culmination of the ages (Rev. 22:12). And there is His final arrival at the end of the ages (Matt. 24:30).

The disciples were still struggling with the problem. "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" Literally we read: What shall be the sign of Thy coming, or Thy presence, and of the culmination of the ages?

The question comes down to this: How will we know when Christ will establish His kingdom? And how is that related to the end of time when God's eternal counsel is realized and His plan for the salvation of His people is accomplished?

Actually, the rest of this chapter and also the next chapter serve as answer to those questions. Jesus gives the disciples and us various signs of His coming and of the end of the ages.

The question is just as pertinent today as it was when it was first asked: When shall these things be? The disciples certainly did not expect that two thousand years would elapse before the end of the ages. In fact, Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica: "Now we beseech you ... that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand." And then he goes on to warn them that there must first be a falling away and the man of sin must be revealed, that is, the Antichrist must come (II Thess. 2:1-12). Peter also assures the churches in his second epistle that "the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Pet. 3:9). Only when all the elect are prepared for glory will Christ return.

No man knows the day or the hour. Attempts have been made to determine it, dates have even been set, but all speculation is a bold defiance of the holy Scriptures. The end is determined by God and will come in His own time. Scripture reminds us: "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (II Pet. 3:8).

But there are definite signs that point us to the culmination of the ages and the return of Christ. These we hope to discuss, the Lord willing, as the account is given to us in the 24th chapter of Matthew's account of the gospel.