Before His crucifixion, Jesus used the occasion of the Passover to institute the Lord’s Supper. During the feast, He predicted His betrayal and Peter’s denial. He assured His disciples that His imminent crucifixion was in fulfillment of Scripture. They were distraught. Jesus comforted them with the assurance that He would come back for them. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn 14:1-3).
Earlier in the week, He rode into Jerusalem and was rejected as Messiah by the Jews. He laments over Jerusalem for failing to know the time of her visitation. The disciples took him on a tour of the temple area and one of them drew the Lord’s attention to the architectural wonder and magnificence of the buildings that King Herod the Great reconstructed. Jesus in response predicted the destruction of the temple to the point that even the stones used for the building would be pulled down one by one. The disciples were perplexed. Things appeared to be happening in the way they did not anticipate.
Meanwhile, Jesus and His disciples left the temple area and went down to the foot of the Mt of Olives, some 800 metres from the temple, to rest. Peter, James, John and Andrew could no longer hold their anxiety. They asked the Master: “… Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Mt 24:3}. There are three distinct questions put forward to Jesus by His disciples:
Question 1. When will these things be?
This question relates to the prophecy given by Jesus minutes earlier about the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem.
Question 2. What will be the sign of your coming?
Here, the disciples were asking Jesus about His glorious appearing when all the tribes of the earth shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. This question had nothing to do with the rapture as the disciples, at that time, did not understand that there would be a Church that would be raptured before His return. His coming, as far as they were concerned, would be to establish His kingdom in Jerusalem. When the apostles were with Jesus, just before He ascended into heaven, they kept asking him, “Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6 NLT)
Question 3. What will be the sign of the end of the world?
The reference to the ‘end of the world’ has nothing to do with end of the literal world. What is meant is the end of the colonisation of Israel with the attendant suffering and disgrace. The disciples anticipated in line with Old Testament prophecies that the earthly kingdom of God will be established when Messiah has come. Since Jesus was emphatic about going back to the Father Who sent Him, the disciples wanted to know the specific signs when Jewish suffering under foreign domination and bondage would end and the Davidic rulership restored. They wanted a specific time frame when to expect the kingdom of God to be re-established.
The Lord’s answer to the disciples’ questions was not given in chronological order. He gave them the signs and events to expect to occur from His arrest, trial and crucifixion to His visible return to establish the kingdom of God on earth. Answers to the three questions are recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. First, let us consider the signs relate to Jesus’ coming back to earth. They had asked Him “What will be the sign of your coming?” Jesus mentioned the following signs:
1. Deceptions – take heed that ye be not deceived.
2. Many false christs shall arise and deceive many.
3. Wars and rumours of wars.
4. Famines, both natural and as a result of military blockades.
7. Arrest, imprisonment & martyrdom of followers of Christ
8. Nation rising against nation & kingdom rising against kingdom.
9. Anti-Semitism – persecution of the Jewish people by Gentile authorities.
10. Betrayals – by parents, brethren, kinsfolk and friends
11. Offences shall arise – leading to arrest, trials and imprisonments.
12. Hatred of all men for Christ’s sake.
13. Martyrdom – some of you shall be put to death.
14. Commotion and instability, similar to a state of anarchy.
15. Persecution of the redeemed – the saints of the Lord.
16. False prophets shall arise.
17. Lawlessness abounding
18. Love of many for Christ shall wax cold.
19. Gospel of the Kingdom shall be proclaimed worldwide.
20. New Jewish temple erected on old site.
21. Abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.
22. False claims of being the Christ.
23. False prophets showing great satanic signs and wonders.
24. Great Tribulation of three and one-half years’ duration.
25. Untold affliction on the elect, the Jews, in particular.
26. Martyrdom of a great multitude – those who refuse to worship the Beast or take his Mark.
27. Flight of Jews from Judea into the mountains and fields.
28. Surfeiting – eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.
29. Fearful sights and great signs from heaven.
30. Sun and moon darkened.
31. Stars fall from heaven.
32. Powers of the heavens shall be shaken.
33. The Fig Tree parable – foretelling the rebirth of Israel as a nation.
34. The fig tree generation shall not pass away.
35. Lethargy and spiritual drowsiness of followers of Christ.
36. Banqueting, drunkenness and cares of this life
As can be seen from the above, Jesus prophesied about events that can be set in four time periods:
1st Period: Events from His arrest, trial and crucifixion to the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews.
2nd Period: Events that will occur from the Dispersion of Israel to the rebirth of Israel – AD70-1948.
3rd Period: Events from the rebirth of Israel to the last days which the Lord referred to as “the beginning of sorrows.” In Lord also referred to the period immediately preceding the rapture of the church as the period of “birthpangs.”
4th Period: Events from the the rapture of the church to Christ’s visible return to the earth to carry out the second phase of His assignment that includes destruction of world armies at the Battle of Armageddon.
First, these are the signs predicted to happen between the time of the Olivet Discourse and the time of the Jewish Diaspora. These signs are recorded in Lk 21:12-24.
1. Persecution of the disciples. They were arrested, tortured and delivered to councils and synagogues for punishment. Many of them were imprisoned; arraigned before foreign kings and rulers for preaching Jesus; some were betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends, hated by all and martyred.
2. Jerusalem compassed about with armies causing desolation of the holy city.
3. Days of vengeance for the fulfillment of the prophecy against Jerusalem for rejecting her Messiah.
4. Flight of Jews from Judea and Jerusalem into the countryside.
5. Disaster on pregnant and nursing mothers because of the siege.
6. Great distress upon the land and the people.
7. Crucifixion of a multitude of Jews on the walls of Jerusalem.
8. Death of multitudes in the city of Jerusalem as a result of the siege.
9. Destruction of the Jewish temple by fire, including the huge stones that were used in erecting the main building.
10. Breaking down of the walls that demarcate the city of Jerusalem.
11. Destruction of the city of Jerusalem by fire.
12. Decimation of the land of Israel.
13. Dispersion of the Jews to the four winds of the earth.
14. Jerusalem to be trampled upon by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled.
These events took place as predicted with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman army under the command of Gen Titus in AD70. According to Josephus, Gen Titus gave orders for the gates of Jerusalem to be put on fire. The over-zealous Roman soldiers did that and proceeded to burn the temple buildings in the hope of finding hidden treasure in the giant stones to the great indignation of the General.
According to Dake, “The Jews were crucified in such numbers before the walls during the siege that the Romans wanted more room for crosses. Multitudes in the city died of famine until the valleys outside were filled with them. Titus himself groaned and threw up his hands in horror and called God to witness that he was not responsible. No fewer than 600,000 who were thrown out of the gates were counted by the Romans. Altogether 1,100,000 Jews died; 97,000 were sold as slaves for trifling prices; 40,000 were freed because no one bought them; and 347,490 more, plus multitudes not counted, perished in many other ways.” Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible.
The signs of this first group have become history. They happened exactly as Jesus predicted. For preaching the gospel the disciples were arrested, imprisoned and martyred in large numbers both at home and abroad. From AD70, Israel ceased to be a nation.
Jesus also said “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Mt 24:6). These signs do not indicate that the end was in sight. The next set of signs points to the rebirth of the state of Israel and the beginning of the re-gathering of dispersed Jews to their homeland promised by God. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Mt 24:7-8).
What did Jesus mean by “the beginning of sorrows?”