Matthew 24 - It's Meant for the Church


For well over one hundred years, the vast majority of Evangelicals have believed
that Matthew 24, the first half of the Olivet Discourse, describes events that have
no bearing on the church; that it amounts to little more than a sop to sate our
curi­osity. Why? Because those events, taken together, comprise the Tribulation -
and to suggest that Matthew 24 is meant for the church runs contrary to the
pretribulational bias they’ve been taught - that the church will be raptured before
the onset of the Tribulation

However, writing the church out of Matthew 24 has always been a hard pill to
swallow. Why? Because Jesus is here speaking to “The Twelve,” soon to be com-
­missioned the founding apostles of the church. With just a short time left to be
with them, would Jesus spend those few remaining hours on a teaching that has
no bearing whatsoever on the prodigious responsibilities they’re about to shoul­-
der? That’s not very likely. And, in any event, Jesus had already been narrowing
down the focus of his teaching ministry to that one single task - ever since, a year
earlier, he had asked his disciples: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
Leading him for the first time to pull back the veil concealing the church and to
unmistakably link his messianic mission to its establishment!

     And Simon Peter answered and said, you are the Christ, the Son of
the living God. 
     And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed are you, Simon
Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed this unto you, but my
Father who is in heaven. 
     And I say also unto you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I
will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 
     And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and
whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and
whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 
                                                                                       Matthew 16:16-19    
          
Isn't it only reasonable to assume, therefore, that Matthew 24 is freighted with
staggering significance for the church? And, if so, doesn’t that beg the question: 
Are evangelicals allowing their take on Matthew 24 to be guided less by the text it­self and more by a preconceived eschatological interpreta­tion, making it a clas­sic example of eisegesis?

To make their case, pretribulationists often resort to a deft sleight of hand …

Because here in Matthew 24 the church age has not yet been for­mally inaugurated, the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking represent not the church, but Israel.
 
But is that really tenable? That simply because the Day of Pentecost had not yet come, the disciples here in Matthew 24 aren’t representa­tive of the church, but of Israel? That seems a bit farfetched. I doubt very much that it would survive “Oc­cam’s Razor.” All the truths Je­sus proclaimed during his ministry, not just those here in Matthew 24, were taught before the Day of Pentecost. Does that un­dercut their relevance for the church as well? The answer is so obvious it hardly needs to be stated.

Let's be clear: there is no sharply defined, transparently obvious boundary sepa­rating the Mosaic Order from the Church Age. Indeed, the biblical re­cord clearly indicates that the transition to the Church Age was underway from the very incep­tion of Jesus' ministry; and that Jesus began preparing his disciples early on to continue that transition and to complete it. Exam­ples abound …
  • Jesus announces the "new birth" to Nicodemus, a truth that's clearly linked to the long prophesied New Covenant proclaimed by both Jer­emiah and Ezekiel and confirmed in Hebrew 8 - John Chapter 3:1-21.
  • Jesus declares that he fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 61; that in him a new age has dawned - Luke 4:18-21.
  • Jesus tells his disciples that John the Baptist closes out the Mo­saic Or­der, and that his own ministry is inaugurating an alto­gether new one - Luke 7:28.
  • The same lesson is taught in Matthew 11:7-15 - John's ministry closes out the Mosaic Order.
  • Jesus tells John's disciples that the Mosaic Order is being super­seded; that new wine requires new wineskins - Mark 2:21-22.
 
 Writing off the Parables
 But there’s more. It’s “de rigueur” for Christian pastors, whether inadver­tently or not, to divide Matthew 24 and 25 into two distinct and largely stand-alone pas­sages of scripture ...
  • Matthew 24:1-31 - Jesus’ description of the lead-up to the Tribulation (the Birth Pangs), the Tribulation itself, and the Second Coming - which most pretribulationists in­sist are not meant for the church; and
  • Matthew 24:32 through to the end of Matthew 25, the Parables of Readi­ness and Judgment, which all Christian leaders, including pretribulation­ists, acknowledge are indeed meant for the church.

But that’s a mistake. A close look at verse 32 tells a different story: that it’s exegeti­cally impossible to separate Matthew 24:1-31 from Matthew 24:32-25:46. The rea­son is easily overlooked, but obvious once it’s noticed. From Mat­thew 24:1 through Matthew 24:31, Jesus sketches out in detail various events that both her­ald the approach of the Tribulation and which will occur during the Tribula­tion itself. Then, in verse 32, he says …
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
NOW learn the parable of the fig tree: When its branch has al­ready become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.
Matthew 24:32

The word “now” is key. It’s a “conjunctive adverb,” a word used to link together two ideas. See Illustration 1.

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Illustration #1

   
It clearly indicates that Jesus is looking back to Matthew 24:1-31, his descrip­tion of the Tribulation and its lead-up, and telling us that what follows, Mat­thew 24:32 through to the end of Chapter 25, is predicated on those verses. In short, what we have here are two halves of a single whole. Therefore …
  • if the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking in Matthew 24:1-31 are repre­sentative of Israel, not the church,
  • so too are they representative of Israel not the church in Matthew 24:32-25:46, the Parables of Readiness and Judgment.
 
Clearly, then, anyone writing the church out of Matthew 24:1-31 is logically obli­gated to write it out of Matthew 24:32-25:46 as well, including
  • the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servant,
  • the Parable of the Ten Virgins, and
  • the Parable of the Talents …
 
… parables every pastor, with hardly a second thought, includes in his teaching rep­ertoire. And that’s unimaginable! Still, it’s either one or the other! Either all of Matthew 24 and 25 is meant for the church or none of it is!  

What Jesus is doing is so obvious that it can be missed only if an eschatologi­cal bias has blinded us to it: after describing the Tribulation, he’s instructing believers how to prepare themselves for both it and the judg­ments that will follow in its wake.
 
No, Jesus’ teaching on the Tribulation in Matthew 24 is meant for the church. It’s especially relevant for churches …
  • that are unaccustomed to hostility;
  • that have become rooted in the “here and now;”
  • that have, consequently, lost their radical edge;
  • that have become rich and complacent;
 
… in short, the kind of church Jesus describes in Revelation 3:14-22, the Church in Laodicia, a lukewarm church; and, I might add, the kind of church that has evolved here in America - and here I mean the evangelical church. And to ignore Mat­thew 24 leaves those kinds of churches both (1) ill equipped to endure either the lead-up to the Tribulation or the Tribulation itself and (2) either too oblivious or too fearful to reap the vast harvest of souls tribulation always makes possible.

The Parables of Readiness and Judgment are, of course, relevant for believ­ers un­dergoing persecution regardless of when, where, and under what circum­stances that persecution occurs; but they’re especially rele­vant for believers at the close of the Church Age, on the cusp of the Tribula­tion, when all believ­ers, no excep­tions, will find their faithful­ness tested by fire. That’s why Jesus includes them as a follow-up to his teaching on the Tribulation.