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The Last Days Duncan Heaster  
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11-3 An Exposition Of The Olivet Prophecy

Finer details

We will now have a closer look at the text of Luke 21.

v.8 " Be not deceived" is extensively quoted later in the NT concerning the need not be deceived by false teachers within the ecclesia (1 Cor. 6:9,15,33; Gal. 6:17; 2 Tim. 3:13, as Mt. 24:4 = 1 Jn. 3:7). The deceivers Christ spoke of were not just bogus Messiahs out in the world, but apparently Spirit-gifted brethren who will arise within the ecclesia.

v.12 " The synagogues...the prisons" - implying both a religious and civil persecution of the saints?

v.13 " It shall turn to you for a testimony" is hard to interpret. Could it mean that the way we respond to our trials during the tribulation will determine our verdict at the judgment? It will be a testimony in our favour at the day of judgment. In view of this, " Settle it therefore in your hearts" to make this witness in God's strength (Lk.21:14). " In the endurance of you (in the tribulation), ye will gain the souls of you" (Lk.21:19 Marshall's Interlinear). The run up to the tribulation will provoke a " praying always, that ye may be accounted worthy...to stand before the Son of man" (Lk.21:36). Peter describes the tribulation of the believers in the run up to AD70 (and therefore the last days too) as judgment taking place on the house of God, in which even the righteous are " scarcely saved" (1 Pet.4:17,18). This suggests that the last generation of believers will only be saved due to their response to the tribulation which comes upon them; but even then, only by the skin of their teeth. Lot in Sodom and the parable of the virgins, among others, are hints that the last generation of believers will be in a weak state.

v.16,18 " Some of you shall they cause to be put to death...but there shall not an hair of your head perish" can only be reconciled by appreciating how miraculously the disciples were preserved in order to inspire and co-ordinate the rest of the body. Perhaps a similar group of elders (" the two witnesses" ? See later) will be preserved in the last days too.

v.15 " I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay" . This is alluding to Ex.4:12, where God tells Moses at the time of the Egyptian persecution of God's people, " I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say" . This persecution lead to intensified prayer to God, resulting in  the deliverance of the suffering saints at Passover time, after a period of especial distress and 'time of trouble' for the surrounding world due to the plagues. After this deliverance, God's people went into the wilderness and were declared God's Kingdom. We have earlier shown how all these events form a remarkable latter day prophecy.

This verse also suggests that the gifts of the Spirit may be given to some in the Elijah ministry in order to enable them to make a more powerful witness (as in Rev.11:6). The fact they are given personally by Christ would indicate that in some way, Christ is already back at this stage. Time and again we will see how the prophecies of events in the last days are ambiguous as to whether Christ is already back at the time of their fulfilment, or whether they herald his return. Seeing that we will never know the exact time of Christ's return, this is understandable. Similarly Joel 2 prophesies the pouring out of the gifts " before the great and terrible day of the Lord" (v.31). Malachi surely refers to this passage when prophesying the Elijah ministry " before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal.4:5). This suggests that the 3.5 year Elijah ministry of the last days (James 5:17) will be accompanied by Spirit gifts, and will coincide with the time of persecution. Note that the gifts were given " before the day of the Lord" in AD70 too. It is possible that because of this possession of the gifts by 'Elijah', false teachers within the ecclesia at the end will also claim to possess them (Mt.24:24), so convincingly that all but the elect within the ecclesia will be duped into following them.

Yet it must be stressed that it is a feature of the gifts that they are unmistakable and obvious to identify (cp. Acts 4:16); it will be evident enough if and when they are poured out in the last days.

v.16 " Ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolk, and friends and some of you shall they cause to be put to death" .

This indicates that the persecuting power will infiltrate the ecclesias, as the Jews and Romans did to the early church in order to bring about their persecution. This theme is demonstrated in more detail in " The man of sin" later.

v.17 " Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake" . This hating by all men may imply a world-wide persecution.

v.18 " There shall not an hair of your head perish" - primarily concerning the disciples, seeing that some believers were to die for their faith in the period around AD70 (cp. v.16). The figure of not a hair of the head perishing is used in the Old Testament concerning sudden deliverance from what seemed like certain death, e.g. Jonathan in 1 Sam.14:45. This is fitting, seeing that " except those days should be shortened there should no flesh be saved" (Mt.24:22). It is also the language of the faithful few among an Israel who wouldn't stand up and be counted being miraculously preserved from Babylonian tribulation (Dan. 3:27). There are many instructive parallels here with the latter day tribulation, which the majority of natural and spiritual Israel may try to avoid by some tokenistic acquiescence to the dictates of the King of Babylon.

" Saved" here (" there should no flesh be saved" ) implies 'delivered'; it will appear that none of us will survive the tribulation, " but for the elects sake those days shall be shortened" and we will be saved by the second coming. Thus 2 Pet.3:12,15 reminds us that by our prayers and spiritual development, the days before the second coming will be shortened. If they were not, even the elect would lose their faith (Mt. 24:22)- showing how those of us who are alive at Christ's coming will barely survive the spiritual traumas of the last days. The virgins were sleeping when they should have been watching; and Peter says that the righteous in the last generation (see context) will scarcely be saved (1 Pet. 4:18). So it would appear that the days of the final tribulation will be shortened, although in another sense the coming of the Lord is delayed in order to allow our greater spiritual development (Mt. 25:5). This ‘delay’ is why the harvest will be “over-ripe” for reaping (Rev. 14:15 RV)- or is this a reference to the lack of zeal of preachers to Israel in the last days, not harvesting the ready fruit? The Lord likens the final tribulation to the travail of a woman to bring forth her child. But we read in Is. 66:7,8 in this same context of Israel’s latter day suffering: “Before she travailed, she brought forth: before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard such a thing?... for as soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children”. This seems to imply that the expected period of Zion’s travail will be cut short, and she will give spiritual birth far quicker than expected. Perhaps the Lord was alluding to this passage when He spoke of how “the days” [of Zion’s labour?] shall be shortened.

A quick survey of the present scene would indicate (even without the Biblical evidence) that only major tribulation will make us take our spiritual responsibilities seriously. Jesus may well have been predicting how the apostles would generally be miraculously delivered from the persecution of the Christians in order to co-ordinate the rest of the flock in this difficult time. Does this point to a similar preservation of a group of Christian elders in the tribulation to come?

v.21 " Then let them which be in Judaea flee to the mountains" means that there will be Jewish believers in Jerusalem in the last days, seeing the whole prophecy has a latter day application. Dan. 12:1 says that in the final tribulation of Israel, those Jews who are " written in the book" , i.e. who are acceptable saints (Ex. 32:32; Rev. 21:27) will be delivered. So there will be a minority in latter day natural Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal, as in Elijah's time- which is typical of the situation at the latter day Elijah ministry.

" Pray ye that your flight (the time of your flight) be not in winter" , Mk. 13:18 adds. This indicates that the exact timing of events in the tribulation will be changeable in accordance with the fervency of our latter day prayers. An AD70 application for this is hard to find; it may be that the exact timing of the Roman offer of amnesty was dependent on the intensity of prayer by the besieged Jerusalem ecclesia. That ecclesia, rent as they were by  schism, false doctrine and materialism (if we accept the evidence that Hebrews was addressed to them) was a type of the faithful remnant of the last days. They were finally sorted out by the events of AD67 - 70, cp. the latter day tribulation.

v. 28 " When these things begin to come to pass, then look up (Gk. un-bend), and lift up your heads" may suggest that the believers will be bowed down in bondage in some sense. Alternatively, we can read it simply as a command to stand up (as NIV), which would connect with the slumbering virgins, none of them standing ready to welcome their Lord as they should have been. It is evident from a close reading of the Olivet prophecy that the Lord is using his pronouns carefully. Sometimes he speaks of " ye" , sometimes of " they" . It seems that the " ye" refer to the disciples and the faithful remnant in the latter day ecclesia, and the " they" either to the natural Jews or to " the many" (majority) in the ecclesia who will fall away. " They shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud...when these things (leading up to the Son of man coming) begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads" (Lk. 21:27,28). This may suggest that the majority, the " they" category, are shocked by the coming of the Lord, but the faithful minority stand up from their slumber and are expecting his coming.

v.34 " And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, so that day come upon you unawares" . It could fairly be asked 'Why is there this warning, if the believers of the last days are to be actively persecuted?'. This verse implies that the world will be in a materially prosperous state in the last days; it will be possible for us to become so preoccupied with it that we do not prepare for the time of tribulation, so that it comes as a sudden surprise. Of if " that day" is the day of Christ's coming, then it may be that by opting out of the persecution, we will be able to continue to enjoy the materialism of the world, in which case we will be caught unawares by the second coming. Thus while the saints are persecuted, the world enjoys a time of prosperity as it did in the times of Lot and Noah.

v.36 " Watch ye therefore and pray always that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things...and to stand before the son of man" . " Escape" can mean 'to suddenly flee away from'- the same idea of sudden deliverance from persecution which cropped up in our notes on v.18. Those who do not watch and pray will be unable to flee out of the tribulation, as Lot's wife was unable to. This idea of escaping connects with 1 Thess.5:3 (we will see presently that this is just one of many links between the Olivet prophecy and Thessalonians): " When they shall say (in the ecclesia) Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them...and they shall not escape" . The language of " peace and safety" is often used in the Old Testament to describe the calm words of Israel's false teachers, as they confidently asserted that all was spiritually well within Israel (Jer.6:14; 5:12; 14:13; Mic.3:5; Ez.13:10; Dt.29:19). Those who do not think that there is peace and safety in the ecclesia and who face up to the reality of 'watching and praying' to spiritually survive the last days, are those who will 'escape'.

Matthew 24

A number of verses in the other accounts of the Olivet prophecy also call for attention.

- A comparison of Mt.24:11 and 24 suggests that there will be two particular periods of false prophet activity- at the outbreak of the persecution, and then immediately prior to the Lord's return. This latter group reason that Christ's second coming has already occurred in some non-literal form. Thus v.27 speaks as if the clear return of Christ in the clouds will prove them wrong. These men would equate with Peter's description of some within the ecclesia of the last days saying " Where is the promise of his coming?" .

- Christ gives a particular sign which will encourage the persecuted that they really are in the last times: " When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation...stand in the holy place...then shall be great tribulation" (Mt.24:15). This seems to parallel Lk.21:20: " When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh" . The tribulation that is to come upon the land of Israel, with the placing of a particular abomination in Jerusalem, will be the sign that spiritual Israel too must suffer. And at any moment now the oft foretold Arab conquest of Israel in the last days could begin.

- " Immediately after the tribulation...shall all the tribes of the earth (land- of Israel) mourn, and then shall they see the Son of Man coming" (v.29,30). Then follows the fig tree parable. The chronology seems clear- a tribulation, repentance of Israel (note the allusions to the mourning of Zech.12 and 13), and then the second coming, with the fig tree parable about the repentance of Israel added as a footnote to this part of the prophecy.

- Mt.24:19 " Woe unto them that are with child" may well match Paul's warning against marrying  in the last days in 1 Cor.7.

- " Great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world" (v.21) may refer to the beginning of the Jewish world at Sinai and their persecution in Egypt just prior to that. Our coming tribulation, and that of natural Israel, must therefore exceed that of Israel in Egypt before we receive the Passover deliverance- in the form of the second coming.

Mark 13

Fellowshipping His Sufferings

The Olivet prophecy as recorded in Mark 13 has many allusions to the sufferings of our Lord, thereby suggesting that our sufferings during the coming tribulation will make us fellowship the cross as never before. The whole idea of darkness, earthquake, open graves, rocks shaking etc, which we read of in the Olivet and other last day prophecies is evidently the langauge of the crucifxion. The description of suffering before " the end" comes (Mk. 13:7,13; Mt. 24:14) invites connection with Christ's death also being described as " the end" , coming as it did after a period of suffering (Mt. 26:58; Lk. 22:37; Jn. 13:1). This connection is strengthened by the way in which each record of the Olivet prophecy leads straight on into the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. There is to be a “little while” between the death of those persecuted in the last days, and the coming of the Lord; using the very same word which John uses for the “little while” of the three days of the Lord’s death (Rev. 6:11; Jn. 16:16-19). Rev. 12 speaks of how the dead bodies of the tribulation victims will rest for three and a half days, just as the Lord’s body did. They will fully fellowship His death and therefore His resurrection. Similarly, the idea of all God's word being fulfilled by the Lord's death (Lk. 24:44; Jn. 19:28; Acts 3:18) follows on from the prophecy that all will be fulfilled at the time of suffering which heralds the second coming (Lk. 21:22). Mt. 24:13 commenends those who endure to the end- of the great tribulation. The same word occurs in Heb. 12:2,3 about Christ enduring the cross- we fellowship the cross during the last day tribulation. The word in Mt. 24:29 for “the tribulation” is used in Col. 1:24 about the afflictions of Christ. And as the Lord’s critics could not find a way to answer Him, so in our tribulation, all our adversaries will not be able to gainsay us (Lk. 21:15). The Lord in Jn. 16:2,4,32 used the term “the hour” to refer both to the ‘hour’ of His own sufferings, and the ‘hour’ of tribulation for His people. He clearly saw what He was about to endure as being repeated in the latter day tribulation of those for whom He was about to die.

The other tribulation prophecies, notably in Revelation, are also shot through with allusions to Christ's passion.

" They shall deliver you up to the councils...

As Christ to the Sannhedrin

beaten...

Christ buffeted

rulers and kings for a testimony...

Chief priests, Herod, Pilate

brother shall betray the brother...

Judas; Peter's denial?

turn back to take up his garment...

John Mark's linen garment

false Christs...

Barabbas

the sun shall be darkened...

As at the crucifixion

watch and pray...

" Watch with me" ; Gethsemane

at even...

Last Supper

at midnight...

Gethsemane

at the cock crowing...

Peter's denials

in the morning...

Trial and crucifixion

find you sleeping"

Disciples in Gethsemane

As our exposition proceeds, we will see that such allusions to Christ's sufferings are a constant feature of the tribulation prophecies. The purpose of the tribulations of the last days will be to make us truly fellowship our Lord's agonizing, to make us know for ourselves that " if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him" . It is fair to assume that those who really try to shoulder their Lord's cross now will not need to go through such an experience. The following are some of the many connections between the experiences of the latter day saints, and the sufferings of Christ:

- Peter's letters were written to strengthen the faithful in the problems of the AD70 'last days', as well as our own. They are full of reference to Christ's sufferings (e.g. 1 Pet.1:11,19,21-24; 3:18; 4:1). " The fiery trial which is to try you (is cause for rejoicing because it makes you) partakers of Christ's sufferings" (4:13).

- The idea of enduring to the end and being saved (Mt. 24:13) is the spirit of the Lord's struggle on the cross (Heb. 12:2,3).

- The dead bodies of the latter day witnesses are left in the street of the city " where also our Lord was crucified" (Rev.11:8)

- At the end of the saints' latter day tribulation, the Most Holy is opened (Rev.15:2,5), just as it was on Christ's death; as if His hanging on the cross is parallel to the saints' tribulation. The Angels comment " It is done" when the saints are finally delievered (Rev.16:17), as our Lord could say " It is finished" at the end of His sufferings. The great earthquake which is then described (Rev.16:18) matches the earthquakes at Christ's death and resurrection.

- Speaking of the time in the tribulation when " a man's foes shall be they of his own household" , Jesus comments: " he that taketh not his cross (then), and followeth after me, is not worthy" (Mt.10:38). Our response to our trials then will effectively be our judgment seat.

- The sufferings of that time are called " birth pangs" (Mt.24:8); exactly the description given to our Lord's painful death (Acts 2:24).

- " The sun shall be darkened" after the tribulation (Mk.13:24), as it was when Jesus died (Lk.23:45).

- Mic. 7:2-9 is a clear prophecy of Christ's sufferings. But embedded in it are words which are quoted in Lk. 21:16 and Mt. 10:36 concerning the latter day tribulation of the believers: " the son dishonoureth the father...a man's enemies are the men of his own house" .

- In similar manner, some of the prophecies of Israel's latter day sufferings speak in the same context of those of Christ. Mic. 5:1 is an example: " ...he hath laid seige against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel (Christ) with a rod upon the cheek" . The whole of Amos 5 can be scanned for connections with both the future tribulation of Israel, and also the sufferings of Christ.

- As He hung on the cross, our Lord quoted part of His Olivet prophecy to the women who stood by (Lk.23:29=Mt.24:19), concerning the sufferings of the believers in the 'last days'. Here we see His matchless selflessness; going out of His own sufferings, to think, with anguish, how they would be experienced by His followers in the tribulation. " Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves...for if they do these things (to) a green tree (the spiritually healthy Lord Jesus), what shall be done (to) the dry" , the spiritually barren tree of Israel. This is a superb essay in the Lord's selflessness and minimizing of his own sufferings: he felt that what he was going through was less than what the spiritually weak would have to go through in the AD70 tribulation (and that of the last days).

Our sense of unity with the Father and Son during the final tribulation will be considerable. God Himself in that period will be like a travailing woman crying out (Is. 42:14)- and yet that very image is used about the pangs that will come upon both the world and the church as they suffer. God will be with us, sharing our fear, pain and struggle, until the day finally breaks.

Matthew 10:16-39

A careful reading of Mt.10:16-39 reveals many links with the Olivet prophecies concerning the latter day persecution of the saints; verses 17-21 are effectively quoted in Lk.21:12-18. However, Mt.10:16 prefaces all this by saying that these tribulations will attend those who go out preaching the Gospel. It is not unreasonable to conclude that during the 3.5 year tribulation period there will be a zealous outreach world-wide which will no doubt encourage our persecution. At this time, when many believers " shall be offended" (spiritually stumble) and " the love of many (true believers) shall wax cold" for the truth (Mt.24:10,11), the " Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Mt.24:14)- i.e. the full establishment of the Kingdom. This in itself indicates the broad spiritual diversity there will be in the latter day body of Christ; a mixture of red hot zeal for witnessing and fellowshipping of our Lord's sufferings at one extreme, to cold indifference and doctrinal unsoundness at the other.

" Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Mt.10:22). The Greek phrase " the end" is normally used in the New Testament, and always in the Olivet Prophecy, regarding the second coming.  This verse therefore has a distinctly literal application- he who spiritually survives the tribulation until the second coming will be saved fully, by receiving eternal life at the judgment. " It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you" (Mt.10:22) is another indication that the miraculous gifts may be evident around the time of the last day tribulation.

There are many other details in Mt.10:16-39 which fit in with our persecution thesis.

v.23 " When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another...ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come" . The coming of the Son of man must have reference to the last days as well as to AD70. His coming will be at a time of high speed witnessing, fuelled by persecution. The reference to the cities of Israel may imply that there will be a group of believers within the land, perhaps in  the role of the Elijah ministry, witnessing the Gospel to the Jews.

v.27 " What ye hear in the ear (in quiet halls at the moment), that preach ye (then) upon the housetops" . This seems to be giving special encouragement to persevere in preaching during the tribulation. There is a connection here with Mt.24:17, which advises those upon the housetops to go with Christ at the time of his coming. This implies that at the moment of Christ's coming there will be zealous " upon the housetops" preaching by the faithful. It is only persecution  that will fire our community with that kind of zeal for evangelism, so that men may say of us that we have turned the world upside down by the power of our preaching, making us " the sect everywhere spoken against" . These descriptions of the early church are yet to become true of its latter day counterpart.

v.28 " Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul" - some of us will perish in the tribulation. " Some of you shall they cause to be put to death" (Lk.21:16). " He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (v.39).

v.31 " Fear ye not" . The faithful will have peace within them as they both consider and experience these things.

v.32,33 " Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men...but whosoever shall deny me" . This may imply that those who do not participate in the world-wide witness will declare themselves unworthy. However, the Greek for 'confess' really means to assent- as if it will only be by an apparently nominal indication of our faith that we fly our colours- cp. 'only' having to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar to avoid death in the first century. In the light of this, there is a need to keep our conscience finely tuned so that we are ready to make or refuse the apparently insignificant action or statement which will result in the world rejecting us. Similarly, a 'mere' confession of belief in the name of Jesus in the first century resulted in being cast out of the synagogue and socially ostracized (Jn.9:22). This idea of denying Jesus is picked up in 2 Tim.2:12, again in a persecution context: " If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us" . This parallels not denying Jesus in the tribulation with dying with him; another example of our tribulations then being described in terms of Christ's sufferings.

v.34-36 " Think not that I am come to send peace on earth (i.e. in this life)...I am come to set a man at variance against his father...a man's foes shall be they of his own household" . This is not really true today to such a degree. It may just be possible that the Greek tenses here mean 'I am coming to set a man at variance...', implying that in the period of Christ's return there will be betrayal within Christian families, as made explicit in Lk.21:16.

v.37 " He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" - apart from betrayal by family members, the persecutors will also put pressure on the relatives of believers as a blackmail to make them renounce their faith. The consequences of all this, given the close-knit nature of Christian families, are horrendous. But how can we skip over the verses we don't like the sound of?

v.38 " He that taketh not his cross and followeth after me is not worthy of me...he that receiveth a prophet...shall receive a prophet's reward" . This is further proof that during the tribulation there will be an especial fellowshiping of the Lord's sufferings on the cross. The reference to receiving itinerant preachers fits in to the picture of a major world-wide witness. Those who assist us during the tribulation preaching will be blessed- as those who blessed the persecuted Jews of the 1940s were blessed.

Israel's suffering in Egypt is the prototype for our tribulation. Their sufferings eventually resulted in a " mixed multitude" leaving Egypt with them, presumably as a result of their preaching to them. There appear to be two stages to the coming of Christ. The virgins were told by the cry at midnight that the bridegroom was coming; there is then a delay, before they finally meet Christ (Mt.25:1-10). Song 5:4,7 describes Christ knocking on the door, the bride (the saints) rising to open, but being confused at finding him vanished (cp. the virgins finding the unexpected delay). On account of her preaching about the bride (Christ), the woman (the saints) was then severally persecuted: " The watchmen...found me, they smote me, they wounded me" . It is likely that this 'delay' period will be the 3.5 years of persecution. We should therefore not think that because the tribulation has not started, Christ cannot come today. The news that 'He's back!' may be the beginning of the tribulation period.

Such a 3.5 year gap between being told Christ is about to come and his actual return would provide ample opportunity for many to fall away- " Where is the promise of his coming" which had been made a year or two ago? The midnight coming of the Lord to the harassed disciples on the sea of Galilee/ nations may well be typical of his second coming. In a seemingly hopeless position, lashed by the sea of nations, the disciples will suddenly find themselves in their desired haven. The Lord saw their toil and took pity, as God looked down and saw the toil and affliction of Israel under persecution in Egypt, and then 'came down' to deliver them. Careful analysis of this incident provides us with a two stage model: a midnight coming of Christ to his persecuted, spiritually weak brethren, and then the wind (cp. persecution) ceasing a short while later when the Lord actually came into the ship (Mt.14:32). Jn.6:17 implies that Christ's appearing was later than the disciples thought He had promised; which even more exactly fits our position. As they were tempted to doubt Him, so are we in the last days. " O (we) of little faith!" .

Preaching in the tribulation

The world-wide preaching activity mentioned earlier will be related to the persecution. " Ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake" connects with " this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached for a witness unto all nations" (Mt.24:39,14). " My name's sake" and the Gospel of the Kingdom's sake are interchangeable expressions (Mt.19:12,29; Mk.10:29; Lk.18:29). Before every 'coming' of the Lord there has been a period of persecution and zealous preaching: Noah preached righteousness before the flood, as Lot probably tried to before the Lord's coming down in judgment on Sodom (would God have wrought such wholesale destruction without giving the people a chance to repent? Cp. Nineveh and Jonah). The schools of the prophets preached from the street corners and temple steps to warn of the coming of the day of the Lord at the hand of the Babylonians and Assyrians. And of course the dramatic coming of the Lord in judgment upon Israel in AD70, was heralded by Paul and his committed band of zealots staging the greatest preaching campaigns this world has seen.

The word used in Mt. 24:14 for “witness to all nations” occurs in Mt. 10:18 concerning our being brought before judges etc. as a witness. Our behaviour during the final tribulation is the witness- perhaps the implication could be that there will be quiet believers world-wide before the final tribulation begins, and their witness under persecution will be the public proclamation of the Gospel world-wide of which the Lord speaks here? In the spread of the true Gospel recently we perhaps see the way for this being prepared. The word also occurs in the parallel Lk. 21:13- our behaviour during the final tribulation will be the witness we make.

The reluctance of the early church to throw their full weight behind obeying the command to " go into all the world and preach the Gospel" was only ended by the cosy ecclesias of Judea being persecuted, resulting in their increased appreciation of their hope, and preaching it to those previously neglected nations into which they were driven (Acts 11:19-22). Are the Christian heartlands of  Australia, North America and the U.K. in for something similar? That the mission fields are so white to the harvest but so chronically short of labourers  indicates how nicely such a scenario would work to God's glory.

It needs to be noted, though, that Mt. 24:12 specifically states that the love- agape of the majority will be lost in the latter day community of believers, whilst peoples from all nations hear and accept the Gospel. Could this mean that the established groups of believers lose their agape whilst the real fire of the Truth spreads to the new converts made during the great tribulation, as spoken of in Rev. 7. The parables of Mt. 25, as we will later illustrate, seem to refer specifically to the state of the latter day believers.

Not having oil to give light to others in the house [the ecclesia] and to the world is made parallel with not gaining more talents, which matches not ministering to the least [the word often refers to the spiritually least] of Christ’s brethren. The word in Mt. 25:17 for “gained” is normally used about gaining others for Christ either within or without the ecclesia- Mt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 9:19-22; 1 Pet. 3:1. This shows the primacy of preaching & pastoral work / effort for others, especially in the last days. Oil burning is giving light to others. Going to sleep / not tending the lamps in the last generation is therefore lacking in love to the household, not keeping ourselves awake to give light to others. Lack of care for others in the last days results in lamps going out and our generation slumbering. Does this imply that in the last days there will not be the care for the least of Christ’s needy brethren which there should be? The last generation will be slumbering when shouldn’t be, i.e. not giving light to the world and brotherhood as they should. And could it be that the spiritually “least” whom they despise are the new converts made in the last days tribulation, whom they somehow disregard?

We Will Make The Answer Then

The day of judgment will involve the Lord sitting "as a refiner of silver... for he is like a refiner's fire" (Mal. 3:2,3). And yet these very Hebrew words are used about how in the final tribulation, God's people will be "refined as silver is refined" (Zech. 13:9), and "be made white and refined" (Dan. 12:10). So the essence of judgment day will be worked out for us in our response to the tribulation. This makes sense- the generation that are alive and see the Lord's return will effectively experience the judgment seat as they pass through the tribulation. It is to prepare them for being the only mortal generation to be alive at His return, the generation who shall greet Him, and never actually die.