"I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes. I saw the sign..." Yeah, just try not to finish that chorus. Sorry to start that way, but I couldn't resist. You see, we're going to be looking at "signs" in this fifth post about prophecies and the tools that help us to study them (but also the Scriptures, in general). I highly recommend you read the preceding posts before tackling this one. www.thecrossingchurch.net/pastors-corner
These tools will help you with a book like Revelation, but in this series we're focusing on Matthew 24. The point isn't for me to simply tell you what Matthew 24 is all about, although I will do my best. The point is to help you get a grasp of the tools that will help you sort through passages like Matthew 24 and Revelation without guys like me telling you what you have to believe. Work it out yourself. Yes, Bible teachers and theologians disagree about interpretations of Scripture, but they do agree on the tools necessary for interpretation. We play by the same rules and come up with different interpretations. That's okay. This stuff is a bit mysterious, after all.
So, here's a list of the signs Jesus gave His disciples in answer to their question regarding the destruction of the Temple. Jesus said, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” and they said, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Well, here's a list of the things they needed to be looking for. I've divided the signs into two lists. One is "simple signs" meaning they take very little interpretation on our part to sort out what Jesus was talking about. The other list includes trickier stuff like the "abomination of desolation" (no, that's not a Norwegian heavy metal band, but good guess!). Here we go:
So, what makes this so difficult? Honestly, it's the fact that Jesus then said, "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place." (Matt. 24:34) Unless Jesus was wrong (as atheists often accuse), these signs happened nearly 2000 years ago. Most will admit that many of these signs did occur within that generation Jesus spoke to. The generation of John, Paul, and Ringo. No, wait. Not those 60s. The AD60s. John, Paul, and Barnabas. That's the place to start. If we find that era to lack the signs Jesus mentioned, then perhaps it is time to consider another time frame. In which case, do we then admit that Jesus was wrong in His prediction? Did He say "this generation" when He should have said "that"? Did the Apostles all misinterpret Jesus' words here and believe and teach the Early Church that Jesus would fulfill these things "shortly"? Tough questions to try to answer, but atheists ask them of Christians all the time and don't often get a great response. We can do better!
So, in order to check what was going on during the generation Jesus spoke to, we'll need to check what events occurred during that era. AD35-AD75 would be a "generation" (about 40 years) from the time Jesus spoke these words. What happened during those years? Any famines? Any earthquakes? Any abominations that caused desolation? Well, some of these will be much easier to find than others, won't they? What we need is a historical reference. Yes, some of these signs can be found in the Scriptures too (Acts 11:27-30; 1 John 2:18-19; Jude 17-19; 1 Peter 2:1-3)
The most trusted source of historical records from that time period comes from a guy called Flavius Josephus. He was the son of a Jewish priest and helped lead the Jewish revolt against Rome in AD66 in Galilee. He was captured in AD67 and became a negotiator for Titus, who led the Roman siege against Jerusalem in AD70. Josephus was not a Christian. He wrote from a distinctly Jewish perspective for a Roman audience. He has been accused of writing in a way to make Rome look better than they really were (ex. Titus didn't want to burn down the Temple in Jerusalem), but he can't be accused of being a Christian making up stories to fulfill Jesus' prophecies. He wasn't a follower of Jesus. His writings are researched by Christians, Jews, and historians and considered a trustworthy reference.
His preface to his famous work The Wars of the Jews begins with "Whereas the war which the Jews made with the Romans hath been the greatest of all those, not only that have been in our times, but, in a manner, of those that ever were heard of; both of those wherein cities have fought against cities, or nations against nations". Yeah, this war between Israel and the Roman Empire isn't dismissible. Josephus ranked it as the greatest war that had ever been. That's a war we need to know about! But, most of us don't, as I didn't until I began to study these prophecies and heard about Josephus. It's not your fault (unless you heard me recommend you read Josephus two years ago and still haven't. You know who you are. Lol.) You simply don't hear sermons about Josephus or attend bible studies about "12 ways to be a Josephus in your workplace". His works are extra-curricular. Let's take a survey of some of his writing.
Josephus describes a number of earthquakes before and during the destruction of Jerusalem. Here's just one example: "for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.” (Bk.4.4.5)
As for the famine that killed so many in Jerusalem, Josephus says, “So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die; and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not live long enough either to hear or see such miseries.” (Bk.6.3.4) The people resorted to cannibalism and eating dung. Would that level of famine be enough to be considered one of Jesus' signs?
The title of Josephus' work "The Wars of the Jews" ought to suggest that there were wars and rumors of wars during this time, eh? You bet!
He also describes false prophets in Jerusalem that gave people hope that God would rescue them from the siege. “Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God: and this was in order to keep them from deserting…. Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers..” (Bk 6.5.2-3)
As to lawlessness, Josephus said much, but summarized it here: "That neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world." (Bk 5.10) Even if hyperbole, that's quite a statement!
Let's attempt a tricky sign. Yep, that one. “And now, when the multitude were gotten together to an assembly, and every one was in indignation at these men’s seizing upon the sanctuary, at their rapine and murders but had not yet begun their attacks upon them Agnus stood in the midst of them, and casting his eyes frequently at the temple, and having a flood of tears in his eyes he said, ‘Certainly, it had been good for me to die before I had seen the house of God full of so many abominations, or these sacred places that ought not to be trodden upon at random, filled with the feet of these bloodshedding villains.'” (Bk.4.3.10) The corrupt bandits had taken over the Temple and made it "home". Josephus also said, “..the sacrifice called ‘the Daily Sacrifice’ had failed, and had not been offered to God for want of men to offer it, and that the people were grievously troubled at it..” (Bk.6.2.1) Not convinced? How about this one? “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.” (Bk.6.6.1)
Some will chalk these up to "initial fulfillments" that will be truly fulfilled at a later date. Perhaps when the Romans quit spending all their time playing soccer and clubbing and get back to invading Israel again? Okay, that was just plain facetious of me, wasn't it? At the same time...okay, it was still facetious. Forgive me.
So, now you ask, did Jesus ever show up visibly on "the clouds of heaven"? Did Josephus record that one too, Dave? Okay, so who's being facetious now? Technically, still me. But it's the kind of thing some might say and it's a legitimate question.
It appears we have more to cover, so be on the lookout for my next blog. Beware! There will be blogs and rumors of blogs and many false bloggers will rise up and deceive many. Do not be troubled. This blog will be shared in all the world as a witness to all futurists, and then my blog will come. Behold, I blog soon!
Alright, alright. I'm out.
No, really, I'll be done now.
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
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