Lesson 7

*May 11 - 17

Matthew 24: Jesus' Sermon on Apocalyptic Prophecy

Sabbath Afternoon   May 11


MEMORY TEXT: "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory'" (Matthew 24:30, NIV).

ONE OF THE MOST DISCUSSED DISCOURSES OF CHRIST'S LIFE appears in Matthew 24, where Jesus outlines the events that will precede His second coming. Jesus begins His apocalyptic description of the future with events that will happen during the lifetime of the disciples. From there He moves into the future, through what we often call the Dark Ages, and ends with His return in glory.

How interesting that He starts with pagan Rome, the fourth kingdom in Daniel 7. Perhaps He does this because pagan Rome is the kingdom that was ruling the world when Jesus gave His talk. Then comes a period of tribulation and terror (Matt. 24:21) during the Middle Ages (the 1,260 years prophetically depicted in Daniel 7), followed by the signs that indicate that the tribulation has ended (vs. 29). Finally, His talk concludes with the last-days' delusions (vss. 24-27) and the glorious return of our Lord (vss. 30, 31).

Jesus begins His discourse with the political situation of His own time and then follows it up through history until it culminates in His second coming.

It sounds like the historicist approach (see lesson 1), does it not?  

*(Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 18.)

Sunday  May 12


Using Matthew 24:1-3, write down the background setting for Jesus' discourse on the end of the age. Look at such issues as the temple, the time in Christ's ministry when He speaks these words, to whom He was talking and where. How do these factors fit in with what He says about the signs that precede His coming?  

Though the immediate subject of this discourse is the fall of Jerusalem, this subject is linked to a much wider one—the signs of Christ's coming and the end of the age. The fall of Jerusalem is, here, a symbol of the world prior to the Second Coming. Notice, too, that the disciples, by their questions in verse 3, reveal some knowledge, even before He left them the first time, that Christ would be coming again!

Based on the questions they asked, what were the main concerns of the disciples? Matt. 24:3.  

The disciples asked three questions that Jesus used to develop His apocalyptic message.

The first question—" ' When will this [destruction of the temple happen?' " (NIV)—is addressed by Jesus in Matthew 24:15-20. The second—" 'What will be the sign of your coining? ' " (NIV)—is discussed in verses 21-31. The third—'' 'What will be the sign ... of the end of the age?' '' (NIV)—is dealt with in verses 4-14. In other words, Jesus began His talk by answering the last question first (end of the age); then He moved to the first question (fall of Jerusalem); and finally He dealt with the central question, the most important one—Christ's return in glory. Apparently, Jesus' main interest is located not in the fall of the city but in the end of the age and His second advent. The rest of the sermon deals with proper preparation for that event.

Ellen White wrote that "Had He [Jesus] opened to His disciples future events as He beheld them, they would have been unable to endure the sight. In mercy to them He blended the description of the two great crises, leaving the disciples to study out the meaning for themselves."The Desire of Ages, p. 628. What can we learn from that principle in how we deal with others?  

Monday  May 13

SIGNS OF THE END OF THE AGE (Matt. 24:4-14).

In Matthew 24:5, Jesus reveals, "For many shall come in my name. saying, I am Christ: and shall deceive many." How amazingly have these words been fulfilled! All through history, up through today. people have claimed to be Christ—exactly as Jesus had warned.

In what ways could you use Christ's prediction about false christs, so accurately and undeniably fulfilled, to help convince someone of Christ's claim as the Messiah and of the validity of the Bible as a whole? How does this prophecy, so limited and specific, differ from His predictions that there would be famines and wars and earthquakes?  

What other religious, social, and natural events did Jesus predict would precede His coming? Matt. 24:4-8.  

Two things must be noticed regarding these predicted events. First, they are not signs of the end but events that will happen while God's people wait for the end (Matt. 24:6, 8). Second. these events contain potential spiritual and psychological threats to the Lord's servants. For example, Jesus mentioned false messiahs in order to alert His followers to that specific and dangerous deception. Meanwhile, natural disasters could cause doubt about God and His love in the minds of many believers. Christ's warning of these events beforehand, however, does help alleviate those doubts, because we have been warned about them by God Himself.

What was the one specific sign that Jesus said would lead to the end? Matt. 24:14.  

Though Jesus described the various trials and tribulations that His followers would face (persecution, prejudice, apostasy, treason, and absence of love), none of these is "the sign" of the end (in verse 3 His disciples asked for the sign [as in only one sign] of the end). The sign is the preaching of the gospel to the world, "and then the end will come" (vs. 14, NIV).

Many people use the exact things that Jesus said would happen—wars, famines, disasters, disease—as reasons not to believe in God.  How does Jesus' warning about events blunt, or weaken, that argument?  Or does it not?  

Tuesday  May 14

FALL OF JERUSALEM (Matt. 24:1-20).

What was Jesus' answer to the question "When will this [the destruction of the temple] happen?" (Matt. 24:3, 15, 16, NIV).  

Jesus is referring to Daniel 9:27, where the destruction of Jerusalem was predicted. The Lord points, with prophetic authority, to the fulfillment of the prediction, which happened through the Roman armies that would destroy the temple and leave it desolate. The word abomination in the Bible refers to idolatrous practices, and even to those who engage in those practices. The idolatrous Roman armies are the abomination that causes desolation, the desolation of the temple and the city (Luke 21:20).

What specific instructions did Jesus give to His followers living in Judea at the time of the fall of Jerusalem? Matt. 24:16-18.  

The counsel given by Jesus emphasizes two aspects: first, the need to seek a place of refuge or safety to avoid death or unnecessary suffering as a result of the military attack against Jerusalem; second, the need for immediate action. There will he no time to gather personal belongings; delay could be fatal.

Fortunately, the followers of Jesus heeded His words, and not one believer perished during the destruction of the city (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 630)—a great example of faith that results in works, in obedience. Though these followers of Christ were saved only by faith in Him and not by works, they manifested their faith by obeying Christ's words to leave the city when the armies approached. In short, they obeyed, and that obedience led to their being spared an incredible amount of suffering. All that one has to do is read about the siege of Jerusalem and of the barbarity that ensued (horrendous, even by today's standards) to begin to appreciate how simple obedience had spared these people from suffering.

What examples can you see, either in your own life or in the lives of others, in which this principle—that of obedience to God sparing people great pain—has been manifested?  At the same time, what examples, if any, have you seen of those who obey, suffering directly because of their obedience?  

Wednesday  May 15

A SIGN OF JESUS' COMING—PART 1 (Matt. 24:21-31).

Describe, in your own words, the great tribulation predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:21, 22.  

From the fall of Jerusalem, Jesus points to the great tribulation depicted in Daniel 7:25. Jesus saw "long centuries of darkness. centuries for His church marked with blood and tears and agony. Upon these scenes His disciples could not then endure to look, and Jesus passed them by with a brief mention"— Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 630, 631.

Two points about this terrible phase of Western history should be noticed: (1) God sets a time limit to it (according to Daniel 7:25, it will last 1,260 years); (2) it is unequaled in world history. "The tribulation of the 1260 year-days was the greatest in history in that it continued for centuries and from time to time produced extremely high percentages of mortality."—C. Mervyn Maxwell, God Cares, vol. 2, p. 35.

That specific tribulation, mentioned in Daniel 7:25, is not the same as the one mentioned in Daniel 12:1, 2. This one is also unique but "will occur in connection with the resurrection at the second coming. It will occur after the court of judgment described in Daniel 7:9-14 has finished examining the books. It will bring terror only to the wicked. God's people will he delivered from it. 'every one' of them."—Maxwell, p. 34.

If Satan was defeated at the Cross, why do such times of tribulation and violence still occur? How do time following verses help answer, at least somewhat, this difficult question?  

Job 1:8-12 __________________________________________________________________________

Rom. 16:20 _________________________________________________________________________

Rev. 12:12  _________________________________________________________________________

Rev. 14:17-19 _______________________________________________________________________

Explain, as best as you can, wars, famine, and tragedy in the context of the great controversy between Christ and Satan.  How does knowing the great-controversy motif help us understand how we are to relate to these things?  

Thursday  May 16

A SIGN OF JESUS' COMING—PART 2 (Mat 24:29-31).

Which signs will take place before the sign of the Second Coming appears? Matt. 24:29.  

Jesus describes a series of cosmic signs associated with the end of the great tribulation. Adventists have identified them with the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, the darkening of the sun on May 19, 1780, and the meteor shower of November 13, 1833. The timing of those events, as well as the order in which they occurred, make them a fitting fulfillment of the prophecy.

It is important to notice that between 1700 and 1844 a series of significant prophetic events occurred. "That sequence can be outlined as follows: (1) a great earthquake—l755; (2) the Dark Day—l780:  (3) judgment upon the beast—1798; (4) the falling of the stars—1833; (5) Judgment beginning in heaven—1844."—William Shea, "Cosmic Signs Through History," Ministry, February 1999. The Lord was clearly calling our attention to the fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecies.

What was Jesus' answer to the question in verse 3, "'What will be the sign of your coming?'" (NIV). See Matt. 24:30.  

It is difficult to know what Jesus meant when He said '"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky'" (vs. 30, NIV). This event is followed by the mourning of the nations and His glorious appearance. Bible students have speculated about the nature of that sign but have not provided an acceptable interpretation. Ellen G. White comments, "Soon there appears in the east a small black cloud, about half the size of a man's hand. It is the cloud which surrounds the Saviour and which seems in the distance to be shrouded in darkness. The people of God know this to be the sign of the Son of man ."—The Great Controversyp. 640.

"And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Man. 24:31).  What Is Jesus referring to here?  What other verses in the Bible elaborate on this event?  Find as many other verses as you can that deal with this topic, place them together, and see what kind of picture the Lord has painted for us on this wonderful promise.  

Friday  May 17

FURTHER STUDY:  Ellen G. White, "On the Mount of Olives," The Desire of Ages, pp 627-636; "The Destruction of Jerusalem," The Great Controversy, pp. 17-38.

Please note the following points in conclusion to this week's lesson:

1. Purpose of the signs of the end. It was not Jesus' purpose to expound upon a series of events that we could use to establish the date of His coming. Instead, He talks about the signs so they will keep fresh in our minds the promise of His return. Jesus mentions events that would happen throughout history. and whenever one of them takes place, His people make the connection with the Second Coming. Second, each event identified as a sign by the community of believers keeps alive the element of expectation and hope. They know that the Lord has not forgotten them and that history is moving toward God's appointed goal. Third, the signs have the purpose of protecting them from deceptions. Satan is going to try to deceive them, but Jesus told them how to distinguish truth from falsehood. They must be watchful while waiting for the true manifestation of Christ in the clouds of heaven.

2. This generation. In Matthew 24:34 "this generation" could designate those listening to Him or a type of people ("evil generation") or even a specific ethnic group. Any of the last two makes sense in the context.

3. The great tribulation. Matthew 24:21 gives the impression that the tribulation takes place during the fall of Jerusalem, mentioned in the previous verse, hut such an impression is not required by the Greek text. The expression "for then," at the beginning of verse 21, is used sometimes to introduce something new in the distant future—in this case, something that took place long after the destruction of the city.  

1. In Matthew 24:35, Jesus said, "'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (NIV).  What a prediction!  By reading that verse now, or any of His discourses centuries after He said them, you are taking part in the fulfillment of this prediction.  How could a verse like this be used in witnessing? 
2. With Christ's words so clear regarding the manner of His coming, why have so many people been deceived by false christs through the ages?  Read specifically Matthew 24:24.  

SUMMARY: Jesus' apocalyptic sermon follows the content of the visions of Daniel but puts a major emphasis on the need to be alert against evil deceptions and perseverance in faith.  

InSide Story

Village of Thieves

Levi Laput

I stopped to rest in the shade of a tree. I could feel the sweat dripping down my hack. As I rested on the mountainside, I saw a familiar man from the lowlands approaching.

"Going to that Manobo village again?" he greeted.

"Yes," I answered.

"I'll never visit that village," he continued. "Those people are thieves, criminals. Whenever animals disappear from nearby villages, their carcasses are found in that village. And when the villagers are confronted with their theft, they answer with bows and arrows, spears, and bolos. Why would you want to go there?"

"I am a student missionary," I said. "I teach in the village school, and I tell them about the love of Jesus."

"Those people are stiff-necked thieves and criminals," he responded. "No good will ever come out of that dirty village." With those words the man turned and left.

As I started up the mountainside toward the village, I pondered the man's words. Then God gently reminded me that no matter how wicked they are, these are His people. Jesus died for them.

Time passed. Later, in October 2000, word went out to believers in neighboring Manobo villages that a baptism would be held in the village of thieves and criminals. One church elder said. "I never thought I would see anyone from this village accept Jesus as their Savior. What a great event!"

The smiles on the faces of the 10 baptismal candidates told the story of changed lives. Then my partner approached the four men. They wanted to be baptized too. But these four were troublemakers, the very thieves my lowlander friend had told me about.

"We cannot baptize them," I whispered to my partner "They don't know what they are asking or even what we believe." But my partner urged me to interview them anyway.

"While you were giving Bible studies to our families," one man said. "we were outside listening. We are sinners, but with God's help we have gained victory over our vices."

I acknowledged that God had indeed changed these men's lives. Who was I to forbid them baptism when God had already written their names in the Book of Life? That day we welcomed 14 precious souls from the village of criminals and thieves into the kingdom of Heaven!

Levi Laput is a student missionary from Mountain View College to the Manobo village of Log Deck-5 in southern Philippines.

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