Matthew 24 . . . to the Present-day Church?
Comfortable but False Reassurances
Christian bookstores are plentifully supplied with reassuring books that Matthew 24 does not apply to the true Church, and that a rapture will remove the true Church prior to the events described. Those who are not the true Church, or those who come to Christ after the rapture, will be left behind to suffer and endure these persecutions.
Jesus taught otherwise. He taught His disciples that as He was hated by the world, so they would be hated, and that as He was persecuted, so they would be persecuted. He told them that an hour was coming when those who killed them would think that they were offering God a service. He told His disciples that He was telling them these things specifically so that they would not stumble when these things happened. He told His disciples that those who endured to the end would be saved. He did not even mention an optional plan.
YOU will Experience these Things
We have just understood from studying Daniel that the primary calling of the Church at the end of the age is to overcome Satan by allowing herself to be physically overcome, even as Jesus allowed Himself to be physically overcome. The birth pains described in Matthew 24 are part of that process. When Peter, James, John, and Andrew questioned Jesus privately about when the temple would be destroyed, what would be the sign of His coming, and what would be the sign of the end of the age, He answered them in terms that uneducated fishermen could understand. He warned them not to be misled by false Christs. He warned them not to be alarmed by wars, famines, and earthquakes, but that these things were the beginning of birth pangs.
He warned that they would be delivered to tribulation, would be killed, and would be hated by all nations on account of His name. He warned about a great falling away, the arising of many false prophets who would lead many astray, and the increase of lawlessness which would cause most people’s love to grow cold. And He told them to their faces that YOU will experience these things.
See to it that no one misleads YOU. And YOU will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that YOU are not frightened . . . Then they will deliver YOU to tribulation, and will kill YOU, and YOU will be hated by all nations on account of my name . . . Therefore when YOU see the abomination of desolation . . .
They are Jesus’ most serious warnings to His disciples about what they should expect at the end of the age. These warnings were not spoken to the multitudes, but privately to His disciples. It would be a serious mistake for any of His disciples to ignore or misapply such warnings. The enemy of our souls would of course love to see that happen. And that is exactly what he has attempted with the development and distribution of teachings that say that we will all be raptured before these events of Matthew 24 take place. Jesus did not say that His Church would be raptured before these events take place. As we have seen, He said:
But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved (Matthew 24:13).
If there were another path which would preclude the majority of the Church alive at the end of the age from experiencing these things, wouldn’t Jesus have told the foundational apostles of His Church? He didn’t mention how to escape these things, but how to endure them. These are Jesus’ teachings about what His Churches should expect, specifically applicable to the Church at the end of the age. Nevertheless, the Church relies on teachings saying we won’t have to endure to the end of the age because a rapture could occur any day now. Jesus goes on to state that the end would come only after the gospel had been preached world-wide, and only after a great tribulation which would eliminate all life on earth unless it was cut short. Only then did He say:
and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Matthew 24:30-31).
Who are the Elect?
Who exactly is Jesus warning and who are these elect that will be gathered? Are they only Jewish because the first disciples were Jewish, and because mention is made in Verse 16 of those in Judea? Or are these things written and applicable to the entire Church, Jewish and Gentile, in addition to His contemporary Jewish disciples? Could there be a prior rapture that Jesus didn’t mention that makes all of this irrelevant to the present-day Church?
The plain sense of the wording of Scripture is that Matthew 24 is written and applicable to all of Jesus’ disciples, the elect/chosen Jews and Gentiles throughout the age. Those specific elect living at the end of the age should plan to endure to the harvest at the end of the age in order to be saved.
It is for the sake of these elect mentioned in Matthew 24 Verses 22, 24, and 31, that the great tribulation will be cut short. It is these elect that Satan is trying to deceive because it is these elect who will fully demonstrate God’s purpose for the Church on earth at the end of the age. It is these elect left alive who will be gathered by Jesus’ angels after the end of the great tribulation.
And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short (Matthew 24:22).
And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Matthew 24:31).
Chosen and elect are of the same Greek root and apply to the entire born-again Church at the end of the age. This is clear when other Scriptures speaking of the chosen and elect are considered.
And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect whom He chose, He shortened the days (Mark 13:20).
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10).
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance (1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV).
These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful (Revelation 17:14).
What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, BUT those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened (Romans 11:7).
Scriptures dealing with the elect and the chosen consistently portray them as the redeemed Jewish and Gentile remnant Church and clearly distinguish them from literal Israel. It is to these elect, Jesus’ disciples, that the warnings of Matthew 24 apply. It is not Biblical to teach that these Scriptures do not apply to the present-day Church. Jesus’ obvious intent is that these warnings be applied to the Churches throughout the age, for He provides warnings specifically applicable to His contemporaries as well as those elect/chosen who would be alive at the end of the age. His first warning to them was a warning to not be misled.
And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ’, and will mislead many" (Matthew 24:4-5).
All believers who have ears to hear will find His words applicable to them. "See to it that no one misleads YOU." Who is it that has been led astray recently in direct fulfillment of this prophecy? Who is it that has followed false Christs to cultic deaths all over the world? Were they literal Jews, or were they contemporary believers of all nationalities being led astray by false teachers in the name of Christ?
Are Other Parts of Matthew also "Inapplicable" to the Church?
Jesus spent His public ministry teaching and demonstrating to His disciples how to carry on His work. The beatitudes and the parables and the great commission and all of His teachings were directed specifically to His disciples. Is there any teaching of Jesus to His disciples which does not apply to the Churches throughout the age?
Why should the present-day Church assume that the rest of the book of Matthew is applicable to them if Matthew 24 is not? Why have we assumed that the beatitudes and the great commission are applicable to the Church if Matthew 24 is not?
Some of our doctrine needs changing. We should start listening to what Jesus said. After Matthew 24 comes Matthew 25, and the Church takes it right up as applicable. Finally, in Matthew 28:16-20, after His resurrection and appearance to His disciples in Galilee, Jesus gives to His disciples, still Jews, the great commission to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. And of course the Church has taken this, rightly so, as a word to the Church, even though the YOU to whom He was speaking is the same audience as the YOU to whom He was speaking in Matthew 24. Notice that in the context of the great commission, He said He would be with them until the end of the age.
We can’t pick and choose Scriptures like that. Disciples are disciples, whether they are Jew or Gentile and of one century or another. These warnings to the disciples at Jerusalem are timeless and applicable to the entire Church age. Jesus was clearly addressing both His contemporaries and those who would be alive at the end of the age.
Jesus’ First Warning: "Do not be Deceived!"
If we fall for this deception, we will have played into the hands of the enemy and ignored Jesus’ most crucial end-time warnings. I pray that you sense the work of the deceiver in this. I pray that you see that this is exactly what the enemy of our souls would have us believe. Do not be led into this trap. The obvious spin-off of the Church not heeding these warnings will be great numbers stumbling and falling away when the truth becomes obvious. Do not let yourself be deceived!
Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved (Matthew 24:9-13).
We are all called to follow Jesus, not to avoid the path He walked. The closer we study Scriptures relevant to the end of the age, the closer we see that the walk of the Church parallels the walk of Jesus. There is not one way for Him and another for us. The devil would like us to think so, but he is a liar and a deceiver. The devil says to lay down our crosses, and Jesus says to pick up our crosses and follow Him. Who will we listen to?
Whoever They are, They are Full of the Holy Spirit
The Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 is also portrayed in Mark 13 and Luke 21. To get a fuller understanding of who the elect are in Matthew 24, we should look at all three gospel narratives, or we will be basing our conclusions on less information than what God has given us.
For nation will arise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. And when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved (Mark 13:8-13).
Whoever it is that Jesus is talking to and calling You in this discourse and encouraging to endure to the end of the age, they are mouthpieces for the Holy Spirit. At the time Jesus was speaking, those who would be flogged in the synagogues would of course be His Jewish disciples who had changed their beliefs to incorporate Jesus as their Messiah, as there were yet no Gentiles in the Church. And they were full of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was Jewish and His first disciples were Jewish, but these words are applicable to His future disciples of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.
Testimonies before governors and kings imply the preaching of the gospel to all nations. The commission to carry the gospel to all nations has been picked up by a Church which is largely Gentile, and it is clearly in context with the preaching of the gospel to all nations that this persecution will also apply. They will be hated by all nations on account of the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ disciples, whether they are Jewish or Gentile, are called to endure to the end. The first Christians were hated on account of the name of Jesus Christ, and Christians today are also hated on account of the name of Jesus Christ, and Christians during the great tribulation will be more hated on account of the name of Jesus Christ. That hatred is intensifying daily and is obvious to anyone who is following the tribulations of the persecuted Church. These are wide-range prophecies which exclude none of the Church but incorporate His disciples throughout the age.
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you . . . These things I have spoken to you, that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me. But these things I have spoken to you, that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them (John 15:18-19, 16:1-4).
Notice that Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that you may be kept from stumbling." We must understand that these warnings are to Jesus’ followers, to His disciples, to you and me if we are His disciples. Jesus is warning us so that we will not stumble when these things come! It is potentially devastating to teach that these warnings are not applicable to the current Church. It is a setup from the pit of hell!
If Jesus gave these warnings to preclude His disciples from stumbling, and yet the present-day Church believes these warnings need not apply, they are treading on dangerous ground. Many will stumble and fall away --- a great number of them --- when they find themselves in tribulation they neither expect nor understand nor for which they are prepared. Sadly, that is what Jesus said would happen.
This is not a casual point of doctrinal discussion. It may be the issue that determines whether we as believers endure to the end or fall away. Notice how closely Jesus’ prophetic words to His disciples were fulfilled in the persecution and martyrdom of Stephen, the first of His disciples to die for their faith and a model for the Church thereafter. Acts Chapters 6 and 7 prove that Jesus’ words are directed to His Church. Everything that Jesus said His disciples should expect happened to Stephen.
The Proof of Applicability is Before Our Eyes
We need not speculate whether Matthew 24 applies or not to the present-day Church. Jesus’ prophetic words to His disciples are being fulfilled in the persecutions and martyrdoms of Christians world-wide at this very moment and to an increasing degree. Any hesitancy in applying Matthew 24 to the present-day Church should fade away as we observe the persecution already falling. A well-known international ministry which deals with the persecuted Church recently reported that of the nominally two billion world-wide who claim to be Christian, two-thirds of that number were already, as of 1998, being persecuted or directly threatened with persecution. The numbers are growing, not lessening. Jesus’ prophecies will come true. We in the Western Church may be able to bury our heads in the sand a little longer, but we will soon be forced to wake up. I just read a newsletter yesterday telling of a Chinese pastor in the house Church movement who is burning prosperity doctrine literature supplied by the Western Church because it is inapplicable, and even worse, misleading.
How devastating it is that current Christian authors are still proclaiming that Matthew 24 does not apply to the present-day Church. The Chinese house Church movement is in serious tribulation now and has been for years! May God have mercy on us for not more properly warning them. The true Church has been in tribulation since it was birthed! But we’re no threat to Satan with our lukewarm escapist teachings. No wonder he doesn’t bother us!
Nate Krupp, the publisher of this book, relates that in 1976 Corrie ten Boom personally shared with him that the Chinese Christians had been taught a pre-tribulation rapture. When the Communist take-over came in 1949-50, many believers fell away. The Christian leaders of China later confessed to Corrie ten Boom that they had taught their congregations wrongly, and repented of their teaching. This testimony indicates that the pre-tribulation teaching has been evaluated in one of the world's largest harvest-fields, and has been found lacking. It does not witness to reality during times of persecution, and becomes a stumbling stone to the saints who believe it.
The wisdom of men does not establish truth. Jesus is truth and what He said is truth. The hope of the Church is to escape God’s wrath, not to escape all tribulation. Tribulation is designed to purify and refine us and make us worthy of the Kingdom of God. We should not seek to short-circuit the process designed to refine us into the likeness of Jesus. Yet we wail in our wombs, having swallowed Satan’s lies, and rage against the thought of the very birth pangs that are intended to birth us into the sons of God for which all creation is waiting.
The problem with sheep is that they can easily be led astray. We have been sold a false expectation by the enemy of our souls. We are being fed from poisonous pastures of false doctrine. The Church is being set up for a great falling away because we do not understand and we have no vision.
Reason or Revelation?
I was recently reading a book which was a compilation of various author’s reasons why they believe in the pre-tribulation rapture. The passages used to defend the pre-tribulation position were the very same as others would use to defend other positions. This was discouraging. These were scholars with seminary degrees and knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. People are going to pay attention to them merely because of their credentials. We would be much better served by ignorant fisherman who know Jesus Christ.
Not all of us are Greek scholars able to follow, or interested in following, teachings that hang extensive doctrinal conclusions on the tense of a verb --- or even worse --- on arguments of silence. Somehow I don’t think Peter and John were either. I have followed too many of these teachings which were based on motive rather than a search for truth. Refuting each point would take volumes. My spirit and mind both tell me it’s all an intricate deception, but that’s easy to say. Where’s the proof that it’s a deception? It’s not going to be settled by compiling the opinions of men and making a list of all the points on one side versus those on the other and coming to a jury decision. That’s not how truth is arrived at. Arguing along that line would just add fuel to a foolish fire. The truth will come to us by the only way truth can come, by revelation of the Scriptures brought to life by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth.
Let the Holy Spirit Lead You
Matthew 24:13 reads, "But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved." If I say that these are Jesus’ words to His disciples alive at the end of the age, those of pre-tribulation position will insist otherwise. They will insist that this is speaking of the Jews or those who have come to faith during the tribulation, for the true Church has already been raptured out. Although that disturbs me, what can I say to you that would be of any use? I have tried to use logic. I have said something like, "Why, then, in all the rest of the book of Matthew, when Jesus is speaking to His disciples, is it assumed He is speaking to all of His disciples throughout the age? For instance, the great commission, the beatitudes, the parables, etc., are never considered as exclusively for the Jews, but for His followers throughout the age. Why then is Matthew 24 held by pre-tribulation advocates as referring to Jews and not the Church? And where is the evidence of a prior rapture?" And we could argue back and forth. And where would that leave you? Don’t believe me. Believe Jesus. Don’t let a man interpret Jesus’ words to you. Let the Holy Spirit do that. God will often speak through a man --- but so will Satan --- sometimes in the next breath. Peter demonstrated that for us.
The point of this is that in one way or another, Jesus is going to have to tell you whether the warnings of Matthew 24 are for you or not. The Holy Spirit must lead you into the truth of this. And it must be the Holy Spirit’s voice that you hear, not the voice of the enemy. Jesus’ first words to His disciple’s questions regarding the end of the age were, "See to it that no one misleads you." Men will mislead you. The Holy Spirit will not. Get alone with Him and settle this thing the only way it can be settled, with revelation directly from Him. Let Him quicken to you whether these warnings of Jesus apply to you or not. We are far too used to listening to the teachings of men which are not in line with the teachings of the written word confirmed by the Holy Spirit.
"Father, once again I pray to bind the efforts of the enemy to deceive us in these critical areas. I pray that all who read these Scriptures yet one more time would be quickened by the Holy Spirit to the truth contained therein. I pray that our preferences and motives would not override the still small voice of conviction that applies these Scriptures as You would have them applied. Father, we desperately need Your wisdom and revelation to keep from being deceived. I ask this in the name of Jesus, Whose appearance we long for and Whose glory we seek in these days at the very end of the age. May Your wisdom be demonstrated through a Church who says ‘Yes!’ to Your plan for us on earth up until the time we are rescued from wrath."