Revelation 12: Why did God not make an end of evil immediately after the Cross?

War in heavenThis is the sixth article on the War in Heaven, as described in Revelation 12.   The first article identifies the role-players in this war:
● The Male Child, who was caught up to God,
● His mother, who existed both before and after Christ,
● The Dragon, that stood ready to devour the Child. and
● Michael, who wages war in heaven with the Dragon.

The second article concludes that the actual chronological sequence of events in Revelation 12 is as follows:
● The war rages in heaven,
● The Male Child ascends to God,
● The victory in the war in heaven,
● Satan thrown down to earth and
● The woman flees to in wilderness.

The third article explains how Michael overcame Satan.  Satan deceives and accuses.  To explain how “the blood of the Lamb and … the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11) were able to overcome Satan’s accusations, this article discusses the origin of evil and Satan’s tactics.

The third article concluded that Christ’s death defeated Satan, but verse 11 of Revelation 12 claims that “they” overcame him because of “their testimony.”  The fourth article therefore asks who they are, and why their testimony was required to expel Satan from heaven.

The fifth article asks what the accuser of our brethren (Revelation 12:10) accused God of, and what evidence Christ provided that was able to refute Satan’s accusations.

God made peace with the “things in heaven” because of the blood of the Lamb, but Revelation 12 indicates that the war continued on earth. The current and final article asks why did God not make an end of evil immediately after the Cross.

Rejoice, O heavens

Lamb of GodBecause of the blood of the Lamb and because of the testimony of our brethren, Satan was driven out of heaven and thrown down on earth (Revelation 12:8-13).  A loud voice then announced:

Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, … For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them” (Revelation 12:10-12).

Events on earth made an end to the war in heaven.  Through Christ, God made peace with the “things in heaven” (Col. 1:20).  This world became the test ground for God’s righteousness, with huge implications for the entire cosmos.

Woe to the earth

But the voice continued:

Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath” (Revelation 12:12).

The war continues on earth.  This planet is the only place in the universe where Satan still has power.

Why does evil continue?

Why did God not make an end to sin immediately after the Cross?  One seldom hears this topic discussed, probably because the standard theory of the atonement has no answer for the question.  In this theory, Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of an angry God.  Is God’s wrath then not yet fully satisfied?

Satan’s weapons in this war are deception and accusations.  God responds, not with violence or with force, but with the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of “our brethren.”  These means provided the evidence required to repudiate Satan’s charges.  This probably includes evidence about God’s love and grace, and evidence about Satan’s intentions and the consequences of his principles.  Since Satan attacks with accusations, and since God responds with evidence, the only possible conclusion is that sin continues because some evidence is still outstanding.

For what purpose is evidence required?

If we understand Revelation 12 correctly, the earth is the only place where the rebellion against God still rages, for Satan has been banished from the courts of heaven after Jesus’ ascension.  Therefore, to remove evil from this planet is to remove it entirely from God’s creation:

The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption” (Rom. 8:21).

Lake of FireEvil will be exterminated when “the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev. 20:10), and with him, anyone whose “name was not found written in the book of life” (20:15).   After this event we will hear God say, “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5).

The eradication of evil in 20:13-15 is preceded immediately by the judgment before the great white throne (20:11-12).  The extermination of evil is therefore the consequence of this judgment.  The evidence is therefore required for the final judgment, in which “books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12). 

In conclusion, the war still continues because there still is some evidence outstanding that is required for the final great judgment.  The eradication of evil, and with it all the people and angels that were corrupted by it, will be a most traumatic event for all the universe, including for the people that are saved.  God want to make sure that all of His intelligent creatures understand and agree with the decisions made in that judgment.

What evidence is still outstanding?

What and why evidence is required, we can see from the end-time events as described in the book of Revelation:

The Mark of the Beast

Jesus’ arrival on earth caused a major crisis.  In a few years much was revealed both about God and about Satan.

Revelation predicts a similar crisis in the end time, when “the image of the beast would … cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Rev. 13:15).  It will attempt to give all people “a mark on their right hand or on their forehead” (Rev. 13:16).  People who refuse to receive this mark will not be allowed “to buy or to sell” (v17).

What the mark of the beast is, requires more in-depth study of the prophecies, but we can safely say that it will be some sin which people will be forced to commit, the modern equivalent to Nebuchadnezzar forcing all people to worship the statue he made, at the threat of death (Dan. 3:5-6).  The beast itself is an earthly power (cf. 13:1-2; 17:9-10; 12).  To worship it is to accept its authority.

At the same time the truth will be preached with more power than ever before (Rev. 14:6).  The evil one attempts to blur the distinctions between what is holy and what is common, but these distinctions will be made clear by God’s end-time messengers.  All people will have to choose between the mark of the beast and “the seal of the living God” (7:2; cf. 14:1).  This will be the valley of decision for all people:

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near” (Joel 3:14).

God’s people will be “victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name” (15:2).  They “had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand” (20:4).

The plagues

There will come a turning point, during this final crisis, when “the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple” (15:8).  After this, the plagues are poured out (16:1), but only “on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image” (16:2).  This will give them clear evidence that they are persecuting God’s people, but “they did not repent” (16:9, 11).  They will continue to oppress God’s people.

The Millennium

Christ’s return will make an end of the persecution of God’s people, but only temporarily.  At the end of the 1000 years all people that opposed God, from all ages since the creation of the world, will “come to life” (20:5) and “Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations” (20:7-8).  “They … surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (20:9).  This describes, in a few words, the final and major battle between good and evil.  It is described only briefly because we have no way to understand the circumstances or nature of that battle.

The outstanding evidence

Why would God allow an end-time crisis in which His people are killed?  Why does God pour down horrible plagues on the earth when there is no possibility that sinners will repent?  And why would God bring the lost back to life, 1000 years after Christ’s return, only to consume them again by fire?

These are to provide the evidence required for the final great judgment.

God’s people will be “victorious over the beast.”  The evil one will take away from them all they have, but they will refuse to “worship the image of the beast” (13:15), “even when faced with death” (Revelation 12:11).  This will reveal their faith: “They overcame him (the accuser) … because of the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).  The Cross demonstrated God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:25-26).  God’s end-time people will similarly demonstrate, to the universe for all ages to come, the justness of God’s grace for His people.

God’s persecutorsdid not repent,” even when they have clear evidence that they are persecuting God’s people.  This will reveal their true nature.  They pretend to work for God, but their actions will show that they are fundamentally opposed to God and to His principles, like the pharisees of old, who opposed Jesus.  This will confirm God’s condemnation of them.

All the seeds—both good and evil—that have been sown over the centuries, will come to maturity in this last battle.  Through this crisis good and evil will both be fully revealed (cf. 3:10).

God allows the human race—created in His own image—to show the nature and consequences of Satan’s principles.  The entire universe is watching events on this little planet with intense interest (e.g. Job):

The manifold wisdom of God (is) … made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places“ (Ephesians 3:10).

Various articles on the website are available with further information, for example Purpose of the Plagues and Return of Christ in the book of Revelation.

The delay

Why does God delay the end-time crisis?

First century Christians expected Jesus to return in their time.  See The Lord is coming soon.  When He did not, they asked questions, and Peter explained:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Over the centuries God’s persecuted people complained about the delay:

How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (6:10)

In Revelation 7:1-3 an angel ascends from the rising of the sun (the east), “having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads’.

God delays the final crisis because His people are not ready, and He is “not wishing for any to perish.”  He will only allow the end-time crisis when the 144000 are sealed.  The number 144000 is interpreted here not as a literal number, but a symbol of the quality of their faith:

These are the ones who have not been defiled with women … who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. … And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.” (14:4-5).

Summary

Satan was driven out of heaven because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the testimony of our brethren.  God made peace with the “things in heaven,” but the war continued on earth.

Why did God not make an end to sin immediately after the Cross?  Since Satan attacks with accusations, and since God responds with evidence, we assume that God allows sin to continue because some evidence is still outstanding.

For what purpose is evidence required?  Earth is the only place where the rebellion against God still rages.  To remove evil from this planet is to remove it entirely from the universe.  After the judgment before the great white throne, evil will be exterminated through the lake of fire.  The war continues on earth to generate evidence required in the final judgment.

The end-time events show what and why evidence is required. By threats of violence and death people will be forced to receive the Mark of the Beast, which is some sin which people will be forced to commit.  But God’s people will be “victorious over the beast.”

At some point, during this final crisis, the plagues will start to fall, but only on the people who are persecuting God’s people.  This will give them clear evidence that they are opposing God, but they will not turn to God.

Christ’s return will not be the final end of sin.  At the end of the 1000 years all people that opposed God, from all ages since the creation of the world, will “come to life” and continue their persecution of God’s people.

All of this is to provide the evidence required for the final great judgment.  These events will demonstrate the faith of God’s people, but will also show that the lost are fundamentally opposed to God and to His principles, thus confirming God’s judgments, for God wants us to trust Him fully.

Articles on Revelation 12’s War in Heaven:

1. Who are the Male Child, His mother, the Dragon and Michael?
2. When was Satan Defeated?
3. How did Michael overcome Satan?
4. Who are they who overcame Satan because of “their testimony?”
5. What evidence did Christ provide that refuted Satan’s accusations?
6. Why did God not make an end of evil immediately after the Cross? (Current)

Christ’s Return ToC

Table of Contents of the Articles on Christ’s Return

Second Coming in the New Testament – When and how will Jesus return, and what will happen? – An analysis of the Second Coming verses in the New Testament to determine what Jesus meant when He said He will come soon.

Return of Christ in the book of Revelation – The Return of Christ in the Seven Last Plagues in the book of Revelation – The Return of Christ will not be an isolated event, but will be preceded and followed by a series of profound events; the “Day of the Lord”.

The End of the Age – What did Jesus mean by the End of the Age? – The end of the age is the return of Christ, when those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, and when those who commit lawlessness are thrown into the furnace of fire, while the righteous receive everlasting life.

This generation will not pass away – Who is “this generation” that will not pass away until all these things take place? – An analysis of how the gospels use the phrase “this generation”

Little Apocalypse – The Little Apocalypse; distinguish between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Return of Christ – An analysis of Christ’s teachings with respect to end-time events, as recorded in the Little Apocalypse

Little Apocalypse Support – The Olivet discourse: The Destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the Return of Christ –

Matthew 10:23 – “You will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes”.  What is the meaning of the phrase, “the Son of Man comes” in Matthew 10:23?

What is the “Kingdom of God”? – A study of the phrase “kingdom of God” in the New Testament

Some standing here will not die – An analysis of the phrase “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” in Matthew 16:28 – Does this refer to Christ’s Physical Return?

The Lord is coming soon – Jesus said and His disciples believed that the Lord is coming soon. – Shows that the entire New Testament teaches that the Lord is coming soon.

Was His promise to return soon was fulfilled in His Resurrection, Ascension and Enthronement? – The Apostles still expected His soon coming after His resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Was His promise to soon return fulfilled in the Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70? – Or was A.D. 70 merely a type of the fullest destruction at the return of Christ, or only the consequence of the end of God’s covenant with Israel?

Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised? – The 490 Years of Daniel 9 and Christ’s Return – Christ’s Return was promised before some of His hearers have died.  Starting with the dispensational view of why this promise did not come true, this article analyses the 490 years of Daniel 9 to develop an understanding of the delay in Christ’s Return.

TO: General Table of Contents

The Little Apocalypse

The Little Apocalypse; How to distinguish between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Return of Christ.

Little Apocalypse – The Greek word translated “revelation” in Revelation 1:1 is apokalupsis.  This is transliterated to English as apocalypse.  Matthew 24 is sometimes called the little apocalypse because it contains Jesus’ most comprehensive description of future events.

Return of Christ – In Mathew 24:30-31 Jesus said, “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”.   This seems to describe the physical return of Christ, but a few verses later He added, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (v34).  The purpose of this article is to study the text to understand whether Jesus said that He would return in the first century.

Parallel chapters – Luke 21 and Mark 13 contain the same explanation.  A separate article (Little Apocalypse Support) has been published which compares the three gospels, as support to this article.  The reader is advised to first read that other article.

Variations confirms reliability   The three chapters closely resemble each other, but there are also many differences.  The similarity of the chapters is quite amazing, if one remembers that these gospels were written about 30 years after Jesus was on earth.  Prior to that Christians mainly relied on verbal teachings.  The variations actually confirm the truth of the Bible because they show that these are the reports of three different people of the same events.

Interpretation of the variations –  When at least two of the three authors agree, one can accept their report as factual.  When one author mentions something which the other two do not, it will be assumed that that was also actually said, for “the Helper, the Holy Spirit … will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

Sections –To discuss these chapters, they are divided below into sections, and each section is discussed separately.  Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB.

The Place

Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6

The conversation started when, while they were leaving the temple, the disciples pointed to the beautiful temple building.  Jesus responded and said:

Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down”.

He must have said this with sadness in His heart, for in Matthew 23:37-38 He said,

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!

Your house” refers to the temple.

The Questions

Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:3-4; Luke 21:5-7

From there they went to the Mount of Olives, where the disciples asked Him:

When will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?

Since this conversation took place on the Mount of Olives, it is sometimes also called the Olivet Discourse.

Jesus only mentioned the destruction of the temple, but the disciples now included His “coming” and “the end of the age” in their questions.  The stones of the temple were huge; each more than 40 feet in length, and the disciples assumed that the temple will be destroyed at the return of Christ, and that that will be the “end of the age”.

With respect to these things, the disciples asked two things:

  • when and
  • what the sign will be that these things are about to take place. The Jews were fond of signs (Mark 8:12).

The False Teachers

Matthew 24:4-5; Mark 13:5-6; Luke 21:8

When Jesus responded, He did not answer their questions immediately.  He started by warning them against false teachers:

many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many”.

The Non-Signs

Matthew 24:6-8; Mark 13:7-8; Luke 21:9-11

The disciples asked for signs of the end, but Jesus next warned them of things that are not signs of the end, namely wars, rumors of wars, plagues, famines and earthquakes.

Persecution

Mat. 24:9-10; Mark 13:9-12; Luke 21:11-19

He then warned His disciples that they will be persecuted and killed.  They will be hated by all “because of My name”.  They will be brought “before kings and governors for My name’s sake” (Luke 21:12).

At that time many will fall away and will betray one another”.

Jesus continued to say that when they are brought “before kings and governors” it will provide them with an opportunity to testify.  He told His disciples not to prepare beforehand to defend themselves, for He would give them wisdom which none of their opponents would be able to refute. (Luke 21:12-15).

The End

He also said:

Most people’s love will grow cold, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Mat. 24:12-13; Luke 21:19; Mark 13:13).

This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mat. 24:14; Mark 13:10).

The end” in the first quote may perhaps be understood as the end of the person’s life, but for the following reasons it more probably refers to “the end of the age”:

  • The disciples asked about “the end of the age” (v3).
  • In the next verse (v14) refers “the end” is “the end of the age”.

In addition to these references to “the end”, all three gospels refer to the non-signs as “not yet the end”.  Of the twelve times that the phrase “the end” is used in the gospels, seven are in the chapters containing the Little Apocalypse.  This shows the unique nature of the Little Apocalypse; It is Christ’s most comprehensive discussion the “the end”.

A separate article is available on the phrases “the end”, or “The End of the Age”.  In that article it was concluded that “the end” is when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups.  “Those who commit lawlessness” will be thrown “into the furnace of fire”, but “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mat. 13:41-43; 49-50).  This happens at His coming.

So Far only General Warnings

So far Jesus has not answered the disciples’ questions.  So far He has said nothing of the destruction of the temple or of His return to this world.  So far He has used the phrase “the end” three time, but only to say:

That the non-signs are “not yet the end” (Mark 13:7);

That “the one who endures to the end … will be saved” (Mat. 24:13), and;

That “gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mat 24:14).

He therefore has not explained what will happen at “the end” or when it will be.

So far He has warned that false prophets will arise, that wars, plagues and famines do not mean that the end is near, and that they will be persecuted, causing many to fall away and betray one another.  These things do not describe any specific period or event, but are the general experience of believers until “the end of the age”; applicable to all times and places.

The Abomination of Desolation

Matthew 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20; Luke 21:20-24

But then He spoke specifically about Jerusalem.  Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 refer to the “abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet”.  Luke, writing to non-Jewish believers, who were not familiar with Daniel’s prophecies, interpreted the “abomination of desolation” for his readers as “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20).  This is the first reference in the Little Apocalypse to a specific historical event, namely the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman in AD 70.  This was during the First Jewish-Roman War in the years 66-73, following after years of Jewish rebellion.

Since the description in Luke is easier to understand, Luke is quoted here:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains … and those who are in the country must not enter the city. … These are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. … there will be great distress (Matthew – “a great tribulation”) upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations” (Luke 21:20-24; Mat. 24:15-21; Mark 13:14-20).

Since Jesus told them to flee to the mountains, this is not the return of Christ, for then it would not help to flee to the mountains.

The purpose of this warning is that, when they see the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem, they must flee immediately to places where they cannot be found (the mountains).  According to historical accounts, the Christian Jews did flee from Jerusalem just prior to the Roman attack.

The Times of the Gentiles Fulfilled

Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20; Luke 21:24

The warning to flee Jerusalem closes with differently worded statements in the three gospels:

In Luke: “Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

In Matthew and Mark: “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Mat 24:22; Mark 13:20 is similar).

This verse in Luke is sometimes isolated from its context, and given an end-of-time interpretation, but consider the context:

Luke 21:20But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. 21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains… 22 … these are days of vengeance … 23 … there will be great distress upon the land …  24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword … and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

In this context the “times of the Gentiles … fulfilled” in Luke 21:20 must be interpreted as the end of the time of “great distress” caused by the Romans with their attack on Jerusalem in AD 70.

Luke 21:24 and Matthew 24:22 are therefore the reports by two different people of the same words of Christ, both describing the attack on Jerusalem in AD 70.  This is confirmed as follows:

  • Both refer to destruction.
  • Both refer to time (“those days had been cut short” versus “times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”).
  • Both refer to the end of the time of destruction,
  • These verses are found in the same place in the sequence of the descriptions in the two chapters.

Matthew 24:22, Mark 13:20 and Luke 21:24 may be combined as follows:

Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Romans (Gentiles).  If these days were allowed to continue, they would have killed everybody in Jerusalem and vicinity, but God put a time limit on the persecution.

So Far

The disciples asked about both the destruction of the temple, “Your coming” and the “end of the age”.  So far:

Jesus responded by giving His disciples certain general principles that are applicable to all times and places, such as that some will try to mislead them by claiming “the time is near”, and that they will be hated and persecuted.

Then He shifted the focus to the destruction of the temple in AD 70 specifically, warning His followers to flee to the mountains without delay, for Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Romans, slaughtering the residents.

Although He has referred to “the end”, He has not yet elaborated on His return to this world.  Nor has He given any specific about “end of the age”.

The Signs and Wonders

Mat. 24:23-28; Mark 13:21-23; Not in Luke 21

Next Jesus warned them that “false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders”, saying that Jesus is “in the wilderness” or that He “is in the inner rooms”.  Jesus warned them not to follow these false prophets, “for just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be”.  In other words, these false prophets will claim that Jesus has already come.  Earlier He warned the disciples of people that will mislead them by saying He is near (Luke 21:8), but now He is warning them against false prophets claiming that He has already come. 

This warning of false prophets does not relate to previous section on the attack on Jerusalem.  Note the differences:

  • In the Jerusalem-section the threat was the Roman armies, but now the threat is false prophets, performing “great signs and wonders”.
  • In the Jerusalem-section the Christians in Jerusalem were warned to flee to the mountains, but now they have freedom of movement to go to “the wilderness” or to “the inner rooms”, and are warned not to follow the false prophets.

Christ therefore is no longer dealing with the attack on Jerusalem in AD 70.

The Sun, Moon and Stars

Mat. 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25-26

Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky”.  “Men will faint from fear because of the roaring of the sea and the waves and the things which are coming upon the world”.

The phrase “immediately after” links this section to a previous.  The previous time that we saw the word “tribulation” was in verse Matthew 24:21, which is in the Jerusalem-section.  But the word “tribulation” also appears in verse 9, describing tribulation as characteristic of the entire church age.  So what “tribulation” does Matthew 24:29 refer to?

To answer this question, we notice the following pattern in the gospels:

Matthew and Mark mention the false prophets performing “signs and wonders”, and then continues by saying “immediately after the tribulation of those days”.

In Luke we find neither.

It is therefore concluded that “the tribulation of those days” (Mat. 24:29) refers to the period of the false prophets that perform “signs and wonders”.  Since tribulation is always part of the Christian experience (Mat. 24:9), this is also a time of tribulation.

This means that the false prophets, that perform “signs and wonders”, and teach that Christ already came, will appear immediately prior to the “signs in sun and moon and stars“ (Luke 21:25).  These “false prophets” may be compared to the end time “beast coming up out of the earth … had two horns like a lamb” (Rev. 13:11) and “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (Rev. 13:13).  In Revelation Jesus is called a lamb.  This beast from the earth therefore looks like Christ.  A false prophet is somebody inside the church; not somebody that attacks the church from outside.

The Son of Man Coming

Mat. 24:30-31; Mark 13:26-27; Luke 21:27

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 gloryAnd 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”. (Mat. 24:30-31)

Since “His elect” are gathered from out the peoples of the world, this is “The End of the Age”, when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups; “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Mt. 25:46)

The word “then” with which this section starts, connects it to the signs in the sky in the previous section.  Just like the darkening of the sun, moon and stars follows “immediately after” (Mat. 24:29) the false prophets performing “great signs and wonders” (Mat 24:24), the coming of the Son of man follows immediately after the darkening of the sun, moon and stars.

The false prophets, performing miracles, the darkening of the sun, moon and stars, His coming and the gathering together of “His elect” therefore belong together, and describes “the end of the age”.

Three Main Sections

The Little Apocalypse may therefore be divided into three main sections:

General – He firstly gave general principles that are applicable to all times and places.  This includes the false teachers proclaiming “He is near”, the non-signs, such as wars and earthquakes, the persecution, falling away and betrayal, and the preaching of the gospel to the entire world.

Jerusalem – He secondly warned them about the severe tribulation of the Jewish nation and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

The end – He thirdly described specifically “the end of the age”; the false prophets performing miracles and claiming that Christ already came, immediately followed by the signs in the sun, moon and stars, and concluded.

This Generation

Mat. 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-31; Luke 21:28-33

But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. … Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.” (Luke 21:28-33)

These things” do not include the wars, earthquakes, famines and pestilences, because the latter are non-signs.  For the following reasons it is proposed that “these things” refer to the false prophets performing “great signs and wonders” and to the darkening of the sun, moon and stars:

The darkening of the sun, moon and stars follows “immediately after” the false prophets performing “great signs and wonders” (Mat 24:24).

The coming of the Son of man follows immediately after the darkening of the sun, moon and stars.

The “great signs and wonders” and the darkening of the sun, moon and stars therefore form a unit with the return of the Son of man.

Redemption” is when the angels will gather together His elect.  While Matthew and Mark reads, “He is near”, the parallel verse in Luke 21:31 says that “the kingdom of God is near”.

Due to the controversial nature of the quoted statement, a separate study has been made of how the gospels use the phrase “this generation“.  In that article it is concluded, on the basis of the usage in the gospels, that “this generation” most probably refers to Christ’s contemporary generation.  For instance, just prior to the Olivet discourse Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:36), which is an undisputed reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple A.D. 70.

It is certainly possible that “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 refers to the last generation that will see the signs of the end, instead of to Christ’s contemporary generation.  Each “this generation” must be evaluated in particular context, and the previous verse refers to the people that will see the signs.  The meaning would then be that the generation that sees the signs of the end, will also see the second coming and experience the judgment.  In other words, when the signs come, they will not drag on for many generations, but will happen within a generation.

On the other hand, the previous verse says, “when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near”, as if Jesus said that His disciples will see “these things”.  And even if “this generation” here does refer to the last generation that will see the signs, this will not solve the bigger problem, for this is not the only time that Jesus said that He will soon return to this world.  Furthermore, Paul and Christ’s apostles also believed that He would return soon, which implies that they understood Him to teach that.

Commentators offer different solutions, such as that Jesus was mistaken, that Jesus’ words are reported incorrectly, or that “the Son of man coming” was symbolically fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  A separate article (Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised?) has been developed to discuss these views.  Please see below.

No One Knows that Day and Hour

Mat. 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-31; Luke 21:28-33

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mat. 24:36).

The disciples asked, “when will these things happen” (Mat. 24:3)?  The Son responded firstly by warning them not to be misled by false prophets saying “the time is near” (Luke 21:8) or that He already came (Mark 13:21).  He secondly indicated that He does not know the day and hour, but He did know that it would not be in the distant future, for “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mt. 24:34).  This conundrum is one of the main purposes of this series of articles.

Some people are troubled with the realization that Jesus does not know everything.  The Bible teaches that God is one (Deut. 6:4-5; Mark 12:28-30; James 2:19) and clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus (e.g. John 17:3; 1 Timothy 2:5).  On the other hand, the Bible refers to Jesus as “God” (e.g. John 1:18; Titus 2:13-14).  An article is available which discusses the Son of God.

Conclusion

Many interpreters solve the problem of Christ’s statements of the nearness of the end by concluding that He was referring to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.  Since one of those statements are included in the Little Apocalypse, they therefore conclude that the Little Apocalypse also does not go further than A.D. 70.

In contrast it has been discovered here that the Little Apocalypse is be divided into three main sections.  The first section includes general principles applicable to all times and places.  The second describes the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, but the third is neatly separated from the events of A.D. 70, and describes Christ’s return to this world.    The Little Apocalypse therefore goes beyond the events of A.D. 70.

TO: Table of Contents of the articles on the Second Coming

TO: General Table of Contents

The Olivet discourse

The Olivet discourse: Comparison of the Christ’s depiction of future events in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21

Christ’s explanation of future events, as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 is sometimes called the Olivet Discourse Jesus gave this teaching on the Mount of Olives.  It is Christ’s most comprehensive explanation of His return to this world and of the End of the Age.  For that reason it is also called the Little Apocalypse.

This article serves as support for the main article on the Little Apocalypse.  To allow that article to explain the Little Apocalypse as easy to understand as possible, and because the reports of Christ’s teaching in the three gospels differ in some respects, this article compares the three chapters.  It presents the three chapters side by side to show the similarities and differences.  It also makes some observations about the text.  Perhaps the reader can print this article to use as reference while reading the main article.

All quotes are from the NASB translation.  Key words that are similar in all three gospels have been made bold.

The Situation

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away 1 As He was going out of the temple,  
when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings! 5 And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts
2 And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” He said, 6 As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”

Questions

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, 3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple,  
the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled? 7 They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”

In all three chapters the disciples ask about “these things”, which in the context refer to the destruction of the temple, but only in Matthew do the disciples also ask about the return of Christ or “the end of the age”.  Since Matthew was also led by the Holy Spirit, we assume that the disciples asked both about the temple and “the end of the age”.

False Teachers

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6 Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many. 8 And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them.

It is not clear whether the false teachers will say that Jesus is Christ, or whether they will claim to be Christ themselves.

Only Luke adds that the false teachers will say, “the time is near”.  The main issue is therefore that false teachers will come; not that they will claim that the time is near.

Non-Signs

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 9 When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.”
7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. 8 For nation will rise up 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. 10 Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, 11 and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines;

All three gospels refer to “the end”.  This confirms that the disciples did ask about “the end of the age” (Mt. 24:3).

Persecution & Opportunity To Testify

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
9 Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 9 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. 10 The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry 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. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 You will be hated by all because of My name, and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. 16 But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be hated by all because of My name.
12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.  13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 18 Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. See verse 10  

Luke starts with “there will be terrors and great signs from heaven”, but interrupts himself to say that this will only happen later (v11, 12).  Luke therefore mentions the “terrors and great signs from heaven” out of sequence.  These will be discussed below.

Mark mentions “the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” in verse 10, but this seems to fit better with Matthew 24:14.

Both Mark and Luke have a number of verses on the opportunity they will have to testify before kings and governors, but Matthew does not mention this.  Again, the assumption is that when one gospel records a statement which is not recorded by the others, that this statement was actually made.

All three gospels in this section refer to “the end”.  While the previous section referred to things that are not yet the end, this section refers to things that will continue to the end.  The main purpose of this series of articles is to understand why Jesus said He would return while some of His hearers are still alive (Mt. 10:23; 16:28; 24:34).  The authors of the New Testament also wrote many times that “the coming of the Lord is near” (James 5:7-8).  See the article Second Coming in the New Testament.  The current section reads, “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Mt. 24:13).  This may be understood as the end of the person’s life, but for the following reasons it more probably refers to “the end of the age”:

  • The disciples asked about “the end of the age” (v3).
  • The next verse (v14) refers to “the end” clearly as “the end of the age

According to Luke’s version Jesus said “by your endurance you will gain your lives” (v19), referring to the disciples specifically.  Combining this statement with the parallel verses in Matthew and Mark, this implies that His disciples will live until “the end”.  This is therefore another statement of the nearness of the Second Coming.

Abomination of Desolation

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
15 Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 14 But when you see the Abomination of Desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), 20 But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.

 

Luke, a gentile himself, writing to non-Jewish believers, who were not familiar with Daniel, interpreted the “abomination of desolation” for his readers as “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20-24).  Luke does seem to refer to the prophesies of Daniel in verse 22 below, when he refers to “all things which are written will be fulfilled”.  It is generally agreed that this section refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Great Tribulation

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 “Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 “Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; 16 and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. 21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city;
    22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.
19 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 17 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18 But pray that it may not happen in the winter. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days
21 “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 19 For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20 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. for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

The persecution discussed in the previous section (In Matthew, verses 9-14) was the persecution of Christians, but now the Jews are persecuted.

The word “elect” in Matthew 24:22 are the people whom God has chosen.  It may refer to the Jewish nation, because it remains “beloved for the sake of the fathers” “from the standpoint of God’s choice (election)” (Rom. 11:28).  Or it may refer to “those who were chosen” (Romans 11:7), namely the Jews who believed in Jesus.  The Jewish Christians were part of the Jewish nations, and it was their fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters that were slaughtered in the massacre of A.D. 70.

They must pray that their flight will not be in winter (Mt. 24:20), for then it would be cold.  They must also pray that their flight will not be on Sabbath.  This may be out of respect for the Sabbath, or that the Jews might prevent them walking further than the distance allowed on the Sabbath.

Signs of the End

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. … 26 “So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, …  27 “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.  
29 But immediately after the tribulation of those days 24 But in those days, after that tribulation,  
the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 25 There will be signs in sun and moon and stars and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Luke does not start the section on the darkening of the sun, moon and stars by referring to “the tribulation of those days” because it omits the section about “false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders” (Mat. 24:24).  The “tribulation of those days” (Mt. 24:29; Mark 13:29) therefore refers to the time of “false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders”, and not to the destruction of Jerusalem on AD 70.  This is a very important conclusion to properly understand the Little Apocalypse.

Matthew 24:28 states, “wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather”.  The meaning is explained by Luke 17:34-37, which twice uses the well-known phrase one will be taken and the other will be left”.  When the disciples asked Him, “Where, Lord?”, He answered “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered”.

The statement that the powers of the heavens will be shaken is understood to be a summary of the statements that the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky.

His Coming

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
30 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. 26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
31 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. 27 And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.  

Parable of the Fig Tree

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
    28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
32 Now learn the parable from the fig tree 28 Now learn the parable from the fig tree: 29 Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees
32 when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 30 as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near.
33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 29 Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 31 So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.

Luke still does not explicitly refer to His coming, but to the “kingdom of God”.

This Generation

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
34 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 30 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 32 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

No One Knows

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

 

32 But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.  

The Son does not know the day and hour, but He did know that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mt. 24:34).  This conundrum is one of the main purposes of this series of articles.

TOTable of Contents of the articles on the Second Coming

TO: General Table of Contents

TO: The main article on the Little Apocalypse