In the Olivet Prophecy Jesus told the disciples that they had to be on their guard, so they wouldn’t be deceived (Matthew 24:4). Then he pointed out several things from wars and natural disasters to false-christs that would seem to lead people into thinking “the end” was near. People are never more religious than during times of disaster. When hope is ebbing away and control over one’s life seems all but gone, people turn to God, or at least give an appearance of turning to him. Churches fill up during the times of war. Many in America began turning to God during the 911 Crises in 2001. But, as time takes the edge off our fears, we begin to resettle ourselves into the pattern which we had grown to enjoy prior to whatever made us afraid.
After the series of recent earthquakes in Japan (2011), many began to wonder if this was a signal that the end was near. After all, if those nuclear reactors melted down, and perhaps exploded, not only would that be disastrous to Japan, but the radiation might have affected many other countries around the globe. We tend to believe that any present disaster is the worst of its kind; no one ever had to endure what we are going through today. People are like this. We tend to exaggerate our positions and our experiences in such a way that we must be the best or worst that ever was or ever will be. The Bible also uses exaggeration, as a literary vehicle, to express the disastrous effect some judgments would have upon those who continually rebelled against God.
The 70 Weeks Prophecy predicted the coming of the Messiah, and to my knowledge, no one had tried to pass himself off as the Messiah prior to the life and ministry of Jesus. After Jesus was crucified, however, Josephus recorded several men who came, declaring themselves as the Messiah and promised miracle working power and deliverance from the Romans. Josephus also mentions several sever famines that struck the Empire and in particular the Jewish community. He recorded several wars that concerned both the Empire and the Jews and their neighbors, before the final Jewish rebellion that destroyed the nation. Yet, none of these things, except the Jewish revolt in 66 AD, signaled the time of the end.
The Jews knew they were living in the time of the end of the age, because when the Messianic Age would arrive, the age that brought them to the Messiah would come to an end, but the day and hour of its end could not be predicted. This was Jesus’ point. Don’t get excited when certain contrary events take place, because these things, of and by themselves, do not indicate the end. Sure enough we have always had charismatic people who drew the loyalty of others but led them into disaster. Many even worshiped these men as though they were gods. Yet, time passed, and these men didn’t signal the end of the age. We have experienced thousands of wars throughout our history and disastrous natural disasters that surprised and shocked even the most prepared among us, yet the end, as we have come to believe it to be, had never come.
Jesus said that none of these things in Matthew 24:4-8 have anything at all to do with our modern times. They concerned the coming of Christ at the end of that age in the first century AD (i.e. the end of the Old Covenant). So why do we continue to believe the end is near when war or other disasters strike? Why do we consider it extraordinary, when an evil charismatic figure steps onto the stage to take his shot at ruling the world? Let’s not be deceived. The best that can be said of these things is, they do not indicate anything more disastrous than the times in which they occur. The end is not near for us, because the Gospel Age will never end (Daniel 2:44).