Introduction: In our study of Matthew 24, we have learned that, in order to properly reflect God’s love for lost sinners, and for a lost world, we must never forget Jesus’ grief over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37-39 or Paul’s broken-heartedness for God’s people Israel in Romans 9:1-5. May this week’s notes on such a love bring honor to God as we glorify Him in our efforts to show forth the same love towards Israel which He has shown. May we love those who are hostile to our Gospel witness even as He stretched out His arms “all day long” to His disobedient and obstinate people (Romans 10:21).
Mon/Tues: read Romans 11:18-26. Paul reminds us in Romans 11 that the bountiful saving grace which we as Gentiles enjoy today is because God in holy severity removed for a time that grace from His people Israel due to their rejection of the Christ. Israel was the original branch of God’s elect, grafted into God in covenant grace (Romans 9:4-5). But because of their stubborn adherence to works-righteousness, (Romans 10:1-4), they were cut off from the vine of salvation and we grafted in their place. But note Paul’s warning in Romans 11:18: “Do not boast, oh believer, as if you were grafted in because you were better than the Jews!” That is not the case! We only adhere to the Lord because He in grace supports us as weak, undeserving wild branches.
Meditate and Pray: Lord, how important it is for you to keep us humbly reliant on your grace alone – instead of anything in us. Keep us from any resentment towards unbelievers, especially towards those who once professed you to be their God. We do pray for your people of old, Israel, that you would open their eyes to see the Lord Jesus, whom they pierced, and looking, believe and receive your forgiveness in His Name – even as Zechariah 12:10 promises. Amen.
Wednesday: read Romans 11:22-26. The poison of anti-Semitism damages more than the witness of the Christian church towards an unbelieving world. It also destroys a proper awe of the power and sovereignty of God. As Paul says in Romans 11:23, we had better maintain a gracious attitude towards His people of old, the Jews … because God is able to graft them back into the church of Jesus Christ! As John Owen put it, speaking about how such a future ingrafting of Israel demonstrates essential aspects of God’s power in our lives too:
“The very power of God – that He is able to do whatever He pleases – is a foundation for faith to act upon and relieve itself by. Therefore, God pleads this power emphatically in Isaiah 50:2-3, where He tells us that His hand is not shortened so that it cannot save; rather, He is still able to do it. ‘Is my hand shortened at all,’ saith He, ‘that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea: I make the rivers a wilderness: I clothe the heavens with blackness and I make sackcloth their covering.’” (vol. 9)
Meditate and Pray: “Dear Lord, we long to see your power on display in the conversion of hardened sinners, like the nation of Israel for which Paul grieved so much. Make us people of prayer and give us hope to persevere in such hopeful prayers for even those who have been for centuries rejected, but whom you can save for the glory of your sovereign power alone. Amen.”
Thurs/Fri: read Matthew 24:42-51. Though there are many questions when one studies Matthew 24, such as which portions of the chapter refer to the destruction of Jerusalem under the Romans in A.D. 70, which refer to the Church Age, and which to the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time, one thing is clear: it is of extreme importance for believers to avoid ‘end-times’ speculations and false prophets who declare the end is near. Instead of listening to the hype, believers are to live quiet lives of vigilant faith, working with their hands in this world, even while their hearts long for the next.
For example, consider how Jesus ends Matthew 24 with a graphic picture of the master of the house who is surprised by the thief breaking in in the middle of the night. If he had known at what “watch” the thief was coming, (verse 43), he would have stayed awake to catch the thief in the act! The word “watch” refers to one of the four Roman watches of the night: evening, midnight, cock-crowing and sunrise. Jesus’ point is simple: If we knew when Jesus would return, we could all set our watches to that point in time! But since we don’t know when Jesus’ return will be, we are to “watch, therefore”, (Mark 13:35), at all times!
But now let’s be honest. How harmful it could be for us to know the hour of Christ’s Return, since that knowledge could lead to sinful unpreparedness, as we could wrongly pursue our own pleasures, complacent in the knowledge that there was, “still time to repent” before the end! This is exactly what Jesus warns about. It is the “wicked servant” of Matthew 24:48-49 who abuses the extra time before Christ’s Return! But since that time is actually unknown, it is the justice of Christ’s unexpected judgment which catches all such misbehavior in the end in Matthew 24:50!
Meditate and Pray: Let us thank God that we do not need “signs of Christ’s Coming” to prepare us for His Return. Instead, let us resolve, as Jonathan Edwards did, to live all our lives as if Christ was to return in one hour! Such quiet, steady vigilance, instead of emotional ups and downs – is exactly what is needed. Sing about this kind of perseverance in hymn # 426:
Till He come O let the words
Linger on the trembling chords,
Let the little while between
In their golden light be seen;
Let us think how Heaven and home
Lie beyond that, Till He come.
When the weary ones we love
Enter on their rest above,
Seems the earth so poor and vast,
All our life joy overcast?
Hush, be every murmur dumb;
It is only, Till He come.
Clouds and conflicts round us press;
Would we have one sorrow less?
All the sharpness of the cross,
All that tells the world is lost,
Death and darkness, and the tomb,
Only whisper, Till He come.
See, the feast of love is spread,
Drink the wine, and break the bread;
Sweet memorials, till the Lord
Calls us round His heavenly board;
Some from earth, from glory some
Severed only, Till He come.
Sat/Sun: Matthew 24:3 and Daniel 12:1-13. We come full circle back to the Twelve’s basic two-fold question in Matthew 24:3: “When will these things be?”, (the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in Matthew 24:1), and “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the ages?” (Christ’s Second Coming). These questions belong together. To illustrate, think of a telescope, which at once focuses on the nearer surroundings, (the Fall of Jerusalem, for example), but with a turn of the wrist focuses on the farthest point on the horizon. In the same way, the Holy Spirit can inspire New Testament writers to write about the fall of Jerusalem in one verse and then focus on the long-term reality of Christ’s return in the next. Both kinds of judgment occur throughout history, and both occur in Matthew 24.
Moreover, such pressing questions have a long history. About 500 years before Jesus, the prophet Daniel predicted that, at the Day of Judgement and Resurrection in Daniel 12:2-3, men would rise to either everlasting life or to everlasting contempt. This is the Last Judgment. But Daniel also had it revealed to him that there would be an earlier judgment against God’s people Israel. This earlier judgment under the Romans would be unheard of in its cruelty and suffering (Daniel 12:1) and would literally smash the power of God’s people in Daniel 12:7 when they saw their temple and city burn in AD 70. But the most terrible blow inflicted against the holy city Jerusalem would not come from foreign invaders. When God left Jerusalem and the temple of Solomon, taking His glory with Him, (see Ezekiel 10:18ff), the doom on the temple would be sealed, and God’s place of sacrifice on earth removed. This is what Daniel saw in his vision, when God’s people would lose the place of sacrifice at the temple!
Meditate and Pray: Let us give thanks that God no longer depends upon an earthly temple or holy place as the site where He receives man’s worship and where He provides men forgiveness! He has ‘tabernacled among us’ in the incarnation of His Son (John 1:14). Now the place where we are forgiven is where Jesus has gone for us – into the Heavenly Temple not built with hands! Even more important, Jesus has not left our hope for His Return resting on our own frail efforts to “be ready”! He has promised to, “come back and take us to Himself, that where He is, we may be also” (John 14:3). Sing about the great access we have to the Lord at every moment of our lives, and rejoice in His presence with us as a sure token that we won’t miss His Return, using the words from hymn # 377:
Jesus, where’er Thy people meet,
There they behold Thy mercy seat;
Where’er they seek Thee Thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground.
For Thou, within no walls confined,
Inhabitest the humble mind;
Such ever bring Thee, where they come,
And, going, take Thee to their home.
Dear Shepherd of Thy chosen few,
Thy former mercies here renew;
Here, to our waiting hearts, proclaim
The sweetness of Thy saving name.
Here may we prove the power of prayer
To strengthen faith and sweeten care;
To teach our faint desires to rise,
And bring all Heav’n before our eyes.
Lord, we are few, but Thou art near;
Nor short Thine arm, nor deaf Thine ear;
O rend the heavens, come quickly down,
And make a thousand hearts Thine own!