“But if you keep on being faithful right to the end, you will be saved” (Matthew 24:13 CEV).
by Thomas Gilbert
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Our Lord’s Great Prophecy in Matthew 24 is part of one of Jesus’ longest discourses. In the first 11 verses of this prophecy, Jesus explains the events, deceptions, and persecutions his disciples will witness and experience in the time between his impending
departure and his promised return — the presence, or parousia, about which they inquired.
Jesus cautions his disciples not to be led astray by imposters claiming to be sent from God. Gamaliel mentions two who made such claims and gathered followings — Theudas,
and Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:33-39). Pastor Russell suggests there have been fifty or more false Christs during the Gospel Age (The Battle of Armageddon, pages 565-566). Notable was Sabbathai Zevi of Smyrna (1626-1676), who in 1648 announced himself to be “The firstborn Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of Israel.”
Beyond individuals, religious institutions have claimed the authority of Christ, the authority to speak for him. Catholic Church doctrine teaches that the Pope is Christ’s “vicar or visible representative.” “The pope has supreme power.” “Christ’s infallible guidance also passed on from Peter and the apostles to the popes and bishops.”1 Those who differed were often tortured or killed.
(1) Willhelm, Anthony, Christ Among Us: A Modern Presentation of the Catholic Faith, Paulist Press,
1981, pages 144, 145, 150-151.
Wars, Famines, and Earthquakes
Jesus tells his disciples there will be “wars and rumors of wars.” They might interpret such conflicts as indicating the collapse of human governments and the establishment of His kingdom. One source estimates there have been only 250 years of peace among nations in the past 3,400 years. Estimates of those killed in wars throughout history range from 150 million to more than 1 billion.
Jesus tells us to not be troubled by wars because “the end is not yet.” On his last night with his disciples, he said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
The Gospel Age would be characterized by famines and earthquakes. Between 108 BC and 1911 AD, there were no fewer than 1,828 major famine years in China. The Great Chinese Famine of 1958-1962 was a self-inflicted tragedy caused by changes in government policy and killed an estimated 36 million. The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849 killed 1.5 million people. Three major 20th Century famines in the Soviet Union killed an estimated 9.5-14.5 million people. Repeated famines in many regions of Africa resulted from drought, war, and insurgency.
Many notable earthquakes have occurred in our lifetimes. The three strongest ever recorded occurred in Chile (1960), Alaska (1964), and the Indian Ocean off of Sumatra, Indonesia (2004). The three deadliest earthquakes occurred in China in 1556, 1920, and 1976 (1.3 million killed). The 2011 earthquake and
tsunami off the coast of Japan was the costliest, resulting in $235 billion in damages.
There may also be symbolic meanings to these events. Amos 8:11 speaks of famine for hearing the words of the Lord. Earthquakes may symbolize uprisings of people to throw off
repressive governments or to seize power from other ethnic or ideological groups. These are almost as numerous as major, literal earthquakes.
Jesus tells us these events are just the “beginning of birth pangs” leading to “a new heaven and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1). During this same time, his followers would be hated, persecuted, and killed. Stories of those who have endured mistreatment for their faith, even by other “Christians,” have filled many books. The Apostle Paul writes, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 2:12 NIV).
Jesus warns his disciples to beware of false prophets, who would lead many astray. There are major religions begun by people who claimed to be prophets sent by God. Most prominent among those are Islam (1.8 billion adherents), founded in the early 600s by Muhammed in Arabia. There have also been
individual “doomsday” prophets, such as David Koresh (Branch Davidians, Waco, Texas, 1993), deceiving smaller followings.
Jesus says that because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many people will grow cold. The church itself turned persecutor, against remnants of paganism and dissenters within its own ranks. Materialism and technology now distract people from loving relationships with one another. Only those who hold fast his commandment to “love one another” will be chosen to work with His Son to bless all mankind in the Kingdom. Loving, valuing other people as does Jesus, in that he gave his life to save them, is the standard of love that God seeks also in us.
Jesus says that the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to all the nations before the end of the age. Bible societies, beginning in the early 1800s, made the Bible available in many languages. At the end of 2017, the Bible had been translated into 674 languages spoken by 5.4 billion of earth’s population. The New Testament is available in 1,515 other languages reaching 631 million more people. Thus, 83 percent of humanity has access to reading the “gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14).
The Internet now allows worldwide sharing and circulation of Bibles, Bible study aids and materials. Bible Students use this technology worldwide to proclaim God’s plan to bless all the nations of the earth, and Christ’s ransom sacrifice guaranteeing an opportunity for eternal life to all who have ever lived.
The world has experienced a lot of turmoil, upheavals, and tragedies in the 2,000 years since Jesus gave this prophecy. The good news that he delivered has inspired many people to dedicate their lives to him and the Heavenly Father. The church became institutionalized to carry out the work of spreading the Gospel, but this led to its corruption by leaders who were
less than nobly motivated. The true character of God and the hope of the kingdom became hidden from all except those who diligently sought truth. Those who found and held forth these truths were expelled and persecuted. How we long for the vindication of God’s character and the final unfolding of His plan of salvation and restoration!