The next section of the discourse we will investigate seems specifically targeted to disciples of Christ. There seems to be an urgency in the way Jesus presents the importance of this instruction. He really tries to drive the point home so there can be no room for misunderstanding.
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him (Matt. 24:23).
Verse 23 continues the paragraph begun in verse 18 and starts out with the word “Then”, providing us with another linkage. What subject does the word “Then” in verse 23 link to in verse 22? The answer is, “those days”. If we were to amplify it we might say something like “Then, during those days, at that time of great persecution/tribulation…” It also indicates “so then” or, “in light of” what Jesus said previously. I would also include, “considering then”, and “realize then”, as aids for comprehending the intention for the use of the word, “then”. In verse 23 Jesus is plainly exhorting that during the great persecution/tribulation, if anyone tells you He is present somewhere in the world, do not believe them! Here is the hard and fast rule: If you have to be told, it is definitely NOT Christ! The Lord expands upon this issue in the next three verses.
Matt. 24:24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
vs 25 “Behold, I have told you in advance.
vs 26 “If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go forth, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. (NASB)
What we must firmly understand is the Great Persecution/Tribulation is a time of testing–particularly (but not exclusively) for those within the professing church. Some will prove to be faithful and genuine, others will prove to be imitators, pretenders. Satan has a specific agenda he will attempt to carry out while indwelling the Beast (Antichrist), starting at the midpoint of the seven year period, precisely coinciding with the removal of “the restrainer”. We will engage in a major study of the subject of “the restrainer” when our journey takes us to II Thessalonians. We will discover actual scriptural support for identifying who the restrainer is, and exactly when he is removed from the historical scene. I have encountered too many who make bold claims, without having a solid scriptural basis, in an effort to bolster a weak theological position.
Satan has a few major goals he will try to accomplish during this period, such as subjugating the entire population of humankind. But his agenda has a particular issue I wish to highlight. While it is apparent that Satan, along with his demonic forces and the forces of the Eighth Beast Empire, will attempt to eradicate all who refuse to worship the Beast and take his infamous mark (666), Jews and professing Christians will be targeted; and there will be a relatively short time to accomplish this. Satan has a strategy all lined up ready to implement at the right time. When the Beast reveals his true identity at the Abomination of Desolation, those who refuse to worship him and take the mark will be forced to go into hiding. This notion that there will be some impressive evangelism and soul-winning occurring at this time is just not supported in the scriptures. Jews and those that profess to a relationship with Christ will be hunted down and when they become exposed some will die as martyrs. But as we saw in Matt. 24:10-12 many will capitulate and “fall away”, or become ensnared by a dilemma; they will “cower away in shame” denying the Lord Jesus Christ. Even if it is not “heart felt”, they will fain worship of the Beast and take the mark in order to save their lives. It will be scandalous!
Many people will be unprepared, realize they must go into hiding, then become desperate because of a lack of food and necessities or due to a need for medical attention. They will eventually become easy targets to get lured out of hiding. Many will be literally starving to death and will embrace anything that appears to provide a ray of hope. Add to this the fact that collectively, this period will be the most psychologically and emotionally trying time in the history of mankind. People will intensely long for relief as the first, then the second year of these conditions and events transpire without relief. It is easy to see that anyone claiming to have the power or ability to do something about the situation would be readily and heartily embraced!
The Lord very strongly admonishes “Do not believe”; “Do not go”; “Do not believe”! He also said “Behold, I have told you in advance“! He really expects His followers to have a handle on this. And in case there are some still struggling to grasp His exhortation, Jesus amplifies and illustrates the point with a couple of quick examples.
“If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go forth, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them (Matt. 24:26).
Try and think this through a little more. Imagine being in the survival mode for two years or longer! Through the meager communication system you may have circulates a rumor that Jesus is going to be nearby at some secluded spot, around sunset, in two days. Maybe you haven’t had one decent meal in over five months. Perhaps a loved one is so ill they are on the verge of dying and rumor has it that when Jesus meets everyone at this designated rendezvous He is going to miraculously feed everyone, just like He fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes, and He’s going to heal the sick and dying! You can easily imagine many being so desperate that they are lured out of hiding and make the journey to the revealed location. When they arrive they discover too late it was only a scheme to trick people to come out of hiding and now they have been ensnared by this dilemma, along with a hundred others who were just as desperate. One by one, several capitulate to the minions of the Antichrist and compromise their alleged faith.They worship the idol image of the Antichrist and take the mark of the beast. Then perhaps they receive a reward, maybe FOOD and the promise of medical attention. Its all so appealing…so tempting…
Then, some brave soul refuses. “NO!” they say, they will not take the mark of the beast nor worship his idol image. The execution of the “rebel” is swift and final. The corpse provides a stark reminder of the immediate consequences for those still contemplating their own answer to the dilemma they now face. Indeed, what will their answer be when they are forced to choose?
While this scenario could be somewhat the case for those that get “tricked” and lured out of hiding, the Lord also mentions that there will be many false Christs and false prophets. As I quickly reflect back over the past several decades there’s a few people that would probably qualify for the categories of false Christs or false prophets. Several could possibly be considered as sincere, well intentioned, people who were self-deceived or maybe a bit psychotic. However, I don’t recall any that performed “great signs (SEMEION- attesting miracles) and wonders”, yet they were able to mislead many. I am inclined to believe that the false Christs and prophets Jesus was referring to are demonically empowered and therefore not of the category of “sincere…just sincerely wrong”. These appear to be Satanic accomplices of Antichrist preying upon desperate professing Christians and Jews. There were times I was nervous about my situation and I was gullible and participated in certain things that didn’t pan out the way I had hoped. Can you imagine the pressure of living during the Great Persecution/Tribulation, having been mis-taught and unprepared spiritually, physically and emotionally? There will be millions of people who will be tempted to cling to someone who confidently projects the ability to guide them safely through those perilous times. Who would doubt, especially with the “evidence” of miracles which would obviously seem to verify their authenticity?
This period will be a time of testing in many different ways, to prove out who has genuine faith, and who will “live out” their faith utilizing Bible doctrine under the power of the Holy Spirit. I noticed that Jesus did not say “Among the true prophets will also lurk the false.” I am not claiming there won’t be leadership during the Great Persecution/Tribulation but I am saying the Word of God must continue to have preeminence for the followers of Christ. The Lord has warned, “Behold, I have told you in advance.” Verse 27 begins the explanation of why no one will need to question who the real Christ is, and if He has returned yet.
“For just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming [PAROUSIA] of the Son of Man be (Matt. 24:27).
Recall when we studied verse 3 we noted the concern of the disciples to know what “sign” to look for so they would know when the second PAROUSIA of Christ was occurring. They did not want to miss it, nor did they want to be deceived. Verse 27 begins with the word “For”. The amplification might be, “For this reason”…do not believe, do not go. You won’t have to wonder or wait to hear the news or speculate; you won’t even have to pray about it! Jesus then begins His explanation, which continues through verse 31, by stating “just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so shall the PAROUSIA of the Son of Man be.”
This is the first mention of PAROUSIA since verse 3. One aspect of the SEMION (sign) of the event of the PAROUSIA (coming) is the appearance of the resurrected Christ as lightning flashing from east to west. Lightning is extraordinarily powerful, spectacularly brilliant and captures everyone’s attention. While the false Christs and false prophets are operating secretly in the wilderness or inner rooms, the PAROUSIA of the King of kings will be brazenly public. But remember this is just one aspect of the SEMION of the PAROUSIA. Jesus later reveals the dramatic context within which this will occur. I found Psalm 97 to be quite interesting, with verse 4 especially applicable here. If you are able, please read it. For now though, we need to remember the sign of Christ’s coming is illustrated as lightning flashing from the east even to the west.
“Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather (Matt. 24:28).
To some this may seem a somewhat odd thing for Jesus to say at this point. To me, what’s bizarre is some of the odd, cryptic interpretations provided by various commentators. Unless you have been exposed to some of those interpretations you might think I was making them up. But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and anyway, I’m not that imaginative to come up with the likes of what some have concluded. There has been debate whether “the corpse” could represent Christ, or maybe the Church, or even Jerusalem!
Verse 28 is a Hebrew idiom, but it plays an important role. Verse 27 starts a distinct and pivotal transition…sort of like applying a car’s turn signal prior to making a turn. Verse 28 represents the maneuvering of the car into the turn. The direction of the car is going to change distinctly. Jesus is indicating His PAROUSIA is going to change everything. The wicked and ungodly who have been persecuting the saints, the elect, are now going to receive a whooping, a thumping, punishment. Now the shoe will be on the other foot; the poop is going to hit the fan. The wicked and ungodly will be in a world of hurt because what goes around, comes around. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. This is not just a transition in information, it warns of a transition in human history. And you can absolutely count on it. Just as when you see vultures gathered together, you can be certain there is a corpse of some type nearby. Verse 28 is a transitional verse. The transition itself starts in verse 27. New and dramatic information is about to be presented and verse 28 links the information introduced in verse 27 with the revealing, following information.
Now our Lord is going to expound upon His description of the SEMION of His PAROUSIA. Verses 29-31 will complete the foundation upon which we will see Peter, Paul and John build upon by supplementing, complementing and augmenting the outline, the framework, this foundation Christ establishes here in the Olivet Discourse. The next path in the journey awaits you in the next chapter!