by Clay Watts

"The Mystery of Prophecy"

This section contains the outlines and notes used to present a class on Matthew 24 in August, 2003.  Much of the material is taken from Parallel End Times Passages in the New Testament.  The topics are as follows:

·        Introduction

·        Matthew 24:1-5 – Questions and warning of deception

·        Matthew 24:6-14 – Tribulation begins

·        Matthew 24:15-22; Luke 21:20-24 – Antichrist & False Prophets

·        Matthew 24:29-35; Luke 21:25-33 – Christ’s Coming

·        Matthew 24:36-51; Luke 17:26-37; Luke 21:34-36 – Parables on timing and preparation



·        Purpose is to explore end times Bible prophecy to see what it tells us about

o       The mysterious nature of God

o       How God communicates with us, which is how we learn more about His nature

o       How we should respond, which is the whole purpose for knowing Him

o       How we can better prepare for end times, which is the main point of prophecy

·        Method

o       Examine what Jesus said about end times in Matt 24 and related passages

o       Discuss principles of Bible prophecy that are illustrated

o       Discuss how these principles apply to our personal, prophetic communication with God

·        What is prophecy?

o       A message from God, delivered supernaturally by a man, that may reveal a future event.

o       Personal prophecy is similar to public prophecy.  It is one way God communicates with us. 

·        Illustration

o       How does God communicate with you? 

o       What are some examples of supernatural communication? 


Matthew 24:1-5 – Questions and warning of deception

·        Context – summary of Matt 21-23

o       In 2 days Jesus has gone from triumphal entry to throwing out the money changers, to confronting the skeptical religious establishment (Pharisees & Sadducees), to pronouncing 7 woes on them and condemning them to hell.

·        24:1

o       Jesus is leaving the temple, never to return. He has just revealed the tragic nature of its content—leaders and people who have left the true purpose of worship.

o       From Mark and Luke parallels, disciples are referring to the majesty of the temple buildings, representing the glory of Israel, which they expect Jesus to restore.

o       The temple, representing at once the best and worst in the Jewish religion, may also be a type of the church.  While in the temple, Jesus saw it as God’s ordained design for the redemption of his people. But from the outside, he sees it as an object that is too often adored for its outer trappings rather than for what it represents. 

o       What does the temple represent?  A picture of heavenly access to God for worship.

o       Just as Jesus severely critiqued the religious leaders, and Paul held the churches accountable to walk their talk, so we should constantly review our religious activities to ensure they are not mere traditions of men, but that they measure up to God’s holy standard. Let us pray that Jesus does not have to leave the established church to get our attention.

·        24:2

o       As usual, Jesus responds in a totally unexpected way.  He prophesies an astounding event that comes to pass in about 40 years.  It is at once his judgment on unbelieving Israel as well as a warning to his true followers.  Nowhere else in scripture is there such a dramatic passage that is so unbelievable.  Some of the stones of the temple were 70 by 10 by 8 feet high.  The disciples must have been shocked.  Even the event itself was almost an accident.  Titus, the Roman general, had wanted to save the city and the temple, and begged the people to surrender.  When they wouldn’t, he ordered both destroyed.  The Jews themselves actually started the first fire and Roman soldiers finished the job in a frenzy, not realizing that Titus had given orders not to destroy it at the last minute.   But God’s word will be fulfilled, in spite of the intentions of man.

o       Titus had ordered that 3 towers be left and part of the western wall, which still stands today. Is it possible that the ultimate fulfillment of Christ’s words have yet to occur?

o       Much of Matthew 24 could be interpreted as having occurred in this same timeframe as the temple’s destruction.  This, and other analyses, has led to the preterist school of interpreting bible prophecy.  It says that all, including the book of Revelation, was primarily fulfilled in the generation after Christ’s death.  While it seems very short-sighted to us, there is actually a fast-growing group of this persuasion, particularly since the predictions about Jesus’ coming 40 years (a generation, supposedly) after Israel became a nation in 1948 (or took over Jerusalem in 1967) are not coming to pass.  Bible scholars are once again preferring to live in the past, with the certainty of a small God being preferable to the uncertainty of a big one.  This was also a popular view prior to the Jews returning to Israel.

·        24:3

o       Jesus gave general, difficult to understand, statements publicly, and then explained them to a few of his disciples later when they were alone.  This is a model for how we can communicate with him.  His words fall on many unbelieving or unknowing ears, but if we approach him privately, and with the right motivation, for more clarity, he will not disappoint us.  We may still have to stretch to understand what he’s saying, but we know that he will not withhold anything we need.

o       The disciples were excited that Jesus was coming against the Jews and predicted the destruction of the temple, since it would bring him closer to establishing his own earthly kingdom. 

·        24:4-5

o       Now Jesus astounds them once more.  They have nothing more to say, since what follows is absolutely incomprehensible to them and does not fit their idea at all of his quickly coming into the kingdom.  Remember, two days ago he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling a major prophecy, which related to the conquering Messiah.  Then he tore the established religious leadership structure up one side and down the other. But now he warns them to not pay any attention to false Christs claiming to be him.  What?  How could that be possible while Jesus is going to be there for all to see, coming in his glory?  It may have begun to slowly dawn on them that this was not going to play out the way they were thinking, but there is plenty of evidence that they just didn’t get it until much later, as was shown on the road to Emmaus, where in Luke 24:25-27 He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

o       Historically, there were a number of false prophets who claimed to be divinely inspired or sent from God during the next 40 years.

o       This is one of the most controversial topics in prophecy. What exactly is the deception Jesus warns us about? Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, there have been many claiming to be the Christ, some deluded by demonic influences, others intending to profit in some way. Apparently some of these will be very convincing, to the point that believers could conceivably be deceived. This is hard for us to understand, and we probably would prefer to think that Jesus is addressing unbelievers or nominal Christians. However, Jesus is speaking to his closest disciples, so we should not take the warning lightly. Perhaps the deception is much more subtle than we could imagine, hence Jesus’ stern warning. The key is to watch. We must constantly be on the alert and not let our guard down.

o       The rider on the white horse in Revelation 6:2 is often associated with Antichrist, who is also frequently named as the ultimate deceiver claiming to be God. 


Prophetic Principles (that help understand how God communicates with us in mysterious ways)

·        Type/antitype

o       The temple and religious leaders as a type of what the church could become if it does not heed Christ’s warnings. 

o       What are some of the antitypes, i.e., later fulfillments? 

§         Pope, especially during dark ages

§         Cathedrals of only architectural significance, not used for worship

§         Prideful televangelists who worry more about raising money and looking good than helping people, etc.

·        Preconceptions

o       The disciples had a preconceived idea of what Jesus was going to do.  What was it?  How did this affect their understanding of his prophetic words? 

o       What would cause someone to be a preterist, i.e. want to see everything as historical?  How would this affect their understanding of prophecy?

o       What would cause someone to be an idealist, i.e., see everything as spiritual symbols?  How would this affect their understanding?

·        Deception

o       Prophecy is apparently intended to help guard against deception.  This seems to be a theme of Matt 24 (&25).  How does prophecy help with this?  Does prophecy also introduce opportunities for deception?  How?  What can we do about that? 

o       James 1 has several warnings about deceiving yourself.  What are some of them?  How can we apply these to prophetic interpretation?

o       James 4:3 says that we ask and receive not because we ask amiss.  How does this apply to asking for interpretation of mysterious passages or for prophetic direction from the Holy Spirit?

o       Deception can come from how you ask questions, which may be based on preconceptions, as the disciples probably had.  Jesus was addressing their underlying assumptions, which would lead to deception.  He usually answers what we need to hear, not what we ask.  It would be wrong to analyze Jesus’ responses in terms of the questions he is asked.  Better to use his responses to analyze the condition of the questioner.

o       Matt 12:23+ shows that while people who are searching for God are open to the work of the Holy Spirit, there are other, supposedly religious ones, who are deceived by attributing God’s supernatural works to demonic or natural forces.  Another, more serious, example of allowing preconceptions leading to deception.

·        Plan big, start small.

o       God may show you a long-term or ultimate direction, but he expects you to take small steps to get there, since you don’t know all the details or the timing.

·        Harmony

o       Matt 12:25 shows that a kingdom divided against itself will not stand.  Scripture, and especially prophetic scripture, must not contradict itself.  It must work together for a common purpose.  Therefore, to use scriptures to bring division is not of God.  We must seek a higher plane where all prophetic scriptures can be understood as being part of a consistent whole.


Matthew 24:6-14 – Tribulation begins

·        24:6-8

o       There have been many wars between nations, as well as earthquakes, famines, and disease over the centuries.

o       Many analysts claim the frequency and severity of these events is increasing, especially in the last century.

o       Christ is telling us not to be frightened about these terrible events, but rather to see them as the beginning of birth pains.

·        24:9-11

o       Even if God’s people are called on for the ultimate sacrifice, God has a purpose in it, and it will be a witness to the world.

o       We should be prepared and not be afraid, even if we are put in difficult, and even life-threatening, situations.

o       Particularly challenging might be the betrayal of close friends and family.

o       We must make up our minds beforehand not to fear, but to depend solely on God for direction and ultimate deliverance.

o       We are warned about deception from seemingly godly people who may appear to have all the right answers.

·        24:12-14

o       We should not look to others, whether they appear to be godly or not, but we should stand firm in our devotion to God alone

o       Reaching the world with the gospel is a good example of the responsibility of God’s people to help hasten the coming of the Lord. 


Prophetic Principles

·        Near/far; then/now

o       While there is a temptation to ascribe most of this passage to the first century and say that it has been fulfilled, this is a prime example of what could be a near/far prophetic word.  Particularly if the temple is rebuilt, this could set up an even more dramatic and ultimate end times fulfillment.

·        Encouragement through warning

o       As the first century Christians were able to escape the death and destruction of Jerusalem due to these prophetic warnings, so the church must be very alert and not despair if we find ourselves in the middle of unexpected devastation.  But, as in the first century, we must look for an opportunity to escape and then not fail to take advantage of it.  This is our hope—that we know God is in control of the future, and he will give us day-by-day instructions so that we may overcome the perils of the enemy.

·        Type/anti-type – birth pains to represent the onset of labor, but not the labor or delivery itself.  How are birth pains like preparation for end times? 

o       Overwhelming pressure, natural force

o       Have to just go with it, but body wants out; defies nature; flight vs. fight

o       Like a storm

o       Can prepare, but most don’t and become a victim if don’t know what to expect; come out damaged through a horrendous experience, although there is a reward anyway at the end.

o       If prepared, have to deal with the magnitude, but because you’ve been trained to listen to your coach instead of your own body, you just have to “breathe”; but it takes practice in class, and with Braxton Hicks contractions.

o       Like other life simulations—helps prepare, then when go through real thing, can listen to the voice.


Matthew 24:15-22; Luke 21:20-24 – Antichrist & False Prophets

·        Holy place – Jerusalem, temple, altar area

·        Abomination that causes desolation – Daniel 9:27; 11:31

o       Near – Antiochus Epiphanes 168 BC; Romans 70 AD

o       Far – Antichrist – Rev 13:1-8

·        Flee – Christians fled when siege was lifted briefly, after Jerusalem was surrounded; had warning; none perished; prophetic understanding leads to action

·        Great distress, never to be equaled – does this contradict a far fulfillment?

·        For sake of elect, days will be shortened

o       Elect--Jews and/or Christians

o       Far—supports pre-trib and pre-wrath views

·        Jerusalem punished, prisoners taken, time of Gentiles—supports dispensational view; when do times of Gentiles end?

·        False christs & prophets will show signs—miraculous, giving false hope; hired by leaders

·        To deceive the elect—if that were possible—is it possible?

·        Not in one place, but for all to see—far fulfillment

·        Where a carcass is, vultures gather – moral decay requires divine judgment; Ezek 39:17-19; Rev 19:17-18



·        Near/far – how does this help us prepare?

o       Stimulates awareness, particularly parts that weren’t fulfilled

o       Gives possible scenarios

o       As the first century Christians were able to escape the death and destruction of Jerusalem due to these prophetic warnings, so the church must be very alert and not despair if we find ourselves in the middle of unexpected devastation.  But, as in the first century, we must look for an opportunity to escape and then not fail to take advantage of it.  This is our hope—that we know God is in control of the future, and he will give us day-by-day instructions so that we may overcome the perils of the enemy.

o       Must be very careful about exact wording—same with personal prophecy; good reason to write it down and look back at the words in light of new circumstances.  Also be careful about impressions of a past word vs. the actual words.

o       Has God spoken to you about something that didn’t happen at all or at least not the way you thought?  Perhaps there’s yet a far fulfillment.

o       Why might he allow this—what looks like raising expectations, only to be disappointed?

o       Danger of preterists, who claim that hope deferred makes the heart sick Pr 13:12

·        Deception

o       James 1; 4:3; 5:7-11

o       Idealist view provides help – for example, rich symbolism and typology provide supernatural insights into God’s character and workings in our lives, such as Babylon-Harlot-selfishness vs. Jerusalem-Bride-righteousness.


Matthew 24:29-35; Luke 21:25-33 – Christ’s Coming

·        Views of the Rapture

o       Pre-trib (prior to 7 week tribulation)

·        John being caught up in Rev 4

·        Christ coming for and with the saints – interval for judgment & marriage supper

·        Tribulation is to punish Israel – Matt 24 tribulation is for Jews

·        Dispensationalism – 70th week is Israel; Church age is over

·        Believers escape tribulation, delivered from wrath & judgment

·        Constant expectation of Christ’s (not antichrists ) coming

·        Restrainer (believers) removed before antichrist appears (2 Thess 2:7)

·        24 church elders in Rev 4

o       Mid-trib (same as pre-trib, except for following)

·        Comes between 2nd & 3rd woes in Rev 11

·        Last trumpet of Paul (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16) same as 7th of Rev

·        2 witnesses symbolize rapture in Rev 11

·        Great tribulation is last 3 ½ years of Daniel’s 70th week

·        Seals are not judgments, but beginning of birth pains (Matt 24:3-12)

·        Seals and trumpets are not wrath, which starts in Rev 11:18

o       Pre-wrath (during 2nd half of 70th week, prior to God’s wrath)

·        First 3 ½ years of 70th week are beginning of birth pains (Matt 24) and 1st – 4th seals

·        Great Tribulation starts with abomination of desolation (Matt 24:21) and includes 5th & 6th seals – persecution of the elect, not God’s wrath

·        Rapture occurs prior to God’s wrath, which is the Day of the Lord, whose approach is signaled by 6th seal (cosmic disturbances) and begins with 7th seal which contains the last trump.  This shortens the Great Tribulation (Matt 24:22)

o       Post-trib (at end of 70th week)

·        Only one coming; no interval between coming for and with his bride

·        Church is persecuted by Antichrist

·        Believers protected from wrath; kept from (delivered out of the midst of) the hour of trial Rev 3:10

·        First resurrection (Rev 20:5) at Day of Lord after Great Tribulation

·        Wheat & tares gathered together at end of age Matt 13:39

·        Marriage supper at end of tribulation after Babylon destroyed

·        24 elders are kings

·        Elect gathered at Christ’s coming in power & glory Matt 24:31

·        Near/far; dual meaning; then, not yet





Immediately after the distress

Soon, next

Emphasizes importance & certainty

Sun, moon, stars

Mark seasons, & times; end of Jewish age; destruction of Jewish leadership

Cosmic signs of 6th seal; Satan cast out of heaven Rev 12

Sign in the sky

Armies & chariots in sky prior to destruction of Jerusalem

Signs that stop fighting at Armageddon

Son of man coming

Titus as God’s representative to destroy Jews

Christ’s 2nd coming

On clouds

Allusions, poetic language showing Christ on throne in heaven

Rev 1:7

Gather elect

Bringing Jews and church together to carry gospel throughout the world


Fig tree


Israel regathered

When you see

Disciples would live to see results

Believers during end times


This generation

People living at that time

Generation after time of the gentiles is fulfilled, when Israel becomes a nation again



o       Preparation (example of prophetic words before moves)

§         Sense the season

§         Walk together

§         Focus on God

§         Be obedient

§         Be ready for quick fulfillment—no time to prepare


Matthew 24:36-51; Luke 17:26-37; Luke 21:34-36 – Parables on timing and preparation

·        24:36-39 Noah took 120 years to prepare, but only had 7 days warning.  Likewise, we must look at a lifetime of preparation.

o       Building the ark – the basic structure

o       Pitch – filling in every crack

o       Wild & domestic animals – things of value

o       Family

·        Noah has a long period of preparation – everything was ahead of him.  Lot was warned at the last hour – everything was behind him. It’s harder not to look back.  Better to prepare way ahead than depend on relationship with God to pull you out at the end – one that you weren’t expecting.

·        24:40-41 Women at the mill, men in the field, people in bed – all times of the night and day, indicating a simultaneous, world-wide event.

·        Luke 17:31 Why is there a warning not to go back for anything?

o       If this is the rapture, is there a preliminary warning and action to be taken (doubtful)

o       If this is referring to judgment or a trial of some kind, then this could be protection and deliverance if we are aware of what’s coming and instantly obedient.

·        24:40-41 What is taken away and what is left?

o       “Taken” is normally used to show favor on the one taken, and thus some say it represents the rapture.  It means to receive and join together, as in John 14:3 where Jesus is coming back to take us with him to our mansions he has prepared.  But the word is also used to describe Jesus’ arrest, and some say it represents those taken for destruction, as the wicked who were swept away in the flood.

o       “Left” means to go free, to let survive, to let escape, which would support the interpretation of “taken” as being destroyed.

·        24:43 Who is the thief?  Is it Christ coming into the house of Satan to steal his Bride from Satan?

·        24:44 Christ commands we “be ready”, not “get ready”.  Is there a difference?

·        24:46-47 We should be doing the work he has assigned.  What is the reward for faithful service? 

·        24:48-51 Do we not see abuse among God’s people when we get distracted with the cares and temptations of this life?

·        Luke 21:36 “Escape” is used elsewhere in the sense of not coming under God’s judgment.


How do you see yourself preparing for end times?  What are/should be your attitude and actions?




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