Matthew 24 – The Most Important Prophecy Chapter in the Bible
By Steven J. Hogan
The following is an article which I expanded from a sermon I preached on Matthew 24 to my congregation last year.
I personally believe that Matthew 24 is the single most important chapter in the Bible for Christians on end times prophecy. If you don’t know anything else, then first go to this chapter, and get to know it inside and out, and especially so in these days, in this time right before the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. The following is a study of Matthew 24:3-41.
JESUS, WHEN ARE YOU COMING BACK?
Matthew 24:3. The disciples had been with Jesus for close to 2½ years and they are getting the idea that He is leaving them, that He is taking off for heaven, and they want to know when He is returning. They want a little advance notice before Jesus comes back, and so they ask Him for two signs, a sign of His coming, and a sign of the end of the age.
Let me define two important words from verse 3: First, there’s the word “coming” which is used in Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39. The word coming means arrival and continued presence. The disciples wanted a sign to let them know when Jesus Christ would arrive and be present and begin His reign over the world. Second, this word “age” is referring to the present age we live in, an evil age that began with the sin of Adam and Eve. The next age, the age to come, is the 1000 year millennial kingdom, during which time Christ will be reigning on earth (Ephesians 1:21). The truth that this present age will end is a major point in Matthew 24, and is referred to in verses 3, 6, 13 and 14. Later on in this chapter, in verses 27 and 29, Jesus answers these two questions about the sign of His coming and the sign of the end of the age. Before He does that, He has a lot more to tell them, and us too, about what will be taking place before these signs occur, and therefore before Christ’s 2nd coming.
THE BIRTH PAINS – THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Matthew 24:4-8. These verses describe the “birth pains”. They take place during the end times, that time period starting with the regathering of the Jews to Israel and ending with the coming of Christ (Daniel 12:4, 9). There has been much discussion as to when these signs started, or will start, but personally, I believe they have already begun, corresponding to the return of the Jews to their homeland, which began in the late 1800’s. Let me mention some key points about these birth pains:
1. These verses describe four major events taking place all over the world during the end times. We read about false christs, wars, famines and earthquakes. Mark 13:6-8, Luke 21:8-11a, and Revelation 6:1-8 are all parallel passages to Matthew 24:4-8, confirming and emphasizing the importance of these birth pains. Luke 21 includes plagues and Revelation 6 includes economic distress, meaning that these things will also be occurring in the world during the time of these birth pains.
2. These events are global events, but they are not occurring in every sector, in every city in the world. We read that people “will be hearing of wars…” and “in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.” The words “hearing” and “various places” mean that many people in the world will not personally experience these events, but they will know that they are taking place. At this time in history, with our present technology, we can very quickly hear about some tragic event taking place in some other location. This was not possible 200 years ago.
3. These events are like the “birth pains” of a mother. Birth pains, the labor pains a woman experiences before the birth of her baby, will increase in both intensity and frequency. And as we get nearer to the return of Christ, then the events described in Matthew 24:4-7 will increase in intensity, will be getting stronger and stronger, and will increase in frequency, will be getting closer and closer together.
4. These “birth pains” do not constitute the day of the Lord’s wrath. They are not God’s cataclysmic judgments upon the entire world in the end times. They are severe and devastating events taking place in various parts of the world, signaling to us that Christ’s coming and God’s wrath on earth is getting closer and closer. But they cannot compare to God’s wrath that is detailed in Revelation 8-9, 16. The book of Revelation gives us this order of events: Revelation 6 describes the seals, the birth pains; Revelation 7 describes the rapture; and Revelation 8-9, 16 describe the wrath of God. Birth pains, then rapture, and then wrath – that is the divine order. This is also what Matthew 24 tells us.
5. Matthew 24:6 says, “those things (the birth pains) must take place but that is not yet the end.” This word “end” is referring to the end of the age. These terrible disasters will be occurring in different places around the world, and increasingly so, but there is still a ways to go before Christ’s return. Just because these events are taking place does not mean that the rapture is imminent. Christ’s coming will be getting closer, but it’s not right away. Verse 8 says it this way, “all these things are merely the beginning of birth pains.” These birth pains are only the beginning of events ordained by God that will take place before the return of His Son.
6. Jesus instructs us not to be frightened. Yes, there will be many frightening events, many things that could make us fearful, but we are to trust God and not be afraid. “Do not fear, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10). Many people react way too easily when “terrifying” things take place. We are God’s children, and as we read here in Matthew 24, He has told us ahead of time what will take place, and we should not then be surprised or scared when these things occur. “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
7. There will be death associated with these events. Revelation 6:8 speaks of this pale horse that had the “name Death; and Hades was following with him.” But again, know that these events spoken of here are not part of God’s wrath, of His cataclysmic judgments on the entire earth. Psalm 46 is, I believe, talking about some of these end time events. In verse 10 God tells the believers living on earth at that time, “Be still and know that I am God, and that I will be exalted in the earth.”
SIX THINGS CHRISTIANS MUST KNOW ABOUT THE END TIMES
Matthew 24:9-14. This is a very succinct and critical section of verses describing what will be taking place in the end times, and which will particularly affect the Christians. Let me state them briefly: Verse 9 – There will be great tribulation, a worldwide hatred and killing of Christians. Verse 10 – There will be a great apostasy, a falling away of so called Christians. Verse 11 – False prophets will try to lead people astray. Verse 12 – The world is getting more and more wicked and unloving. Verse 13 – Christians will endure to the end of the age and be raptured. Verse 14 – The gospel will be preached to the entire world, and then this age will end. These six things will most definitely take place before the coming of Christ and the rapture of the Christians, and are six things that you really need to know, understand and remember. Let me expand on them:
Matthew 24:9. There is tribulation. The word “tribulation” is from the Greek “thlipsis”, meaning pressure, distress, or persecution. It’s a word used in the New Testament that refers to the difficulties Christians regularly experience in life. The following passages tell us that all Christians go through tribulation in this life: John 16:33, Romans 8:35, 1 Corinthians 7:28, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Acts 14:22 – “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Tribulation is very common for the Christian, but in the end times there will be great tribulation.
This tribulation is great tribulation. But why? Because of its severity, for believers are being killed for their faith; and because of its scope, for it is taking place all over the world – “You will be hated by all nations.” Now this tribulation is the same tribulation spoken of in verse 21, which tells us that it starts in Jerusalem, but then spreads out all over the world. Verse 22 tells us that this tribulation will be cut short. That is, it will not last a full 3½ years, the last half of Daniel’s 70th week. We do not know how long this tribulation will go on, for we do not know when Christ will return to rapture the saints. Matthew 24:15-21 and Revelation 13 tell us that this tribulation is started by the Antichrist. This tribulation then is not the wrath of God, but the wrath of Satan. It is the persecution of believers by the Antichrist and is not the punishment of unbelievers by Christ.
Matthew 24:10. This tells us about this great apostasy, meaning that many people will fall away from the Christian faith at this time – that is, they aren’t true Christians. There will be many people who think they are Christians but they are not Christians, and you see this in many so-called churches today. When this persecution begins, when the heat is turned up against the Christians, then these so-called Christians will leave their church, will turn away from the faith, turn against the true Christians, and turn them into the godless authorities. Luke 21:12-19
Matthew 24:11. Many false prophets will arise, and their purpose is to lead people astray, away from the one true God, and away from the true faith. The devil will do all he can to get people to defect, to turn from Christ. There is a clear connection between the false prophets of verse 11 and the apostasy of so-called Christians in verse 10, for the false prophets will be influencing people to leave the true church, to turn away from Christ, and in fact, to turn to the Antichrist.
Matthew 24:12. Lawlessness will increase. This world will get more sinful and more wicked the closer we get to Christ’s return. This will be particularly true after the emergence of the Antichrist, for this godless, unrighteous and perverted man will lead this world into sin like never before. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 we read that this Antichrist is actually called the “man of lawlessness”. The peace, civility and kindness that we often see in our country at this time, much of it rooted in our Judeo-Christian culture, will be seen no more, except by Christians. Their light will shine in the darkness, brighter than ever before. Matthew 5:14-16, Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 24:13. This is a rapture verse. Jesus Christ is talking about Christians living during the days of this great tribulation and they are to persevere to the end of the age. Then they will be saved, that is physically raptured by Christ. Life will be very difficult for Christians during this time of great persecution, but many will endure to the end, and then suddenly be taken from earth to be with Christ. Those physically enduring to the end are also spiritually enduring to the end, and are victorious over the enemy. Romans 8:35-39 and Revelation 2-3 describes these believers as overcomers.
Matthew 24:14. This last verse of this passage focusing on Christians stands out, reminding us that our primary purpose in the end times is to preach the gospel. We are not to shrink back or be fearful. We are to be strong and courageous, proclaiming the good news of Christ to the lost. This gospel is to be preached in the whole world, “and then the end will come.” What is this end? It is the “end of the age” spoken of in verse 3 and the “end” referred to in both verses 6 and 13. Matthew 28:19-20 essentially tells us the same thing – “Go make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and lo, I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Christians are to persevere to the end of the age and preach the gospel to the end of the age, and then Jesus Christ will return to rapture them, and take them to heaven.
Let me sum it up. Matthew 24:4-14 speaks of events taking place during the end times. Matthew 24:4-8 speaks of events that will affect the entire world, but Matthew 24:9-14 speaks of events that will affect just the Christians. This is a chronological passage, taking us all the way from the beginning birth pains right up to the end of this age and the gathering of the elect, the resurrection and rapture of all the believers.
WHAT ABOUT THIS ANTICHRIST? AND WHAT IS GOING HAPPEN TO THE JEWS?
Matthew 24:15-27. We have just talked about the Christians, but we continue on, for Jesus has much more to tell us. Let me make some brief statements about these verses:
- These verses focus on Jews living in Israel at the time when the Antichrist is revealed.
- These verses are for all the elect, for the “reader” in verse 15 is most likely referring to Christians, to people like you and me.
- Matthew 24:15-17 is a parenthetical to verses 9-14, for it takes place at the same time. The perspective and focus of verses 9-14 is the Christians, and the perspective and focus of verses 15-27 is the Jews. For example, verse 9 talks about tribulation, and verse 15 talks about the Antichrist, the one who starts the tribulation. For example, verses 13-14 talk about the end of the age, and verse 27 talks about the return of Christ at the end of the age.
- These two passages, verses 9-14 and verses 15-26, are next to one another, which is to let us know that in the end times God’s working with the Jews is in conjunction with and coincides with His working with the church. It is important to understand that God will bring all things together in the end times, culminating in the coming of Christ for both Christians and Jews. You also see this convergence of God’s working with Christians and Jews in Mark 13:3-23, Luke 21:12-24, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, Revelation 7 and Revelation 21:12-14.
- The time frame of these verses starts at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week and then stops at the 2nd coming of Christ, which is sometime during the last half of Daniel’s 70th week, and is an unknown time to us.
- The great tribulation initiated by the Antichrist right after the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week, is cut short at the end of this age, right before the resurrection and rapture of the church.
Matthew 24:15. This “abomination that causes desolation”, prophesied in Daniel 9:27, refers to the Antichrist’s desecration of the temple in Jerusalem at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. Because of modern technology people around the world will be able to “see” what is taking place. Therefore, true Christians and discerning Jews will very quickly realize what is taking place over in Israel, and will know that the Antichrist is doing this, and that great tribulation will soon begin, affecting both Jews and Christians. 2 Thessalonians 2:3
Matthew 24:16-20. This instruction is for Jews living over in Jerusalem, for those Jews who are Christians, but it is also for those who will become Christians, and together these make up the elect. The instruction is clear – when the Antichrist is revealed, then the elect need to get out of Jerusalem as fast as possible, for the enemy will be coming after them. Revelation 12:13-16 also describes this, speaking of a remnant of Jews making a great escape (these will get saved at the end of Daniel’s 70th week.) The Antichrist, very angry that the Jews have escaped, will then go after the Christians. Revelation 12:17 says, “the dragon was enraged… and went off to make war with the rest of her children who keep the commands of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” It is very clear that the “rest of her children” are Christians.
Matthew 24:21-22. The Antichrist is revealed at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week, and he goes after the Jews, but a remnant of them escape. This is when a great tribulation begins, and it is against the elect, that is, all present and future believers; and these are ones who do not take the mark of the beast, and do not worship his image (Revelation 13:11-18). This great tribulation starts in Jerusalem and is initially against the Jews, but then it spreads out all over the world, and is then directed at the Christians. This great tribulation in verses 21-22 then is the same as the tribulation spoken of in Matthew 24:9. Verses 21-22 tell us where it starts and how it is stopped, and verse 9 tells us about its severity and scope.
This worldwide persecution against Jews and Christians is cut short. And it’s cut short for the sake of the elect, the believers on earth who are already saved, and that protected remnant of Jews who will be saved at the end of Daniel’s 70th week. This tribulation time is “cut short”, or as it’s also translated, “amputated”, and therefore it does not last the entire 3½ years, but only for part of it. The rapture of the believers then takes place after this tribulation period is over. Matthew 24:29
Matthew 24:23-26. I love verse 25 – “Behold, I have told you in advance.” This is a very instructive and encouraging verse. Just think, Christ has told us ahead of time everything we need to know about the end times. We should then want to know all that He wants us to know. In these verses, Jesus also gives warnings to the Jews about the false Christs and false prophets. Many of them will say that Christ is now on earth, that He is out in the desert or in some room, and that the people need to come and see Him. But the idea that Jesus comes back and is on land is absolutely false, for Christ is not coming on land but coming in the air, and that’s just what we read in verse 27.
Matthew 24:27. The question given in verse 3, “what is the sign of your coming?” is now answered. The sky will be dark but then will suddenly be lit up, like a bright and brilliant lightning flash. It will be the Shekinah glory of Christ that will be seen around the world immediately before the resurrection and rapture of the believers. The 2nd coming of Christ will not be a secret like His 1st coming, but will be known by everyone on the planet. Verse 30 talks about this also, saying that the “sign of the Son of Man will appear (will shine) in the sky.”
LOTS OF PEOPLE WILL BE DYING
Matthew 24:28. This verse comes right at the end of this passage about the great tribulation and right before the passage about the coming of Christ. All of us know that vultures are associated with death. Jesus then shares this little saying reminding us that there will be corpses, that is, dead bodies on the earth. This illustrates that lots of people will be dying all over the world during the days of the birth pains and the great tribulation, and this takes place before Christ’s 2nd coming. I personally believe it is also referring to the days after the coming of Christ, to the days called the “Day of the Lord”, that time when God pours out His wrath on the earth, and when great multitudes of people will die. Revelation 6:8
FINALLY, THE END OF THIS PRESENT EVIL AGE
Matthew 24:29-31. The climax and main point of this entire chapter is found in these three verses. It tells us that immediately after this great tribulation, this great persecution is cut short, then the skies around the earth will grow dark. And this answers the question “What is the sign of the end of the age?” Everything will grow dark. How eerie, how scary, how frightening for the unbelievers, but not for the believers, for we will know what it means. We know that everything will then be lit up by Christ’s Shekinah glory, the beautiful and brilliant light of Christ’s glorious coming. But the tribes of the earth will mourn, will wail, and these are not the Christians. I believe this is referring to the Jews who are sad, for they had rejected Jesus Christ as the true Messiah; and it may also refer to unbelievers because they know what’s next, the dreadful wrath of God. Both Luke 21:25-26 and Revelation 6:12-17 speak about the great fear of the unbelievers at this time.
FINALLY, THE RESURRECTION AND RAPTURE OF ALL THE BELIEVERS
Matthew 24:31. The main point in this verse is that at the end of this age all the believers from all time will be being gathered together to be with Jesus Christ. Now there are two aspects to this gathering: First, there is the rapture, the gathering of believers “who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord.” Second, there is the resurrection, the gathering of believers who have already died. Let me explain this. Some of the elect are gathered “from one end of the sky to the other”. Now since they are coming from the skies, then this is referring to the resurrection of believers who had already died and gone to heaven. But some are gathered from the “four winds”, and this refers to the four winds on earth, and therefore, this is talking about the rapture of the believers from all parts of the earth. Revelation 7:9 tells us that it will be a “great multitude…from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” It is at this time that both resurrected and raptured believers are gathered and are glorified and join together to meet Jesus Christ in the air above this earth, and then they go straight to heaven. Mark 13:27, 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18, Revelation 7:9-14
LET’S TALK ABOUT TIMING
Matthew 24:32-34. This clearly says that God wants Christians to know the general timing of Christ’s return. “When you see all these things, recognize that He is near.” Christ is telling us all this information in Matthew 24 so we can know what will be taking place before His coming. This is very exciting! Just think, in the end times there is a generation of Christians who will read Christ’s words in Matthew 24, and then will see these things actually taking place on earth, and then will know that Christ’s return is getting closer and closer. This could be you and me. Hebrews 10:25 instructs us, “Encourage one another and all the more as you see the day drawing nearer.”
Matthew 24:36. This clearly tells us that no Christian can know the day or hour of Christ’s coming, that no one can know the exact time of Christ’s return. Jesus Christ has given us these timing verses in Matthew 24:32-34, 35 so that we can know the general time of His coming and the rapture, but we cannot know the specific time. Therefore, don’t ever believe any date setters, those people who wrongly set a date for Christ’s return. And don’t ever believe people who preach imminence, who say there are no signs or events that need to occur before the coming of Christ, and that Christ can come today, that He can come at any moment. These verses in Matthew 24 tell us that there are signs that Christ wants us to know and then see so we can know that His coming is getting near. This teaching on imminence is error, and is a false teaching. Christians are to know the general time of Christ’s return.
THE UNBELIEVERS HAVE NO CLUE AS TO WHAT IS COMING
Matthew 24:37-39. We have talked about the Christians, the Jews, and now we read about the unbelievers. The analogy is given about the days of Noah, and the unbelievers living at that time did not believe a flood was coming. They were not expecting it and therefore they were not ready for it. And so too, the unbelievers living in the days before Christ’s return will be eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting and building. They will be doing normal everyday things with no thought, no clue as to the coming of Christ. They will be unbelieving, they will be ignorant, they will be caught off guard, and then comes the Day of the Lord. Hebrews 12:31 – “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Luke 17:28-29, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9
SEPARATING THE GOOD FROM THE BAD
Matthew 24:40-41 tell us about the nature of the rapture. Believers living on this earth in the end times will be living with and in the vicinity of unbelievers. But at Christ’s coming, the believers will suddenly be taken from this earth, taken away from the unbelievers, and taken to be with Christ and all the other believers who have gone on to heaven before them. In my opinion, the most dramatic event, apart from Christ’s death and resurrection, and apart from a person’s salvation in Christ, is the rapture and resurrection of the believers at the coming of Christ! All Christians on earth will be quickly taken, suddenly snatched from this earth to be with Jesus Christ! And then they will be fully saved, for then they will be glorified, and be given a brand new, immortal and powerful body!
GOD’S WORD IS THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH ABOUT CHRIST’S 2ND COMING!
Matthew 24:35. Right in the middle of Matthew 24, the most important prophecy passage in the Bible, Jesus gives us this powerful verse, this super strong statement regarding the absolute truth of God’s prophetic word. This verse, planted in the middle of instruction for believers about the end times is an emphatic exclamation point from Jesus Christ, from God Himself, telling us that what is written in Matthew 24 about Christ’s 2nd coming, and the events leading up to it, is the truth!
WHAT NEEDS TO TAKE PLACE BEFORE THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH?
In Matthew 24, this most important prophecy chapter, we have talked about a lot of things that need to take place before the coming of Christ and the resurrection and rapture of the believers. Let me list them: 1. False christs. 2. Wars. 3. Rumors of wars. 4. Famines. 5. Earthquakes. 6. Great tribulation. 7. Great apostasy. 8. Betrayal of believers. 9. False prophets. 10. Increasing lawlessness. 11. An unloving world. 12. Christians persevering. 13. The preaching of the gospel. 14. The Antichrist desolating the Jewish temple. 15. The Antichrist in pursuit of the Jews. 16. The Jews fleeing and escaping. 17. Death. 18. Great tribulation being cut short. 19. The sign of the end of the age. 20. The sign of Christ’s coming. Matthew 24 very clearly tells us that all these things need to occur before the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ and the rapture and resurrection of the believers. Can you see how Matthew 24 is the most instructive chapter in the Bible on end times prophecy for the Christian?
TAKE HEED TO WHAT IS WRITTEN IN MATTHEW 24
Dear Christian, do not ignore this chapter? Do not read it lightly or take it lightly? This is most serious and most sobering. We are talking about the most difficult, most challenging days ever for Christians who are living on this earth. This is very important information from Christ to you about the end times, for this will help you to be the overcomer that God wants you to be. I encourage you to read it, reread it, and read it again. Study it, think about it, pray over it, and be convinced that it will happen. Jesus Christ is not lying. He is telling you the truth, the truth about the end times that you need to know and believe.
As the time gets closer, you may be part of that last generation of Christians on this earth, and you will see every one of these things come true just like Jesus said. If you are not part of that last generation, then it may be your children, or your grandchildren, or friends or fellow church members. It is your duty, your responsibility to tell them what this chapter is all about. Then one day, and it won’t be long, and Jesus Christ will come back, and He will lovingly and powerfully and quickly and safely and gloriously take all the believers who are on this earth to be with Him, and to be with Him forever and ever and ever. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20