Jesus, Shepherd of the End Times, Part I

(Matthew 24)

Jesus ministers to the church as our High Priest and Head, shepherding His church, guiding us into all truth necessary to represent Him on earth and fulfill His purpose until He returns. One important area of truth in which the Lord illumines us is in discerning the time. 

All of time since the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is the end time — the final age in the outworking of human history. But there will come a day when time will be no more. Although the Lord has said that we will not know the exact hour when history concludes (Acts 1:7), it is also clear that He would have us to be wise and discerning in every generation.

During the final week of His earthly ministry, Jesus taught in the temple daily. On one occasion, as His disciples were admiring the beauty of the buildings, He stunned them by announcing that the entire temple complex would someday be destroyed, not one stone here will be left upon another (Matt. 24:2). He was referring to the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD.

The disciples could not conceive of such catastrophe except as part of the end of this era of history so they asked, tell us, when will these things happen and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). They certainly were not thinking of a far, future day. They thought the end of the age was upon them and that the establishing of God’s kingdom and the revelation to the entire nation of Jesus’ Messiahship was about to occur. Only a few days before, as Jesus and the disciples began the journey from Jericho to Jerusalem, the disciples were assuming that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately (Luke 19:11).

Then, as they entered Jerusalem, the crowds had waved palm branches and shouted, Hosanna to the Son of David, a clear Messianic reference. It’s Passover week now and no doubt the disciples are breathless with anticipation. Their question, what will be the sign of your coming?, was not a reference to the second coming of Jesus. They had still not grasped the fact that Jesus would be arrested, put to death and resurrected. They certainly could not imagine His ascension to heaven and His return, many centuries later, at the end of the church age.

The word coming, parousia, is often associated with the concept of returning. But parousia also carries a sense of presence, arrival. For instance, in Philippians 2:12, Paul speaks of his presence, parousia, with the church in that city, So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence (parousia) only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Since the apostles had no idea that Jesus would be leaving them, they could not have been thinking about His return. They must have been asking, “When will You fully manifest Your presence, your Messiahship to the nation?” They saw the ministry of the Messiah as one unbroken series of triumphs without any time gap between a first and second advent. This is how the Old Testament prophets often presented Messiah — He would enter history, conclude history and establish His kingdom in Israel and on the earth —one continuous triumph.

The disciples asked about the end of the age. End, sunteleia, carries a sense of completion, fulfillment. The word age (world in the King James) is aion and refers not so much to a period of time as to the spiritual / moral values that define the time. The disciples are asking when Jesus, the Messiah, will fully manifest His power and glory, overcome and close this present age dominated by the values of this sinful world system and fulfill His purpose as He visibly establishes the kingdom of God in righteousness, justice and peace. 

Jesus responded by teaching them about the true end of the age, which would not be that week nor in their life times. He begins with the warning, see to it that no one misleads you (Matt. 24:4). There is a danger in prophetic charts, calendars and chronologies. The surest way to know the times and seasons is to know the God who is Lord over times and seasons. The Psalmist said, My times are in Your hand (Psalm 31:15). 

I am not as interested in knowing the calendar of the future as I am in knowing the God who wrote the calendar, who designed all of time and history. He is Lord of the universe, Creator of all that was and is and shall be. He is not only sovereign over all substance but also sovereign over all time for He exists before the beginning, beyond the end and meets us in time. Because Jesus is our wise, loving Shepherd of grace, His desire is to guide His church through each generation of the end times. 

One primary instrument of Christ’s guidance is the Scriptures which He interprets to us through the Holy Spirit. When we study the Bible, we are allowing Jesus to shepherd us, to shine light on our pathway, to illumine the times so we can navigate the times. As He prepares us to live each day to the glory of God, as He matures us today, then we will be able to successfully navigate the challenges and crises of the future. His emphasis is on preparation, not prediction.

Let’s look at several principles of the end times which the Lord our Shepherd has made available to us and through which He will Shepherd us.

A. Principle: There will be many signs of the end (Matthew 24:4-35)

1. One sign of the end will be the multiplying of deceivers, false prophets and counterfeit messiahs (Matthew 24:4,5,11,23-26). 

There have always been false teachers disguised as truth speakers. Always there have been heresies, deceptions and doctrines of demons. The Apostle John warned us, in the first century, Many deceivers have gone out into the world (2 John 7). The apostles Paul and Peter both warned against them. They were already present in the first century but in the last days of the end times they will multiply, their deceptions will intensify and many will be misled.

So it was in the early days of the church and so to this day, mesmerizing mis-leaders feed on the insecurities and pride and longing of vulnerable people. Neither secular education nor superficial religious affiliation offer any protection against deception. In 1930, the nation in Europe with the highest level of adult education and the highest percentage of “registered Christians” was Germany. Yet before the decade was ended, the German people followed Hitler, their anti-Messiah, into some of the most horrific savagery in modern history.

Hitler presented himself as a messianic leader, boasting of the thousand year reign of Nazism, a mockery of the true millennial reign of Christ. So in every age, counterfeits great and small rise up, some with political / military / economic agendas, others cloaked in spiritual / religious disguises. But as history moves toward its conclusion, these counterfeit leaders will increase and the end time will be characterized by even worse deception. Human wisdom will not preserve anyone, nor a passing knowledge of religious things. Take note that neither the high level of education nor the shallow, nominal religiousness of most German people at that time preserved them from deception in the 1930s and so it will be at the end of the age.

Only a deep, transforming relationship with the true and living God will save those who live through this final age and especially at the end of the age. The only safe guard against deception is maintaining intimacy with the Christ who said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Security is not in merely reading His truth but living it, as Jesus said, If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31,32).

Jesus warns us that these false messiahs will mislead many (Matt. 24:5). They cannot mislead the saints, for we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth (Jn. 16:13). In times of deception, we may trust the Lord who is able to keep us from stumbling and to make us stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy (Jude 1:24).

Who then will be misled? Those who reject the truth. In Romans chapter one, the Apostle Paul reminds us that God is not hiding truth but some people suppress the truth (1:18). God’s response? And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind (Rom. 1:28). They rejected truth — God gave them over to the lie.

In the final days of history, the Antichrist, the ultimate false Messiah, will operate with all power and signs and false wonders, with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Thess. 2:9-12). Who will be deceived? Those who did not love or believe the truth, who rejected truth. But Jesus will Shepherd those who love the truth.

2. Another sign of the end will be the multiplying of counterfeit signs and wonders, false miracles performed by false messiahs so authentic in appearance that many will be deceived (Matt. 24:24). 

Jesus performed miracles. So have His true followers. But false Messiahs and false prophets also bring their lying signs and wonders. Hitler brought the miracle of economy recovery to a Germany that had been devastated by the Treaty of Versailles and by hyper-inflation. Ultimately, he brought devastation and death. The false magicians of Egypt were able to counterfeit some of the miracles which the Lord preformed through Moses (see Exodus chapters 7 and 8).

Jesus says that on the day of accountability, Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ (Matt. 7:22,23).

Jesus said these false messiahs will mislead, if possible, even the elect (Matt. 24:24). Even God’s redeemed people will be tempted to believe the deception but we will not fall. Our Lord assures us that His sheep know His voice. A stranger they simply will not follow (Jn. 10:4,5).

In the Upper Room, in the hours before the cross, Jesus prayed one final prayer for His followers, that the Father would keep them from the evil one (John 17:15). God has always answered and will continue to answer that prayer. There have always been deceivers and in the end there will be a multiplying of false prophets and false miracles, climaxing with the deceptions of the Antichrist and his religious leader, the final false prophet. But we can trust that Jesus will preserve His true followers from damning deception.


3. Another sign of the end will be a multiplying of wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6).  

The history of this world has always been violent since the fall of Adam and Eve. Their first son murdered their second son. Only nine generations after their fall, we read that the earth was corrupt in the sight of God and … filled with violence (Gen. 6:11). However, the end times will witness a multiplying of violence as governments break down and true moral values degenerate into darkness and savagery. But even this is not yet the end, rather, it is a fiery passageway to the end. Notice that Jesus says, Those things must take place (24:6). Even in the turbulence of those times, the church will witness the preordained purpose of God being worked out. Human catastrophe does not reveal the absence of God. Rather, the Bible testifies of a God who, Works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). Jesus will Shepherd His church through seasons of wars and rumors of wars.

4. Nation will rise against nation (Matt. 24:7). 

The word which we translate nation is ethnos, which is a race, tribe or people group. We derive the word ethnic from ethnos. Jesus says that ethnic groups will rise up against one another in the end times. History is filled with the wars of nations but as we draw closer to the end, we will see a fragmenting of nations into warring people groups. This is a sign of the end — nation states splintering into tribal factions, disintegrating into the chaos of ethnic violence. We can be confident that Jesus will Shepherd His church through these times of violent disruption.

5. There will be famines and earthquakes, as resources run short and nature itself begins to disintegrate under the weight of the curse (Matt. 24:7). 

Ever since Adam and Eve forfeited their position as stewards over creation and nature fell into the curse of thorn and thistle, and especially since the Great Flood of Noah’s day when the earth’s tectonic plates were shattered and both the land and the atmosphere were radically altered, there have been famines, plagues, cataclysmic storms and seismic events. These are normal on a cursed earth. But the number and intensity of these events will dramatically increase as the end approaches.

These things are not the end, rather, they are the beginning of birth pangs (Matt. 24:8). Whereas some translations read, the beginning of sorrows or sufferings, it is most literally translated birth pangs. These cataclysmic events signal the end of history and time but not the end of God’s purpose. Rather, they are the beginning of the birthing of God’s new creation and Jesus will Shepherd His church through the birthing of the new age.

6. Another sign of the end will be increased persecution of believers (Matthew 24:9). 

It is surely true that end time persecution has occurred from the time of Jesus until this present day. For three centuries following the resurrection of Jesus, the church endured fierce, murderous tribulation. Since then, there have been occasions when the church has prospered in peace, but for many Christians tribulation and persecution have been the norm, generation after generation. It has been estimated that during the twentieth century, more Christians died for their faith than in all previous nineteen centuries combined.

However, the final season of the end time will witness unprecedented slaughter of believers. Why is it that the followers of Jesus are hated by all nations and why will this hatred increase? Gospel means good news and surely it is good news that our sins are forgiven in Christ, that we can be reconciled to God our Creator and have fellowship with God, that death is conquered and we are promised resurrection and everlasting life with God. How does this message arouse such enmity? Because we cannot receive the message without surrendering to the Savior who has brought us the message. If Christ has become my Savior, my Lord and my King, then I am no longer my own savior, lord and king. This infuriates the self-enthroned soul.

The gospel arouses anger because it shines light into hearts, revealing the reality of sin and depravity. This is good news for those who want to come out of darkness but there have always been those who loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (Jn. 3:19,20). Light arouses hatred among those who love darkness.

The gospel message is also a threat to the kings and tyrants of the world who pretend to be gods, who demand that citizens not only obey the laws but also worship the rulers who make the laws. In the days of the Roman Empire, Christians were put to death as atheists because they refused to worship the Caesars who declared themselves divine. The Bible indicates that as we approach the last days of history, world governments will arise which, more than ever, combine political and religious functions, requiring not only obedience but also worship. The Antichrist will have his false prophet, just as many depraved, corrupt kings have had their depraved, corrupt bishops. In that context, Christians, Christ followers, will be hated. But we can be confident that Jesus will Shepherd His church through the seasons of persecution.

7. There will be a great falling away (Matthew 24:10). 

Always in times of persecution, there are those who fall away from the church, who deny their profession of faith, because they never truly committed to follow Christ and the threat of imprisonment or death reveals the hollowness of their profession. They made a profession of faith but not based on true repentance or saving faith, as the Apostle John tells us, They went out from us but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (I John 2:19). 

Their profession of faith was part of a self righteous facade, it served some useful purpose to be part of a church but they had not counted the cost of following Christ. In their day of tribulation, the cost is more than they are willing to bear. They fall away from the visible church but not from salvation, for they were never truly saved. We can be confident, though, that Jesus will Shepherd His redeemed saints, granting persevering grace.

Ironically, it is often precisely in those times and places of suffering that the church realizes its greatest purity, growth and revival. The persecution of the Jerusalem church scattered the messengers and led to the preaching of the gospel in Samaria, resulting in a great harvest of souls for the kingdom of God (Acts 8:1-8,12).

A good example of this in our day is China. Prior to the communist takeover in the late 1940s, the church was relatively small and growth had been slow. With the advent of the communist dictatorship, churches were closed, Bibles were burned, pastors executed, church members arrested and sent to concentration camps. Forty years later, when restrictions eased slightly, the world was amazed to discover a vibrant, growing church, pulsating with the life of Jesus, prospering beneath the surface, many multiples larger than before the persecution.

There has always been persecution and a falling away of false believers. But Jesus is not speaking here of generalized persecution and apostasy. He is referring to organized, world wide persecution and a massive falling away at the end of history. The Apostle Paul exhorts us, Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy (falling away) comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

The word it refers to the day of the Lord, the end time outpouring of God’s wrath on a world that has rejected Him. The man of lawlessness refers to the Antichrist who will set up an altar to himself in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple and declare himself to be God. 

One of the signs of that day will be apostasy, apostasia, which means revolt, rebellion, falling away. Again, there have always been false believers who fall away from their false profession of faith and there have always been churches led by false believers and filled with false believers which have fallen into heresy, rebellion against the truth. But this world-wide apostasy will witness not only false believers falling away but human society on an unprecedented level spiraling into rebellion against God and against Godly truth. This turning away from truth will be accompanied by unprecedented violence against God’s truth-speakers, the true church. 

How do we prepare for the possibility of persecution? By asking the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts every day. Am I harboring unfaithfulness, compromise, insincerity of faith? Have I counted the cost? Is my faith genuine, evidenced by true, holy, fruitful living?

But the true follower of Christ need not be anxious. God has promised to preserve us (2 Tim. 1:12) and to complete what He has begun in us (Phlp. 1:6). God holds each redeemed follower of Christ in His hand and nothing can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28,29).

8. There will be a multiplying of lawlessness and wickedness which will cause the love of many to grow cold (Matthew 24:12). 

In the last days of the end times, as society disintegrates into chaos, there will be a multiplying of lawlessness and wickedness. Lawlessness is a love for that which is not lawful, a love for that which is outside the life God has purposed for us, a life outside the moral boundaries which God has fixed for this world. To the extent that anyone loves unlawful things, their life becomes more and more self-centered and their love for others will grow cold. To the degree that we love that which grieves or offends God, our love for God will decrease. There are those who love unlawful things so much that they will not love God at all.  

Jesus said that our love for Him is proved, not by our songs or professions of faith, nor by our prophecies and miracles but by our obedience to His Lordship over every area of our life, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15, also 14:21,23). Conversely, consistent unwillingness to obey Jesus reveals, not only a lack of love for Him, but the reality that we do not know Him at all, Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not what I say? (Luke 6:46).  

On the day of judgment, Jesus will say to many, in spite of their religious words and deeds, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:23). It is impossible to love God or others with any warmth or passion if we are busy loving things which violate God’s love and God’s truth. We do well to remember that God has purposed a good life for us, a blessed life, abundant life. But this life is found only in union with Christ. The blessed life is found in Him. If we love life apart from the God who created all life, if our love for God grows so cold that we love unlawful things more than we love the God of all blessing, then we will miss the blessing God purposed for us. Instead of blessing, there is only judgment. However, we can be confident that Jesus will Shepherd His church through seasons of lawlessness and wickedness.

9. Another sign of the end is a persevering church that preaches the Gospel to all the world in the midst of world wide persecution (Matthew 24:13,14).

Salvation cannot be separated from endurance / perseverance. We are exhorted to endure hardship (2 Timothy 2:3), to endure temptation or trials (James 1:12), to endure discipline (Hebrews 12:7). Jesus reminds us, The one who endures to the end, he will be saved (Matt. 24:13). Luke records a slightly different statement of Jesus, By your endurance you will gain your lives (Lk. 21:19).  Jesus does not mean that endurance earns salvation. Rather, endurance proves our salvation. Just as the act of falling away demonstrates that a profession of faith was insincere (I John 2:19), so endurance demonstrates true, saving faith.

Salvation is a gift of God freely given to all who repent of sin, place their faith in Jesus and follow Him. We receive this gift of salvation by faith, which is itself a gift of God. We demonstrate that we have taken possession of the gift of faith as we endure by faith. God Himself provides the grace to endure, even in the midst of tribulation and persecution. He alone is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy (Jude 1:24). 

Peter reminds us that we have obtained an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are protected by the power of God through faith (I Ptr. 1:4,5). Christ’s perfect wisdom, perfect power and perfect Lordship over the events of history and the circumstances of our lives preserve and protect our salvation even in tribulation and persecution.

Whatever wars and rumors of wars shake this world, whatever rending of nations or nature, whatever persecutions arise, the end will not come until the Gospel has been preached in the whole world (24:14). God will remain sovereign over history and over this world. History will not be completed, time will not end, until His purpose has been fulfilled. He is the God who causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Notice in Matthew 24:14 that the whole world will have the opportunity to hear the Gospel. We recognize in these words the all-encompassing love of Christ, Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2). The joy set before Him was a multitude of sons and daughters redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation, standing in glory, beholding His glory, transformed in glory. However much this lost world may hate, despise and persecute its Savior and His church, nevertheless, the Gospel will go out to every nation and people group as God’s love gift to a lost world.

The end times church will be a persecuted, persevering church that preaches the Gospel to all the world. World wide evangelism will take place in the context of world wide persecution. We can be confident that Jesus will Shepherd His church through the end of the end times, into eternity.

Study Questions

1. How does the Bible define the end times?

2. As we move toward the end of the end times, what are some of the signs that will enable us to recognize the times?

3. Are you confident that Jesus is able to Shepherd you through whatever times you experience?