Jesus, Shepherd of the End Times, Part II

This is our final study of the life and ministry of Jesus. We began with His preexistence and His birth. We studied His ministry, His atoning death and resurrection, His ascension to heaven and enthronement in majesty. We studied His present ministry as our great High Priest and Head of the church, shepherding His church through the end times.

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.

Last week we examined signs of the end which Jesus revealed: multiplying of deceivers, false prophets and counterfeit messiahs; multiplying of counterfeit signs and wonders, false miracles performed by false messiahs; multiplying of wars and rumors of wars as nation rises against nation; famines and earthquakes, as resources run short and nature itself begins to disintegrate under the weight of the curse; increased persecution of believers; a great falling away from truth; a multiplying of lawlessness and wickedness; a persevering church that preaches the Gospel to all the world in the midst of world wide persecution.

10. Another sign of the end will be outrageous sacrilege, The abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15). 

Jesus never denied the presence of evil in the world. Throughout His ministry He contended against evil, overcoming the tempter in His own life (Matthew 4:1-11), casting out demons and 

healing all who were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38). But there are times and places where evil manifests with particular, malicious arrogance and Jesus reiterates the prophecies of Daniel, that there will someday be a terrible abomination in the holy place (Matt. 24:15).

As is often the case in prophecy, Daniel was speaking of a particular historical event closer to his day but also pointing to an event far beyond his time. The near historical event was the desecration of the Jerusalem temple by the Greek general Antiochus in the second century BC (Daniel 11:31). Antiochus invaded Judea, set up an altar to Zeus in the Jerusalem temple, sacrificed a pig on the altar, massacred thousands of Jewish men, women and children and forbade the practice of the Jewish religion.  

Daniel also prophesied the desecration of what appears to be a rebuilt Jerusalem temple by the Antichrist during the last days of history (see Daniel 9:26,27). Though there has always been a demeaning of the sacred in every generation, these two sacrileges stand out in Bible history, the actions of Antiochus in the second century BC and those of the Antichrist at the end of history. Both represent a direct affront to the holiness of God. They are deliberately profane, idolatrous acts in the place where God chose to manifest His glorious presence on earth.

Jesus, in quoting the phrase, abomination of desolation from Daniel 11:31, is speaking of a future event — When you see the abomination of desolation — implying that it had not yet been seen, so He cannot be referring to the actions of Antiochus two hundred years previously.  He is obviously referring to a time yet to be. Since the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD (and the Romans did not perform any particular sacrilege or act of idolatry when they destroyed the temple), and since the temple has not yet been rebuilt, then the future prophecy of Daniel cannot have been fulfilled yet.

The Apostle Paul, writing about the return of Jesus, says that this will not happen until the coming of  the man of lawlessness ... who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4). John, in Revelation 13:14,15, speaks of the idolatrous worship of the Beast (the Antichrist).

Jesus had already prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (Matthew 24:2). Now He is speaking of an idolatrous sacrilege committed in the rebuilt temple at the end of history in which the Antichrist will set up an altar to himself in the Jerusalem temple and declare himself to be God. This will be a sign to those alive on earth at that time, that the hour of the end is upon them and the return of the Messiah is imminent. 

11. Another sign of the end will be tribulation of earth shaking proportions (Matthew 24:21,22).  

Throughout history, there have always been times of tribulation and suffering. But Jesus is speaking of this greatest of all tribulations at the end of history. It will involve previously unseen levels and dimensions of destruction, Such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now (24:21). Nature and civilization will collapse. Governments and economies will disintegrate. It will be a time of unrestrained demonic activity and social chaos along with floods, earthquakes, famines, plagues and wars. The heavens will be shaken with stars falling from their places and even the light of the sun will be reduced (see Revelation 8,9,16).

The times will be so terrible that no human life would survive unless those days had been cut short. This is a testimony, not merely to the proliferation of evil, but to the sovereignty of God.  Even in the midst of the greatest manifestation of demonic activity, natural calamity, human sin and societal disintegration, God is still Lord over history. It is God and God alone who determines the times and the seasons, establishing His purpose.  

Even in the midst of judgment, God exercises mercy. For the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (24:22). Some Bible commentators believe that followers of Christ will have been removed from the world in the rapture of the church. So it was for the Jerusalem church in AD 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. There is an ancient tradition that the Holy Spirit had given warning through prophets and the church moved to safety prior to the fall of the city.

Other Bible commentators believe that the church will not be lifted out of the world prior to those final days but will be present, shining the light of the glory of Jesus in the midst of unprecedented darkness. Either way, there will be an enormous multitude who come to faith during the tribulation — the greatest harvest of souls in history. Those saints will endure terrible persecution but God will be faithful to keep them in faith. This does not mean they will not be killed. John spoke of those who loved Christ more than their own life, who did not love their life even when faced with death (Rev. 12:11). In Revelation 6:9 we read of the martyrs who had been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they had maintained. In Revelation 7:14 we read of the great multitude who come out of the great tribulation. It is implied that their means of exodus will be through martyrdom.

Just as there will be an unprecedented apostasy, a turning away from truth and righteousness in the last days, so there will also be an unprecedented harvest of souls turning to Christ during the last days of history and as the hatred of the world against God multiplies, many will die for their faith. But God will preserve their faith, their testimony and their eternal reward.  

12. Another sign of the end will be Christ faithfully shepherding His church as His church faithfully serves Him and waits for Him.

 In Matthew 25:1-13, the church is pictured as a pure Bride faithfully waiting for the Bridegroom Messiah. In the parable of the ten minas we see the church faithfully laboring while our Lord is away (Luke 19:11-27) and again in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the church faithfully exercising gifts, fulfilling callings, serving.  

But how can we be faithful in the midst of such a violent, corrupting world? Because our Lord is faithful to Shepherd the faithful. The Apostle Peter reminds us that we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected (kept, guarded) by the power of God through faith (I Peter 1:3-5).

Our inheritance is everything included in salvation — forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, holiness, resurrection to eternal life with the living God and rewards that are uniquely fitted to our faithfulness. Notice that our inheritance is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven. It is not subject to corruption, will not pass away. Notice that we and our salvation are protected, kept, guarded by the power of God. Although His keeping power is activated by our faith, faith itself is a gift of God to those who seek Him.

Our Lord is faithful to Shepherd the faithful. 

We are kept, guarded by the same God who redeemed us.

Someday Jesus will say to the faithful, Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34). Jesus refers to the faithful as blessed of My Father. Surely we are, for God chose us in eternity past, pursued us, awakened us and redeemed us to Himself in time and shepherds us through trials and tribulation into eternity. 

He is the faithful Shepherd. 

He is Shepherd of the faithful.

We can trust our times and our lives into His hands.

The Return of Christ

We should not say that the appearance of Jesus is the final sign of the end. More truly, it is the end of the end times (Matthew 24:27). 

The return of Christ will be sudden, unexpected, accompanied by signs in the heavens, visible to all the tribes of the earth and as visually spectacular as lightning. In the midst of history’s darkest hour, God will still be sovereign. God will work out His purpose in His timing. The same Creator who began history will conclude history. The return of Christ will not be hidden, His identity will require no secret formulas or hidden knowledge.

The return of Jesus will be marked by cataclysmic signs in the sky, a shaking of the lights and the powers in the heavenlies, The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken (Matt. 24:29). It will be as though creation cannot contain the reentry of its Creator, the One by whom, for whom and through whom all things were created, in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:16,17). The light of sun, stars and moon will pale when the Light of the world passes close by. 

The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens (Matt. 24:30). Bible commentators have debated this sign for centuries, but some believe it will be the cross, whether formed by a convergence of heavenly bodies or by a supernatural act of God. Others believe that the sign will be Jesus Himself. Whatever the sign, Jesus will appear in clouds of glory. What a spectacular theatrical event — the lights of heaven dim, as a stage is bathed in darkness, then the first light of the cross, then Jesus Himself appears in the unmistakable power and glory of God.  

Notice that Jesus will appear, On the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. Jesus was lifted up from the disciples in a cloud, surely the shekinah glory of God and the angels said, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven (Acts 1:11).

Surely He will return in power for He has been given the name above every name in heaven and on earth (Phlp. 2:9,10). His sovereignty extends far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Eph. 1:21). All things are under His dominion (Eph. 1:22) and He has been given all authority … in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:16,17). He upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebr. 1:3).

 Yes, Christ will return wielding all authority and power, prepared to judge great and small. His glory and majesty will be on full display. The tribes of the earth will mourn (Matt. 24:30). We read this also in Revelation I:7, Behold He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. The tribes of the earth refer to the Gentile nations— some will mourn the coming judgment, some will mourn in sincere repentance. Those who pierced Him (Rev 1:7) refers to the Jewish nation. Many Jews will come to the Lord during these last days when they see their Messiah in the sky.

The people of the earth will mourn their rejection of Christ and Israel in particular will mourn the Messiah for whom they had waited for so many centuries, whom they put to death when He first appeared. But this is not the mourning of those who have no hope. The prophet Zechariah indicates that this will be the mourning of repentance: I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn … In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity (Zech 12:10,13:1).

At this time, the Lord will send forth His angels (angelos, messengers) with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Matt. 24:31). In earlier generations, these messengers were the witnesses of the gospel who gathered into the safety of the church all who were willing to repent of sin and turn in faith to Christ. But now history is ended, Christ has appeared, so these angelos must be angelic beings, gathering the saved from across the earth. Some commentators believe that this represents the rapture — saints alive on earth rising to meet Christ in the air, who, at His return, is accompanied by all the saints from generations past who died in faith. 

Others teach that the rapture of the church occurred before the outpouring of God’s wrath, before the great tribulation. It appears that the Apostle Paul is referring to this when he speaks of the trumpet calling forth living believers who rise to meet the Lord who is accompanied by those believers who died previously. They meet in the air but Christ is not seen by the unbelieving world (I Cor. 15:51,52; I Thes. 4:16,17). Those commentators would conclude that this trumpet and this meeting with Christ in the air, is not the same as the meeting referenced in Matthew 24:31.

However we interpret this, the trumpet in Matthew 24:31, at the conclusion of the tribulation, is the final trumpet, calling for the gathering of those saints who have gone to be with the Lord and those who are still alive on earth, who came to know the Lord during the time of the tribulation but were not martyred. This trumpet announces the end of history and the beginning of the thousand year reign of Jesus Christ on earth.

B. Principle: We will not know the hour but we may discern signs of the end (Matt. 24:32-35).

Jesus used the world around Him — fishermen, farmers and fig trees — to illustrate truth. He reminds His listeners that when a fig tree buds, it is spring and that means summer is approaching (24:32). There are dependable signs in nature which reveal the times and seasons of the year. By the presence of one season, we know the near approach of the next season. In the same way, there are signs that reveal the time of history, and by implication, the time on God’s clock. We know that the Messiah is near when we see the signs described by Jesus in the preceding verses. 

We are reminded in this that history is not an unending spiral of random events, not an out of control river bursting through dams and levees. History — violent, tragic and perplexing as it often appears — is under the sovereign Lordship of the God who towers over history, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’ (Isaiah 46:10).

It is pleasing to God that we have discernment in every generation. Indeed, Jesus exhorts us, So, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door (Matthew 24:33). True, Jesus said, It is not for you to know the times or epochs (seasons) which the Father has fixed by His own authority (Acts 1:7). Jesus said this in response to the disciples’ expectation of the immediate establishment of the kingdom of God. Jesus replied that the church will not know the particular hour of His return, nor of the end of history.

However, it is not God’s will that we be caught unaware and unprepared by His return or by any season of God’s purpose. In every generation, God is present, active and establishing His kingdom purpose. As we live Spirit-led lives, as we feed on God’s word, as we grow in the grace and knowledge and likeness of Jesus, we will discern God’s purpose and timing and day by day we will fulfill His calling on our lives. Holy, obedient, active servants of Christ will be ready in the hour that He returns because they are ready each hour of each day. What is important is not prediction but preparation. If we are prepared today, we will be ready tomorrow.

One further note here. The fig tree is often used in the Bible as a symbol of Israel. Some consider these verses (Matt. 24:32,33) to be a prophetic reference to the blossoming of the state of Israel as a sign of the end time. However one interprets this, it is significant that in 1948 Israel was reestablished as a sovereign nation after almost 1900 years of nonexistence; significant because Bible prophecy consistently refers to Israel, therefore there cannot be an end without an Israel; and significant because after 4,000 years of trial and persecution, Israel still exists.

C. Principle: Even at the end of time, some people will be oblivious to the time.

In the midst of the tribulation of the end times, people will be attempting to live their normal lives (Matt. 24:37-39). Just as in the days of Noah, it will be business as usual until the sudden, unexpected end. It is not wrong to marry or to eat and drink. These are normal human behaviors. But it is wrong to be so caught up, so absorbed in our daily routine, that we fail to discern the times and seasons of God’s purpose. Normal living can become self indulgent. The Apostle Paul adds, But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Self indulgence can blind people to the times.

The people of Noah’s day did not understand the time, would not listen to God’s call to repent, lacked discernment and so were destroyed, swept away by the cataclysmic events of their day (Matt. 24:39). How sad that we can look at a fig tree and know the time of year yet many people do not discern the presence and purpose of God in their own lives and in the world around them. Again, we will not know the exact hour of history’s conclusion. But we are exhorted by Christ Himself to recognize, to discern the signs of the season and live accordingly.

In Matthew 24:40,41, Jesus is speaking of the imminence of God’s purpose, the rushing in of the day of the Lord, the instantaneous passing of a culture as history concludes — one will be taken and one will be left. This is not merely an end time truth. For all of us, life can change in a heart beat; life can end in the twinkling of an eye. We had best be ready each day. 

The way of readiness is not by knowing the future but by knowing the God who holds the future and holds our lives in His hand. To know Him, to worship Him and fellowship with Him in prayer, to open our lives to His Word and live His Word, to allow His Holy Spirit to inform and transform our lives, to discern and follow God’s leading, this is readiness for all time and for the end of time.

Therefore be on the alert, watch with discernment, Jesus counsels us (Matthew 24:42). The word translated be alert or watch means to be awake, spiritually discerning, ready. Our lives must be in a state of readiness for the inbreaking of the Lord, not just at the end of time but each day. Whatever is God’s purpose today, we must be discerning if we would know it, holy if we would enter it, faithful if we would fulfill it. The life that is watchfully prepared to know and obey Christ today, will be ready in the hour of His return. 

D. Principle: Even at the end of time, many will still be in rebellion against Christ. 

In Revelation 6:15-17 we read, Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’

The unredeemed of the earth — the great and the small, heads of state, military commanders, the rich and the poor — cry out for the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come. They know what time it is, The great day of their wrath. And they recognize the source of this judgment. It is not merely nature out of control. Far more lethal, it is Almighty God personally judging them, it is the wrath of the Lamb.

Yet they try to hide from the only One who can save them. How sad! Only God can deliver us from His wrath. And He has by pouring out His wrath on the sacrificed Lamb who on the cross made a perfect, atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. Jesus, the holy Lamb, bore our sin and God’s judgment against sin. Now all who turn from their sin in true repentance and turn to the Lamb in sincere faith are forgiven, washed, cleansed and delivered from the wrath to come.

Yet incredibly, the response of many is not repentance but terror. They know there is a God. They know He is holy and judges sin. They know that this outpouring of wrath is God’s response to their sin. But their knowledge of God does not produce repentance. Rather, they harden their hearts even more and run from God. When people harden their hearts, God will also harden their hearts. When people know the truth but refuse to surrender to the truth, God will allow them to be deceived, will send a deluding influence, 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 Thessalonians 2:11,12).  

They understand and acknowledge that God is the source of their calamity. They understand that this is the day of God’s judgment but they refuse to repent.  Rather, they run and they hide. But where will they run? Where will they hide? Hell will not hide them and death cannot save them.

They ask, Who is able to stand? That question is answered in Revelation 7:9, when John sees a great multitude standing before the throne praising the Lamb. Who is able to stand? Only those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. Who is washed in the blood of the Lamb? Those who kneel before the crucified and risen Savior. They will stand in the day of wrath.

Why did Jesus reveal this vast amount of truth concerning the future? In revealing His knowledge of the future, He revealed that He is Lord of the future. He is not simply Lord of our lives, He is Lord of this world and the times in which we live.

We are living in the last age of history. This season may extend for many more generations or it may conclude tomorrow. But we need never give in to fear for our Lord is Shepherd of the end times and Shepherd of our time.

This concludes our study of the life and ministry of Jesus. In these increasingly chaotic days, there is nothing more important than growing in our understanding of Jesus and in our relationship with Him. Wisely does the writer to the Hebrews exhort us, Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Hebr. 12:2).

Study Questions

1. We will not know the hour of Christ’s return but we may discern signs of the times. How do we do this?

2. As we move deeper into the end times, as civilization unravels, are you confident that Jesus is able to Shepherd you through whatever times you experience?