Sign of the Last Days
BY NOW it is Tuesday afternoon. As Jesus is seated on the Mount of Olives, looking at the temple below, Peter, Andrew, James, and John come to him privately. They are concerned about the temple, since Jesus has just foretold that not a stone will be left upon a stone in it.
But apparently they have even more on their minds as they approach Jesus. A few weeks earlier, he had spoken about his “presence,” during which time “the Son of man is to be revealed.” And on an earlier occasion, he had told them about “the conclusion of the system of things.” So the apostles are very curious.
“Tell us,” they say, “when will these things be [resulting in destruction for Jerusalem and her temple], and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” In effect, theirs is a three-part question. First, they want to know about the end of Jerusalem and its temple, then regarding Jesus’ presence in Kingdom power, and finally about the end of the entire system of things.
In his lengthy response, Jesus answers all three parts of the question. He provides a sign that identifies when the Jewish system of things will end; but he provides more. He also gives a sign that will alert his future disciples so they can know that they are living during his presence and near the end of the entire system of things.
As the years go by, the apostles observe the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy. Yes, the very things he foretold start to occur in their day. Thus, Christians who are alive 37 years later, in 70 C.E., are not caught unawares by the destruction of the Jewish system with its temple.
However, Christ’s presence and the conclusion of the system of things do not take place in 70 C.E. His presence in Kingdom power occurs much later. But when? A consideration of Jesus’ prophecy reveals this.
Jesus foretells that there will be “wars and reports of wars.” “Nation will rise against nation,” he says, and there will be food shortages, earthquakes, and pestilences. His disciples will be hated and killed. False prophets will arise and mislead many. Lawlessness will increase, and the love of the greater number will cool off. At the same time, the good news of God’s Kingdom will be preached as a witness to all the nations.
Although Jesus’ prophecy has a limited fulfillment prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the major fulfillment of it takes place during his presence and the conclusion of the system of things. A careful review of world events since 1914 reveals that Jesus’ momentous prophecy has been undergoing its major fulfillment since that year.
Another part of the sign that Jesus gives is the appearance of “the disgusting thing that causes desolation.” In 66 C.E. this disgusting thing appears in the form of the “encamped armies” of Rome that surround Jerusalem and undermine the temple wall. “The disgusting thing” is standing where it ought not.
In the major fulfillment of the sign, the disgusting thing is the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations. This organization for world peace is viewed by Christendom as a substitute for God’s Kingdom. How disgusting! In time, therefore, the political powers associated with the UN will turn on Christendom (antitypical Jerusalem) and will desolate her.
Jesus thus foretells: “There will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” While Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. is indeed a great tribulation, with over a million reportedly being killed, it is not a greater tribulation than the global Flood in Noah’s day. So the major fulfillment of this portion of Jesus’ prophecy is yet to be realized.
Confidence During the Last Days
As Tuesday, Nisan 11, draws to a close, Jesus continues the discussion with his apostles regarding the sign of his presence in Kingdom power and of the end of the system of things. He warns them about chasing after false Christs. Attempts will be made, he says, “to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones.” But, like farsighted eagles, these chosen ones will gather to where the true spiritual food is to be found, namely, with the true Christ at his invisible presence. They will not be misled and be gathered together to a false Christ.
False Christs can make only a visible appearance. In contrast, Jesus’ presence will be invisible. It will occur during a frightful time in human history, as Jesus says: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light.” Yes, this will be the blackest period of mankind’s existence. It will be as if the sun were darkened during the daytime, and as if the moon did not give its light by night.
“The powers of the heavens will be shaken,” Jesus continues. He thus indicates that the physical heavens will take on a foreboding appearance. The heavens will not simply be the domain of birds, but they will be filled with warplanes, rockets, and space probes. The fear and violence will exceed anything experienced in previous human history.
As a result, Jesus says, there will be “anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation, while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” Indeed, this blackest period of human existence will lead up to the time when, as Jesus says, “the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation.”
But not all will be lamenting when ‘the Son of man comes with power’ to destroy this wicked system of things. The “chosen ones,” the 144,000 who will share with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom, will not lament, nor will their companions, the ones whom Jesus earlier called his “other sheep.” Despite living during the blackest period in human history, these respond to Jesus’ encouragement: “As these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.”
So that his disciples who would be living during the last days could determine the nearness of the end, Jesus gives this illustration: “Note the fig tree and all the other trees: When they are already in the bud, by observing it you know for yourselves that now the summer is near. In this way you also, when you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, This generation will by no means pass away until all things occur.”
Thus, when his disciples see the many different features of the sign being fulfilled, they should realize that the end of the system of things is near and that God’s Kingdom will soon wipe out all wickedness. In fact, the end will occur within the lifetime of the people who see the fulfillment of all the things Jesus foretells! Admonishing those disciples who would be alive during the momentous last days, Jesus says:
“Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. For it will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth. Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.”
The Wise and the Foolish Virgins
Jesus has been answering his apostles’ request for a sign of his presence in Kingdom power. Now he provides further features of the sign in three parables, or illustrations.
The fulfillment of each illustration would be observable by those living during his presence. He introduces the first one with the words: “Then the kingdom of the heavens will become like ten virgins that took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were discreet.”
By the expression “the kingdom of the heavens will become like ten virgins,” Jesus does not mean that half of those who inherit the heavenly Kingdom are foolish persons and half are discreet ones! No, but he means that in connection with the Kingdom of the heavens, there is a feature like this or like that, or that matters in connection with the Kingdom will be like such and such a thing.
The ten virgins symbolize all Christians who are in line for or who profess to be in line for the heavenly Kingdom. It was at Pentecost 33 C.E. that the Christian congregation was promised in marriage to the resurrected, glorified Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. But the marriage was to take place in heaven at some unspecified time in the future.
In the illustration, the ten virgins go out with the purpose of welcoming the bridegroom and of joining the wedding procession. When he arrives, they will light the processional route with their lamps, thus honoring him as he brings his bride to the house prepared for her. However, Jesus explains: “The foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, whereas the discreet took oil in their receptacles with their lamps. While the bridegroom was delaying, they all nodded and went to sleep.”
The extended delay of the bridegroom indicates that Christ’s presence as ruling King is to be in the distant future. He finally comes to his throne in the year 1914. During the long night prior thereto, all the virgins fall asleep. But they are not condemned for this. The condemnation of the foolish virgins is for their not having oil for their receptacles. Jesus explains how the virgins awaken before the bridegroom arrives: “Right in the middle of the night there arose a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Be on your way out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and put their lamps in order. The foolish said to the discreet, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are about to go out.’ The discreet answered with the words, ‘Perhaps there may not be quite enough for us and you. Be on your way, instead, to those who sell it and buy for yourselves.’”
The oil symbolizes that which keeps true Christians shining as illuminators. This is the inspired Word of God, on which Christians keep a tight grip, together with the holy spirit, which helps them to understand that Word. The spiritual oil enables the discreet virgins to shed forth light in welcoming the bridegroom during the procession to the marriage feast. But the foolish virgin class do not have in themselves, in their receptacles, the needed spiritual oil. So Jesus describes what happens:
“While [the foolish virgins] were going off to buy [oil], the bridegroom arrived, and the virgins that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterwards the rest of the virgins also came, saying, ‘Sir, sir, open to us!’ In answer he said, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you.’”
After Christ arrives in his heavenly Kingdom, the discreet virgin class of true anointed Christians awake to their privilege of shedding light in this bedarkened world in praise of the returned Bridegroom. But those pictured by the foolish virgins are unprepared to provide this welcoming praise. So when the time comes, Christ does not open the door to the marriage feast in heaven to them. He leaves them outside in the blackness of the world’s deepest night, to perish with all other workers of lawlessness. “Keep on the watch, therefore,” Jesus concludes, “because you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The Illustration of the Talents
Jesus continues the discussion with his apostles on the Mount of Olives by telling them another illustration, the second in a series of three. A few days earlier, while he was at Jericho, he gave the illustration of the minas to show that the Kingdom was yet a long time in the future. The illustration he relates now, while having a number of similar features, describes in its fulfillment activities during Christ’s presence in Kingdom power. It illustrates that his disciples must work while still on earth to increase “his belongings.”
Jesus begins: “For it [that is, circumstances connected with the Kingdom] is just as when a man, about to travel abroad, summoned slaves of his and committed to them his belongings.” Jesus is the man who, before traveling abroad to heaven, commits to his slaves—disciples in line for the heavenly Kingdom—his belongings. These belongings are not physical possessions, but they represent a cultivated field into which he has built a potential for bringing forth more disciples.
Jesus entrusts his belongings to his slaves shortly before ascending to heaven. How does he do that? By instructing them to keep on working in the cultivated field by preaching the Kingdom message to the most distant parts of the earth. As Jesus says: “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to still another one, to each one according to his own ability, and he went abroad.”
The eight talents—Christ’s belongings—are thus distributed according to the abilities, or spiritual possibilities, of the slaves. The slaves stand for classes of disciples. In the first century, the class that received the five talents evidently included the apostles. Jesus goes on to relate that the slaves who received the five and the two talents both doubled them by their Kingdom preaching and making of disciples. However, the slave who received the one talent hid it in the ground.
“After a long time,” Jesus continues, “the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.” It was not until the 20th century, some 1,900 years later, that Christ returned to settle accounts, so it was, indeed, “after a long time.” Then Jesus explains:
“The one that had received five talents came forward and brought five additional talents, saying, ‘Master, you committed five talents to me; see, I gained five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things. I will appoint you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’” The slave that received two talents likewise doubled his talents, and he received the same commendation and reward.
How, though, do these faithful slaves enter into the joy of their Master? Well, the joy of their Master, Jesus Christ, is that of receiving possession of the Kingdom when he went abroad to his Father in heaven. As for the faithful slaves in modern times, they have great joy in being entrusted with further Kingdom responsibilities, and as they finish their earthly course, they will have the culminating joy of being resurrected to the heavenly Kingdom. But what about the third slave?
“Master, I knew you to be an exacting man,” this slave complains. “So I grew afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” The slave deliberately refused to work in the cultivated field by preaching and making disciples. So the master calls him “wicked and sluggish” and pronounces the judgment: “Take away the talent from him . . . And throw the good-for-nothing slave out into the darkness outside. There is where his weeping and the gnashing of his teeth will be.” Those of this evil slave class, being cast outside, are deprived of any spiritual joy.
This sets forth a solemn lesson for all who profess to be followers of Christ. If they are to enjoy his commendation and reward, and avoid being thrown into the darkness outside and ultimate destruction, they must work for the increase of the belongings of their heavenly Master by having a full share in the preaching work. Are you diligent in this regard?
When Christ Arrives in Kingdom Power
Jesus is still with his apostles on the Mount of Olives. In answer to their request for a sign of his presence and the conclusion of the system of things, he now tells them the last in a series of three illustrations. “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him,” Jesus begins, “then he will sit down on his glorious throne.”
Humans cannot see angels in their heavenly glory. So the arrival of the Son of man, Jesus Christ, with the angels must be invisible to human eyes. The arrival occurs in the year 1914. But for what purpose? Jesus explains: “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.”
Describing what will happen to those separated to the favored side, Jesus says: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.’” The sheep of this illustration will not rule with Christ in heaven but will inherit the Kingdom in the sense of being its earthly subjects. “The founding of the world” took place when Adam and Eve first produced children who could benefit from God’s provision to redeem mankind.
But why are the sheep separated to the King’s favored right hand? “For I became hungry,” the king replies, “and you gave me something to eat; I got thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you received me hospitably; naked, and you clothed me. I fell sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to me.”
Since the sheep are on earth, they want to know how they could have done such fine deeds for their heavenly King. “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,” they ask, “or thirsty, and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and receive you hospitably, or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to you?”
“Truly I say to you,” the King replies, “to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Christ’s brothers are the remaining ones on earth of the 144,000 who will rule with him in heaven. And doing good to them, Jesus says, is the same as doing good to him.
Next, the King addresses the goats. “Be on your way from me, you who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I became hungry, but you gave me nothing to eat, and I got thirsty, but you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, but you did not receive me hospitably; naked, but you did not clothe me; sick and in prison, but you did not look after me.”
The goats, however, complain: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you?” The goats are judged adversely on the same basis that the sheep are judged favorably. “To the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones [of my brothers],” Jesus answers, “you did not do it to me.”
So Christ’s presence in Kingdom power, just prior to the end of this wicked system of things in the great tribulation, will be a time of judgment. The goats “will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones [the sheep] into everlasting life.” Matthew 24:2–25:46; 13:40, 49; Mark 13:3-37; Luke 21:7-36; 19:43, 44; 17:20-30; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; John 10:16; Revelation 14:1-3.
▪ What prompts the apostles’ question, but apparently what else do they have on their minds?
▪ What part of Jesus’ prophecy is fulfilled in 70 C.E., but what does not occur then?
▪ When does Jesus’ prophecy have a first fulfillment, but when does it have a major fulfillment?
▪ What is the disgusting thing in its first and final fulfillments?
▪ Why does the great tribulation not have its final fulfillment with the destruction of Jerusalem?
▪ What world conditions mark Christ’s presence?
▪ When will ‘all the tribes of the earth beat themselves in lamentation,’ but what will Christ’s followers be doing?
▪ What illustration does Jesus provide to help his future disciples discern when the end is near?
▪ What admonition does Jesus provide for those of his disciples who would be living during the last days?
▪ Who are symbolized by the ten virgins?
▪ When was the Christian congregation promised in marriage to the bridegroom, but when does the bridegroom arrive to take his bride to the marriage feast?
▪ What does the oil represent, and what does possession of it enable the discreet virgins to do?
▪ Where does the marriage feast take place?
▪ What grand reward do the foolish virgins lose out on, and what is their fate?
▪ What lesson does the illustration of the talents teach?
▪ Who are the slaves, and what are the belongings with which they are entrusted?
▪ When does the master come to settle accounts, and what does he find?
▪ What is the joy the faithful slaves enter into, and what happens to the third slave, the wicked one?
▪ Why must Christ’s presence be invisible, and what work does he do at that time?
▪ In what sense do the sheep inherit the Kingdom?
▪ When did “the founding of the world” take place?
▪ On what basis are people judged either as sheep or as goats?