“What Will Be the Sign of Your Presence?”
“When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”—MATTHEW 24:3.
1, 2. What shows that people are interested in the future?
MOST people are interested in the future. Are you? In his book Future Shock, Professor Alvin Toffler noted “the sudden proliferation of organizations devoted to the study of the future.” He added: ‘We have seen the creation of future-oriented think tanks; the appearance of futurist journals in England, France, Italy, Germany and the United States; the spread of university courses in forecasting.’ Toffler concluded: “Of course, no one can ‘know’ the future in any absolute sense.”
2 The book Signs of Things to Come says: “Palmistry, crystal gazing, astrology, card reading, I Ching are all techniques of more or less complexity to give us some idea of what our particular future might hold.” But instead of turning to human methods, we do better to look to a proven source—Jehovah.
3. Why is it fitting to look to God for knowledge of the future?
3 The true God stated: “Just as I have figured, so it must occur; and just as I have counseled, that is what will come true.” (Isaiah 14:24, 27; 42:9) Yes, Jehovah has been able to counsel mankind about what will happen, often doing so through human spokesmen. One of these prophets wrote: “Jehovah will not do a thing unless he has revealed his confidential matter to his servants the prophets.”—Amos 3:7, 8; 2 Peter 1:20, 21.
4, 5. (a) Why can Jesus be of help as respects the future? (b) What compound inquiry did his apostles make?
4 Jesus Christ was God’s foremost prophet. (Hebrews 1:1, 2) Let us focus on one of Jesus’ key prophecies that foretells things occurring around us now. This prophecy also offers us insight into what will soon occur as the present wicked system ends and God replaces it with an earthly paradise.
5 Jesus proved that he was a prophet. (Mark 6:4; Luke 13:33; 24:19; John 4:19; 6:14; 9:17) Thus, it is understandable why his apostles, sitting with him on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, would ask him about the future: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”—Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4.
6 You will find their question and Jesus’ reply in Matthew chapter 24, Mark chapter 13, and Luke chapter 21.* In many respects the accounts are complementary, but they are not identical. For example, only Luke mentions ‘pestilences in one place after another.’ (Luke 21:10, 11; Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8) Logically, we should ask, Was Jesus foretelling events just within his hearers’ lifetime, or did he include our time and what the future holds for us?
The Apostles Wanted to Know
7. What did the apostles particularly ask about, but what was the scope of Jesus’ reply?
7 Just days before he was killed, Jesus declared that God had rejected Jerusalem, the Jews’ capital. The city and its grand temple would be destroyed. Some of the apostles then asked for a ‘sign of Jesus’ presence and the conclusion of the system of things.’ (Matthew 23:37–24:3) Undoubtedly they had in mind primarily the Jewish system and Jerusalem, for they did not grasp the scope of what lay ahead. But in answering them Jesus looked far beyond what occurred up to and including 70 C.E. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.—Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6, 7.
8. What were some of the developments that Jesus foretold?
8 As you can read in the three Gospel accounts, Jesus spoke of nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, food shortages, earthquakes, fearful sights, and heavenly signs. In the years between Jesus’ giving of that sign (33 C.E.) and the desolation of Jerusalem (66-70 C.E.), false prophets and false Christs would arise. The Jews would persecute the Christians, who were preaching Jesus’ message.
9. How did Jesus’ prophecy find fulfillment in the first century C.E.?
9 These features of the sign actually occurred, even as historian Flavius Josephus confirms. He writes that before the Romans ever attacked, false Messiahs instigated rebellion. There were terrible earthquakes in Judea and elsewhere. Wars broke out in many parts of the Roman Empire. Were there major famines? Yes, indeed. (Compare Acts 11:27-30.) What of the Kingdom preaching work? By 60 or 61 C.E., when the book of Colossians was written, “the hope of that good news” of God’s Kingdom had been heard widely in Africa, Asia, and Europe.*—Colossians 1:23.
“THEN” the End
10. Why should we take note of the Greek word toʹte, and what is its significance?
10 In some respects Jesus presented events as occurring in sequence. He said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached . . . , and then the end will come.” Bibles in English frequently use “then” with the simple meaning of “therefore” or “but.” (Mark 4:15, 17; Mr 13:23) However, at Matthew 24:14, “then” is based on the Greek adverb toʹte.* Greek experts explain that toʹte is a “demonstrative adverb of time” used “to introduce that which follows in time” or “to introduce a subsequent event.” Jesus thus predicted that there would be Kingdom preaching and then (‘after that’ or ‘subsequently’) “the end” would come. Which end?
11. How did Jesus focus on events directly linked to the destruction of Jerusalem?
11 One fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy can be found in the events leading up to the end of the Jewish system. The wars, earthquakes, food shortages, and so on, that Jesus foretold occurred over a period of three decades. Yet, commencing with Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14, and Luke 21:20, we read of events that were directly linked to imminent destruction, when the end was at the doorstep.—Note the single dotted line on the chart.
12. How were the Roman armies involved in the fulfillment of Matthew 24:15?
12 Responding to a Jewish revolt in 66 C.E., Romans under Cestius Gallus marched against Jerusalem, surrounding this city that the Jews considered holy. (Matthew 5:35) Despite Jewish counterattacks, the Romans forced entry into the city. They thus began “standing in a holy place,” true to Jesus’ prediction at Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14. Then there was a surprising development. Though they had surrounded the city, the Romans suddenly withdrew. Christians immediately recognized the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, and the withdrawal allowed them to flee from Judea into the mountains across the Jordan. History says they did so.
13. Why were Christians able to heed Jesus’ warning to flee?
13 But if the Romans withdrew from around Jerusalem, why did anyone need to flee? Jesus’ words showed that what had occurred proved ‘that the desolating of Jerusalem was near.’ (Luke 21:20) Yes, desolating. He foretold ‘a tribulation such as had not occurred from the beginning and would not occur again.’ About three and a half years later, in 70 C.E., Jerusalem actually did experience “great tribulation” from the Roman armies under General Titus. (Matthew 24:21; Mark 13:19) Why, though, would Jesus describe this as a tribulation greater than any before or since?
14. Why can we say that what happened to Jerusalem in 70 C.E. was “great tribulation” such as had not occurred before nor has happened since?
14 Jerusalem was ravaged by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E., and the city has seen horrible fighting in our present century. Still, what occurred in 70 C.E. was uniquely a great tribulation. In a campaign of about five months, Titus’ warriors defeated the Jews. They killed some 1,100,000 and took nearly 100,000 into captivity. Moreover, the Romans demolished Jerusalem. This proved that the Jewish system of formerly approved worship that centered on the temple had permanently ended. (Hebrews 1:2) Yes, the events of 70 C.E. could rightly be considered ‘tribulation such as has not occurred [on that city, nation, and system] since the world’s beginning, no, nor will occur again.’—Matthew 24:21.*
As Prophesied, More Was to Follow
15. (a) Jesus foretold what sort of developments to come after the tribulation on Jerusalem? (b) In view of Matthew 24:23-28, what must we conclude about the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy?
15 Jesus, however, did not limit his prediction to the tribulation in the first century. The Bible shows that much was to follow that tribulation, as is suggested by the use of toʹte, or “then,” at Matthew 24:23 and Mark 13:21. What would develop in the period following 70 C.E.? After the tribulation on the Jewish system, more false Christs and false prophets would appear. (Compare Mark 13:6 with Mr 13:21-23.) History confirms that such individuals have arisen over the centuries since Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E., though they have not misled people who have sharp spiritual vision and who have been looking to “the presence” of Christ. (Matthew 24:27, 28) Nevertheless, these developments after the great tribulation of 70 C.E. form one indication that Jesus was looking beyond that tribulation, which was only an initial fulfillment.
16. Luke 21:24 adds what aspect to Jesus’ prophecy, and what significance does this have?
16 If we compare Matthew 24:15-28 and Mark 13:14-23 with Luke 21:20-24, we find a second indication that Jesus’ prediction extended beyond the destruction of Jerusalem. Recall that Luke alone had mentioned pestilences. Similarly, he alone closed this section with Jesus’ words: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations [“times of the Gentiles,” King James Version] are fulfilled.”* (Luke 21:24) The Babylonians removed the Jews’ last king in 607 B.C.E., and after that, Jerusalem, standing for God’s Kingdom, was trampled on. (2 Kings 25:1-26; 1 Chronicles 29:23; Ezekiel 21:25-27) At Luke 21:24, Jesus indicated that the situation would persist into the future until the time came for God to reestablish a Kingdom.
17. We have what third indication that Jesus’ prophecy was to reach into the distant future?
17 Here is a third indication that Jesus was pointing also to a distant fulfillment: According to the Scriptures, the Messiah was to die and be resurrected, whereupon he would sit at God’s right hand until the Father sent him forth subduing. (Psalm 110:1, 2) Jesus alluded to his having to sit at his Father’s right hand. (Mark 14:62) The apostle Paul confirmed that the resurrected Jesus was at Jehovah’s right hand awaiting the time to be King and God’s Executioner.—Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 10:12, 13.
18, 19. What bearing does Revelation 6:2-8 have on the parallel prophecy in the Gospels?
18 For a fourth and conclusive indication that Jesus’ prophecy about the conclusion of the system of things applies beyond the first century, we can turn to Revelation chapter 6. Writing decades after 70 C.E., the apostle John described a compelling scene of active horsemen. (Revelation 6:2-8) This prophetic view into “the Lord’s day”—the day of his presence—identifies our 20th century as a time of notable warfare (Re 6 verse 4), widespread food shortages (Re 6 verses 5 and 6), and “deadly plague” (Re 6 verse 8). Clearly, this parallels what Jesus said in the Gospels and proves that his prophecy has a greater fulfillment in this ‘day of the Lord.’—Revelation 1:10.
19 Informed people acknowledge that the composite sign foretold at Matthew 24:7-14 and Revelation 6:2-8 has been manifest since the first outbreak of world war in 1914. Jehovah’s Witnesses have announced worldwide that Jesus’ prophecy is now having its second and greater fulfillment, as evidenced by brutal wars, devastating earthquakes, tragic famines, and rampant diseases. On this last point, U.S.News & World Report (July 27, 1992) said: “The AIDS epidemic . . . is sending millions of victims to their death and may soon become the most costly and catastrophic plague in history. The Black Death killed about 25 million suffering souls in the 14th century. But by the year 2000, 30 million to 110 million people will be carrying HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, up from some 12 million today. In the absence of a cure, all face certain death.”
20. What would the initial fulfillment of Matthew 24:4-22 cover, but what other fulfillment is clear?
20 What, then, are we to conclude about how Jesus answered the apostles’ inquiry? His prophecy accurately foretold things leading up to and encompassing the destruction of Jerusalem, and it mentioned some things to follow 70 C.E. But most of this was to have a second and greater fulfillment in the future, leading up to a great tribulation that would end the present wicked system of things. This means that Jesus’ prediction at Matthew 24:4-22, and the parallels in Mark and Luke, were fulfilled from 33 C.E. through the tribulation of 70 C.E. Yet, the same verses would have a second fulfillment, which would include a greater tribulation in the future. This larger fulfillment is with us; we can see it daily.*
Leading Up to What?
21, 22. Where do we find prophetic indication that additional developments were to come?
21 Jesus did not end his prophecy with mention of false prophets performing deceptive signs during the long period before ‘the appointed times of the nations would be fulfilled.’ (Luke 21:24; Matthew 24:23-26; Mark 13:21-23) He went on to tell of other startling things to occur, things observed earth wide. These would be associated with the coming of the Son of man in power and glory. Mark 13:24-27 is representative of his continued prophecy:
22 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling out of heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send forth the angels and will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from earth’s extremity to heaven’s extremity.”
23. Why can we look for the fulfillment of Matthew 24:29-31 long after the first century C.E.?
23 The Son of man, the resurrected Jesus Christ, did not come in that spectacular manner following the destructive end of the Jewish system in 70 C.E. Certainly all the tribes of the earth did not recognize him, as Matthew 24:30 notes, nor did heavenly angels then gather all the anointed Christians from the entire earth. So when would this additional part of Jesus’ stupendous prophecy be fulfilled? Is it finding fulfillment in what is going on around us now, or does it, rather, provide divine insight into things that we can expect in the near future? We should certainly want to know, for Luke records Jesus’ admonition: “As these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.”—Luke 21:28.
Portions of these chapters can be found in the chart on pages 14 and 15; dotted lines mark off parallel sections.
For historical citations of these events, see The Watchtower of January 15, 1970, pages 43-5.
Toʹte appears over 80 times in Matthew (9 times in Mt chapter 24) and 15 times in the book of Luke. Mark used toʹte only six times, but four of those involved “the sign.”
British author Matthew Henry commented: “The destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans was very terrible, but this exceeded it. It threatened a universal slaughter of all . . . the Jews.”
Many see in Luke’s account a shift after Luke 21:24. Dr. Leon Morris notes: “Jesus goes on to speak of the times of the Gentiles. . . . In the opinion of most scholars attention now moves to the coming of the Son of man.” Professor R. Ginns writes: “The Coming of the Son of Man—(Mt 24:29-31; Mk 13:24-27). The mention of the ‘times of the Gentiles’ provides an introduction to this theme; [Luke’s] perspective is now carried beyond the ruin of Jerusalem into the future.”
Professor Walter L. Liefeld writes: “It is certainly possible to assume that Jesus’ predictions incorporated two phases: (1) the events of A.D. 70 involving the temple and (2) those in the distant future, described in more apocalyptic terms.” The commentary edited by J. R. Dummelow says: “Many of the most serious difficulties of this great discourse disappear when it is realised that our Lord referred in it not to one event but to two, and that the first was typical of the second. . . . [Luke] 21:24 especially, which speaks of ‘the times of the Gentiles,’ . . . places an indefinite interval between the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world.”
Do You Recall?
◻ Jesus’ answer to the question at Matthew 24:3 had what fulfillment leading up to 70 C.E.?
◻ How does the use of the word toʹte help us to understand Jesus’ prophecy?
◻ In what sense was there a first-century “great tribulation” such as had not occurred previously?
◻ Luke refers to what two unique aspects of Jesus’ prophecy that involve us today?
◻ What indications point to a second and greater fulfillment of the prophecy at Matthew 24:4-22?
[Chart on page 14, 15]
4 Jesus said to them: “Look out that nobody misleads you; 5 for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will mislead many. 6 You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet.
7 “‘For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. 8 All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.
9 “‘Then people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name. 10 Then, also, many will be stumbled and will betray one another and will hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and mislead many; 12 and because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off. 13 But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved. 14 And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.
15 “‘Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place, (let the reader use discernment,) 16 then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains. 17 Let the man on the housetop not come down to take the goods out of his house; 18 and let the man in the field not return to the house to pick up his outer garment. 19 Woe to the pregnant women and those suckling a baby in those days! 20 Keep praying that your flight may not occur in wintertime, nor on the sabbath day; 21 for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. 22 In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.
23 “‘Then if anyone says to you, “Look! Here is the Christ,” or, “There!” do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones. 25 Look! I have forewarned you. 26 Therefore, if people say to you, “Look! He is in the wilderness,” do not go out; “Look! He is in the inner chambers,” do not believe it. 27 For just as the lightning comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts, so the presence of the Son of man will be. 28 Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
29 “‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.’”
5 “So Jesus started to say to them: ‘Look out that nobody misleads you. 6 Many will come on the basis of my name, saying, “I am he,” and will mislead many. 7 Moreover, when you hear of wars and reports of wars, do not be terrified; these things must take place, but the end is not yet.
8 “‘For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, there will be earthquakes in one place after another, there will be food shortages. These are a beginning of pangs of distress.
9 “‘As for you, look out for yourselves; people will deliver you up to local courts, and you will be beaten in synagogues and be put on the stand before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them. 10 Also, in all the nations the good news has to be preached first. 11 But when they are leading you along to deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what to speak; but whatever is given you in that hour, speak this, for you are not the ones speaking, but the holy spirit is. 12 Furthermore, brother will deliver brother over to death, and a father a child, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death; 13 and you will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name. But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.
14 “‘However, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation standing where it ought not (let the reader use discernment), then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains. 15 Let the man on the housetop not come down, nor go inside to take anything out of his house; 16 and let the man in the field not return to the things behind to pick up his outer garment. 17 Woe to the pregnant women and those suckling a baby in those days! 18 Keep praying that it may not occur in wintertime; 19 for those days will be days of a tribulation such as has not occurred from the beginning of the creation which God created until that time, and will not occur again. 20 In fact, unless Jehovah had cut short the days, no flesh would be saved. But on account of the chosen ones whom he has chosen he has cut short the days.
21 “‘Then, too, if anyone says to you, “See! Here is the Christ,” “See! There he is,” do not believe it. 22 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, the chosen ones. 23 You, then, watch out; I have told you all things beforehand.
24 “‘But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling out of heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send forth the angels and will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from earth’s extremity to heaven’s extremity.’”
8 “He said: “Look out that you are not misled; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, “I am he,” and, “The due time has approached.” Do not go after them. 9 Furthermore, when you hear of wars and disorders, do not be terrified. For these things must occur first, but the end does not occur immediately.’
10 “Then he went on to say to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.
12 “‘But before all these things people will lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, you being haled before kings and governors for the sake of my name. 13 It will turn out to you for a witness. 14 Therefore settle it in your hearts not to rehearse beforehand how to make your defense, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your opposers together will not be able to resist or dispute. 16 Moreover, you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death; 17 and you will be objects of hatred by all people because of my name. 18 And yet not a hair of your heads will by any means perish. 19 By endurance on your part you will acquire your souls.
20 “‘Furthermore, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. 21 Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her; 22 because these are days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled. 23 Woe to the pregnant women and the ones suckling a baby in those days! For there will be great necessity upon the land and wrath on this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations;
and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.
25 “‘Also, there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation, 26 while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.’”
[Picture on page 10]
The tribulation in 70 C.E. was the greatest that Jerusalem and the Jewish system ever experienced