One of our regular readers submitted this interesting alternative take to our understanding of Jesus’ words found at Mt. 24:4-8. I am posting it here with the reader’s permission.
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I have just been meditating on Matthew 24 which deals with the sign of Christ’s parousia and a different understanding of it entered into my mind. The new understanding I have seems to harmonize perfectly with the context but it is contrary to what most people think about Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:4-8.
The organization and most professed Christians understand Jesus’ statements about future wars, earthquakes and food shortages as being the sign of his parousia. But what if Jesus actually meant the very opposite? You’re probably thinking now: “What! Is this brother out of his mind?!” Well, let’s reason on those verses objectively.
After Jesus’ followers asked him what would be the sign of his parousia and the conclusion of the system of things, what was the first thing to come out of Jesus’ mouth? “Look out that nobody misleads YOU”. Why? Evidently, the thing uppermost on Jesus’ mind in answering their question was to safeguard them against being misled about exactly when that time would come. Jesus’ subsequent words must be read with this thought in mind, as indeed the context confirms.
Jesus next tells them that people would come in his name saying they are the Christ/anointed and would mislead many, which fits the context. But then he makes mention of the food shortages, wars and earthquakes. How could that fit into the context of them being misled? Think of human nature. When some great natural or man-made upheaval occurs, what thought tends to come into the mind of many? “It’s the end of the world!” I remember seeing news footage shortly after the earthquake in Haiti and one survivor being interviewed said that when the earth started to shake violently they thought the world was coming to an end.
It is apparent that Jesus made mention of wars, earthquakes and food shortages, not as something to look for as a sign of his parousia, but rather to preempt and debunk the idea that these future upheavals, which are inevitable, are a sign that the end is here or near. Proof of this is his words at the end of verse 6: “see that YOU are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet.” Note that after making this statement Jesus begins to talk about the wars, earthquakes and food shortages with the word “For” which basically means “because”. Do you see his flow of thought? Jesus seems to be in effect saying:
‘Major upheavals are going to happen in the history of mankind – you’re going to hear of wars and rumors of wars – but don’t let them frighten you. These things will inevitably occur in the future but don’t mislead yourself into thinking they mean the end is here or near, BECAUSE nations WILL fight each other and there WILL be earthquakes in one place after another and there WILL be food shortages. [In other words, such is the inevitable future of this wicked world so don’t fall into the trap of attaching apocalyptic meaning to it.] But this is only the start of a tumultuous time for mankind.’
It is interesting to note that Luke’s account gives one added bit of information that falls within the context of Matthew 24:5. Luke 21:8 mentions that false prophets would claim “‘The due time has approached’” and he warns his followers not to go after them. Think about this: If the wars, food shortages and earthquakes really were a sign indicating that the end was near—that the due time had in fact approached—then wouldn’t persons have legitimate reasons to make such a claim? So why does Jesus categorically dismiss all persons making the claim that the due time has approached? It only makes sense if he was in fact implying that there is no basis for making such a claim; that they should not see the wars, food shortages and earthquakes as being the sign of his parousia.
What, then, is the sign of Christ’s parousia? The answer is so simple I’m surprised I didn’t see it before. First of all, it is evident that Christ’s parousia is in fact referring to his final coming to execute the wicked as indicated by the manner in which parousia is used in texts like 2 Peter 3:3,4; James 5:7,8 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1,2. Study carefully the contextual use of parousia in these texts! I remember reading another post that dealt with that subject. The SIGN of Christ’s parousia is mentioned at Matthew 24:30:
“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.”
Please note that the description of events mentioned at Matthew 24:30,31 perfectly matches Paul’s words at 2 Thessalonians 2:1,2 about the gathering of the anointed to occur at Christ’s parousia. It is apparent that the “sign of the Son of Man” is the sign of Christ’s parousia – not the wars, food shortages and earthquakes.
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By posting this here, it is my hope to generate some feedback from other readers to determine the merit of this understanding. I confess that my initial reaction was to reject it—such is the power of a lifetime of indoctrination.
However, it didn’t take long for me to see the logic in this argument. We settled on 1914 due to sincere interpretations made by brother Russell based on his evident belief in the significance of predictions derived via numerology. All were abandoned save for that which led to 1914. That date remained, although its so-called fulfillment was changed from the year the great tribulation was to begin to the year we believe Christ was crowned king in heaven. Why did that year remain significant? Could there be any other reason than that was the year “the war to end all wars” began? If nothing big had happened in that year, then 1914 would likely have been abandoned along with all the other failed “prophetically significant years” of Russell’s theology.
So now here we are, almost a century later, saddled with a “start year” for the last days because a really big war happened to coincide with one of our prophetic years. I say “saddled” because we are still being forced to explain the prophetic application of Scriptures that are increasingly more difficult to believe if we must continue to weave 1914 into their fabric. The latest stretched application of “this generation” (Mt. 24:34) is but one glaring example.
In fact, we continue to teach that the “last days” began in 1914 even though none of the three accounts of Jesus’ answer to the question posed in Mt. 24:3 uses the term “last days”. That term is found at Acts. 2:16 where it clearly applied to events taking place in 33 C.E. It is also found at 2 Tim. 3:1-7 where it clearly applies to the Christian congregation (or else verses 6 and 7 are meaningless). It is used at James 5:3 and is tied to the presence of the Lord mentioned at vs. 7. And it is used at 2 Pet. 3:3 where it is also tied to the presence of the Lord. These last two occurrences indicate that the presence of the Lord is the conclusion of the “last days”, not something concurrent with them.
So, in the four instances where the term is used, there is no mention of wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. What marks the last days are the attitudes and conduct of wicked men. Jesus never used the term “last days” in reference to what we commonly call the “last days prophecy of Mt. 24”.
We have taken Mt. 24:8, which reads, “All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress”, and converted it to mean, ‘All these things mark the beginning of the last days’. Yet Jesus didn’t say that; he didn’t use the term “last days”; and it is evident contextually that he wasn’t giving us a means to know the very year that the “last days” would start.
Jehovah does not want people to serve him because they fear they are going to be destroyed soon if they don’t. He wants humans to serve him because they love him and because they recognize that it is the only way for mankind to succeed. That it is the natural state of humankind to serve and obey the true God, Jehovah.
It is clear from hard won experience and dashed expectations that none of the prophecies relating to events that will occur during the last days was given as a means to discern how close we are to the end. Otherwise, Jesus words at Mt. 24:44 would have no meaning: “…at an hour that you do not think to be it, the Son of man is coming.”