In Matthew 24:1 we read, "And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple."
The disciples heard the lament of Jesus over the city of Jerusalem and remembered His words, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matt. 23:38).
These words came as a violent blow to His uncomprehending disciples. How could this be! Jerusalem desolate—this city now pulsating with breath-taking beauty, with her magnificent Temple glittering in the sunlight, the pride and glory of the Jewish nation? It was commonly believed that to be born in Jerusalem was an honor bestowed upon one by God. It brought a sense of security. And to be buried on a slope of her valleys was supposed to give priority in the judgment. The Jews thought the durability of the Temple would defy the lapse and wear of time. Her rabbis were so impressed by the grandeur of the city that it was said, "He who has not seen Jerusalem in its beauty has never seen a beautiful city." The Talmud declared, "Ten measures of beauty were given to the world, of which Jerusalem received nine measures and the rest of the world one."
It is little wonder that the psalmist sang, "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion" (Ps. 48:2). "Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces" (verses 12, 13).
Neither the Jews nor the disciples understood that when Jesus went out of the Temple this would be His last visit. To Him it had been God's holy house, and there He had witnessed the presence and power of His Father. In the Temple He had taught many precious lessons and performed many acts of mercy. But that day when He went out of the Temple the glory of the Lord departed from it.
Jesus first speaks very cautiously to them by saying, "Take heed that no man deceive you." He knew there would be many theories advanced concerning the end of the world and His second coming. He wanted His disciples to know that He was well qualified to say what He meant and to mean what He said. So He urged them to be careful what they believe. For their guidance and assurance He said, "There shall be signs."
He was not going to discuss with them any social order that was to come on this earth. He was not going to advance any "new age" theory. He was going to bring forth living facts that would be as enduring as time. To these inquiring disciples He delivered a discourse that has proved to be equally as inspiring as His Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus reminded them of the historical prophecy of Daniel as a witness to future facts that He would bring to their attention and how they were to conduct themselves. He said, "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place" (Matt. 24:15).
History records that forty years after Jesus had given His prophecy, Palestine was overrun by the Romans (A.n. 70) and the beautiful city of Jerusalem and all its environs were destroyed. More than a million Jews perished, and 97,000 were made prisoners. Jesus had said that the city of Jerusalem would cease to be, and no amount of human resistance could prevent it.
The Jews rejected the Saviour's mercy and by so doing, they "had forged their own fetters; they had filled for themselves the cup of vengeance" (The Great Controversy, p. 35).
The prophet Jeremiah declared, "Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest" (Jer. 26:18). The prophet Hosea said, "0 Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself" (Hosea 13:9). "For thou hast fallen by thine iniquity" (chapter 14:1). God had chosen Jerusalem as the depository of sacred trusts. Her people forsook His counsel and polluted His Temple. God said, "The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways. And all the people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of thee. And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers to give thee. The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow. And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them" (Deut. 28:9-13). But Israel failed in her appointment by God to rule the destiny of the world.
One read, "The destruction of Jerusalem is a fearful and solemn warning to all who are trifling with the offers of divine grace, and resisting the pleadings of divine mercy. Never was there given a more decisive testimony to God's hatred of sin, and to the certain punishment that will fall upon the guilty."—The Great Controversy, p. 36.
The disciples were also troubled about the time of Christ's second coming and of the end of the world. Concerning this glorious event Jesus said, "There shall be signs." If His followers will become familiar with the signs outlined by Him they will know when His coming is near, even at the door. He said, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven" (Matt. 24:29).
Here Jesus refers to the prophecy of the 1260 days (years) of papal persecution, which terminated in 1798. May 19, 1780, is known in history as the dark day. "After midnight the darkness disappeared, and the moon, when first visible, had the appearance of is the recorded historical date that the stars fell from heaven, and this was another sign of the second coming of Jesus. In this prophecy Jesus said: "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21: 28).
After the fulfillment of these signs in the heavens, Luke says there will be "upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" (verses 25, 26).
The signs on the earth included wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, which would occur in various parts of the world. Nations are rising up against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, cultures against cultures, race against race, men's hearts are failing from fear because anywhere we touch this old sin-ridden world there is the possibility of an explosion of some kind.
The late President Kennedy, in his 1961 State of the Union message to Congress, said: "No man entering upon this office . . could fail to be staggered upon learning . . . the harsh enormity of the trials through which he must pass in the next four years. Each day the crises multiply. Each day their solution grows more difficult. Each day we draw nearer the hour of maximum danger, as weapons spread and hostile forces grow stronger and time has not been our friend." Because of what Jesus said nineteen hundred years ago, this world finds itself passing through a most critical and crucial period. Someone labeled it an age of disillusionment. The world has become confused, bewildered, and insecure.
J. Edgar Hoover reported that this country is in deadly terror. The creeping rot of moral disintegration is eating into our nation. I am not easily shocked or alarmed, but the arrest of teen-age boys and girls all over the country is staggering. Some of the crimes the youngsters are committing are most unspeakable—prostitution, murder, rape. These are ugly words, but this is an ugly situation. If we are to correct it, we must face it. One of our famous newspaper commentators said a few days ago, "'Who is not against sin, crime, violence? Nobody knows just why our affluent society is filled with so much anxiety. Or just why crime is increasing so alarmingly among the young."
The apostle Paul tells us why. He says: "You must face the fact: the final age of this world is to be a time of troubles. Men will love nothing but money and self; they will be arrogant, boastful, and abusive; with no respect for parents, no gratitude, no piety, no natural affection; they will be implacable in their hatreds; scandal-mongers, intemperate and fierce, strangers to all goodness, traitors, adventurers, swollen with self-importance. They will be men who put pleasure in the place of God, men who preserve the outward form of religion, but are a standing denial of its reality." Then he adds, "Keep clear of men like these" (2 Tim. 3:1-5, N.E.B.).*
The late Nicholas Murray Butler, president emeritus of Columbia University, said in a speech delivered shortly before his death, "Actually there is no Chinese crisis, no Indian crisis, no German crisis, no American crisis; what we are facing is a worldwide crisis, which appears in every form in each land. Living according to national conditions, national habits, national circumstances. It is one and the same disease, the same condition, and it can only be cured in one and the same way. The problem of the people is worldwide." Then he added, "The end cannot be far distant."
The ills of this old sinful hospitalized world cannot be cured, but must be endured until Jesus comes.
When Stanley found Livingstone in Africa he gave him some letters he had brought with him, and said, "Read your letters from home first. You must be impatient for them." "Ah," replied Livingstone, "I have waited for years for letters, I can wait a few hours more. Tell me first how the world is getting along."
The apostle Paul left another message for us in his descriptive detailed account of last-day world events. He said, "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived." The messenger of the Lord has given us the following warning: "The tempest is coming, and we must get ready for its fury by having repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . We shall see troubles on all sides. . . . The end is near, probation is closing."—Messages to Young People, pp. 89, 90.
The commentator Paul Harvey said: "Mr. Clergyman, the responsibility is yours. And whether you like it or not, you are a command officer in the cold war, and we are losing. Whatever your strategy has been, it has not been good enough. One hundred and sixteen million churchgoers in the United States are more than ever before. That is an increase of 30 per cent; pornography has become a 500-million-dollar-a-year business. Venereal diseases have increased 72 per cent in one year; crime is increasing four times faster than our population is increasing. Juvenile crime is increasing five times faster. For every dollar we spend on churches we spend twelve thousand dollars on crime. Combine all our churches, synagogues, and temples, and they are outnumbered by taverns by 175,000. Thirty-seven million of our children receive no religious instruction."
It is high time for the church to hasten its steps and give men and women the answer to their question. The twentieth century has ushered in the greatest crisis in all human history. The world is brought into a time of trouble such as never has been since there was a nation. Jesus said that in the closing days of time history would repeat itself. "But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Matt. 24:37). Likewise as it was in the days of Lot, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Before Jesus will return there will be a period of time similar to the days of Noah and Lot. In Genesis 6 we read a description of Noah's day.
Is history now repeating itself? In this twentieth century men once again are looking into the upper spaces. The great nations of earth today are anxious to make a name for themselves. Man has set out to explore the contents of the moon, and a mechanical device is now being constructed to teach the astronauts how to walk on the moon. He also plans to visit Mars and other planets. And after these hungrily-sough t-f or accomplishments have been achieved, what will hinder him from planning a trip to the paradise of God? And that without having experienced a new birth! I firmly believe that God's great timepiece is nearing the hour when God the Father will say to the Son, "Let us go down."
The end of the reign of sin is nearly closed. It is time to arouse the people of God as never before to the nearness of the coming of the Lord. It is time to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us. It is time to rise above the hindrances on our pathway and live as though we await the Lord's coming. Christ's warning to His church is "take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares" (Luke 21:34). The primary thing challenging the people of God today is personal dedication and having a part in the preaching of the gospel in all the world. For "this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." It is for the fulfillment of this sign that all heaven waits. This is an individual responsibility, and God is counting on every member of this church to do his part.
God's messengers ought to proclaim liberty to the captive and dying who may be bound by worldly chains. For God's people must never be burdened even by the dust of worldliness. The youth of the church must be made conscious of the preparation they must make and the stand they must take in times like these. Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom, and this was the beginning of the end of a godly home. It is just as damaging to the soul today to move into the suburbs of Sodom as it is to live in the heart of the city of Gomorrah.
Christianity is not only an intellectual commitment it is a born-again experience. The blood of Jesus Christ is the only effective remedy that cleanses from all sin, and that includes all ungodly ideologies and inherited traits. It will be through the tragedies of a sin-ridden world that God's people will move out into a glorious triumph of the gospel.
We are told by God's servant that before the final visitation of God's judgment upon the earth there will be among the people of God such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times. The Spirit and power of God will be poured out upon His children. The church must now be made ready to enter into such an experience. We know that we have the truth. What we need is the power of the Spirit. May God help us to move forward as a unit—that nowhere in the world will there be found a trace of separateness among us—so that we may be participants of the Spirit and power that shall be poured out upon God's triumphant church.