The Surprising Sayings of Jesus Christ: 'When You See These Things, Know That It Is Near...'

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'When You See These Things, Know That It Is Near...'

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In the final days before His crucifixion, Jesus sat with His disciples atop the Mount of Olives (also called Mount Olivet) on the east side of Jerusalem. Gazing down across the Kidron Valley to the magnificent temple complex King Herod had built, Jesus declared that it would be utterly demolished, with not one stone left on another.

His disciples were no doubt shocked and asked Him when this would happen. And, associating this event with the time Jesus would come to reign in power in fulfillment of many biblical prophecies of the last days, they expanded the question, asking, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 Matthew 24:3And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?
American King James Version×
).

In reply Jesus told His followers to be on the lookout for a succession of developments that would lead to His glorious return in the end time. This response, known as the Olivet Discourse or Olivet Prophecy, is found in three parallel chapters of the Gospels—Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Just what did Jesus say we should be watching for?

Beginning of birth pains

Jesus’ prophecy commences with a series of trends referred to as the “beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8 Matthew 24:8All these are the beginning of sorrows.
American King James Version×
). These began in New Testament times—indeed most had already been happening throughout human history—but they would continue far into the future.

The New International Version better renders the phrase here as the “beginning of birth pains.” As a woman’s labor contractions become more intense and closer together as she nears delivery, so the trends Christ mentioned would appear on the world scene with greater force and frequency as the end of the age draws near.

The first of these initial indicators is widespread religious deception in the name of Jesus—false Christian ministers (Matthew 24:4-5 Matthew 24:4-5 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
American King James Version×
)—a matter covered in a previous article in this series (see Many False Prophets Will Arise and Deceive Many ).

The second is wars (Matthew 24:6 Matthew 24:6And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
American King James Version×
). Christ makes it clear here that many wars would come and go yet would not mark the end (same verse). Why, then, did He even mention them here?

Again, we should understand that they would increase, occurring more often and on a more intensive scale in the end time. Wars and the other factors Jesus gave at the beginning of the Olivet Prophecy are not to be viewed as indicators of His return by themselves. Rather, a great increase in these conditions is what He was telling His followers to look for.

The next indicator Jesus mentioned was famine followed by pestilence or disease epidemics (Matthew 24:7 Matthew 24:7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
American King James Version×
). We should note that the various items Jesus listed here are typically linked. False religion has often instigated wars. Wars consume or foul food supplies, leading to famine and malnutrition. And famine and malnutrition make entire regions ripe for the rampant spread of illness and disease.

The prophesied cycle of war, famine and disease was already known from the Old Testament (see Jeremiah 14:12 Jeremiah 14:12When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.
American King James Version×
; Jeremiah 21:9 Jeremiah 21:9He that stays in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goes out, and falls to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be to him for a prey.
American King James Version×
; Jeremiah 24:10 Jeremiah 24:10And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave to them and to their fathers.
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; Jeremiah 27:8 Jeremiah 27:8And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, said the LORD, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand.
American King James Version×
; Jeremiah 27:13 Jeremiah 27:13Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the LORD has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?
American King James Version×
; Jeremiah 29:17-18 Jeremiah 29:17-18 17 Thus said the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil. 18 And I will persecute them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence, and will deliver them to be removed to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, and an astonishment, and an hissing, and a reproach, among all the nations where I have driven them:
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 6:11-12 Ezekiel 6:11-12 11 Thus said the Lord GOD; Smite with your hand, and stamp with your foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence. 12 He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remains and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury on them.
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 7:15 Ezekiel 7:15The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within: he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him.
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 12:16 Ezekiel 12:16But I will leave a few men of them from the sword, from the famine, and from the pestilence; that they may declare all their abominations among the heathen where they come; and they shall know that I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 14:21 Ezekiel 14:21For thus said the Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments on Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?
American King James Version×
), and Jesus’ words should be viewed not in isolation but within the whole framework of Bible prophecy. His words here also provide the key to understanding the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” in Revelation 6:1-8 Revelation 6:1-8 1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. 2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given to him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. 3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. 4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given to him a great sword. 5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and see a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the middle of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see you hurt not the oil and the wine. 7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given to them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
American King James Version×
(see our free article series The Horsemen of Revelation ).

Jesus also mentioned natural disasters in this context. Note that Matthew’s Gospel places “earthquakes”—the Greek word here meaning shakings of both ground and air (i.e., storms)—at the end of this series (Matthew 24:7 Matthew 24:7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
American King James Version×
) but that Mark’s and Luke’s list them prior to famine and pestilence (Mark 13:8 Mark 13:8For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.
American King James Version×
; Luke 21:11 Luke 21:11And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.
American King James Version×
). Besides being destructive in their own right, natural disasters, like wars, can lead to famines and pestilences.

According to Luke, Jesus further adds, as part of these initial birth pangs, “terrors and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11 Luke 21:11And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.
American King James Version×
, Revised Standard Version). As we will see, Jesus later mentions great natural disasters and heavenly signs immediately preceding the time of His return—demonstrating the escalating nature of these events.

Persecution and proclamation

In the next section of His prophecy, Jesus describes persecution and severe trials that would come on His followers —even martyrdom for some (Matthew 24:9 Matthew 24:9Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
American King James Version×
). In Luke 21:12 Luke 21:12But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.
American King James Version×
, He explains that this would commence even before the birth pains previously addressed. Indeed, persecution and martyrdom of Christ’s disciples came soon after in the New Testament period. Yet like the birth pains above, this persecution was to increase over time—until Jesus’ followers would be “hated by all nations” (Matthew 24:9 Matthew 24:9Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
American King James Version×
).

The persecution would be led by civil and religious authorities (Mark 13:9 Mark 13:9But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues you shall be beaten: and you shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.
American King James Version×
; Luke 21:12 Luke 21:12But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.
American King James Version×
). And sadly, many family members and friends would betray God’s people, joining the persecution and even turning them over to the authorities, sometimes for capital punishment (Matthew 24:10 Matthew 24:10And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
American King James Version×
; Mark 13:12 Mark 13:12Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.
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; Luke 21:16 Luke 21:16And you shall be betrayed both by parents, and brothers, and kinfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus mentions the preaching of the gospel message in conjunction with the increasing persecution. Indeed, there is a connection between persecution and the preaching of the gospel.

Of course, the public proclamation of the truth of God is what initially provokes the persecution. This persecution, in turn, creates an opportunity for further proclamation. As Jesus said in this context: “You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony” (Luke 21:12-13 Luke 21:12-13 12 But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake. 13 And it shall turn to you for a testimony.
American King James Version×
).

He further explained that God would directly inspire His people with the words to speak at that time (Luke 21:14-15 Luke 21:14-15 14 Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what you shall answer: 15 For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.
American King James Version×
; Mark 13:11 Mark 13:11But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what you shall speak, neither do you premeditate: but whatever shall be given you in that hour, that speak you: for it is not you that speak, but the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
). This would fuel further persecution, then greater witness, then even more persecution, then still greater witness—and so on.

Then at last, in the face of the worst opposition to God’s truth in the closing period of this age, Jesus says that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
American King James Version×
).

The final crisis

Jesus at this point turns to local events that will lead to worldwide upheaval. He says, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near” (Luke 21:20 Luke 21:20And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is near.
American King James Version×
). This He declares in conjunction with “the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (Matthew 24:15 Matthew 24:15When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoever reads, let him understand:)
American King James Version×
; compare Mark 13:14 Mark 13:14But when you shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that reads understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:
American King James Version×
).

Daniel had foretold a foreign invasion of the Holy Land and the placement of the abomination of desolation within the temple complex (Daniel 11:31 Daniel 11:31And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that makes desolate.
American King James Version×
). If we follow the historical fulfillment of the Daniel 11 prophecy, it becomes apparent that this was accomplished under the Syrian invader Antiochus Epiphanes, who caused a pagan defilement of the temple around 168 B.C.

Yet this was long before Jesus spoke. So Jesus must have been declaring that this past fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy was not a complete fulfillment—that the past event was a prototype or forerunner of something still to come.

Things would become horrific for the Jewish people in the Holy Land at that time: “For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written [i.e., in Old Testament prophecies regarding this] may be fulfilled … For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:22-23 Luke 21:22-23 22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath on this people.
American King James Version×
).

“Great distress” here is found as “great tribulation” in Matthew 24:21 Matthew 24:21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
American King James Version×
. Jerusalem would be conquered and occupied by enemies, its people taken captive to other nations (Luke 21:24 Luke 21:24And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
American King James Version×
).

The time frame and scope of these events has been a matter of debate. In A.D. 69-70, nearly 40 years after Jesus spoke, it seemed to many that the Romans fulfilled this prophecy. They invaded Jerusalem, they destroyed the temple and later erected a pagan temple in its place, and they led many of the Jewish people away captive to other parts of the empire.

Recall also that Jesus’ disciples had asked Him at the outset when His statement about the demolition of the Herodian temple complex would be realized—and it is generally believed that this was accomplished in the Roman invasion. However, some sections of the temple platform retaining wall were not thrown down and remain to this day—the Western or “Wailing” Wall being but one example.

There are, in fact, clear indications that the invasion of Judea and Great Tribulation are end-time events. Besides their position in the prophecy, consider that Jesus declares the scale of the Tribulation as unparalleled in human history—never to be surpassed (Matthew 24:21 Matthew 24:21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
American King James Version×
). His language recalls the unequalled period of trouble preceding the end-time resurrection spoken of in Daniel 12:1-3 Daniel 12:1-3 1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
American King James Version×
. There can’t be more than one worst time ever.

Jesus further said that if the Great Tribulation were allowed to run its course, “no flesh would be saved [alive]” (Matthew 24:22 Matthew 24:22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×
). This concerns all humanity, not just the people of Judea.

Christ later refers to this dire period as “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world” (Revelation 3:10 Revelation 3:10Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come on all the world, to try them that dwell on the earth.
American King James Version×
). Mankind’s self-annihilation was not a possibility in A.D. 70. It has only become feasible in modern times with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Evidently, the first-century Roman invasion of Judea was, like Antiochus’ invasion before it, a forerunner of the final and ultimate fulfillment at the end of the age.

Jesus next warns against those who would claim He has already returned by this point in contradiction to the obvious signs He is laying out (see Matthew 24:23-28 Matthew 24:23-28 23 Then if any man shall say to you, See, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. 25 Behold, I have told you before. 26 Why if they shall say to you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 27 For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even to the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
American King James Version×
). He then describes cosmic events that will usher in His coming: signs in the sun and moon, both being darkened; falling stars, likely referring to meteors; the shaking of the powers of heaven; “and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring” (Luke 21:25 Luke 21:25And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;
American King James Version×
; compare Matthew 24:29 Matthew 24:29Immediately 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, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
American King James Version×
).

Thus we have here the culmination of the early indicators Jesus gave of increasing heavenly signs and natural disasters. Revelation 6:12-17 Revelation 6:12-17 12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, see, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13 And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every slave, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
American King James Version×
shows a marked increase in such signs as introducing the day of God’s wrath—the most cataclysmic and signs-laden period ever, called the “Day of the Lord” in many prophecies.

It is at the conclusion of this period that Jesus will at last return—when, as He declares, all peoples “will see the son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30 Matthew 24:30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
American King James Version×
).

Discerning the signs of the times

Is it possible to discern if we are in the end time?

Jesus said it is, giving the example from nature of the branches of a fig tree becoming tender and putting forth leaves as an indicator that summer is near (Matthew 24:32 Matthew 24:32Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near:
American King James Version×
). “So you also, when you see all these things [leading to His return], know that it is near—at the doors!” (Matthew 24:33 Matthew 24:33So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
American King James Version×
). Jesus chided the religious authorities of His day for failing to “discern the signs of the times” concerning His first coming (Matthew 16:1-3 Matthew 16:1-3 1 The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered and said to them, When it is evening, you say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. 3 And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O you hypocrites, you can discern the face of the sky; but can you not discern the signs of the times?
American King James Version×
). He could do the same today with regard to the signs for His second coming.

Obviously we have not entered the Great Tribulation yet. Rather we appear to be in the escalation of initial birth pains. Indeed, for ages wars, famines, pestilences and natural disasters were somewhat static with occasional spikes in activity. But in the past century, mankind has seen a huge increase in all these indicators.

Jesus further made clear that once the marked rise began, it would not continue indefinitely. Rather, He stated, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation [i.e., all the people alive at the indicated time] will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34 Matthew 24:34Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
American King James Version×
).

The generation to which He referred could not have been the people of His day—as they died without seeing all the events leading to His return. Rather, He could only have meant the generation of the last days. That time appears to be here.

Jesus further explained in His Olivet Discourse that all of us have a responsibility to be mindful of world events and trends as well as our own spiritual condition as we approach the difficult times ahead. “Watch therefore,” He said in Luke 21:36 Luke 21:36Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
American King James Version×
, “and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

To learn more about the indicators of the last days, how to know whether they are here and what that means for you personally, be sure to read our free Bible study aid booklet Are We Living in the Time of the End?

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