1.28 Synoptics -- The End of the Age

Mat 24Mk 13Lk 21. Each of the Gospels has an account of the Last Days, or the Second Coming. According to Matthew, the events that will occur are:

        a. many false Christs and false prophets will appear
        b. there will be wars among the nations (Gentiles)
        c. famines and earthquakes
        d. the disciples will be delivered up to tribulation and death
        e. "You will be hated by all nations because of me" (Mat 24:9)
        f. the Gospel will be preached throughout the world
        g. sacrilege and suffering
        h. signs in the heavens
        i. "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory" (Mat 24:30).
        j. the angels will gather the elect "from the four winds"
        k. no one knows the day or hour

Mark’s account is quite close to this. Luke specifically mentions Jerusalem under siege:

        "They [the Jews] will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Lk 21:24).

The focus of our study is not eschatology, but race. So we are not concerned with attempting to plot a chart of End-Time events. There is, however, a mixing up of chronology in these chapters -- the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews have already been fulfilled, while most of the other signs occurred later or have yet to appear.

        

It is clear, however, that we have passed from a single-nation covenant to a global Gospel. The disciples will be brought before governors and kings, the Gospel will be preached throughout the world, nations and kingdoms will go to war, earthquakes and famines will occur, all the earth will see the signs in the sky and mourn, and the angels will gather the elect from around the earth.

        

There is, therefore, a rather discordant transition from the local Son of Man who fulfills the Old Testament role of Messiah to a universal Savior. There is more explicit inclusion of Gentiles in the End-time chapters than in all the rest of these books combined. And Jesus gives no guidance as to how this transition is to occur, because he doesn’t deal with Gentiles openly. Pity the poor disciple who is dragged before a foreign king to give testimony – how does he give a message that has any meaning to a pagan with no inkling of Jewish history and its messianic promise? What does the disciple require of a pagan who wants to convert? All of this is worked out "on the fly" in the Book of Acts and in the Epistles, after Jesus has left the scene.

        

Therefore, as we will see, there are two separate "dispensations" (to use a loaded term) in the Christian era. There is the dispensation of Jesus, in which the work of God is concerned with wrapping up the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was fulfilled with the birth of the Messiah, who was not merely the fruit of Mary’s womb, but of Israel's historic pilgrimage. Jesus' life "puts paid" to all open accounts of the Old Testament, all the promises made to Abraham and his offspring (except those with a universal reference). "All the promises of God find their 'yes' in Him" (2 Cor 1:20). As Jesus lived out the role of the Messiah, he fulfilled the prophetic Scriptures in regard to Israel. At this time Gentiles were irrelevant. They had no share in the exclusive historic relationship between God and His people, so stood at the sidelines as He manifested His Answer to their thousand-year quest.

        

But God gave Israel His best, and His Messiah was rejected. Note what happened: the Messiah was delivered to the Gentiles by the act of the Jewish leaders. Jesus did not go to the Gentiles, he was cast out of the community of Israel, and delivered up to the Gentiles to be killed. (If the Jewish leaders had had the authority, they would certainly have performed the act themselves – they showed no reticence for extra-legal capital punishment in the case of Stephen.) So the original impetus for the inclusion of the Gentiles came from the Jews themselves. But the transition was not complete until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Here the outpouring was on the faithful Jews, but it was for the benefit of the Gentiles (hence the foreign tongues that were spoken). This was the inauguration of the second Christian dispensation, the age of the Gentiles, which is also the age of the Spirit. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit "took over" Jesus' work among men, and expanded it throughout the earth.

        

Therefore, in coping with the Gentiles and other matters of establishing the churches, the disciples could not look to Jesus' personal guidance, but had to learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is alluded to in the present passages, where Jesus tells the disciples how to act before their accusers:

        "Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit" (Mk 13:11).

          Thus the disciples' dependence on the presence and guidance of the Spirit coincided with the transformation of the Gospel from a message of prophetic fulfillment for the Jews alone to a universal invitation to salvation. In these passages, Jesus is looking forward to the time of such a transformation, and so gives prominence both to the Holy Spirit and to Gentiles, because they are linked in the divine plan of history.