Matthew 24:1-14                                     December 2008
THE GROWING LABOUR PAINS
Over the years there have been many false and crazy predictions about the return of Jesus and many well know leaders have tried to show how different events and people fulfil the Bible predictions surrounding the second coming.

The Mormon founder Joseph Smith said that Jesus was going to return on the 14th February 1891. He obviously made sure that the date was well after he was gone because he died 1844.

The founders of the SDA predicted Jesus would return in 1844 and when He didn’t show up they said that He entered into the Holy of Holies in the Heavenly Temple and began to prepare for the day of Judgement.

The JWs predicted that Jesus Christ was returning to earth in 1914 to set up the 1000 year reign on earth. When that didn’t happen, rather than say they got it wrong, they said that He did returned invisibly and now directs His Kingdom through the Watchtower Society in Brooklyn NY.

Hal Lindsey in his book “The late great planet earth” predicted that Jesus would return in 1981 which was a generation after the nation Israel was established.
Chuck Smith of Calvary chapel was taken in by Hal Lindsays prediction and announced a Welcome Home Jesus party.

Benny Hinn predicted that the rapture would take place in 1992 and that two years after that Jesus would punish all the evil doers.

I remember in 1975 ministering with Barry Smith in Samoa and Barry was announcing that Henry Kissinger. I asked him about this a number of years later when Kissinger was off the scene and Barry said, “Keep watching him – he’s still around.” Henry Kissinger’s is 85 now so he hasn’t got a lot of time or energy left to do his stuff.
One guy said, “It’s not fair. Every time I sort out who the anti-Christ is, someone shoots him.”

In Acts 1:5-7 after Jesus resurrection the Apostles kept asking Him when  He would restore the Kingdom of Israel and Jesus answered them, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.”

Today we hear very little about the return of Jesus.
Why is that?
A W Tozer wrote an article entitled, “Why are we lukewarm about Christ’s return?”
He says that we believers don’t really love Jesus to the extent that we are eager to see Him. We have become so comfortable in this world that we have no desire to leave it. The streets of gold have no appeal for those who find it easy to pile up gold here. Because life has become so easy for believers in our culture there is little incentive to be released from the struggle and be with Jesus.
Tozer ends up by saying that our preoccupation with this world may be a warning of bitter days to come. God will wean us from this earth one way or another – the easy way if possible, the hard way if necessary, it’s up to us.

So no one can predict the exact date or time Jesus will return, but He has given us signs and indicators to let us know that we are getting close to the day of His return.

In Matthew 24 Jesus speaks about some of the signs we need to look for that will show us we are getting closer.

The key verse to all of these signs is verse 8 “All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
There are two things to notice about birth pains, and I am not speaking from personal experience here although I must say I nearly gave myself hemorrhoids pushing with Lois at the birth of our first child:
1. They increase in frequency as you get closer to the birth.
2. They increase in intensity as you get closer to the birth.

Some of the things Jesus speaks about here have been going on for some time, but as we get closer to the return of Jesus they will increase in frequency and in severity. They will happen more often and on a bigger scale.

Another thing we need to be aware of in this passage is that Jesus is answering 2 questions and those questions are: The events surrounding the destruction of the temple and the events surrounding His return and the end of the age.

In this passage sometimes He is speaking about the destruction of the temple and other times He is speaking about His return and sometimes He speaks about things that apply to them both.

THE QUESTION v1-3
As Jesus and His disciples were leaving the temple He told them that the temple was going to be completely destroyed. And they asked Him when would the temple be destroyed and what would be the sign that would signal His return and the end of the age.

When Jesus was speaking to the disciples the Temple in Jerusalem was still under construction. It was started in 20 BC by Herod and wasn’t completed until A.D.67. You may not be aware of this but the Jewish Temple in Jesus day was the largest building in the known world.

So when Jesus told His disciples that it would be completely demolished stone by stone, that statement made a real impact on them. That prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled in detail 37 years later when the Romans dismantled the Temple stone by stone. One of the reasons they did this was because the foundation stones were made of marble overlaid with gold and they were determined to get at them.

THE INDICATORS v4-14
First of all Jesus pointed to certain things that would escalate in frequency and in intensity as we move towards the end of the age.

Deception, Dissension, Devastation, Discrimination, Defection and Declaration.

DECEPTION v5-6
As we get closer to the return of Jesus we will see an increasing number of people and groups claiming to be the Messiah and to offer the deliverance and salvation that only Jesus can give. It will be a time of growing deception.

Probably the greatest spiritual deception since the time of Jesus has been Islam. Where one man claimed to be a superior prophet to Jesus and maintained that the angel Gabriel appeared to him and gave him the Koran. There were no other witnesses – it was simply his unsupported word and yet in the last 30 years we have seen a huge upsurge in Islam to the point that it is possibly the fastest growing religion today. Nearly 1 billion people have chosen to believe in the uncorroborated testimony of one man of dubious character.

Since the 1800s there have been more religious cults started that at any other time in history. Some like the JWs and the Mormons have become very large organisations, but they all claim to have a monopoly on the truth.

It may interest you to know that in the last 40 years there have been over 28 religious leaders who have claimed to be JC among them are people like Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Marshall Applewhite.

Ill. In 1971 the L.A. Times announced the advent of the Guru Maharaji in the USA.
“The Guru Maharaji, Lord of the Universe will be coming in the clouds and with great power and glory. His silver steed will touch down 4 p.m. Tuesday at the L.A. International airport. T.A.A. flight 76l. “When he landed they discovered his suitcases were full of contraband.

And even those who didn’t claim to be JC made claims that contradicted the teaching of Jesus, like Mohammed, Joseph Smith and Charles Taze Russell and have deceived so many people.

The climax of all this will be right at the very end when people will be desperate for peace and a new world order and a world leader will arise and so impress the people with his promises, his abilities and persuasive powers that they will gladly embrace him as their Saviour and Messiah. He will be the master deceiver known as Anti-Christ.

Remember Jesus said these things will happen like birth pains – which simply means that the events surrounding  this last final deception will happen so quickly that it will be upon us before we even realise it. Isn’t that so true of world events today? With the advent of technology, things are happening in our world at an ever increasing rate – it hard to keep up with it all. Governments can rise and topple in a matter of weeks, communication is instantaneous, travel is limitless and human knowledge is doubling every 5 years. Daniel 12 says that these things will be a mark of the last days.
DISSENSION v6-7
Jesus said that we would hear of wars and rumours of wars, nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom and although war has been a feature of human human history since the beginning the key is found in the words – birth pains. Birth pains increase in frequency and in severity just before the child is born.

In the last days wars will increase in frequency and in intensity. What makes the wars of the last century different from all the wars that have taken place before? The number of wars that have taken place in such a short space of time and the level of death and destruction caused by war. Never before in history has mankind been able to bring about the level of suffering and destruction that it can now.  We now have weapons of mass destruction that are capable of annihilating the whole human race.

I looked up a list of the number of wars that have taken place in the last 100 years –The number is staggering. It runs into the hundreds.

All the civil wars – Europe, Spain, Balkans, China, Russia, South America, Latin America, Asia, Africa – many of which are still going on Congo, Sudan, Burma, Sri Lanka, Somalia, etc.
Wars of independence all across Africa, Asia, South America.
Wars involving nation against nation – Boer war, Manchurian, China Soviet, Russian Japanese, Indo China, Ethiopia, the two World wars, Israel, Korea, Vietnam, Cyprus, Lebanon, Falklands, East Timor, Tibet, Cambodia, Laos, Gulf War, Bosnia, Serbia, Cold war, Iran/Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.
In fact since the 2nd WW there have been more than 250 major wars and at present there are at least 16 wars bring waged in our world.

What about the severity – I looked at the numbers of people killed in the wars over the last 100 years. Well in excess of 200 million. Never ever before in history have we had so wars taking place in such a short space of time and with such severity.

And sadly, as long as people refuse to follow Jesus and His teaching greed, pride, hatred, bigotry and prejudice will drive them into war.

DEVASTATION v7
Famines, earthquakes and disease.
Once again the world has always known famines earthquakes and disease, but like the birth pains has the frequency and severity increased?

Famines:
Today over 1 Billion people in our world are without enough food and shelter. 35,000 died daily from hunger related diseases. 13 million a year.

One of the greatest contributing factors to the loss of food production is political strife. There are so many countries who are unable to feed themselves because of ongoing political problems. You take a country like Zimbabwe. They once used to export food, but now they dependent on aid to survive.

The other contributing factor to famine scientists tells us is global warming. Whether it is global warming or not, the fact is that more and more places where there was a thriving agricultural industry are dying out and farmers have been walking off their land. We now have wide spread ongoing drought cover huge areas in Europe, Asia, Canada, Western and South Africa and Eastern Australia.

The American Geological Society says that droughts are increasing in intensity and in frequency as a result of regional drying and warming trends. There is less water available because of increased demand and reduced supply – the consequences will be very severe.

The National centre for atmospheric Research in US says that the percentage of earth’s land affected by serious drought has more than doubled in the last 30 years.
Another factor is wastage: One third of all grain grown and one half of all fish caught are fed to animals in the wealthy nations.

Earthquakes
Since 1917 volcanic and earthquake activity has increased notably. In the last 45 years earthquakes of more than 7 on the ritcher scale have doubled. In fact for the first since earthquakes were measured we have seen earthquakes as strong as 9.5 and 9.2.

But I also noticed that the number of major earthquakes that have taken place in the last 100 years has gradually increased from 1.5 every 10 years to 28 every 10 years and some of those have been the most devastating including the 2005 9.0 earthquake in Indonesia that killed 225,000 people.

Diseases:
The 20th Century witnessed the worst epidemic in all history the Spanish influenza epidemic that killed around 21 million people. Today, as fast as medical science can treat diseases new ones appear such as Ebola virus, sars, mad cow, bird flu  or old ones are reappearing which are resistant to anti-biotics such as tuberculosis, malaria and bacterial pnuemonia, to name a few. These are called super bugs.

57 million people die every year in the world from infectious diseases. A study carried out in 1996 by the American Centre for Disease control and Prevention showed that death from infectious diseases rose 58 percent between 1980 and 1992, making them the third leading killer of Americans. Only heart disease and cancer kill more people.

Over 33 million people in the world today have full blown aids with 2.5 million contracting it each year. It is up 50% from 1996. It is also estimated that something like 40% of sexually active people in NZ  between the age of 17-30 carry sexually transmitted diseases, most of which are incurable.

In Gen. we read that because of mans sin a curse has come upon nature bringing death, disease and disaster. Our spiritual and moral condition has an adverse  affect on  nature. As godlessness and human evil increase on the earth so will natural disasters and disease increase.

In Romans 8:20  “Against its will, all creation has been cursed because of mans sin . But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will be released from its bondage to death, disaster, disease and decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Leading scientists have said in recent years that our earth cannot go on sustaining life as we know it if the present trends of pollution, exploitation, population growth, industrialisation and consumerism continue.

Discrimination v9
You may not know this but more believers have died for their faith in Christ in the 20th Century than in all the other centuries put together. An estimated 120,000 believers will die for their faith in Jesus this year.

Today believers are being openly persecuted in these countries, the majority of which are Muslim.
Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Morocco, Algeria, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, Laos, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Turkey, Jordan and Palestine.

In the west there is growing animosity towards Christians because we will not accept or agree with the permissive, amoral standards and values of this godless society. They view us as judgemental, intolerant bigots.

And I believe that as our culture continues down the road of moral decay and corruption the gap will widen and the animosity will get worse and many believers will not be willing to handle the rejection, the ostracism or the persecution and will cease to follow Jesus. In fact that brings us to the next sign:

DEFECTION v10
Jesus said that in the last days the number of people turning away from Christ will increase notably.

In the western world, we have seen the greatest defection from the church and the Christian faith since the time of Christ.

At the beginning of the 20th Century something like 86% of the British people attended church, today it is less than 14%. In the last 10 years church attendance in the UK dropped by over ½ a million. In the US, church attendance in the last 20 years has dropped significantly. The trends in NZ are similar. The church in NZ whether we like it or not is now in rapid decline. That includes Bible believing churches.

In our culture the main factors in people moving away from the church and from faith in Jesus have been:
Hurt by other Xs
Unwilling to be different
More interested in wealth, career and pleasure
Disillusioned with leadership
No real relationship with Christ
Their needs not being met [See the church as another consumer institution – created to fulfil their needs and preferences]
Unwilling to pay the price of being a disciple of Jesus
Deception – being led astray by false teaching
Desiring things that are offensive to God.

V13. But those who remain faithful and steadfast to the end will be saved. The true test of whether a person is genuinely saved is that they won’t give up in the face of persecution. They won’t be lead away from Christ by deception. They won’t be drawn away by immoral and ungodly behaviour. They will remain faithful to Jesus to the end. It’s not how we begin the Christian race, it’s how we end that really matters.
Genuine faith in Jesus is faith that lasts the distance.

DECLARATION V14
“And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”
Since the beginning of the 19th Century we have seen the greatest movement in spreading the Gospel and that has continued right up to this day. Today there are very few places where people do not have access to the Gospel message either by radio, Satellite TV or the written word.

Even though the church is in decline in the western world, there is a growing interest coming from places that have been closed to the Gospel because of radio and Satellite broadcasts.

So even though we cannot give exact times or dates, the birth pains, the contractions leading up to the return of Jesus are definitely increasing in frequency and in intensity.
So how should this impact us believers?
When Jesus spoke about His return He always emphasised the fact that we need to be ready when He comes, because although we may recognise the signs of His return, His actual appearance will catch us all by surprise.

We need to live in a state of readiness – Consciously seeking to obey his Word and carry out His will in our daily lives. Whenever I think of Jesus returning I think of all those who don’t know Jesus and how He is depending on us to reach them for Jesus.