Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; (Matthew 24:48)
Matthew 24 begins what is known as Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse.” Jesus spoke these words on the Mount of Olives just two days before He went to the cross (Matthew 26:2). Jesus had just issued a series of eight “woes” against the Jewish religious leaders—the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-33). Here as in other places in the Gospels, Jesus asserts His authority as God when He predicts, “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city; That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:34-36, emphasis mine). Jesus then laments over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39).
As the disciples stood around hearing these words, their curiosity piqued. “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3, emphasis mine).
Before continuing, I must add a point of clarification here. Those asking the question, the disciples, were Jews. They based their question on their understanding of Old Testament prophecies concerning the reign of Messiah, whom they understood to be Jesus (Matthew 16:16). All prophecy—both in the Old and New Testaments—centers around Israel and Messiah’s reign in and from Jerusalem. The Old Testament alludes to the Church, but as Paul points out, it was a “mystery” to Old Testament writers (Ephesians 5:32). Furthermore, at the point of this dissertation, the Church did not exist. The Church was not established until after Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Jesus, therefore, focused His response on “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7), a.k.a. “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 2:22; 7:14). This prophecy was for the Jews and Israel, not for the Church.
Jesus goes into great detail about what will take place during the Tribulation. Even though this prophecy is not directed at the Church, He does provide signs for the Church to discern. “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:32-34, emphasis mine).
The “fig tree” symbolizes the nation of Israel. Jesus had already predicted the demise of Israel (Judah at this time). “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate [i.e., barren; laid waste; devestated]” (Matthew 23:38, emphasis mine). The fulfillment of this prophecy took place in 70 A.D. when the Roman general Titus razed Jerusalem to the ground. The budding of the fig tree indicates the rebirth of Israel. This took place almost 70 years ago on May 14, 1948. Jesus said this generation, which witnesses the rebirth of Israel, “shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). We are that generation! Then Jesus guaranteed His prophecy, not with “Thus saith the Lord” (Jesus is Lord), but with “Verily, I say.” Then He affirmed, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35, emphasis mine).
Jesus goes on to encourage watchfulness “for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42). For those of us who yearn for the Rapture of the Church and also for those who will live through the Tribulation, that means that we cannot predict that event with precision. However, Jesus provided enough information that we can determine the proximity, so we encouraged to “watch.”
Jesus then asks, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” (Matthew 24:45, emphasis mine). These are the pastors and teachers whom God has placed over His churches. Jesus instructs these servants to “give them—the churches, i.e., the “flock”—meat in due season.” “Meat” means nourishment, and since Jesus speaks of His “household,” He means “spiritual” nourishment. He made this point clear to Peter at Peter’s restoration when three times Jesus asked him, “Lovest thou Me?” To Peter’s weak responses, Jesus commanded three times, “feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17). In the context of this end-times discourse, the “meat” nourishes the “flock” in preparation for that which is sure to come.
Jesus then contrasts the “faithful and wise servant” with the “evil servant” who “shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants” (Matthew 24:48-49, emphasis mine). This one does not take the Lord’s return seriously. The Greek word translated “smite” is tuptō and it means to beat with a whip or stick. The Thayer’s Greek Definitions adds that metaphorically the word implies “to wound, disquiet one’s conscience.” This indicates that the abuse is of a spiritual nature, where the pastor or teacher neglects the proper care and feeding of the flock. The flock is spiritually malnourished and completely unequipped for the Lord’s return.
Sadly, we have too many “evil servants” that neglect to prepare the flock for the Lord’s return. They offer many excuses. The worst of the lot simply do not believe in the imminent return of Christ. They do not regard end-times prophecy literally and attribute it to allegory to be spiritualized. Others think the teaching is too controversial. They fear confusing or offending their congregation. Still, others have church growth as a top priority. “Doom’s Day” teaching might scare off seekers and stunt church growth. They believe church must be a fun and “safe” place. They would not risk making anyone uncomfortable. Some, while saying they believe that Jesus will return soon, feel they must give greater priority practical teaching to equip the flock for dealing with the daily issues of life. In some ways, this last group is the most dangerous. While it is true that pastors/teachers must equip their congregations to face the day-to-day challenges of life; they are still obligated to teach the “whole counsel” of God’s Word (Acts 20:27). That includes encouraging the flock “and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25, emphasis mine). That does not mean that every sermon must be an end-times message, but every exhortation should be peppered with the expectation that the Lord may come at any moment.
Any pastor/teacher who fails to teach the imminency of Christ’s return is, according to these words of Jesus, an “evil servant.” For the evil servant who thus abuses his flock, Jesus says, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, emphasis mine). Jesus concludes this portion of the discourse with this severe warning: “The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:50-51).