Having graphically presented the sign of the end of the age, our Lord immediately introduces us to the judgment of the Great Tribulation. Matthew gives us a fuller statement of those matters than do the other two writers, so we will hold to his account.
In Matthew 24:9-14 we have a general yet brief statement of the Tribulation period. Having designated for us the sign of the end of the age which is also the first birth-pain, our Lord gives us a bird's-eye view of the outstanding events of this period of "travail."
Persecution of the Saints
In vss. 9, 10 the Lord foretold a great persecution which at that time will be brought against His disciples. Sometimes we think that the days of the martyrs were those of the early centuries of this era. Such an idea is incorrect, for the age will close with persecutions similar to those at the beginning but on an even wider scale. During those turbulent days many of the saints will be slain. There will be, according to vs. 9, a general hatred of the children of God on the part of all nations. Because of these persecutions many who have professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will stumble. Our Lord foretold that one would deliver up another to death. Such appalling conditions are beyond our comprehension at this present day, but according to His Word we are to expect this situation to arise.
The Rise of False Prophets
Satan always preys upon men during times of trial and testing. In the Great Tribulation when men will be seeking for advice to find "the way out," Satan will have his emissaries in the form of false prophets and teachers, as Paul warned in 1 Tim. 4:1f. Satan has always operated in the dark corners of the earth throughout this present dispensation. As the darkness of the present age settles down upon the world, he will become especially active. In their blindness and eagerness to find the way out of their difficulties, people will resort to those who promise deliverance; but instead of granting release, these false teachers energized by Satan will only bring them into bondage. Let our Lord's followers beware of all things that border on the occult because God has warned us against them.
The Increase of Iniquity
The Scripture clearly testifies of the great increase of iniquity and wrongdoing in the end time. That we are approaching this era is evident to all who keep abreast of the times. The aftermath of war--two world wars and the conflicts that followed--brought a trail of crime, wickedness and sin such as the world had not previously experienced. Yet conditions which now prevail are mild in comparison with the full development of crime and immorality during the Tribulation period.
Preaching of the Gospel
In vs. 14 we see the marvelous prediction that "this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations." Immediately our interest is aroused and several questions come to mind. What is the significance of the expression, "this gospel of the kingdom"? By whom will it be proclaimed? What is the purpose for which it will be preached, especially in the Tribulation?
The significance of "gospel of the kingdom": In the Scriptures we read of the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of the kingdom of God, the gospel of the grace of God and the everlasting gospel. Do all of these phrases refer to the same message of glad tidings? I am inclined to believe they do. In my judgment there is but one Gospel and these various expressions refer to it, but the wording of each expression is determined by the angle from which this one message is viewed and by where the emphasis is placed. To illustrate with a concrete example, in speaking of Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," I may at one time place the emphasis on the initial phrase "In the beginning," and another time stress the word "created." In each instance I have said the same thing, yet I have stated something different each time.
Thus it is with the Gospel. If I am speaking about soul saving, I look backward to the Cross and dwell upon the sacrifice of Christ for our sins; on the other hand, if I am preaching on prophetic subjects and dealing with things pertaining to the close of this age and the introduction of the glorious kingdom era, I will be proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, even though I may occasionally mention the glad tidings of the good news of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. To my mind, therefore, this verse simply foretells the proclamation of the Gospel to all nations with the emphasis upon the doctrine of the last things. At that time the message will be given to all nations.
To whom proclaimed: According to Gen. 12:1-3 and passages depending upon it, we see that the plan and purpose of God is to bless all nations through Abraham and his seed. While the word "seed" is used in a restricted sense referring to King Messiah, it also has the broader, general meaning including all of Abraham's literal descendants. That God intends to bless all nations through Abraham's literal posterity is evident from Ps. 67:1,2: God be merciful unto us, and bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known upon earth, thy salvation among all nations.
Since this psalm is a petition and looks forward to the great Millennial Age, evidently the inspired writer delivered his message to Israel for use in her prayer and devotional life during the Tribulation period. Thus we have the faithful remnant petitioning the Almighty that His blessings may rest upon it so that God's salvation might be known among all nations.
In keeping with this Old Testament expectation, when Abraham's descendants had the Gospel in the first generation of the Christian church it was preached to the whole world, as seen from Rom. 10:16-18. Let it be remembered that Paul wrote the Roman letter in the spring of 58 A.D. after the Gospel had been given to the Jews. In this passage he declared, "Did they not hear? Yea, verily, Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." Nevertheless only a comparative few received it. In the Colossian letter, written in 63 A.D., Paul again spoke of the Gospel and its bearing fruit in all the world (1:6), and of its having been preached in all creation under heaven (vs. 23). In view of these statements we see that in that first generation the Gospel was given to the entire world.
By whom was it then given? What nationality predominated in the early church? All those who are acquainted with the New Testament and church history must acknowledge that the Jews, outnumbering the Gentiles, were the ones who in the early dawn of the Christian era gave the Gospel to the whole world.
In 70 A.D. Jerusalem fell. After that catastrophe the Jews, misunderstanding that calamity and interpreting it as evidence of God's displeasure with the nation because it had not pulled up the despised sect of the Nazarene both root and branch, began to turn from the Gospel. The complexion of the church was soon changed from a Hebrew institution to a Gentile organism. When the Jews stopped coming into the church in any appreciable numbers the Gospel ceased to flow out to the whole world.
For the past nineteen hundred years the Gospel has been in the hands of the Gentiles. They have never at one time given it to all nations in any one generation. When the Great Tribulation is upon the earth, however, according to this prediction it will be proclaimed to the whole world in the short period of those troublous times. Who will do the preaching? In the light of God's announced purpose and in the light of past history we must conclude that the Jews will do it.
At the present time the Jews do not have the Gospel. They are in unbelief and, misunderstanding the situation, are hostile to the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since they are to be the future missionaries, the message must be given to them now. They cannot give out that which they do not possess.
That they are the ones who will evangelize the world in the Great Tribulation is also evident from a casual reading of Rev. 7. In the beginning of that chapter we see a vision of 144,000 Hebrew servants of God, sealed and serving Him under the trying circumstances of that time of great stress and judgment. Immediately following this forecast John saw an innumerable host of saved people from every nation, tribe, tongue and language who come out of the Great Tribulation and wash their robes, making them white in the blood of the Lamb. Obviously these Jewish evangelists are the ones who give the truth to this innumerable host from every section and corner of the world.
The purpose of preaching the Gospel during the Great Tribulation is twofold: first, to give all honest-hearted truth-seekers an opportunity to accept the Lord Jesus Christ and receive salvation through Him; second, to prepare for judgment those who will not receive the truth, so that God might be just in bringing upon them the terrific plagues foretold in Revelation.
The last clause of vs. 14 is "and then shall the end come." The end of what? There can be but one answer--the end of the dispensation the apostles had asked about. In His reply the Lord Jesus mentioned "the end" three times (vss. 6,13,14).
In vs. 13 we read, "But he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved." This passage refers to the Tribulation saints and to apply it to anyone today is to wrench it out of its connection. Who are those who will endure to the end of the Tribulation? The fiery trials of the great ordeal upon the world can only be endured by those who have been genuinely regenerated and in whose heart the Spirit of God dwells.
In these verses our Lord briefly sketched the Great Tribulation period, noting only the moral and spiritual conditions. The physical judgments that will come upon the earth at that time are described in vss. 15-28, which we will consider next.