Is Jesus Coming or Going in Matthew 24?


In reading the Book of Daniel, I was reminded of a misconception I used to have about something Jesus told His disciples in the last days of His earthly ministry.

In Matthew 24 Jesus is warning His disciples about the catastrophic events that will happen in Israel within a generation (Matthew 24:34), which by Jewish reckoning was 40 years.

Jesus said that after the tribulation of those days the sign of the Son of Man will appear and “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). Jesus is talking about His coming to earth right? Actually, no.

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How the Church Prevailed Against the Gates Of Hades

The Gates of Hades, Caesarea Philippi, Israel

Jesus, Peter and the crew were in Caesarea Philippi, a city in the northern part of Israel, and Jesus decides to give the boys a pop quiz. Jesus asks them who they think He is. Peter answers correctly. Then Jesus says,“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18.

Now we can leave for another day the 500 year old controversy about whether the rock on which Jesus says He will build His church is Peter or the revelation of who Jesus is; instead I want to focus on the second part of what Jesus said.

In February 2010, I was in Israel and visited Caesarea Philippi , where I was surprised to learn that there, in the first century at the opening of a cave was a pagan temple. The opening of the cave was referred to as “The Gates of Hades.”

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A Curious Common Denominator of Great Men

I read a lot of biographies. I’ve been particularly interested in the lives of Kingdom heroes who have changed to world, and as I’ve studied those lives, I have noticed that many of them have suffered a similar traumatic event before ultimately fulfilling God’s call on their lives, and that event is exile.

Moses was effectively exiled to Midian for forty years before the Lord spoke to him from the burning bush and sent him back to Egypt to be the leader and deliverer God called him to be.

David was exiled from Israel and the court of Saul into the desert where he spent years running from Saul until he returned to be king.

After his conversion on the road to Damascus, the Apostle Paul spent 14 years in the desert before returning to become the greatest church planter the world has ever known.

St. Patrick was exiled from England when slave traders kidnapped him and took him to Ireland , where he found God and his calling to be God’s missionary to Ireland.

John Wycliffe was exiled from Oxford, leading him to pastor the small church in Lutterworth, England for the last ten years of his life, where he would finally have time to translate the Bible from Latin into English.

Martin Luther was exiled by Frederich III to Wartburg Castle for about two years where he translated the Bible from Latin into German.

John Calvin had to flee his home in Paris for Switzerland during the Reformation to keep from being arrested, during which time he wrote the first edition of his Institutes of Christian Religion.

John Knox was captured by the French Catholics and held captive in a French Galley for 18 months as a slave and then ultimately fled to Geneva, where he was mentored by John Calvin before returning to become the great reformer of Scotland.

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Power vs. Politics

After Jesus was resurrected and had gathered His disciples together, the disciples asked, “Lord is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus said in response, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:6-8.

Jesus’ disciples were young. They were excited about Jesus’ resurrection, which for them confirmed he was indeed the King of kings. They were ready for Jesus to take over. They wanted to talk politics, but Jesus wanted to talk power.

The conversation is instructive. I am old enough to have lived through two evangelical experiments with American politics. The first was one of disengagement. This was the default in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.

That all changed with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, and other evangelical leaders encouraged evangelicals to get involved in politics. The catalyst policy was a pro life agenda, but it grew from that and evangelicals eventually found a home with the conservative Right. That started the second experiment that has continued until this day.

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The Good News of Christmas

I was reading the Christmas story in Luke last night in the New American Standard Bible translation, and came across verse 14, one of the most quoted verses at Christmas. But when I read, “And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased,” it seemed wrong theologically.

I was reading it as saying God was pleased with men on earth, which was obviously incorrect. If God was pleased with man on earth, there would be no need for the Christmas story at all. Jesus’ birth was a foreshadowing of His death, which was necessary because man was enslaved to sin and in active rebellion against God.

So, I immediately went to the commentaries and different translations, and I discovered that while the New American Standard Bible was the more literal translation, what the angels were actually saying is there will be peace amongst those on whom His favor rests. Now, this does not sound as good on Christmas cards, but Truth isn’t determined by its marketability.

Think about it though, angels appear to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and the angels are excited because they know the plan, they can see down the road where all this headed, and in their excited utterance of praise, they say two things. First, they praise God for what He is doing through the incarnation, and rightly so. And second, when they turn to man, they don’t mention salvation, and they don’t mention eternal life; they mention peace. They were excited because there could now be peace on earth among those who were favored by God to be redeemed through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Part of the role of an angel is to comfort and protect those on earth. See Luke 22:43; Psalm 91:11; Daniel 6:22. So many people suffer from anxiety, fear, depression, and despair. Also, so much of the harm that comes to people on earth is the result of interpersonal conflict. I can only imagine what the work of angels was like in a world where none were redeemed or even partially sanctified.

But with the incarnation, once people were born-again, they would enjoy an inner peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit and set out on the path of sanctification, taking on God’s character. The more they became like Jesus, the more peace they would enjoy internally and in their relationships, which meant the less angels would have to do to comforting and protecting man.

What God did at Christmas then, not only benefited man, it benefited the angels as well, and it was reason not only for us, but for them to say as well, “Glory to God in the highest!”

Merry Christmas. GS