As The Lightning!!
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 24:24b (Holman) . . .to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
“The elect”, words found here and in verse 22, refers to God’s chosen people. God cares for His own. He actually changes history for their sake.
God is in charge of His people’s destiny. Hitler can go only so far; Mao will be stopped; Lenin and terrorists will be stymied. The so-called victories of evil people will always be shorter-lived than they expected.
However bleak circumstances are, God’s mercy is always nearby. We know He loves His elect, and more amazingly, He also loves His enemies. Not even the worst sinners with their worst deeds can destroy God’s love.
By saving His elect He saves all humanity. His people are the salt of the earth, keeping it from putrefying totally. They preserve it. God will not let the human race commit suicide (McGee).
Jesus’ prediction in verse 24 has often been fulfilled. The fact trouble has been unrelenting through all ages proves His foreknowledge was correct.
Jesus thus showed Himself to be King as well as prophet. He not only foretold the future; He controls it. He remains sovereign in all situations.
Be comforted; God has never been surprised. Jesus is Lord. God rules. “He is the God of detailed circumstances. Nothing has ever happened that has not flowed in the channel that God has dug for it” (Barnhouse).
Matt. 24:25 Take note: I have told you in advance.
Forewarned is forearmed. When persecution comes, we can never say, “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way”. None can ever say Jesus duped him or her. His foretelling persecution would happen should make us confident in His sovereignty. True faith, in the fire, will be strengthened.
Knowing in advance that troubles will come can keep us from falling victim to them. “To fear the worst oft cures the worst” (Shakespeare). In my struggle against my pessimistic bent, I often play the “worst case scenario” game. I decide what is the worst thing that could happen; once I know I could survive that, I have more boldness in facing current circumstances.
Matt. 24:26 So if they tell you, “Look, he’s in the wilderness!” don’t go
out; “Look, he’s in the inner rooms!” do not believe it.
After Jerusalem was destroyed, the Christians who fled the holy city could have been tempted to follow a charismatic, clandestine leader who claimed to be Messiah. Jesus warned them; next time their Deliverer came, He would not come secretly and without fanfare in a remote hidden place.
Jesus’ words in our text also forecast a final day yet to come. Believers have often had to flee to wildernesses like the Pella area, and to hiding places like the caves around Jerusalem. A day is coming, though, when they will no longer need to find refuge in secluded places. Then expressing faith in Jesus will be totally open and safe, nothing hidden, held back, or feared.
Matt. 24:27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far
as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
The phrase “comes from the east” has influenced much of our singing and teaching. We often celebrate the tradition that when Jesus returns, He will split the eastern sky. This eastern sky imagery has given us our custom of burying people with their heads to the west. By our doing this, they will, when Michael blows the trumpet, sit up and rise from their graves facing east. This will allow their first sight to be Jesus coming through the clouds.
In songs and sermons, we have encouraged our people by telling them to keep their eyes on the eastern sky. I admit I love and use the eastern sky imagery, but I also have to admit the emphasis in our text is probably not the direction of His coming. Always remember, however far east His return will be to some, it will be west to others. I think our text emphasizes the dazzling magnificence of Jesus’ coming. When anticipating a lightning bolt, we don’t know what direction to look, but when it happens we take notice. Believers, keep looking up. “Even so, come Lord Jesus, from any direction you like.”
As the lightning!! This is how Jesus will end history. His coming will stretch from horizon to horizon. Next time Jesus comes, He will not quietly come to an obscure village like Bethlehem. His entrance will be worldwide.
His second coming to Earth will be unmistakable, undeniable, and conspicuous; no doubt about it, no need for speculation. The whole planet will know Jesus has returned. It will be visible to all. As lightning cannot be hidden or hindered from being seen, even so when Jesus comes, “Every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7b). Everything on Earth will grind to a screeching halt, arrested by a visitation of unstoppable, omnipotent power.
As the lightning!! Jesus’ coming will be marvelous. Lightning carries its own majesty. However dark and ugly the thunderclouds appear around a bolt of lightning, the lightning shines brightly against them in bold contrast.
As the lightning!! Jesus will come out of Heaven, from the spiritual world. When Jesus ascended into a cloud, the angel foretold He “will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11b).
As the lightning!! Jesus’ return will be sudden, begun and done in a nanosecond, not stretched out over a long period of time. It will be a total surprise, allowing no time for repentance. All spiritual conditions will freeze in time forever, never to be given a future chance to be changed. Lightning instantly lays everything bare; try to live a life that will survive the lightning.
Matt. 24:28 Wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.
This is a difficult verse to understand. Bishop Ryle said he found at least 56 different views on it. An odd twist of Bible interpretation is; verses we most have trouble with are often passages the original readers understood best. A writer, knowing his readers knew whereof he spoke, felt no need to explain, and thus left later readers sometimes clueless as to his meaning.
For instance, Jesus said, “Wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (LK 7:35). His hearers knew what He meant; we are not as sure. Even Peter said some matters in Paul’s writings “are hard to understand” (2 P 3:16b).
Let me give examples from our culture of how this could happen. We know “A stitch in time saves nine” means do something quickly; do not procrastinate. If 100 years from now, that explanation has been lost, the original phrase will no longer have any intelligible meaning to its hearers.
Another example is; “Many a little makes a mickle; many a mickle makes a muckle.” We can research the meaning of a phrase like this; without this capability, few (none?) of us would know what this phrase means.
We must remember the ancient world did not have unlimited access to research as we do. Thus, meanings were easier to lose. The good news is; none of the verses hard to understand have significant bearing on the message of Scripture. Mark Twain well said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.”
My best guess for our current text is based on Occam’s razor: the simplest possible solution is probably the correct one. I humbly submit the possibility our text was a proverb in Jesus’ day referring to inevitableness.
Vultures for sure flock to a carcass. In the same way, we can be sure the events Jesus predicted in this chapter will definitely happen. They are fixed, and will happen at precisely the right moment, when God decides the time is right. Don’t be too eager to predict the end; otherwise you might fall to charlatans, false messiahs; don’t be lethargic or you’ll be caught off guard.