There’s a phrase in popular culture that goes, “if you know, you know.” On social media, it’s often abbreviated as IYKYK. Well, those who know the Rocky cinematic universe understand that Clubber Lang (Rocky III) was insane. As portrayed by the actor Mr. T, Clubber Lang was a crazed fighter on a bloodthirsty quest to be the no. 1 heavyweight boxing champ. Rocky stands in his way.

He watches Rocky defend his title 10 times against weak opponents. Disgusted, he begins training to take down the champ, driven by demons never fully explained. Every syllable he utters drips with rage and hate.

Clubber defeats an opponent in the ring, thus earning no. 1 contender status, then screams at Rocky’s trainer who is watching the spectacle from the audience in horror:

I want Balboa! I want Balboa! You tell Balboa to come here! Nobody can beat me! You tell him what I said! And he’s NEXT! I’m gonna kill him! Nobody can stop me! You tell Balboa that! I’M COMING AFTER HIM! YOU TELL HIM!

Lang crashes the unveiling of Rocky’s statue at an outdoor ceremony, howling that Rocky must accept his challenge to fight. “What did you say, Paper Champion? I’ll beat you like a dog, a dog, you fool!”

Rocky begs off, then Lang taunts his beloved Adrian: “Since your old man ain’t got no heart, maybe you like to see a real man. I bet you stay up late every night dreamin’ you had a real man, don’t ya? I’ll tell you what. Bring your pretty little self over to my apartment tonight, and I’ll show you a real man …” Rocky loses control and tries to attack Lang, promising vengeance—he must defend Adriane’s honor! The fight is scheduled. 

Later, a reporter asks Clubber about his prediction for the coming fight. He turns to the camera, eyes narrowed. “Pain …” he hisses.

Rocky’s trainer, Mickey, knows Lang is a psycho and initially refuses to train Rocky for this fight. He allows Rocky to change his mind. But, the very night of the bout, the two fighters encounter one another on a stairway before they enter the stadium. Clubber screams:

You made me wait too long, now you’re gonna pay, boy. I’m the baddest, understand? You ain’t nothin’ ! You’re trash!

He flings Mickey aside like a rag doll, going for Balboa before being hauled back by his entourage. Mickey then suffers a heart attack and lies on a locker room table, refusing to allow medics to transport him as he awaits the outcome of the fight. Rocky, heartbroken, is pulverized by the madman and loses the contest by knockout.

Clubber Lang is crazy. IYKYK. There is no debate, no dispute, no ambiguity. His ambition in life is to be champion. “No, I don’t hate Balboa. I pity the fool, and I will destroy any man who tries to take what I got!!”

This is a series of articles on what Jesus meant in Matthew 24. This article covers Mt 24:4-14. You can read the introductory article which discussed Matthew 24:1-3, and the one about Matthew 24:15-28, and the article on Matthew 24:29-31. You can also read the entire essay as a single unit here.

Well, in Matthew 24:4-14 Jesus presents us with a fact that’s just as clear and obvious as Lang’s madness—expect bad times to come, expect opposition, expect misunderstanding, expect hostility from a world that doesn’t like or understand Jesus’ message. IYKYK. If this is the case, then why be so surprised when the bad times roll?

A host of secular media personalities and Christian influencers want you to be upset, indignant, mad at the state of the world. Mad that it no longer pretends to be Christian. Angry that un-Christian things are called good, and that good is called evil. Well, no kidding. This ought not be a surprise, so why are some Christians still so surprised? You might as well be astonished that Clubber Lang is insane. Yes, he is—was that ever in doubt?

Here is where we are in the passage:

Let’s see what Jesus has to say about the reception Christians can expect from this world.

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

Matthew 24:4-8

Jesus skips the “when will the temple be destroyed question” (but see timeline on vv. 32-35) and instead talks about what are not the “signs” of His coming. He begins with events which will start more or less immediately—dangers which lurk right at the very doors.[1]

  • People will try to deceive Christians about the Messiah’s return.
  • General unrest and warfare will occur, but Christians shouldn’t lose hope. This will be a time of increasing disorder on the international scene (“nation shall rise against nation”). It’s possible the Apostle John was referring to tumultuous events in recent memory from his own day.[2] Some believers might now point to contemporary events with raised eyebrows, like the Russo-Ukraine war. But, we ought to remember this war is the first major, sustained conventional military action in Europe since the Second World War, and perhaps only the second in the world since the Six Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973). In short, international coalitions have been largely successful in suppressing conventional miliary conflict since 1945.
  • Earthquakes and famines will happen with increasing frequency.

Jesus says these events won’t be the “end of the age” at all—they’ll just be birth pangs which signal the coming main event. This will be the normal situation in this age.[3] Wars, earthquakes, famines—these will be common and in no way suggest “the end” is nigh at hand.[4] It’s very important to not be led astray by weird speculations. Christians have always been prone to do this. One 19th century scholar chortled that a friend of his claimed the fifth kingdom in Daniel 2 was the United States of America, and that the “war in heaven” (Rev 12:7) was a prophecy of the American Civil War![5]

It’s important to note that Jesus is speaking to His disciples—to believers. Some Christians believe His words in ch. 24 are only for Israelites, but the text says nothing about that, here.[6] That idea is based on an interpretive system that sees a hard distinction between Israel and the Church and therefore infers sharp breaks in audience where necessary. However, the text doesn’t support this hard break in audience to “Israel only” in ch(s). 24-25. Instead, we should simply understand Jesus to be speaking to the disciples, and then apply His teaching to our lives directly—just as we do for countless other passages in the Gospels.

So much for the “birth pangs” which signal the end of the age is on the way. What happens next?

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.

Matthew 24:9

The word which the NIV translates “then” could mean “at that time,” meaning during the time of the birth pangs. Or, it could be sequential (i.e. “what happened next was …”). It’s probably sequential[7]after the birth pangs, things get real. Nonetheless, all of vv. 4-14 is one on-ramp of escalating persecution. Oppression and martyrdom will occur. Nations hate Christians because they represent Jesus.[8]

We must not forget the importance of faithfulness—we must be salt in light in an increasingly dark world. Some Christian influencers in America operate from a default posture of outraged defensiveness. They want Mayberry (or something like it) to come back, and they’re rightly outraged at how hard and fast the cultural values have changed in the past generation. As newsman Howard Beale once declared, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”[9] But, Jesus here tells us to expect to be a prophetic minority—to be hated, persecuted, despised because we represent Jesus. Nobody likes prophets who tell the truth. We ought to expect opposition, which means we shouldn’t respond with outraged defensiveness when our culture looks more like Babylon than Jerusalem. Did we expect something different?

What else will happen after these birth pangs hit?

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24:10-13

Taken together, vv. 9-13 show us a time characterized by a deliberate persecution of Christians. They will be hated specifically because they represent Jesus (“because of me,” Mt 24:9). Believers can only be hated because of Jesus if they’re representing Jesus’ values, His ethics, His agenda, His program. The corollary, of course, is that to the extent your “Christianity” mirrors this world’s values and mores the more fake it is. Think about that.

This period of time is not the tribulation, but it is the precursor to it. It’s a time during which the world’s values grow more and more hostile to Christianity—to the extent that imprisonment, death, defections from the faith, vicious infighting, and false teachers stalk the land. Believers will grow cold—perhaps not apathetic, but insular. Safe. Hidden. Faith will be privatized, pushed indoors where the world can’t mock it, persecute it, identify it. There will be a growing eco-system of secret Christians. The Book of Hebrews later criticized this tendency.  

Now, Jesus gives us one of the closest answers we’ll ever get to an answer for the “when” question (but see Mt 24:32-35).

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:14

When will “the end” come? Well, first the gospel of the kingdom must be preached throughout the whole world,[10] and then the end will come. The word here indicates “the end” is the next event in sequence once the gospel reaches the whole world. The natural question is, “well, at what point is the gospel preached throughout the whole world?” One Christian leader from the late 4th and early 5th century speculated that moment had almost arrived, “since it appears to me that there remains no nation that does not know the name of Christ.”[11] It’s safe to say he was wrong! Nor is this hyperbole from Jesus.[12]

So, what does that statement mean? It’s clear Jesus doesn’t mean “every single person must hear the Gospel,” because some people are always dying without hearing the message, and others are always being born. 100% contact is impossible.[13] It must mean something like saturation. At some point, the entire world will reach a divine “saturation level” for the Gospel, and then the end will come.[14]

Like many things in prophecy, “the end” is not a singular event. Here, it refers to the matrix of events which together comprise the end of “this present evil age,” (Gal 1:3). The “Gospel saturation level” is the trigger which kicks off this chain of events.[15] We have no idea what the saturation level is, or how to precisely measure it. What is clear is that missions (domestic and abroad) are critical. If a church is not about evangelization, then it’s derelict.

Therefore, once Gospel saturation is achieved, “the end” is triggered. What will be the opening move in this chain of events? Jesus tells us in the next section.

[1] “For neither concerning Jerusalem straightway, nor of His own second coming, did He speak, but touching the ills that were to meet them at the doors,” (Chrysostom, “Homily 75,” in NPNF 1.10, p. 451). Louis Barbieri states this entire section is about the great tribulation, but offers no textual evidence in support (“Matthew,” in Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985)p. 76).

[2] See Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers: A Critical and Explanatory Commentary, New Edition, vol. 1 (London; Oxford; Cambridge: Rivingtons; Deighton, Bell and Co., 1872), pp. 1:163f.

[3] Craig Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), p. 107.

[4] Ed Glasscock, Matthew, in Moody Gospel Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1997), pp. 463-464. 

[5] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (reprint; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), p. 499, fn. 1. A.T. Robertson, writing in 1933, observed, “It is curious how people overlook these words of Jesus and proceed to set dates for the immediate end. That happened during the Great War and it has happened since,” (Word Pictures, Mt 24:6).

[6] Louis Barbieri, Jr. is representative when he writes, “They have nothing to do with the church, which Jesus said He would build (16:18). The church is not present in any sense in chapters 24 and 25. The disciples’ questions related to Jerusalem, Israel, and the Lord’s second coming in glory to establish His kingdom,” (“Matthew,” in Bible Knowledge, p. 76). Barbieri offers no support for this statement, and so it cannot be taken seriously as a conclusion drawn from Matthew 24.  

[7] Contra. Alford, New Testament, p. 1:163; Carson Matthew, p. 498.

[8] Barbieri states this refers to the second half of the great tribulation but can only cite Daniel as alleged support (“Matthew,” in Bible Knowledge, p. 77). It is unfortunate that he fails to engage Matthew 24 on its own terms.

[9] This is a line from Peter Finch’s role in the 1976 movie Network.  

[10] Most English bible version disagree with the NIV’s rendering of “in the whole world.” It’s better to translate the preposition as “throughout the whole world.” See NRSV, CEB, REB, NEB, RSV, NET, NLT, ISV, ESV. 

[11] This remark is from Jerome. See Simonetti, Matthew 14-28, in ACCS, p. 191. 

[12] Contra. Broadus, Matthew, p. 485. 

[13] “It is not here said that all will be saved nor must this language be given too literal and detailed an application to every individual,” (Robertson, Word Pictures, Mt 24:14).

[14] Henry Alford remarks, “But in the wider sense, the words imply that the Gospel shall be preached in all the world, literally taken, before the great and final end come,” (New Testament, p. 1:164).

[15] R.T. France’s approach is to maximize evidence for a context of AD 70, so he disagrees that Jesus is referring to a worldwide evangelization during the run-up to the Antichrist’s reign. He believes “the end” is the destruction of Herod’s temple by the Roman army during the siege of AD 66-70 (Matthew, p. 908). I believe he is incorrect. 

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