What Does Jesus Say about the End Times?

Reading the book of Revelation can help us understand God’s message of salvation, but it can leave believers with a lot of questions about the end times, when Jesus will return. This is part three of a three-part series to help you understand the end times. This week, we look at what Jesus says about the end times. Previously we looked at the big story of the Bible, and what the Bible teaches us about the end times.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that the entire revealed and written Word of God is summarized and crystalized in the person of Jesus Christ. He writes,

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Heb. 1:1-3 NIV

We could spend an eternity unpacking all the implications of this majestic statement. But one to which we should be particularly attentive is that we find renewed and clarified insight into every part of Scripture when we start with Jesus. When we consult Jesus’ teachings, we discover that previously mystifying passages make more sense than we thought, and that some of our preoccupations matter less than we assumed.

Jesus’ Teaching for His Disciples

This is never clearer than when we consider what Jesus said about the end times. Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 all recount a conversation that took place between Jesus and his disciples during a visit to Jerusalem. The conversation begins when the disciples – born and raised in the backwaters of Galilee – marvel at the scope and beauty of Herod’s temple.

They say, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

He replies, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2 NIV)

The disciples follow up with a question that, unbeknownst to them, turns out to be two questions: “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3 NIV)

The disciples can’t imagine that anything short of the end of the world could bring down the majestic edifice of the temple. The temple was in fact destroyed much sooner, only a few decades after this conversation with Jesus.

So when Jesus responds to the disciples, he is really describing two sets of events: The persecution and dispersion of Christians and Jews leading up to the Roman invasion of Jerusalem (A.D. 70); and the end of the world (date TBD).

Much of what Jesus says in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 applies to that first set of events. The apocalyptic scenes of devastation and displacement actually unfolded during the disciples’ lifetimes. And similar scenes have been repeated throughout the intervening 2,000 years. How do we know whether circumstances that feel like the end of the world really are?

Jesus’s Teaching for Us

In the teaching contained in these three chapters (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21), Jesus provides a framework for thinking about, and preparing for, the end times.

First, we cannot know ahead of time a precise date for the end of time. Jesus said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36 NIV)

This is a caution against the kind of undue preoccupation with the end times we’ve seen in some religious traditions or fringe movements. In fact, Jesus warned that this posture of hypervigilance is more likely to lead believers astray than it is to yield faithful living.

He also said, “False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.” (Matt. 24:24-26 NIV)

If Jesus, while bodily on earth, could not provide a timeline for the apocalypse, his followers do not need one.

Second, we will know when it is truly the end. Jesus said, “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (Mark 13:26-27 NIV)

This is a great reassurance to Christians who fear, “What if Jesus comes back and I somehow miss it?” For the faithful – for those who are devoted to Jesus as Savior and Lord – Jesus’ return will be unmistakable. If we know Jesus through regular communion with his Word, the Bible, and his body, the church, we will know him when he appears.

Third, we must be prepared for Jesus to return at any time. Jesus said, “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.” (Mark 13:33-35 NIV)

Ironically, this preparedness does not consist of building bunkers, shoring up supplies, or scouring the news for telltale signs of the end. It is simply a matter of embracing our “assigned tasks”: faithfully living out the daily demands and disciplines of the Christian life.

If we take Jesus’ end times teaching out of context, it can be terrifying. When we weigh it alongside all his other words, we find there is no cause for alarm. Jesus gives us clear instruction for how to live at all times (see Matthew 5-7). Jesus promises to provide everything we need, no matter our circumstances (see Luke 12:22-34). And Jesus promises that, when the end comes, he will gather us to himself (see Mark 13:27). What more do we need to know?