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(From Forerunner Commentary)
The church believed in recent years that the ministry of Herbert Armstrong fulfilled this verse, but subsequent events force us to modify our understanding.
It is certain that the end did not come immediately upon the death of Herbert Armstrong. On the other hand, he indeed preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God around the world as it had not been proclaimed since the first century. Though he technically did not witness before every nation, the preaching and literature of the church of God blanketed the globe in a way never done before.
In the context of Matthew 24, however, the timing of this great work of preaching the gospel is wrong if it applies strictly to the ministry of Herbert Armstrong. In the paragraph running between verses 4 and 14, this statement appears at the end of the context, after the opening of the fifth seal (verse 9; see Revelation 6:9-11). Thus, verse 14 seems to indicate a ministry active during the Great Tribulation, the subject Jesus expands on in verses 15-28.
What ministry is active on a worldwide scale during the Great Tribulation? None other than the Two Witnesses! From the summary of that ministry in Revelation 11, we can easily see that God empowers them during the 3½ years of the Tribulation (verse 3). Their ministry is called a "testimony" (verse 7), the same Greek word translated as "witness" in Matthew 24:14. When the Beast finally kills them in Jerusalem, everyone on earth rejoices (Revelation 11:10), indicating that the witnesses' work is worldwide. And three and a half days after their deaths, Christ returns and the age ends (verses 11-13; Zechariah 14:3-5).
Mr. Armstrong would probably be the first to admit this. When he told the church near the end of his life that the preaching of the gospel had been done, he could not have been ignorant of the work of the Two Witnesses. It is clear he meant that he had finished the work God raised him to do. That work revived the truth of God in many areas and prepared the way for the ministry of the Two Witnesses. However, we should see his ministry only as a type or precursor to the even greater work that will be done during the Great Tribulation.
Matthew 24:14 is indeed a definite sign of the end. It applies specifically to the very last days before Christ's second coming when God will give the world a final warning through the mouth of two witnesses (see II Corinthians 13:1; Deuteronomy 17:6).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are These the Last Days? (Part 1)
This verse provides the most provable of the signs that we are living in the last days. It is instructive to see the clause, "no flesh would be saved," in other translations:
James Moffatt: "not a soul would be saved alive."
The Four Gospels by E.V. Rieu: "no living thing would have escaped."
Amplified Bible: "no human being would endure and survive."
Revised English Bible: "no living thing could survive."
The New Testament by Kenneth Wuest: "all flesh would not be saved from destruction."
We can infer a concrete meaning from this verse: The last days will be marked by mankind's ability to annihilate every living thing from the face of planet earth! If God does not step in, if He does not intervene in world affairs, the nations will fight until all life perishes!
Is this possible today? The U.S. and Soviet Union just fought a 45-year Cold War during which both sides stockpiled enough nuclear weapons to erase life from earth 50 times over. That is overkill! Though the nations have reduced nuclear stockpiles in recent years, the current overkill factor is still more than enough to kill all flesh. Statistics from 1995 show that 40,640 nuclear weapons are still available to the five major nuclear powers: the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China. Several other nations are known or thought to have nuclear capabilities: Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, South Africa, Iran, Ukraine, and others.
Today, the nations do not have just nuclear weapons at their disposal. Now they have chemical weapons, biological weapons, neutron bombs, and who knows how many secret weapons systems still yet unearthed by the media.
Are we living in the last days? Yes, indeed! This one sign proves it conclusively, for at no other time in history has this been possible! Only since the advent of the atomic bomb in 1945 or the hydrogen bomb in 1952 has man had the knowledge and ability to wipe himself out!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are These the Last Days? (Part 1)
Though our present day rivals Noah's in corruption and evil, this meaning of Matthew 24:36-39 is actually the secondary interpretation. The primary meaning is more simple: Christ would come at a time when most of the world was busy doing its normal activities.
Notice verse 36: "But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." This is the subject sentence of the entire paragraph. Verse 42 repeats the thought: "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming." Jesus rephrases it in verse 44: "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him."
Luke's version makes this especially clear:
And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30)
People will be involved in their normal activities, not realizing such a momentous event is about to occur!
Paul writes that "the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape" (I Thessalonians 5:2-3). Just when men begin to think they have a handle on society's problems, total chaos and destruction will erupt.
Peter reminds us of scoffers coming in the last days who would say, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation" (II Peter 3:4). The apostle goes on to cite the example of the Flood—which came on suddenly and unexpectedly—as an event that broke the natural cycle of life (verses 5-6). Such is the time of Christ's return.
All of these prophetic warnings include the admonition to watch and be ready for it when it comes. As Paul says:
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. . . . Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober, . . . putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. (I Thessalonians 5:4, 6, 8)
Christ's return will not be sudden and unexpected to the church. We may not know the day or the hour, but we will be somewhere "in the ballpark." Jesus says His day "will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth" (Luke 21:35). But, as verse 34 says, if we "take heed to [our]selves," not being mired down by sin, we will be expecting it.
We are certainly living in times very like those of the days of Noah, so the return of Christ could come anytime soon. Knowing this, our job is to watch and pray and overcome so "that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (verse 36).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'As It Was In the Days of Noah'
2 Timothy 3:1-5
The reason we have such a lack of courtesy in today's world can be found in II Timothy 3:1-2, where the apostle Paul writes: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves. . . .” He goes on to list about eighteen more traits people will exhibit in the end time, but he leads the list with “lovers of themselves.” If we are first and foremost in our lives a lover of ourselves, then we are never wrong. We are always first, and, we think, deservedly so! The left lane is ours! We are the direct opposite of “humble.” We could not be courteous if we tried.
Consider verses 2-5 from the Contemporary English Version. Remember that Paul is speaking of the last days, and note how each of these traits relate to courtesy:
People will love only themselves and money. They will be proud, stuck-up, rude, and disobedient to their parents. They will also be ungrateful, godless, heartless and hateful. Their words will be cruel, and they will have no self-control or pity. These people will hate everything that is good. They will be sneaky, reckless, and puffed up with pride. Instead of loving God, they will love pleasure. Even though they will make a show of being religious, their religion won't be real. Don't have anything to do with such people.
Powerful words, indeed. Perhaps the reader thinks that I am making too much of the lack of courtesy around us. Maybe so. But it is something foundational, something basic, to a Christian life. A humble and God-fearing person will naturally be courteous. If we esteem others greater than ourselves, we will be courteous. If we are striving to live in accordance with God's laws, we will be courteous.
So, does this mean that by simply saying “please” and “thank you,” we will be in God's Kingdom? No, it is not quite that easy, but it is a start! Conversely, it is probably safe to say that those who are impolite and rude will not like their reward at all. As the sign says, “Keep Right.”
1 Peter 1:3-13
These verses link the unveiling of Jesus Christ with our future and all that the Father is working out. Verse 3 recalls to us our status as children of God, reminding us that our hope lies in the resurrection from the dead, when we will be composed of spirit, able to inherit the Kingdom (see I Corinthians 15:50). God Himself safeguards this perfect inheritance, which can never be diminished, for all those who are regenerated and endure to the end.
Verse 5 reminds us that our salvation will be revealed "in the last time." This gives us reason for great rejoicing, even though various trials may grieve us. Those trials are necessary, Peter tells us in verse 7, so that the genuineness of our faith—the tried and proven character of our faith—may be found when Jesus Christ is unveiled to the entire world (cf. Luke 18:8).
Verse 8 points out the contrast that, at this time, we do not see Him with our eyes because He is still veiled, hidden from the world. His revelation has not yet occurred. Even though we cannot see Him now, we still love Him and can still rejoice because we know that the Father will soon send Him back to this earth. Then, every eye will see Him (Revelation 1:7).
Verse 13 summarizes what we should be doing as a result of this understanding. We need to brace ourselves mentally, and think, plan, and act seriously and circumspectly, setting our hope wholly on the divine favor that the revelation of Jesus Christ will bring to us. For concurrent with the apocalypsis of Christ is the salvation of the saints, both living and dead.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Book of Revelation?
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