New Testament Lesson 21 (JS-Matt.; Matt. 24; Mark 12–13; Luke 21)

INTRODUCTION

God’s Foreknowledge of Events

● One of God’s powers enables him to know the end from the beginning. Knowing all that is coming, he is able to use this knowledge to help those of his children who are willing to listen to him (Abraham 2:8; Words of Mormon 1:7).

● The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The great Jehovah contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth, pertaining to the plan of salvation, before it rolled into existence . . . ; the past, the present, and the future were and are, with Him, one eternal ‘now’. . . . He comprehended the Fall of man, and his redemption; He knew the plan of salvation and pointed it out; He was acquainted with the situation of all nations and with their destiny.”1

Why Does the Lord Provide Signs?

The Parable of the Fig Tree explains their purpose (JS-Matthew 1:37–39).

● They are also explained elsewhere in scripture:

— They can give us hope when we see them happening (D&C 45:35–39).
— When these things happen we will remember the prophecies (Helaman 16:5).
— That we might have cause to rejoice in the midst of difficulties (2 Nephi 11:8).
— During suffering we can look forward with hope (John 16:19–22).

The Disciples Asked Two Important Questions

● After denouncing the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, Jesus left the temple.

● As he and his disciples viewed the buildings of the temple he made a startling prophetic statement: Not one stone will be left upon another (JS-Matthew 1–3).

● Some of his disciples then accompanied him to the Mount of Olives (JS-Matthew 4).

● The disciples then asked him two questions:

1. ”Tell us when shall these things be?”
2. ”What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?”

Modern Clarifications of Jesus’ Answers

● In 1830, the Lord directed Joseph Smith to make a new translation of the Bible (D&C 35:18–20; D&C 42:56–58; D&C 45:60–61, 72–73). His inspired revision of Matthew 24, once known as Joseph Smith 1, is now known as Joseph Smith-Matthew and abbreviated JS-M. It provides details and clarifications that are missing from the Gospel of Matthew.

● As part of his new translation of the bible, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation that repeated and clarified prophecies given to the ancient disciples (D&C 45:15–55).

THE FOURTH DAY (WEDNESDAY)

The events of this week’s lesson took place during the final week of Jesus’ mortal life. These teaching were given on the fourth day of the week: Wednesday.

Jesus Laments over Jerusalem

● According to tradition, he was on the Mount of Olives when he said these things (Matthew 23:37–39). He was opposite a point in the walls surrounding Jerusalem a few yards south of the Gate Beautiful (Luke 13:34–35; 19:41–33). From this spot one may behold a beautiful view of that historic city.

● Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained why Jesus wept for Jerusalem:
— Jerusalem was a city of depravity—a “spiritual Sodom” and like “Egypt” (Revelation 11:8).
— Jerusalem was doomed spiritually and would soon to be desolated. (Luke 19:41–44).
— Jerusalem was the site of the temple, home of the prophets, and the city of our Lord’s ministry.
— Jerusalem crucified the Son of God—“the more wicked part of the world,” for “there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God” (2 Nephi 10:3).
— Jerusalem is the future world capital and the center from which “the word of the Lord” shall go unto all people. (Isaiah 2:3).
— “Truly, Jerusalem’s history is like that of no other place; and truly Jesus, with cause, wept because of the rebellion of her children.”2

EVENTS FULFILLED DURING THE APOSTLES’ LIFETIMES

Prophecies of Deceit and Persecution

False prophets and messiahs (JS-Matthew 5–6, 9). The false christs included Simon Magus, Menander, Dositheus, and others. There were also false teachers within the Church, preaching damnable heresies that led many of the early Saints to apostatize from the faith.

Persecution (JS-Matthew 7). Apostles were put in prison (Acts 5:18); Stephen was stoned (Acts 7:54–60); Herod ordered James, the son of Zebedee, killed (Acts 12:1, 2). The Jews not only persecuted those who believed in Christ, but zealously tried to influence the Romans to oppose the Christian movement also.

Disloyalty (JS-Matthew 8).

● Abundant iniquity (JS-Matthew 10).

Human compassion will fail as love waxes cold (JS-Matthew 10–11).

Prophecies of Jerusalem’s Destruction

An Abomination of Desolation will come upon Jerusalem (JS-Matthew 12). This will be similar to the previous Abomination of Desolation that was visited upon the Jews when the Babylonians invaded many centuries previous.

The Saints will have to “stand in holy places” to be protected (JS-Matthew 12).

— The Lord has given similar counsel in our day (D&C 87:8; 101:22; 133:14–15). President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Holy men and holy women stand in holy places, and these holy places include our temples, our chapels, our homes, and the stakes of Zion, which are, as the Lord declares, ‘for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth’ (D&C 115:6)”3

The Saints will need to abandon the city (JS-Matthew 13–17).

— It was important that they not return to their homes once they had fled (Luke 9:62). Although many Jews did not believe their great city and temple could be destroyed, the Lord’s prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70. Believing that the Messiah would come and help them in battle, the Jews revolted against the Romans in AD 66. Four years later the Romans destroyed the entire city. Those who listened to the Savior and fled into the mountains were spared. Those who didn’t were scattered & destroyed.

— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Eusebius, an early Christian historian, said that the Christians living in Jerusalem were advised by revelation to flee from the city and go to Pella, a city across the Jordan River and up toward the Sea of Galilee.”4

● The prophecies of Daniel concerning these events (Daniel 9:26–27; 11:31; 12:11).

● The Lord’s characterization of these difficulties (JS-Matt. 1:18–20).

EVENTS TO BE FULFILLED IN THE LATTER DAYS

Signs to Precede the Lord’s Coming

● The Lord next provided a transition between earlier events and those that will accompany the Second Coming (JS-Matthew 21). Repeatedly, the Lord says, “And again . . . “ to indicate reoccurring signs.

False christs and false prophets (JS-Matthew 22). President Harold B. Lee said, “The Prophet Joseph Smith, in his inspired version of that same scripture, added these significant words: `who are the elect, according to the covenant.’ This is what has been said, in effect, in this conference: Unless every member of this Church gains for himself an unshakable testimony of the divinity of this Church, he will be among those who will be deceived in this day when the `elect according to the covenant’ are going to be tried and tested. Only those will survive who have gained for themselves that testimony.”5

Wars and rumors (news) about wars (JS-Matthew 23, 28).

— The Lord taught that we should “be not troubled” by wars and rumors of war (D&C 6:34; 45:34–35).

False rumors about Christ’s coming (JS-Matthew 24–26).

— The Parable of the Carcass and the Eagles (JS-Matthew 27). These prophecies are being fulfilled today. Missionary work is increasing, and the gospel is being taught and accepted in more and more places around the world.

Natural disasters, affecting many, even the righteous (JS-Matthew 29; D&C 63:34).

Moral degeneration, as in the days of Noah (JS-Matthew 30, 42).

The gospel will be preached in all the world (JS-Matthew 31).

Another Abomination of Desolation in Jerusalem (JS-Matthew 32). For the third time in history, Jerusalem will be utterly wasted (see details under Doctrinal Insights below).

Darkening of the sun and moon (JS-Matthew 33).

Every word of prophecy will be fulfilled (JS-Matthew 34–35).

— The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The coming of the Son of Man never will be—never can be till the judgments spoken of for this hour are poured out: which judgments are commenced. Paul says, ‘Ye are the children of the light, and not of the darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief in the night.’ It is not the design of the Almighty to come upon the earth and crush it and grind it to powder, but he will reveal it to His servants the prophets.”6

The sign of the Son of Man will be seen by all people (JS-Matthew 36; D&C 88:93).

— The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Then will appear one grand sign of the Son of Man in heaven. But what will the world do? They will say it is a planet, a comet, etc. But the Son of man will come as the sign of the coming of the Son of Man, which will be as the light of the morning cometh out of the east.”7

Those who know and love the scriptures will not be deceived (JS-Matthew 37). President Harold B. Lee said, “If our people want to be safely guided during these troublous times of deceit and false rumors, they must follow their leaders and seek for the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord in order to avoid falling pray to clever manipulators who, with cunning sophistry, seek to draw attention and gain a following to serve their own notions and sometimes sinister motives.”8

No Man Knows the Precise Hour

The Parable of the Fig Tree (JS-Matthew 38–40) invites us to watch for the signs of the Second Coming.

● Yet, most people will be surprised and unprepared, as in the days of Noah (JS-Matthew 40–43).
— “Watch therefore, for ye know not at what hour. . . .” (JS-Matthew 44–46).
— “Be ye therefore ready. . . .” (JS-Matthew 47–48).
— The Parable of the Faithful Servant (JS-Matthew 49–54).

That which will happen to the righteous when the Savior comes again (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18; D&C 88:96–98).

● The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:4–9). Elder David A. Bednar taught:

Consider the oil to be the oil of conversion. . . .

“Were the five wise virgins selfish and unwilling to share, or were they indicating correctly that the oil of conversion cannot be borrowed? Can the spiritual strength that results from consistent obedience to the commandments be given to another person? Can the knowledge obtained through diligent study and pondering of the scriptures be conveyed to one who is in need? Can the peace the gospel brings to a faithful Latter-day Saint be transferred to an individual experiencing adversity or great challenge? The clear answer to each of these questions is no.

“As the wise virgins emphasized properly, each of us must ‘buy for ourselves.’ These inspired women were not describing a business transaction; rather, they were emphasizing our individual responsibility to keep our lamp of testimony burning and to obtain an ample supply of the oil of conversion. This precious oil is acquired one drop at a time—‘line upon line [and] precept upon precept’ (2 Nephi 28:30), patiently and persistently.”9

Giving An Account of Ourselves at the Final Judgment

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30)

— In the Lord’s day a “talent” was a piece of money. Thus, He was using a financial metaphor to teach concerning what we must do with the blessings that God gives to us. No matter how many or how few they might be, He expects us to improve on them and to use them for the benefit and blessing of others.

— As we contemplate this parable, it would be well for us to consider the blessings and talents that the Lord has given us. What are your talents? What have you done with them? These are questions we might well be expected to answer at the final judgment day.

The Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31–46)

— On the day of judgment, the Lord will divide his people into categories represented by the “sheep” and “goats” of this parable.

— The “sheep” will be those who have given love and service to “the least” of our Father’s children. Of these, the Lord said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, yet have done it unto me” (v. 40).

— Thus we can see that our standing before our God is not measured by our wealth or our status on earth, either in the world or in the Church. It is measured by our charity—the one essential character trait of all those who will dwell with our Heavenly Father in eternity.

The Widows’ Mite (Mark 12: 41–44; Luke 21:1–4)

— As the Savior and His disciples stood at the temple watching those who came to cast in their donations to the “temple fund” of that day, they observed a poor widow who cast in only two mites.

— Jesus commented that “this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury” (Matt. 12:43). This was because she had cast in everything that she had, which wasn’t much (Luke 21:4). The key to this teaching is sacrifice. It’s not how much we contribute but whether we are truly making a sacrifice in doing so.

DOCTRINAL INSIGHTS

What are some doctrinal insights we receive from this week’s lesson material? Consider discussing one or more of these with your class.

The Lord is in control of all these events. Elder M. Russell Ballard said:

“Although the prophecies tell us that these things are to take place, more and more people are expressing great alarm at what appears to be an acceleration of worldwide calamity . . . Admittedly we have ample reason to be deeply concerned because we see no immediate answers to the seemingly unsolvable problems confronting the human family. But regardless of this dark picture, which will ultimately get worse, we must never allow ourselves to give up hope! . . .

“The Lord is in control. He knows the end from the beginning. He has given us adequate instruction that, if followed, will see us safely through any crisis. His purposes will be fulfilled, and someday we will understand the eternal reasons for all of these events. Therefore, today we must be careful not to overreact, nor should we be caught up in extreme preparations; but what we must do is keep the commandments of God and never lose hope!

“But where do we find hope in the midst of such turmoil and catastrophe? Quite simply, our one hope for spiritual safety during these turbulent times is to turn our minds and our hearts to Jesus Christ. . . . Armed with the shield of faith, we can overcome many of our daily challenges and overpower our greatest weaknesses and fears, knowing that if we do our best to keep the commandments of God, come what may, we will be all right.”10

The Saints will not entirely escape these calamities. (JS–Matthew 29).

The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I explained concerning the coming of the Son of Man; also that it is a false idea that the Saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and ‘the righteous shall hardly escape;’ still many of the Saints will escape, for the just shall live by faith; yet many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God. So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death; and the Savior has said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’”11

Another Abomination of Desolation in Jerusalem (JS-Matthew 32). On two previous occasions—the invasion of the Babylonians in Old Testament times and the invasion of the Romans in New Testament times—the city of Jerusalem has been utterly wasted with much fire, suffering, and bloodshed. The city as entirely destroyed, which leads to the description of an “abomination of desolation.” The Lord here prophesies that yet a third abomination of desolation will occur at His Second Coming.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “All the desolation and waste which attended the former destruction of Jerusalem is but prelude to the coming siege. Titus and his legions slaughtered 1,100,000 Jews, destroyed the temple, and ploughed the city. In the coming re-enactment of this ‘abomination of desolation,’ the whole world will be at war, Jerusalem will be the center of the conflict, every modern weapon will be used, and in the midst of the siege the Son of Man shall come, setting his foot upon the mount of Olives and fighting the battle of his Saints. (Zech. 12:1–9).”12

The principle of sacrifice in donating to or serving in the Church. During the time that I served as a Bishop in the Church, presided over a ward of very young couples and families. This was during a time when it was common practice to “assess” each ward family for their contribution to ward budgets. This was in addition to their donations for tithing, fast offerings, and building and temple funds. For these young families, this represented a nearly impossible standard. After much prayer, I determined not to “assess” anyone anything. Instead, I asked them to donate what they felt they could. “But whatever that amount may be,” I told them, “it needs to be a sacrifice. You should not give more than you have, nor should you borrow to do this. Simply make a sacrifice within your means, and the Lord will bless you.” It is interesting to note that our ward led the stake in the total amount of these donations. The principle is sacrifice, not the amount given, as the widow with her mites demonstrated in the Savior’s day.

Notes:

1.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 220.
2.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 1: 626.
3.  “Prepare Yourselves for the Great Day of the Lord,” BYU 1981 Fireside and Devotional Speeches, 68.
4.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:644–645.
5.  In Conference Report, October 1950, 129.
6.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 286–287.
7.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 286–287.
8.  Address to the priesthood Conference, October 1972; Ensign, Jan. 1973, 105–106.
9.  “Converted unto the Lord,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 109.
10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1992, 41–43; or Ensign, Nov. 1992, 31–32.
11.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 162–163.
12. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:659–660.

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