For years, the Church of God has recognized that Christ's Olivet Prophecy in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 is the foundational prophecy in the Bible. It sets the stage for everything in the Bible in terms of prophecy. What Jesus says there provides the basis for unlocking the secrets of Bible prophecy in places like Revelation and anywhere, really in the Old Testament. It all has to agree with what Christ gives there as the basis, the foundation, of prophecy.
For instance, just as an example, the first several verses of the Olivet Prophecy clarifies the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a couple of the other seals of Revelation 6. Jesus also mentions the Abomination of Desolation, and that goes back to Daniel 9 and gives us some keys there for what that is, what it's all about, and when it will occur. When Jesus talks about His return, He highlights the prophecies in Joel 3 about the great signs that happen before that occurs.
So, we can see just by these few examples that Matthew 24 is very important to us in terms of prophecy. But it also establishes some priorities for us now. For instance, in all three versions, there is a heavy emphasis on watching and being ready—that is, being spiritually alert and preparing for the Kingdom of God, because the whole thrust of Jesus' prophecy there is that He is coming back, and we need to be ready for when He returns.
Yet there is another priority mentioned right at the beginning of the prophecy that is paramount for us today:
Matthew 24:3-4 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” [He immediately launches into the Olivet Prophecy:] And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you."
I find it terribly significant that when asked about the end of the age, the first thing out of His mouth is, "Be careful that no one deceives you."
It is clear, especially in verse 5—"for many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many"—that He is talking about religious deception primarily. And then He also talks about it again in verses 11 and 23-26, where He talks about false prophets and false messiahs. He tells us there that they will deceive many, but we are not to believe them.
So, His initial warning—the first thing out of His mouth when talking about prophecy, talking about the end of the age specifically—is, "Don't be deceived." He says, "Guard your minds because there will be a concerted effort to deceive." We know that concerted effort is from Satan the devil. But that is His big, upfront warning—right away; first thing: "Guard your mind. There is going to be an effort out there to make you think the wrong things."
So when Jesus was sitting there with His disciples, and He looked forward in time to the end right before His coming, the most prominent danger that He saw that He thought He should tell them first thing was deception. He saw a flood of falsehood, a miasma of misinformation, a layer of lies, coating everything in the end time. The time of the end would be one of untruth masquerading as truth, propaganda, putting a benevolent face on sin and crime, spin, twisting reality into pretzels. And His people would be smack-dab in the middle of that and have to figure out what is true, what is right, what is good.
And it is not really just in the realm of religion. He was mostly concerned about that. But we see the reality of it today, and we know that this covers everything. You cannot trust your shampoo bottle to tell you the truth about what's inside and what it's going to do. So that is what we face because of the stunning expansion of communication over the past century,
We revel in our cell phones. Some people cannot take their eyes off them. We all have computers, high speed Internet access, cloud storage. We love our email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. We love being able to get here and there through GPS. We love being able to sit down and talk to people far away. Others have instantly downloadable books, newspapers, magazines, movies, television shows, you name it. And of course, we have them permanently on CDs and DVDs and now Blue Ray discs. All these things are always available, always accessible, always on, and they are always adding new information to an already bloated Information Age.
I am going to give you a few stats. These are very current stats off—the Intel website—and I hope they are true. As far as I can tell they are. But this is what happens on the Internet in a minute. That is what they called this graph: "What Happens in an Internet Minute?" Just listen to some of these figures. They are astounding. 639,800 gigabytes of global IP data is transferred, so 640,000 gigabytes of information is transferred. Just in one minute. 20 new people are victims of identity theft. 204 million emails will have been sent in that one minute. 47,000 apps will have been downloaded. People will have listened to or downloaded 61,141 hours of music. They will have looked at 20 million photos. They will have sent 100,000 new tweets. They will have looked at Facebook six million times—six million views. Google will see over two million search queries. 30 hours of video will have been uploaded and 1.3 million videos will have been viewed in that one minute.
They say that next year—2015—if you were to record one minute of all of the video crossing the Internet in that one minute, if you were to record it, it would take you five years to review it. That is how much is going on out there. It is more than we can really comprehend.
So, the amount of information that is out there is astonishing. It is overwhelming. We cannot handle it yet. It is not necessarily a good thing that there is so much information. Much of it is contradictory and confusing. All of it is presented in a biased manner. People cannot present something without putting their bias on it, to make themselves look good or for their own ends. They slant it just a little bit here and there to push whatever it is that will make them look good.
So, we have God saying in Isaiah 5:20—He pronounces a woe on those who turn things inside out and upside down:
Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
People adulterate everything that they touch. Every little bit of information is corrupted somehow.
Just this week took one of those stupid Internet quizzes. It was about grammar. (Thank you, Stacey.) But there was one question about the words "literally" and "figuratively," and this was the one I got wrong because it said there that now there are dictionaries that say that "literally" and "figuratively" can be used interchangeably! That "literally" means "figuratively" and "figuratively" can mean "literally." It was just stupid. They are opposites. One is metaphorical and one is actual. But now people have misused that term so much—literally—they have literally misused that term so much that now "literally" means "figuratively."
So our gargantuan task as Christians at the end of the age is to guard our minds against deception during the greatest time of misinformation and outright lying that the world has ever known. Not an easy task in the least. In fact, our educational system teaches us to trust what we read and what we see and what we hear because an authority says it because you can find it in Time magazine or you can find it in Encyclopedia Britannica, or you can find it here and there. They say you are supposed to believe it. Because of our education, most of us can't discern when somebody uses a logical fallacy in an argument—they put up a straw man or something that makes their point but is actually logically wrong. Most of us do not know history or science or math well enough to catch factual errors when they are presented in some health article or some science article that supports evolution or something like that. We cannot tell whether it is actually true or not. Philosophical arguments and theological arguments just make our heads spin.
So what are we to do? We are the weak, the foolish, the base of the world. God knows that. So He inspired an old man a while back named Herbert Armstrong to give us a caution. And you know what he said time and time and time again? "Stick to the trunk of the tree." He meant, "Hide behind the Bible. Stick to the word of God." That's our gauge for what truly matters to God. That's our gauge for what is actually true.
The bottom line is that we must cling to the truth of God's Word and have our bologna sensors on high alert in this day of deception.