Rev. Stewart is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches to the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Northern Ireland. This series is being reprinted with permission from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship website, http://www.cprf.co.uk/ Volume IX, Issues 15 & 16.
Just days before His cross and in the midst of His Olivet discourse on His coming at the fall of Jerusalem and at the end of the world, Christ uttered these famous words: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
By speaking of the heavens and earth as passing away, Christ does not mean that they will be annihilated or cease to exist. Instead the heaven and earth in their present condition and qualities will pass away. This will happen at the return of Christ when the world is purged by fire (II Peter 3). The renewed world or “new heavens and new earth” will result. Earth will still be the same planet only much more beautiful and glorious. It will no longer be a world of sin and death and the curse, for it will be filled with righteousness and the knowledge of God will cover the whole earth (Hab. 2:14).
Man is like the grass of the field which withers and dies. Human houses—no matter what their owners might think—won’t last forever (Ps. 49:11). Cities and empires decline and collapse—think of mighty Babylon! But the heavens and the earth, of all of created reality, are the most permanent and fixed. We take the solid ground underneath us for granted. It is terra firma. Sure it has existed for thousands of years!
But Christ states that God’s Word is more firm, enduring and permanent. One day the heavens and the earth (in their present qualities) will pass away but Christ’s words shall never pass away. The Greek text is emphatic: they shall never never pass away!
But why does Christ make this strong affirmation of the permanence of His words in this context? First, He has been speaking of glorious events which are hard to believe. The gospel will be preached to all nations (Matt. 24:14)! Think how incredible that must have appeared to the few disciples in the first century or the church in the middle ages. Christ will come again bodily in the clouds “with power and great glory” (30) and His angels will gather His elect “from one end of heaven to the other” (31). Could all these wonderful things really happen? Yes, for Christ says that His words shall never pass away.
Also, this promise of the certainty of his words is necessary here, because Christ is predicting events so terrible that we are apt to wonder if they could really happen: wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes; great apostasy, false Christs and false prophets; great tribulation and persecution. The false Christs and false prophets “shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (24). But lest we doubt, Christ tells us that His words are more firm and enduring than the very earth under our feet! So believe it always, and don’t doubt!
Christ’s promise is all the more necessary today since almost 2,000 years have passed and He has not yet returned upon the clouds with His angels (30-31). The church is tempted to sleep and forget about her Lord’s second coming. Moreover, scoffers have arisen who deny Christ’s return (II Peter 3). Often these are renowned professional men with academic qualifications. “Man has come of age. We are scientific. The bodily return of Christ is a myth.” Thus Jesus’ words come to us: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” So hold fast to this truth and do not be shaken by the wisdom of the world for it is “foolishness with God” (I Cor. 3:19).
Jesus does not say, “These my words shall not pass away,” as if He were speaking only of a particular utterance. Instead, He says, “My words [understood inclusively] shall not pass away.” Christ’s words in Matthew 24 on His coming at the fall of Jerusalem and at the end of the world, all of Christ’s words and all of Christ’s words in their context (i.e. the four gospels) shall not pass away. The NT is the words of Christ by His Spirit too. And would God promise to preserve the NT and not also preserve the OT? Thus Jesus here assures us of the preservation of the complete Word of God, OT and NT.
Christ’s promise is absolutely trustworthy; no part of God’s Word has passed away. There was no fifth gospel which was lost. The epistle that Paul wrote to the Corinthians before he wrote I Corinthians (I Cor. 5:9) has not come down to us for it was not inspired nor intended for the church of all ages. Similarly Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16) was not God-breathed. The alleged gospels and epistles by various apostles (e.g., Thomas and Andrew) are spurious. It is not the case either that God wanted to tell us more about Christ’s childhood or the forty days after His resurrection or Paul’s life after Acts 28, but that these have accidentally been lost to us. We have today all that God inspired for our learning for Christ’s words willnever pass away.
And it is not just the ideas of Scripture that are preserved for us. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). And how can we live by every word, if every word is not preserved? Beloved, every word of God is preserved according to Christ’s promise. Feed on these words for this is your life!