Are you interested in the End Times or the Second Coming of Christ or The Tribulation? This passage of scripture will unveil a lot! Jesus tells about the future, his return and our responsibility to be ready and watchful. Again this is must read material. I’m praying for you as you go through this.
24:1 As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.NRSV Chapter 24 of Matthew is the second part of the fifth and final discourse that began in chapter 23. This chapter contains a conversation between Jesus and his disciples as they left the temple and began their walk back to Bethany where they were spending their nights. A casual remark by a disciple led Jesus to make a startling prophetic statement about the fate of the magnificent temple. The group paused on the Mount of Olives, where they could glance back across the valley toward Jerusalem. Perhaps they watched the sun set behind the ancient city. Jesus and the disciples had just left the temple (this may have been either Tuesday or Wednesday evening of the week before the Crucifixion). This was Jesus’ last visit to the temple area. He would do no more preaching or public teaching.
One of the disciples pointed out to Jesus the temple buildings, remarking on their incredible beauty (Mark 13:1). Although no one knows exactly what the temple looked like, it must have been magnificent, for in its time it was considered one of the architectural wonders of the world. This was not Solomon’s temple, for it had been destroyed by the Babylonians in the seventh century b.c. (2 Kings 25:8-10). This temple had been built by Ezra after the return from exile in the sixth century b.c. (Ezra 6:14-15). Then it had been desecrated by the Seleucids in the second century b.c., reconsecrated by the Maccabees soon afterward, and enormously expanded by Herod the Great after that.
About fifteen years before Jesus was born (around 20 b.c.), Herod the Great had begun a massive reconstruction project to help the Jews remodel and beautify their temple. Herod had no interest in the Jews’ God, but he wanted to stay on friendly terms with his subjects as well as build what he thought would be a lasting monument to his dynasty. Though the Jews disliked Herod, they were very proud of the temple. At this time, the temple was still under construction; Herod’s reconstruction project would not be finished until about a.d. 64 (just a few years before it was destroyed by Rome).
The temple was impressive, covering about one-sixth of the land area of the ancient city of Jerusalem. It was not one building, but a majestic mixture of porches, colonnades, separate small edifices, and courts surrounding the temple proper. Next to the inner temple, where the sacred objects were kept and the sacrifices offered, there was a large area called the Court of the Gentiles (this was where the money changers and merchants had their booths). Outside these courts stretched long porches. Solomon’s porch was 1,562 feet long, and the royal porch was decorated with 160 columns stretching along its 921-foot length. The disciples gazed in wonder at marble pillars 40 feet high, carved from a single solid stone. The temple’s foundation was so solid that it is believed that some of the original footings remain to this day. The Jews were convinced of the permanence of this magnificent structure, not only because of the stability of construction but also because it represented God’s presence among them.
|LIFE APPLICATION – BEHIND APPEARANCES|
|The disciples were awed by the temple complex—so gleaming, so expansive, such a tribute to architecture, construction skills, and engineering talent. But Jesus saw the complex as a symbol of the emptiness of religion without God.|
|We stand in awe of certain structures: the Eiffel Tower, the Capitol in Washington, ancient Greek monuments. They speak of perseverance, ingenuity, and endurance. But Jesus sees the technology we treasure as a passing glimmer. The real truth to history and life lies in God’s revelation of his kingdom. And Jesus’ greatest desire is that we know and believe that truth.|
24:2 Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”NRSV Jesus acknowledged the great buildings but then made a startling statement: This wonder of the world would be completely destroyed. As in the days of the prophet Jeremiah, the destruction of the Jews’ beloved temple would be God’s punishment for turning away from him. Jeremiah had spoken God’s words to the rebellious nation, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals” (Jeremiah 9:11 niv). Jerusalem had been attacked and leveled before. Here Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem and the beautiful temple would again be completely destroyed. This happened only a few years later when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in a.d. 70. The Romans fulfilled Jesus’ words to the letter. After fire raged through the temple, Emperor Titus ordered the leveling of the whole area, so no part of the original walls or buildings remained. Titus considered this as punishment for the Jewish rebellion in A.D. 66.
Gazing at the massive stones, the disciples surely found it difficult to believe that not one of the stones would be left on top of another. Because the temple symbolized God’s presence among them, the Jews would be horrified to see it destroyed.
The purpose of Jesus’ words was both theological and prophetic. The sovereign judgment of God was to fall upon his unbelieving people; and just as Jesus as Lord of the temple had proclaimed its purification, here he predicted its destruction.
24:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”NIV The Mount of Olives rises above Jerusalem to the east. As Jesus was leaving the city to return to Bethany for the night, he would have crossed the Kidron Valley, and then he would have headed up the slope of the Mount of Olives. From this slope, he and the disciples could look down into the city and see the temple. The prophet Zechariah predicted that the Messiah would stand on that very mountain when he returned to set up his eternal kingdom (Zechariah 14:1-4). This place evoked questions about the future, so it was natural for the disciples to ask Jesus when he would come in power and what they could expect at that time.
Mark records that the inner circle of disciples (this time with Andrew added—Andrew was Peter’s brother; James and John were brothers) came to Jesus privately (Mark 13:3-4). Matthew did not distinguish the four. Probably all the disciples heard Jesus’ answer. They wanted to understand what Jesus meant and when this terrible destruction would happen.
The disciples’ question had two parts. They wanted to know (1) When will this happen? (referring to the destruction of the temple) and (2) What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? The second part of their question referred to the Messiah’s reign in God’s kingdom. In the disciples’ minds, one event would occur immediately after the other. They expected the Messiah to inaugurate his kingdom soon, and they wanted to know the sign that it was about to arrive.
Jesus gave them a prophetic picture of that time, including events leading up to it. He also talked about far future events connected with the last days and his second coming when he would return to earth to judge all people. As many of the Old Testament prophets had done, Jesus predicted both near and distant events without putting them in chronological order. The coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple only foreshadowed a future destruction that would precede Christ’s return.
In order to understand the prophecy, picture yourself standing on a mountaintop looking across a distant mountain range. The mountain peaks appear to be next to each other, while in reality they are miles apart because of the valleys in between. Jesus’ prophecy pictured “mountain peaks” (significant future events), looking to us as though they would occur together, when, in reality, they may be thousands of years apart. Some of the disciples lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, while some of the events Jesus spoke of have not yet—to this day—occurred. But the truth of Jesus’ prediction regarding Jerusalem assured the disciples (and assures us) that everything else he predicted will also happen.
There are three primary views on the Olivet discourse:
- All of chapter 24 describes both the destruction of Jerusalem and the last days before Christ’s return;
- The first part of the prophecy deals only with the destruction of Jerusalem (24:4-35), and then the last part switches to the return of Christ (24:36-51);
- All of chapter 24 gives a prediction only of the destruction of Jerusalem; it says nothing about the return of Christ.
The first view seems most likely: We may interpret the Olivet discourse, as with most Old Testament prophecies, as having a double fulfillment. Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the end times. The references are interwoven so that themes from both the fall of Jerusalem and the Second Coming occur as one expression of God’s judgment on unbelievers and deliverance for believers. However, in the first part of the prophecy, the destruction of Jerusalem is more prominent; in the second part, the last days before Christ’s return are more prominent.
24:4-5 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.”NRSV Jesus first answered the disciples’ second question about the end of the age and the coming kingdom. The disciples wondered what sign would reveal these things, but Jesus warned them against false messiahs: Beware that no one leads you astray. “Beware” stresses watchfulness and vigilance. Jesus knew that if the disciples looked for signs, they would be susceptible to deception. There would be many false prophets (24:24) with counterfeit signs of spiritual power and authority. Jesus predicted that before his return, many believers would be misled by false teachers coming in his name—that is, claiming to be Christ. Second Thessalonians 2:3-10, which describes a man of lawlessness who will lead people astray, reflects the teaching of this passage. Throughout the first century, many such deceivers arose (see Acts 5:36-37; 8:9-11; 2 Timothy 3; 2 Peter 2; 1 John 2:18; 4:1-3).
In every generation since Christ’s resurrection, individuals have claimed to be the Christ or to know exactly when Jesus would return (remember Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, and David Koresh?). Obviously, no one else has been Christ, and no one has been right about the timing of the Second Coming. According to Scripture, the one clear sign of Christ’s return will be his unmistakable appearance in the clouds, which will be seen by all people (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7). In other words, believers never have to wonder whether a certain person is the Messiah. When Jesus returns, believers will know beyond a doubt because he will be evident to all.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SIGNS OF THE TIMES|
|The disciples asked Jesus for the sign of his coming and of the end of the age. Jesus’ first response was “Watch out that no one deceives you.” The fact is that whenever we look for signs, we become very susceptible to deception. Many “false prophets” (24:11, 24) have counterfeit signs of spiritual power and authority. The only sure way to keep from being deceived is to focus on Christ and his words. Don’t look for special signs, and don’t spend time looking at other people. Look at Christ.|
24:6-8 “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”NIV In these words, Jesus prepared his followers for a difficult passage of time before his return. A key phrase in this verse comforts all believers: see to it that you are not alarmed. As political situations worsen, as wars ravage the world, Jesus’ disciples and all his followers should not be afraid that somehow God has lost control or that his promises will not come true. Just as false messiahs and religious frauds come and go, so do political and natural crises. Even when the world seems to be in chaos, God is in control. Such things must happen as part of God’s divine plan. However, the wars and rumors of wars do not signal the end (the end of the world). The disciples probably assumed that the temple would only be destroyed at the end of the age as part of God establishing his new kingdom. Jesus taught that horrible events would happen, but the end is still to come.
The nations at war and the earth’s turmoil, revealed in increased earthquakes and famines, would also not signal the end. Instead, this will be but the beginning of birth pains; in other words, these will be preliminary sufferings. Jesus’ words indicated to the eager disciples that there would be a span of time before the end of the age and the coming kingdom—it would not come that week, or immediately upon Jesus’ resurrection, or even right after the destruction of Jerusalem. First, much suffering would occur as a part of life on earth, while history would move toward a single, final, God-planned goal—the creation of a new earth and a new kingdom (Revelation 21:1-3). The description of sufferings as “birth pains” is a typical biblical metaphor for the beginning of prekingdom travail and suffering (see Isaiah 13:6-8; 26:16-18; Jeremiah 4:31; 22:20-23; Hosea 13:9-13).
While we must never trivialize suffering, all these troubles must not make Christians alarmed. Because Jesus has warned us about them, we know that they must precede the arrival of God’s glorious kingdom. Preachers on prophecy who count earthquakes in order to determine when Jesus will return have not read Jesus’ words carefully. Everything will happen according to God’s divine plan. Our responsibility is to be prepared, to endure, and to continue to preach the Good News to all nations (24:14).
24:9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”NIV Jesus personalized his prophecy by explaining that the disciples themselves would face severe persecution; thus, they must be on their guard in order to stay true to the faith. Mark’s account is longer; Matthew added a repetition of the danger of apostasy previously stated in 24:4 and reiterated the theme of persecution as a necessary aspect of discipleship (see 5:10; 10:16). As the early church began to grow, most of the disciples experienced this kind of persecution. Luke recorded many of these persecutions in the book of Acts. Being “handed over to be persecuted” refers to the local Jewish courts held in the synagogues (smaller versions of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem). Jesus didn’t say it, but the disciples would learn that loyalty to Christ meant separation from Judaism. Two of the disciples listening to Jesus (Peter and John, Mark 13:3) faced the Sanhedrin not long after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 4:1-12). At that time, they certainly remembered these words of Jesus. Because of the disciples’ belief in Jesus, the Jews would denounce them as traitors or heretics and pass down the sentence right in their synagogue. They even would condemn Christians to death.
|LIFE APPLICATION – REMEMBER|
|You may not be facing intense persecution now, but Christians in other parts of the world are. As you hear about Christians suffering for their faith, remember that they are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for them. Ask God what you can do to help them in their troubles. When one part suffers, the whole body suffers. But when all the parts join together to ease the suffering, the whole body benefits (1 Corinthians 12:26).|
Not only would the disciples face hatred from religious and civil leaders and their own families, they would be hated by all nations. For a Jew to convert to Christianity would soon become very dangerous because it would lead to hatred and ostracism. And Jesus’ words looked forward to a time when hatred of Christians would grow. As believers, we should not be shocked or surprised that the world hates us (see John 15:18-21). On the other hand, we shouldn’t be overly suspicious or totally withdraw from the world (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-11). To believe in Jesus and stay strong to the end (24:13) will take perseverance because our faith will be challenged and opposed. Severe trials will sift true Christians from phony believers.
|LIFE APPLICATION – IT GETS MESSY|
|If you’re the type who likes harmony in all relationships, you’ve got problems ahead. Jesus indicates in many ways how problematic relationships will get before he comes again.|
|People you considered Christian brothers will turn against you.|
|Admiration for your faith will give way to tolerance, then to spite, then to hate.|
|The justice system you believed would protect you will decide to oppress you, then threaten you, and then exterminate you.|
|What’s to be done? Stay faithful to Jesus, loyal to all who call him Lord, true to your calling as best you understand it. Stay alert and focused. God’s Word is truth, and God will see you through.|
24:10 “Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another.”NRSV Jesus warned that such severe persecution may lead to the defection (falling away) of some members (the verb translated “fall away” is also used in 5:29-30; 13:21; 18:6-9). It will lead some to betray one another and hate one another. The fear and persecution will be so intense that people will betray and hate in order to keep themselves safe. It will not be popular or respectable to be a Christian. It will be dangerous.
24:11 “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”NRSV Not only will believers face defection and betrayal from within the body, but also false prophets will arise and their teachings will lead many astray. The Old Testament frequently mentions false prophets (see 2 Kings 3:13; Isaiah 44:25; Jeremiah 23:16; Ezekiel 13:2, 3; Micah 3:5; Zechariah 13:2). False prophets claimed to receive messages from God, but they said what the people wanted to hear, even when the nation was not following God. We have false prophets today, popular leaders who tell people what they want to hear—such as “God wants you to be rich,” “Do whatever your desires tell you,” or “There is no such thing as sin or hell.” Jesus said false teachers would come, and he warned his disciples, as he warns us, not to listen to their dangerous words. Second Thessalonians 2:3 mentions “the rebellion” (or the apostasy) when false teachers will use the persecution to influence others to lose hope in the Second Coming or even to abandon their profession of faith.
|LIFE APPLICATION – THE FIRST DECEPTION|
|Truth has many competitors. Each presents its case; each tries for its audience; each has its reasons and attractions. Part of our calling as Christians is to explore the competition, to sift truth from error, to discover, and to understand. Jesus warns us not to displace truth with an impostor.|
|To whom do you look when you want the truth? In the face of many claims, what’s your authority? It is the most important quest of your life. How do you know who speaks truth and who speaks a mix of truth and falsehood? Truth matches the teaching of Jesus Christ—the one who is truth. As God’s Son, Jesus has God’s power and authority; thus, his words should be our final authority. If a person’s teaching is true, it will agree with Jesus’ teachings. Test everything you hear against Jesus’ words, and you will not be led astray. Don’t be hasty to seek advice and guidance from merely human sources and thereby neglect Christ’s message.|
24:12 “And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.”NRSV In this context, this lawlessness (also translated “wickedness”) will bring judgment to the rebels. It is a way of life totally rejecting God’s law. (The Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 8 is called “the man of lawlessness.”) False teaching and loose morals bring a particularly destructive disease—the loss of true love for God and others. Love grows cold when sin turns our focus on ourselves and our desires.
|LIFE APPLICATION – GREAT TRIBULATION|
|Is tribulation to be a short period of intense persecution somewhere in the future, or what? The debate over the time of the Tribulation is a tribute to the church’s desire to understand Jesus’ words clearly. While debaters hash out the meaning and implications of terms, we have to live as committed believers.|
|Clearly, some Christians in some parts of the world face intense and life-threatening persecution. Vicious reprisals against entire populations (such as the war in Rwanda) and ongoing, meaningless carnage (such as Liberia’s and Bosnia’s civil wars) have resulted in the deaths of many believers, some of whom sought refuge in churches and were killed while praying. For these people, great tribulation struck during their lifetimes, and they were called to endure.|
|In the comfortable and stable West, where religious freedom is written into the fabric of our laws, we cannot imagine such a fate. But impossible things have a way of turning out, and Jesus warns against spiritual unpreparedness. We must be steadfast in our faith, remaining loyal to Christ and to God’s truth. We must reject the temptation to rebellion and lawlessness. Above all, we must not let our love for God turn cold.|
24:13 “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”NRSV Only Jesus’ faithful followers will enter God’s kingdom. The stress in this verse is not on endurance, but on salvation; the verse offers both a promise and a warning. “The end” refers to the consummation of the kingdom at Christ’s return. This became a precious promise to believers who were struggling during intense persecution throughout the history of the church.
Enduring to the end does not earn salvation for us; it marks us as already saved. The assurance of our salvation will keep us going through times of persecution. While some will suffer and some will die, none of Jesus’ followers will suffer spiritual or eternal loss.
|LIFE APPLICATION – STAND FIRM|
|Jesus predicted that his followers would be severely persecuted by those who hated what he stood for. In terrible persecutions, however, they could have hope, knowing that salvation was theirs. Times of trial serve to sift true believers from false ones. When you are pressured to give up and turn your back on Christ, don’t do it. Remember the benefits of standing firm, and continue to live for Christ.|
24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”NKJV Jesus said that before his return, the gospel of the kingdom (the message of salvation) would be preached throughout the world. Some have misconstrued Jesus’ predictive prophecy; it does not necessarily mean that every last tribe must hear the gospel before Christ returns. But this was the disciples’ mission—and it is ours. Jesus talked about the end times and final judgment to emphasize to his followers the urgency of spreading the Good News of salvation to everyone. Although persecution is inevitable, Jesus’ followers must never give up in their mission to preach the Good News to all the nations and to get the Word of God to every language group. Jesus predicted a great missionary expansion to all the world before he would return.
By the time Matthew’s readers would hear these words, Jesus’ prediction had already begun to be fulfilled. Reaching all the nations occurred at Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11) and was spreading to all the world (Romans 1:5, 8; 15:19; Colossians 1:6, 23; 1 Timothy 3:16).
24:15-16 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”NIV Jesus warned against seeking signs, but as a final part of his answer to the disciples’ second question (24:3), he gave them the ultimate event that would signal coming destruction. The “abomination that causes desolation” (also translated “desolating sacrilege”) refers to the desecration of the temple by God’s enemies. The phrase “let the reader understand” was a sort of code. A more precise explanation may have been dangerous for the believers if the letter were to fall into the wrong hands, so Matthew urged his readers to understand Jesus’ words in light of the prophecy from the Old Testament prophet Daniel (see Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). The “abomination that causes desolation” refers to pagan idolatry and sacrifice (see Deuteronomy 29:16-18; 2 Kings 16:3-4; 23:12-14). The “abomination” (pagan idolatry) that would occur in the temple itself would cause the temple to be desolated and abandoned.
The first fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy occurred in 168 b.c. by Antiochus Epiphanes when he sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the sacred temple altar and made Judaism an outlaw religion, punishable by death. This incited the Maccabean wars.
The second fulfillment occurred when Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple (24:2) came true. In just a few years (a.d. 70), the Roman army would destroy Jerusalem and desecrate the temple. Matthew’s Jewish audience, under Roman oppression for many years, understood the sacrilege that would occur. The Roman army was notorious for its disregard for the religious life and freedom of the peoples it conquered.
Based on 24:21, the third fulfillment is yet to come. Jesus’ words look forward to the end times and to the Antichrist. In Mark’s Gospel, the Greek reads, “the desolating sacrilege set up where he should not be” (Mark 13:14). In the end times, the Antichrist will commit the ultimate sacrilege by setting up an image of himself in the temple and ordering everyone to worship it (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:14-15).
Many of Jesus’ followers would live during the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in a.d. 70. Jesus warned his followers to get out of Jerusalem and Judea and to flee to the mountains across the Jordan River when they saw the temple being profaned. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that from a.d. 66, Jewish Zealots clashed with the Romans. Many people realized that rebellion would bring the wrath of the Empire, so they fled to Pella, a town located in the mountains across the Jordan River. As Jesus had said, this proved to be their protection, for when the Roman army swept in, the nation and its capital city were destroyed.
24:17-20 “The one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath.”NRSV There is undoubtedly a dual reference both to the historical present and to the distant future. First, this section prophesied the profaning of the temple by the Roman armies. The Jewish historian Josephus witnessed these very events and wrote about them in great detail in his Antiquities (13.140). Josephus believed that it fulfilled a prophecy regarding the desecration of the temple by Jews (Daniel 9:27). Just before the Roman victory in a.d. 70, the army of Jewish Zealots, driven back into Jerusalem, took over the temple and desecrated it with their presence and their actions. The flight with haste, then, may focus on going to the mountains. The problem with fleeing in winter was the swollen rivers that would make passage difficult across the usually small streams, as well as across the Jordan River, as Jews made their way out of Judea. The reference to the housetop points to the construction of homes where a flat roof would be used like a family room. People would sit on their housetops and work or converse; in the evening, they would enjoy the cooler air on the roof. Jesus told them to get away immediately (using the outside staircase), not worrying about their possessions.
The destruction of the temple would also be a sign pointing to the final desecration that precedes the second coming of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:4). They could be fleeing the judgment of God that would fall upon the land of Judea, or fleeing from the Antichrist.
During this terrible event, the people were to leave immediately, not taking time to pack bags or even to return to the city to get a coat (a most basic necessity). They should leave everything behind when they flee from the coming crisis. Jesus expressed sympathy and concern for those who would have difficulty fleeing because they were pregnant or had small children. Jesus told the disciples to pray that the crisis would not break in winter because that would make it difficult for everyone to get away. Matthew added or on a sabbath for his Jewish audience. The Sabbath law stated that a person could not go more than two thousand cubits (1,050 yards). They should pray for nothing to hinder their flight. These people literally would be running for their lives.
24:21 “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.”NIV Jesus gave this warning to get out quickly for then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world. The prophet Daniel wrote, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered” (Daniel 12:1 niv). Great suffering is in store for God’s people throughout the years ahead. This way of describing the future is also used by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 30:7). The time would be evil and filled with suffering. This language may sound like an exaggeration, but it is not unusual in Scripture when describing an impending disaster. The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and devastated Judea, one hundred thousand Jews were taken prisoner and another 1.1 million died by slaughter and starvation.
Jesus’ words could be taken as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in a.d. 70, but they are so emphatic and clear that they must point ultimately to the final period of tribulation at the end of the age because, as Jesus stated, nothing like it had ever been seen or would ever be seen again. Yet the great suffering is tempered by a great promise of hope for true believers.
24:22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”NIV Many interpreters conclude that Jesus, talking about the end times, was telescoping near-future and far-future events, as the Old Testament prophets had done. Many of these persecutions have already occurred; more are yet to come. While a certain amount of persecution happened in the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus may also have envisioned the persecution (tribulation) of believers throughout the subsequent years. The persecution will be so severe that those days had to be cut short—that is, if they did not have a specific ending time, no one would survive. This refers to physical survival (as opposed to 24:13, which speaks of spiritual survival). The time would be cut short for the sake of the elect, God’s chosen people. The shortening of the time will limit their duration so that the destruction will not wipe out God’s people and thus their mission. God is ultimately in charge of history and will not allow evil to exceed the bounds he has set. Jesus had predicted the Cross for himself; here he was predicting persecution, death, and resurrection for his disciples.
There are three main views regarding the Tribulation, and each view interprets this verse differently:
- Pretribulationism believes that the “elect” will be Jews who will have returned to the Lord in a national revival and will join the believers (taken to heaven first) at the end of three and a half years.
- Midtribulationism believes that the “elect” refers to the church (all true Christians, both Jews and Gentiles). Jesus will return in the middle of the Tribulation (mid-Tribulation rapture), as recorded in Revelation 11:7-14, where the Tribulation seems to be interrupted after “three and a half days” or halfway through the tribulation period.
- Posttribulationism believes that the “elect” will be the church (all true Christians, both Jews and Gentiles) who will persevere throughout the tribulation period, which will be ended by God for their sakes (their rapture would occur at the end, see Revelation 19).
Who are the “elect”? In the Old Testament, “elect” refers to Israel, particularly those who are faithful to God (see 1 Chronicles 16:13; Psalm 105:43; Isaiah 65:9, 15; Daniel 12:1). In the New Testament, “elect” refers to the church—all believers (Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 1:1-2). In this verse, the words “elect” and “chosen” refer not to Old Testament Jews but to all faithful believers, whether Jews or Gentiles. Paul wrote, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. . . . Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30 nrsv). Some believe that these verses mean that before the beginning of the world, God chose certain people to receive his gift of salvation. Others believe that God foreknew those who would respond to him and upon those he set his mark (predestined). What is clear is that God’s purpose for people was not an afterthought; it was settled before the foundation of the world.
When the time of suffering comes, the important point for the disciples and all believers to remember is that God is in control. Persecution will occur, but God knows about it and controls how long it will take place. The main thrust of Jesus’ teaching is to show God’s mercy toward the faithful and to show that God is loving and sovereign. He will not forget his people.
24:23-25 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’—do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand.”NRSV In times of persecution even strong believers will find it difficult to be loyal. They will so much want the Messiah to come that they will grasp any rumor that he has arrived. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Christ has already returned. Religious groups in India teach that certain leaders have been reincarnations (avatars) of Jesus Christ. To keep believers from being deceived by false messiahs, Jesus explained that his return will be unmistakable (24:30); no one will doubt that it is he. If believers have to be told that the Messiah has come, then he hasn’t. Christ’s coming will be obvious to everyone.
Most false messiahs build their following from faithful church attendees who have been led astray. Often the cult leader’s appeal is based on “I am the true way,” “I will fulfill the expectations you have,” or “I will be the power you need.” Church leaders must be alert and prevent weak Christians from being drawn into such cults.
These false leaders will appear and produce great signs and omens. Jesus warned his disciples, as he warns us, not to be swayed by whatever signs and miracles false leaders might produce. These false messiahs will be able to perform great signs designed to convince people that their claims are true. But their “power” will be by trickery or from Satan, not from God. Both false and true prophets can work miracles (see Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 John 4:1-3; Revelation 13:11-18).
Yet will they be so convincing that they might even lead the elect astray (for explanation of “elect,” see 24:22)? Is it possible for Christians to be deceived? Yes, and Jesus pointed out the danger (see also Galatians 3:1). The arguments and proofs from deceivers in the end times will be so convincing that it will be difficult to be faithful. If we are prepared, Jesus says, we can remain faithful. With the Holy Spirit’s help, the elect will not give in and will be able to discern that what the deceivers say is false.
The disciples had been given special knowledge about the coming kingdom, as well as the coming crises and deceptions preceding it. This gave them all the more reason to take note (or “be alert”) so as to be aware of the deceptions. While they might not be taken in, they would be responsible to help keep others from being deceived. Spiritual vigilance is a major theme of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples as he sat on the Mount of Olives. Jesus’ warnings about false teachers still hold true. Upon close examination, it becomes clear that many promises that leaders make don’t agree with God’s message in the Bible. Only a solid foundation in God’s Word can equip us to perceive the errors and distortions in false teaching.
JESUS TELLS ABOUT HIS RETURN / 24:26-35
24:26-27 “So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”NRSV Jesus had already warned his followers “beforehand” that false messiahs and false prophets will come and attempt to lead many astray (24:23-25). Others will think they have found the messiah and will try to convince people by saying that he can be found in a certain place. The “wilderness” refers to prophetic expectation regarding an Elijah-prophet, similar to John the Baptist, who would come out of the wilderness (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 4:5). The “inner rooms” refers to the expectation of a “hidden Messiah” who would appear suddenly, as if emerging from the inner rooms of a large house. Jesus explained that, by contrast, his coming would be as obvious and unmistakable as a flash of lightning bursting across the sky. Lightning may flash in one part of the sky and be seen just as clearly in another part; so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
24:28 “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.”NIV This verse, probably quoting a well-known proverb of the culture, looks to the Second Coming as a time of judgment. Jesus was telling his audience that, just as you know a carcass must be nearby if you see vultures circling overhead, so his coming will be unmistakenly marked by various signs. This illustration may picture an invading army (the Romans in a.d. 70 and the Lord’s army in Revelation 19:17-19) swarming over its prey.
24:29 “Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.”NRSV The phrase “of those days” signaled that Jesus was talking specifically about the end times (see similar wording in the Prophets: Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 3:16, 18; 31:29; Joel 3:1; Zechariah 8:23). After the time of tribulation, nature itself would experience change. As taught in Romans 8 and 2 Peter 3, the entire universe had become involved in humanity’s fallen predicament; thus, the entire universe will be changed when humanity is changed.
The changes in the heavens will be an intended contrast to the pseudo “signs and omens” (24:24) of the false messiahs. There will be a variety of changes—the sun going dark, the moon not being seen, stars falling, heavenly bodies being shaken. These words also recall the words of the prophets (Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:10-11). What Jesus described here, John saw in his vision of the end times recorded in Revelation: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black . . . , the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth. . . . The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up” (Revelation 6:12-14 niv).
Mark 13:24-26 and Matthew 24:29-31 form the heart of the teaching that Jesus’ coming will not occur until after the Tribulation (a time of intense persecution of believers). Those who hold this view believe that Christ will not return until the ultimate destruction has occurred. But the connection of these verses to their Old Testament roots in the prophets seems to connect them more with judgment on the nations and the political powers than on the destruction of the world.
Coming persecutions and natural disasters will cause great sorrow in the world. But when believers see these events happening, they should realize that the return of their Messiah is near and that they can look forward to his reign of justice and peace. Rather than being terrified by what is happening in our world, we should confidently await Christ’s return to bring justice and to restore his people.
|LIFE APPLICATION – COMING . . . COMING . . . COME|
|Well-known speaker Tony Campolo has a famous message titled, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming.” That’s a great summary of the Christian life: a difficult present, but someday Jesus will come to make everything right, to wipe out sin and grief, to bring an eternity of Sundays. From crucifixion comes resurrection; from tribulation comes a wonderful Savior.|
|Let Jesus reign in your heart today. No reason to put him off. You have every reason to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe. My life is yours. And every day that I live, come whatever, I will trust and serve you.”|
|That decision inaugurates a brand-new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Now you are part of the future—now you have a day to look forward to.|
24:30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”NIV The Son of Man will return from the sky, just as he would leave. Although Jesus was still with them, the day would soon come when an angel would tell the disciples, “Men of Galilee . . . why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 niv).
“All the nations of the earth” is an Old Testament metaphor for the universal impact of the Second Coming. The nations of the earth will mourn because unbelievers will suddenly realize that they have chosen the wrong side. (This phrase alludes to Zechariah 12:10-12, which centers on the repentance of Jerusalem.) Here the scene centers on God’s judgment of his enemies. Everything they have scoffed about will be happening, and it will be too late for them.
After the cosmic events recorded in 24:29, all the people on earth will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds. Jesus’ return will be unmistakable; no one will wonder about his identity. The “clouds” are pictured as the Son of Man’s royal chariot, bringing him from heaven to earth in the Second Coming (to the Jews, clouds signified divine presence; see, for example, Exodus 13:21; 19:9; Psalm 97:1-2; Daniel 7:13). Jesus’ second coming will not be as a humble, human carpenter, but as the powerful, glorious, and divine Son of Man. He will arrive to defeat Satan and judge all people, and there will be no doubt as to his identity.
24:31 “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”NKJV Upon his return to earth, Jesus will send His angels out to gather together His elect from the four winds (that is, from all across the world, see also Psalm 50:3-5; Isaiah 43:6; 66:18; Jeremiah 32:37; Ezekiel 34:13; 36:24; 37:9; Daniel 7:2; 8:8; 11:4; Zechariah 2:6). This gathering of the chosen ones signifies the triumphant enthronement of the Son of Man, who will be revealed in all his power and glory. The manifestation of the angels and the gathering of the people will gloriously mark the end of Jesus’ keeping his divine power and authority a secret. Jesus’ second coming marks the core of the Christian hope. The imagery of the great sound of a trumpet would have reminded Matthew’s readers of Isaiah’s prophecy, “on that day a great trumpet will be blown” (Isaiah 27:13 nrsv). The trumpet was used in ancient Israel to gather God’s people for religious purposes, as well as to call them for battle. This final trumpet (see also 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16) will signal the gathering of God’s people. When he comes, the whole world will know that Jesus is Lord, and Christians’ hope and faith will be vindicated.
As in 24:22, three main views of the Tribulation interpret this verse in different ways:
- Pretribulationists would say that this “gathering of the elect” refers to the gathering of Jewish saints (also as in 24:22), not the church. The “rapture” (taking believers to heaven) occurred before the Tribulation and concerned only the church.
- Midtribulationists would say that this verse refers to the rapture and that it identifies both the church and the Jewish saints. This event will occur in the middle of the Tribulation, with the outpouring of God’s wrath on the world occurring in the last half of that period.
- Posttribulationists would say that the rapture and revelation are a single event, and this pictures the only return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. There, as here, he will come to gather his saints (the “elect”) and to judge unbelievers.
The phrase “from one end of heaven to the other” combines two Old Testament expressions, found in Deuteronomy 13:7 and 30:4, “Whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other, . . . even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back” (niv). The wording gives special stress to the concept that none of the elect will be overlooked or forgotten. God won’t lose track of anyone.
24:32-33 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.”NIV Using a parable, Jesus answered the disciples’ question regarding when the events he spoke about would happen (24:3). The disciples, like anyone living in Palestine, knew when summer would come by observing the twigs and leaves of fig trees. The Mount of Olives was known for its fig trees, which were often twenty to thirty feet high. At Passover time, the budding would be just beginning. Jesus and his disciples were probably walking past many fig trees on their way out of Jerusalem as they crossed the Mount of Olives. Fig trees lose their leaves in winter (while most of the other trees in Palestine do not), and they bloom in late spring (many of the other plants bloom in early spring). Jesus chose the fig tree for this peculiarity; since its buds come late, it was a perfect example to picture the delay of the Second Coming. The dry, brittle twigs getting tender with rising sap and the leaves coming out were certain signs that summer was near. Inherent in this process is patient waiting. There is no hurrying the natural cycle of the fig tree. So all believers must patiently await the Second Coming.
In the same way that they could interpret the season by the leaves on trees, so the disciples could know when these significant events would occur. When they saw all these things (referring to the events described in previous verses), they would know that the destruction of Jerusalem would soon follow. Some scholars feel that the phrase “it is near” refers to the coming desecration of the temple. But this interpretation makes too abrupt an interjection in Jesus’ thought. Because Jesus was reassuring the disciples, it makes more sense to interpret “it” as the Son’s second coming. Therefore, this verse means that the second coming of Jesus is both certain and near. The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy would assure the disciples that the other prophecies he had given regarding the end times would also come true.
24:34 “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”NRSV The solemn phrase “truly I tell you” introduces an important truth, an assurance like an oath. There are three views of the meaning of this verse: (1) It refers only to those alive at the time Jesus spoke who still would be alive at the destruction of Jerusalem; (2) it refers to the end times only; (3) it refers both to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end times, the destruction of Jerusalem containing within itself the elements of the final end times.
Jesus singled out this generation using the Greek word genea, which can refer both to those living at a given time as well as to race or lineage (therefore, he would be speaking of the Jewish race). That makes the third view above most likely. Jesus used “generation” here to mean that the events of 24:1-28 would occur initially within the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries. Not that all the problems would stop at the end of their lifetimes, but that all these things would be under way, verifying what Jesus had said. Jesus explained that many of those alive at that time would witness the destruction of Jerusalem. In addition, the Jewish nation would be preserved and remain on earth, so Jews also would witness the end-time events (see also 16:28).
24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”NIV There could be no doubt in the disciples’ minds about the certainty of these prophecies. While heaven and earth as we know them would eventually come to an end, Jesus’ words (including all his teachings during his time on earth) would never pass away into oblivion. They were true and would remain for all eternity.
|LIFE APPLICATION – THEY COME AND GO|
|This chapter opened with the disciples admiring the durability and beauty of the temple. But Jesus countered with a different vision of durability: Only his words endure; only the truth of God survives.|
|History is the story of change, the rise and fall of empires, the coming and going of societies, which, for a time, happened upon some happiness, then floundered upon some folly. What survives all this change?|
|Not temples, not governments, and not even Christian saints (who get sick and die like everyone else). Only God’s Word endures. On that alone we stake everything. God’s promises endure forever, and all who belong to Jesus share in them. Take hope. Jesus alone leads through change to a bright and buoyant future, full of everything good.|
JESUS TELLS ABOUT REMAINING WATCHFUL /24:36-51
24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”NIV While Jesus had given general “signs” to watch for regarding the coming of the end, he clearly explained to the disciples that the exact day or hour was not known by the angels or the Son (Jesus himself). When Jesus said that even he did not know the time of the end, he was affirming his limitations as a human (see Philippians 2:5-8). Of course, God the Father knows the time, and Jesus and the Father are one. But when Jesus became a man, he voluntarily gave up the unlimited use of his divine attributes. On earth, Jesus laid aside his divine prerogatives and submitted to the Father’s will. Thus, only the Father knows exactly when Jesus will return.
The emphasis of this verse is not on Jesus’ lack of knowledge, but rather on the fact that no one knows.
|It is God the Father’s secret to be revealed when he wills. No one can predict by Scripture or science the exact day of the Second Coming. Jesus was teaching that preparation, not calculation, was needed.||Christ designed that the day of his coming should be hid from us, that being in suspense, we might be as it were upon the watch.
It is good that we don’t know exactly when Christ will return. If we knew the precise date, we might be tempted to be lazy in our work for Christ. Worse yet, we might plan to keep sinning and then turn to God right at the end. Heaven should not be our only goal; we have work to do here. And we must keep on doing it until death or until we see the unmistakable return of our Savior.
24:37-39 “For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.”NRSV This verse carries on the theme initiated in 24:36 regarding the unexpected nature of the Second Coming and its connection with the need for vigilance. The first outpouring of God’s judgment upon sinful people in the days of Noah has a natural connection with the final outpouring at the Lord’s return. People will be going about their daily business, just as they were in Noah’s time (Genesis 7:17-24). Just as the flood caught them unawares (and after it was too late) and swept them away in judgment, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (see also 1 Peter 3:20-21).
24:40-42 “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”NKJV To further illustrate the suddenness of his return, Jesus pictured “business as usual” in Palestine—the men out working in the field; the women doing domestic chores such as grinding grain. The Second Coming and the angels’ accomplishment of their task of “gathering the elect” (24:31) will happen so suddenly that in the blink of an eye, one of those people may be taken and the other left. The reason? One was ready and one was not. Because no one except the Father knows when Christ will return (the “you” in “you do not know” points to every one of us), Jesus explained that believers must be on guard and alert, constantly ready for him to come at any time. Christ’s second coming will be swift and sudden. There will be no time for last-minute repenting or bargaining. The choice that people have already made will determine their eternal destiny.
Jesus commanded his followers to watch. “Watch” is an Old Testament concept, arising out of the necessity of maintaining constant vigil on city walls against marauding bands. It also referred to the spiritual vigilance needed to keep people from wandering away from God. In the context of the Olivet discourse, it is active rather than passive. A person maintains vigilance not by passively waiting, but by engaging in good deeds and active discipleship.
|LIFE APPLICATION – VIGILANCE|
|Jesus urged his followers to be ready and waiting for his return. Why is this spiritual preparation so important in each believer’s life?|
|Spiritual preparation is commanded by God. Jesus’ purpose in telling about his return is not to stimulate predictions and calculations about the date, but to warn us to be prepared. Will you be ready? The only safe choice is to obey him today (Matthew 24:46).|
|Spiritual preparation is active. Jesus asks us to spend the time of waiting taking care of his people and doing his work here on earth, both within the church and outside it. This is the best way to prepare for Christ’s return.|
|Spiritual preparation is focused on Christ’s coming. Knowing that Christ’s return will be sudden and unexpected should motivate us always to be prepared. We are not to live irresponsibly— sitting and waiting, doing nothing; seeking self-serving pleasure; using his tarrying as an excuse not to do God’s work of building his kingdom; developing a false security based on precise calculations of events; or letting our curiosity about the end times divert us from doing God’s work.|
24:43-44 “But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”NRSV Jesus’ purpose in telling about his return was not to stimulate predictions and calculations about the date, but to warn his people to be ready. In this simple parable, Jesus again pointed out the need for constant vigilance. A homeowner cannot know when a thief might come to break into his home, so he must be always prepared. So with the return of Christ. He will come at an unexpected hour.
|LIFE APPLICATION – WHEN JESUS RETURNS|
|At the hour when zealous Christian teachers predict Jesus to return, you can be pretty sure it won’t happen. Jesus’ schedule is simply not available. No one knows. Yet the uncertainty of the time is no excuse for apathy.|
|God’s Good News must get everywhere. What role can you play in helping your neighbor, or people far away, come to faith in Jesus?|
|God’s church should be everywhere, helping people worship and building up their faith. What can you do to help?|
|God’s people should work everywhere, striving to advance God’s interests in public justice, housing, health, environmental maintenance, recreation, etc. What are you doing about it?|
|This is Jesus’ agenda. When he comes, we ought to be caught doing it.|
24:45-47 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”NIV
|In ancient times it was a common practice for masters to put one servant in charge of all the household business. The servant described as faithful and wise parallels the disciples, who were given unprecedented authority by Jesus, sharing in his very ministry.||If God has given you more than your neighbors, dedicate it to Christ, and realize that you are only a steward of that which God has given you— some day you will have to give an account for every penny you spent.
It can also describe those appointed to positions of leadership in the church who should be found faithfully carrying out their duties when Jesus (the master) returns. Such activity explains how Jesus’ followers can “watch” and “be ready.” These servants will be given great rewards.
24:48-49 “But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.”NIV Some servants, however, might decide to take advantage of their leadership positions, bullying others and indulging themselves. Jesus may indeed stay away a long time, but that will never be an excuse for laziness, inadequate service, or wickedness.
24:50-51 “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”NIV The servant may have thought his master would be gone a long time (and perhaps the master was), but one day, the master will return. It will be sudden and without warning, and the evil servant will be “caught in the act.” The master’s judgment against his wicked servant will be extremely severe—he will cut the servant to pieces. Even worse than that horrible punishment will be the servant’s eternal destiny. No better than a hypocrite, he will be assigned to a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (referring to hell). God’s coming judgment is as certain as Jesus’ return to earth.
|LIFE APPLICATION – HOLY GOD, LOVING LORD|
|The brutal language of this verse speaks clearly of the judgment of God against phonies and hypocrites. Everywhere in the Bible Jesus is presented as the loving Lord of all who come to him in repentance and faith. But on a few pages, the Bible also points to the holiness side, the side of God completely intolerant of sin, utterly unwilling to compromise with evil.|
|These fewer pages balance the picture. God is love, and God is holy. All who trust in Jesus are participants in his holiness. The penalty for your sin was paid on the cross. But all who refuse stand in jeopardy of suffering the judgment of a holy God. Don’t be there when God’s anger strikes. Heed the warning and appeal to Jesus for salvation. He is your only hope.|
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.