David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 24:1-51 - JESUS’ OLIVET DISCOURSE
A. The destruction of the temple and its implications.
1. (Matthew 24:1-2) Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple.
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
a. His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple: This temple was originally rebuilt by Zerubbabel and Ezra (Ezra 6:15), but greatly expanded and improved by Herod. It was the center of Jewish life for almost a thousand years - so much so, that it was customary to swear by the temple (Matthew 23:16), and speaking against the temple could be considered blasphemy (Acts 6:13).
i. After Herod’s work, the temple was huge - nearly 500 yards long and 400 yards wide. Herod’s rebuilding work started in 19 b.c., and was only completed in 63 a.d., taking more than eighty years. The temple was finished only seven years before it was destroyed.
ii. But the temple wasn’t just big, it was also beautiful. The Jewish historian Josephus says that the temple was covered on the outside with gold plates, that were so brilliant that when the sun shone on them, it was blinding to look at. Where there was no gold, there were blocks of marble of such a pure white that strangers, from a distance, thought there was snow on the temple.
c. Not one stone shall be left here upon another: Some 40 years after Jesus said this, there was a widespread Jewish revolution against the Romans in Palestine, and they enjoyed many early successes. But ultimately, Rome crushed the rebels. In 70 a.d. Jerusalem was leveled, including the temple - just as Jesus said.
i. It is said that at the fall of Jerusalem, the last surviving Jews of the city fled to the temple, because it was the strongest, most secure building in the city. Roman soldiers surrounded it, and one drunken soldier started a fire that soon engulfed the whole building. Ornate gold detail work in the roof melted down in the cracks between the stone walls of the temple, and to retrieve the gold, the Roman commander ordered that the temple be dismantled stone by stone. The destruction was so complete that today they have true difficulty learning exactly where the temple was.
d. That shall not be thrown down: This prophecy was fulfilled literally. There was a real temple, and it was really destroyed. The literal fulfillment of this prophecy establishes the tone for the rest of the prophecies in the chapter. We should expect a literal fulfillment for these as well.
2. (Matthew 24:3) Jesus’ prediction brings up two questions.
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?”
a. When will these things be? Jesus said the temple would be completely destroyed. It was logical that the disciples wanted to know when it would happen.
i. Matthew does not record Jesus’ answer to this first question, but Luke does in Luke 21:8-23.
b. And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age? The disciples may have thought they asked only one question. In their minds, the destruction of the temple and the end of the age might have been tied together. But really, they asked two questions, and this second question is answered in the remainder of the chapter.
i. It may also be that this second question was asked as they remembered the events surrounding the last temple’s destruction: the temple was destroyed in the context of national judgment and exile.
3. As Jesus answers this important second question, He will make many specific comments and predictions about the end times. These predictions have been the source of tremendous disagreement among Christians who have tried to understand them. Why didn’t Jesus simply say it so clearly that there was no possibility anyone could misunderstand Him?
a. One reason why prophecy may seem “vague” is because God wants every age to have reasons to be ready for Jesus return. We should not think of Jesus’ return as an event far off on a time line, but something we have been running parallel with since the day of Pentecost.
b. Others have suggested that God’s intention was to keep the future somewhat vague and clouded to confound the Devil, even as the resurrection of the Messiah was vague in the Old Testament.
c. Though some prophetic interpretations are different, we are sure of this: He is coming again, and we must be ready.
B. The flow of history until Jesus’ return.
1. (Matthew 24:4-8) Jesus describes general world conditions during the period between His Ascension and the time immediately preceding His second coming.
And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
a. Take heed that no one deceives you: From the outset, Jesus warns the disciples that many will be deceived as they anticipate His return. There have been times in the history of the church when rash predictions were made and relied on, and resulted in tremendous disappointment, disillusionment, and falling way.
b. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet: The kind of things Jesus mentions in this section are not the things that specific signs of the end. Things like false messiahs, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes have certainly marked man’s history since the time of Jesus’ Ascension - but were not specific signs of the end. In effect, Jesus says “Catastrophes will happen, but these will not signal the end.”
i. In the midst of any great war or any great famine or any great earthquake, it is natural to believe that the world is coming to an end. But Jesus says there is a far more specific sign we should look for.
c. All these are the beginning of sorrows: Though none of those events are the specific sign of the end of the age, collectively they are a sign. When Jesus described these calamities as the beginning of sorrows He literally called them the beginning of labor pains. Just as is true with labor pains, we should expect that the things mentioned - wars, famines, earthquakes, and so on - would become more frequent and more intense before the return of Jesus.
2. (Matthew 24:9-14) Jesus describes what His disciples must expect during the time between His Ascension and Second Coming.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 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.”
a. They will deliver you to tribulation and kill you: In the period after Jesus ascends to heaven and before He comes again, His disciples should expect to be persecuted. But this is not the specific sign of His return.
b. False prophets will arise and deceive many: In the period after Jesus ascends to heaven and before He comes again, the disciples of Jesus will see many false prophets, and their success. But this is not the specific sign of His return.
c. Lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold: In the period after Jesus ascends to heaven and before He comes again, His disciples should expect to see society become worse and worse. But this is not the specific sign of His return.
d. 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: But Jesus also promised that before the end, the gospel will go out to the whole world. The persecution, false prophets, and general downgrade of society will not prevent the spread of the gospel.
i. The church is to take this seriously as their duty. However, God assures that it will happen: I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth - to every nation, tribe, tongue and people - saying with a loud voice. “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come.” (Revelation 14:6-7)
C. Jesus describes the sign of His coming and the end of the age.
1. (Matthew 24:15) The sign: the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel.
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand),
a. When you see the “abomination of desolation”: Essentially, the abomination of desolation speaks of the ultimate desecration of a Jewish temple, the establishment of an idolatrous image in the holy place itself, which will inevitably result in the judgment of God. It is the abomination that brings desolation.
i. In the vocabulary of Judaism of that time, an abomination was an especially offensive form of idolatry. Jesus describes a gross form of idolatry, standing in the holy place, that will usher in great destruction (desolation).
b. Standing in the holy place: This means that the abomination of desolation takes place in the Jewish temple. This is the only plain meaning of the phrase holy place. Some believe it happened in a prior Jewish temple, before it was destroyed in 70 a.d. Others - more properly - believe it will happen in the holy place of a rebuilt temple.
i. For centuries, there was only a small Jewish presence in Judea and Jerusalem. Their presence in the region was definite, and continuous, but small. It is unthinkable that this weak Jewish presence could rebuild a temple. Therefore the fulfillment of this prophecy was highly unlikely until Israel was regathered as a nation in 1948. The restoration of a nation that the world had not seen for some 2,000 years is a remarkable event in the fulfillment and future fulfillment of prophecy.
c. As spoken of by Daniel the prophet: The mention of the abomination of desolation is taken from the book of Daniel. They shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation (Daniel 11:31). This describes a complete desecration of the temple, prefigured by Antiochus Epiphanies in the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
i. Paul elaborates on the future fulfillment of this in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 : That day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
ii. Daniel 12:11 gives additional insight: And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be 1,290 days (until the end). When this sign is set up, the end may be determined - there will be almost three and one-half years to go.
d. Whoever reads, let him understand: In a sense, Jesus tells us nothing new here. He simply calls us back to what was prophesied in Daniel. The comment whoever reads, let him understand could have been said by Jesus Himself, instead of inserted by Matthew.
2. (Matthew 24:16-20) Jesus warns what should be done when the abomination of desolation appears: flee immediately.
“Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.”
a. Then let those who are in Judea flee: These are warning specifically addressed to Israelites. Judea, housetops, and Sabbath all speak to a Jewish environment.
b. This is because at the appearance of the abomination of desolation, the desolation will first be poured out at Judea, and because the church will not be a factor at this time, having already been caught up to meet Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
i. Because Jesus tells His disciples about the abomination of desolation (which is set up by the antichrist in the middle of the Great Tribulation) and warns them of this coming destruction in the Great Tribulation, some Christians believe that all Christians will go through the Great Tribulation. To them, it seems evident. Why would Jesus say these things to His disciples if His disciples would not experience them?
ii. The answer is simple. We know from this passage, and many other Scriptural passages, that God will remove His church before the fury of the Great Tribulation, catching them away to meet Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Yet this information is valuable for the followers of Jesus, so we can understand His plan for the future. This information is valuable for those who will become His disciples in the Great Tribulation after the church is gone.
iii. We do well to remember that the disciples who heard Jesus say these words saw none of these things. Yet, it was still good for them to hear it. Even if Christians will not go into the Great Tribulation, it is good for them - and those who will become Christian in the tribulation - to know what will happen in it. Jesus speaks to all the ages here.
3. (Matthew 24:21-28) Coming on the heels of the abomination of desolation: great tribulation.
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
a. Great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time: Jesus said that this will be the most awful time in all of human history. When we think of the terrible wars, plagues, famines, and genocide history has seen, this is a terribly sobering statement. When God pours out His wrath on a God rejecting world, it will be truly great tribulation.
b. Look, here is the Christ: No one should be deceived about the nature of Jesus’ coming. It will not be secret or private, but as plain as lightning that flashes across the sky. But in the midst of such tribulation, there will be a temptation to look for false messiahs (false christs and false prophets will rise).
c. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together: This is a difficult statement. It was probably a figure of speech with the idea, “when judgment is ripe, it will surely come.”
4. (Matthew 24:29-31) On the heels of great tribulation: the return of Jesus Christ.
“Immediately after the tribulation 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 the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 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.”
a. The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light: Several prophetic passages describe the cosmic disturbances that will precede and surround the return of Jesus (Joel 2:10, Revelation 6:12-14, Isaiah 34:4).
b. Cryptically, Jesus says that the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven. It is difficult to say exactly what this sign is, since this seems to precede His return as described in Revelation 19:11. Perhaps this sign is somehow related to the incredible cosmic disturbances that will precede this.
c. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory: This is the fulfillment of the end, indicated by the sign of the abomination of desolation. Since this has not happened yet, neither has the abomination of desolation.
5. (Matthew 24:32-35) Jesus speaks more regarding the timing of these events.
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near; at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”
a. Learn this parable from the fig tree: The fig tree has a regular pattern. The leaves appear, and then summer follows. When you see the leaves, you know summer is near.
i. The fig tree was a common fruit tree in Israel. It is mentioned many times in the Old Testament, especially as a description of the abundance of the land. Sometimes figs or fig trees are also used as symbols or pictures. In passages like Jeremiah 24:1-10 and Hosea 9:10, figs or fig trees are used as an representation of Israel.
ii. However, most Old Testament references to the fig tree use it as simply an example of agricultural blessing. It seems that Jesus’ reference here is not so much on the “figness” of the fig tree, but on the way that the fig tree follows reliable growth cycles related to the seasons. This is especially evident compared when this passage is compared with Luke 21:29-31 : Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.
b. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near; at the doors! Jesus assures that when these signs appear as He as foretold (the abomination of desolation, followed by great tribulation, followed by signs in the heavens), His return to the earth will follow. When a fig tree buds, there is an inevitable result - summer is near, and fruit is coming. In the same way, when these signs are seen, the coming of Jesus in glory, with His church, to this world will inevitably follow.
i. Really, it was just as Daniel prophesied in Daniel 12:11. The end will come 1,290 days after the abomination of desolation. Jesus assures that the agonies of the Great Tribulation will not continue indefinitely; they will have an end.
c. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place: What generation does Jesus mean?
i. It cannot be the generation of the disciples, because they never saw Jesus return in glory as described in Matthew 24:30. It is undoubtedly the generation that sees these signs. These events and Jesus’ return won’t be on some 1,000-year timetable, but will happen in succession.
d. Up to this point, Jesus has given an important outline for end-times events.
o There will arise catastrophes and persecutions, but those in themselves are not the sign of the end.
o There will arise a pivotal sign: the abomination of desolation.
o When the abomination of desolation appears, there are warnings to Israel to flee after the abomination.
o On the heels of the abomination of desolation comes great tribulation, and cosmic disturbances.
o In culmination, Jesus Christ will return in glory to the earth.
D. More on His coming, but from a different approach.
1. (Matthew 24:36) Jesus says that the day and hour of His return is unknowable by men, and even unknowable by angels.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”
a. Of that day and hour no one knows: Here, Jesus refers back to the original question of Matthew 24:3 (what will be the sign of Your coming?). His answer is somewhat unexpected - saying of that day and hour no one knows.
b. Based on what He had told us about the abomination of desolation, we might have expected that the exact day and hour could be known. After all, Daniel set the day of Jesus’ return as being exactly 1,290 days after the abomination of desolation (Daniel 12:11).
i. In this, there is a dilemma. How can the day of Jesus’ coming be both completely unknown, and at the same time be known to the day according to Daniel 12:11?
2. (Matthew 24:37-39) Jesus says that His coming will be when the world is as it was in the days of Noah.
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
a. As the days of Noah were: Jesus explained what He meant by the days of Noah. It means life is centered around the normal things: eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, life will be business as usual; reprobate perhaps, but usual.
i. We should also remember that the days of Noah were also marked by violence and demonic oppression (Genesis 6:1-5).
b. And did not know until the flood came and took them all away: Though the people in the days of Noah were warned, judgment eventually came. To those who had ignored the warnings, it came suddenly and unexpectedly.
i. In this, there is a dilemma. How can Jesus come to a “business as usual” world, and a world experiencing the worst calamities ever seen on earth?
3. (Matthew 24:40-44) Jesus cautions His disciples to be ready for an unexpected coming.
“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. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
a. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left: Jesus here points to curious disappearances; to a catching away of some at the coming of the Son of Man (as also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
b. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming: Since the day and hour of this coming are unknowable, Jesus’ followers must be on constant guard for His coming.
i. Here again is the Second Coming dilemma.
o Is it at an unexpected hour or is it positively predicted?
o Is it business as usual or worldwide cataclysm?
o Is it meeting Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) or is He coming with the saints (Zechariah 14:5)?
ii. The dilemma is resolved by seeing that there are actually “two” second comings. One is in the air, for the church - commonly known as the rapture. The other is to the world, coming with the church, commonly known as the Second Coming of Jesus. The “contradictions” in Matthew 24:1-51 (and the much of the rest of prophecy) are often solved by seeing there are really references to “two” returns of Jesus.
c. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect: We must not escape the emphasis. We must be ready, because His coming for us is without warning. Jesus will now tell a few parables to drive home this point.
E. Parable of the two servants.
1. (Matthew 24:45-47) The faithful servant.
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.”
a. Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing: Jesus tells us that we must carry on with diligence while the Lord is gone. We must be that faithful and wise servant who takes care of his master’s business while the master is away.
b. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods: Jesus also promises that we will be rewarded for our diligence. The servants serve the master, but the master knows how to take care of and reward the servants.
2. (Matthew 24:48-51) The evil servant.
“But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
a. If that evil servant says in his heart, “My master is delaying his coming”: Jesus warns us of the attitude which says, “my master is delaying his coming.” We must live in constant anticipation of Jesus’ return, and that means being about our business for Him now.
i. The most dangerous lie is not “There is no God”, not “there is no hell”; but the most dangerous lie of Satan is “there is no hurry.” It is not small thing to say “Jesus is not coming today, or for several years” because your system of prophecy demands it. We need to be ready for the immanent return of Jesus Christ.
b. Begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards: The evil servant, who was not ready for the master’s return, sinned in at least three ways.
o He was not about the business that the master left for him.
o He fought with and mistreated his fellow servants.
o He gave himself to the pleasures of the world instead of serving his master.
i. Can the same be said of many Christians today? Are you ready for the return of your master?
c. Cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: The faithful and wise servant was rewarded, but so is the evil servant. He is “rewarded” for His wickedness, and he has the portion with the hypocrites he deserved.
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