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Bible Commentaries

Contending for the Faith

Matthew 24

Introduction

This chapter is one of the most difficult and disputed chapters in all of the New Testament. Unfortunately, too many see Jesus’ predictions as a playground for eschatological trifling. Such leads to confusion and wild theories concerning the kingdom and the end of time. Marcellus Kik notes that expositors have only added to the confusion with their "double meanings," "prophetic perspectives," and "partial and complete fulfillments" (1). In this chapter, the most basic of all exegetical rules must be observed: the simple must always interpret the complex. In other words, difficult passages like Matthew 24 and its parallels (Mark 13; Luke 21) must always be interpreted in light of simpler passages that deal with the kingdom, the establishment of the church, and Jesus’ return. Scripture must always be free to interpret scripture without interjection of preconceived human notions and doctrines.

Matthew 24, 25 are divided into two independent sections. The first section begins with chapter twenty-four, verse 1, and concludes with verse 34. It is a clear and vivid description of the events leading up to A.D. 70 and Jerusalem’s demise. The second section begins with chapter twenty-four, verse 35, and continues uninterrupted to verse 46 of chapter twenty-five. There Jesus addresses His second coming and the end of time. While there are obvious similarities between these two sections and while both employ similar apocalyptic language, it is clear from Jesus’ statement in verse 34 that two separate events are in view.

Of those events described before verse 34, Jesus clearly states, "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." With verse 36, however, Jesus launches into an entirely new topic that deals with another time frame much farther into the future. The following diagram adapted from Kik’s classic work should suffice to distinguish the immediate difference between the sections (4).

The Destruction of JerusalemThe End of the World
Matthew 24:1-35Matthew 24:35 to Matthew 25:46
Signs GivenNo Signs Given
3. General signs of Jerusalem’s end: worldwide gospel proclaimed (24:14) 4. Exact sign of Jerusalem’s destruction: abomination of desolation, Jerusalem surrounded by armies (24:15)1. Life as usual (24:37-42) 2. A thief gives no warning (24:43-44) 3. Jesus’ coming delayed; hence cannot be expected with certainty (24:28; 25:5, 19) Constant vigilance is the only preparation
Scope - Prophecies limited to a geographically specific location, Palestine (24:16-28) 1. Destruction of the Temple (24:1). 2. People in Judea must flee (24:16). 3. Pray that flight be not on Jewish Sabbath (24:20). 4. Events would not affect the nearby mountains (24:16).Scope - Prophecies universal in scope that concern the entire world (25:32; cf. Luke 21:34-36) 1. Judgment of all men, not just Jews (25:32). 2. No warnings that allow men to flee. 3. Final judgment’s location in heaven, not on earth.
Judgment on Jerusalem 1. "Those days" plural (24:22). 2. Destruction, slow, and foreseeable.The End of Time 1. "That day: singular (24:36). 2. Sudden destruction, rapid and unexpected.

Verse 1

Questions From The Apostles

And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.

And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: Having finished His scathing rebuke of Israel’s hypocritical leaders, Jesus leaves the Temple (hieron—sacred enclosure). The word "temple" refers not just to the "central building" (naos) but to the surrounding courts where He has preached since chapter twenty-one, verse 23. His departure marks a tragic turning point in the final week of His life. Never again will He preach to Jerusalem or plead for her repentance. Never again will He worship in the Temple or personally address the Israel He loves. His public ministry is for all practical purposes over. Until His arrest, He will spend His remaining hours in sweet communion with His disciples. How ironic that with His departure from the Temple so, too, flees the hope of Israel. As when God’s glory departs the Temple during the Babylonian exile, so the true "Glory" of God strides away from the place where Yahweh’s presence should have been revered the most (Ezekiel 11:23).

and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple: The stage for this scene is set in chapter twenty-three, verse 38. Hearing Jesus’ warning about the impending desolation of Israel’s "house," the disciples are shocked as they ponder the Temple’s magnificence. The Temple is a place of immense wealth and beauty. Begun by Herod the Great some forty-six years earlier, the Temple is a masterpiece in architecture (John 2:20). It has stones as large as 40 feet by 12 feet by 12 feet and weighing as much as one hundred tons each, having been quarried miles away from a single mass of rock and then transported overland. The structure is imposing and wonderful. Its construction is still underway during Jesus’ ministry. Begun in the eighteenth year of Herod’s reign (19 B.C.), the complex is finished eighty-six years later in the days of the procurator Albinus (A.D. 62–64) just a few years before the outbreak of the ill-fated Jewish revolt against Rome. This Jewish Temple, unblessed by God, is one of history’s ironies because only six years after its completion, it is demolished (Fowler 398). As they depart for the Mount of Olives, the disciples remind their Rabbi of the Temple’s magnificent splendor (for a full description of Herod’s Temple see Josephus, Antiquities XV, 11, 3–5; XX, 9, 7; Wars, V, 5, 1–8).

Verse 2

And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

Jesus draws the disciples’ minds to the sobering reality of Jerusalem’s fate. Every magnificent stone will be thrown down. Not one will be on top of another. The disciples cannot imagine this devastation occurring unless such an event is accompanied by the end of time. They cannot fathom God’s allowing His Temple to come to such ruin. To the disciples’ thinking, if the Temple falls, nothing else stands a chance. It must be the end of the world!

As the disciples ponder the city’s beauty, they do not realize that in less than forty years the Romans will sack Jerusalem and massacre most of her citizens. The city of Peace will be razed by the ravages of war. Except for the foundation stones of the Temple, not one stone will be left upon another.

Verse 3

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives: After making His prediction about Jerusalem, Jesus, in characteristic fashion, retires to the Mount of Olives. From this panoramic vantage, Jesus and His disciples look back at the beautiful gleaming city.

the disciples came unto him privately: Mark says Peter, Andrew, James, and John pose the question (13:3). No doubt, however, all of the apostles are shaken by the prediction Jesus makes.

Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world: The apostles ask three questions, but it is clear they believe all of these events will occur at the same time. Though grossly mistaken, they cannot imagine Jerusalem’s being destroyed unless it is accompanied by some kind of catastrophic end of the world.

Jesus overlooks the apostles’ misconceptions and goes on to answer their questions by dividing His response into two parts. First, He deals with the destruction of Jerusalem (24:1–35), and then He turns His attention to His second coming (24:36–25:46).

To support the doctrine of a literal thousand year reign, many Pre-Millennialists treat the entirety of Matthew 24 as if it deals only with Jesus’ second coming. The difficulty with this interpretation is that it ignores Jesus’ words in verse 34 and does not adequately address the immediate concerns of the twelve. Fowler says no interpretation of Matthew 24 can call itself sound that lays great stress on future eschatology and ignores the practical fears of first century Christians (400).

Verse 4

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

In describing Jerusalem’s downfall, it is not Jesus’ purpose to provide a "program" of the event so as to satisfy the apostles’ curiosity. Rather it is to give them the benefit of warning and protection. Because difficult times lie ahead and because perilous times always increase the danger of apostasy, Jesus wants His disciples to be on guard. Because they connect Jerusalem’s destruction to the parousia (return of Christ to earth), there is a possibility that, as they see Jerusalem’s demise, they will be deceived into expecting Christ’s return at the same time. Such an unwarranted expectation might open the apostles to deception by deceivers, false teachers, or even false Christs. Jesus wants them to realize the downfall of Jerusalem has no bearing on His personal return. Even rumors of such a return must be branded as false. Jesus makes clear that the only certainty concerning His return is that it will take place when no one expects it (24:44).

The lesson we can learn from Jesus is that the possibility of deception is still possible. While Christians today do not face the destruction of Jerusalem, they face a society no less steeped in sin and rebellion against God’s truth. As the world grows more and more wicked, false teachers and false messiahs continue to tout their end time prophecies and their fanciful eschatological schemes. Whether or not it is their intention, their doctrines lead disciples away from the truth that Jesus teaches regarding the end of time.

Verse 5

For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

As the destruction of Jerusalem approaches (A.D. 70), there is no scarcity of false Christs in Judea. Many come and claim to fulfill God’s Messianic plan. Jesus warns against such men who will lead disciples away after them.

Jesus does not say, "Many will say I am Jesus" (that is, His personal name), but rather, "I am Christ" (His divine title). The Greek name "Jesus" is the equivalent of the Hebrew "Joshua," so many Jews wear this name; however, the title "Christ" is reserved singularly for God’s "Anointed One." To claim this title is to claim "Deity."

Obviously, the warning Jesus gives is directed against popular misconceptions about the person and purpose of the Messiah. The Jews long for someone who will overthrow the Romans and restore political sovereignty to Israel. Because of their heritage, even the disciples are not immune to such thinking. They have seen the real Messiah, and they have all the information necessary to rise above deception. But old sentiments die hard; and Jesus knows that, because they are Jews, even His own followers might be tempted to revert to materialistic thinking once He is gone.

It is unclear exactly who these impostors are, and Jesus does not specify. With the fanaticism of the day, various impostors might arise, make their splash, and then die out without much record in history. Some commentators believe Theudas (Acts 5:36) or the Egyptian (Acts 21:38) are two of those to whom Jesus refers. Kik suggests Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-10). In any event we get a feel for the times by reading Josephus. In his Antiquities, he describes in detail the "magician" Theudas who deludes many into thinking he is a prophet who can miraculously divide the Jordan River. His deception, however, is cut short when Fadus (procurator of Judea, A.D. 44–46) beheads him and carries his head back to Jerusalem (Antiquities XX, 5, 1).

Verse 6

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: The period between Jesus’ ministry and A.D. 70 is a highly turbulent time filled with wars and rumors of wars (Kik 35). Tiberius (A.D. 14–37) orders Vitellius to attack Aretas of Arabia. Caligula orders an army to place his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem. This incenses the Jews, and war is barely averted by the intervention of Herod Agrippa. Furthermore, Josephus records that during this period wars occur in Caesarea, Damascus, Scythopolis, and Askelon, leaving tens of thousands dead (Wars Vol. II, 18–20).

see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet: Surrounded by such cruelties of war, it might be easy for the apostles to be afraid and prematurely abandon their mission of preaching the gospel. Jesus wants them to know that such events, though awful and terrifying, are not the immediate signs of the end of Jerusalem. In verse 15, He gives the sign that will indicate the proper time to flee Jerusalem. For now, however, the apostles must stay the course. The word "troubled" (throeo) carries the idea of screaming or crying aloud in terror (Robertson 189).

Verse 7

For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

The calamities listed in this verse simply amplify the thought of verse

6. These tragedies, though terrible, do not signal the end but rather the "beginning" of sorrows (24:8). Actually, things will get worse for the disciples both politically and personally before Judaism falls. In the face of war, famine, pestilence, and earthquake, the apostles are to remain committed to preaching the gospel. Acts 11:28 mentions a famine, which occurs in the days of Claudius Caesar and affects not only Judea but other parts of the world—a famine that is followed by pestilence and the death of thousands. Kik notes many ancient writers also attest to the frequency of earthquakes during this period of time. Kik says Cretre, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse, Campania, Rome, Pompeii, and Judea all suffer earthquakes (35).

It is significant that Jesus tells those of the first century that such disasters do not mark the end of time. Today eschatological peddlers play on the fears of the unwary as similar events continue to occur.

These false prophets cite such "catastrophes" as proof that the end of the world is near. But we must remember that no one knows when the end of time will be (24:36). Natural disasters, however devastating, simply mark a creation that travails in pain because of sin (Romans 8:22). In the next verse, Jesus says such calamities do not even mark the end of Jerusalem, let alone the end of the world.

Verse 8

All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Contrary to Pre-Millennialists, all of the catastrophes mentioned above do not mark the end of anything! Rather they mark the "beginning" of sorrows. The word for "sorrows" (odinon) literally means "birth pains" or "travail."

Kik suggests the word "travail" (sorrows) points to new and better things that lie ahead (36). The fall of Jerusalem in reality marks a new era for Christians. As pain comes before a child is born, so there will be pain as Christianity emerges victorious from the womb of Judaism.

Lenski believes Jesus adopts a term commonly used by the rabbis to designate events that supposedly precede the Messiah’s coming and inauguration of a physical kingdom (931). If Jesus adopts common rabbinic language, however, it is only for the purpose of correcting false assumptions. We must remember the entire context of this section (24:5–22) is "pain and suffering." Contextually, there is no hint that the future holds "glory days" for Israel. No splendor lies ahead for this nation. Israel is in the process of falling. If there is any glimmer of hope, it rests with the spiritual kingdom of Christ, the New Jerusalem, the church, the New Israel that will be ushered in by the apostles’ preaching to the whole world (see verse 14).

Contextually the word "travail" foreshadows the horrible days that lie ahead. The events of verses 5–7 will give birth to even darker days! As Jesus gives His discourse, the catastrophes become more specific, more intense, and more personal to those living in Jerusalem.

Verse 9

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.

Mark 13:9-13 and Luke 21:12-19 describe in greater detail the persecution that lies in store for the apostles and other Christians during this period of difficulty. As mentioned in Matthew 10:16-22, some will be delivered up to the pressures of persecution. Others will pay the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. Those who escape death will be subjected to intense hatred by all nations. No doubt this prediction anticipates the Great Commission and the spread of the gospel into the entire world.

The book of Acts gives examples of such persecution. Almost immediately after the apostles begin to preach the gospel, they are imprisoned and beaten (5:40). Stephen is stoned (7:54–60). The church is scattered because of persecution (8:4). Herod kills James, the brother of John, with the sword (12:2). Everywhere the gospel is preached its missionaries are hated, persecuted, jailed, and martyred. And yet in the face of all of this persecution, the apostles count it all joy to suffer for Jesus (5:41; James 1:2).

Verse 10

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

And then shall many be offended: Not only will the period leading up to A.D. 70 be difficult because of outside persecution but some within the faith will stumble. Ellicott notes such occurs because new converts either find a stumbling block in some particular aspect of the truth they are learning or because the victory they imagine the kingdom will attain is slow in coming (340). For whatever reason, however, Jesus says many will be offended by the gospel. Again, we need look no further than the New Testament to discover this truth. Paul speaks of apostates such as Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Timothy 1:15). Likewise, Demas forsakes Paul, having loved this present world (2 Timothy 4:10). Indeed Jesus accurately says that because of iniquity the love of many will wax cold (24:12).

and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another: It is a terrible tragedy when one forsakes his principles because of persecution. But when that person has so little regard for others that he betrays them into the hands of persecutors, he joins the contemptible ranks of Judas Iscariot. There are several ways this circumstance might occur. An apostate, by virtue of his inside information and former connections, might turn his fellow Christians over to the authorities to be punished or killed. A former Christian might seek to diminish his own torture by plea bargaining with the authorities, offering them information about other believers. Fowler says that warring Christian sects might justify betraying others that espouse differing doctrines (423). Tacitus, the Roman historian, records that several Christians at first were apprehended, and then, by their discovery, a multitude of others were convicted and cruelly put to death (Annal XV, 44).

Verse 11

And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

That the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem will produce many false prophets is easily seen in the book of Acts and in the epistles. Almost everywhere the gospel goes false teachers follow. Paul warns the Ephesian elders, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw disciple after them" (Acts 20:29-30). And to the Philippians, Paul warns of Judaizers by saying, "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ" (3:18). In fact, almost every epistle deals with the problem of false teachers.

Verse 12

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

Jesus warns that the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem will be marked by widespread faithlessness. The word "iniquity" literally means "lawlessness." "Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold" (NASB). Kik observes that Jesus is not speaking of "apostasy" here but rather of "spiritual deterioration" (38). As the wicked increase in their violation of God’s law, the zeal of Christians will be affected. Robertson makes the interesting note that "wax cold" means to "breathe cool by blowing." He further notes that one’s spiritual energy is blighted or chilled by a malign or poisonous wind (190).

The Epistle to the Hebrews seems aimed at this very condition. Such problems as "forsaking" the public worship assembly are indicative of the Hebrew Christians’ struggle against the "cold" (10:25). The problem is no less with us today. With the increasing rebellion of the world against God, Christians often fall into a malaise that eventually destroys them. As with the Hebrews, so today one of the first signs of a "cold love" is the abandonment of the worship services. To abandon one’s obligation to the public assembly is no less a sin than apostasy. Whereas the former seems less grievous, it leads toward the same end. The believer who falls away through apostasy and the believer who "slides" away through lack of love both end up in the same place.

Jesus makes it clear that service to Him requires total commitment. One cannot be in love with the world and in love with Him at the same time. One cannot put his hand to the plow and look back. To the church at Ephesus, John writes, "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (Revelation 2:4 NKJV). Likewise to the church at Laodicean, he warns they are "lukewarm." Their first love has "cooled off" (Revelation 3:16).

Verse 13

But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

The key to salvation is persistence. In the face of persecution, affliction, and martyrdom, God asks that we "endure." When lawlessness abounds and when all others fall to sin, the true believer will be found standing firm on his faith in Christ.

The immediate question that arises in this verse is what "end" and what "salvation" does Jesus have in mind? Clearly, He has just stated that some of His disciples will die because of their faith. In this instance, the "end" might well be construed as the "end of their life." Jesus holds out hope for those who remain faithful to Him and, thereby, though their martyrdom, find a "crown of life." On the other hand, the immediate context of this section is the events of A.D. 70 and the death of Jerusalem. Thus, we might rightfully construe Jesus’ teaching as a promise for those Christians who see Rome make its final onslaught against the city. Kik believes that while an estimated one million Jews lose their lives in the terrible siege, "not one of them is a Christian" (38). Christ gives the signs whereby His followers, if they remain faithful to His teaching, will know when to flee Jerusalem. Fowler says, even though some Christians were martyred before A.D. 70, the Church as a whole was spared the bloody end scheduled for unbelieving Jewish people (426) (see Luke 21:18-19).

Jesus’ statement then is a general axiom that applies to all those who serve Him in every circumstance and age! All who are faithful will be saved. We cannot ignore, however, that the immediate context of this passage is designed for those of first century Palestine. Fowler says, "The Lord holds out concrete hope for those embattled saints, motivating them to hold firm in holding off false teachers, enduring taunts and keeping enthusiastic for Jesus, even while their entire country was flying apart" (427).

Verse 14

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: The gospel is the good news of the Messiah that is heralded throughout the world (compare 28:18–19; Mark 16:15-16). That the message of Christ is preached to the entire known "world" before A.D. 70 is evident from Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:23. Paul writes the book of Colossians about A.D. 60, some ten years before Jerusalem’s fall. Note, too, Paul’s statement to the Romans that their faith is spoken of "throughout the world" (Romans 1:8; 1 Peter 5:9).

For the modern reader, phrases such as "all the world" and "all nations" have a ring of absolute universality (Fowler 434). But such is likely not the case to Jesus or His first century hearers. The phase refers to the habitable world (Kik 43). For those under Rome’s insignia, it likely means the Roman Empire.

and then shall the end come: It is important to recognize "the end" of this verse as the "end of the Jewish economy" with the Temple and its sacrificial system. Context does not allow us to interpret "the end" as the "end of time." Jesus is still talking to His disciples about things that will happen to Jerusalem and the local environs of Judea. To make it the subject of the "end of time," as many Pre-Millennialists do, is to wrench it from its context. Jesus does not say all nations will become Christian. He simply says that before Jerusalem’s fall, the "world" will have an opportunity to know the gospel. This opportunity begins on Pentecost as Peter preaches to devout Jews from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5).

Verse 15

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand)

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet: This verse is admittedly one of the most difficult in this chapter. First, we must determine what Jesus means by "abomination of desolation" and second which reference in the book of Daniel Jesus has in mind. Daniel mentions the phrase three times (9:27; 11:31; 12:11), the first of which is found in his famous prophecy regarding the seventy weeks.

Both Mark and Matthew include the parenthetical phrase, "let him understand," apparently to cue Jewish disciples into exclusive inside information. Some suggest the parenthetical finds its source in Daniel 12:10. Others feel it is the product of the evangelist, inserted as an urgent clarification to his readers (see 24:15; Mark 13:14). In any event, with cryptic precision, Jesus warns His disciples of the impending danger and how to escape it. Luke, presumably writing to non-Jewish Christians removed from Jerusalem’s holocaust, deciphers the message and clearly says, "When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies" (21:20). We are thankful for Luke’s insight, for it allows the modern reader unequivocally to define the phrase "abomination of desolation."

The question remains as to why Matthew and Mark do not explain the phrase "abomination of desolation" when Luke details it in such an outright fashion. Two ideas have been set forth by commentators. Some believe Jesus uses cryptic language to keep the Romans ignorant of the escape He pre-plans for His disciples. It is unlikely the Romans will understand the significance of the phrase "abomination of desolation"; thus, it serves as a perfect code word to let Christian Jews know when to make their exodus from the impending holocaust. A second possible reason Jesus uses such cryptic language is that it paints a vivid picture in Jewish minds. Since "abomination of desolation" is the disciples’ link to survival, it needs to conjure up in their minds something specific, easily discernable, and something significant from the Jews’ historical past.

Naturally, there is no lack of opinion as to what Jesus means by "abomination of desolation." It is tempting to accept Kik’s view that the "abomination" is the same as mentioned in Daniel 9:27. If so, it provides the "key" to unlocking Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy. While there is no doubt that Daniel 9 finds its fulfillment in the Messianic manifestation, His covenant, His death, and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem, and while the events of Matthew 24 and Daniel 9 are closely connected, one must be careful not to make an artificial connection. Even if one accepts the position that Daniel’s 490 years (seventy weeks) coincides with Jesus’ appearance among men, Jesus does not specifically identify the "abomination" of Daniel 9 as the one He has in mind here. From Jesus’ words, it is impossible to rule out Daniel’s other references in Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11. If Jesus has Daniel 9:27 in mind, as Kik suggests, why does Jesus not mention other parts of the same passage of equal pertinence to His ministry? Daniel 9:24-27 speaks of the Messiah’s being "cut off," an obvious reference to the eminent death on Calvary. Yet Jesus neither mentions this event nor does He decipher the seventy weeks. Furthermore, it seems unlikely for the following reasons that the disciples themselves have enough information to make any concrete connection between Daniel 9 and the "abomination of desolation" of which Jesus now speaks.

1. First, it requires that the disciples know at what date Daniel’s seventy weeks begins. Or, at what point in time does the "decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" (9:25) begin? Is it the decree of some Persian king such as Artaxerxes I or of God Himself? James Smith suggests the "decree" is not a man-made one at all but that of God through Ezra. Thus, 457 B.C. would have been the terminus a quo for the seventy heptad prophecy (607). Others, however, disagree and suggest other post-exilic dates such as the decree of Cyrus in 536 B.C. (Isaiah 44:28; Ezra 1:1-4) or the decree of Artexerxes in 444 B.C., which subsequently lead to the completion of Jerusalem’s walls by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:1). Further complicating the issue is the question of whether Daniel’s seventy "sevens" are to be considered as 490 literal years or symbolic periods. Should solar years or lunar years be used in such a calculation? Thus, while Daniel 9:24 is certainly prophetic of Jesus’ ministry, it seems less likely that Jesus uses it to pinpoint the critical signal for the disciples’ escape from Jerusalem (Fowler 439).

2. Second, even if Jerusalem Christians correctly ascertain the beginning of Daniel’s seventy weeks, what of the end? There is an obvious lapse of time between the "ceasing of sacrifice" (Daniel 9:27 a—brought about by Jesus’ death on the cross)—and the "abomination of desolation" (9:27b) that is afterward to occur (c. A.D. 70). How long an interval is neither specifically stated by Daniel nor Jesus—we are not told precisely how much time passes between Jesus’ death and the destruction of Jerusalem. Thus, Christians even from A.D. 33 onward still need to trust Jesus to know when the "abomination" of Daniel 9:27 occurs (Fowler 439). The point is that while Daniel 9 is inseparable from the events of Matthew 24, Jesus probably does not have this passage exclusively in mind when He mentions the "abomination of desolation."

3. This "sign" is something that serves to warn the disciples, not confuse them. Connecting Jesus’ comments exclusively with Daniel 9 seems to pose more difficulties than it solves. There is likely a simpler explanation as to what Jesus has in mind.

4. Given the immaturity of the apostles and their misunderstanding of the nature of Jesus’ kingdom even after His resurrection (Acts 1:6), it seems unlikely they are settled on the chronology of Daniel 9:24-27. If, in retrospect, moderns have difficulty with the chronology, how much more those who lived prior to the events being fulfilled. Other than the reference here, there is no indication that Jesus explains this prophetic passage to His disciples. Not only does He not state when the abomination begins, ends or how it comes to pass, neither is the issue of Jerusalem’s overthrow and Christians’ exodus developed within apostolic writings.

All agree that whatever else Jesus has in mind, there is an obvious allusion to paganism and desecrating idolatry. In the Old Testament, the word "abomination" denotes an object of disgust, repulsion, and gross ungodliness. It is often connected to the pagan rites and immoralities of false religions—especially the Moabites and Ammonites (1 Kings 11:5-7; 2 Kings 23:13; Jeremiah 4:1; Ezekiel 5:11). Thus, when the disciples hear the phrase "abomination of desolation," they likely think of past Jewish history and those desecrations their nation has previously endured.

In this case, this phrase "abomination of desolation" should probably be interpreted in light of Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11 rather than exclusively Daniel 9:24-27. Virtually every scholar, no matter his eschatological viewpoint, recognizes Daniel 11 as a prediction of the atrocities committed by Antiochus IV, the Syrian king who ruled Palestine from 175 B.C. to 165 B.C. It is this pagan brute who takes upon himself the title Theo Epiphanes, meaning "manifest God" whom his enemies subsequently change to "Epimanes" meaning "madman." Among Antiochus’ many outrages against the Jews is his desecration of the Temple in 168 B.C. With unparalleled lunacy, he erects within the Temple an altar to Zeus (the pagan deity he fancies himself as manifesting), sacrifices a pig, then forces the priest to eat its flesh (compare 1 Maccabees 1:20-28). When this "madman" dies in 163 B.C., he is totally insane—outraged to the point of madness because of his military defeats by the Jewish rebel Judas Maccabeaus (MacAurthur 34).

From the Apocrypha (1 Maccabees 1:54), it is clear that Jews of the Greek period, and subsequently those of Jesus’ day, understand the phrase "abomination of desolation" to be applicable to such nationalistic outrages by pagan invaders (see also 1 Maccabees 6:7). Jesus’ allusion is probably to be classified as "historico-literary." (Fowler 438). In other words, Jesus borrows Daniel’s term and uses it to show that what Antiochus Epiphanes does against Jerusalem will find tragic repetition in what the Roman army will do to Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Rome’s invasion of Palestine and its attack on Jerusalem is accompanied by a variety of "desolating abominations." None, however, are as gross or as abominable as Rome’s idolatrous emperor worship. Broadus says:

The Roman military standard, with its eagle of silver or bronze, and under that an imperial bust which the soldiers were accustomed to worship, standing anywhere in the holy city would be a violation of the second commandment, would be abominable in the eyes of all devout Jews, would in itself desolate the holy place, according to their feeling, and would foretoken a yet more complete desolation (486)

stand in the holy place: Various views exist as to what the "holy place" refers; some suggest it is the holy land in general. According to this view, when Christians see Palestine being overrun by Roman legions, it is their cue to flee to the hills (compare 24:16). Others suggest the "holy place" is the Temple proper with its sanctuaries. So when Christians see Roman legions within the holy place, they are to flee. While the Temple, with its interior divisions, can be classified as "holy," the evidence for this interpretation is inconclusive. The phrase Jesus uses can well refer to other sites the Jews also revere. As well, if Christians remain in the city until Roman standards have overrun the Temple, the hour of escape will have passed. For all practical purposes, Jerusalem will be doomed. Also, the "signal" (abomination) Jesus foretells is to be unmistakable and visible to all—not half hidden within the interior of the Temple (Fowler 441).

The most suitable explanation seems to be that the "holy place" refers to the city of Jerusalem at large with its immediate environs outside the gates. This explanation does not mitigate the fact that Rome’s gradual advancement through Palestine serves as a precursory warning to all Jews within the "holy land." But the context of Matthew 24 and Luke’s comment in 21:20 point toward Jerusalem’s being the "holy place." Mark is less specific but says, "When ye see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not" (13:14). Mark personifies the abomination as personal (masculine pronoun—he), perhaps anticipating an idolatrous pagan ruler, general, or at least an effigy of some sort (Plummer 332).

The question that naturally arises is under what conditions Rome, (after surrounding the city), would give Christians a chance to escape the impending holocaust?

1. Christians might flee the surrounded city before Roman troop movements and Roman garrisons of occupation are positioned to cut off all escape routes (Fowler 441). In other words, at the first indication that Rome is serious about destroying Jerusalem, they might be able to flee. If Christians are looking for such to occur, they will have had a "head’s up" on other Jews who doubt God will ever allow such to happen to "His" city.

2. Christians might escape if for some "miraculous" reason Rome suddenly, and without explanation, lifts the siege and withdraws her legions, thus granting Christians and any others who so choose time to flee the city.

The probability that a well-oiled war machine such as Rome with her prey in hand would without reason relax her grip is almost beyond comprehension. Yet, according to history that seems to be exactly what happens on at least two occasions.

In A.D. 66, some years before the final onslaught against Jerusalem but during the period of increased skirmishes with the Jews, Cestius Gallus marches on the holy city and has every chance to overthrow it. Josephus notes that upon entering the city, setting up camp in one of its "newer suburbs," and even after burning part of Jerusalem, he "retired from the city without any reason in the world." Josephus notes of Cestius, "who, had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city" (Wars, II, 19:6–7). Josephus goes on to say that at Cestius’ retreat "many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink" (Wars, II, 20:1). There is no way of knowing for sure, but Christians may have been part of that exodus, for Cestius indeed fulfills Jesus’ words by desecrating Jerusalem with his idolatrous standards and with fire. Could it be that the "he" whom Mark speaks of "standing where he ought not" is a specific reference to Cestius Gallus within the walls of Jerusalem? Do not the facts fit the exact scenario Jesus prophesies? We leave the reader to ponder God’s providence.

Yet another chance for departure comes a few years later when Vespasian, Rome’s most famous general, halts his Palestinian overrun and returns to Rome. Vespasian opens his campaign in A.D. 67 against the Jews from the Syrian port Ptolemais and, after heavy resistance, tramples Galilee with an army of some sixty thousand men. When word arrives that Nero has committed suicide, however, Vespasian returns home to assist in political stability (Schaff 396). In A.D. 69, after the short successive reigns of Gaba, Otho, and Vitellius, Vespasian is universally proclaimed emperor. His son Titus, who himself in ten years will become emperor, continues the prosecution of the Jewish war and in A.D. 70 becomes "the instrument in the hand of God of destroying the holy city and the temple" (Schaff 396).

Verse 16

Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:

Then let them which be in Judaea: "Judea" includes not only Jerusalem but also the surrounding province that will be most eminently affected by the cataclysmic events of Rome’s onslaught. The warning is significant because it is the natural tendency in times of distress for those outside a city to flee into the city and rely on the protection of its walls. Furthermore, within a city such as Jerusalem, there are stores of grain, fuel, and other commodities necessary to withstand a long siege. Jesus controverts conventional wisdom and warns His disciples to "flee to the mountains" (compare Luke 21:21). Who but the Master knows in advance the severity and length of an attack that will exhaust supplies, cause mothers to eat their own children, and trap citizens within the walls like birds in a snare? Jesus knows that in spite of the obstinate Jewish pride in their own resources, Jerusalem’s walls will crumble. The hallowed grounds of God’s abiding presence will become a "temple of doom." Furthermore, because the destruction of Jerusalem occurs during Passover season, the destruction of life is increased (Eusebius, History of the Church, III, 5). For the "godly," however, "salvation" does not come from faith in "walls" but faith in "words," the words of Christ. Those who heed Jesus’ warning, forsake their usual Passover pilgrimage, and flee to the mountains will be saved.

flee into the mountains: The term "mountains" is a general phrase and probably refers to any of the nearby hills or mountains within reasonable traveling distance. Jerusalem lies on a ridge that makes up part of the "hill country" of Judah that extends both to the north and south. Although not high by some standards, these elevations stand in stark contrast to the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea far below them. It is in these hills during the Maccabean era that Mathias and his sons flee in order to carry on guerilla warfare against the officers of Epiphanes. Because these hills abound in caves and ravines, they provide perfect hiding places. No doubt some Christians utilize these natural fortresses in their flight. The third century historian Eusebius also suggests many Christians flee to Pella, a city beyond the Jordan in the region of Perea, about seventeen miles from the Sea of Galilee.

The instructions here and through verse 34 pertain to "local" geography. Jesus refers to such things as the Judean style of homes (flat roofed Oriental houses) and the Sabbath, indicating the events will be local and not global. There is no hint that Jesus is speaking of the "end of time" or some great global catastrophe as so many Pre-Millennialists assert. Jesus reminds His listeners in verse 34 that "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." The instruction that begins here and continues through verse 34, while perhaps bearing similarities to the final judgment, contextually speaks to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Verse 17

Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:

Oriental housetops are generally flat, with only enough pitch to disperse rainwater. On these housetops, people often retreat at the "hour of prayer" (Acts 10:9) or during the cool of the evening for rest and relaxation (1 Samuel 9:25). In ancient times flat rooftops were also used for drying flax (Joshua 2:6), as an observation point (Isaiah 22:1), or as a place to make public announcements (10:27).

Jesus says when Christians see the fateful hour upon them, they are not to come down from their housetops to take anything from within. Some have conjectured that because homes in Jerusalem are built so close together and because rooftops are side by side, He is instructing His disciples to flee "over roof" to the edge of the city and escape. Robertson indicates that the possibility for such is so common the rabbis speak of "the road of the roofs" (191).

Whether this is what Jesus literally has in mind is a matter of dispute. He does not actually say one is to escape by jumping from housetop to housetop. What He says is, "Let him not come down to take anything…" Haste is the issue. Believers are not to worry about their material possessions nor to sort through their belongings so as to decide which "stuff" they will drag from the city. Doing so will only slow them down and encumber their flight. They are to forsake all material possessions, all treasured heirlooms, and all accumulated wealth. Their lives are more important (5:25). They are to flee with only the clothes on their backs. He who gives them the sign for escape will provide the necessities for their journey.

Verse 18

Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.

Manual labor in the fields just outside the city gates is hot, sweaty work. Thus, the "outer garment" is often laid aside or perhaps even left at home in the city. If one in the field notices the "tell tale signal" for flight, he is not to return to retrieve his clothing. He is to flee immediately without regard for his material possessions. As noted in Matthew 5:40, the "outer garment" is an important part of Jewish attire. It serves not only as an overcoat for inclement weather but also as a blanket at night. Heading for the open hills will surely put one at a heightened risk of the natural elements. Yet, Jesus says even this vital piece of clothing is to be abandoned in favor of saving one’s life.

Verse 19

And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!

Travel under the best conditions will be arduous given the haste. But Jesus says it will be even more difficult for expectant and nursing mothers. For them, travel will be slow and difficult, and no doubt beset by inadequate shelter and provisions. For this group it is a time of "woe." Unlike Matthew 23:13, Jesus uses the term here to express His deepest compassion and empathy.

Verse 20

But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day:

Jesus tells His disciples to "pray." They are to entreat God that He will make this traumatic time as easy as possible. Even though believers are innocent of the crimes of Israel and the rejection of the Messiah that brings this doom to their city, they are not exempt from its terrible effects. While they have the "key" to their physical salvation and know when to escape, they still must trust in God.

Jesus mentions two time periods when flight will be difficult. The "winter" will be a time of cold weather and miserable travel conditions. Winter in Israel’s hill country is often accompanied by cold rain and occasional snow. During this time of year, "fields through which Christians must pass will not furnish any but the crudest emergency food" (Fowler 451).

The "Sabbath" will be a difficult time to travel. First, scrupulous Jewish Christians might regard it as a violation of conscience to make more than a Sabbath day’s journey. Second, the Sabbath meant "locked city gates" (Nehemiah 13:19), closed shops, and other prohibitions that will hinder escape.

Again, it is clear that Jesus’ admonition here does not refer to the "end of time." When He returns to judge the earth, it will make little difference what season or day it is or what gate is shut.

Verse 21

For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

The atrocities that occur during Jerusalem’s destruction (A.D. 66–70) are unparalleled in history. One needs only to read the account of Josephus to get a feel for the horror that comes upon the Jews. He notes, "Accordingly it appears to me, that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews are not so considerable as they were" (Wars, Preface, 4). In the account of Jerusalem’s demise, of which Josephus was an eyewitness, he records the awful scene: Mothers snatching food from the lips of their dying infants by dashing them against the floor, streets full of the dead and dying of starvation, roving bands of marauders entering homes and torturing their fellow Jews to get food, and devouring their own leather belts and shields in attempt to stay alive. By the time it is all over, more than 1,100,000 die and more than 90,000 are carried off captive and sold. In one grotesque account, Josephus records a mother killing and roasting her own child. He records this account:

As she spoke she killed her son, then roasted him and ate one half, concealing and saving up the rest. At once the partisans appeared, and sniffing the unholy smell, threatened that if she did not produce what she had prepared they would kill her on the spot. She replied that she had kept a fine helping for them, and uncovered what was left of her child. They, overcome with instant horror and amazement, could not take their eyes off the sight. But she went on: "This child is my own, and the deed is mine, too. Help yourselves: I have had my share. Don’t be softer than a woman or more tender-hearted than a mother! But if you are squeamish and don’t approve of my sacrifice—well I have eaten half, so you may as well leave the rest." That was the last straw, and they went away quivering (Wars VI, 3–4).

Jesus describes the period between A.D. 66 and A.D. 70 as a time of "great tribulation." But this is not the same as that mentioned in Revelation 7:14 where the "tribulation" is contextually limited to those "unbelievers" who are to endure the destruction of Jerusalem. Contrast this account with John’s record that describes victorious "believers" from every nation whose robes are washed white by the blood of the Lamb. Furthermore, the disciples to whom Jesus speaks in this verse will actually escape this "great tribulation" by heeding His signs and fleeing into the hills. Therefore, this verse and Revelation 7:14 are not parallel.

Verse 22

And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.

Jesus notes that unless God shows His mercy, none from the nation of Israel will be saved. The term "no flesh" refers to the physical nation of Israel and her physical salvation from the Romans. Broadus notes that if Rome’s siege had continued much longer, the entire Jewish race would have been destroyed (488). Christians will be caught in the crossfire. For the sake of the true Israel of God, however, the onslaught will be divinely curtailed.

Verse 23

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.

In much the same way that "false Christs" will arise during the time period leading up to Jerusalem’s fall, so during the final crisis pseudo-Messiahs will arise. Kik notes that the precise point in time these imposters will arise is while the final siege is taking place (64). Christ warns His disciples, however, that they are not to follow any imposter back into the doomed city of Jerusalem.

Verse 24

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

Christ’s apostles are to expect charlatans to arise and attempt to deceive believers with "signs and wonders." As to the exact nature of these "signs and wonders," it is difficult to determine. McGarvey says, "These may have been either pretended signs and wonders, or real signs and wonders of which these men pretended to give the interpretation" (Commentary on Matthew 208). Josephus gives anecdotal evidence for unusual occurrences about this time: a star resembling a sword that stands over the city and a great light that appears for a half hour around the Temple (McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew 208). Kik says, "Undoubtedly many of these signs were performed by false prophets under Satanic power" (65). But in all fairness, Jesus does not directly attribute these signs to Satan. He simply warns His followers not to be deceived by any event, no matter how amazing, that contradicts His instructions.

When one considers first century Messianic expectations, the phrase "great signs and wonders" is less mystical. It is obvious that the masses of Jesus’ day were moved by a materialistic, nationalistic Messianism (Fowler 463). So then a "false messiah" would not necessarily be one who performed miracles on the order of those of Christ’s ministry. Neither would he necessarily be an Antichrist in the Johannine or Pauline sense of the term (1 John 2:18; 2 John 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). He might simply be a demagogue in Israel who pretends to be everything Jesus is not and one who offers Israel the materialistic hope Jesus refuses to offer (Fowler 463). Just as "false prophets" in the Old Testament are those who offer "alternative doctrines" or "false hope" in the face of doom, so these "false prophets" will do the same during Jerusalem’s final hours.

Verse 25

Behold, I have told you before.

Only a "true Messiah" will be able to forewarn His followers of future events. When, therefore, the disciples see false prophets arise, they are not to be discouraged or deceived because this is exactly what their Savior has prophesied. In reality, Jesus places His own ministry on the line. He opens up His own prophecy to scrutiny. If His predictions fail, He will be proved a false Messiah. But Jesus’ words are fulfilled in minute detail. Only the true "Christ" has the ability to look almost forty years into the future and describe in minute detail Israel’s demise.

Verse 26

Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

Having warned His disciples against being misled by imposters, Jesus now gives specific "rumors" they must avoid regarding the Messiah. Some might say the "Christ" has finally arrived to save Israel and He is in hiding in the wilderness or in some secret room. Jesus wants His disciples to remember that He has already presented Himself to Israel as the Messiah. In just a few days, He will be crucified and will ascend to His Father. When He returns, it will not be secretive. It will be as visible as lightning (verse 27). Thus, the apostles are not to be misled by claims that Jerusalem will be saved by some supposed Messiah who has appeared.

The "wilderness" of which Jesus speaks is the desolate area outside Jerusalem. It will be a perfect place for secretive persons or groups to gather a following. The Qumran community, for example, hides itself in the wilderness near the Dead Sea to await the Messiah. Likewise, the Egyptian leads an insurrection of four thousand assassins into the wilderness (Acts 21:38). Similarly, an "inner chamber" or "inner room" denotes a secret place where a "would be Messiah" might hide in the city until the moment of his public revelation.

Verse 27

For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

This verse stands in contrast to the claims of "false messiahs." Unlike the claims of secrecy and concealment of false messiahs, the second coming of Christ will be public and will need no advance announcement. It will be its own advertisement (Luke 17:24).

One might wonder why Jesus pauses in the middle of His discourse on Jerusalem’s destruction to speak of His second coming, especially when these events are separated by centuries. As noted in verse 4, however, the disciples have many misunderstandings and believe the destruction of Jerusalem, the second coming, and the end of the world are all one event. Thus, it is imperative for Jesus to expose the differences between His methods and the methods of false messiahs. Just as Jesus’ first coming is visible, so His second coming will be as visible as lightening. Every eye will see Him and every knee will bow. It will not be a secretive event such as will be claimed by false messiahs. This verse in no way changes the fact that everything up to verse 34 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Verse 28

For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

With this verse, Jesus returns to His discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem. Various theories have been proposed as to His meaning of "carcass" and "eagles." Some see this as a contextual return to verse

24 and the warning regarding false messiahs. If so, then Jesus describes the spiritually corrupt and bankrupt Jewish nation as a carcass upon which false prophets prey.

It is likely, however, that Jesus has in mind the larger context of Israel’s corruption and the events that will soon befall her capital city. He depicts Israel as a dead body, a carcass already fallen, with birds of prey hovering above the carnage. Israel’s moral, political, judicial, and spiritual condition is beyond resurrection. Rome, as a vulture in waiting, knocks at her gate.

The term "eagles" (Greek aetoi) as used in the KJV might better be translated "vulture." Clearly, the reference is to a carrion eater. In ancient times eagles and vultures are indiscriminately classed in the same family, their habits of feeding being much the same. Kik notes that the Hebrew word nesher (meaning to tear with the beak) is almost invariably translated eagle throughout the Bible; yet clearly many of the references are to vultures (68). He further notes that such language is often used in describing foreign nations coming upon the Jewish nation as a punishment for sin (see for example Deuteronomy 28:49; Hosea 8:1; Habakkuk 1:8). Thus, the point of this verse is clear. The disciples are not to expect any "Messiah," not even Jesus, to appear personally and save Jerusalem. In God’s sight, Israel is dead meat. She is fit carrion for the birds of the air. Already corrupt and decaying, her doom is sealed.

Verse 29

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days: The word "immediately" is the key to understanding this verse. Commentators who believe that verses 4–28 refer to Jerusalem’s destruction while verses 29–31 refer to the end of the world have difficulty explaining the use of this word. It makes little sense for Jesus to bridge the gap between Jerusalem’s demise and the final judgment with the term "immediately" when the events are separated by thousands of years.

Clearly, the tribulation of which Jesus speaks is the same sufferings described previously, those that Rome will visit upon the Jewish nation (24:19–22). The "tribulation" of which Jesus speaks cannot refer contextually to a supposed pre-millennial tribulation.

shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: Such vivid language leads many to assume that Jesus can be speaking only of His second coming and the end of the world. At first glance, the language seems terrifying enough to suggest a catastrophic end to the earth; however, when this passage is examined in light of prophetic language, it parallels other Old Testament passages that refer to the demise of nations.

In describing the fall of Babylon, the prophet Isaiah says, "For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine" (13:10). Likewise against Edom, the prophet says:

And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment (Isaiah 34:4-5).

The book of Ezekiel uses similar language in its lament for Pharaoh, king of Egypt. "And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD" (32:7–8).

The language here is highly figurative; and no one would assume the heavens will literally be "rolled together as a scroll." Kik notes, "If these had been literal occurrences, the end of the world must have come at the time judgment fell upon Idumea, which is preposterous"

(72). Kik further notes, "If the Holy Spirit speaking through the prophet Isaiah uses such figurative language to describe the downfall of a heathen nation like Babylon, how much more would not such language fit the downfall of the chosen nation of Israel?" (71).

Verse 30

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: Many assume the sign of which Jesus speaks is His own second coming or some other phenomena that was to appear in the heavens. The sign, however, is not Jesus Himself but one that originates with Jesus. There will be a sign on earth that undeniably shows that He has taken His rightful place in heaven at the right hand of God. The destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) fulfilled this sign. With this holocaust, Jesus’ claims are vindicated as God demonstrates once and for all that the Jewish dispensation is over. Judaism would never be resurrected again. The Temple with its genealogical records, its sacrificial system, and its ordinances are no more. The Temple made with hands would vanish and give way to the Temple made without hands (Kik 80). With A.D. 70, spiritual Israel is vindicated and shown to be the nation of God:

If Judaism had been allowed to hold sway with its shadows and carnal ordinances, it would have been a hindrance to the spreading of the gospel….The catastrophe of Jerusalem really signalized the beginning of a new and world-wide kingdom, marking the full separation of the Christian Church from legalistic Judaism. The whole system of worship, so closely associated with Jerusalem and the Temple, received, as it were, a death blow from God himself. God was now through with the Old Covenant made at Sinai; holding full sway was the sign of the New Covenant (Kik 80).

and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn: "All the tribes that mourn" has reference to the physical land of Israel and its historical division among the twelve tribes. The translation of the word "earth" (Greek gn) is misleading since it can also refer to "a land, a region, or country" (Fowler 484). Hence all the Jews of the land of Palestine will mourn at this time. Kik says some will mourn because of God’s fearful visitation upon Jerusalem and others will mourn because of true repentance (81).

The language Jesus employs here is reminiscent of Zechariah 12:10 and other Old Testament prophecies where graphic language is used to describe cataclysmic events later to be fulfilled. The allusion Jesus makes is to national Jewish mourning brought on by the unparalleled demise of the Jewish economy, the destruction of Jerusalem, and all those events leading up to that time.

and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory: Some have mistakenly assumed this passage refers to a visible and literal reign of Christ. But, there is nothing here to indicate a coming by Christ on the earth or a literal reign in Jerusalem. "As a matter of fact, there is not a single verse in the New Testament to indicate that Christ will reign upon a material throne in the material city of Jerusalem. This thought has been imported by a carnal interpretation of Old Testament passages. Christ is actually seated now upon his Messianic throne" (Kik 83).

A second point is it is not necessary to interpret "coming in the clouds of heaven" as a visible coming of Christ. Old Testament phraseology, familiar to those of Jesus’ time, proves the point. Isaiah 19:1 says, "Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it." Obviously, the Egyptians did not see the Lord in a personal, visible way. The picture is one of "judgment." Likewise Psalms 97:2-3 says, "Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about." And Psalms 104:3 reads, "Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind." The phrase "maketh the clouds his chariot" is no different from Jesus’ words, "coming in the clouds of heaven" (Kik 83). In both cases the allusion is to judgment and power rather than a personal visible appearance.

This kind of language is further illustrated by Jesus in Mark 9:1 and Matthew 16:28. Jesus says, "Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." The "Son of man coming in his kingdom" could hardly have reference to a literal personal second coming of Christ because the event in question was to occur during the lifetime of the apostles. Clearly, Christ does not personally and literally return during the first century. Even Pentecost, which fulfills the Master’s prediction by inaugurating the kingdom (Acts 2), does not produce His literal and visible appearance. Rather by the miraculous outpouring power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is vindicated as King on the throne of David (Acts 2:30; Acts 2:33).

In essence, this verse uses Old Testament apocalyptic phraseology to depict the events that will vindicate Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings. Before He ascends, Jesus says, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (28:18). After His kingdom comes with power on Pentecost (Acts 2), one of His first and righteous acts was to destroy those who had crucified Him. Those who have refused to accept Him as King and Savior do indeed "see" Him come on the clouds as He rains destruction upon their heads. All Israel mourns.

Verse 31

And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Because the words of this verse seem to fit so appropriately the second coming of Christ, many have again assumed it can refer to nothing else; however, context must always be the primary interpretive key of scripture. That angels, trumpets, and the gathering of God’s elect shall all be part of the final end is beyond question (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). But in such an apocalyptic setting as this verse, we must not overlook the possibility that these things point to something else. This interpretation is especially true, given the definitive time frame mentioned in verse 34. Jesus specifically says, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."

Jesus draws from the Old Testament to describe the cataclysmic events of Israel’s demise (see verses 29-30). He continues this thought as He describes what will happen once Jewish obstacles to the spread of the gospel have been removed. Even though the gospel spreads rapidly after Pentecost, the church is not distinguished from Judaism until after A.D. 70. When Judaism falls, it opens new doors for the kingdom. Jesus predicts this opportunity in the parable of the vineyard (21:43). By rejecting Jesus, the Jewish nation fills up their cup of iniquity and becomes the object of God’s wrath. The kingdom is taken away from her and is given to a nation bearing fruit (21:43). It is this grand event that Jesus describes with vivid Jewish imagery.

And he shall send his angels: Jesus says "angels" will administer this jubilant gathering. Again, many assume this word can have reference only to the myriad of "spiritual beings" that will accompany Jesus’ second coming and judgment (13:41; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:7). The Greek term aggelos, however, does not always refer to heavenly spirits. The term can also be translated "messenger." Context must determine its correct usage. In Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:24; Luke 7:27; Luke 9:52; Mark 1:2; and James 2:25, the Greek word aggelos is used in reference to human messengers, not to angelic beings. In this verse, the word aggelos may correctly be translated messengers. Thus, Jesus is depicting a time when His disciples, His messengers, will go into all the world, preach the gospel, and gather the "elect" into the church (28:18–19). "From the day of the Great Commission unto this day his ministers have been fulfilling the function of messengers or angels in gathering the elect from all nations" (Kik 90).

with a great sound of a trumpet: The "trumpet" in Old Testament times is used to signal the people and call them together (Exodus 19:13; Numbers 10:1-7). At various times national Israel hears the trumpet blast and gathers for celebration and instruction.

One of the most important of these celebrations is the year of jubilee. In this the fiftieth year, after seven Sabbaths of years have been counted, liberty is proclaimed throughout the land (Leviticus 25). The soil has rest, slaves are set free, and ancestral possessions are returned to their rightful owners (25:8–16, 23–34). The trumpet is intimately connected with these grand events. The term jubilee (Hebrew yobel) means, "a joyful shout, or blast of a trumpet."

Jesus proclaims the spiritual significance of this ancient Israelite feast as He preaches in the synagogue of Nazareth. He says:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2).

Thus, the "year of jubilee" is symbolic of the gospel age and Jesus’ ministry.

and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other: The spiritual significance of this "jubilee" is not limited to Jews. As the gospel trumpet heralds the good news, men and women from all corners of the earth are called forth from the bondage of sin into the glorious freedom of Christ’s kingdom. With the destruction of Jerusalem, the old dispensation gives way to the new and the trumpet truly sounds (Kik 89).

In saying His messengers will gather God’s elect from the four winds, Jesus prefigures the universality of the gospel. The phraseology is in keeping with Old Testament literature. Deuteronomy 30:4 says, "If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee." Likewise Isaiah 45:22 says, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." And the Psalmist writes, "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee" (22:27). Jesus uses similar language in Luke 13:29 : "And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God." Like verse 24:31, this verse has no reference to Christ’s second coming but is prophetic of the time when salvation will be extended beyond the borders of Israel. That the gospel dispensation will be universal in scope is signaled by the fall of Judaism in A.D. 70.

Verses 32-33

Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

Now learn a parable of the fig tree: Luke adds, "all trees," indicating the parable is not strictly about fig trees but one about nature in general (21:29). Because this discourse is given while Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives near the village of Bethphage (house of figs), the fig tree is appropriate to the illustration.

When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is night: Just as a budding tree signals the nearness of summer’s warmth, the things Jesus predicts signal the heat of God’s wrath upon Jerusalem.

So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors: "All these things" refers to all the things about which Jesus has warned: false Christs, wars, rumors of wars, famine, pestilence, earthquake, etc. It encompasses all that is connected with the fall of Jerusalem. When Christians see "all these things" coming to pass, they will know "it" is near, even at the door.

Verse 34

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

"This generation" has reference to the immediate generation under the sound of Jesus’ voice. Kik is right to call this verse the "time-text" (98). When correctly interpreted, every event regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, the Roman atrocities toward the Jews, and the advancement of God’s kingdom are fulfilled within forty years, the time span generally used to mark a generation.

There is no pressing reason to interpret "generation" as anything other than a term depicting those who lived during the holocaust time frame of A.D. 70. Some have suggested the term should be interpreted as "race," indicating the nation of Israel, the Jewish race, would continue on earth until the Lord comes again. But this interpretation will not do. In the previous verse, Jesus uses the phrase "all these things" to refer to the nearness of Jerusalem’s demise. He repeats the phrase. To those events that Jews of Jesus’ day see and experience, the phase means the same. Thus, the "generation" that will not pass away until all is fulfilled is the same as in the previous verse. Furthermore, Jesus has denied that the described "earth shaking tragedies" are to be connected to the "end of time" and His parousia. Why would He change His approach here? There is no reason to assume "generation" in this place has any other meaning than it does in other sections of Matthew’s record where it is used in the natural sense (cf. 23:36).

Verse 35

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

To the startling prediction concerning the fate of Jerusalem, Jesus adds a most solemn oath. "heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away." Although to the human mind nothing seems more stable than the earth and sky, Jesus says His words are more sure. His words will come to pass, and His followers can stake their lives on them. While the truth of verse 35 may be applied to every word Jesus speaks during His ministry, the immediate context is in reference to Jerusalem’s downfall. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus uses similar language to describe the permanence of God’s Word through Moses. Now Jesus places His own words on the same level. In so doing, Jesus claims divinity.

With this verse Jesus ends His discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem. In minute detail, He has answered the first question asked in verse 3, "When shall these things be?" He has given the discernible signs that will aid Christians in escaping Jerusalem’s holocaust.

In the next section, Jesus will turn His attention to events for which there will be no signs. Unlike the terror that is soon to befall Jerusalem, the end of time will come with no warning. In fact Jesus tells His disciples that of "that day and hour" no man can predict, not even the angels of heaven. Only the Father knows when the final judgment will come.

Verse 36

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Several indications show that verse 36 begins a new theme. Having dealt with the destruction of Jerusalem in verses 1–35, Jesus addresses the disciples’ inquiry regarding "His second coming and the end of the world." Even though His disciples have mistakenly connected Jerusalem’s demise and the end of time, Jesus is careful to separate these two events. There is a stark shift in tone and language beginning in verse 36. Whereas Jerusalem’s destruction is to be accompanied with observable signs, the second coming will be unpredictable. No one besides the Father knows when these events will occur. And whereas the language of verses 3–35 clearly describes a Judean catastrophe (cf. 15–20), what follows is obviously a global phenomenon. Furthermore, after verse 35, Jesus shifts from "days" to "day" and begins talking about a single day when His second coming will occur. The destruction of Jerusalem will occur over a period of time (24:19, 22, 29), but Jesus’ second coming will happen in a single moment (24:36, 42, 44, 50; 25:13).

Terminology like "the day, the great day, that day, and that hour" are recognized expressions in scriptures for the final day of judgment. Jesus has often spoken of the final judgment in connection with a certain day (see 7:22; 11:22–26; 12:36). By employing such language, Jesus assures the disciples will have no difficulty understanding what He is talking about (Kik 101).

Why Jesus does not know the day and hour of His own return? Would not His divinity provide His humanity perfect knowledge? And why do the evangelists’ records risk admission of such ignorance? Would this not serve to discredit the one they hope to portray as the God-Man? It is impossible to say why Jesus does not know the exact time of His return. Quite simply scripture does not reveal the answer. Several theories have been postulated.

1. Perhaps Jesus knows personally but not officially, that is, He is not at liberty to disclose it. If this is the case, His words are to be taken as hyperbole and not in a literal sense. The problem with this theory is that it seems out of character for Him. There is no reason contextually to suspect that Jesus is exaggerating. The details He has earlier disclosed regarding Jerusalem are quite literally designed to save His followers’ lives. His description of the impending holocaust is not couched in hyperbole, and there seems to be no reason to assume that such is the case with His second coming. If information regarding Jerusalem does not merit hyperbole, certainly the more terrible event of the end of time does not either.

2. Broadus postulates that in taking on the form of humanity, there are certain things Jesus does not know (493). At twelve years of age, we read of Jesus’ advancing in wisdom and knowledge. Thus, His divinity does not override His need for natural growth and development. Broadus says, "If his knowledge was incomplete at twelve, it was still incomplete at thirty. Indeed a finite mind could not contain all knowledge. If there was to be a real Incarnation of the Eternal Word, then the body he took must be a real body, and the mind a real mind" (493). In the end analysis, it should not surprise us that we cannot understand "Divinity’s ignorance." Doubtless, this is part of the Incarnation that mortals need not expect to solve.

3. Others believe Jesus voluntarily limits His own knowledge, that is, He has "a sacred unwillingness to know." But as Fowler says, "He who could have requested twelve legions of angels, but opted to undergo the shame and submitted to separation from the Father, could He not also surrender to the indignity of not knowing this date?" (522). Indeed, why would we expect that for such an important event Jesus would choose to limit His knowledge?

The question might be raised as to whether Jesus’ ignorance somehow serves to discredit His claims of divinity. In reality, while we would love to know why Jesus does not know, His candor actually bolsters His claim of Godness. Fowler observes that Jesus’ rigorous honesty makes Him more believable than had He falsely faked some date. He says, "Nevertheless he had the moral courage to risk the loss of every disciple by stating, ’I do not know’… This unswerving honesty marks Him a true ambassador and credible spokesman of God" (521).

The practical application of the secrecy surrounding the return of Christ is obvious. If Christ does not know the day or hour of His return, it is certain we cannot ascertain such a date. Thus, we must live every day as if it is our last—in a constant state of preparation. Is this not the aim of Christianity? Fowler says, "The motive for God’s secreting this information may not lie in some weakness of Jesus’ nature, but in the nature of OUR weakness. Every human being must live with the uncertainty of the date of judgment" (523).

Verse 37

But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Jesus now takes His disciples’ minds back to the familiar account of Noah (Genesis 6-9). In so doing, He establishes the veracity and historicity of the biblical account of the flood. The exact nature of His comparison will be detailed in verses 38 and 39.

Verse 38

For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,

All seems normal before the flood. People go about their daily activities of eating, drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage. Except for the preaching of Noah, no doubt viewed as an alarmist, no signs point to any impending doom. But herein lies the danger. The people conduct their daily lives as if no judgment will come, as if Noah is a crazy man, and as if they will live forever. Their own indifference to God’s call seals their own fate.

It will be the same for those who are unprepared for Christ’s second coming. There will be no specific signs giving people any last minute chance to "hurry up and repent." God’s Messenger has come, and the gospel warning has gone forth. This warning is enough. Destruction comes suddenly and unexpectedly upon the unprepared like a "thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

Verse 39

And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

And knew not until the flood came: "And knew not" has reference to the people’s willful ignorance. Those of Noah’s day heard and understood the warning, but they did not believe God was serious. Such ignorance was not Noah’s fault—no doubt his preaching was powerful and his testimony (that is, the ark) impressive. But the people willfully rejected the preaching of Noah.

Fowler notes that "they knew not" because the sun did not refuse to shine, the moon continued to give her light, and no stars fell from heaven (525). Because all things continued as they had from the beginning, they assumed such would always be the case. It takes the flood to wake them up to God’s wrath.

and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be: "Took them away" refers to the wicked of Noah’s day. It is not "Noah and his family" who are taken from the earth but rather those who refuse to heed his preaching. This point is vital in understanding the next two verses. Those "taken away" in the following verses are the wicked, not the righteous. Jesus is not giving some kind of eschatological agenda for a rapture of the righteous.

Verses 40-41

Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

Jesus here gives two examples of activities of daily living. As life continues normally before the flood, so it will up to the final judgment. Folks will be about their daily routines as if nothing is about to happen. In verse 40, the picture is of two farm workers tending crops in the field. In verse 41, the picture is of two women, one on each side of a grinding wheel, preparing flour from grain.

The application of these verses is found in their connection to the final judgment. Several points should be considered:

1. That one will be taken and the other left shows the individuality of the judgment. While people may be intimately connected by their jobs and daily activities in this life (that is, in the field, at the mill), judgment will find each on his own. Each shall give an account of his own deeds whether good or evil. One will not be judged on the merits of others. We shall stand alone, naked and bare before the Lord. Each must "watch" and prepare.

2. Many assume the ones who are "taken" are the righteous who, according to Pre-Millennialists, are to be raptured in conjunction with the "Great Tribulation." Others see this situation as parallel with Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 where the "righteous" shall meet the Lord in the air at His second coming. In both instances, the ones "taken" are assumed to be the "righteous." The difficulty of this conclusion is that the previous illustration of Noah shows it is the wicked who are "taken away" (verse 39). The wicked are destroyed (taken away) while the righteous remain. This is the backdrop for Jesus’ statement here. The point is that at the final judgment the wicked will be taken away. Just as in the parable of the tares, so it is here (13:30). The wicked will be separated from the righteous. The thrust of Jesus’ teaching is, "after the dust settles, the only ones left standing victorious…will be Christians" (Fowler 527). The second coming will come so suddenly that no last minute preparation will be possible. The wicked will be taken away to meet their doom just as the flood took the wicked of the antediluvian world.

3. This verse provides further proof that from verse 36 onward Jesus changes subject matter. Whereas those (the righteous) of section one (verses 1–35) are commanded to "flee" from the wrath to come, those in this section (the wicked) will be "taken" and will be unable to flee.

Verse 42

Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

This is the theme of the entire second section (verses 36ff). Because there will be no harbinger for Jesus’ second coming, He enjoins vigilance. The Greek word "watch" (gregoreite) means more than simply looking at something. It means to be awake, to be on guard as a soldier assigned to a night watch. The three parables that follow masterfully illustrate this point (24:43–25:30).

Verse 43

But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.

This illustration is one of dissimilarity. On a moral level Jesus has nothing in common with a thief. Yet the illustration is appropriate because just as the thief gives no advance warning so Jesus’ coming will be unannounced. The only way a homeowner can rest assured is to be on guard constantly.

Verse 44

Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

The paradox for the believer is that rest and assurance come by remaining wide awake. The believer not only remains vigilant because he fears being found unprepared but because he anxiously longs for his master’s return.

Preparedness is the watchword for the believer (Romans 13:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6). It is a human tendency to slip from a state of vigilance into complacency. This situation is applicable for the modern day Christian. Because two centuries have come and gone and Jesus has not returned, therein lies the danger that Christians will think He will not return any time soon. This state of mind is folly because it leads to relaxed standards of practice and faith. Jesus’ word is, "Watch, for when you least expect it…I will come!"

Verse 45

Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?

Who then is a faithful and wise servant: The question is rhetorical. The faithful and wise servant is the one who is vigilant. He is the one who will receive a reward. He is the servant who works hard in preparation for his master’s return no matter how near or distant in the future. Furthermore, he not only stays vigilant but makes good use of the master’s goods.

whom his lord hath made ruler over his household: This man is just a servant, but he has been given great responsibilities as well. Thus, it is not enough for him to mind his own affairs as he waits for the lord’s return. He must wisely administer his lord’s estate as well.

to give them meat in due season: The picture is not merely that of a steward over material goods but one who is in charge of other servants as well. This servant is responsible for feeding and caring for his fellow servants. His judgment at the master’s return will be based largely on how he treats those under him. The sobering reality is that he who is in charge of others has "One" who is in charge of him.

In reality, we are all responsible for others regardless of how humble a position we hold in life. That we shall be judged as we have judged others is found over and over in scripture (see 5:7; 7:2; 10:42; 18:32– 33). Since Christians cannot literally minister to Jesus in His absence, they must serve each other and their fellowman. How we treat others is a perfect barometer of how we would treat Jesus if He were here.

Verse 46

Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.

God did not design man to be idle either physically or spiritually. Work is necessary in both the temporal and spiritual realms. Those whom the Lord will reward are those who are vigilant and who are diligent in the work of the Lord.

Verse 47

Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.

Having proved his trustworthiness and genuine concern for his master’s goods, the faithful servant can now be entrusted with more of his lord’s estate. Fowler says, "Faithfulness and responsible service will be repaid with opportunities for infinitely greater responsibility" (538). At the Lord’s return, all who prove faithful will be granted rewards and responsibilities beyond those they already have. Contrary to popular belief, faithfulness does not lead to less responsibility but rather leads to greater responsibility. The servant who is faithful will understand and appreciate this fact. The opportunity to provide more service to the Master is reward enough because this servant has a "servant’s heart."

Verse 48

But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;

Jesus raises the possibility that the same servant who has the potential for faithfulness has the same for being a scoundrel. The choice is up to the servant, and what he chooses to do in his lord’s absence is up to him. In the former case, the servant might serve well and be rewarded. In this case, the same servant abandons goodness and follows the evil that apparently is in his heart all along.

It would seem the servant in this verse is one who plays the hypocrite (24:51). As long as his master watches him, he pretends to serve well. Once his master delays his return, however, he takes the action he no doubt felt all along. He abuses his master’s resources. All it takes for the evil to manifest itself is opportunity.

Verse 49

And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;

The wicked servant now demonstrates his true character and begins to do unthinkable things. He abuses the authority his master gives him and abuses others. He seemingly forgets that someday there will come a day of reckoning. Furthermore, he abandons the good company of hard working servants and begins to hang out with the local riffraff. No longer interested in what profit he can provide for his master, he is now interested only in what pleasure he can provide for himself. Broadus says he now begins to carouse at the master’s expense instead of keeping the household in order and exercising a prudent economy (497).

Verse 50

The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,

What Jesus now describes should have been obvious to the evil servant all along. Just because the master has delayed his coming does not mean he would not come at all. Prudence demands vigilance and faithfulness. This servant is a "fool" in the truest sense. Having abandoned his responsibility, he now basks in careless indifference. Having indulged his fleshly passions, his sense of moral obligation has been dulled. In a stupor of self-fulfillment, he is unaware that his master is on his way back.

Jesus says, "in an hour that he is not aware of." This statement is further proof that Jesus’ second coming will not be accompanied by specific warning signs. Therefore, constant preparedness is vital. Every day must be lived as if it were the day of the Lord’s return. "We may not assume that we can stop sinning just in time to be found good and faithful men at his return" (Fowler 540).

Verse 51

And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The punishment is swift and severe. "To cut asunder" (Greek: dichotomeo) literally means to cut in two—as in butchering. Such severe punishment was practiced by the Hebrews (2 Samuel 12:31; Hebrews 11:37; Susanna 5:5, an apocryphal book). Some, however, believe Jesus is using hyperbole because He goes on to say this servant will have his portion with the hypocrites and will be cast in a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Presumably then he will still be alive. Some scholars believe "cut asunder" refers to severe scourging or perhaps to mutilation of some other sort (Fowler 451; Broadus 497). Whatever the case, the meaning is that this wicked servant will experience the most excruciating punishment. What awaits this wicked servant is eternal damnation.

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Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 24". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-24.html. 1993-2022.