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E. The King’s revelations concerning the future chs. 24-25
We now come to the fifth and final major discourse in Matthew’s Gospel, the Olivet Discourse. Its theme is the kingdom, specifically, events leading up to the establishment of the kingdom.
The connective "and" (NASB, Gr. kai) ties what follows to Jesus’ preceding denunciation of the generation of Jews that rejected Him and the divine judgment that would follow (Matthew 23:36-39). However the "apocalyptic" or "eschatological" discourse that He proceeded to give was not merely an extension of the address in chapter 23. This is clear because the setting, audience, and major themes changed. There is some continuity of subject matter but not enough to justify viewing chapters 23-25 as one discourse.
Jesus and His disciples left the temple complex (Gr. hieron) and proceeded east toward Bethany where Jesus was spending His nights during the Passover season. However before they had left the temple area the disciples commented to Jesus about the magnificent temple buildings (cf. Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5).
"They still focus on the temple, on which Jesus has pronounced doom, since the true center of the relation between God and man has shifted to himself. In chapter 23 Jesus has already insisted that what Israel does with him, not the temple, determines the fate of the temple and of Israel nationally." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 496.]
1. The setting of these revelations 24:1-3 (cf. Mark 13:1-4; Luke 21:5-7)
All the things to which Jesus pointed the disciples were the buildings that they had just pointed out to Him. He then prefaced an important revelation with a characteristic emphatic introduction: "Truly I say to you," or "I tell you the truth." Jesus forecast the destruction of the temple complex that Herod the Great had begun building about 20 B.C. and was not complete until A.D. 64. He used Old Testament language (Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:18; Micah 3:12; cf. Matthew 23:38; Matthew 26:61; Luke 23:28-31).
"This statement is given with great force because of the aorist passive subjunctive of the verb ’to leave’ with the double negative ou me (translated ’not’)." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 268.]
"The temple was made of huge stones, some of them many tons in size, carved out in the stone quarries underneath the city of Jerusalem. Such large stones could be dislodged only through deliberate force. The sad fulfillment was to come in A.D. 70, only six years after the temple was completed, when the Roman soldiers deliberately destroyed the temple, prying off stones one by one and casting them into the valley below." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 180.]
". . . the Roman destruction of Herod’s temple in A.D. 70 was so complete that all that now remains is part of the substructure of the temple precincts, not of the temple buildings themselves." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 888.]
The Mount of Olives stands directly east of the temple area on the eastern side of the Kidron Valley that separates Mt. Olivet from Mt. Zion. The site of this discourse has given it its name: the Olivet Discourse. It was an appropriate place for Jesus to give a discourse dealing with His return. The Mount of Olives is where Zechariah predicted that Messiah would stand to judge the nations and establish His kingdom (Zechariah 14:4). This prophecy is foundational to the discourse that follows.
The word "privately" as Matthew and Mark used it set the disciples apart from the crowds. Mark wrote that Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Jesus the question (Mark 13:3). Whether He gave the answer only to them, which seems improbable, or to all the disciples, He did not give it to the multitudes. This was further revelation for their believing ears only. Luke did not mention the disciples as the recipients of this teaching but implied that a larger audience heard it (Luke 21:5-7). However this appears to have been deliberate by Luke to show that this teaching had significance for all the people.
The disciples asked Jesus two questions. The first was, "When will these things be?" The second question had two parts as is clear from the Greek construction of the sentence. It linked two nouns, "coming" (Gr. parousias) and "end" (Gr. synteleias), with a single article, "the" (Gr. to), and the conjunction "and" (Gr. kai). The second question was, "What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" By asking the question this way we know that the disciples believed that Jesus’ coming (Matthew 23:39) would end the present age and introduce the messianic age. [Note: See Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:434-45, for an explanation of the Jewish expectation connected with the advent of the Messiah.] The first question dealt with the time of the destruction of the temple. The second dealt with the sign that would signal Jesus’ coming and the end of the age.
What did the disciples mean when they asked Jesus about the sign of His coming? This is the first occurrence of parousia ("coming") in Matthew’s Gospel (cf. Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:37; Matthew 24:39). In classical non-biblical Greek this word meant "presence" and later "arrival" or "coming," the first stage of being present. [Note: Abbott-Smith, p. 347.] In the New Testament, parousia does not always have eschatological overtones (e.g., 2 Corinthians 7:6; 2 Corinthians 10:10). In the second and third centuries A.D., writers used it to describe the visit of a king or other important official. [Note: M’Neile, p. 345.] In view of Jesus’ recent statement that the Israelites would not see Him again until they would say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," it was undoubtedly to this coming that the disciples referred (Matthew 23:39). They wanted to know when He would return to the temple having been accepted rather than rejected by the nation. Specifically they wanted to know what would signify His return, what would be the harbinger of His advent.
What did they mean by "the end of the age?" Jesus had used this phrase before (Matthew 13:39-40; Matthew 13:49; cf. Matthew 28:20). By the end of the age Jesus meant the end of the present age that will consummate in His second coming and a judgment of living unbelievers (cf. Jeremiah 29:22; Jeremiah 51:33; Daniel 3:6; Hosea 6:11; Joel 3:13; Zephaniah 1:3). This will occur just before the messianic kingdom begins. The disciples used the phrase "the end of the age" as Jesus and the Old Testament prophets spoke of it. They understood that Jesus meant the present age, the one before the messianic age began, since in their question they associated it with Jesus’ return to the temple.
Both of the disciples’ questions, occurring as they did together, suggest that the disciples associated the destruction of the temple with Jesus’ return to it and the end of the present age. [Note: Bruce, 1:289.] The Old Testament taught that several eschatological events would happen in the following order. First, Jerusalem would suffer destruction (Zechariah 14:1-2; cf. Matthew 24:2). Second, Messiah would come and end the present age (Zechariah 14:3-8; cf. Matthew 23:39). Third, Messiah would set up His kingdom (Zechariah 14:3-11). The disciples wanted to know when in the future the destruction of the temple, Jesus’ return to it, and the end of the present age would occur. They probably did not ask Him when He would inaugurate His kingdom because they knew this would happen when He returned to the temple and ended the present age.
"Matthew’s gospel does not answer the first question, which relates to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This is given more in detail in Luke, while Matthew and Mark answer the second and third questions, which actually refer to Christ’s coming and the end of the age as one and the same event. Matthew’s account of the Olivet discourse records that portion of Christ’s answer that relates to His future kingdom and how it will be brought in, which is one of the major purposes of the gospel." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 182.]
The destruction of Jerusalem and other similar catastrophes would not indicate that Messiah’s coming and the end of the present age were just around the corner, as Zechariah’s prophecy seemed to indicate. The future appearance of people who claimed to be the Messiah should not deceive the disciples into concluding that He had arrived either. Those who would come in Messiah’s name refers to those who would come claiming to be Messiah, not those who would come as Jesus’ representatives.
2. Jesus’ warning about deception 24:4-6 (cf. Mark 13:5-7; Luke 21:8-9)
Jesus began the Olivet Discourse by warning His disciples about the possibility of their concluding wrongly that He had returned or was just about to return. Kingsbury divided this speech on the "last times" as follows: (I) On Understanding Aright the Signs of the End (Matthew 24:4-35); (II) On Being on the Alert for Jesus’ Coming at the Consummation of the Age (Matthew 24:36 to Matthew 25:30); and (III) On the Second Coming of Jesus and the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 112.]
The presence of wars and rumors of wars should likewise not mislead the disciples into thinking that the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem was near (cf. Revelation 6:3-4). Wars and rumors of wars would come, but they would not necessarily be the fulfillment of the prophecies about Messiah’s destroying His enemies when He returns (Zechariah 14:2-5). The disciples should not let the presence of wars and rumors of wars deceive them into thinking that Messiah’s return to reign was imminent.
Wars, famines, and earthquakes will anticipate the end of the present age.
"The horrors described are not local disturbances, but are spread over the known world; nations and kingdoms are in hostility with one another." [Note: M’Neile, p. 346.]
The Jews believed that a seven-year period of time will immediately precede Messiah’s coming to rule the world.
"Our Rabbis taught: In the seven-year cycle at the end of which the son of David will come . . . at the conclusion of the septennate the son of David will come." [Note: The Babylonian Talmud, p. 654.]
"The idea became entrenched that the coming of the Messiah will be preceded by greatly increased suffering . . . This will last seven years. And then, unexpectedly, the Messiah will come." [Note: Raphael Patai, The Messianic Texts, pp. 95-96.]
"A prominent feature of Jewish eschatology, as represented especially by the rabbinic literature, was the time of trouble preceding Messiah’s coming. It was called ’the birth pangs of the Messiah,’ sometimes more briefly translated as ’the Messianic woes.’" [Note: Millar Burrows, Burrows on the Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 343-44.]
The phrase "birth pains" had its origin in Old Testament passages that describe the period of distress preceding the messianic age, namely, the Tribulation (Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 26:17; Jeremiah 4:31; Jeremiah 6:24; Micah 4:9-10; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:3).
"’Birth pangs’ are a favorite metaphor for the tribulations God’s judgment brings upon man." [Note: Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, s.v. "Chebel," by H. J. Fabry, 4:191.]
The "birth pangs" Jesus spoke about here will be a period seven years long immediately before Messiah returns to establish His kingdom. [Note: See Showers, pp. 23-24.] This corresponds to "Daniel’s seventieth week" (Daniel 9:26-27). The beginning of "birth pangs" is the beginning of this Tribulation. Some interpreters believed Matthew 24:4-8 describe the first half of the Tribulation and Matthew 24:9-14 the last half. [Note: E.g., Pentecost, Thy Kingdom . . ., pp. 250-52; and Bailey, in The New . . ., pp. 49-50.] I think this is correct. Others believed Matthew 24:4-14 describe the beginning of the Tribulation, Matthew 24:15-22, the middle of it, and Matthew 24:23-44 the end of it. [Note: E.g., Wiersbe, 1:87-89.]
"Just as the first labor pangs of a pregnant woman indicate the nearness of the birth of a child, so these great signs anticipate the end of the age and the beginning of a new one." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 271.]
|The 70th Week of Daniel 9|
|Great TribulationTime of Jacob’s Trouble|
|Beginning of Birth Pangs||Hard-Labor Birth Pangs|
|First Half||Second Half|
"The effect of these verses [6-8], then, is not to curb enthusiasm for the Lord’s return but to warn against false claimants and an expectation of a premature return based on misconstrued signs." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 498.]
"A comparison of Christ’s description of the beginning of birth pangs in Matthew 24:5-7 with the first four seals of Revelation 6:1-8 indicates that the beginning of birth pangs and the first four seals are the same thing.
"In addition, immediately after His description of the beginning of birth pangs, Christ referred to the killing of those associated with Him (Matthew 24:9). Parallel to this, the fifth seal refers to people killed because of their testimony (Revelation 6:9-11)." [Note: Showers, p. 25.]
The sixth seal seems also to fall within this period.
3. Jesus’ general description of the future 24:7-14 (cf. Mark 13:8-13; Luke 21:10-19)
Jesus proceeded to give His disciples a general picture of conditions just before He will return to end the present age and inaugurate His kingdom.
In the context all the things described in these verses will happen during the period of "birth pains," namely, during the Tribulation. However what follows seems to locate these events in the last half of the Tribulation. During the "birth pains" the disciples would experience persecution and martyrdom. The "you" extends beyond Jesus’ immediate disciples and includes disciples living in the future when these things will happen. Jesus was again speaking beyond His immediate audience.
The word "tribulation" or "persecuted" (Gr. thlipsis, or "distress") is a key word in this passage occurring three times (Matthew 24:9; Matthew 24:21; Matthew 24:29; cf. Matthew 13:21). These are all the occurrences of the word in Matthew’s Gospel. The outstanding characteristic of this time will be thlipsis. This persecution will lead many disciples to turn away from the faith (cf. Daniel 11:35). [Note: For other uses of the Greek word skandalisthesontas, "to turn away from," in Matthew, see 5:29; 13:21, 57.] They will even hate one another (Matthew 24:10). The deceiving influence of false prophets as well as the persecution the disciples will experience will cause many to turn from the faith (Matthew 24:11; cf. Matthew 7:15-23; Matthew 13:21). Those disciples who hate one another will do so because wickedness will abound and the love of many of them (for the Savior, the truth, and or one another) will grow cold (Matthew 24:12).
Though the term "disciple" is a broader one than "believer," it seems clear that Jesus meant some believers would be deceived, turn from the faith, and even hate other believers. There is no other revelation in Scripture that would preclude this interpretation and much that warns believers about this possibility (e.g., 1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3). There is much revelation, however, that precludes the view that those who will turn from the faith will lose their salvation (e.g., John 10:28-29; Romans 8:31-39).
In contrast to those who prove unfaithful, those who persevere and endure the temptations of that period will experience deliverance (Matthew 24:13). Their deliverance, unfortunately referred to as being "saved" by the majority of the English translations, will happen when and because Messiah will return at the end of the Tribulation. Jesus did not mean that perseverance results in eternal salvation. Only faith in Him does that. He will end the persecution of His disciples and thereby deliver them from this distress. Another view is that the end refers to the end of the faithful disciple’s life. [Note: See I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God, p. 74.] However the main subject of the promise seems to be the time of testing, not the disciple’s life.
"It is a promise that those who are faithful to the end, in the midst of the tribulation persecutions of Antichrist, will be abundantly rewarded with joint rulership with Christ in His coming kingdom." [Note: Dillow, p. 384.]
Another characteristic of this second half of the Tribulation period is that during those years the good news concerning the coming of the messianic kingdom will reach the ears of virtually everyone on earth. "And" ties this verse into the period in view in Matthew 24:9-13. The "gospel of the kingdom" is the same good news that John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples had preached, namely, that the kingdom was imminent (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17). Later revelation informs us that the 144,000 Jewish missionaries that God will protect during the Tribulation will provide the leadership in this worldwide gospel proclamation (Revelation 7:1-8; Revelation 14:1-5). Undoubtedly the message will be similar to the message John, Jesus, and the original disciples preached. They preached that people should get ready for the inauguration of the messianic kingdom by believing in the King, Jesus. Undoubtedly, too, some people will believe and others will not.
"For those who accept the message, entrance into the kingdom awaits. But eternal damnation accrues to those who refuse the gospel of the kingdom." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 272.]
"This is not exactly the same message the church is proclaiming today. The message preached today in the Church Age and the message proclaimed in the Tribulation period calls for turning to the Savior for salvation. However, in the Tribulation the message will stress the coming kingdom, and those who then turn to the Savior for salvation will be allowed entrance into the kingdom." [Note: Barbieri, p. 77.]
"This verse does not teach that the Gospel of God’s grace must be spread to every nation today before Jesus can return for His church. It is the Lord’s return at the end of the age that is in view here." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:87.]
In answering the disciples’ second question, Jesus explained that there would be many signs of His coming and the end of the present age. Wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes would be relatively common occurrences (Matthew 24:6-8). The signs would include the worldwide persecution of His disciples, the apostasy of some, the success of false prophets, and increased lawlessness (wickedness). The love of some disciples would cool, but others would persevere faithfully as the gospel would extend to every part of the earth (Matthew 24:9-14). Then the end (of the Tribulation) would come (Matthew 24:14; cf. Matthew 24:3).
"In general, these signs have been at least partially fulfilled in the present age and have characterized the period between the first and second coming of Christ." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 183.]
However, we should expect complete fulfillment in the future. Revelation 6-18 gives further information concerning this time.
"Therefore" or "So" (Gr. oun) ties this pericope very closely to the preceding one. It does not indicate, however, that what follows in the text will follow chronologically what Jesus just finished describing, namely the end of the Tribulation. In view of Daniel’s chronology, it seems to occur in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation.
The "abomination of desolation," or "the abomination characterized by desolation," is a term Daniel used in Daniel 8:13; Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:31; and Daniel 12:11. It describes something that because of its abominable character causes the godly to desert the temple on its account. [Note: C. E. B. Cranfield, "St. Mark 13," Scottish Journal of Theology 6 (July 1953):298-99.] In Daniel 11:31 the prophet referred to Antiochus Epiphanes as an abomination that caused desolation. He proved to be this when he erected an altar to Zeus over the brazen altar in Jerusalem and proceeded to offer a swine on it. In the Bible the Greek word translated "abomination" (bdeluyma) describes something particularly detestable to God that He rejects. [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 273.] It often refers to heathen gods and the articles connected with idolatry. [Note: Cranfield, p. 298.] In the contexts of Daniel’s references it designates an idol set up in the temple.
Jesus urged the reader of Daniel’s references to the abomination of desolation, particularly the ones dealing with a future abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27; Daniel 12:11), to understand their true meaning. Jesus further stressed the importance of these prophecies by referring to Daniel as "the prophet." Matthew’s inclusion of the phrases "the abomination of desolation," which Luke omitted, and "the holy place," which Mark and Luke omitted, were appropriate in view of his Jewish audience.
Daniel 9:24-27 predicted that from the time someone issued a decree allowing the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of Israel’s Messiah, 69 weeks (lit. sevens) of years would elapse. This 483-year period began when King Artaxerxes issued his decree, and it ended when Jesus entered Jerusalem in the Triumphal Entry (Matthew 21:8-11). Because Israel refused to accept Jesus as her King, the events that Daniel prophesied would happen in the seventieth week (i.e., the remaining seven years in his 70-week prophecy) would not follow immediately. What Daniel predicted would happen in those seven years was unique national distress for Israel (Daniel 12:1; cf. Jeremiah 30:7). It would commence when a wicked ruler would sign a covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27). After three and a half years, the ruler would break the covenant and terminate worship in the temple. He would end temple worship by setting up an abominable idol there (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:14-15).
Some interpreters have concluded that we should not take Daniel’s prophecy of the seventieth week literally and or as still future. Some of them believe the abomination of desolation refers to the Zealots’ conduct in the temple before the Romans’ destroyed it in A.D. 70. [Note: E.g., Alford, 1:239; and Lenski, p. 938.] This view seems unlikely since the Zealots did not introduce idolatry into the temple. This view seems to water down the force of "abomination." Another view is that when the Romans brought their standards bearing the image of Caesar into the temple and offered sacrifices to their gods they set up the abomination that Daniel predicted. [Note: E.g., J. Marcellus Kik, Matthew Twenty-Four, An Exposition, p. 45; Carson, "Matthew," p. 500; Morison, pp. 467-68; Shepard, p. 517; and Vincent, 1:128.] The main problem with this view is that Jesus told the Jews living in Jerusalem and Judea to flee when the abomination appeared in the temple (Matthew 24:16-20). However when the Romans finally desecrated the temple in A.D. 70 most of the Jews had already left Jerusalem and Judea. Thus Jesus’ warning would have been meaningless.
". . . there is reasonably good tradition that Christians abandoned the city, perhaps in A.D. 68, about halfway through the siege." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 501.]
There are several reasons why the abomination of desolation must be a future event in God’s eschatological program. First, Matthew 24:15 is in a context of verses that describes events that have not yet happened (Matthew 24:14-21; cf. Matthew 24:29). Second, Daniel’s seventieth week, with its unique trouble, has not yet happened. Third, Mark described Jesus saying that the abomination of desolation would stand (masculine participle estekota) as a person who set himself up as God in the temple (Mark 13:14). This has never happened since Jesus made this prophecy. Fourth, other later revelation points to the future Antichrist as the abomination of desolation (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13:11-18). [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 274-75.]
"An interesting parenthesis occurs at the end of Matthew 24:15 -’whoso readeth, let him understand.’ This statement indicates that what Jesus was teaching would have greater significance for people reading Matthew’s Gospel in the latter days." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:88.]
4. The abomination of desolation 24:15-22 (cf. Mark 13:14-20)
Having given a general description of conditions preceding His return and the end of the present age, Jesus next described one particular event that would be the greatest sign of all.
When the abomination of desolation appears, the Jews living in Jerusalem and Judea should flee immediately (cf. Luke 17:31; Revelation 12:14). His influence would extend far beyond Jerusalem. They must seek refuge in places where they can escape his persecution. They must not even take time to retrieve possessions from their houses as they flee. Pregnant women and nursing mothers will have a hard time because their physical conditions will limit their mobility. Weather would make flight harder in the winter, and observant Jews would seek to discourage travel on the Sabbath.
Jesus explained the reason for such hasty retreat. A tribulation much greater than any the world has ever seen or ever will see would be about to break on the Jews. This description fits the Old Testament pictures of the Great Tribulation, the last three and a half years of the Tribulation (Revelation 11:2; Revelation 13:5).
Again, the term "Tribulation" refers to the future seven-year period of distress, Daniel’s seventieth week (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 9:26). The term "Great Tribulation" refers to the last half or three and one-half years of that seven-year period (Matthew 24:15-22), which Jeremiah called "the time of Jacob’s trouble" (Jeremiah 30:6-7). During the first half of the Tribulation Israel will enjoy the protection of Antichrist’s covenant (Daniel 9:27), but during the second half, after Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel, she will experience unprecedented persecution (Daniel 9:27).
The description in this verse is not a fitting description of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, as bad as that was. Certainly the Nazi holocaust in which an estimated six million Jews perished and other purges in which added multitudes have died have been worse times than the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet the Great Tribulation will be the worst of all times for the Jews. The coming distress would be unprecedented in its suffering (cf. Daniel 12:1; Revelation 7:14).
"In a century that has seen two world wars, now lives under the threat of extinction by nuclear holocaust, and has had more Christian martyrs than in all the previous nineteen centuries put together, Jesus’ prediction does not seem farfetched. But the age will not run its course; it will be cut short." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," pp. 502-3.]
Unless God ends (Gr. ekolobothesan, "to terminate or cut off") the Tribulation, no living thing will remain alive.
"This does not mean that the period will be less than three-and-a-half years, but that it will be definitely terminated suddenly by the second coming of Christ." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 188. Cf. Pentecost, Thy Kingdom . . ., p. 253; and Showers, pp. 50-54.]
The antecedent of "those days" is the days Jesus just described in Matthew 24:15-21: the days of the Tribulation. Jesus will shorten them a little out of compassion. Later revelation of this period in the Book of Revelation helps us appreciate the truth of Jesus’ statement here (cf. Revelation 6-18). Not just people but all forms of life (Gr. pasa sarx, lit. "all flesh") will experience drastic cutbacks during the Great Tribulation (cf. Revelation 6:7-8; Revelation 16:13-21). Antichrist will target the Jews and then Jews who believe in Jesus particularly (Revelation 12:13-17), but great multitudes of people will perish because of the distress that he brings. The "elect" are believers (cf. Matthew 20:16; Matthew 22:14; Matthew 24:22; Matthew 24:24; Matthew 24:31).
Many interpreters, however, take this verse as describing the present age rather than a future tribulation. [Note: E.g., Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pp. 696-707.] This is the typical amillenarian and postmillenarian interpretation, though some premillenarians, such as Carson, also hold it. Weighing the distress of the present age against that of the Tribulation, I must conclude that Matthew 24:22 and this whole passage describes the future Tribulation, not the present age.
"This entire paragraph [Matthew 24:15-22] relates only to Jews, for no Christian believer would worry about breaking a Sabbath law." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:88.]
"Then" means "at that time," namely, at the end of the Tribulation (Matthew 24:2). Jesus warned the disciples about people who would claim that Messiah had returned toward the end of the Tribulation, before He really did return. People professing to be the Messiah and others claiming to be prophets will arise and mislead many people because of their ability to perform impressive miracles (cf. Matthew 24:11; Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 16:1; Luke 17:23-24; Revelation 13:15). Evidently Satan will enable them to perform these signs and wonders.
"While false Christs and false prophets have always been in evidence, they will be especially prominent at the end of the age in Satan’s final attempt to turn people from faith in Christ." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 189.]
"If possible" (Gr. ei dynaton, Matthew 24:24) means the false prophets will hope to mislead the elect living in the Tribulation. It does not mean that the elect will inevitably remain true to the faith. Jesus had already said that some of His disciples would abandon the truth under persecution (Matthew 24:10-11; cf. Matthew 26:31). However the elect will not lose their salvation.
5. The second coming of the King 24:23-31 (cf. Mark 13:21-27; Luke 21:25-28)
Jesus proceeded to explain to His disciples that His coming would terminate the Tribulation.
Jesus reminded His disciples that He had forewarned them about these impostors (cf. Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36). They would need to be very careful so they will not dupe them.
The disciples Jesus addressed undoubtedly thought they would be alive when these things happened. However that was not to be the case, and Jesus said nothing to mislead them. He was teaching disciples of His in the years to come as well as those sitting in His presence in this discourse, as well as in His others.
Jesus’ point in these verses was that His coming would be obvious to all rather than obscure. When He came, everyone would know it. Consequently the disciples would not need to fear missing the event, and they should not react to every rumor that it was happening. His coming would be as obvious as a flash of lightning that covers the heavens (Zechariah 9:14). It would be a public event, not something private that only the disciples or some small group would witness.
This appears to have been a well-known proverbial saying (cf. Luke 17:37; Job 39:30). One view of its meaning is that Jesus meant that the false Messiahs and the false prophets were similar to vultures (Matthew 24:24; Matthew 24:26). They would be trying to pick the corpse of a dead Israel clean for their own advantage when Jesus returned. [Note: Lenski, p. 946; Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 276; Pentecost, Thy Kingdom . . ., p. 254.] This is a possibility in view of the context. Another view is that the corpse refers to Christ and the vultures are God’s children gathered to feed on Him. [Note: Calvin 3:143-44.] However the idea of feeding on Christ is foreign to the context, and the comparison of Him to carrion is unappealing. Other interpreters take Jesus’ illustration to mean "signs as visible and indicative [as vultures gathering to a carcass] will herald the reality of the Parousia." [Note: Hill, p. 322.] Another writer paraphrased the verse as follows to give another interpretation.
". . . just as when life has abandoned a body, and it becomes a corpse, the vultures immediately swoop down upon it; so when the world has become rotten with evil, the Son of Man and His angels will come to execute the divine judgment." [Note: Paul J. Levertoff, St. Matthew (Revised Version), p. 79. Cf. Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 190.]
The Greek word translated "vultures," aetoi, also means "eagles," but eagles rarely search out carrion. Still another view is that the figure emphasizes the swiftness of Messiah’s coming. [Note: T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, p. 147.] However the repulsive character of vultures and carrion suggest more than just a swift coming. Furthermore vultures do not always arrive and devour carrion swiftly. The view that appeals most to me is that Israel is the corpse and the vultures represent Israel’s hostile enemies. Where moral corruption exists, divine judgment falls (cf. Job 39:27-30). [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1034.]
This verse and the following two give a positive description of Messiah’s coming. "But" (NASB, Gr. de) introduces the contrast from the negative warning that preceded. At the very end of the Tribulation there will be signs in the sky. The sun and moon will darken and the stars will fall from the sky (Isaiah 13:9-10; Isaiah 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9). This is probably the language of appearance. The "powers of the heavens" (NASB) or the "heavenly bodies" (NIV) probably is a collective reference to the sun, moon, and stars. [Note: M’Neile, p. 352.] However the descriptions of the Tribulation in the Book of Revelation suggest that God may fulfill these predictions literally.
What is the sign of the Son of Man? One very old interpretation is that it is a display of the cross in the sky. [Note: Alford, 1:243.] This view has seemed fanciful to most interpreters. A popular view is that it will be a light and or a cloud similar to or perhaps identical with the Shekinah that will surround Jesus when He comes. [Note: M’Neile, p. 352; English, p. 177; Gaebelein, 2:209; Pentecost, The Words . . ., p. 404.] This seems most probable to me since Jesus evidently was referring to Daniel 7:13 when He said these words. Furthermore when Jesus ascended to heaven in a cloud an angel told His disciples that He would return the same way (Acts 1:11). The clouds symbolize the heavenly origin and character of the King (cf. Matthew 17:5). [Note: Plummer, p. 336.] A third view is that the sign will be Christ. [Note: Allen, pp. 258-59; Darby, 3:125; Kelly, p. 27; Lenski, p. 948.] In this case the appearance of Christ would signify coming judgment. This may be the correct view.
Zechariah prophesied that all the tribes of Israel in the land would mourn in repentance (Zechariah 12:12). Jesus identified this prediction with His coming and broadened it to include all the tribes of the earth. Probably the unsaved will mourn because of the judgment they anticipate.
Jesus explained another event that will happen when He returns at the end of the Tribulation. The passage He referred to was Isaiah 27:12-13. There Israel is in view, so Jesus must have been speaking about the gathering of Israelites again to the Promised Land at His second coming. The four winds refer to the four compass points. This regathering will involve judgment (Matthew 13:39; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 24:40-41; Matthew 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). Jesus had previously spoken of the angels’ role of assisting Him at this time (Matthew 13:41; cf. Matthew 16:27). This regathering will set the stage for Messiah’s worldwide reign.
God summoned the Israelites to march and to worship using trumpets during the wilderness wanderings and in the land (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:18; Jeremiah 4:5; et al.). This is not the same trumpet that will call Christians to heaven at the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). Other trumpets will sound announcing various other events in the future (cf. Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:6; Revelation 8:13; Revelation 9:14; Revelation 11:15; et al.).
Events in the church age, between Pentecost and the Rapture, are not in view in the Olivet Discourse. This is the typical pretribulational interpretation of the discourse. [Note: See Bruce A Ware, "Is the Church in View in Matthew 24-25?" Bibliotheca Sacra 138:550 (April-June 1981):158-72., ] The whole discourse deals with the return of Messiah to establish His kingdom on the earth and the things leading up to that. Jesus mentioned no sign involving anything in the church age. The signs begin in the Tribulation when Christians will have gone to be with the Lord. Jesus’ first reference to the Rapture was in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14:1-3), which He gave after the Olivet Discourse. [Note: See Thomas R. Edgar, "An Exegesis of Rapture Passages," in Issues in Dispensationalism, pp. 217-21; and Paul D. Feinberg, "Dispensational Theology and the Rapture," in ibid., pp. 235-44.] Turner compared and contrasted four main evangelical views of this passage: the futurist, the preterist, the traditional preterist-futurist, and the revised preterist-futurist. [Note: David L. Turner, "The Structure and Sequence of Matthew 24:1-41 : Interaction with Evangelical Treatments," Grace Theological Journal 10:1 (Spring 1989):3-27. For a refutation of the preterist interpretation, see Stanley D. Toussaint, "A Critique of the Preterist View of the Olivet Discourse," Bibliotheca Sacra 161:644 (October-December 2004):469-90.] He preferred the third of these, and I take the first.
"Those accepting the posttribulational view, that the rapture of the church and the second coming of Christ occur at the same time, tend to ignore the details of this discourse in the same fashion as the amillenarians do." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 181. E.g., Morgan.]
The reference to Jesus gathering the elect from the sky may indicate that dead and raptured Christians are also in view. [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 190.] They will accompany Him when He returns to reign on the earth (cf. Colossians 3:4). Some interpreters believe the reference to the sky simply describes the whole world in different words and that only Jews are in view in this verse. Some feel this may include Old Testament saints who have died. [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 277-78; Carson, "Matthew," p. 506; Barbieri, p. 78.] I think it includes Christians and Old Testament saints and possibly angels.
This concludes Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question about the sign of His coming and the end of the present age (Matthew 24:3). Other important passages of Scripture dealing with the Second Coming are the following: Deuteronomy 30:3; Psalms 2; Isaiah 63:1-6; Daniel 2:44-45; Romans 11:26; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4; 2Th_1:7 to 2Th_2:12; 2Pe_2:1 to 2Pe_3:17; Judges 1:14-15; and Revelation 1:7; Revelation 19:11-21. [Note: For parallels between the eschatology of Matthew 24 and that of the Didache, see William C. Varner, "The Didache ’Apocalypse’ and Matthew 24," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:659 (July-September 2008):309-22.]
6. The responsibilities of the disciples 24:32-25:30
Next Jesus exhorted His disciples on the basis of this revelation concerning the future. He taught them using seven parables.
The lesson (Gr. parabole, lit. parable) of the fig tree is quite simple. As the appearance of tender twigs and leaves on a fig tree indicate the nearness of summer, so the appearance of the signs Jesus explained would indicate that His coming is near.
A popular interpretation of this parable equates modern Israel’s presence in the Promised Land with the budding of the fig tree. [Note: Gaebelien, 2:213-14; Kelly, p. 451.] This view may be placing too much emphasis on the identification of the fig tree with the modern State of Israel (cf. Jeremiah 24:1-8; Jeremiah 29:17). On the other hand this could be at least part of what Jesus intended. Many commentators take this parable as describing the destruction of Jerusalem. [Note: E.g., Morgan, p. 286; Allen, p. 259; and Tasker, p. 227.] As mentioned before, this is probably not correct.
The parable of the fig tree 24:32-36 (cf. Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33)
This parable stresses the importance of the signs signifying Jesus’ return.
The importance of vigilance 24:32-44
Jesus told His disciples four parables advocating vigilance in view of the time of His return. These stories were illustrations of His main points in the Olivet Discourse.
Jesus first stressed the importance of what He would say.
What did He mean by "this generation?" Many interpreters have concluded that Jesus meant the generation of disciples to whom He spoke (cf. Matthew 11:16; Matthew 12:39; Matthew 12:41-42; Matthew 12:45; Matthew 16:4; Matthew 17:17; Matthew 23:36). Some within this group of interpreters have concluded that because these signs did not occur before that generation of disciples died Jesus made a mistake. [Note: E.g., M’Neile, p. 355.] This solution is unacceptable in view of who Jesus was. Other interpreters in this group have concluded that since these signs did not appear during the lifetime of that generation of disciples Jesus must have been speaking metaphorically, not literally. [Note: E.g., Kik, pp. 10-12; and Plummer, p. 338.] They say the destruction of Jerusalem fulfilled what Jesus predicted. This solution is also unacceptable because there is nothing in the text to indicate that Jesus meant that the disciples should understand the signs non-literally. Moreover numerous similar prophecies concerning Messiah’s first coming happened literally.
Perhaps Jesus meant that the generation of disciples that saw the future signs would also witness His return. [Note: Carl Armerding, The Olivet Discourse, p. 44; Charles Lee Feinberg, Israel in the Last Days: The Olivet Discourse, p. 22; Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 279-80; Barbieri, p. 78; Bailey, in The New . . ., pp. 51-52.] However the demonstrative pronoun "this" (Gr. aute) seems to stress the generation Jesus was addressing. But this pronoun could refer to the end times rather than to that generation. [Note: George Benedict Winer, Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, p. 157.] I prefer this view.
Other interpreters have noted that "generation" (Gr. genea) can refer to a race of people, not just to one generation (cf. Matthew 16:4; Philippians 2:15). [Note: Cremer, pp. 148-49.] They conclude that Jesus meant the Jewish race would not end before all these signs had attained fulfillment. [Note: E.g., English, p. 179; and Gaebelein, 2:214-15.] This is a possible solution, but it seems unusual that Jesus would introduce the continuing existence of the Jewish race to confirm the fulfillment of these signs.
Another view has focused attention on the words "take place" or "have happened" (Gr. genetai) that occur in all three synoptic accounts. The Greek word meant "to begin" or "to have a beginning." Advocates affirm that Jesus meant that the fulfillment of "all these things" would begin in the generation of His present disciples (cf. Matthew 24:33), but complete fulfillment would not come until later. [Note: E.g., Cranfield, "St. Mark 13," Scottish Journal of Theology 7 (July 1954):291; C. E. Stowe, "The Eschatology of Christ, With Special Reference to the Discourse in Matt. XXIV. and XXV.," Bibliotheca Sacra 7 (July 1850):471; Mark L. Hitchcock, "A Critique of the Preterist View of ’Soon’ and ’Near’ in Revelation," Bibliotheca Sacra 163:652 (October-December 2006):467-78.] However, Jesus said "all" those things would begin during that generation. It is possible that "all" those things would begin during that generation if one interprets "all those things" as the signs as a whole (cf. Matthew 24:32). The earliest signs then would correspond to the branches of the fig tree becoming tender. This would be the first evidence of fulfillment shaping up. "This generation" then "represents an evil class of people who will oppose Jesus’ disciples until the day He returns." [Note: Neil D. Nelson Jr., "’This Generation" in Matthew 24:34 : A Literary Critical Perspective," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:3 (September 1996):385. See also Lawrence A. DeBruyn, "Preterism and ’This Generation,’" Bibliotheca Sacra 167:666 (April-June 2010):180-200.]
Jesus further stressed the certainty of what the signs anticipated with these words. He claimed that His predictions had the same authority and eternal validity as God’s words (cf. Psalms 119:89-90; Isaiah 40:6-8).
The certainty of fulfillment should not lead the disciples to conclude that they could predict the time of fulfillment exactly. Jesus explained that only the heavenly Father knew precisely when the Son would return (cf. Acts 1:7).
"This verse becomes the main proposition which is developed from this point to Matthew 25:30." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 280.]
Watchful preparation is necessary since no one knows the day or the hour when Jesus will return. We do not know the year or the month either. The alternative would be living life as usual without regard to the King’s return. Jesus deliberately discouraged His disciples from setting dates.
Jesus’ self-confessed ignorance has created a problem for some readers. How could He be God and not know everything? The answer is part of the problem of God becoming man, the Incarnation. Jesus voluntarily limited Himself, and limitation of His knowledge was part of His humiliation (Luke 2:52; Philippians 2:7).
"John’s Gospel, the one of the four Gospels most clearly insisting on Jesus’ deity, also insists with equal vigor on Jesus’ dependence on and obedience to his Father-a dependence reaching even to his knowledge of the divine. How NT insistence on Jesus’ deity is to be combined with NT insistence on his ignorance and dependence is a matter of profound importance to the church; and attempts to jettison one truth for the sake of preserving the other must be avoided." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 508. For further discussion, see idem, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, pp. 146-60.]
The parable of Noah’s days 24:37-39 (cf. Luke 17:26-27)
This parable clarifies Matthew 24:36, as the introductory "for" (Gr. gar) indicates. The previous parable stressed the signs leading up to Jesus’ return, but this one stresses the responses to those signs and their consequences. Life will be progressing as usual when the King returns to judge. Similarly life was progressing as usual in Noah’s day just before God broke in on humankind with judgment (cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21). Despite upheavals people will continue their normal pursuits. Ignorance and disregard of the Bible will be widespread then.
"The special point of the analogy is not that the generation that was swept away by the Flood was exceptionally wicked; none of the occupations mentioned are sinful; but that it was so absorbed in its worldly pursuits that it paid no attention to solemn warnings." [Note: Plummer, p. 340.]
Jesus’ disciples need to maintain constant vigilance since the daily grind, including distress and persecution, will tend to lull them into dangerous complacency. It is normal for even remarkable signs of an impending change to have no effect on people. For example, when meteorologists announce the coming of a hurricane or tornado, there are always some people in its path who refuse to seek safety.
The parables of one taken and one left behind 24:40-41 (cf. Luke 17:34-35)
Having explained the importance of the signs leading up to His return and the responses to those signs, Jesus next explained the respective consequences of the two responses.
Many Christians who have read these verses have assumed that they describe believers taken to heaven at the Rapture and unbelievers left behind to enter the Tribulation. However the context is dealing with the second coming of Christ, not the Rapture. The sequence of events will be Jesus’ ascension, the church age beginning on Pentecost and ending with the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Second Coming, and the beginning of the messianic kingdom.
"It will be a taking away judicially and in judgment. The ones left will enjoy the blessings of Christ’s reign on earth, just as Noah and his family were left to continue life on earth. This is the opposite of the rapture, where those who are left go into the judgment of the Great Tribulation." [Note: Feinberg, Israel in . . ., p. 27.]
"Jesus was not referring to the Rapture of the church in Matthew 24. When that event takes place, all the saved will be removed from the earth to meet Christ in the air, and all the unsaved will be left on the earth. Thus, the Rapture will occur in reverse of the order of things in the days of Noah and, therefore, the reverse of the order at Jesus’ coming immediately after the Great Tribulation." [Note: Showers, p. 180. See also Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, pp. 51-65.]
Some interpreters have made a case for this being a reference to the Rapture because Jesus used two different words for "take" in the context. In Matthew 24:39 the Greek verb is airo whereas in Matthew 24:40-41 He used paralambano. The argument is that paralambano is a word that describes Jesus taking His own to Himself. However it also occurs in a bad sense (Matthew 4:5; Matthew 4:8; John 19:16). Probably Jesus used paralambano because it more graphically pictures sweeping away as in a flood. [Note: Morison, p. 489.]
Perhaps Jesus used two illustrations to show that neither gender nor occupation nor proximate relationship will prevent the separation for judgment (cf. Matthew 10:35-36). Typically two women-often sisters, a mother and a daughter, or two servants-sat opposite each other turning the small hand mill between them. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 509.]
An exhortation to watchfulness 24:42 (cf. Mark 33-37; Luke 21:34-36)
This verse applies all that Jesus said beginning in Matthew 24:32. Jesus’ disciples need to remain watchful because the exact time of the King’s return is unknown, even though signs of His coming will indicate His approach.
The parable of the watchful homeowner 24:43-44
Jesus concluded His instructions concerning the importance of vigilance in view of His return by giving a parable urging watchfulness.
The introductory "but" connects this illustration with the former one and identifies a contrast. Jesus is like a thief in only one respect, namely, that other people will not expect His coming. The point of this parable is that if a homeowner knows the general time when a thief will break in he will prepare accordingly. The signs of the times during the Tribulation that Jesus revealed (Matthew 24:5-22) will enable believers to know the general time He will return. Consequently believers in the Tribulation should prepare themselves.
This concludes the emphasis on vigilance that marks the first part of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples anticipating His return and the end of the present age.
"Jesus used Noah to warn that men will not know the day, and He used the picture of the burglar to warn that they will not know the hour." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:90.]
The importance of prudence and faithfulness 24:45-25:30
Jesus continued instructing His disciples but now stressed the importance of prudence and faithfulness as He prepared them for His return. There are three parables in this section. All of them refer to two types of disciples, the faithful and the unfaithful. [Note: See Dillow, pp. 385-96.]
The servants (Gr. douloi) are Jesus’ disciples to whom He has entrusted the responsibility of managing His affairs during His absence from the earth. Some servants will be faithful and wise (prudent, cf. Matthew 7:24; Matthew 10:16). They will carry out God’s will for them, including feeding the world the gospel, which dispensing food represents in the parable. When Jesus returns, these faithful servants will be "blessed" (i.e., the objects of God’s favor and consequently happy, cf. Matthew 5:3). Moreover Jesus will promote them to positions of greater responsibility in the kingdom that He will establish.
"The reward of faithfulness is to be trusted with higher responsibilities; cf. xxv. 21, 23, Lk. xvi. 10a. Since the parable deals with the Parousia, the words apply to higher activities in the age to come." [Note: M’Neile, p. 358.]
The parable of the two servants 24:45-51 (cf. Luke 12:42-48)
This parable illustrates the two attitudes that people during the Tribulation will have regarding Jesus’ return.
Other disciples may conclude that Jesus’ delay indicates a postponement of His appearing. This conclusion may lead to their abusing their fellow disciples and their carousing. Jesus’ return will surprise such disciples who will not be ready for it. The fate of such unfaithful and unwise servants will be tragic. Jesus will cut them to pieces, a graphic and hyperbolic description of personal destruction (Matthew 24:51; cf. 1 Samuel 15:33; Hebrews 11:37). [Note: See Pagenkemper, pp. 191-94.] Their lot will be with the hypocrites, those whom Jesus predicted would experience God’s most severe judgment (cf. Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16; Matthew 16:3; Matthew 23:13-29). Furthermore they will eventually go to hell.
"Invariably throughout Matthew this phrase [weeping and gnashing of teeth] refers to the retribution of those who are judged before the millennial kingdom is established (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30)." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 282.]
These unfaithful servants must be disciples of Jesus during the Tribulation who are not genuine believers. There will be some people who claim to be followers of Jesus in the Tribulation but who have not trusted in Him for salvation. There were many such in Jesus’ day, and there are many today.
In this parable the good servant was prudent and faithful (Matthew 24:45). Jesus next gave the parable of the 10 virgins to illustrate prudence, and then He gave the parable of the talents to illustrate faithfulness. [Note: M’Neile, p. 359.]
"This [next] part of the Olivet Discourse [i.e., ch. 25] goes beyond the ’sign’ questions of the disciples (Matthew 24:3) and presents our Lord’s return in three aspects: (1) as testing profession, Matthew 24:1-13; (2) as testing service, Matthew 24:14-30; and (3) as testing individual Gentiles, Matthew 24:31-46." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1035.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 24". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29