‘And Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on his way, and his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple.’
We are probably to see here the idea that Jesus is leaving the Temple for the last time. Like the Scribes and Pharisees it too has rejected Him. Nothing now remains but the working out of that rejection. Thus we can understand why, when His disciples drew His attention to the grandeur and beauty of the Temple He was unimpressed. Had they but realised it the Temple of His body was now far more important (John 2:19; John 2:21; compare Matthew 12:6).
It is difficult to overstress humanly speaking the splendour of the Temple. It was a huge edifice built on top of the Temple mount. The building of it commenced in 19 BC and the main structure was completed within ten years, but the finishing touches went on and were still in progress at this time, not being completed until 64 AD (just in time for its destruction). It was enclosed by a wall of massive stone blocks, each block on average about 1 metre high and five metres long. The front of the Temple was covered in gold plating that shone brilliantly in the sun, and its stones were of glistening white marble. There were stones in the Temple measuring 20 metres by Matthew 2:5 metres by 2.25 metres (68 feet by 9 feet by 7.5 feet), while the Temple area itself was about 450 metres (1450 feet) by 300 metres (950 feet). All was on a vast scale. The large outer court, the Court of the Gentiles, which surrounded the inner courts and the Sanctuary on three sides, was surrounded by porticoes built on huge pillars. It was in these colonnades that Rabbis held their schools and debates (Luke 2:46), and the Temple trading took place (Matthew 11:15). It would be here that the early church came together for worship (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:1; Acts 2:46; Acts 3:11; Acts 4:1 etc).
Steps leading up to the first inner court, the court of the women, demonstrate that that court was at a higher level than the outer court. The court of the women was surrounded by balustrades on which were posted the signs warning death to any Gentile who trespassed within. (Two of these inscriptions have in fact been dug up). Beyond this balustrade was the Court of the Women, through which men had to go to reach the court of Israel, and in which were found the thirteen ‘trumpets’ for collection of funds for the Treasury. A further court, raised above the court of the women, and reached by further steps, was the Court of Israel which was for the men of Israel, and beyond that again was the Priests’ Court which contained the great Altar built of unhewn stone, where offerings and sacrifices were offered.
Within that Court, raised above all and up further steps, was the holy shrine itself, entered through a porch that was 100 cubits high and 100 cubits wide (a cubit was 44.45 centimetres or 17.5 inches). The doorway that gave entry was 40 cubits high (seventeen metres or around sixty feet) and 20 cubits wide, and another door, half the size, led into the Holy Place. The Holy Place was 40 cubits long and 20 cubits wide, and separated from the Most Holy Place by doors over which hung a curtain (the veil). The Most Holy Place was 20 cubits square and 40 cubits high. But the height of the sanctuary was increased by an additional empty room above it which raised the height of the whole to 100 cubits.
Josephus described the holy shrine and its magnificence thus. ‘Now the outward face of the Temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise men’s minds or their eyes, for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look on it turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this Temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for as to those parts of it which were not gold they were exceeding white.’ Some of these great white stones have been unearthed within the past few years.
This was the magnificence that so drew the attention of the disciples as they left the Temple, and then later as they gazed at it from the Mount of Olives. They had seen it before but they had never ceased to marvel at its massiveness and splendour, and as they were walking away from it as the sun went down they seemingly turned to survey it and were again struck by the sight of it and began to discuss its marvellous stonework of massive white stones, and the glistening gold of the offerings made by Herod and others that shone in the setting sun. It drew a sense of wonder from their hearts. These gifts had been made by great and powerful men, and they never ceased being filled with awe at them, while the Temple was so solid that it seemed to them eternal, and to them it represented the heart of Judaism. But Jesus saw it all totally differently, for He knew it all for what it was.
Introductory Words (24:1-3).
As they were leaving the Temple following Jesus expose of the Scribes and Pharisees, the disciples, filled with admiration at the vastness and beauty of the Temple, drew Jesus attention to it, but Jesus’ response was immediate, and He pointed out that in coming days the Temple and all its glory will vanish, for ‘there will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down’. This is not necessarily to be taken literally (‘not one single stone’) but is a hyperbolic way (typical of Jesus) of stating that it would be utterly demolished. And anyone going to Jerusalem today will find that it is just as He said, for all that is left of the Temple are archaeological remains which have had to be dug up.
This reply shook the disciples, and turned their minds to what according to their own ideas lay ahead. In their eyes if the Temple was going to be destroyed it could only mean that the final events would be taking place prior to the establishment of the everlasting Kingdom. For they could not at this stage conceive of life without the Temple. So they asked when ‘these things’ would happen, and followed it up by asking what the signs of His return would be, and what would be the signs of the end of the age, (or world). What is meant by the end of the age/world here is defined by Matthew 25:46 where we are told that then the righteous will go into life under His eternal Rule, while the unrighteous will depart into everlasting punishment. No clearer description of the end all things physical could be given. It will be the end of the world as we know it. Then all will be complete, and Jesus, as the representative of the Godhead charged with the function of becoming man in order to bring about Salvation, although in association with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19), will hand all things over to the full Godhead, ‘that God might be all in all’ (1 Corinthians 15:23-28).
Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on His way, and His disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the temple (Matthew 24:1).
But He answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).
And as He sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately (Matthew 24:3 a).
Saying, “Tell us, when will these things be?” (Matthew 24:3 b).
And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world (age)?” (Matthew 24:3 c).
Note that in ‘a’ He departs from the Temple to go on His way, and in the parallel the question is as to when He will return. In ‘b He prophesies the destruction of the Temple, and in the parallel He is asked when ‘these things’ (what will accompany the destruction of the Temple) will be. Centrally in ‘c’ Jesus sits on the Mount of Olives, the act of a Teacher and Judge.
Jesus’ Words After Leaving The Temple About The Future History of the World, About The Destruction Of The Temple And About His Second Coming (24:1-26).
After having prepared His disciples and would be disciples for the future (Matthew 23:1-12) and having exposed the Scribes and Pharisees, revealing why they needed to be displaced (Matthew 23:13-36), and having warned of the coming abandonment of the Temple by God (Matthew 23:37-39), Jesus now declares that as a consequence the Temple will be destroyed within that generation, and then goes on to describe His own second coming in glory and its consequences which will at some time follow. This whole section can be analysed as follows:
a Introduction in which Jesus declares that the Temple will be utterly destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2).
b His disciples ask both when that will happen, and when the end of the age/world will come (Matthew 24:3).
c Jesus describes the troubles and catastrophes soon coming on the world, and the tribulation awaiting the disciples and their followers. This will be accompanied by the spreading of the good news of the Kingly Rule throughout the whole world, along with which will be the sowing of the tares/darnel (Matthew 13:25-27; Matthew 13:38-39), that is, of the false prophets and teachers, and their words (Matthew 24:4-14).
d He describes the destruction of the Temple and the long and great tribulation coming on the Jews Who have rejected Him, commencing with the invasion of Titus and continuing on through time until ‘the times of the Gentiles’ come to an end at the second coming (see Luke 21:24 and Deuteronomy 28:49-68). During this period false Messiahs and false prophets will come, who are not to be heeded, because in contrast His own coming will be sudden and unexpected (when it happens it will be from Heaven in glory and not as a man on earth) (Matthew 24:15-28).
e He describes the final days leading up to His coming, when He will come in glory and His angels will gather together His elect (Matthew 24:29-31).
d He warns them to watch for the signs that He has described, and to be aware that those initial signs and the destruction of the Temple will occur within their generation, although they are to be aware that that does not necessarily include His coming, for even He does not know the time of His coming. Meanwhile He warns of the suddenness and unexpectedness both of His coming and the gathering of the elect (Matthew 24:32-44).
c He narrates the parable of the servant who is set over the household, and who must choose whether he will be a good or bad servant (Matthew 24:45-51), likens the Kingly Rule of Heaven to the situation of ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom, and warns them to watch for His coming with their lamps filled, with only five fulfilling the requirement (Matthew 25:1-13), and likens the situation of the Kingly Rule of Heaven to that of three servants, two of whom fulfil their responsibility and are rewarded, and one who does not and is cast into outer darkness (Matthew 25:14-30).
b He describes pictorially the scene of the end of the age/world and of His final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).
a He ceases His words in order to prepare for the destruction of the Temple of His body (Matthew 26:1).
Note that in ‘a’ He speaks of the destruction of the Temple and in the parallel He goes off to prepare for the destruction of the Temple of His body. In ‘b’ His disciples ask concerning the destruction of the Temple, and concerning His second coming and the end of the age, and in the parallel He describes what will happen at the end of the age. In ‘c’ He describes the troubles and catastrophes soon coming on the world, and the tribulation awaiting the disciples and their followers, which will be accompanied by the spreading of the good news of the Kingly Rule throughout the whole world, along with which will be the sowing of the tares/darnel (Matthew 13:25-27; Matthew 13:38-39), that is, the false prophets and teachers and their words (Matthew 24:4-14), and in the parallel we have the parables which reveal these activities as being carried forward through the good and bad servants and the wise and foolish virgins. In ‘d’ Jesus’ coming is to be sudden and unexpected, and in the parallel His coming is to be sudden and unexpected. Centrally in ‘e’ His coming is described.
The section gives us an interesting example of the way in which, in translating from the Aramaic, the Gospel writers or their sources both present their material and at times edit it in order to bring out what they see as important. A full transcription of Jesus words would be longer than the discourses in any of them. (See introductory article in which the narratives are collated to produce such a longer discourse using parallel citations as a basis on which to build it up).
Words After Leaving The Temple About The Destruction Of The Temple And About His Second Coming (24:1-51).
a Introduction in which Jesus declares that the Temple will be utterly destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2).
b His disciples ask when it will happen, and when the end of the age/world will come (Matthew 24:3).
c Jesus describes the troubles and catastrophes soon coming on the world, and the tribulation awaiting the disciples and their followers. This will be accompanied by the spreading of the good news of the Kingly Rule throughout the whole world, along with which will be the sowing of the tares/darnel (Matthew 13:25-27; Matthew 13:38-39), that is, the false prophets and teachers and their words (Matthew 24:4-14).
d He describes the destruction of the Temple and the long and great tribulation coming on the Jews, including the coming of false Christs and false prophets who are not to be heeded, because His own coming will be sudden and unexpected (Matthew 24:23-28).
e He describes the final days leading up to His coming, when He will come in glory and His angels will gather together His elect (Matthew 24:29-31).
d He warns them to watch for the signs that He has described, and to be aware that they and the destruction of the Temple will occur within their generation, although to be aware that that does not necessarily include His coming, for even He does not know the time of His coming, meanwhile warning of the suddenness and unexpectedness both of His coming and the gathering of the elect (Matthew 24:32-44).
c He narrates the parable of the servant who is set over the household, and who must choose whether he will be a good or bad servant (Matthew 24:45-51), likens the Kingly Rule of Heaven to the situation of ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom, and warns them to watch for His coming with their lamps filled, with five fulfilling the requirement (Matthew 25:1-13), and likens the situation of the Kingly Rule of Heaven to the situation of three servants, two of whom fulfil their responsibility and are rewarded, and one who does not and is cast into outer darkness (Matthew 25:14-30).
b He describes pictorially the scene of the end of the age/world and of His final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).
a He ceases His words in order to prepare for His own destruction (Matthew 26:1).
‘But he answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” ’
So He informed them that, wonderful and ageless though the Temple may seem to be, (and all no doubt expected it to last for hundreds of years), there was coming a time when there would not be left one stone upon another, because God had rejected it. In other words, it would be torn down and wrecked, so that nothing was left of it. As we now know this destruction would be carried out by the Roman general Titus and his men about forty years later when in fact the Temple would be set on fire and burned, never to be rebuilt, with what remained of it finally disappearing below the ground.
‘And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world (age)?” ’
It is probable that the disciples were still discussing this amazing statement as they made their way to the Mount of Olives, from where again they could survey the glory of the Temple, and it was as they gazed at it once more that they came to Jesus in order to find out more about what Jesus meant. We need in fact be in no doubt that Jesus was expecting them to come, and was prepared for it. He would know that He could hardly have let drop such a startling declaration as He had without questions being raised. So even as He sat down He would be waiting for them to ask Him about it, and He had no doubt already decided on what He was going to say.
It may well be that we are to see special symbolism in Jesus leaving the Temple and going immediately to the Mount of Olives. Ezekiel describes something fairly similar where the glory of God leaves the Temple followed by His taking up His position on a neighbouring mountain, ‘and the glory of YHWH went up from the midst of the city, and stood on the mountain which is on the east side of the city’ (Ezekiel 11:23). In both cases the Temple has been forsaken by God.
It should be noted here that, as with Mark and Luke, the main question was about the Temple that they saw before them, not some future apocalyptic Temple of men’s imaginings, even though they did themselves then link its destruction with the second coming of Jesus and ‘the end of the age/world’, the end of the age that would lead on into the eternal kingdom (Matthew 25:46). This is not surprising. The possibility of the destruction of that massive Temple must have seemed to them beyond imagination, for they had not as yet been fully wooed away from the idea of the Temple and its worship. So they would have been unable to conceive of a time when it did not exit. To them it would seem to be essential to the future of the new Israel. Thus they would consider that by speaking of its destruction Jesus was indicating the time of final judgment and the coming in of the everlasting kingdom. It would only be later that they would recall His words in John 4:20-24 and recognise that the physical Temple was no longer important, and that the new and vital Temple was that which consisted of all who believe (2 Corinthians 6:16), with each believer (1 Corinthians 6:19), and each group of believers (Revelation 11:1-2), being a sanctuary within it. Of course, they were right in what they believed about the destruction of the Temple. It did actually indicate the time of judgment on the old Israel. But what they did not fully appreciate was the time that had to be allowed in order for the new Israel, springing from the old, to achieve its worldwide effectiveness (as outlined in chapter 13) so as to be ready for the second coming.
‘The end of the age (world).’ This phrase occurs a number of times in Matthew, see Matthew 13:39-40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 28:20 and always appears to have in mind final judgment and the end of all things.
So there were in fact two basic questions that came to mind:
1) When would the Temple be destroyed, that is, the Temple at which they were looking? This question will be answered in Matthew 24:15-22. It will then lead on into a description of the great tribulation that awaits the Jews, which would begin as a result of the Roman invasion and would carry on through their interminable exile, as described in more detail in Luke 21:24 and Deuteronomy 28:49-68, which will only come to completion when Jesus comes again. The Jews are still enduring their great tribulation, in spite of man-made attempts to bring it to an end as witnessed in Israel today. But even there they cannot avoid their tribulation.
2) What was to be the sign of His coming (parousia), and of the end of the age/world, when the righteous will go into life eternal, and the unrighteous into everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46)? Note that the two phrases ‘your coming’ and ‘the end of the age’ share the same definite article in the Greek indicating that they are to be seen as one. This question is answered in Matthew 24:23-31.
But although they did not then know it the two would be separated by a long and weary period of great tribulation through which the old unbelieving Israel (Matthew 21:43) would have to go. Just as previously the old unbelieving Israel had suffered great tribulation for thirty eight years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 2:14) until it was wiped out and replaced by a new believing Israel (a period almost ignored by Moses, for we are told little about it apart from in Numbers 16-17; Deuteronomy 2:7), so the ‘old’ unbelieving Israel would now suffer an undescribed length of tribulation until it too is destroyed, being replaced in the purposes of God by the true Israel, who are the true people of God composed of all who are branches of the true Vine (John 15:1-6), founded on the believing remnant of Israel, and making up the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16; compare Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:9).
So looking ahead in a similar way to the prophets, and in the light of the words of Jesus, they would see before them the two great mountaintops of the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24:15-20) and the second coming of Jesus (Matthew 24:29-31), separated by a period of great tribulation for the Jews (Matthew 24:21-28). Both had been spoken of by Jesus previously, for He had previously spoken of His coming in glory in Matthew 16:27; Luke 17:24, and had hinted at the desolation of Jerusalem in Luke 13:35. Now they wanted to know more about both, and they no doubt connected both in their own minds, without having any appreciation of the length of time that lay between them. Understandably from their viewpoint, for they could not see the long valley stretching for two thousand years (two God days - 2 Peter 3:5) that lay between the first and second mountaintop. (Mountains often seem close to each other from a distance when in fact there are great gaps between them. And that is also how the prophets saw ahead. They saw the main peaks but not the valleys in between. The same was now true of the disciples. Nor did the Father, Who alone knew the time of His coming, want them to know as we discover later. He wanted them to know that Jesus would ever be near and ‘at the doors’).
It should be noted in this regard that Mark and Luke limit the question of the disciples, although not the answer received, to that concerning the destruction of the Temple which they could see before them. That was their central focus, ‘when would the Temple be destroyed?’ For ‘these things’ referred to the events that would result in the accomplishment of what Jesus had described, the Temple being demolished stone by stone. That being so Mark and Luke clearly saw that also as the question that Jesus was mainly answering in the first part of His dissertation, and wanted their Gentile Christian readers initially to concentrate on, because they wanted them to be aware that they were not answerable to the Temple in any way, for in God’s purposes it was destined to be destroyed within that generation. They then moved on to the next important event, allowing the information about the second coming to flow from the destruction of the Temple and final rejection of the unbelieving Jews (who were cut off from Israel - Romans 11:15 - although individual Jews could still believe and be reunited with the true Israel), without indicating how long afterwards it would come (for they did not know), although Luke does define it as following ‘the times of the Gentiles’ and the exile of Israel (Luke 21:24).
Jesus had previously given teaching about his second coming (16. 27; Luke 12:35-40; Luke 17:24; Luke 19:12-27), which was to follow His death and resurrection, and it was inevitable therefore that the coming judgment on the Temple and His final coming would be linked in the minds of the disciples as two major events that lay ahead. From their standpoint the two would go together, for they had at this time no understanding of the panorama of history, only an indication of its peaks. Jesus, therefore, now determines to fill in the picture for them, and to indicate to them that future history and make it clear that that history and the coming of the everlasting kingdom are not to come about quite as speedily as they are imagining (compare Acts 1:6).
Prior to His description of the destruction of the Temple He therefore outlines what history in general holds for the future, both before and after its destruction. For He wants them to become aware that the heavenly Kingdom will not simply arrive with a bang in the near future, but is rather separated from them by a period of tumult for the world, and of persecution for His disciples; by the destruction of the Temple; and by a long period of great tribulation for the Jews during the ‘times of the Gentiles’.
It must be stressed with regard to this that there are no grounds in any of the Gospel narratives for seeing two destructions of the Temple. Such ideas are totally absent and when they are questionably introduced it is so as to fit in with theories based on equally doubtful foundations. But such ideas are totally unjustified here for there is not even a hint of it. We intend therefore to interpret His words in the way that they would be understood by the disciples, confident that that is how Jesus meant them to be seen.
The Dissertation that follows splits up into different sections:
Outline of the general future of the world commencing from the beginning and introducing the initial ‘birth pains’ of the new age. It is specifically stated that, after the things described have happened, ‘the end is not yet’. In other words these verses are introducing us to the preliminaries of the new age, and are but a beginning of much more that lies ahead (Matthew 24:5-8).
2) This is followed by a description of what the disciples will face as they go about their witness, including their relationships with others; what they will experience of persecution; the tragedy of love growing cold for some; and the fact that the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven will be proclaimed throughout the whole world to all nations. These are seen as going on longer than 1), for after them the end would come (Matthew 24:9-14).
3) This is then followed by a description of events leading up to the actual destruction of the Temple, events which took place from 66-70 AD. There is no specific indication here how this is to fit into the previous picture timewise, but we are presumably intended to see it as occurring within the period of nation fighting against nation, and thus as part of the initial birth pains of the new age. We are in the end left to recognise that it will occur at some stage unspecified during that period. However as it is describing the destruction of the Temple that they were actually looking at, and is one of ‘these things’ (Matthew 24:3) which will occur within that generation (Matthew 24:34), it is clear what it must refer to the Temple standing at that time. (This will be so obvious to some that they will wonder why it needs to be said, but the reason it needs drawing attention to specifically is because it does not as it stands fit in with some peoples ‘schemes’, and they thus have to manipulate it in order to try to make it fit into the picture that they have drawn up. Some quite incredibly even try to suggest that Matthew, having proposed the question about the Temple, then proceeds to ignore it and speak about quite another Temple to be built in the future. But this is quite unacceptable and can only be called manipulation of the evidence. If we treat Scripture like this how can we hope to discover truth? And it is important to remember that the Gospels were not intended to be a jigsaw puzzle to be fitted into some largescale plan arising out of vivid imaginations, adding an odd piece here and there. They are to be understood as interpretable on the basis of what is in them, and as they would be understood by the disciples once they had truly digested them (Matthew 24:15-20).
4) We then have a description of ‘great tribulation’ which will come on the Jews, which will commence as a result of the invasion and the siege of Jerusalem, both of which were of almost unbelievably horrific proportions, and which will continue on into a long and weary exile, with all that will take place as a result of it, stretching on into an unknown future, as described vividly in Deuteronomy 28:49-68, and as exemplified (to give just one example) in the Holocaust. It is to be a tribulation such as no other nation on earth has ever suffered or will ever suffer. This is further described in Luke 21:24, and we can compare also the description in Zechariah 14:1-2. Luke informs us that this tribulation of the Jews was to continue until ‘the times of the Gentiles’ are ‘filled to the full’.
This particular ‘great tribulation’ will clearly apply mainly to the Jews, for it could initially be escaped by fleeing to the mountains and thus not being caught up in the end of Jerusalem with all its consequences. Among those who did flee in time, possibly as a result of Jesus’ warning as it was amplified by a ‘prophet’ (so Eusebius), were the church of Jerusalem who settled in Pella (Matthew 24:21-22).
5) False prophets and false Messiahs will then arise who must not be heeded because when the true Messiah comes He will not come as an earthly figure but with the speed and brilliance of a flash of lightning (Matthew 24:23-28).
6) All is then followed ‘after that tribulation’ by the final coming of the Son of Man, Who will come in resplendent glory (Matthew 24:29-31).
7) All ‘these things’ (which in Matthew 24:3 are distinguished from the time of His coming) will be pointers to His coming just as fig leaves point to the coming of summer, and these pointers (the fig leaves as opposed to the summer) will occur within the present generation (Matthew 24:32-34).
8) But while all this is certain, one thing is unknown, the time of the coming of the fruit. The actual time of His coming is unknown, even to Him (Matthew 24:35-36).
9) Then follows a description bringing out the suddenness of His coming (Matthew 24:37-44), and three parables concerning His Kingly Rule (Matthew 24:45 to Matthew 25:30).
10) Finally we come to the final judgment where the eternal destines of men will be determined (Matthew 24:31-46).
‘And Jesus answered and said to them, “Take care that no man lead you astray.” ’
Jesus is giving these warnings so that none who follow Him might be led astray by events of the future. Men have always had weird ideas about what the future would hold. And they have always looked for, and hoped for, future Messiahs who will arise among men and solve all their problems. But Jesus warns severely against expecting the latter, or interpreting the former in the wrong way. All these things that He is about to describe will come on the world but they are not to be looked on as signs of the end.
We must remember as we consider His words what limited experience of the world the disciples as a whole had. They were largely Galileans whose main adventures in their lives had been regular trips to Jerusalem for particular feasts, and while the twelve had occasionally also visited neighbouring countries with Jesus, they had had little real experience of them. Thus their knowledge of the wider world was almost non-existent. Once they were facing that wider world, therefore, Jesus knew that they might easily have begun to imagine all kinds of things as a result of seeing and experiencing the tumults among nations and the events that took place there, and even more so when they received news of events on an even wider scale. Jesus thus warns them not to take such events, both seen and heard, however spectacular, as signs of the end. They are rather simply to see them as the continual outworking of history,
1) Outline of the General Future of The World Describing the Initial Birth Pains Of The New Age (24:4-8).
Jesus begins by outlining the coming initial sufferings of the world, the ‘birth pains’ of the new age. Such, consisting of war, famine and earthquakes, etc. will cause suffering among the nations and will lead up to and include the invasion of Judaea and the destruction of Jerusalem.
a And Jesus answered and said to them, “Take care that no man lead you astray, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah’, and will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:4-5).
b “And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars, see that you are not troubled” (Matthew 24:6 a).
c “For it is necessary for these things to happen, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6 b).
b “For nation will rise against nation, and kingship against kingship” (Matthew 24:7 a).
a “And there will be famines and earthquakes in many different places, but all these things are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8).
Note that in ‘a’ they are to be careful not to be led astray by what is to happen, especially by false Messiahs, for in the parallel it is like the beginning of birth pains, which often lead men and women astray into thinking that the time for birth has arrived, when there is in fact still more to come. In ‘b’ there will be wars and rumours of wars, and in the parallel nation will rise against nation. Centrally in ‘c’ is the necessity for these things to be.
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah’, and will lead many astray.”
His first concern is that during this period many professing deliverers and saviours will arise among men, and will claim to be ‘God’s anointed’. And many will be led astray by them. The importance of this to Jesus is seen in that in one way or another He repeats it three times, see also Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:24. No doubt such men did arise during the hectic period that led up to the destruction of the Temple, each arising in a small way, although very influential among those whom they affected, for fanaticism was continually abroad in Palestine at that time, and men have always delighted in accepting exalted titles, while others delight to see them as ‘messiahs’. So with a ‘coming Messiah’ anticipated it was inevitable that some would be seen in that way. And later history is also littered with men who made this kind of claim, and even more with men who behaved like it. The point is not, however, that one of them will be the true Messiah, so that they have to discern which one is the right one, but thatnone of them will be so. No human figure who arises in this way is to be believed, or spoken of as the Messiah, for that is not how He will come.
While it is true that we ourselves, because of our lack of contemporary material, only know of one who arose in the first centuries of our era, and officially claimed to be the Messiah, and was widely given heed to as such and given general acceptance among the Jews, and that was Bar Kochbah (c.135 AD), we can be sure that there were many who took the title to themselves in a small way as they stirred up their followers, or acknowledged it as their followers gave it to them. In the religious atmosphere of the time in and around Palestine it could hardly fail to happen. It is because they did not make sufficient impact on history to be remembered that we do not know of them, even though ‘many’ would be led astray by them. Compare Revelation 6:2 which probably pictures the rise of false Messiahs. Also compare 1 John 2:18-19 where John speaks of many ‘antichrists’ in his day.
The Beginning of Birth Pains (the Early Contractions) (24:5-8).
Jesus begins by describing the turbulent future that the world must face. This should not have been surprising to anyone who knew the Scriptures. The Old Testament is full of descriptions of war and famines and earthquakes and tribulations which were to come and would occur at various stages. So Jesus’ words are simply confirming what the Scriptures had foretold. All that the prophets have spoken of must come about, but this particular aspect of it is not necessarily to be seen as the sign of the end. These wars (including the Judaean war) are simply initial birth pains.
“And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled. For it is necessary for these things to happen, but the end is not yet.”
Nor were His disciples to see wars of which they heard, or even rumours of distant wars (including the wars in Judaea), as indications that His coming was near. Any such news was not to disturb them. Such wars, however terrible they might sound, were not to be seen as an indication of His coming, even the great war that will envelop Jerusalem, for wars like this will continue on through time (see Revelation 6:3-4). This reference to ‘hearing of wars’ is preparing the way for the fact that the war that will strike at Jerusalem is simply one among many.
The reference to ‘hearing’ of wars does not exclude the possibility of their being caught up in wars themselves. It is simply a reminder that what is heard about can often be seen as much more portentous than what is experienced personally, and that rumours which come from a distance tend to grow in the telling and can become so exaggerated that it often sounds as though the world must surely soon come to an end.
‘It is necessary for these things to happen.’ Note the divine necessity. It is all part of God’s programme, for it is the outworking of man’s sinfulness, and as the Old Testament Scriptures have revealed, such sinfulness always has its consequences.
‘But the end is not yet.’ While these things such as wars will lead up to what is to follow, and are reminders along the way, they are not to be seen as indicators that the end is near for they will continue on through history. Thus wars of any kind are never to be taken as the sign of the end. Taking this with the continuing necessity for wars, and referring back to the disciples’ questions concerning the destruction of the Temple and Jesus’ parousia (coming, arrival), it is a further indication that the war which results in the destruction of the Temple will not necessarily signify the closeness of His coming. Wars will happen, even war in Palestine, without it necessarily signifying the end of the age.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingship against kingship, and there will be famines and earthquakes in many different places.”
Indeed the regular disasters that face men, and have always faced men, will continue on. Wars between nations will regularly occur, and rulers will fight against rulers. There will also be famines, often caused by wars, but equally often by providence, and there will be earthquakes which are only caused by providence. Thus man’s activities and God’s activities will intermingle. The world will go on as it always has. But none of these must be seen as indications of His soon coming. (See Revelation 6:5-8; Revelation 6:12). It is to be recognised that they are all the result of the inevitable process of history.
‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingship against kingship.’ For the language compare ‘nation against nation’ in 2 Chronicles 15:6; and ‘kingship against kingship’ in Isaiah 19:2. History rolls on as it always has.
There were plenty of such events in 1st century AD before the destruction of Jerusalem, and indeed have been ever since. For the dreadful famine in the time of Claudius (around 40 AD) see Acts 11:27-30, and in 61 AD Laodicea, for example, was destroyed by a terrible earthquake which shook the whole of Phrygia, while Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed by volcanic action not long after. Tacitus, a first century Roman historian, after referring to the horrors and calamities, and disasters and portents, of the period, went on to say ‘never has it been better proved, by such terrible disasters to Rome, or by such clear evidence, that the gods were concerned, not with our safety but with vengeance on our sins.’
Jesus’ point is not that this will be a unique period but that these are but the beginning of what must come on the world, not signs of the end, although at the same time being seen as reminders that one day He is coming. They are indications of the start of what is to come (like initial birth pains).
“But all these things are the beginning of birth pains.”
So all these thing will be but the first contractions in the process leading up to His coming. There will still be a long way to go. Such birth pains which will lead up to judgment or to God’s final consummation are a regular feature of Scripture (see Isaiah 13:8 where the Babylonian invasion is in mind; Matthew 26:17 where they will finally lead up to the resurrection; Jeremiah 4:31; Jeremiah 6:24 which are prior to the previous destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar; Micah 4:9-10 where it precedes their being taken to Babylon, but with the final deliverance in kind; and so on). Here Jesus warns that they will be long and arduous as birth pains often are, and that they are only just beginning. (Every father knows the interminable wait between the beginning of birth pains and the final birth that results).
“Then will they deliver you up to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated of all the nations for my name’s sake.”
Meanwhile what of His own followers? They will face tribulation, they will be killed, they will be hated by all, and all for His Name’s sake, that is because they are His and testify to His Name. These are the inevitable consequences of serving Him (see John 15:18-19; John 16:2-3; John 16:33; Acts 14:22). But even these experiences are not to be seen as signs of the end, for they will occur both prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, and will continue on after it, even during the period when the Jews are experiencing their own great tribulation (Matthew 24:23-24). Compare for His disciples continuing tribulation Matthew 10:16-18; Matthew 10:22. The same experiences will continue to the end.
What Will Happen To His Followers And Those Who Oppose Them At This Time (24:9-14).
But while these wars and disasters are going on, and on into the future, His followers will have their task to do. And in doing it His own followers must recognise that they must expect to suffer intensive persecution in one way or another, and that many false prophets will arise. The path to truth will not be easy. Furthermore they must not be deceived into thinking that the whole world will respond to them. Far from it. The world will become increasingly lawless and religion will in general stagnate. Nevertheless through it all the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven will triumph and will reach out into the whole world as the light continues to shine in dark places (Matthew 4:16; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). This is God’s programme for the future, during which awful times the Kingly Rule of Heaven will spread throughout the world among men (Matthew 24:14), and this will prepare for the future ‘coming to birth’ of the final heavenly Kingly Rule of Heaven, and the future enjoyment of ‘eternal life’ (Matthew 25:46).
We have already seen indications that Jesus was aware that after His death and resurrection there would be a period of time before His return. Given a little thought it was required by the parables of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in chapter 13, and we can compare also Luke 19:11-12. So the events described here will cover at the minimum a fairly long period of time, for they are to occur among ‘all nations’.
Analysis of Matthew 24:9-14.
a “Then will they deliver you up to tribulation, and will kill you” (Matthew 24:9 a).
b “And you will be hated of all the nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9 b).
c “And then will many stumble (or ‘be entrapped), and will deliver up one another, and will hate one another” (Matthew 24:10).
d “And many false prophets will arise, and will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:11).
c “And because lawlessness will be multiplied, the love of the many will grow cold, but he who endures to the end, the same will be saved” (Matthew 24:12-13).
b “And this Good News of the Kingly Rule will be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations
“And then will the end come” (Matthew 24:14).
Note that in ‘a’ a quick end will come for many of His followers, while finally in the parallel the end will come for all. In ‘b’ His disciples will be hated of all nations, and in the parallel the good news of the Kingly Rule will be proclaimed among all nations. In ‘c’ there will be failure, betrayal and hatred, and in the parallel lawlessness will multiply and love will grow cold (apart from those who are His). Central in ‘d’ will be the rise of false prophets to lead men astray.
“And then will many stumble (or ‘be entrapped’), and will deliver up one another, and will hate one another.”
Not all will go smoothly, even among His followers. The world will stumble on in its darkness, and some of those who profess to follow Him will also be ensnared by the world, and will stumble, and they will then act vindictively against their one time ‘brethren’, delivering them up to the authorities and being filled with hatred against them, following the patterns among the Jews (Matthew 10:17; Matthew 10:21-22; compare John 16:2). No one knows how to hate better than an apostate, and there is nothing more painful than to be betrayed by those who once professed to be fellow-brethren. But it was something to be expected. We can compare here how Judas’ betrayal must have hurt Jesus so deeply. But the disciples are to be prepared for this as well. (This is in contrast with the love that will be established among those who are truly His - John 13:34-35; John 17:21). Compare here Matthew 10:17; Matthew 10:21-22; Matthew 10:35-36. To Jesus this is a necessary part of the battle between truth and falsehood.
“And many false prophets will arise, and will lead many astray.”
Many false prophets and teachers will arise and will lead many astray. This would include so-called prophets among His followers, and many others as well. False teaching will abound (compare Matthew 7:15-20; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:18-19; Jude 1:4). And sadly through it many will be led astray. For being ‘led astray’ will be a feature of history, see Matthew 24:4-5; Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:24.
“And because lawlessness will be multiplied, the love of the many will grow cold.”
Such will be the attitude of lawlessness that permeates the world and multiplies that it will even affect some among Jesus’ followers, so that the love of many will grow cold. They will have the form of godliness without its power. But such godly love is the essence of being a disciple (Matthew 5:42-48; John 13:34-35), and its fading will therefore be an indication of either backsliding or of lack of genuineness. This has been the constant experience of His ‘congregation’ through the centuries, and time and again He has had to stoop to restore those who are truly His, so that the flame is again fanned in their hearts. Only through prayer and the study of His word and constant witness, especially when we feel at our lowest, will our zeal be maintained. We must recognise that it is a dangerous thing to grow cold, for it can result in a frozen spiritual life and even spiritual hypothermia.
“But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved.”
But those who would finally be saved must persevere. Endurance is required of His followers. This does not mean that all who grow cold are lost, for at times all, even the best, grow cold. It is those who remain cold because the work of the Spirit is not taking place within their hearts (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 3:16-19) who will be lost. For in the end if a man belongs to Christ it is He Who will seek him until He finds him (Luke 15:4), so that He may restore him to the fold. We must recognise that such endurance as is described here is only possible through the continual work of the Saviour in our hearts (1 Corinthians 1:8-9; Philippians 2:13; Jude 1:24). It will occur because of His saving power and faithfulness as a shepherd (John 10:27-29). A wise Christian was once asked whether he believed in the perseverance of the saints, and after thinking a little he replied, ‘No, I believe in the perseverance of the Saviour’. And in that, and in only that, lies our hope and certainty.
“And this Good News of the Kingly Rule will be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations, and then will the end come.”
Jesus finishes this solemn section on a high note. Let them not doubt that through all the experiences of His followers, their testimony will go on, so that the Good News of the Kingly Rule will be ‘proclaimed’ in the whole world for a testimony to all nations. The people of God may sometimes be down, but they will not be out. And His work will go on and prosper. Indeed sometimes when we look at church history, and then look at the church, we can only wonder that it has survived. And yet the wonder is that today there are more true Christians in the world than ever before (even if there are also many false ones whose apparent love has grown cold, or has always been cold). God has triumphed in spite of the failings of His people. And we should note that this Good News of the Kingly Rule is not some half-baked message for a lesser age (indeed in Mark it is ‘the Gospel’). It is the message described in chapter 13 and proclaimed by Jesus Himself, and by His disciples, and by Paul in Rome (Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). It is ‘the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 28:31). It is ‘righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17). It is the Gospel of the present age (Mark 13:10).
‘To all the nations.’ That Jesus knew that the Good News must reach out to all nations is apparent as early as Matthew 8:11. The only question was the timing, and we have seen how gradually His ministry had extended towards Gentiles (compare Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:21; Matthew 15:21 onwards). Now the time has come for full openness in the outreach of the Gospel. There was a limited sense in which this universality was fulfilled at Pentecost, where men ‘from every nation under Heaven’ were gathered (Acts 2:5). It could also have been seen as fulfilled when the empire was evangelised so that the Gospel had gone out ‘throughout the whole world’ (see Romans 1:8). But today we are aware that He meant it literally, and that His aim is to reach to every part of the world (see Matthew 28:19-20). And then the end will come.
This should not have surprised them. It was an axiom of the prophetic teaching that in the end all nations would be brought under God’s rule. To Abraham the promise was given that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). The Servant was to ‘bring forth justice to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42:1) and indeed be ‘a light to the Gentiles, that you (the Servant) may be my salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6 compare Isaiah 42:6). ‘The nations’ would seek to the root of Jesse (i.e. a son of the Davidic line - Isaiah 11:10), and ‘will come from the ends of the earth -- and will know that My name is Yahweh’ (Jeremiah 16:19; Jeremiah 16:21). Compare also Malachi 1:11; Psalms 96:10; Psalms 96:13).
We should note here how important the proclamation of the Gospel to the whole world is seen to be. While wars and natural disasters will go on and on, and Jerusalem may be destroyed, it is not those events, but the final successful proclamation of the Gospel that will affect the time of His coming. Compare for this 2 Peter 3:9. That is the final aim of this age.
“When therefore you see the desolating abomination (or ‘the appalling horror’) which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him who reads understand),”
This is telling us that during the time previously described in Matthew 24:4-14 a particular event will happen which will be of huge significance to the Jews, out of all proportion to the rest. ‘When therefore’ may thus be seen as a vague time connection indicating ‘at some point in time over this period’. Or alternatively it may be seen as a reference back to the question in Matthew 24:3. ‘When therefore, you see this, then be ready for what I have described, the destruction of the Temple’. Now at last they will have the answer to their question. Either way there is no specific indication of when this will happen. It will simply be at some time in the future, in the course of the other wars and events described.
And what will happen is that they will see ‘the desolating abomination’ or ‘the Horror which appals’, the one which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the Holy Place. The original ‘Desolating Abomination’ (Abomination is the Jewish view of the appalling nature of idolatry and the phrase in Hebrew can be seen as meaning ‘the desecration that appals’ or ‘the desecration that brings desolation’) was when Antiochus Epiphanes (168 BC) captured Jerusalem and raised an altar to Zeus in the Temple, slaying a pig on it so as deliberately to offend the Jews, and causing the cessation of true sacrifices (Daniel 11:31). This was looked on as the most dreadful sacrilege, and as a ‘Desolating Abomination’, a ‘desecration that appalled’, and it was followed by widespread persecution. It was never forgotten and no Jew could think of that time except in horror.
But later in Daniel it became a phrase which could be applied to any such person and such action, and it was thus expected to occur again in what was then the distant future, when the Messiah would be ‘cut off’, and the city and the sanctuary would again be destroyed (Daniel 9:27). And it is on the basis of this connection to this highly disputed passage that many fantastic theories have been spun. But there is no real reason to doubt that the cutting off of Messiah and the destroying of the city and the sanctuary described in Daniel apply to 1st century AD, which is their obvious meaning as Jesus makes clear here when He says of it that it was ‘spoken of by Daniel the prophet’).
Thus the Desolating Abomination, the Temple and the cessation of sacrifice were all closely connected in Jewish minds (see also Daniel 12:11), and if you were to say to a Jew of Jesus’ time ‘Desolating Abomination’ he would immediately think of sacrilege, of the profaning of the holy city and the Temple and of the cessation of sacrifice, with general desolation also included (Daniel 9:27). And in view of the fact that this is intended to be Jesus’ explanation of His earlier statement that there would not be left ‘one stone upon another which would not be thrown down’ it must here have included the idea of the destruction of the Temple.
Furthermore if a Jew thought of it happening at this time in history he would certainly think of Rome. Under its procurators Rome had already made attempts at such sacrilege, for Pilate at the beginning of his governorship had deliberately introduced his troops with their Roman standards into Jerusalem ‘the holy city’ by stealth at night ( Josephus says ‘Jerusalem’. Eusebius (4th century AD) later adds a reminiscence that the standards were introduced into the Temple area, but such sacrilege would surely have cause an immediate riot even at night, and they would certainly have been torn down the next morning whatever the consequences. Thus they were probably introduced into the Castle of Antonia, hard by the Temple). They had been introduced by stealth because they were looked on as idolatrous in that they often bore a representation of Caesar on them, as well as the image of an eagle, and soldiers offered sacrifices to them. Pilate had probably hoped that once it was done and was a fait accompli he would be able to continue to enforce it. But so horrified were the Jews that a huge crowds of them had subsequently besieged Pilate day and night in his palace at Caesarea demanding their removal, and when he had sent his soldiers with bared swords to surround them and threaten them, thinking thereby to bring them into subjection, they had simply bared their necks and said that they would rather die than allow what he had done. The people’s fierce resistance, and their fortitude to the point of offering to lay down their lives in passive resistance, was so great that Pilate at last withdrew. Such a massacre would have drawn down on him the wrath of the emperor.
So the people were constantly on their guard against such attempts by Rome. Note that it was not only the Temple’s sanctity that the people sought to preserve, it was also the sanctity of the city they saw as ‘the holy city’ (Nehemiah 11:1; Nehemiah 11:18; Isaiah 48:2; Isaiah 52:1; Daniel 9:24). The standards could not even be allowed into the city. (Later the Emperor Caligula would order the erection of his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem, with accompanying worship, and this was only forestalled by his death, something which Matthew’s readers would certainly have been very much aware of. Thus the possibility of desecration of Jerusalem and the Temple was a continuing situation of which the Jews were ever cognisant).
‘Standing in the holy place.’ In Scripture Jerusalem was regularly called ‘the holy city’ (Nehemiah 11:1; Nehemiah 11:18; Isaiah 48:2; Isaiah 52:1) and it is especially to be noted that it is so-called in Daniel 9:24 which is in the context of Daniel’s prophecy concerning the destruction of the city and the sanctuary (Daniel 9:27). This would support the idea that ‘the holy place’, when quoted in the context of Daniel’s prophecy (‘spoken of by Daniel the prophet’), is to be seen as indicating Jerusalem and its environs, ‘the holy city’. And this view is supported by Luke 21:20 where Luke’s Gospel interprets ‘standing -- in the holy place’ as signifying ‘when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies’. It was in horror at the thought of the Roman standards entering the holy city that the Jews had previously resisted Pilate to the point of death, and we can compare how in Psalms 46:4 it is ‘the city of God’ which is ‘the holy place’ of ‘the tabernacles of the Most High’. Compare also Ezekiel 45:4 where in the picture of the ideal future the sanctuary will be set in ‘a holy place’ of some considerable size as designated by God, although it is no longer Jerusalem because Jerusalem has been replaced by an area even more holy. All this would support the idea that ‘the holy place’ here signifies Jerusalem and its environs.
So the ‘Desolating Abomination standing where he ought not’ (Mark 13:14), that is in ‘the holy place’ (so here), would indicate the actual preparations which would take place in the environs of the city, ready for the entry into ‘the holy city’ of the Roman eagles. This last would occur once the surrounding Roman legions had forced an entry, and it would inevitably be followed by entry into the Temple itself. Luke confirms this quite clearly. Instead of the mention of the Desolating Abomination he wrote, ‘When you see Jerusalem compassed with armies then know that her desolation is at hand (Matthew 21:20)’. The desolating abomination would do its sacrilegious work. It should be noted that this is in exactly the same place in the discourse as the reference to the desolating abomination (note in both cases the previous and following verses - ‘you shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake, but he who endures to the end the same will be saved’ - Matthew 24:13 = Mark 13:13 = Luke 21:17; and ‘let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains’ - Matthew 24:16 = Mark 13:14 b = Luke 21:21 which demonstrate this). Thus under any reasonable interpretation ‘Jerusalem encompassed with armies’ and ‘the desolating abomination’ are closely connected if not synonymous.
A suggested collation of the three Gospel narratives might be as follow:
you will win your souls. He who endures to the end, the same will be saved.”
“When therefore you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not in the holy place (let him who reads understand), that is to say, when you see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand.”
“Then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains, let him who is on the housetop not go down to take out things that are in his house, and let him who is in the field (countryside) not return back to take his cloak.”
The presence of these troops with their standards and idolatrous worship around the holy city, with the purposes of eventually entering it, would be the Desolating Abomination. As a result the holy city would be profaned. And Titus would then in fact enter the Holy Place within the Temple itself, quite probably with his standardbearer who would follow close behind, thus adding to the profanation. Josephus in fact claims that rather than see the Temple profaned in this way it was the Jews themselves who set fire to it. But that may simply have been propaganda.
Some commentators are dissatisfied because Jesus did not actually mention the destruction of the Temple at this point. But we know that Jesus constantly said things and left the remainder for the mind to think over. The same is the case here. He was never prosaic. He was answering a question about the destruction of the Temple, and therefore these words and their consequences could only mean exactly that in the minds of those who considered His words. The coming of the Desolating Abomination (with its connection with destruction of city and sanctuary in Daniel 9) and the resulting great tribulation, would be seen as including the destruction of the Temple. To have actually said it before it happened would have taken away the mystery and could have opened the words to the charge of being treason against Rome, for although they were private words to the four disciples they were words which were intended to be passed on. Rome would not like to be accused of sacrilege on such a scale before it happened. The reason that He is not specific is because He is protecting His disciples against the future.
‘Let him who reads understand.” Compare Mark 13:14. This might suggest either that Matthew copied from Mark or that both used the same written source. The basic idea behind the statement is that those who read Daniel were expected to understand the meaning that lay behind it, and to realise who it was who in Jesus’ mind were seen as being the expected culprits. Such a phrase favours a date before 70 AD when the actual events had not yet taken place, and when caution was therefore necessary.
Jesus’ Answer To The Question As To When The Destruction of the Temple That They Had Been Surveying Would Take Place (24:15-21).
We should note first that what is described here refers to the Jews only. Reference is made to ‘those in Judaea’, and to those who would not flee on the Sabbath. And escape is thus found in the neighbouring mountains. So this ‘great tribulation’ is initially localised in Palestine.
Secondly we should note that this is the only part of Jesus’ dissertation which could possibly be the answer to the question as to when the Temple would be destroyed, and as the purpose for giving the question in Matthew 24:3 must be in order to answer it, the answer must be somewhere.
Nevertheless we should note that ‘the holy place’ must probably at least initially be seen as referring to Jerusalem, ‘the holy city’, for Luke’s or Jesus’ interpretation of ‘the appalling horror standing where it ought not’ is ‘Jerusalem surrounded by armies’ (Luke 21:20). And that is so even though the phrase ‘the holy place’ can also refer to the Temple on the lips of Jews (see Acts 6:13; Acts 21:28). But in fact ‘the holy city’ was called ‘holy’ precisely because it contained the Temple with its worship (Psalms 46:4), and the Jews certainly saw Jerusalem as ‘holy’. Jesus thus clearly wanted His disciples to recognise that it was at this time of the investment of Jerusalem that the Temple would be torn down. The consequential sacrilegious destruction of the Temple is thus assumed from the description.
The standards, containing images of the god-emperor and images of an eagle, to which the Roman soldiers offered a kind of worship explain the use of the word ‘Horror’, for the word often refers to idolatry, which by this time was a horror to all good Jews. And once the city and the Temple were in process of being taken that would certainly be the time to flee, for once they were finally taken Roman reprisals would range far and wide, and might even do so while the siege was going on, on any Jews who could be found. The Romans were not noted for their mercy to rebels. Thus all in Judaea are advised to flee at the first signs of the investment of Jerusalem.
a “When therefore you see the desolating abomination (or ‘the appalling horror’) which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him who reads understand)” (Matthew 24:15).
b “Then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:16).
c “Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take out things that are in his house” (Matthew 24:17).
c “And let him who is in the field not return back to take his cloak” (Matthew 24:18).
c “But woe to those who are with child and to those who are breast-feeding in those days!” (Matthew 24:19).
b “And pray you that your flight be not in the winter, nor on a sabbath” (Matthew 24:20).
a “For then will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever will be” (Matthew 24:21).
Note that in ‘a’ the appalling horror will stand in the holy place, and in the parallel this is to result in unparalleled tribulation. In ‘b’ those in Judaea are to flee to the mountains, and in the parallel they are to pray that their flight not be at an inconvenient time. Centrally and repeated threefold in ‘c’ are the warnings and woe on those caught up in the events.
“Then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains,”
And when the people of Judaea saw the danger of the armies of Rome surrounding Jerusalem they were to flee to the mountains, for the Roman search parties foraging for food would be a danger to all Jews, and once the city had fallen vengeance and reprisals would be wreaked on the whole surrounding area. The purpose of fleeing into the mountains was in order to escape the ‘great tribulation’ which was coming on those who did not flee, which serves to demonstrate that those who would suffer under the tribulation would be localised. Sadly many instead fled into the city itself, so that many from Judaea were found in the city when it was taken, thus experiencing the initial phases of their great tribulation, and being subjected to the remainder.
However Eusebius tells us that the Romans allowed those who wished to leave the city, prior to its final investment, to do so (when his spies told him of all the atrocities of Jew against Jew that were going on in Jerusalem he might well have done so). If this be so then it was also open to them to flee to the mountains had they wished to do so. This ‘fleeing to the mountains’ has in mind what had previously happened in the time of Jeremiah (compare Jeremiah 16:16; Jeremiah 50:6; Lamentations 4:19). David had also fled from Saul into the mountains with his men. The mountains were ever a refuge from enemies and from invading hordes.
The purpose behind this description and what follows is so as to bring out the urgency of the situation and the importance of avoiding the tribulation that would ensue. (It had nothing specifically to do with Jewish Christians, although they would benefit too when they fled to Pella).
“Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take out things that are in his house, and let him who is in the field not return back to take his cloak.”
The necessity of acting with speed in the situation is emphasised by two examples. Those who are on the flat roofs of their houses within the city when they hear the news, are immediately to descend the outside stairs and flee without even taking the time to collect anything from the house, while those who are out in the fields when they hear the news, are not to return home to gather their necessities, not even their cloaks whatever the weather, but are to make for the mountains immediately. Such would be the urgency of the hour. This is not so much intended to be practical advice as to stress the urgency of the situation. When the time came not a moment was to be lost.
“But woe to those who are with child and to those who are breast-feeding in those days!”
And for these who fled conditions would be terrible, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women who would have the most difficulty. For them it would indeed be a time of woe. But the whole point of these descriptions is that Jesus is saying that the tribulation will be so terrible that is spite of their condition these women would still be better to flee and face up to the consequences, rather than face up to the alternative which would be even more appalling. Among other things invading armies took little notice of such tender conditions when raping women, but this tribulation would go even beyond that.
“And pray you that your flight be not in the winter, nor on a sabbath,”
They were also to pray that this flight might not be required in the winter, when the roads would be difficult to travel on, and when conditions in the mountains would be at their worst. Nor on the sabbath, which would restrict how far a pious Jew would be able to travel on that day. While the sabbath regulation could probably be set aside where all agreed that flight was necessary, the thought here is that it is probably not the majority view, so that the emergency regulations would not be seen as applying. It would be felt that they should remain to defend the city. Or the thought might be that the gates of the city might no be opened on the Sabbath.
“For then will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever will be.”
And the reason for their flight would be so as to avoid ‘great tribulation and suffering’ that would come on those who remained behind. First there would be the unbelievable intensity of the suffering of the siege (the story of what happened in the city is almost incredible) combined with the devastation caused by the besieging army to the surrounding area, and this would be followed by the appalling treatment meted out to the besieged once the siege was over, with many being crucified and large numbers being forced into a long, unceasing exile, from which they would never return. Luke describes it graphically, ‘they will be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled’ (Luke 21:24). Thus the great tribulation would extend into the unknown future, as graphically described in Deuteronomy 28:49-68, and including the whole miserable history of the Jews. It would be such that none other would ever suffer the like again. Note the ‘nor ever will be’, which indicates a considerable time gap following the initial commencement of the tribulation. A long period of time was expected to follow the first initial experiences of this event, and it is true that no other nations have suffered throughout their history like the Jews. (This is in contrast with the time of trouble in Daniel 12:1 where the time of trouble described there does not end with the words ‘nor ever will be’. It is therefore referring to a different time of trouble).
Combining the three accounts in the Gospels we would come up with the following:
to those who are with child and to those who are breast feeding in those days!
“And pray that your flight be not in the winter, nor on a sabbath,”
“For then will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created, until now, no, nor ever shall be, for there will be great distress on the land, and wrath to this people.”
“And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
“And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved, but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
“And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved. But for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
‘Those days’ here probably refers back to all the days described in 4-14. Such will be the troubles that come to the world, which will get worse and worse, that were it not for the fact that God would call a halt to it, no one would survive. The idea of the days being shortened is in order to indicate God’s control of time and events. It is because God is in control that any flesh at all will survive, and the purpose of that is so that the elect will survive. So however terrible the situations that come on the world we can be sure that God will ‘shorten the days’, otherwise there will be no elect to be gathered when He comes (Matthew 24:31). In all that is coming He will say, ‘thus far and no further’.
Others see this as indicating that the terrible tribulation of the Jews through the ages (or of the Jews at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem) would end in total annihilation were it not that God will cut the time short for the sake of the preservation of Hebrew Christians among them.
Thus the point is that God will constantly be watching over ‘His elect’, His ‘chosen ones’, His ‘congregation of the righteous’ ensuring that they will survive to the end (compare the vivid picture in Revelation 11 where the people of God in Jerusalem are His Temple). We do not need to examine how exactly this will happen, and indeed we do not have sufficient information to be able to do so, for these words are not so much intended to make us analyse history, as to enable us to recognise God’s overall control and protection on behalf of His own.
Note the contrast with Matthew 24:28. Here the living flesh is to be saved. It is to be delivered and made whole, so that it may enjoy true life. This is in direct contrast with those who are like carcases awaiting the attentions of vultures. It is the choice between life and death, which is dependent on whom they listen to, the true Messiah or false Messiahs, the true prophets or false prophets.
The Second Coming of the Messiah Is Not To Be Thought Of In Terms Of An Earthly Coming Of An Individual (24:22-28).
Following the destruction of the Temple and the continuation of the Jewish people in their unceasing period of great tribulation because of their rejection by God, a number of false Messiahs and false prophets will arise on earth, just as they had before it. But they are not to be believed. For when the true Messiah returns He will not come like that. He will come like the lightning in the twinkling of an eye, with a glory that can be seen from east to west.
a “And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved” (Matthew 24:22 a).
b “But for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:22 b).
c “Then if any man shall say to you, ‘Lo, here is the Messiah’, or, ‘Here’, do not believe it, for there will arise false Messiahs, and false prophets, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:23-24).
d “Behold, I have told you beforehand” (Matthew 24:25).
c “If therefore they shall say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness’, do not go forth, ‘Behold, he is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:26).
b “For as the lightning comes forth from the east, and is seen even to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man” (Matthew 24:27).
a “Wherever the carcase is, there will the vultures be gathered together” (Matthew 24:28).
Note that in ‘a’ unless the days had been shortened no living flesh would be saved, and in the parallel the vultures will gather at the appropriate time to eat the dead flesh. Note also the contrast of the carcase with the living flesh, the one is dead and destined to be torn apart, the other is alive and is to be delivered. In ‘b’ the deliverance of the elect is in mind, and in the parallel it is effected by the coming of the Son of Man. In ‘c’ false Messiahs and prophets will arise, and in the parallel they are not to be taken notice of. Centrally in ‘d’ Jesus emphasises that He has told them beforehand (like the prophets did of old).
“Then if any man shall say to you, ‘Lo, here is the Messiah’, or, ‘Here’, do not believe it.”
Once again He warns of the dangers of false Messiahs, those who will pretend to be on earth as the ‘anointed of God’ (see Matthew 24:5). For no such genuine Messiah will ever come. Thus whether they say ‘look here’, or ‘look there’ it will make no difference. The very fact that these Messiahs are on earth will demonstrate that they are not the Messiah (Who will have risen and ascended to glory, and will come in that glory). So whether it be out in the wilderness among separatists, or whether it be in secret conclaves in the great cities of the world, all such claimants must be rejected.
“For there will arise false Messiahs, and false prophets, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
Nevertheless they will arise. There will be false Messiahs (compare Matthew 24:5) and false prophets (compare Matthew 24:11). And they will even be able to show great signs and wonders. Indeed they will appear to do wonders of such a nature that if it were possible they would even deceive the elect. Fortunately that is not possible, for the elect know that no man on earth can truly be the Messiah, but such would be the wonders that had they not known that some of them might well have been deceived.
We can compare how the Egyptian ‘magicians’ aped some of Moses’ signs and wonders. By conjuring men are able to give the impression of great wonders. And it may well even be that He intends us to recognise that Satanic power has produced, or will produce, such wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 16:14, compare Acts 8:9-10. See also Deuteronomy 13:1-2; Revelation 13:13-14; Revelation 19:20).
“Behold, I have told you beforehand.”
So they must remember that He has told them beforehand in order that they might not be led astray. Jesus is here putting Himself in the line of the great prophets who by their foreknowledge gave proof of their genuineness and integrity (compare Isaiah 41:22-23; Isaiah 44:7; Isaiah 45:21; Isaiah 46:10, and see Deuteronomy 18:15-22).
“If therefore they shall say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness’, do not go forth, ‘Behold, he is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it.”
So it does not matter in what direction they are pointed, whether it be to a man or a sect in the wilderness, or to those who meet in secret places and make great claims, and profess great mysteries, they are not to believe such people.
“For as the lightning comes forth from the east, and is seen even to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man.”
And the reason for that is because when the Son of Man does come it will be as swift and as sudden and as glorious as a flash of lightning. It will be a heavenly, not an earthly, coming.
One of Jesus’ temptations had been to put on a spectacular display of power on earth so as to gather a following (Matthew 4:5-6), a way that He had rejected. And some of these Messiahs may well seek to do something similar. But He wants His followers to know that He will never act in that way. When He speaks of His glorious appearing here He is rather speaking of the inevitable manifestation of His true and heavenly glory which in the end cannot be hidden.
That the expression ‘Son of Man’ found here and in the following verses refers to Jesus seen as a heavenly figure, but as also closely related to previous uses of the expression with regard to His life as a human being on earth, is confirmed by the fact that here He is represented as the true Messiah as against false Messiahs, and the true Prophet as against false prophets, for there has been constant emphasis on the fact that Jesus is the outstanding and unique Prophet (Matthew 12:41) and the true Messiah (Matthew 16:16). It is also required by the constant previous references to Jesus as the Son of Man under all conditions.
“Wherever the carcase is, there will the vultures be gathered together.”
Jesus then cites a proverb to finish of this section of His speech. In interpreting it we should, however, keep in mind Luke 17:37. There too there is a question concerning its meaning. There the ‘gathering’ of the vultures might appear to parallel the ‘taking away’ of the one of two (‘one will be taken and the other left’), for it answers the question, where are they taken? And the answer would seem to be, ‘to the carcase’. If those taken away are thought of as those being taken to judgment, that is as the unrighteous, then the carcase might be signifying the place of death and corruption. Thus the vultures will gather to the carcase with its significance of death and corruption. But if those taken are seen as the righteous the carcase might then be seen as the crucified and now risen Christ to Who the righteous gather to feast on Him. This last would, however, not only appears inapposite as an illustration about Jesus, but would more significantly (for it is not always easy to judge what is inapposite to someone who illustrates as vividly as Jesus) also go against the usual significance of birds of prey as instruments of judgment or of evil (Ezekiel 39:4; Revelation 19:17; Revelation 19:21; Genesis 15:11). It is this last point that is most against it.
Or it may be that we are to see the picture the other way around, that is, that they (the unrighteous) are as carcases conveyed to the place of death and corruption, where the vultures are gathered in judgment to deal with them. This idea would best fit the idea of vultures elsewhere.
The meaning has similarly been variously interpreted in Matthew:
1) It may be that here He is giving a warning that in spite of His own warning just given, men will gather like vultures to false Messiahs and false prophets to feed on the rotting carcase that they offer. So that whereas believers become members of His body, and feed on Him, these will gather like vultures around a carcase and feed on what is rotting and ‘unclean’. But this is not patently the significance in Luke 17:37.
2) Some have seen the carcase as referring to Jesus Himself with the idea that men will gather to him when He comes and ‘feed on Him’, but many will feel that vultures are not an apposite illustration of such an idea. For vultures are usually seen as having a negative quality and are rather harbingers of judgment (Ezekiel 39:4; Revelation 19:17; Revelation 19:21). Many who suggest this point to Luke 17:37 as favouring this interpretation, but as we have seen the idea there too may rather be of those who will come under judgment. On the other hand (Matthew 24:1) and 2) could in fact be combined as alternative approaches to be taken as regards believers and non-believers.
3) Others have seen the carcases as representing unbelievers who because they have listened to false Messiahs and false prophets have become dead carcases and food for the vultures, so that each is a dead carcase and can only therefore await the swooping down of judgment (Ezekiel 39:4; Revelation 19:17; Revelation 19:21). This would fit in with one interpretation of Luke 17:37.
4) Others see it as signifying that, in the same way as when life has left a body, and it becomes a carcase, the vultures immediately swoop down on it, so similarly when the world has become corrupted with evil, the Son of Man and His angels will come to execute divine judgment.
5) Others have referred the saying to the Roman eagles descending like vultures on the rotting carcase of Jerusalem, but that does not really fit in with the immediately preceding context, nor Luke 17:37. To signify this it would have needed to be included earlier. And eagles, unlike vultures, do not gather together for such a purpose so that the illustration is not apposite unless we see it as a play on words.
6) Others have connected it with Habakkuk 1:8 with the idea of the swiftness with which an eagle/vulture arrives to eat, thus stressing the speed with which His coming will occur. It will come as swiftly and as vividly as when vultures swoop on their prey.
7) Still others have seen it as simply signifying that things happen in accordance with expectation, wherever there is a carcase we must expect vultures.
8) Another explanation is that just as a sharp-eyed vulture does not miss a carcase, so the elect will be unable to avoid seeing the coming of the Son of Man.
It would seem to us that 1) or 3) is the most likely meaning of the words, with 2) lying below the surface as the unexpressed alternative for believers if 1) is chosen. Whichever, however, is taken it is a reminder that at the end there will be a time of distress and judgment.
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken,”
‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days.’ That is, ‘once the long, tortuous tribulation of the unbelieving Jews is coming to an end’. This follows the pattern of the Exodus when the great deliverance was postponed until every last one of the people of Israel who had not believed had died (Numbers 14:28-30; Numbers 26:64-65; Numbers 32:13; Deuteronomy 2:14-16). They had suffered tribulation in the wilderness until they had died, and were replaced by a believing nation who would obey Moses. But this present unbelieving nation, who will have committed an even greater sin, and will go on doing so generation by generation because they still refuse to believe, will suffer on and on in their generations until the One Whom they had caused to be crucified returns again (although we should note that there is always a way of escape for any who believe. Mercy is always available on repentance). Their tribulation will thus not end until they come face to face with the Messiah, either in belief or judgment.
‘The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’ All will fade and quiver at the approach of the Coming One. In the Old Testament such vivid descriptions regularly indicate the powerful judgment of God which results in tumultuous political events and the defeat of the gods of the nations (see for example Isaiah 13:9-22 of the ravages of Babylon; Isaiah 34:4-5 of the destruction of Edom; Joel 2:30-31; Joel 3:14-16 of the time of the end). Thus these are the indication of God’s final judgment and of the fading before His glory of all other heavenly or earthly opposition. All the lights of Heaven grow dim in His presence. And Luke makes clear that earth is very much involved (Luke 21:25-26).
‘The powers of the heavens will be shaken.’ This idea is taken from Haggai 2:21 where it connects with God’s establishment of Zerubbabel’s earthly kingly rule by the defeat of all his enemies. Here it results in the establishment of the everlasting heavenly Kingly Rule of the Son of Man.
The Coming of the Son of Man (24:29-31).
In a remarkable contrast Jesus now brings out the glory of His coming which will make all creation pale into insignificance. It will occur when God calls time on the great tribulation suffered through the ages by the Jews. And then all that man gloried in will fade. The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light, for both will withdraw in the face of the greater glory of the Coming One. Furthermore the stars will fall from Heaven. This is regularly a picture of the defeat of the forces of evil, both earthly and heavenly (Daniel 8:10; Revelation 12:4; Revelation 12:9). So all that the heavens represented will be defeated and humbled. But in contrast will be the coming Son of Man, for His glory will shine out in ever increasing splendour, and His angels will descend triumphantly to gather up all Who are His, His ‘elect’, rescued from all who, represented by the heavens, would do them harm.
a “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven” (Matthew 24:29 a).
b “And the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29 b).
c “And then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven” (Matthew 24:30 a).
b “And then will all the tribes of the earth mourn “ (Matthew 24:30 b).
a “And they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, and He will send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31).
Not that in ‘a’ the ‘lights of the heavens will be dimmed’, and ‘the stars will fall from heaven’, and in the parallel ‘the glory of the Son of Man will shine out’, and ‘the angels will come down’ to gather the elect from one end of heaven to the other. In ‘b’ the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and in the parallel the tribes of the earth will mourn. Centrally in ‘c’ all will see the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven.
“And then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then will all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
And then the great sign will be seen, the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven, Compare Acts 7:55-56 where precisely the same sign, more secretly given, was to be an encouragement to the new-born church. And when they see this sign all the tribes of the earth will mourn, because the One whom they have rejected has now come to be their judge (compare Revelation 1:7). These ‘tribes of the earth’, representing the people of earth (compare ‘those who dwell on earth’ which occurs regularly in Revelation), may be seen as in deliberate contrast with ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’ who represent the believing people of God (Matthew 19:28; James 1:1; Revelation 7:1-8) who are joyfully looking for His coming.
Some see ‘the sign’ as signifying the raising of some kind of banner which will announce His coming, in line with Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 11:12 (it is followed by the trumpet in Matthew 24:31). There the ‘root of Jesse (and thus of David) -- stands for an ensign of the peoples to whom the nations seek and His resting place will be glory’. Thus the Son of Man will be like a standard raised so that His people from among all nations may to gather to it, in order to share His glory.
‘Then will all the tribes of the earth mourn.’ Compare Revelation 1:7, ‘behold He comes with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, and they who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.’ The idea would appear to be of sorrow and anguish because they had failed to acknowledge Him before it was too late (similar to the weeping and gnashing of teeth elsewhere).
This would appear to have in mind Zechariah 12:10, ‘and I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they will look on Me Who they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and be in bitterness for him as one who is in bitterness for his firstborn.’ This is then followed in Zechariah 13:1 by a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. If that be the case there may here be a hint of hope for last minute repentance, but Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:1 more probably refers primarily to the coming of the Holy Spirit and its results (Acts 2), so that Jesus’ idea here may rather be of a contrast between that appearance and this one at the end when that hope has gone, and all that awaits is bitterness of soul at what they have lost.
Then they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. The kingship, power and glory given to Him at His resurrection (Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:36; Daniel 7:13-14), and initially demonstrated in the activities of the early church (Matthew 16:28; Matthew 26:64; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27; Acts 7:55-56), will be revealed to all at His glorious appearing (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8; Titus 2:13). ‘Coming on the clouds of Heaven’ signifies His heavenly nature and power, and the power and great glory stress that He has come as judge (compare Matthew 25:31). Thus for His own there will be joy, and for others bitterness of soul.
“And he will send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
And His first act on being revealed will be to gather to Him all Who are His, ‘His elect’, those whom He has conscripted. They are to be gathered to His banner. His angels will come like a group of mustering sergeants to muster His troops, who will respond to a trumpet from the heavenly trumpeter (compare Isaiah 27:13; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16), and they will ‘gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’. The ‘four winds of heaven’ were a regular description of universality and indicated the activity of God (Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 8:8; Daniel 11:4; Zechariah 2:6, and compare Ezekiel 37:9). ‘From one end of heaven to the other’ indicates the heavenly nature of those gathered (compare Ephesians 2:6; Philippians 3:20), and the universality of their presence. This event is vividly described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:52-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; and is in mind in Revelation 11:12. Thus we have here the final ending of time as the righteous are taken to life eternal, while the remainder face His eternal judgment (Matthew 13:41-43; Matthew 13:49-50; Matthew 25:46).
While silence is sometimes a dangerous weapon it is difficult to see how, if anything was to follow this on earth (such as a Millennium), there would be no hint of it here. And that is especially so as there is no reference to any such Millennium anywhere else in the New Testament. (The suggested reference seen by some in Revelation 20 is very much dependent on interpretation. See our commentary). Even after Matthew 25:31-46 the same silence applies, and there it is even more incredible if there were any truth in the idea. But there the only destinies awaiting men are either eternal life or eternal punishment. And we can also compare Matthew 13:41-43; Matthew 13:49-50 where the impression is given that the reference there is also to the final destiny of men. Silence might be one thing, but a total blanket over the idea, and the giving of a different impression is quite another. It would seem therefore that Jesus knew nothing of any Millennium, and that we must therefore interpret any such ideas which are found in the Old Testament which give that impression, in the light of this fact, and as being portrayals in earthly terms (necessary at a time when there was no concept of men living in Heaven) of the everlasting kingdom in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1 compare Isaiah 65:17).
Some have interpreted this as signifying the sending forth of the messengers (aggeloi) of the Gospel, but in view of Matthew 16:27 where a similar description refers to the final judgment, and the clear indication from the parallel ideas in mind in both, we must surely see this as in line with that. Taken together with the clear parallel picture given in Matthew 24:27, where the visible coming of the Son of Man is made very apparent, it must be seen as very unlikely that it refers to the evangelising of the world, wonderful though that is.
“Now from the fig tree learn her parable. When her branch is now become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that the summer is near,”
Jesus now illustrates the situation by means of a ‘parable’ based on the fig tree. When in the spring the branches again begin to flow with sap, they produce leaves. And those leaves are a sign of the coming of summer. But they are no guarantee when summer will come.
They Must Take Note Of The Signs But The Date Of His Coming Is Unknown (24:32-36).
Jesus now makes clear to them the purpose of what He has been saying. The coming events that He has been describing which will lead up to His coming will be like the leaves on a fig tree which proclaim that the summer and the fruit is coming. They will point to the fact that ‘He is near, even at the doors’. Thus they will be able to continue forward through all that comes, confident in His nearness, and knowing that He is waiting, as it were, outside the doors ready to enter when the time is ripe. And they will be sure that in His own good time those doors will open. Indeed Revelation 3:20 reveals that if any individual responds and opens the door, He will come into him and they will sup together. But for the world at large that door will remain closed until the time of God’s choosing.
Notice that ‘all these things’ refers specifically to the signs prior to His coming. This is made absolutely clear in Matthew 24:33. We can compare also Matthew 24:3 where ‘these things’ refers to the demolishing of the Temple, and what accompanies it. The words do not therefore include His actual coming. And ‘all these things’ will occur within the generation of the men to whom He is speaking, which as we know they did, at least in part. But He warns them that while they will indicate that He is ‘near, even at the doors’ so that they can be ever confident of His nearness (Matthew 28:20) and His purposes, He does not Himself know the time of His coming (Matthew 24:36). The leaves may grow, but the timing of summer is in His Father’s hands. He can tell them no more.
a “Now from the fig tree learn her parable. When her branch is now become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that the summer is near” (Matthew 24:32).
b “Even so you also, when you see all these things, know you that He is near, even at the doors” (Matthew 24:33).
c “Truly I say to you, This generation will not pass away, until all these things be accomplished” (Matthew 24:34).
b “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
a “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
Note that in ‘a’ the leaves show that summer is near, but in the parallel no one but that Father knows when that Summer will come. In ‘b’ all the things that He has described will reveal that He is near, even at the doors, and in the parallel this is more certain than the continued existence of Heaven and earth. Centrally in ‘c’ is the promise that all the necessary introductory signs will occur within that generation.
“Even so you also, when you see all these things, know you that he is near, even at the doors.”
In the same way when ‘all these things’ occur, then they will know that Jesus (or in Luke ‘the Kingly Rule of God’) is near, even at the doors. From this it is clear that ‘all these things’ does not include His coming. But as constantly in the Old Testament ‘near’ is in God’s terms. It can indicate any time long or short, depending on the response to His promises and warnings (Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 56:1; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 3:14; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:14). Thus using modern terminology it is imminent but not necessarily coming immediately. As we know from earlier (Matthew 24:14) it will depend on the progress of the Gospel. Thus all efforts must be put into the evangelising of the world.
“Truly I say to you, This generation will not pass away, until all these things be accomplished.”
But so that they will not begin to think that this means that they do not need to consider what He has been talking about because it is likely to be delayed, He assures them that ‘all these things’, all the things that must happen prior to His return as outlined, will happen within that generation. But He immediately points out that as He does not know when the time of His coming will be, He cannot give them any assurances about that, only that from that time on they can recognise that He is ‘near’ and ‘at the doors’ so that it can happen at any time within the will and purpose of God.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
And all that He has said is more certain and sure than the continuation of Heaven and earth. We learn here Jesus’ awareness both that Heaven and earth will one day pass away, and that His own words have a permanence that reaches into eternity. From this again we recognise the uniqueness of Jesus. Not even the prophets had dared to make a claim like this. But He then immediately goes on to point out that while He is here on earth and aware of all that will in the future occur on earth, there is one thing of which He is not aware, the time when He will come again, and when all things in Heaven and earth will come to an end.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
For of the time of His coming no one knows apart from the Father. It is not even known to the angels in Heaven, or to the Son. Once again He stresses His uniqueness as the only Son, even though while on earth His knowledge is limited in accordance with the purposes of the Godhead.
‘Of that day and hour.’ In other words whatever time it might be, whether long or short. Note how this connects with Matthew 25:13 confirming the unity of the account, and that this verse is an integral part of the whole.
“And as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man.”
Jesus now compares the days of Noah with the coming of the Son of Man. Both were in anticipation of judgment, and both judgments would come suddenly and unexpectedly.
His Coming, Of Which He does Not Know The Time, Will be Sudden and Unexpected (24:37-41).
Just as in the days of Noah the coming of the flood was sudden and unexpected, so also will be the coming of ‘the Son of Man’, that is, of ‘their Lord’. They are therefore to keep on the watch because they do not know the day on which He will come.
a “And as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man” (Matthew 24:37).
b “For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark” (Matthew 24:38).
c “And they did not know until the flood came, and took them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man” (Matthew 24:39).
b “Then will two men be in the field; one is taken, and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left” (Matthew 24:40-41).
a “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord comes” (Matthew 24:42).
Note that in ‘a’ reference is made to the coming of the Son of Man, and in the parable reference is made to the coming of the Lord. In ‘b’ the course of life in the days of Noah is described, and in the parallel the course of life in the coming days is described. Both have in mind provision of food and the fact of married couples (two men, two women). Centrally in ‘c’ comes the climax, first for Noah and then for the Son of Man.
“For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they did not know until the flood came, and took them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.”
So sudden and unexpected would be the final event that most would be caught unawares when the end came. The similarity lies in the fact that in the days before the Flood men ate and drank, and married and gave in marriage, in the same way as they did in Jesus’ day. In other words they lived what seemed like normal everyday lives. But both ignored the preaching of a Preacher of Righteousness (see 2 Peter 2:5). The result was that the flood came upon them unexpectedly, and carried them away, in the same way as the coming of the Son of Man will one day do the same with the same unexpectedness.
“Then will two men be in the field; one is taken, and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left.”
And in the same way when the Son of Man comes two men will be working together in the field, and two women will be working at their handmills at home, and in each case one will be ‘taken away’. This may signify ‘to judgment’ (compare Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 13:49), while the other will be left to be caught up to meet their Lord in the air (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:18), or it may mean ‘taken to be with the Lord, with the other remaining or judgment. (Dogmatism is ruled out, for all descriptions of what will happen on the final day of judgment are in picture form. Consider the different descriptions of the final judgment in the Book of Revelation (e.g. Revelation 6:12-17; Revelation 11:14-18; Revelation 14:14-20; Revelation 16:17-21; Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 20:11-15). All will be essentially true, but the reality will be unlike all. All are picture of a greater reality, in the same way as in the Old Testament prophets. God is not subject to the vagaries of time or a physical world).
The men would be working in the fields producing food for their daily fare, while the women would grind the produce at home in their small hand mills, thus enabling all of them to eat and drink (compare Matthew 24:39, ‘eating and drinking’). The picture is a homely one of married couples keeping the household going (again compare Matthew 24:39, marrying and giving in marriage). Note that in both cases their judgment is not said to be based on their sinfulness (although of course it is), but on the fact that they simply ignored the Son of Man and the need to be ready for Him. Their final sin was that they had ignored God’s remedy.
“Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord comes.”
So in view of this suddenness and unexpectedness of His coming all His own people are to be on watch, because they do not know when He will come. The interesting thing here is how the imminence of His coming is balanced here against the fact that there are certain matters which indicate delay (indicated previously and assumed in what follows in that His servants have a task to accomplish, and one can say, ‘my Master delays His coming’). Jesus was quite happy to teach the two ideas in tension. His followers must be busy, not easily led astray by false hopes, but at the same time watchful and ready and working faithfully in readiness for His coming (Luke 12:35-40).
“But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken through.”
Here the master of the house has clearly returned to his house and discovered that the wall has been broken through. But if only he had know at what time the thief was coming he would have remained at home and prevented it. The point, however, is that he did not know. Thus his only hope was to watch all the time. And because he had failed to do that the burglary had taken place. His problem therefore was that he had failed to watch all the time. The inference to be gathered is that we have to be on the watch all the time so that nothing can break in and spoil our lives.
In The Light Of His Second Coming All Are To Watch Wisely and Work Faithfully (24:43-51).
There now follow a series of parables in which Jesus stresses both the need to watch and the need to work. Indeed their very watchfulness should keep them hard at work, for they are servants waiting for their Master to return, and they must therefore be sure that when He does return they can present to Him an account of work well done. The series begins with a brief exhortation to watch in the same way as a man needs to watch in case a thief breaks through the wall of his house in order to steal his possessions, stressing the need to watch, and immediately goes on to the need for an appointed servant to ensure that he is feeding the Lord’s servants, rather than misusing the things that have been put within his charge, stressing the need to work and serve. Both are very necessary.
a “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken through” (Matthew 24:43).
b “Therefore be you also ready, for in an hour that you think not, the Son of man comes” (Matthew 24:44).
c “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season?” (Matthew 24:45).
d “Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing. Truly I say to you, that he will set him over all that he has” (Matthew 24:46-47).
c “But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord delays’, and shall begin to beat his fellow-servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken” (Matthew 24:48-49).
b “The lord of that servant will come in a day when he does not expect, and in an hour that he does not know” (Matthew 24:50).
a “And shall cut him apart, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51).
Note that in ‘a’ the master of the house has allowed his house to be broken into because he did not watch. We are left to imagine his chagrin on coming home and finding the mud wall broken into, and his goods gone, and in the parallel, in a similar way, the unfaithful servant will weep and gnash his teeth at what will happen to him, because he was not in readiness. Both will mourn because they had not watched. In ‘b’ the Son of Man will come when He is not expected, and in the parallel the Lord of the servant comes when he is not expected. In ‘c’ the wise servant faithfully feeds the household while in the parallel the wicked servant in contrast misuses his position and indulges himself. Centrally in ‘d’ the faithful servant is blessed for his faithfulness and fully rewarded.
“Therefore be you also ready, for in an hour that you think not, the Son of man comes.”
But when it cones down to the coming of the Son of Man we cannot afford to make that mistake. We must be watching all the time, and living in the light of His coming, for He will come at an hour when we do not expect Him. The only way to be ready therefore, is to watch all the time.
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season?”
Jesus now goes on to indicate what ‘watching’ involves. For He has not called men in order that they might gaze into the heavens. He has called them in order to serve Him. So He gives the example of a servant who is faithful and wise, and is appointed to watch over the Master’s household and provide food for all His servants as it is needed. This was indeed the calling of the Apostles. As Jesus said to Peter, ‘Feed My lambs, tend My sheep, feed My sheep’ (John 21:15-17). It is in the end the calling of us all, for as Christian brothers and sisters we are each responsible for all. Primarily this means spiritual food. But it also includes physical food where necessary. Here is our continual responsibility. Here is the task that has been given to us.
“Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing.”
And the one who is faithfully doing it when his Lord comes will be blessed by God. he will hear Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’
“Truly I say to you, that he will set him over all that he has.”
And he will not only be blessed but will be given total overall control of all that the Lord has. He will be made second only the Master himself. Now humanly speaking and in a human situation that could only happen to one person, or an inner few. But that is not so in God’s economy. In God’s economy the privilege can be given to all. Together his people will be set over all that He has. And as we have learned elsewhere, in that position of responsibility each will delight to serve and be the lowliest of all, so that they can be like the Servant of the Lord Supreme. For God turns all our values upside down.
“But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord delays’, and shall begin to beat his fellow-servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken,”
However, if the one appointed turns out to be an evil servant, and begins to consider that his Master is delaying his coming (although that should really have made no difference to his behaviour), and thus begins to beat his fellow-servants and indulge in riotous excess (note the inference that such behaviour is displeasing to the Lord), he will in the end be caught out.
“The lord of that servant will come in a day when he does not expect, and in an hour that he does not know,”
For his Lord will come on a day when he is not expecting Him, and at an hour that was outside his calculations, and he will then be called to account. Like the man who had previously thought that he could neglect his house for a few hours (Matthew 24:43), he will discover the mistake that he has made.
“And shall cut him apart, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus does not draw back from the idea of the severest penalty. He will be ‘cut in two’ (compare 1 Samuel 15:33; Hebrews 11:37). All that he is and has will be destroyed. And he will join the hypocrites. In context this has in mind the Scribes and Pharisees constantly described as hypocrites in chapter 23. But it does, of course, include all hypocrites, that is all who do not live up to their profession. And we know that their destiny is the eternal fire. Again there will be ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’, the awful anguish of those who realise too late all that they have lost.
The lesson of the parables is clear. They stress the need to watch, and to faithfully carry out the responsibilities that the Lord places on us. We are not called on to apply every detail. But the Scribes and Pharisees saw themselves as servants appointed to feed the household of Israel. And they had failed. They therefore stand as a warning to all who see themselves as having that responsibility (and even those who do not see it but are nevertheless responsible, for in the end we are all responsible. None are exempted). We cannot avoid the final conclusion. The faithful will be blessed. The unfaithful will have demonstrated that they are not truly His, and will therefore be condemned. And that will include all who have spent their time trying to prove that they were saved, whether faithful or not. For by their fruits they will be known.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 24". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany