Matthew 24 – A Misunderstood Passage

This chapter has long been one of great confusion and controversy. It has been used to support the following doctrines:

1) That the 2nd coming of Christ was actually the destruction of Jerusalem and there will be no future comings;

2) That everything in the New Testament (including Revelation) that speaks of the coming of Christ is actually speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

3) That the coming of Jesus will be marked by numerous signs mentioned in Matt. 24.

Background:

1 ) The disciples were showing the beautiful temple buildings to Jesus (v.1). Josephus said that the temple was “the most marvelous edifice which we have ever seen or heard of, whether we consider its structure, its magnitude, the richness of its every detail, or the reputation of its High Places… ” (War 6.4.8. t 2672).

The work on the temple began in 20 B.C. and was not completed until 64 A.D. Most of the work was done during Herod’s reign.

2 ) Jesus responds that these beautiful buildings will be torn down (v. 2)

3 ) The disciples connected Jesus’ words with future events related to the Messianic kingdom, and thus asked three questions, all of which, in their minds, were to occur very close to one another:

a) tell us, when will these things be, and

b) What will be the sign of your coming, and

c) Of the end of the age?

The first question is obviously related to Jesus’ words in v. 2. “These things refer to the tearing down of the temple mentioned by Jesus.

The second question, as Jesus will show, will actually be an event related to the first question, and will occur at about the same time.

The third question, although perhaps not completely understood by the disciples,related to the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world.

4 ) Jesus immediately begins to explain the events that will lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It will be a difficult time, and many will interpret the events to be signs pointing to the end. But Jesus warns them 4 times not to be “misled” (vss. 4,5,11,24).

5 ) Jesus teaches them that the “rumors of wars” and “famines” and “earthquakes” will not be the end of things (v.6). These things are merely the beginning (v. 8). The “end” will come in verse 14, but only after the Gospel is preached in the whole world.

It is apparent that Jesus does not intend this “end” (v. 14) to be the end of the world by the following facts:

(1) He continues on from there and discusses the destruction of Jerusalem and warns them to flee (vs. 15ff)

(2) He discusses the tribulation that will come “after” those days (v. 29) The “end” that Jesus is referring to is the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish system of religion as it was then (i.e. the temple, etc.). According to Paul, the Gospel was preached to the whole known world by the time he wrote the Colossian letter about 62 A.D. (Col. 1:6,23)

6 ) Jesus tells them in v. 15 of a sign that they will see that will warn them of the coming destruction. This sign is the “abomination of desolation.” When they see this sign, they are to flee from the city (vs. 16ff). This “abomination of desolation” comes from the book of Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11). When Daniel speaks to the “abomination of desolation” he is most likely referring to a man by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes who in 167 B.C. set up a pagan altar on the temple site and sacrificed a pig to Zeus (1 Macc.1:54-64; 2 Macc. 6:1-5). Thus what the “reader is to understand” is that another desecration of the temple is about to take place when they see this abomination of desolation. And what is this “abomination of desolation”? When we compare this with Luke’s parallel account, the abomination is the Roman armies surrounding the city (Luke 21:20).

7 ) All of this information should prove valuable to the lives of Jesus’ followers, for if heeded, it would save their lives. Jesus tells them: “Behold, I have told you in advance.” (vs. 25)

Note: The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was a very brutal and merciless slaying of the Jews. According to Josephus, 1,100,000 Jews lost their lives in the attack which lasted from April to September (War, 5.10.5; 6.9.4.).

8 ) In v. 29 Jesus mentions what will occur “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” He then speaks in a favorite Jewish style of writing and speaking called apocalyptic. This type of language is not meant to be taken literally. It is language that speaks of important events in a cataclysmic way, and does not necessarily refer to the end of time. For example, note Old Testament examples of the following phrases:

a) The sun darkened – Refers to the fall of Babylon in Isaiah 13:10, the distress of Egypt in Ezek. 32:7, and in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost in Joel 2:10, 31; Acts 2:20).

b) The stars falling – is used by Isaiah to refer to the fall of Edom (Is. 34:4).

c) Coming on the clouds – is a typical apocalyptic phrase referring to the Lord coming in judgment – Is. 19:1; Lam. 2:1; Ezek. 30:18).

Therefore, one does not need to insist that vss 29-31 refer to the Second Coming of Christ, but rather these verses demonstrate that the coming of the Son of Man with the clouds is a symbol of His kingly reign and dominion (which would have become more firmly established after the Jewish system of faith was destroyed), and His pronounced judgment upon Jerusalem. Jesus wants His disciples to know that this destruction was not just an act by the Roman army. It was a symbol of Jesus coming in judgment upon the Jewish nation (like other prophets has predicted in earlier times) (Micah 3:12; Jer. 26:6-18).

9 ) Therefore, the entire chapter can be divided up accordingly:

a) vs. 1-35 refer to the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and immediately afterwards

b) vs. 36-51 refer to the Second Coming of Christ and the end of time.

Here are two evidences to support this division:

1) Everything up until verse 36 has a sign that is clearly identifiable (v. 15, 27, 30). However, concerning the Second Coming (v. 36ff) there will be no signs, and the Son of Man will come when no one expects it (vs. 42, 44, 50).

2) Jesus uses two main demonstrative pronouns that clearly show a transition from one time period to another. In v. 29 he speaks of those days” and “these things” in vs. 33, 34. He also says that “this generation” will not pass away until “these things” take place (referring to everything mentioned up to this point. When one considers Matthew’s use of the word for “generation” it is clear he means people alive at the time of Jesus (which would mean the fall of the temple would occur before this generation passed – cf. Mt. 1:17; 10:23; 11:16; 12:39, 41, 45; 23:36.

Then in verse 36 Jesus says “but of that day… ” thereby changing the pronoun from these things to that. This clearly demonstrates a transition.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM CHAPTER 24

1) Jesus truly cares about disciples and does things to help them escape or endure trials and tribulations. He still wants to provide rest (Matt. 11:28-30) and peace (John 14:27) today.

2) Jesus encourages all disciples to never let the cares of the world and its troubles distract them from being falithful to the end (Mt. 24:13)

3) Jesus also wants all disciples to continually live in a state of readiness for His eventual return. We will not know in advance when He is going to come, but must always be ready and prepared (1 Thess. 4:13; 5:7; 2 Peter 3:9-15).

By Danny Petrillo

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