Matthew 24

Introduction

‘Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.’ As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately.’  Matthew 24:1-3

In the previous chapter, Jesus declared judgment on the city of Jerusalem, Matthew 23:38. He also said that this would happen in the generation of those He was speaking to, Matthew 23:36.

The apostles here, are obviously impressed with the physical structure, that is, the temple that Herod the Great had built and probably wondered why God was going to destroy the temple.

Jesus tells them that not one stone here will be left on another and everyone will be thrown down, which I’m sure would have shocked the disciples.

Jesus was preparing the disciples for the final pronounced judgment on Israel, Jerusalem and the temple, Matthew 13:3-9 / Matthew 13:36-43 / Matthew 21:33-46 / Matthew 22:1-14 / Matthew 23:29-39. The destruction would be great and final, Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

It’s at this point that Peter, James, John and Andrew later came to Jesus privately while He was on the Mount of Olives, Mark 13:3.

The Destruction Of The Temple And Signs Of The End Times

Before we get into the rest of the text, I think it would be useful to point out some important truths. When it comes to the first 35 verses of this chapter, it’s clear they are interesting and obviously a difficult passage of text, and people have had many different extreme views of it.

For example, liberal theologians use this text as proof that Jesus was mistaken. They say, ‘see, he says quite clearly that He would come back in this generation and He didn’t, so he was mistaken.’

And so they detract from the Deity of Jesus using this text. Others say this is talking about, ‘a tremendous 7-year tribulation, still to come, that we haven’t seen yet, but these signs are going to let us know when it’s near’.

Let me share with you three arguments against those ideas.

1. The sign events of Matthew 24:1-35 have already been fulfilled.

And I think the key to understanding Matthew 24:1-35 is in Matthew 24:34, ‘I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.’

‘These things’ is an interesting phrase. We will never understand sign language unless we ask someone what it means.

And that’s what Mark and Luke did in their Gospels, where we have the parallel passages with this particular sermon, the disciples ask Jesus, ‘Tell us what are the signs of these things?’ Matthew 24:3 / Mark 13:4.

At the end of all three Gospels, He says, “This generation will not pass away until these things happen,” Matthew 24:34 / Luke 21:32 / Mark 13:30.

The real question is, what does Jesus mean by the word ‘generation’? So there are different views and one view says, “well that’s talking about Israel, “Israel the nation will not pass away until this happens.”

Or it’s talking about the race of the Hebrews. Or it means the generation that’s alive when the tribulation starts, they won’t pass away until this happens.

I’m going to challenge that view, even though it’s very popular. It became very popular among the dispensationalists when Israel in 1948 became a state.

They said, ‘well, that’s a sign,’ the fig tree is budding and in this generation, Jesus has to come back. And so when this didn’t happen, they changed their mind and said that Jesus will definitely come back before 2048. And that’s a common view among a lot of people, let me challenge that view.

Jesus says, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.” Matthew 24:32. I don’t think the mention of the fig tree is talking about a re-established state of Israel.

Sometimes the fig tree in the Bible refers to Israel, but he said in Luke, “Look at all the trees,” Luke 21:29. And the point I think He’s making is, ‘you know when trees begin to bud, you know summer is near.’ Summer is on its way when the trees start to bud.

So the thing that Jesus is predicting is, ‘when you see those signs, you know it’s near.’ Remember when Jesus after the triumphant entry went to the temple and He cleansed the temple, and He came out of the temple and He saw a fig tree.

And it had lots of leaves and He went to get some fruit but it didn’t have any, and He cursed it, and said, ‘May you never bear fruit again,’ Matthew 21:19.

Now almost all scholars see that as an allusion to Israel. He said in Matthew 21:19 of the fig tree, “May you never bear fruit again.” I don’t think that three chapters later He’s talking about Israel.

If you look at the word ‘generation’ in Matthew, every single time it’s used, it’s talking about the current hearer. I don’t see a reason to make it mean something different in Matthew 24.

I think what Jesus is saying is, “everything that I have just told you, is going to happen, is going to happen in this generation’s lifetime.” What Jesus was saying, was going to happen in the lifetime of that generation.

2. What Jesus is doing in this chapter is predicting the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by the Romans in AD70.

After hearing Jesus’ harsh sermon, this chapter comes right after Matthew 23. A long chapter where He just criticises and gives woe one after the other to the Jewish people. And right after that and He’s just walked out of the temple, the last time He’ll be there, He was leaving the temple forever.

The disciples may be concerned that He has been so harsh to the Jewish people lately and they’re trying to find some kind of a positive response.

They say in Mark 13:1 “Look at how impressive these buildings are.” But we need to understand there has been all the way through the Gospel of Matthew a theme that a coming judgment against Israel is near.

Let me show you some examples. John the baptiser is preaching, the Pharisees and Sadducees come out to see him Matthew 3:7 / Matthew 7:10. So we have wrath that’s coming.

In Matthew 8 Jesus meets a Gentile soldier that wants Him to heal his servant, Matthew 8:7-10. And look what he said next, He spoke about judgment, Matthew 8:11-12.

Another example is where He tells this parable of tenants in Matthew 21. And the father sends servants to the vineyard but the tenants kill him, then he sends his own son and they kill him too. And so the father says, “I am going to punish those wicked tenants.” And look what he says, He speaks about judgment. Matthew 21:43.

We begin to understand why the Jews were so angry with Jesus, they couldn’t have missed the point of His sermon. One more example, Matthew 23, this whole chapter is just one woe after the other to the Jews and again He speaks about judgment, Matthew 23:32-36.

What was the judgement that was to come on this generation of Jews? And how was Jesus going to prepare His church to escape the coming judgment on Israel?

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand–then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Matthew 24:15-16.

The abomination of desolation is a phrase out of the Book of Daniel that refers to a sacrilege that would be so detestable that it would cause the temple to be abandoned by the people of God.

Now, most of it was fulfilled and it probably was partially fulfilled during the time that we call the Maccabean period. A Syrian ruler named Antiochus Epiphanies, had come to Jerusalem and took a pig into the temple and sacrificed it on the holy altar.

And all the Jews said, “That was the abomination of desolation,” but Jesus comes along and says, ‘that’s not its complete fulfilment.’ There is still an abomination of desolation to come predicted by Daniel, now what is that?

People have gone everywhere suggesting what that will be and many think it will happen in this tribulation period. But I think the Bible tells us very, very clearly what Jesus is talking about.

In the Jewish Gospel, Matthew says the abomination of desolation and so does the Gospel of Mark. But in the Gospel of Luke, you have the exact words right until those verses, and you have the same exact words after those verses.

But in Luke, he doesn’t say watch out for the abomination of desolation. Look what he says, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.” Luke 21:20.

Now there’s Luke’s interpretation of what abomination of desolation means. And the present tense is used there, “when you see Jerusalem in the process of being surrounded.”

So what is the warning of Jesus? It’s very clear. “You get out of that city before it becomes encircled by that Roman ring of steel. Run across the rooftops, don’t go back down to get your cloak, help the pregnant women, pray it’s not in winter, and hope it’s not a Sabbath day. “You get yourself out of that town, the moment you see that army and don’t waste time doing it.” Matthew 24:16-20.

Josephus who was a Jewish historian and Eusebius a Christian historian tell us that’s exactly what happened. What did most of the Jews do when the Roman army under Titus came?

They did the exact opposite of what Jesus said. When the Roman army showed up, they all gathered their belongings and ran into Jerusalem for safety. And what followed was, one of the most horrific accounts of suffering and desolation ever recorded.

Josephus writes about things that happened when that city was surrounded, that are so abominable, it’s hard to put in writing, it’s hard to describe how gruesome the suffering was, as one million Jews eventually lost their lives.

The Romans came in and literally like Jesus said, the gold in the temple was burned and melted into the cracks. They took stone by stone of that temple and that city apart and then they totally blazed the place. Josephus said, ‘When they were through, you couldn’t believe that anybody had ever lived there.’

But the Christians according to Eusebius, when they saw that army, they remembered Jesus’ words and they ran quickly out of town. Remember Jesus said, ‘run to the mountains’? Matthew 24:16.

They ran through the city up to the Transjordan Mountains called ‘Pella’, and the Christians were saved. We can’t imagine how the fall of Jerusalem was to Jews and Christians all over the world, it made all the headlines. I mean to a Jew the fall of Jerusalem, that’s like the end of an age, if Jerusalem falls, God must be dead.

Now there are about 40 years between the death of Jesus and the fall of Jerusalem. And I believe this was because Jesus was going to give the Gospel a chance to be preached all over the world to prepare Jews and Gentiles for what was coming.

Look at the verse right before verse 15 the abomination of desolation, what does He say? “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14.

Such a proclamation was going to let the world know of God’s justification for the destruction of Jerusalem. The Gospel is going to go into all the world, the story of how the Jews rejected and killed their own Messiah was going to go into all the world.

Now did that happen? Well I believe it did Acts 2:5 / Romans 1:8 / Colossians 1:6 / Colossians 1:23. And so in one generation’s time, everywhere, especially in the cities where Jews live, the Gospel was preached and people were prepared for what God was about to do.

I believe that Jerusalem’s destruction signalled that the fuller dispensation was over and would never return. God was going to raise up a new Israel, consisting of the elect of every nation on earth.

3. The sign language in Matthew 24:1-35, are actually Old Testament judgement language.

Jesus is using a language which some call apocalyptic and it was very familiar to students of the Old Testament. We’re not familiar with it because we’re Gentiles and so sometimes we think they’re talking about the second coming when they aren’t necessarily doing so.

For example, in the apocalyptical language, you often announced judgement by saying the whole cosmic structure, sun, moon, stars, were going to be shaken. In fact, that was just an Old Testament way of saying God was about to judge a nation.

Let me give you three examples. In Isaiah 12 we read about a judgement against Babylon, “The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”

Isaiah 13:10. That’s not to be interpreted literally, that’s a figure of that particular style of writing saying that God is going to judge Babylon.

In Isaiah 34 we read about a judgement against Edom. “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shrivelled figs from the fig tree.” Isaiah 34:4

In Ezekiel 32 we read about a judgement against Egypt. “When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign LORD.” Ezekiel 32:7-8

What I’m saying is, when a Jew heard language like, the stars are going to be darkened, the moon is going turn to dark, the sun is going to fall.

When they heard talk like that, they didn’t think, that the ‘end of the world,’ they thought, ‘what nation is God judging now?’ And when Jesus uses that kind of language in His sermon, He’s saying that God is sending judgement on Israel. Just like He did on Egypt, just like He did on Edom and Babylon.

People say, ‘well what about verse 30?’ “The son of man is going to come on the clouds of the sky.” Matthew 24:30. Again, I’m going to say that’s judgement language.

Let me give you an example from Isaiah 19:1 “An oracle concerning Egypt: See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.”

Remember Jesus said, Matthew 23:36 “All these things will happen in this generation.”  He also said in Matthew 24:34 ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.’

What I believe He did was, He used the judgement language that the Jews understood to say this, ‘all those things that have happened to Babylon, all those things that have happened to Egypt and Edom, now its Israel’s turn.’

Look at Matthew 26:64, I used to think this referred to the second coming of Christ but I’m not too sure now. Remember when Jesus was before Caiaphas the high priest in trial and Caiaphas says, ‘You tell me if you are the Son of God?’

And Jesus says this, Matthew 26:64 “Yes, it is as you say,” “But I say to all of you: In the future, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Now is that a reference to the second coming? Notice it says, ‘He’s sitting at the right hand.’

It doesn’t say He’s standing or riding a horse, He’s sitting. I think what Jesus is saying there is, “Caiaphas, this day you are my judge, you and your people are judging me, but the day is coming and you’re going to see it when I’m sitting at the right hand of God and I’m sending my judgement to you.” And Caiaphas’ generation saw that prophecy come true.

In this text, Jesus is bringing the news of the passing of one era and the establishment of another in which the glory of God isn’t going to be in the temple made by hands anymore.

We’re so far removed from this text at this time, we don’t understand why this text is so important. In the 1st century world, before you could ever preach the Gospel of Jesus, you had to explain what happened to Israel.

Why is the dispensation of Israel, the way God is working? What is all this, Gentiles are included in the kingdom? What is all this, the Messiah has come and they crucified Him but He rose again?

You had to explain that God had ended an era and judged Israel and now the kingdom is going to be made up of the elect of every nation. Because most Jews saw the end of the temple, as the end of the world.

Jesus is using the language that they understood and He was trying to explain to them, ‘listen the destruction of Jerusalem, is really the work of God.’

What Jesus was trying to prepare the church for was this, ‘something is about to happen in about 40 years that going to shake your world, the holy city is going to be wiped out, the temple is going to be gone but God is behind it, God is doing it and God is in control.’

Many of the signs that people use to predict His return aren’t signs at all. In troubled times people are very eagerly looking to the signs of the last days. I believe we have been in the last days ever since the coming of Jesus.

In Acts 2:17 Peter said what happened with the outpouring of the Spirit happened, “In these last days.” In Hebrews 1:1-2 it says, “In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

We’re in the last days, but people talk about all the wars that are going on, but these wars haven’t been any worse than they have before. Famines aren’t new, a famine was recorded in Acts 11, and there were famines before the destruction of Jerusalem, earthquakes aren’t new things.

We need to be very careful that you aren’t convinced by all these signs that people are talking about that proves the very end is near. ‘These things’ Matthew 24:6, have been going on since the days of creation and they will continue to go on until Jesus returns.

When people get into an end of time frenzy, they hunger for someone who will stand up and say, ‘I can make sense out of it.’ Now Jesus said before the fall of Jerusalem people are going to do that.

They’re going to stand up, and He said, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” Matthew 24:24.

And they’re going to say, “I’ve got it all figured out, come follow me and I’ll explain it all to you.”  Jesus says to be careful about that, be suspicious of people that have inside information about the end that the rest of the church doesn’t have.

The Destruction Of The Temple And Signs Of The End Times

‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Matthew 24:3

In Matthew 24-25, we see that His disciples raised the matters of His Return and the end of the Age. They asked three questions.

1. There was a question concerning the destruction of the Temple and the City.

2. A question concerning ‘the sign of His coming’.

3. A question concerning ‘the end of the world’.

In response to their first question, the Lord gave them detailed information and instruction, from Matthew 24:4, then, at Matthew 24:36, we find this unmistakable statement, ‘but about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’

The Lord warns that, as it was in the time of Noah before the Flood came and the people were going about their lives in the usual way, so it will be when He returns.

In those days, they neither knew nor suspected that anything usual was about to happen. They paid no attention to Noah’s warnings and were unprepared when the flood came and swept them all away.

He then proceeds to teach how believers should behave in view of the fact that there will be nothing to warn that His Coming is imminent.

He says that it will be unheralded, like the coming of a thief, in the night, and He gives us, in parabolic form, three watchwords when He says that we should be.

1. Waiting. 2. Watching. 3. Working.

No ‘signs of the times’! No special evidence of His imminent appearance! Instead, a solemn warning which every one of us should take seriously and think about more frequently, Matthew 24:42. ‘Watch, therefore for you do not know at what hour your Lord will come.’

Was the Lord Jesus talking about ‘end times’? The Lord’s prediction of the devastation of the temple in Matthew 24:2 prompts the disciples’ questions.

The Lord’s response is also recorded in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Comparing Matthew’s record with these helps us to understand it better. It is a good idea to read all of Matthew 24-25 to see the whole context.

The Disciples’ Questions

Their three questions addressed two distinctly different issues. The disciples ask the Lord when the temple building would be destroyed, what would be the sign of the Lord’s coming and of ‘the end of the age’.

The AV has ‘the end of the world’, the primary meaning of the word translated ‘world’ is age, era, ‘aion’. The apostles might have been confusing the consummation of the Mosaic era with the second coming of the Lord.

They appear to confuse the destruction of the temple with the Lord’s coming but the two are distinctly different. Two matters are being considered.

1. One is the events leading up to the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, AD 70.

2. The other is the coming of the Son of man on the day of Judgement.

The increasing social and political unrest would enable them to anticipate the siege of Jerusalem. The onset of the siege of Jerusalem would alert them to be ready for when they could make their escape.

In contrast to this, no one can predict the coming of the Son of man in judgement. That is why it is emphasised that we must always be ready for the Lord’s appearance.

It would then be foolishness to allow any favourite theological outlook to influence our interpretation so as to make it appear that the events heralding the destruction of the Temple will also herald the coming of the Lord.

‘… of that day and hour no man knows, no, not the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but my Father only.’ Any interpretation which contradicts this statement cannot be right.

‘Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. ‘Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ Matthew 24:4-14

1. There would be, false messiahs, rebellions, persecution, betrayals and false prophets.

Before the siege of Jerusalem, there would be many disturbing events, false messiahs, false prophets, battles in various countries, widespread anarchy, earthquakes, famine and plagues. These would be only the beginning of the many troubles that would all happen before the destruction of the temple, Matthew 24:8 / Mark 13:8.

The disciples to whom he was speaking would be persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders, be betrayed even by their close relatives and killed. They would be hated everywhere, Matthew 24:9.

All this had to happen before the temple was destroyed, Mark 13:5-13 / Luke 21:8-17. They were required to remain faithful throughout all those traumatic experiences, Matthew 24:13 / Mark 13:13.

In Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10, we learn that only when the Gospel had been preached to all nations would the temple economy be finally terminated. The word ‘end’ in Matthew 24:14 refers to the destruction of the Temple. Even by the apostles, Acts 1:2 / Acts 1:4 / Acts 1:8 ‘in all the world’, ‘all nations’. Colossians 1:23 ‘every creature’.

The destruction of the temple and the cessation of the sacrifices brought to an end all vestiges of the Mosaic era. Writing to Hebrew Christians, a few years before the destruction of the temple, the writer wrote, ‘In that he said, A new covenant, Jeremiah 31:31, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and grows old is ready to vanish away.’ Hebrews 8:13.

‘So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again. ‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.’ Matthew 24:15-22

Then there would be the sign that it was time to flee. In Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, this sign is referred to as ‘the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet.’ Daniel mentions three different desolations.

1. That was previously caused by Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 9:17.

2. That was eventually caused by Antiochus Epiphanes, Daniel 8:13 / Daniel 12:11.

3. The series of desolations which would occur at the time of the Roman siege, from AD 68 to AD 70, Daniel 9:26-27.

Note that Hebrew years were grouped into sevens by Sabbatical years, Leviticus 25:1-4.

The Lord Jesus was talking about the third one. Daniel predicted how, after the execution of the Messiah, war and desolations would be poured upon ‘the desolate’.

The city and the temple would be destroyed by the prince’s people. This was done in AD 70, by Titus’ army, even though he had commanded them to spare the temple.

The words ‘desolations are determined’ indicate that it would be a period of several desolations. These culminated in the destruction of the temple and devastation of Jerusalem and Judaea. The Lord spoke of a specific desolation taking place where it had no right to be, Mark 13:14, even in ‘the Holy Place’, Matthew 24:15.

The Holy Place was the first of the two sacred rooms of the temple proper. Josephus records how, to the dismay of many priests, Jewish Zealots took over the temple during the siege and turned it into a fortress. The Zealots set up the command headquarters in the Holy place, ‘where it ought not’ to be, Mark 13:14.

This desolation of the Holy Place was the ‘sign’ to flee to the mountains. Matthew and Mark made it clear to the readers that they were to flee and not return to the city when.

1. The Temple Holy Place was desecrated and

2. The city was surrounded by Roman troops, Luke 21:20-21 / Matthew 24:15-18 / Mark 13:14-16.

Troops encircling the city would indicate that its devastation was imminent.

The desolation mentioned in Matthew and Mark is the desecration of the Holy Place by the Jewish Zealots, in setting up their command headquarters there. Whereas the desolation referred to in Luke 21:20 is the subsequent devastation of the city.

And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation of it is near. Then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let those who are in the midst of it depart out and don’t let those who are in the countries enter into it, Luke 21:20-21.

During the siege of AD 70, there was a short break in hostilities. That day, Christians, heeding this advice, took that opportunity to flee Jerusalem. According to the historian Eusebius, there was no record of any Christian perishing in the siege.

Notice they were ‘to flee Judea and go into the mountains.’ Luke tells us, ‘for it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.’ Luke 21:35.

The Greek word age, not ‘kosmos’. The mountains on the east of Jordan have many interconnecting caves where numerous folk could hide in safety. In Matthew 24:20 they are to pray that they would not have to flee on the Sabbath. This confirms that these predictions are to do with the Jews living then. They have nothing to do with the end of the world.

The horrors that would ensue would exceed anything else in history, either in the past or in the future, Matthew 24:19-22 / Mark 13:17-19.

Following the destruction of Jerusalem Titus’ soldiers desolated the whole country. But, God stopped them from pursuing those who had fled into the mountains, Matthew 24:22 / Mark 13:20.

‘At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. ‘So, if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.’ Matthew 24:23-26

At that time, there would be false messiahs and false prophets. Here and in Mark 13:21-23, they are again warned in Matthew 24:4-5 and Mark 13:5-6 to ignore false Messiahs and false prophets.

Boles, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Many persons, impostors, and self-deceived aspire to fill the places of persons of honour. Many did come claiming to be the Christ. There is still a constant stream of men claiming to be God’s chosen servants, leading multitudes into sin and infidelity with pretended claims.’

‘For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’ Matthew 24:27

They were to ignore them because here the Lord gives a reason why they must ignore the false messiahs. They are to ignore them because when the Lord does come, it will not be in the desert or some obscure place.

He will appear instantaneously and will be seen by everyone who has ever lived, Revelation 1:7. The Essenes in the desert at Qumran were expecting a Messiah who would throw off the Roman yolk. Their seclusion did not save them from being massacred by the Roman army.

‘Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.’ Matthew 24:28

This is a proverb, the wicked, wherever they are, will not escape the administration of God’s justice. Wherever the body is, there will the ‘vultures’ be gathered together.

Some translations use the word, ‘eagles’, this word cannot refer to the eagle on the Roman military standard because eagles do not usually gather around carrion and the illustration here is of scavengers gathering around carcasses. It probably refers to vultures. The word ‘body’ or ‘carcass’ is evidently directed at the spiritually dead, the wicked.

All the spiritually dead will be gathered for judgement. This proverb could apply equally to the administration of God’s justice on the nation of Israel, compare Luke 21:22 with Isaiah 46:11 and Ezekiel 39:4 or to the administration of His justice when the Lord Jesus appears. A person can be physically alive yet spiritually be a carcase. She who lives in pleasure is dead whilst she lives, 1 Timothy 5:6.

Many who are alive physically are dead spiritually. The Lord makes it clear that wherever the spiritual carcases are they will be separated and suffer judgement, Galatians 6:7-8 / 1 Thessalonians 1:7-10.

‘Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ Matthew 24:29

Immediately after ‘those days’. Having explained what will really happen when he does appear, Jesus resumes talking about the events accompanying the devastation of Judea.

Here and in Mark 13:24-25 it refers to a period of confusion immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 24:29 / Mark 13:24-25.

The word ‘those’ directs the mind back beyond his immediate comments to what he said earlier about the destruction of the temple. Political and religious hierarchical chaos immediately followed the destruction of the temple and the devastation of Jerusalem and Judaea, Luke 21:25-26.

Similar figurative language is used for spiritual and political confusion in the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 2:19 / Isaiah 2:21 / Isaiah 13:10-13 / Isaiah 24:23 / Isaiah 34:4 / Isaiah 60:19-20 / Ezekiel 32:7-8 / Joel 2:28-32 / Joel 3:15.

‘Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.’ Matthew 24:30-31

This politico-spiritual darkness will not end until the Lord appears. The Apostle Paul wrote of a man of sin causing chaos in the temple of God, i.e. in the church. The man of sin is seen at work in such as Diotrephes, 3 John 9. This personified evil, this agent of Satan was already at work in Paul’s time, 2 Thessalonians 2:7.

The desire for supremacy in power-hungry members of the church produced political hierarchies, causing darkness and chaos. This was restrained by the persecution but came into its own under Emperor Constantine. The perpetrator of darkness will be destroyed by the brightness of the Lord’s light at his appearance. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8.

The Lord will appear instantaneously, everywhere on the last day. Then the wicked will mourn and the faithful will be taken to be with the Lord for eternity, Luke 21:27 / Matthew 24:30-31 / Mark 13:26-27.

Reference ‘mourn’ ‘see’ ‘clouds’, Matthew 26:64 / John 5:27-29 / Acts 1:9 / Acts 1:11 / 1 Corinthians 15:52 / 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 / 2 Peter 3:7 / 2 Peter 3:10 / 2 Peter 3:12 / Revelation 1:7.

‘Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’ Matthew 24:32-35

However, the immediate concern for them was to be ready to flee. In the parable of the fig tree, Matthew 24:32-33 and Mark 13:28-29, the Lord reverts to talking about the events preceding the devastation of the temple, Matthew 24:4-15 / Matthew 24:21-26 / Mark 13:5-14 / Mark 13:19-23.

‘This generation’. All the predictions leading up to and including the destruction of the temple would be fulfilled within the lifetime of people listening to the Lord Jesus, Matthew 24:34 / Mark 13:30. They have nothing to do with ‘end times’.

The phrase ‘this generation’ occurs 15 times in the New Testament. Everyone is where the Lord is referring to the generation of people to whom he was talking.

Whereas the phrase ‘that generation’ is used when referring to folk of a different time, Hebrews 3:10. Dreadful and devastating as the events would be, they wouldn’t stop the Lord’s words from continuing to reach out to all mankind, Mark 13:31.

The Day And Hour Unknown

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:36-39

The main sign of His return is the absence sign. Notice how Jesus shifts gears starting in Matthew 24:36. In Matthew 24:1-35 He keeps talking about ‘those days’ in Mathew 24:19 / Matthew 24:22 / Matthew 24:29, but from Matthew 24:36 and following, He starts talking about ‘that day’.

And in the New Testament, any time you talk about ‘that day’, singular day, the day, it’s talking about the day that Jesus returns. Nothing could be more clearly stated than these warnings, that we cannot know when the Lord will come.

So, we must be prepared, Mark 13:32-33 / 1 Thessalonians 5:2 / 2 Peter 3:10 / Revelation 16:15. And from this point on through Matthew 25 Jesus discusses the end of the age. And notice how different this section is from the first.

Jesus didn’t say, “The days before I come, there’s going to be turmoil all over the world, there will be famine and distress.” He said, “Do you know what is going to characterise the world before I come back? Normal things, people are going to be planting their fields, people are going to be planning weddings, they will never notice.”

And if you know someone who is getting married soon, that’s a sure sign that Jesus is coming. The only sign before the flood was the preaching of Noah, Genesis 6:5 / Genesis 7:6-23.

And you know it’s not wrong to have a wedding or to plan a party, that’s not what He’s saying. What He’s saying is, “the tragedy is going to be that when God comes back, what’s going to characterise the world is an exceeding casual world.”

And the only warning the world is going to get is the witness of the church. I guess there would have been some people around in Noah’s time thinking to themselves, ‘I believe in God, I believe what Noah said is going to happen, but I’ll wait just before he finished building that ark before I step onboard.’

We can’t do that with God and the reason we can’t do that with God is because like Noah we have already been warned about what’s going to happen. And just like the people in Noah’s time, if you chose to ignore that warning you’re going to drown in the flood.

‘Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.’ Matthew 24:40-41

In short, He’s telling them that He would arrive unexpectedly and He would find many people who weren’t prepared for it. We must always be prepared for the Lord’s sudden appearance.

Matthew and Mark continue with three parables illustrating the need to always be prepared for the Lord’s appearing, emphasising that we cannot know when he will come, Matthew 25:13.  Mark has an additional warning, Mark 13:34-37.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So, you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24:42-44

Jesus gave signs to warn the church of the destruction of Jerusalem and it saved their lives. And it helped the kingdom all over the world to understand that God has judged Israel and now the kingdom is made of Jews and Gentiles.

He gave signs for that but He didn’t give any signs for His return, He said, “My return is as a thief.” Thieves don’t give signs, thieves don’t send cards saying, ‘hope you’re not home next Monday night, we’re hoping to drop by.’

The Lord has not left us ‘in the dark’ that He will appear suddenly, without warning. So, by always being prepared we will not be caught out, 1 Thessalonians 5:4.

The Lord Jesus says, ‘I am definitely coming suddenly.’ Can we with confidence and with joy say, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’? Revelation 22:20.

And then He tells these 3 parables about the servants that were given assignments, about the ten wise and foolish virgins, about the parable of the talents.

All 3 parables have 2 things in common, in all 3 parables, the master is gone longer than they expected and in all 3 when he came back, everybody was surprised. The people who are ready for him and the people who weren’t ready for him.

It’s not like the wise virgins knew he was coming back and so they were ready, Matthew 25:5 tells us that they were sleeping too. They were just as surprised as the foolish virgins. You see when Jesus comes back, we’re not going to have a clue that He was coming on that day.

What Jesus is doing here isn’t giving us clues to date His return. He said to us, ‘you need prepared lives because you don’t know the date of my return, so you stay ready.’ We talk a lot about what signs we’re looking for but Jesus closes by saying, ‘You know I’m looking for a sign too.’

The sign Jesus is looking for is ‘faithfulness’. He’s attempting to get spiritually long-distance runners. Jesus said in Luke 18:8 “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” That’s the sign Jesus is going to look for.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 24:45-50

To illustrate what is involved in watching and being ready, Jesus contrasted two servants. The first servant is described as ‘faithful and wise’, he had fulfilled his responsibilities while his master was away and he would receive a great reward when his master returned. So it is with those disciples who remained faithful and wisely understand their duties to serve the Lord.

The second servant is described as ‘wicked’, he wasn’t faithful, he was not wise and he didn’t fulfil his responsibilities while his master was away. And so, he would be punished when his master returned.

Coffman, in his commentary, says threw following.

‘The ‘weeping and the gnashing of teeth’ are expressions used by Jesus to convey some idea of the anguish and despair of the condemned who shall be cast into the outer darkness.’

What does all this mean to us? It means that what Jesus said came true. He said that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed. He said that the Christians of that time would live if they followed Jesus’ instructions. He said if they ran back into Jerusalem they would certainly die and many people did.

There’s a time coming when everyone in heaven and on earth and every demon in hell is going to bow down and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, it’s just a question of when, Philippians 2:9-11.

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