Matthew 24:1–44. Jesus' Prophecy of the End of the Age.
Key Notes: A basic outline of the future of Israel and the Church. Multiple fulfillments. Supernatural events at the destruction of the Temple? Don't be surprised.
One news commentator remarked that we appear to be living in apocalyptic times, with catastrophic hurricanes and floods--as if we lived at the end of Time. Since the atomic bomb was dropped on two cities of Japan sixty years ago, there is enough explosive power in storage to destroy all life on earth. We are increasingly interdependent—and vulnerable---for food, fuels and water. The many kinds of corruption continue to multiply and the rate of change with it. The world economy is shakey, bubbling and bursting.. Addiction of children and adults to all kinds of drugs, even to media, is disturbing. There is a great deal of anxiety everywhere in the civilized world. Are we approaching the end of the Age?
Matthew chapter 24–25 are the basis of NT prophecy of the future of the world. The three-part outline here is fleshed out with some details from elsewhere.
1. Jerusalem and the Israel of Jesus’ day would be destroyed in the near future. Matt.24:2
[Israel will return to her own land from a second exile. Isa.11:11]
False prophets and messiahs will be common. Matt.24:4–5, 11, 24
There will be wars, famines, earthquakes. Matt.24:7–8
2. Believers will be severely persecuted. Matt.24:9–13
The Gospel will be proclaimed world-wide. Matt.24:14
The Great Tribulation will break out and an great imposter (“The Antichrist”) will pollute the temple. Matt.24:15; IIThes.2:7
Israel will fight a climactic battle, with great suffering. Matt.24:15–28; Zech.12, 14
Astronomical disturbances will precede Christ’s return. Matt.24:29
3. Christ will return visibly and bodily to earth. Matt.24:29–31; Acts1:8
The righteous dead will be raised and the living believers caught away, lifted up with Christ. Matt.24:40–41; ICor.15:51–53; IThes.4:17
There will be 1000 years of peace with Christ ruling on the earth and believers assisting Him. Matt.19:28; Rev.20:4–6
[There will be a final judgment of all the dead. Rev.20:11–15]
[The New Jerusalem will descend out of the Heaven and we will be in an eternal state of joy and praise. Rev.21:1–14]
24:1–2 Jesus was leaving the Temple for the last time. The disciples remarked on the beauty of the buildings. Two huge open porticoes were supported by columns of marble 37.5 ft. high and some 15 ft. in circumference. The Temple was a magnificent building of cream stone and gold, dazzling in the sunlight. Jesus said it would be utterly demolished.
24:3 When they had retired in private to the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked two questions
When will the temple be destroyed?
What is the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?
We know the answer to the first question from history. Titus and the Roman legions destroyed the Temple, sacked the city, and killed a million people huddled inside Jerusalem in 70AD.
We cannot answer the second question because we cannot completely separate the similar troubles of the "Smaller Apocalypse” of 70AD and “The Great Apocalypse” at the end of the Age.
24:4 Jesus’ first word is to warn them against being led astray. He is not so much interested in the vision of the future as in the conduct of the believers under stress.
24:5–8 False Messiahs emerge in times of distress. The distresses are many-- of war both real and threatened, and natural disasters like earthquakes and famine.
“Birth-pains” are rhythmic contractions that precede labor, but put the attendants of the birth on the alert. The problem is that upheavals in nature and politics have occurred in repeated waves for many centuries.
24:9–12 Disasters often lead people to look for scape-goats. Christians, like the Jews, are convenient targets for “tribulation”-- political, social and economic pressure.
“Hated by all nations” implies a universal knowledge of Christ.
Betrayal and hatreds within Christian groups are provoked by outside pressures.
24:13 It is important not to give in or give up. We must be steady to the end of our lives.
24:14 The Gospel will be preached to all nations as a testimony. This prophecy energizes the world mission of the Church. This is the first sign of the end.
24:15–23 this section describes a violent imposter prophesied in Daniel.
“And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.”
“And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week (seven years); and for half of the week (three and a half years) he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” Dan. 9:26–27
The first fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy occurred in 167BC when the Greek tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes, sacked the Jerusalem. He ordered the Jews to cease worshiping God, erected a Greek altar in the temple and made an offering to Jupiter Olympius. He sparked the Maccabean rebellion.
24:16–23 The second fulfillment was the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies in 70AD. Jesus' word in Luke (21:20) was helpful.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near”.
Jesus’ instructions were that when they see this event approaching, they were to head for the hills as fast as possible. The Christians, according to the historian Eusebius, knew this text and escaped from the city east to the town of Pella, perhaps a hundred miles away. The Jews, when they saw Titus and his Roman legions beginning to encircle Jerusalem, fled into the citadel. When the city was taken under siege, a million people died.
24:21–22 The tribulations culminate in The Great Tribulation which will cause tremendous loss of life. For the sake of the elect, the time will be shortened. The Great Tribulation is the second sign of Christ's return.
24:23–28 Before Christ returns, many will be led astray by false messiahs. The important clue is that when Christ returns, everyone will see Him. It will be like lightning streaking across the sky. We should not look into this or that room.
“Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” This is an odd expression if it refers to Christ, as the context suggests. At least it tells us that the events will be visible at a great distance.
24:30 "All the people of earth will mourn for Him." Zechariah (12:10–13:1) indicates that this grieving in Israel will lead to repentance, not gnashing of teeth. God will provide cleansing for His people.
“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, everyone who pierced Him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.” (Rev.1:7)
“But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.” (Matt.26:64)
These are really astounding statements. They change the perspective of Christ’s return and add dimensions we cannot imagine. “Every eye will see Him?” Caiaphas, the high priest, will see Christ’s return?
24:29 The third sign of Christ’s coming is the disturbance of the astronomical universe. The Jewish historian, Josephus, reports that there were frightening supernatural events that occurred during the Roman attack on Jerusalem in 70AD.
“There was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. “
“…when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, …at the ninth hour of the night, so great light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright daylight, which light lasted for half an hour. “
“Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner temple… was seen to be opened of its own accord during the sixth hour of the night”.That would be midnight.
“…a few days after that feast…before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds and surrounding the cities.”
“Moreover at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner temple…they felt a quaking and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude saying, “Let us remove hence”.
(Works of Josephus. Flavius Josephus. Baker, reprinted’74; Vol. I Wars of the Jews. Bk. VI, Ch. V, p. 453–4)
24:31 Christ will send out the angels with a loud trumpet sound to gather His elect from everywhere on earth. (Note this third use of “the elect”. (24:22, 24, 31). The great hope of the Church is Christ’s Second Advent. We will be gathered to Him from all over the world.
24:32–33 The parable of the fig-tree teaches us that we should be able to tell events from the early warning-signs. All the events of their time told them that they could not go on the way they were. The rising tide of nationalism and hatred of the Roman occupation was going to lead to an explosion. All the events of our time tell us that we cannot go on this way either. We are in a logarithmic phase of world-wide growth that cannot be sustained.
24:34–36 Jesus' next statements are emphatic and very difficult.
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
The key word is “this generation”.
Since we know that Christ did not return visibly at the time of the Fall of Jerusalem, and two thousand years have passed since, we must understand what is meant by “this generation”.
*Some say He made a mistake, anticipating His return at 70AD. That is unacceptable. However, if He did return in 70AD ( and we have no reason to believe He was not present), His coming was not universally recognized, so it does not fulfill the prophecy.
*Some say the word “this generation” refers to a race or people-group. That is a common use of the word by the Greeks, but it is not normal NT use. For example, Jesus said “All this (punishment) will come upon this generation.” (Matt.23:36), apparently referring to the people of Israel then living.
*A third view is that “ all these things” includes only partial fulfillment prior the Second Advent. This is the preferred interpretation. How far had the Gospel reached by 70AD? How great was the Tribulation of 70–135AD? What do we make of the signs in the sky seen then?
24:37–44 In spite of all the troubles, people will still be unprepared for His Coming. We cannot clearly see when this “one is taken and the other left” occurs because of the element of surprise.
I Thessalonians refers to it as the Rapture—“caught up”.
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” IThes.4:14–17
24:44 ” Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of Man comes at an hour you do not expect.”
Review: A concise outline of the last days:
Jerusalem and the Israel of Jesus’ day will be destroyed. Matt.24
Israel will return to her own land a second time. Isa.11:11
False prophets and messiahs will be common. Matt.24:4–5, 11, 24
There will be wars, famines, and earthquakes. Matt.24:7–8
Believers will be severely persecuted. Matt.24:9–13
The Gospel will be proclaimed world-wide. Matt.24:14
A great imposter will pollute the temple. Matt.24:15; IIThes.2:7
Israel will suffer a climactic battle, with great suffering. Matt.24:15–28; Zech.12, 14
Astronomic disturbances will precede Christ’s return. Matt.24:29
Christ will return bodily to earth. Matt.24:29–31; Acts1:8
The righteous dead will be raised and the living believers raptured, lifted up with Christ. Matt.24:40–41; ICor.15:51–53; IThes.4:17
There will be 1000 years of peace with believers ruling, (Matt.19:28; Rev.20:4–6) followed by a final judgment of all the dead. Rev.20:11–15
The New Jerusalem will descend out of the Heaven and we will be in an eternal state of joy. Rev.21:1–14