by Brad Sherman
Chapter 24 is often looked to as a definitive passage regarding the
last days and the return of Jesus. Jesus' words here were in
response to a question that many of us have as well, "When will these
Since Jesus has not yet returned,
is common to read this chapter and assume its contents refer to the
future. For the disciples, Jesus' answer did indeed refer completely to
future events. But as we break this chapter down and compare it to
history, we will see that some of the events Jesus described happened just
a few decades after He spoke them, while other events would take place at least 2000
years later. Therefore for us, some of the chapter is fulfilled
and other parts are not.
At the time, the disciples would have had a hard time understanding that Jesus was talking about a long period of time. After all, when Jesus said these things, they did not even understand that He would be crucified. They expected Him to immediately establish His throne in Jerusalem and restore the kingdom to Israel (see Luke 19:11).
Shortly following the resurrection, they again thought the time had come for the kingdom to appear (see Acts 1:6). But Jesus told them not to worry about the timing, but to be witnesses for Him to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:7-8). Only after they had received the Holy Spirit and events continued to unfold did they begin to understand Jesus’ perspective on time. This is seen in Peter’s epistle when concerning the end of the age he wrote, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 NKJV). Now let’s look at Matthew 24 (NKJV) with these things in mind.
Matthew Chapter 24
This provides a context for the discussion, the destruction of the temple. This prediction is clearly speaking of something to happen very quickly. History records that the temple was dismantled in 70 AD by the Roman General Titus, just as Jesus said. For us this is a past event.
Here we see that the Disciples asked a very broad question which had to do with events that would come to pass very soon (the destruction of the temple) and an event that we now know would not take place for at least 2000 years (the end of the age). Therefore, the very nature of the question requires that Jesus’ response would cover a time span of two millennia. Only by keeping this in mind can we understand Jesus' comments that follow.
In these verses,
Jesus relates the general way in which the future would unfold, from that time to the end. In fact,
contrary to many modern teachings, He says that wars and rumors of war
a sign of the end (vs. 6) and that we should not be troubled by
these things; they must come to pass (they will pass). He warns of the
His disciples would experience in their own lives (events that would
happen soon) and of various natural disasters. He also says that many
false prophets will arise and says that those who endure to the end
will be saved.
Therefore, remembering that
these comments are meant to answer a very broad question, we see that
this passage can easily be interpreted as an overview of the next
two thousand years. Now let's look at the next verse.
destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. is considered by many to be a sign
that the Old Covenant had ended and, because of the New Covenant, the
temple of God was in men. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Do you not know that you are the temple of
God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1Cor 3:16). I tend to
agree and there is more about that below. But the end of the Old
Covenant is not "the end' that Jesus was addressing here. In
verse 14, Jesus is specifically talking about the coming kingdom and
therefore the end He is referring to here is the end of the age.
It is our job to take the good news of the kingdom to all nations as preparation for His coming. After Jesus resurrection the disciples asked again about when the kingdom would appear (see Acts 1:6) and Jesus gave them essentially the same answer. He answered and said, "... you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (see Acts 1:8).
Many modern interpreters of prophecy have said that the abomination of desolation spoken of here refers to the Antichrist who, at a time near the end of the age, will sit in a rebuilt temple proclaiming himself to be Christ or taking the place of Christ. They also believe that The Great Tribulation is yet to come and say that this will be the sign that it has begun. However, this prophecy about the abomination of desolation appears in three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and a simple comparison of these passages reveals that this is simply not the case. Mark tells us basically the same thing as Matthew. But a look at the parallel passage in Luke gives us a clear interpretation of what this abomination of desolation really is.
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 "Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. — Luke 21:20-21 NKJV)What was considered an abomination to the Hebrews? Gentiles. What brings desolation to a city? The army of an enemy. What then was an abomination that would bring desolation to Jerusalem? A Gentile army. This is exactly what Luke described and this is exactly what happened in 70 AD. The Roman army surrounded Jerusalem and placed it under siege. This was the sign that Jesus spoke of as a warning to His followers to leave town quickly!
there will be great tribulation...”
When? When you see armies surrounding Jerusalem. History records that,
due to the siege, the famine was so bad in Jerusalem, that people
resorted to cannibalism, some even eating their own children! Those
to escape, were caught and killed by the Romans. Some were gutted to
see if they had swallowed gold coins in an attempt to hide them for later use. This was the greatest
tribulation Jerusalem had ever experienced and there would never be anything like it again.
Jesus had warned His followers that there was going to be great trouble and they should get out of Jerusalem before it started. They knew that when they saw the abomination of desolation in the holy place (signs of eminent war—armies surrounding Jerusalem) it was time to leave and flee to the mountains. Therefore, we can conclude that "The Great Tribulation" of which Jesus spoke is a past event.
there is tribulation, people become very vulnerable and may will follow any
self-appointed prophet or false christ that may arise. I am sure it was
no different during the siege of Jerusalem. Some false leaders may have
and tried to gather groups to go out and fight or escape claiming the
would meet them in the desert. But Jesus had warned His followers,
go out...” Others may have said, "Barricade yourselves in inner
rooms and wait." But Jesus had said, “...do not believe them.”
of these choices would have been a fatal mistake. Here is why.
For reasons that are not clear, when things were looking quite bad for Jerusalem, the Romans withdrew their siege. The more militant-minded Jews thought the Romans may have grown weak and wanted to pursue them. Others just wanted to stay in Jerusalem and try to get things back to normal. But Christians who remembered the words of Jesus had an opportunity to flee.When the siege began, the believers who remembered Jesus' instructions surely began to look for their chance to escape. But they had no chance until the Romans retreated and that was their chance to leave. For them (the elect) the tribulation was shortened, just as Jesus had said and they escaped. However, the Roman army soon returned under the Roman General Titus and a terrible slaughter began. This is when the temple was destroyed so that not one stone was left on another.
We can see that the great tribulation Jesus warned of was referring to what would happen to Jerusalem, and it happened in 70 A.D. However, this is not to suggest that Christians have not and will not encounter persecutions and other difficult times. Those who interpret the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24:21 as an end time event often use Daniel 7:21-22 as proof text.
I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, 22 "until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom. -Daniel 7:21-22 NKJVThis is likely referring to the end of the age when Jesus returns. But the reference to "prevailing against the saints" should not be automatically understood as the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24.. It may simply mean that the political systems of this world will continue to have power and will at times persecute Christians. This will be the case until Jesus comes and abolishes all rule and establishes His own political dominance on the earth known as the Kingdom of God.
this means the end of our galaxy, our solar system and the total
of planet earth. This obviously is not the case. So we must look for the symbolic meaning of this passage.
The early symbolic
references to stars in Genesis refers to the descendants of Abraham. God
promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the
heavens (Gen 15:5; 22:17). This is confirmed again by Joseph’s dream
when he saw the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bow down to him (Gen 37:9-10).
Here we see Jacob (Israel) and Rachel represented by the sun and moon,
and Joseph’s eleven brothers (tribes of Israel) represented by eleven stars.
moon, and stars are sources of light and since the entrance of His
words giveth light (Ps 119:30) we can see that the sun, moon and stars
ceasing to give light is a reference to the nation of Israel ceasing to
be the channel through which God brings His light into the earth.
The destruction of the temple at this time, which had represented God’s
contact point with man for centuries, was an appropriate demonstration
that God’s covenant with the Jews (Old Covenant) was at an end and that
He was now bringing light to the world through a different vehicle. That
new vehicle is called The Ekklesia, which operates under a new and better
covenant. Jesus said to us, “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14).
And, as Paul said, referring to the congregation of believers in Corinth, “...you are the temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16).
Also in verse 29 we read, “...and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Though God had given them over to their enemies at times for discipline, His promise to Israel was...
...blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven ... and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. – Genesis 22:17 NKJVYet, with the destruction of the temple, the stars (descendants of Jacob) no longer gave their light (held power over their enemies). The powers of the heavens had been shaken and a realignment of powers had taken place. The powers of the heavens now flow to earth through the Ekklesia of Christ (see Eph 1:17-21).
purged our sins and establishment of the New Covenant He sat down at
the right hand of God (see Mark 16:19; Heb 1:2; and Heb 10:12). This
sign in heaven marked a new era and those on earth would mourn
and long for His return, waiting for and working for the day when they
would see Him coming on the clouds in great power and glory. At
that time the elect will be gathered from all over the earth to receive
their kingdom assignments (see Luke 19:17).
But has our love
grown cold? Do we mourn and long for His return and the establishment of His kingdom on earth? We
should, but because many have a defeated view
of the future, they
fear the future instead of longing for it.
Remember that the question Jesus was answering in this chapter was a broad one and likely jumped back and forth in reference to time. Verses 32-35 sound like the beginning of a summary or recap to what had been said thus far and is almost certainly speaking again of the armies surrounding Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. We do not know, but maybe Jesus was pointing to the temple when He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” But since He was speaking of that generation, it stands to reason that He was saying to watch the politics begin to play out between Rome and Israel, and you would know that the time is near for the abomination of desolation (the destruction of the temple by Gentile armies) because this was the context of this entire discussion.
Here, Jesus is
quite clearly referring to that portion of the disciples' question which said: “...what will
be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" We
also see from this that Jesus’ return will not be in a time of global catastrophe, but at a time when people are carrying on with life in a
somewhat normal fashion. It will be like the days of Noah with eating and drinking, marrying
and giving in marriage. This is not to say that everything will be peaceful.
We have had wars and persecutions all through history and they will continue
till the end of this age. However, we can see that this does not paint
a picture of Jesus coming at a time of world-wide catastrophic events.
Again, it is
a popular view that the righteous will be removed from the earth in the
rapture, and will escape the great tribulation that is supposed happen
at the end of the age. But as we have seen, this is not the case. We
can see from
this passage that, as in the days of Noah, the wicked were the ones
from the earth while Noah and his family remained and inherited the
earth. Proverbs says: "The righteous will never be removed, but the
wicked will not inhabit the earth" (Pr 10:30). Jesus actually prayed
that for the exact opposite of the escape rapture view, "I do not pray
that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep
them from the evil one" (Matt 17:15).
At the coming of Christ, it will be a time of judgment that comes quickly
on the wicked as Christ and His army of saints bring the whole earth under
submission to His kingdom (see Rev 19). This is confirmed by the parable
of the tares (see Matt 13:24-30; 37-43). The tares (those who offend and
are lawless) were gathered first to be burned. Then the wheat (the sons
of the kingdom) will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom.
Many use 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which says we will be
caught up to meet the Lord in the air, as a proof text for the rapture. Let's read it in context.
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those
who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
- 1 Thess 4:13-17
However those who are living will not expereince this before those who
have died, but afterwards. How long after? The Lord will
descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and
the trump of God and the dead will rise first; then those who are alive
get their turn. They will meet the Lord in the air and be with Him
forever. Noice that the Lord is descending at this time and there
is nothing to indicate that Jesus turns around and goes back into
heaven after tthe living meet Him in the air. As we can see, there is
nothing in this passage to support an escape rapture.
This passage is actually discussing something a bit different. It is not about who is taken (as those who were taken in Noah’s flood) or who remains on the earth. The word “took” in verse 39, referring to the flood that took away the wicked, is the Greek word airo which, in this context simply means what we would expect: to remove or take away. One would therefore assume that the word “taken” used in verses 40 and 41 would be a form of the same word, but it is not. The word “taken” here is the Greek word paralambano. It means to receive near, to associate ones self with, or to assume an office. This is therefore speaking of the sons of the kingdom who are alive and remain on the earth. These will be "paralambano", received by the Lord and will receive an office or position of leadership along side Christ in His kingdom government. This is confirmed by the fact that the twelve disciples had already been told what their office would be, they will be judges judging the twelve tribes of Israel (see Matt 19:28).
were a warning and encouragement to watch for the signs of the eminent
of Jerusalem, verses 42-51 warn us to be watchful for the Lord’s return.
Verse 48 gives us the impression that a long period of time has passed
and even the believers may grow weary and stop watching and begin to
This also gives a strong impression of “life as normal,” not a time of
world-wide catastrophic tribulation. The reference to the servant (a
that was not watching and became cruel, is very similar to the wicked
servant in the parable of stewardship (see Matthew
chapter 25 and Luke 19). In fact in the next chapter, Jesus goes on to explain the end of the age
and His second coming in greater detail
(see Matthew Chapter 25).
God has given us a job to do - Prepare the way for the Kingdom. It will require work and sacrifice. The war is intense, but we can expect to have a positive influence on our culture to varying degrees. We must preach the good news of the coming Kingdom to all nations, then the King and His Kingdom will appear and there will be peace on earth and good will toward men.