Matthew 24 and Jesus' Coming
Two great events are set forth in the teaching resident in Matthew 24: 3-41 (see parallel accounts in Mark 13: 3-32 and Luke 21: 5-33). Some are manifestly obsessed with Matthew 24, misunderstanding and misapplying much of Jesus' teaching. Every time a war, earthquake, and famine occur today, some point to Matthew 24: 6 and verse 7 and declare the end of the earth and the final judgement are here. However, time continues without interruption and some are discouraged, thinking Jesus' teaching failed. The truth of the matter is Jesus was asked two questions, one simple and the other apparently compound. These questions act as the springboard to the chapter. Jesus told the disciples regarding the temple and the associated buildings, " there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matt. 24: 2). They then posed the questions:
" tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24: 3).
The great destruction of Jerusalem seems to serve as a type for the final destruction associated with the Judgement; hence, one subject naturally introduces the other, there appears to even be some intermingling of the events. Some have attempted to absolutely demarcate and group the teaching, the teaching referring to Jerusalem and the teaching about Jesus' final coming and the destruction of the world. The closest that I think we can group the teaching is the suggestion that the destruction of Jerusalem is referenced in verses 3-35 (with the exception of verses 30, 31, when the teaching appears to be dual) and verses 36- 41 pertaining to the end of the earth and the final judgement of all men (I say this based on Matthew's account).
It is absolutely critical that we recognize the two subjects set forth in Matthew 24. For instance, many of Jesus' statements regarding the judgement against Jerusalem just do not make sense when applied to the final judgement. In the case of universal judgement, why would Jesus say, "Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains" or, "But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day"? (vs. 16, 20). One's physical location is immaterial relative to the Judgement Day, but it would be of importance regarding the judgement against Jerusalem with its attendant destruction.
Commentator Albert Barnes provides some excellent lead in comments to the setting of Matthew 24, especially regarding the end of Jerusalem as it was known:
"At the time this was spoken, no event was more improbable than this. The temple was vast, rich, splendid. It was the pride of the nation, and the nation was at peace. Yet in the short space of forty years all this was exactly accomplished. Jerusalem was taken by the Roman armies, under the command of Titus, A. D. 70. The account of the siege and destruction of the city is left us by Josephus, a historian of undoubted veracity and singular fidelity. He was a Jewish priest. In the wars of which he gives an account, he fell into the hands of the Romans, and remained with them during the siege and destruction of the city. Being a Jew, he would of course say nothing designed to confirm the prophecies of Jesus Christ; yet his whole history appears almost like a running commentary on these predictions respecting the destruction of the temple " (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 1, pg. 250).
Let us now briefly consider Jesus' teaching regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and his final coming in judgement.
Verses 4, 5. "And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." These of whom Jesus warned would not simply come claiming Jesus' authority ("in his name"), but they would come claiming themselves to be the promised Messiah. Josephus mentions two of prominence who claimed to be the Messiah, Dositheus and Simon Magus.
Verses 6 through 8. "And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." As A. D. 70 approached, the secular historian Josephus mentions instability regarding wars, earthquakes, and famines (Antiquities of the Jews, book twenty)
Verses 9 and 10. "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another." The persecution under Nero took place before the destruction of Jerusalem that resulted in many of the disciples and apostles being put to death. Jesus' statement, "And ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake" literally came to pass.
Verse 11. "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many." Just before the destruction of Jerusalem, Josephus informs us: "The tyrannical zealots who ruled the city suborned many false prophets to declare that aid would be given to the people from heaven " (Jewish Wars, book 6, chapter 5). Indeed, there were "many false prophets" who "deceived many."
Verses 12 and 13. "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." The fear of persecution and death and the misleading teaching of the false prophets would create a climate of general deception and lack of love. However, Jesus assured them, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (vs. 13). The "salvation" here contemplated appears to be salvation from the awful destruction of the center of the then Jewish Nation.
Verse 14. "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." The "gospel of the kingdom" was preached to all nations by about 58 A. D., about twelve years anterior to the destruction of Jerusalem or "end" (Rom. 10: 18). Paul wrote to the Colossians: " whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world " (Col. 1: 5, 6, this was written about eight years before the Roman armies marched on Jerusalem).
Verse 15. "When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)." Luke's account makes this plainer: "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh" (Lk. 21: 20). The Roman army is called the abomination on account of the images of the emperor, and the eagles carried in front of the legions, which were regarded by the Romans with divine honors. Josephus informs us that the Roman armies brought their idols into the temple, and placed them over the eastern gate and sacrificed to them there (Jewish Wars, Book 6, chapter 6).
Verses 16 through 18. "Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the house-top not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his cloths." Jesus is warning those to whom he spoke to use precaution when they saw all the signs merging. There would be safety in the mountains, away from the city. It was a time of immediacy of action to avoid being trapped in Jerusalem; therefore, there would be no time to take clothes, etc.
Verses 19 and 20. "And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days. But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath-day." Being with child, the winter, and the Sabbath day restrictions would all pose additional burdens in the event of the arrival of the Roman armies.
Verses 21 and 22. "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." Josephus described some of the horrible things that happened in the destruction of Jerusalem. Titus, the Roman General who led the Roman armies, at first resolved to reduce the city by famine. However, Titus' plans were changed (believed to be the meaning of "days should be shortened"). This was not before, though, there had been much suffering (people resorted to eating their own excrement). Josephus mentioned a mother in severe hunger killed and roasted her own baby (Jewish Wars, Book 6, chapter 3). About 97, 000 were taken captive, the siege took place during the annual feasts when the city was packed with Jews (Jewish Wars, Book 6, chapter 9). Josephus says that "the whole city ran with blood, insomuch that many things which were burning were extinguished by the blood" (Jewish Wars, Book 6, chapter 8). The number to die was about 1,100, 000 (Jewish Wars, Book 6, chapter 9). In the surrounding provinces, 250, 000 were slain, as the battle spilled over, making the total number destroyed about 1, 350, 000. Many were first whipped, then tormented with various kinds of tortures, and finally crucified (Jewish Wars, Book 5, chapter 11).
Verses 23 through 28. "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: Behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lighting cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together." The bodies refer to those killed in the destruction of Jerusalem and the "eagles" refer to the birds of prey gathering to devour the putrefying human flesh.
Verse 29. "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shakened." Such figurative language often is used for great catastrophes or severe political changes (cp. Isa, 13: 10, the destruction of Babylon and also of Tyre, Isa. 24: 23).
Verse 30 and 31. "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet; and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (cp. Lk. 21: 27). The destruction of Jerusalem was a type of the final destruction of the world and universal judgement; hence, the two are merged. "Then," a demonstrative adverb of time, denoting at that time, does not mean that Jesus' final coming in world judgement would immediately follow the destruction of Jerusalem, but that in terms of such events, Jesus' coming would follow (2 Thes. 2: 3, as to Jesus' final coming, see Acts 1: 9-11, I Thes. 5: 1-4, Matt. 25: 31ff.).
Verses 32 through 35. "Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." That of which Jesus spoke was to take place within that present generation. Since a Bible generation is from 30 to 40 years, this cannot be Jesus' final coming in judgement. Again, the destruction of Jerusalem, a figurative coming of Jesus, took place about 40 years subsequent to Jesus' words. Jesus is telling them that when they saw the signs of which he speaks, they were to know the time was nigh for the marching of the Roman armies. However, just as certainly as Jerusalem would be destroyed, the earth will also suffer the consequence of eternal and universal judgement (cp. 2 Pet. 3: 10ff.).
Verses 36 through 39. "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark. And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Regarding both events, the type and the antitype, man will not know the precise hour (see the original question in verse 3). However, Jesus has provided ample information to provide a situation of warning (cp. 2 Thes. 2).
Verses 40 and 41. "Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left." The language is stressing the suddenness of the Lord's coming and the need for consequent preparation. The language also shows how one person being saved being in close physical proximity to the lost, will not alter the case of the lost (see I Thes. 4: 17). Some have thought these verses refer to what they call "the rapture" (a teaching as often presented by man that is not found in the scriptures). Jesus continues to teach regarding his coming in final judgement, evidently using the destruction of Jerusalem as the springboard (Matt. 24: 42- 25: 46). (Click on, "The Rapture" to read more about man's theories.)
It is apparent that the Christians of the time period of 70 A. D. listened to Jesus' warnings. I say this because another secular historian named Eusebius tells us that there is no evidence of a single Christian perishing in the fall of Jerusalem (Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, Lib. 3, chapter 6). It goes without saying that this will not be the case relative to Jesus' final judgement, many will not be ready.
The destruction of Jerusalem was something thought impossible; yet, it happened just as Jesus prophesied it would. Thus it will be regarding the end of this universe. The collapse of Jerusalem was extraordinarily significant as it meant the fall of the Jewish order (all the genealogical records, etc. perished). I mention this because while the Jewish Order was superceded by the New Testament of Jesus Christ in Acts 2, it continued to exert cultural and even legal influence, as allowed by Rome (cp. Heb. 8: 13).