Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.
The temple was the grandest building in Israel. It was God’s house, built by an army of priests atop a plateau carved out of Mount Moriah. The temple plaza was large enough to accommodate the million or so pilgrims who regularly flocked to Jerusalem for various feasts and festivals. Since Herod the Great had funded its construction, it was known as Herod’s Temple. It was also known as the Second Temple in contrast with the original built by King Solomon. But second didn’t mean inferior for Herod’s Temple was an engineering marvel for the ages.
And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
Not one stone. Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple complex. This prophecy was fulfilled in the summer of AD70 when four Roman legions led by Titus besieged and destroyed Jerusalem.
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
(a) The Mount of Olives. Christ’s longest and most astonishing prophecy is known as the Olivet Discourse as it was uttered while he was conversing with his closest friends atop the Mount of Olives. The prophecy, which is recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, was given in response to their questions about the destruction of the temple, the end of the age, and the sign of his coming (see previous verse).
(b) The disciples in question were Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Mark 13:3).
(c) These things. The disciples thought they were asking question. They wanted to know about the long-awaited day of the Lord when God would intervene in Jewish history, end evil, and set things right. They wanted to know when Jesus would deliver them from religious and Roman oppression. In truth, they were asking three questions: (1) When will the temple fall, (2) what is the sign of your coming, and (3) when is the end of the age? To these three questions Jesus gives three answers.
(d) Your coming; see entry for Matt. 24:37.
(e) The end of the age; see entry for Matt. 13:40.
And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.
(a) The Christ. Jesus is talking about false messiahs. In a Jewish context, a messiah is not necessarily the Son of God. A messiah could be anyone who delivers Israel from oppression. Cyrus the Great, who delivered Israel from the Babylonians, was called “God’s anointed” (Is. 45:1). So Cyrus was a kind of messiah.
(b) “I am the Christ.” As the conflict between the Jews and the Romans intensified, there was an expectation that the Messiah would come and bring deliverance. “Don’t believe it,” said Jesus. “I will not be coming to deliver you or judge you or do anything in AD70. That’s why you need to flee” (see Matt. 24:16).
(c) Mislead many. There were many false messiahs in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some of these, such as Simon Magus, and Judas of Galilee, are listed in the Bible. Others are recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus and the Christian historian Eusebius. These false messiahs typically picked fights with the Romans and died with all their followers (see also the entry for Matt. 24:26).
“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.
(a) Wars. The decades following Christ’s death were possibly the most violent in history, at least as far as the Jews were concerned. Josephus wrote a book about it called The Wars of the Jews, and it records how the Jews and their Greek-speaking neighbors slaughtered each other. The Parthians, Samaritans, Syrians, and Egyptians all hated the Jews, and the Jews hated them back. It was nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom.
Bear in mind that Jesus predicted these wars during the Pax Romana, a period of unprecedented peace. It was a remarkable prophecy, like predicting snow in summer.”
(b) Rumors of wars. A few years after Christ’s death, the emperor Caligula ordered statues of Roman gods to be erected in the temple and sent Publius Petronius with an army to do the job. But the army was met by tens of thousands of protesting Jews. Petronius told the Jews that if he didn’t deliver the statues that Caligula would go to war against them. The Jews didn’t budge. They neglected their crops and prepared for death. Eventually, Petronius backed down and war was averted. He had no stomach for slaying women and children. But when Caligula heard about this, he was furious, and the war was back on. Then Caligula was assassinated, and the war was off again. For a while, the whole nation was on tenterhooks. The economy ground to a halt because of the rumors about the on-again, off-again war.”
(c) Those things must take place. Wars have long been part of human existence.
(d) Not yet the end. These regional conflicts were mere birth pangs compared to the brutal three and a half years of Jewish-Roman warfare that climaxed in the destruction of Jerusalem.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.
(a) Nation will rise against nation; see previous verse.
(b) Famines. Because of the faceoff with Caligula (see previous verse), the Jews neglected their harvest, and this brought a food shortage to neighboring Tyre and Sidon (see Acts 12:20). There was also a great worldwide famine predicted by Agabus (Acts 11:28). According to Josephus, many people in Jerusalem died as a result of it (Antiquities, 20.2). Their suffering was one of the reasons why Paul collected funds from other churches.
(c) Earthquakes. There was an earthquake when Jesus died and another when he rose (Matt. 27:51–52, 28:2). There was a violent earthquake the night Paul and Silas were freed from prison (Acts 16:26). Historians tell us there were many earthquakes in the first century in places like Crete, Laodicea, Rome, and Pompeii. Josephus records there was an earthquake in Jerusalem on the eve of the Roman siege (Wars, 4.4.5).
“But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
(a) All these things. The wars, famines, and earthquakes of the first century.
(b) The beginning of birth pangs. Jesus has just listed many terrible things that would happen in the generation following his death – wars, famines, earthquakes. But these would all pale in comparison to the unprecedented and total Roman destruction of Galilee and Judea in AD68–70.
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.
(a) They will deliver you. There can be no doubt that Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples. “You will be hated and you will experience tribulation.” Scripture records the fulfilment of this prophecy. The early church went through several persecutions or tribulations, and no one suffered more than the four men to whom Jesus was talking. Peter, who was interrogated by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5), imprisoned for execution by Herod (Acts 12:1–4), and ultimately crucified by Nero. According to tradition, Andrew was also crucified. James, who was put to death with the sword (Acts 12:2). John was exiled to Patmos.
(b) Kill you. All four disciples were persecuted on account of their faith in Jesus and three of them were martyred. Many first-century Christians were killed on account of their faith in Jesus.
(c) Hated by all nations. “The Gentiles are going to hate you as much as the Jews hate you.” Up until now the disciples had only been persecuted by their countrymen. But as they carried the gospel beyond the borders of Israel, that would change. Consider Paul, who was flogged by Jews, stoned by Lystrans, beaten with rods by Philippians, sneered at by Athenians, and beheaded by Romans. His body was a United Nations of bruises, breaks, and beatings.
“At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.
Many will fall away. Many will be offended or will offend. This is not about falling from the faith. (The word faith is not in the original text.) Jesus is predicting an outbreak of treachery, hatred, and lawlessness.
Betray and hate. This is not a reference to isolated incidents within the church. Jesus is describing the total collapse of civil society such as happened in the years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem.
“Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.
According to Josephus many false prophets were instrumental in the fall of Jerusalem. These false prophets were employed by the rebel leaders to pacify and manipulate the populace. The rebels didn’t want people escaping to the Romans, so false prophets were paid to urge people to wait for divine intervention.
“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.
(a) Lawlessness. When Jesus uttered these words, Judea was relatively peaceful. But within four decades the province had degenerated into a state of anarchy and civil war. Outlaw gangs roamed the countryside while Jerusalem was riven by factional infighting. If the Romans had never marched on the city, the city might have self-destructed on account of the hatred and distrust among the various Jewish groups.
(b) Love will grow cold. The breakdown in law and order combined with the miseries of the siege-induced famine stifled natural affections, even among families. As Eusebius observed: “Women snatched the food from the very mouths of their husbands and children, from their fathers, and what was most pitiable of all, mothers from their babes” (Church History, 3.6.7).
“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
The one who endures to the end will be saved. If they persecute you in one city, flee to the next. See entry for Matt. 10:22.
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
(a) Gospel literally means good news. Since there is no bad news in the good news, any message that leaves you feeling fearful, anxious or condemned, is not the gospel. See entry for The Gospel.
(b) The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of the King Jesus’ dominion and reign on earth as it is in heaven. This kingdom is not far away but right here (Mark 1:14-15).
(c) A testimony to all the nations. The gospel will be preached beyond Judea to the Gentiles.
Within a generation the gospel was ‘bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world’ (Col. 1:6). Paul said the gospel had been ‘proclaimed to every creature under heaven’ (Col. 1:23). Obviously Paul was referring to the known world or the Roman world.
(d) Then the end will come. Then Judea will be destroyed and the temple will come down.
This has nothing to do with the end of the world. Jesus has been talking about the stones coming down (Matt. 24:2). When the disciples asked about the end (sunteleia) of the age, they used a word that means completion or consummation of a plan. In this verse Jesus uses a different and more ordinary word for end (telos) that simply means an ending or conclusion.
“Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),
The abomination of desolation refers to the Roman legions marching on Judea.
Jesus is quoting Daniel (see Dan. 11:31), and Daniel’s original prophecy was fulfilled around 170BC when Antiochus Epiphanes captured Jerusalem. Determined to stamp out the Jews’ religion, he erected a statue to Zeus in the temple, turned the temple into a brothel, and sacrificed a pig on the altar.
By using Daniel’s words and referring to a well-known historical event, Jesus suggests something similarly offensive was going to happen again, but what and when? The key word in this passage is desolation. This word is repeated in Luke 21:20–21: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near … flee to the mountains.” This suggests that the abomination of desolation refers to the Roman armies. It certainly fits the context. If the world’s only superpower is marching on your city to destroy it, then it’s time to run for the hills (see Matt. 24:16).
History records that no Christian was present during the siege of Jerusalem. Every one of them heeded Christ’s warning and fled the doomed city. Eusebius records that by AD70, “the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men” (Church History, 3.5.3).
then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
(a) Judea. Through his disciples, Jesus gave the early church several keys to survival: He told them who needs to flee (those in Judea), when to flee (when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies; see previous verse), how to flee (fast, don’t even stop to pack; see next verse), and where to flee (to the mountains). This is practical, down-to-earth stuff. When Jesus says flee to the mountains he means flee to the mountains. It’s not a metaphor or a mystery.
(b) The mountains. This instruction would have seemed strange to those living in Judea. Why not go west to the coast where there are harbors? Because the Romans will be there.
By the late ‘60s, Israel’s coastal plain was crawling with bad guys. Vespasian arrived at Ptolemais on the northern coast, his son marched up from Alexandria far in the south, and together they made their headquarters in Caesarea in the middle. All the coastal towns west of Jerusalem, such as Joppa, Jamnia, and Azotus, were quickly taken by the Romans in AD67. Then all the towns between the coast and Jerusalem were captured in AD68. If you were trying to flee from the Romans, the coastal route was suicide. Far better to head north out of troubled Judea, stay away from occupied Galilee, and find refuge in the hilly but safe towns of the Decapolis. Which is just what the Christians did.
Further reading: “Why flee to the mountains?”
“Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house.
On the housetop. When you are on the roof and you see the Romans coming, run, don’t walk. Don’t waste time packing your bags. Just grab your kids and go.
When the Roman legions arrived in Israel, it took them the better part of two years to march to Jerusalem. It seems there was plenty of time to pack your bags, sell the house, and buy a wagon. But Jesus is referring to a specific event, namely the abomination of desolation, which was a reference to the armies approaching Jerusalem.
The Romans came at Jerusalem from three directions simultaneously. One legion marched from Emmaus in the east, another came up the hill from Jericho in the west, and the rest approached from Mt. Scopus in the north. The smart folks would have left already. But if you were in Jerusalem when the Romans came, there was still time to slip away, provided you fled immediately.
“Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.
In the field. Jesus emphasizes the urgency of the need to flee. A Judean field hand working in the hot sun with barely any clothing will not travel well without his cloak. When he’s sleeping rough he’s going to want that outer garment. When he sees the Romans coming, should he return to the city to fetch his cloak? “Forget the cloak,” says Jesus. “Run for your life!”
“But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!
(a) Woe is an expression of grief, not judgment; see entry for Matt. 23:13.
(b) Pregnant. Traveling when you’re pregnant or nursing babies is difficult at the best of times. Imagine what it’s like when Romans are chasing you and you are fleeing over rocky Judean countryside.
(c) Nursing babies. To be a mother in Jerusalem during the hellish months of AD70, with no food and with gangs of thieves stealing everything they could eat, was the ultimate nightmare. One particularly sad story stands out.
During the siege, a once-wealthy woman called Mary was robbed again and again until her cupboards were bare. There was nothing for her or her nursing son to eat, yet every day thieves broke into her house looking for food. The poor woman eventually snapped. Indignant at the repeated home invasions she’d been forced to endure, she killed and cooked her only child. The thieves smelled the roasting meat and broke into her house again. They threatened to cut her throat if she didn’t reveal her secret food so she showed them what remained of her son. Aghast, the thieves backed out, trembling and empty-handed. Mary’s story spread and soon the whole city was horrified. Even the Romans were shocked.
When you read stories like these you begin to understand why Jesus, on his way to be crucified, stopped to address the women who were weeping for him: “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed’” (Luke 23:28–29).
Further reading: AD70 and the End of the World
“But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.
(a) Winter was not a good time to travel. The roads were muddy and rough, which is why the kings of old waited until spring before going to war (2 Samuel 11:1). Besides, Jesus said flee to the mountains where it would be miserably cold.
(b) Sabbath. Long journeys on the Sabbath were forbidden (Exodus 16:29). Anyone traveling could expect the gates and doors of the towns to be shut (Nehemiah 13:19–22). There would be no place to stay.
“For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.
(a) A great tribulation. The storm that was coming to Jerusalem was unlike any other. Although the city had been besieged before (by the Assyrians, Babylonians, etc.), the Roman siege of AD70 stands out for a couple of reasons. Inside the city was a larger-than-usual population of locals and pilgrims celebrating the Feast of Passover. Outside the city was the world’s most highly trained army. The Jews were fired up by recent victories in their rebellion against the empire, while the Romans were utterly committed to extinguishing their insurrection. It was the perfect storm.
Jesus listed ten signs in connection with the great tribulation and all of them were fulfilled by the summer of AD70: (1) Your enemies will throw up an embankment and surround you (see entry for Luke 19:43), (2) False Christs/prophets will arise showing signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24), (3) false leaders will lead people into the desert and inner rooms (Matthew 24:26), (4) there will be great and unprecedented distress (see entry for Luke 21:23), (5) people will fall by the sword (see entry for Luke 21:24), (6) nursing mothers will especially suffer (see entry for Matt. 24:19), (7) the days will be cut short, so not all lives will be lost (see next verse), (8) Jerusalem will be leveled to the ground, with not one stone left upon another (see entry for Luke 19:44), (9), the Jews will be led captive into all the nations (see entry for Luke 21:24), and (10) Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles (see entry for Luke 21:24)
(b) Such as has not occurred. The fall of Jerusalem in AD70 was unprecedented in horror and magnitude. By first-century standards, the number of deaths was simply mind-boggling. In a city that was home to around 200,000, more than a million people died (Wars, 6.9.3).
(c) Nor ever will. The Bible records two never-to-be-repeated calamities. The first was the great flood (Gen. 9:11), and the second was the great tribulation. The great tribulation was unprecedented and never to be repeated.
Further reading: “Are we entering the Great Tribulation?”
“Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
(a) Cut short. Sieges could last years and Jerusalem was a tough nut to crack. When he erected his barricade around the city (Luke 19:43), Titus could have expected to be camped outside Jerusalem for years. As it was, he penetrated the outer walls in a matter of weeks and was all done and dusted in a little over five months. This was a mercy, for it meant the deaths attributable to starvation were limited, as Christ had prophesied.
There are three reasons why the siege of Jerusalem ended sooner than expected. The first was the invaders were organized, mechanized, and led by an ambitious young man in a hurry. The second reason was the city’s defenders were weakened by starvation. Hundreds of thousands perished while many of those who lived longed for death. Another reason why Jerusalem fell so quickly was the city was defended by people who spent half their time killing each other.
But here, Jesus offers a fourth reason why the siege ended sooner rather than later: the Christians were praying. Those who took Christ’s words to heart and escaped the cauldron of Judea prayed for those who remained.
(b) The elect. Believers; see entry for Matthew 24:31.
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him.
Do not believe him. Jesus is not repeating his earlier and more general warnings of Matt, 24:4–5 and 11, for this warning is specific to the great tribulation. “When things are at their worst, if someone stands up and says, ‘I’m the Messiah, here to save you,’ don’t believe him.” False leaders exploit the fears of the day by promising deliverance, but their phony pledges only make things worse.
A dramatic example of such deception occurred on the night the temple fell. As the Romans were pressing in, a false prophet convinced many to take refuge in the temple precinct. God would come to their aid, he promised. It didn’t happen. The Romans burned the temple, and 6,000 women and children hiding in the porticoes were consumed.
Further reading: AD70 and the End of the World
“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
(a) False Christs and false prophets. Again Jesus warns his disciples about false Christs (Matt. 24:4, 11, 23).
(b) The elect. Believers; see entry for Matthew 24:31.
“Behold, I have told you in advance.
In other words, “Remember what I have told you and don’t be deceived or troubled when things turn out just as I have spoken.” Jesus’ detailed warnings in Matthew 24 saved the lives of all who heeded him and fled.
“So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.
(a) Wilderness. As usual, Jesus is very specific, noting that false prophets will draw people to two sorts of places; the wilderness or the inner rooms. Not long after Jesus ascended into heaven, an Egyptian false prophet led 4,000 followers out into the wilderness (Acts 21:38). If this was the same Egyptian false prophet that Josephus wrote about, hundreds of his followers were killed by the Romans. Despite this tragic outcome the Jews didn’t seem to learn, and the pattern of deception and death repeated itself again and again (Antiquities, 20.8.6). Josephus also tells of other leaders who took their followers into the wilderness where they slaughtered by Roman troops.
(b) The inner rooms or chambers may be a reference to the temple where the Zealots holed up for three years in their struggle against the rest of the world. (The Romans torched these rooms and everything in them.) Or it could be a reference to the fortress of Masada where the Zealots were later besieged by the Romans. (Those inside committed mass suicide.) Regardless of where the inner rooms were, the lesson is plain: Listen to Jesus and live, or follow false prophets and die.
(c) Do not believe them. Jesus told the disciples they would see many things – wars, famines, tribulation – but they wouldn’t see Christ return (Luke 17:23). They would see the temple come down but not the Lord. That event was for a future generation.
“For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.
(a) Lightning. Jesus gives us the authentic so that we won’t be fooled by the counterfeit. “Don’t fall for false messiahs who mislead people with their signs and wonders. The signature of my return will be like lightning.”
One characteristic of false messiahs and false prophets is they draw their followers away to secret places. They set up compounds in the wilderness and hold covert meetings in hidden chambers. Secrecy and seclusion are their trademarks, but the return of the true King will be no secret event. It will be glorious, public, and known from east to west. Jesus will say more about his return later in this chapter.
(b) The coming of the Son of Man a.k.a. the final coming of the Lord. See entry for Matt. 24:37.
“Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
(a) The corpse. The context is the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus has listed ten signs that will precede this calamity. Now he tells us how it will end.
(b) Vultures. According to Strongs, the original word (aetos) means eagles, and this is how it appears in other Bible translations (e.g., ASV, NKJV, YLT). Jesus is talking about a plurality of eagles. When the four Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem, each bore an eagle on their aquila or ensign. Four legions, four eagles.
Further reading: “The eagles are coming”
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
(a) The tribulation; see entry for Matt. 24:21.
(b) Sun, moon, stars. This is idiomatic language, the Jewish equivalent of, “The sky is falling.”
In Old Testament prophecies, the sun, moon, and stars refer to governing authorities (see Is. 13:10, Ez. 32:7). The prophets of old used astronomical metaphors to describe the collapse of governments, and Jesus does the same thing here. He’s not saying the solar system will implode. He’s saying, “The lights are about to go out on Jerusalem and the old religious system.”
When will the lights go out in Jerusalem? Jesus said it would happen “immediately after the tribulation” of the Roman siege and it did. After the Romans were done killing and burning, the sun and moon of Jewish society were darkened, the religious stars had fallen, and the power of the heavenly temple had been thoroughly shaken.
Further reading: “The sky is falling! Darkened suns and falling stars”
(c) Heavens will be shaken. The temple was God’s heavenly seat on earth and this manmade building would be brought down and destroyed. This shakeable building can be contrasted with the unshakeable kingdom of heaven (Heb. 12:26–27). See also the entry for Matt. 24:35.
“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.
(a) Sky. The original word (ouranos) is often translated as heaven and this is how it appears in other Bibles. Jesus is talking about the sign of the Son in heaven.
(b) The Son of Man coming on the clouds. Jesus is quoting Daniel’s well-known prophecy about the Son of Man coming in glory to the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13–14). In Daniel’s vision, Jesus is seen to be coming (not going) to heaven because the prophet is in heaven watching his glorious and triumphant arrival. This prophecy was fulfilled when God raised Christ “from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20). We can draw a line from Daniel 7 (distant prophecy) through Matthew 24 (near prophecy) to Ephesians 1 (prophecy fulfilled).
(c) Coming on the clouds. The “Son of Man coming on the clouds” phrase comes from Daniel, but it appears no less than six times in the New Testament (Matt. 24:30, 26:64, Mark 13:26, 14:62, Luke 21:27, Rev. 1:7). Each time it is mentioned in connection with Christ’s ascension and exaltation.
(d) All the tribes of the earth will mourn. As the tribes (or Jews) came to realize that they had been complicit in the crucifixion of God’s Son (Acts 2:23), they would be cut to the heart with regret (Acts 2:37). This would cause some of them to repent and come to the church saying “God is with you” (see entry for Rev. 3:9).
Jesus has been discussed the destruction of Jerusalem which was still 40 years away, but his ascension into heaven was only weeks away. How could he say “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear” after the fall of Jerusalem? Because he’s talking about the sign not the Son, and the sign is Daniel’s vision come true. It is Jesus sitting enthroned at the right hand of God. It is heaven’s vindication for the One rejected by the Jews.
How would the unbelieving Jews know that Jesus was sitting at the right hand of God? They would know because all his prophecies were coming true. Jesus said there would be famines, earthquakes, and great distress, and there were. He said Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies, and it was. He said the temple stones would come down, and they did. Jesus made no less than 40 prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem and all of them were fulfilled within 40 years. Each prophecy-come-true was a sign pointing to the One who had come on the clouds and now sat enthroned in heaven.
Further reading: “What is the sign of the Son of Man in heaven?”
“And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
(a) His angels. The original word for angel (aggelos) means messenger. It’s the same word used elsewhere to describe his disciples (Luke 9:52). The angels are his messengers – his apostles and preachers – trumpeting the good news that there is a new king in town.
(b) The elect. In the New Testament believers are referred to as the elect or chosen of God (see entry for 1 Peter 1:1).
(c) The four winds are the four corners of the earth. “They will come from east and west and from north and south” (Luke 13:29).
Jesus is hinting at the great commission to the very men who are days away from being commissioned. After the Son of Man ascends to heaven, he will send his messengers to gather his people from the four winds or corners of the earth. Jesus wanted to gather the Jews, but they were not willing (Matthew 23:37). So now he will send his apostles to gather all who will be drawn, regardless of color or race.
“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near;
As the budding of the tree proves that summer is nigh, so shall the signs Jesus has given prove that the end is nigh, at least as far as Judea is concerned. The unfolding of historical events (wars, earthquakes, armies, then destruction), will be as inevitable as the unfolding of natural events.
so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
(a) All these things are the things Jesus has been discussing, namely the great distress and destruction associated with the Roman invasion of Judea.
Earlier Jesus said there would be wars, famines, and earthquakes, but the end was not yet. They were merely the beginning of the birth pangs (Matt. 24:6–8). They weren’t the signs that heralded the end of Jerusalem; these things are the signs.
(b) He is near. The capital H suggests that Jesus is at the door, either in imminent judgment or return. But this is a poor translation. There is no He at the door. A literal rendering reads: “When ye may see all these, ye know that it is nigh – at the doors” (YLT). What is nigh? The very thing Jesus has been speaking about, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus is saying, “When you see all the signs I’ve told you about, you’ll know that the end of the city is near.”
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
(a) Truly, as in listen up and pay attention. This is for real. Your lives depend on you heeding what I have told you.
In Matthew 23 Jesus warned the crowds, and in Matthew 24 he warned the disciples. To the crowds he said, “Truly, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:36), and to the disciples he said the same thing: “Truly I say to you.” Jesus is the truth. One truly from him ought to convince us; two trulies should remove any shadow of doubt. “Truly, truly, these things will happen within a generation.”
(b) This generation. Jesus’ prophecy about the great tribulation and the destruction of Jerusalem were not for a future generation; they were for the disciples’ generation. Jesus said the temple would fall within 40 years, or one Biblical generation, and it did.
Jesus did not mislead the disciples. Again and again he told them that they would personally witness the events he was predicting: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See to it that you are not frightened (Matt. 24:6). They will deliver you to tribulation, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name (Matt. 24:9). Pray that your flight will not be in the winter (Matt. 24:20). If anyone says to you, “Here is the Christ,” do not believe him (Matt. 24:23). See to it that no one misleads you (Matt. 24:4). Behold, I have told you in advance (Matt. 24:25).”
Jesus is a remarkable prophet (Matt. 21:11). The disciples asked for a sign indicating when the temple would be destroyed, and Jesus gave them 40. The 40 fulfilled prophecies are proof that Jesus is the Son of God who sees the end from the beginning. More than that they reveal his heart for us. Jesus could have said nothing. He could have taken a hands-off approach and let history run its course, but that’s not his way. Jesus is a savior, not a spectator.
Today there are some who claim these 40 prophecies were not for the disciples’ generation but were meant for a later generation. This is a luxury first-century Judeans could not afford. Those who believed Jesus when he said “this generation” fled and lived. Those who didn’t were slaughtered by the Romans. Jesus did not come to judge but to rescue, but only those who heed him will be saved. That is the lesson of AD70.
Further reading: “Forty fulfilled prophecies”
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
(a) Heaven and earth will pass away. Temple worship would come to an end.
Josephus described the temple as having an inaccessible heavenly part (the Holy of Holies) and an accessible earthly part (the Holy Place; Antiquities, 3.7.7). Thus ‘heaven and earth’ is shorthand for the temple, God’s heavenly seat on earth.
(b) My words or my promises. The new covenant, in other words.
The old and new covenants are fundamentally different. The old was based on our promises to God (e.g., Ex. 19:8), while the new is based on God’s promises to us (Hebrews 7:18–22). The old passes away because our promises are brittle, while the new endures because God is faithful and his word endures forever.
Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple. When he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away,” he’s saying, “This temple-based system of trying to approach God through human effort and resolve will pass away. It has no future. It’s a bad bet. But the new covenant forged in my blood and based on 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 alone.
(a) But of that day. The end of the age and the return of the Son of Man.
The disciples wanted to know when the temple would fall and when Christ would return (Matt. 24:3). Jesus has just finished answering their first question (within a generation) and now answers their second (no one knows). The first event was predictable – Jesus gave them 40 signposts – but the second is a mystery. The former could be anticipated, but the latter will come like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2).
(b) No one knows when Jesus will return except God the Father. However, Jesus did tell the disciples they would look for his return and not see it (Luke 17:22).
Further reading: “When is the Second Coming?”
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.
(a) The coming of the Son of Man a.k.a. the final coming or return of the Lord to earth.
The final coming should not be confused with the Son of Man coming on the clouds to the Ancient of Days in heaven (see entry for Matt. 24:30). Here Jesus is talking about his return to earth.
In Matthew 24 the coming of the Son of Man is mentioned five times. On four of those occasions (verses 3, 27, 37, and 39) the original Greek word for coming is parousía, an oriental word used to describe “the royal visit of a king, or emperor.” When Jesus returns to earth in physical form he will come as the King of kings.
Further reading: “90+ Scriptures on the Final Coming”
(b) Like the days of Noah. Unlike the well-signposted fall of Jerusalem the day of the Lord will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2–3).
Jesus described his return with a number of metaphors that all riffed on the theme of unexpectedness. The coming of the Son of Man will be like lightning, visible from east to west. It will be as it was in the days of Noah when people knew nothing until it happened. It will be like a thief coming when you don’t expect him, or a master returning to his household, or a bridegroom coming to his wedding.
“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark,
On the day that Christ returns, people will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, as they did in the days of Noah.
and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.
(a) Took them all away. The return of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Luke 17:28). In both stories the righteous were taken away and saved; Noah by means of an ark and Lot by means of an angel. From these stories we might conclude that the righteous are taken out of danger by the Lord.
But Jesus also told stories where the wicked are taken away from the righteous, the weeds are weeded out of the kingdom (Matt. 13:40), and the bad fish are discarded from the net (Matt. 13:48). From these stories we may surmise that the wicked are removed. Or it could be both. The righteous are taken or caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (see entry for 1 Th. 4:17), and then the wicked are removed as per the parables. Either way, when Jesus returns there will be some sort of separation (Matt. 25:32). “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).
(b) The coming of the Son of Man; see entry for Matt. 24:37.
“Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.
Field… mill. Jesus exhorts us to be alert and ready for his return (Matt. 24:42). We do not prepare for his return by cloistering ourselves in a monastery or seminary, for the ready men and women here are working in the fields and grinding in the mill (or sleeping; see Luke 17:34). They are participating in life and providing for their families. Their readiness does not require them to withdraw from society.
Being ready means being prepared. It’s having a positive answer to the following question: If Jesus came back today, would you be happy to see him?
Taken. When the Lord returns believers will be caught up in the air to meet Jesus (see entry for 1 Th. 4:17).
Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.
(a) Be on the alert. You won’t find a clearer or more repeated instruction in scripture: be alert (Matt. 25:13, Mark 13:33, 37, Luke 21:36, 1 Cor. 16:13, Col. 4:2, 1 Th. 5:6). Some translations say keep watch. The implication is that we should be wakeful regarding Christ’s return. Don’t be fuzzy-headed. Don’t be in a spiritual stupor.
(b) You do not know. Those who claim to know when Christ will return are presuming to know more than Jesus (see Matt. 24:36).
But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.
Thief. Jesus is no thief, but one day he will break into our world in a sudden and dramatic way. “Behold, I am coming like a thief” (Rev. 16:15). Paul used similar language to describe the Lord’s return (1 Th. 5:2), and so did Peter (2 Pet. 3:10).
For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
(a) The coming of the Son of Man a.k.a. the final coming of the Lord. See entry for Matt. 24:37.
(b) Do not think He will or do not expect him. Again and again, Jesus says his return will be unexpected. In other words, it’s not like having a baby. When you’re expecting a baby, you’re expecting a baby. But the coming of Jesus will be unexpected. If you’re pregnant and you try to guess the day of the delivery, you may be more or less right. But try and guess the day of the Lord and you’re guaranteed to be wrong, for the Lord will come “when you do not expect him.”
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