A. The destruction of the temple and its implications.
1. (1-2) Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple.
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
a. Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple: Jesus would contend no more with the religious leaders, and never again come to the temple in His earthly ministry. With emphasis, He went out and departed.
i. Went out and departed: “There is an emphasis on the idea of the verb. He was going away, like one who did not mean to return.” (Bruce)
ii. “They came to their Master, going before in a deeply preoccupied mood, and tried to change the gloomy current of His thoughts by inviting Him to look back at the sacred structure.” (Bruce)
b. His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple: After the destruction of Solomon’s temple, this temple was originally built by Zerubbabel and Ezra (Ezra 6:15). Herod the Great (who ruled when Jesus was born) greatly expanded and improved it. This temple was the center of Jewish life for almost a thousand years – so much so, that it was customary to swear by the temple (Matthew 23:16), and speaking against the temple could be considered blasphemy (Acts 6:13).
i. “Josephus the Jew (Antiquities 15.14) tells us that for eight whole years together he kept 10,000 men a-work about it; and that for magnificence and stateliness, it exceeded Solomon’s temple.” (Trapp)
ii. After Herod’s work, the temple was huge: nearly 500 yards or meters long and 400 yards or meters wide. Herod’s plan for rebuilding started in 19 B.C. and was only completed in A.D. 63, taking more than 80 years. The temple was finished only seven years before it was destroyed.
iii. But the Second Temple wasn’t just big; it was also beautiful. The Jewish historian Josephus said that the temple was covered with gold plates, and when the sun shone on them it was blinding to look at. Where there was no gold, there were blocks of marble of such a pure white that from a distance strangers thought there was snow on the temple.
c. Do you not see all these things? The disciples wanted Jesus to look at the beautiful buildings; Jesus told them to turn around and take a good look at those things.
i. “These things, not building, implying indifference to the splendours admired by the disciples.” (Bruce)
d. Not one stone shall be left here upon another: Some 40 years after Jesus said this, there was a widespread Jewish revolution against the Romans in Palestine, and they enjoyed many early successes. But ultimately Roman soldiers crushed the rebels. In AD 70 Jerusalem was leveled, including the temple – just as Jesus said would happen.
i. “Titus (it is said) would have preserved the temple, as one of the world’s wonders, from being burnt, but could not; such was the fury of his soldiers, set a-work by God doubtless.” (Trapp)
ii. It is said that at the fall of Jerusalem, the last surviving Jews of the city fled to the temple, because it was the strongest and most secure building in the city. Roman soldiers surrounded it, and one drunken soldier started a fire that soon engulfed the whole building. Ornate gold detail work in the roof melted down in the cracks between the stone walls of the temple, and to retrieve the gold, the Roman commander ordered that the temple be dismantled stone by stone. The destruction was so complete that today they have true difficulty learning exactly where the foundation of the temple was.
iii. “Josephus says the stones were white and strong; fifty feet long, twenty-four broad, and sixteen thick. Antiq. b. 15. c. xi.” (Clarke)
e. That shall not be thrown down: This prophecy was fulfilled literally. There was a real temple, and it was really destroyed. The literal fulfillment of this prophecy establishes the tone for the rest of the prophecies in the chapter. We should expect a literal fulfillment for these as well.
i. “We may also observe how little God values splendid houses of prayer when they are made dens of thieves.” (Poole)
2. (3) Jesus’ prediction brings up two questions.
Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
a. As He sat on the Mount of Olives: Removed from the temple, yet overlooking it, the disciples asked Jesus questions about His bold prediction concerning the destruction of the temple.
i. It was an appropriate time for such a discourse. The religious leaders rejected Jesus, and would soon deliver Him to the Romans for crucifixion. He knew the bitter fate awaiting Jerusalem, and He wanted to give hope and confidence to His disciples who would soon be greatly tested.
b. When will these things be? Jesus said the temple would be completely destroyed. It was logical that the disciples wanted to know when it would happen. Jesus will speak to this question, but only in the context of answering their next two questions.
c. And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age? The disciples probably thought they asked only one question. In their minds, the destruction of the temple and the end of the age were probably connected. But really, they asked two questions (some say three), and this second question is answered in the remainder of the chapter.
i. “The disciples did not so tabulate their questions. In all probability they presented them as one request, supposing that all these things would happen simultaneously. Jesus’ answer was directed mainly to correct this misapprehension.” (Morgan)
ii. It may also be that this second question was asked as they remembered the events surrounding the first temple’s destruction: Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in the context of national judgment and exile.
d. And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age? As Jesus answers this important second question, He will make many specific comments and predictions about the end times. These predictions have been the source of significant disagreement among Christians who have tried to understand them. Why didn’t Jesus simply say it so clearly that there was no possibility anyone could misunderstand Him?
i. One reason why prophecy may seem vague or imprecise is because God wants every age to have reasons to be ready for Jesus’ return. We should not think of Jesus’ return as an event far off on a time line, but something we have been running parallel with since the day of Pentecost.
ii. Others suggest that God’s intention was to keep the future somewhat vague and clouded to confound the Devil, even as the resurrection of the Messiah was vague in the Old Testament.
iii. Though some prophetic interpretations are different, we are sure of this: He is coming again, and we must be ready.
B. The flow of history until Jesus’ return.
1. (4-8) Jesus describes general world conditions during the period between His Ascension and the time immediately preceding His second coming.
And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
a. Take heed that no one deceives you: From the outset, Jesus warned the disciples that many would be deceived as they anticipated His return. There have been times in the history of the church when rash predictions were made and then relied upon resulting in great disappointment, disillusionment, and falling way.
i. One notable example of this was the prophetic expectation in 1844 with William Miller in the United States. Because of his prophetic interpretations, calculations, and publications, there were hundreds of thousands in the United States who were convinced that Jesus would return in 1844. When He did not, there was great disappointment, with some falling away, and some cultic groups spawned from the prophetic fervor.
b. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet: The kind of things Jesus mentions in this section are not the things that mark specific signs of the end. Things like false messiahs, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes have certainly marked man’s history since the time of Jesus’ Ascension – but were not specific signs of the end. In effect Jesus said, “Catastrophes will happen, but these will not signal the end.”
i. In the midst of any great war or any great famine or any great earthquake, it is natural to believe that the world is coming to an end. But Jesus said there is a far more specific sign that would indicate His return, and He describes this later.
ii. “One clear aim of this chapter is to prevent premature excitement about the parousia.” (France)
c. All these are the beginning of sorrows: Though none of those events are the specific sign of the end, collectively they are a sign. When Jesus described these calamities as the beginning of sorrows, He literally called them the beginning of labor pains. Just as is true with labor pains, we should expect that the things mentioned – wars, famines, earthquakes, and so on – would become more frequent and more intense before the return of Jesus – without any one of them being the specific sign of the end.
i. “The beginning: such an accumulation of horrors might well appear to the inexperienced the end, hence the remark to prevent panic.” (Bruce)
2. (9-14) Jesus describes what His disciples must expect during the time between His Ascension and Second Coming.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
a. They will deliver you to tribulation and kill you: In the period after Jesus ascends to heaven and before He comes again, His disciples should expect to be persecuted. This may make His followers believe the end is near, but this also is not the specific sign of His return.
i. “Rather, Then they will deliver you up to affliction…By a bold figure of speech, affliction is here personified. They are to be delivered into affliction’s own hand, to be harassed by all the modes of inventive torture.” (Clarke)
ii. Will betray one another: “Persecution would reveal the traitors within the Church as well as the enemies without.” (Spurgeon)
b. False prophets will arise and deceive many: In the period after Jesus ascends to heaven and before He comes again, the disciples of Jesus will see many false prophets, and their success. But these also are not the specific signs of His return.
i. Deceive many: “Alas, that such teachers would have any disciples! It is doubly sad that they should be able to lead astray ‘many.’ Yet, when it so happens, let us remember that the King said that it would be so.” (Spurgeon)
c. Lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold: In the period after Jesus ascends to heaven and before He comes again, His disciples should expect to see society become worse and worse. But this also is not the specific sign of His return.
i. “And lawlessness will lead to the cooling off of love, a connection to be noted. Most men’s love is literally ‘the love of the many.’” (France)
ii. “Here is something to tremble at: ‘Because iniquity shall abound,’ — that is worse than pestilence; ‘the love of many shall wax cold,’ — that is worse than persecution. As all the water outside a vessel can do it no hurt until it enters the vessel itself, so outward persecutions cannot really injure the Church of God, but when the mischief oozes into the Church, and the love of God’s people waxes cold, — ah, then the barque is in sore distress.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “If the heart grows cold, everything will be coldly done. When love declines, what cold preaching we have! All moonlight light without heat; polished like marble, and as chill. What cold singing we get, — pretty music, made by pipes and wind, but oh, how little soul-song! — how little singing in the Holy Ghost, making melody in the heart unto God ! And what poor praying! Do you call it praying? What little giving! When the heart is cold, the hands can find nothing in the purse; and Christ’s Church, and Christ’s poor, and the heathen may perish, for we must needs hoard up for ourselves, and live to grow rich. Is there anything that goes on as it ought to go when love waxes cold?” (Spurgeon)
d. This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come: Jesus also promised that before the end, the gospel would go out to the whole world. The persecution, false prophets, and general downgrade of society would not prevent the spread of the gospel.
i. “Some claim this has already been done, and that therefore the end of the age is necessarily close at hand. This conclusion is open to grave doubt. Everything depends on the meaning of the words, ‘for a testimony.’” (Morgan)
ii. The church is to take this seriously as their duty. However, God assured that it will happen: I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue and people – saying with a loud voice. “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come.” (Revelation 14:6-7)
C. Jesus describes the sign of His coming and the end of the age.
1. (15) The sign: the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel.
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand),”
a. When you see the “abomination of desolation”: Essentially, the abomination of desolation speaks of the ultimate desecration of a Jewish temple, the establishment of an idolatrous image in the holy place itself, which will inevitably result in the judgment of God. It is the abomination that brings desolation.
i. In the vocabulary of Judaism of that time, an abomination was an especially offensive form of idolatry. Jesus described a gross form of idolatry, standing in the holy place, that brings with it great destruction (desolation).
ii. “The desolating sacrilege is a literal Greek rendering of the phrase…An ‘abomination’ in Old Testament idiom is an idolatrous affront to the true worship of God.” (France)
b. Standing in the holy place: This means that the abomination of desolation takes place in the Jewish temple. This is the only plain meaning of the phrase holy place. Some believe it happened in a prior Jewish temple, before it was destroyed in AD 70. Others – more properly – believe it will happen in the holy place of a rebuilt temple.
i. For centuries, there was only a small Jewish presence in Judea and Jerusalem. Their presence in the region was definite, and continuous, but small. It was unthinkable that this weak Jewish presence could rebuild a temple. Therefore the fulfillment of this prophecy was highly unlikely until Israel was gathered again as a nation in 1948. The restoration of a nation that the world had not seen for some 2,000 years is a remarkable event in the fulfillment and future fulfillment of prophecy.
ii. Those who believe that the events of Matthew 24 were all or mostly all fulfilled in AD 70 have a difficulty here. There is no good evidence at all that what they believe was the abomination of desolation (the Roman armies or their ensigns) were ever set up as idolatrous images in the holy place of the temple. Instead, the temple was destroyed before the Romans entered.
iii. Therefore, those with this interpretive approach often re-define what the holy place is, as does Bruce: “One naturally thinks of the temple or the holy city and its environs, but a ‘holy place’ in the prophetic style might mean the holy land.”
iv. “The normal meaning of hagios topos (‘holy place’) is the temple complex… But by the time the Romans had actually desecrated the temple in A.D. 70 it was too late for anyone in the city to flee.” (Carson)
c. As spoken of by Daniel the prophet: The mention of the abomination of desolation is taken from the book of Daniel. They shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation (Daniel 11:31). This describes a complete desecration of the temple, prefigured by Antiochus Epiphanies in the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
i. Paul elaborates on the future fulfillment of this in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4: That day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
ii. “The discourse itself is undoubtedly a source for the Thessalonian Epistles… we may say that Jesus himself sets the pattern for the church’s eschatology.” (Carson)
iii. Daniel 12:11 gives additional insight: And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be 1,290 days (until the end). When this sign is set up, the end may be determined – there will be almost three and one-half years to go until the consummation of all things.
iv. Through the centuries, the most common interpretive approach to the predictions Jesus made in this chapter is to see them all or mostly all fulfilled in the great destruction that came upon Jerusalem and Judea in A.D. 70. This approach is attractive in some ways, especially in that it makes the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:34 easy to understand. Yet the approach that sees this chapter as all or mostly all fulfilled in A.D. 70 is completely inadequate in its supposed fulfillment of the abomination of desolation. In this approach, the abomination of desolation is almost always understood to be the Roman armies or the ensigns they carried.
v. Yet when we understand the importance and what is said about this event – the abomination of desolation – we must give priority to this event, even more than the easiest interpretation of Matthew 24:34.
· It is the critical sign mentioned in Matthew 24.
· It is the warning to flee mentioned in Matthew 24.
· It is the sign of the consummation of all things in Daniel 9:27.
· It is the sign foreshadowed by Antiochus Epiphanies in Daniel 11:31.
· It is the precise marker of days to the end in Daniel 12:11.
· It is the revelation of the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.
· It is the image of the beast in Revelation 13:14-15.
vi. Taking these passages in their most plain meaning, the abomination of desolation cannot be the Roman armies or the ensigns they marched under; it cannot be totalitarian governments or any other conjecture. The abomination of desolation must be some kind of image of the Antichrist set in an actual temple, and is the decisive sign for the end. This means that for the most part, Jesus’ predictions in Matthew 24 have not been fulfilled; or at least that the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was a foreshadowing fulfillment, even as the desecration of the temple under Antiochus Epiphanies was a foreshadowing of the ultimate abomination of desolation.
d. Whoever reads, let him understand: Here Jesus (assuming that He said these words, and that they were not added by Matthew) directed us again to the central place of understanding, the abomination of desolation. It was almost as if Jesus said, “Don’t miss this. If you don’t understand this, you won’t understand many other things.” And this is exactly the error of many who, with good intentions, misunderstand the plain meaning of the abomination of desolation. Let him understand!
2. (16-20) Jesus warns what should be done when the abomination of desolation appears: flee immediately.
“Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.”
a. Then let those who are in Judea flee: These are warnings specifically addressed to Israelites. Judea, housetops, and Sabbath all speak to a Jewish environment.
i. “A refugee’s lot is hard enough without extra impediments.” (France)
ii. In light of the broader context in this chapter, these words of Jesus should be understood as having primary application to those who see the abomination of desolation in the very last days, during the great tribulation – events that are yet to occur.
iii. Yet there is no doubt that in some ways the catastrophe that came upon Judea and especially Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was a prefiguring of that future event; an imperfect foreshadow of the ultimate fulfillment. For this reason, virtually all the Christians fled Jerusalem and Judea in the years leading up to A.D. 70, when the Roman armies arrived in the area intent on putting down the Jewish rebellion in the Roman province of Palestine.
iv. “There is reasonably good tradition that Christians abandoned the city, perhaps in A.D. 68, about halfway through the siege.” (Carson)
v. “Eusebius and Epiphanius say, that at this juncture, after Cestius Gallus had raised the siege, and Vespasian was approaching with his army, all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan; and so they all marvellously escaped the general shipwreck of their country: not one of them perished.” (Clarke)
vi. Sadly, that was not what the Jewish people did. “Jesus’ advice was that when that day came men ought to flee to the mountains. They did not; they crammed themselves into the city and into the walls of Jerusalem from all over the country, and that very folly multiplied the grim horror of the famine of the siege a hundredfold.” (Barclay)
b. Then let those who are in Judea flee: This is because at the appearance of the abomination of desolation, the desolation will first be poured out at Judea, and because the church will not be a factor at this time, having already been caught up to meet Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
i. Because Jesus told His disciples about the abomination of desolation (which is set up by the Antichrist in the middle of the Great Tribulation) and warned them of this coming destruction in the Great Tribulation, some Christians believe that all Christians will go through the Great Tribulation. To them, it seems evident. Why would Jesus say these things to His disciples if His disciples would not experience them?
ii. The answer is simple. We know from this passage and other passages that God will remove His church before the fury of the Great Tribulation, catching them away to meet Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Yet this information is valuable for the followers of Jesus so they can understand His plan for the future. This information is especially valuable for those who will become His disciples in the Great Tribulation after the church is gone.
iii. We do well to remember that the disciples who heard Jesus say these words saw none of these things. Yet it was still good for them to hear it. Even if Christians will not go into the Great Tribulation, it is good for them – and those who will become Christians in the tribulation – to know what will happen during that time. Jesus spoke to all ages here.
3. (21-28) Coming after the abomination of desolation: great tribulation.
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
a. Great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time: Jesus said that this will be the most awful time in all history. When we think of the terrible wars, plagues, famines, and genocide history has seen, this is a sobering statement. When God pours out His wrath on a God rejecting world, it will be truly great tribulation.
i. Those who believe that the events of Matthew 24 were all or mostly all fulfilled in A.D. 70 are in the unenviable position of arguing that the calamity that befell Jerusalem at that time was the worst catastrophe of all history. This is not possible to adequately defend historically. As bad as the catastrophe of A.D. 70 was, there have been subsequent wars and calamities even worse. This reminds us that this great tribulation – this time of catastrophe such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time – has not yet been fulfilled.
b. Look, here is the Christ: No one should be deceived about the nature of Jesus’ coming. It will not be secret or private, but as plain as lightning that flashes across the sky. But in the midst of such tribulation, there will be a temptation to look for false messiahs (false christs and false prophets will rise).
i. As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man: “Christ’s coming will be sudden, startling, universally visible, and terrifying to the ungodly.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The coming of the Son of Man: “Parousia (‘coming’) is used only in this chapter in the Gospels (vv. 3, 27, 37, 39), though in the Epistles it is used several times of Jesus’ return in glory. Its literal meaning is ‘presence’ (as in 2 Corinthians 10:10), but it was used for official visits by high-ranking persons, state visits, and also for divine visitations, hence its technical use for Jesus’ ultimate ‘visitation’.” (France)
c. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together: This is a difficult statement. It was probably a figure of speech with the idea, “when judgment is ripe, it will surely come.”
4. (29-31) Coming after the great tribulation: the return of Jesus Christ.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
a. The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light: Several prophetic passages describe the cosmic disturbances that will precede and surround the glorious return of Jesus (Joel 2:10, Revelation 6:12-14, Isaiah 34:4).
b. The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven: It is difficult to say exactly what this sign is. It seems to precede His return as described in Revelation 19:11. Perhaps this sign is somehow related to the incredible cosmic disturbances that will precede the great event.
i. Some, in light of the Roman Emperor Constantine’s vision, thought the sign of the Son of Man would be a cross in the sky. More probably it is simply a way to describe the physical, visible return of Jesus to the earth from heaven.
ii. “Others point out that semeion is the LXX translation for the ‘standard’ or ‘banner’ referred to in the Old Testament as a signal for the gathering of God’s people.” (France)
iii. Barclay on semeion: “It is the regular word for the arrival of a governor into his province or for the coming of a king to his subjects. It regularly describes a coming in authority and in power.”
c. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory: This is the fulfillment of the end, indicated by the sign of the abomination of desolation. Since this has not happened yet, neither has the abomination of desolation.
i. Again, those who claim that all or most of the events of Matthew 24 were fulfilled in the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and Judea in A.D. 70 are in an unenviable position. They often claim that Jesus fulfilled this coming on the clouds of heaven of the Son of Man with power and great glory by “coming” in judgment against the Jewish people in A.D. 70.
ii. Even some of those who believe that most the events of Matthew 24 were fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem understand that this is a stretch too far. “From the foregoing exposition it appears that the coming of the Son of Man is not to be identified with the judgment of Jerusalem.” (Bruce)
5. (32-35) Jesus speaks more regarding the timing of these events.
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near; at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”
a. Learn this parable from the fig tree: The fig tree has a regular pattern. The leaves appear, and then summer follows. When you see the leaves, you know summer is near.
i. The fig tree was a common fruit tree in Israel. It is mentioned many times in the Old Testament, especially as a description of the abundance of the land. Sometimes figs or fig trees are also used as symbols or pictures. In passages like Jeremiah 24:1-10 and Hosea 9:10, figs or fig trees are used as a representation of Israel.
ii. However, most Old Testament references to the fig tree use it as simply an example of agricultural blessing. It seems that Jesus’ reference here is not so much on the “figness” of the fig tree, but on the way that the fig tree follows reliable growth cycles related to the seasons. This is especially evident when this passage is compared with Luke 21:29-31: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.
b. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near; at the doors! Jesus assured that when these signs appeared as He foretold (the abomination of desolation, followed by great tribulation, followed by signs in the heavens), His return to the earth would follow. When a fig tree buds, there is an inevitable result – summer is near and fruit is coming. In the same way, when these signs are seen, the coming of Jesus in glory with His church to this world will inevitably follow.
i. Really, it was just as Daniel prophesied in Daniel 12:11. The end will come 1,290 days after the abomination of desolation. Jesus assures that the agonies of the Great Tribulation will not continue indefinitely; they will have an end.
ii. Up to this point, Jesus has given an important outline for end-times events.
· There will arise catastrophes and persecutions, but those in themselves are not the sign of the end.
· There will arise a pivotal sign: the abomination of desolation.
· When the abomination of desolation appears, there are warnings to Israel to flee after the abomination.
· On the heels of the abomination of desolation comes great tribulation, and cosmic disturbances.
· In culmination, Jesus Christ will return in glory to the earth.
c. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place: This statement of Jesus is one of the central reasons many have looked for all or most of the events of this chapter to be fulfilled in A.D. 70, approximately 40 years after Jesus spoke these words. Yet as previously argued, to assert this is to greatly stretch the most natural interpretation of the abomination of desolation, of the severity of the great tribulation, of the cosmic signs, and of the coming of the Son of Man. It is better to let those passages have their most natural meaning and to fit this promise into that framework.
i. The generation Jesus meant cannot be the generation of the disciples, because they never saw Jesus return in glory as described in Matthew 24:30. It is undoubtedly the generation that sees these signs. These events and Jesus’ return won’t be on some 1,000-year timetable, but will happen in succession.
ii. It has been suggested that the word generation could also be translated “race,” and is a promise that the Jewish race would not be extinguished and would survive to the end. This would be a valuable promise, but some commentators (such as France) claim this is an embarrassingly wrong translation. Yet others – such as Adam Clarke, who strongly believed the events of this chapter were almost all fulfilled in A.D. 70 – writes, “This race; i.e. the Jews shall not cease from being a distinct people, till all the counsels of God relative to them and the Gentiles be fulfilled.”
D. More on His coming, but from a different approach.
1. (36) Jesus says that the day and hour of His return is unknowable by men, and even unknowable by angels.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”
a. Of that day and hour no one knows: Here, Jesus refers back to the original question of Matthew 24:3 (what will be the sign of Your coming?). His answer is somewhat unexpected, saying of that day and hour no one knows.
i. To give this idea the strongest emphasis, Jesus claimed that this knowledge was reserved for His Father only. If Jesus Himself – at least during His earthly ministry – did not know this day and hour, it emphasizes the foolishness of any later person making certain predictions regarding the prophetic timetable.
b. No one knows: Based on what He had told us about the abomination of desolation, we might have expected that the exact day and hour could be known. After all, Daniel set the day of Jesus’ return as being exactly 1,290 days after the abomination of desolation (Daniel 12:11).
i. In this, there is a dilemma. How can the day of Jesus’ coming be both completely unknown, and at the same time be known to the day according to Daniel 12:11?
2. (37-39) Jesus says that His coming will be when the world is as it was in the days of Noah.
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
a. As the days of Noah were: Jesus explained what He meant by the days of Noah. It means life centered around the normal things: eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, life will be business as usual; reprobate perhaps, but usual.
i. Eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage: Bruce notes that “Some charge these with sinister meaning: [eating], hinting at gluttony because often used of beasts, though also, in the sense of eating, of men…[marrying and giving in marriage], euphemistically pointing at sexual licences on both sides.” Yet he comes to the conclusion, “The idea rather seems to be that all things went on as usual, as if nothing were going to happen.”
ii. We should also remember that the days of Noah were also marked by violence and demonic oppression (Genesis 6:1-5).
b. And did not know until the flood came and took them all away: Those in the days of Noah were warned, and judgment eventually came. To those who had ignored the warnings, it came suddenly and unexpectedly.
i. “That the coming of the Son of Man takes place at an unknown time can only be true if in fact life seems to be going on pretty much as usual – just as in the days before the Flood.” (Carson)
ii. In this, there is a dilemma. How can Jesus come to a “business-as-usual” world, and a world experiencing the worst calamities ever seen on earth?
3. (40-44) Jesus cautions His disciples to be ready for an unexpected coming.
“Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
a. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left: Jesus here pointed to curious disappearances; to a catching away of some at the coming of the Son of Man (as also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
i. “Taken is the same verb used, e.g., in 1:20; 17:1; 18:16; 20:17; it implies to take someone to be with you, and therefore here points to the salvation rather than the destruction of the one ‘taken’.” (France)
b. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming: Since the day and hour of this coming are unknowable, Jesus’ followers must be on constant guard for His coming.
i. Here again is the Second Coming dilemma.
· Is it at an unexpected hour or is it positively predicted?
· Is it business as usual or worldwide cataclysm?
· Is it meeting Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) or is He coming with the saints (Zechariah 14:5)?
ii. William Barclay describes one aspect of the difficulty here: “It is in two sections and they seem to contradict each other. The first (verses 32-35) seem to indicate that, as a man can tell by the signs of nature when summer is on the way, so he can tell by the signs of the world when the Second Coming is on the way… The second section (verses 36-41) says quite definitely that no one knows the time of the Second Coming, not the angels, not even Jesus himself, but only God; and that it will come upon men with the suddenness of a rainstorm out of a blue sky.”
iii. The dilemma is resolved by seeing that there are actually two second comings. One is in the air, for the church – commonly known as the rapture. The other is to the world, coming with the church, commonly known as the Second Coming of Jesus. The “contradictions” in Matthew 24 (and much of the rest of prophecy) are often solved by seeing there are really references to “two” returns of Jesus.
c. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect: We must not escape the emphasis. We must be ready, because His coming for us is without warning. Jesus follows with a few parables to drive home this point.
i. “Suetonius tells us that it was a piece of Julius Caesar’s policy never to fore-acquaint his soldiers of any set time of removal or onset, that he might ever have them in readiness to draw forth whithersoever he would.” (Trapp)
E. Parable of the two servants.
1. (45-47) The faithful servant.
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.”
a. Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing: Jesus told us that we must carry on with diligence while the Lord is gone. We must be that faithful and wise servant who takes care of his master’s business while the master is away.
b. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods: Jesus also promised that we will be rewarded for our diligence. The servants serve the master, but the master knows how to take care of and reward the servants.
2. (48-51) The evil servant.
“But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
a. If that evil servant says in his heart, “My master is delaying his coming”: Jesus warns us of the attitude which says, “my master is delaying his coming.” We must live in constant anticipation of Jesus’ return, and that means being about our business for Him now.
i. The most dangerous lie is not “There is no God,” not “there is no hell”; but the most dangerous lie of Satan is “there is no hurry.” It is no small thing to say “Jesus is not coming today or for several years,” because your system of prophecy demands it. We need to be ready for the imminent return of Jesus Christ.
b. Begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards: The evil servant, who was not ready for the master’s return, sinned in at least three ways.
· He was not about the business that the master left for him.
· He fought with and mistreated his fellow servants.
· He gave himself to the pleasures of the world instead of serving his master.
i. This emphasis on constant readiness is a challenge for the Christian today. It can be said that many Christians are not ready in the same three ways. Each reader should be greatly impressed by the urgency of Jesus’ appeal.
c. Cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: The faithful and wise servant was rewarded, but so was the evil servant. He was rewarded for His wickedness, and he would have the portion with the hypocrites he deserved.
i. Cut him in two: “The probable meaning is: will cut him in two (so to speak) with a whip = thrash him, the base slave, unmercifully. It is a strong word, selected to sympathy with the master’s rage.” (Bruce)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission