We are studying Matthew's description of Jesus where he emphasizes the royal character of the Lord. All of our lessons have followed this theme of Jesus as the King bringing His heavenly kingdom to those who would receive it here on earth. So far Jesus has demonstrated His royal position:
- By the worship He received as a baby.
- By the witness He has received from the Father, the Holy Spirit and John the Baptist.
- He has demonstrated His exalted position by defeating evil spirits beginning with Satan himself in the desert.
- He has shown Himself to be Lord over disease, infirmity and even death itself with His miracles.
- More recently we have seen His power over the material world with the multiplication of fish and bread, and the calming of a storm.
In the previous chapter we saw Him enter the city of Jerusalem as its King and doing so as the prophets said He would: on the back of a foal, to the joy of the people, the poor, the ill and the outcast. We also noted that the leaders in Jerusalem (Sadducees, Pharisees, priests and elders) challenged Jesus' authority and ministry. It was interesting to see how the Lord responded to every one of their challenges. The end result was that this group was silenced and on some occasions ridiculed, but none of them came to faith—even when their questions and doubts were answered. How many people do we know like this? You answer all their questions, give a good witness, but they still refuse to believe and obey the Lord because they love disbelief more, because disbelief allows them to continue in sin without guilt or fear.
Anyways, once the Lord has finished dealing with the leaders who have rejected Him as the Messiah, He pronounces several woes or judgments upon them because of their disbelief and hypocrisy. After this pronunciation, Jesus and His disciples, who are still in the temple area, begin a discussion about the judgment on the Jews and the end of the world. This takes place as one of the Apostles makes a comment about the temple building itself and Jesus uses the occasion to describe several scenes of judgment. This is why this chapter is entitled, "The King's Judgment."
Jesus is leaving the temple area, and as He leaves the Apostles point out the magnificent buildings of the temple which He has just said will one day be deserted. During that period the temple had undergone fifty years of reconstruction work—the latest effort being paid for by Herod himself. In verses 1-2 Jesus responds to their comments by saying that the buildings will not only be empty, they will be torn down. This sets up further questions by the Apostles (Peter, James, John, Andrew in Matthew 13:3) who wanted more information about what He has just said. They questioned Him about two things:
- When will the destruction of the temple be?
- What signs will accompany the end of the world that will be brought on by the second coming?
Now, whether the Apostles thought these two events would happen at the same time or at different times, we do not know. We do know from their question, however, that they were asking about two different events.
- The destruction of the temple.
- The return of the Lord and the end of the world.
The following section in Matthew can become confusing so it helps if we divide it into the three views of history that Jesus spoke about in answering His Apostles.
1. Panoramic view – vs. 4-14
In these verses Jesus describes an overview or panoramic view of world history that includes the times before the destruction of the temple, the time after the destruction and the period at the end of time when He will return.
2. Telescope to Jerusalem view – vs. 15-35
In these verses, Jesus telescopes or focuses on one great event in the history of man: the destruction of Jerusalem, which we know took place in 70 AD. Jesus spoke when He was 33, so this event was to take place more than three decades later.
3. Telescope to the second coming – vs. 36-44
Jesus finishes with a look to the far future when He will return ushering in the end of days and the judgment. If we keep these three views in mind, it will help us to untangle these complex verses.
Panorama Until Second Coming
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you.
This instruction is given so that they will know and avoid false teachers and prophets in these matters.
5 For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many. 6 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. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
The cycle of false prophets, wars and troubles in the world will continue until the end, but these in themselves are not the signs; they are only the beginning of things which will get progressively worse before not only the end of Jerusalem comes, but also the end of the world comes.
9 "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.
This section is parallel to II Thessalonians where Paul talks about the end of the world and what must take place first.
- Apostasy (falling away, love grows cold).
- Man of lawlessness who deceives many through false signs and tries to take the place of God, he will be revealed.
- Jesus describes the devolution of the world (cycle of evil and revival to the end).
13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
In contrast to this, Jesus promises that the faithful will be saved despite these things.
14 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.
He also promises that the great commission will be carried out and must be carried out before the end can/will come.
This is a panoramic view of the events and flow of history that will occur until His second coming.
Telescope to Fall of Jerusalem
Judea was a rebellious nation and longed to return to the glory days of independence and power enjoyed at the time of Solomon. In the early 60s, they had such unrest that Rome sent troops to this area in order to quell the rebellion. From 66-70 AD the Roman armies successfully laid siege to Jerusalem and totally destroyed the city and temple along with over one million people. This total destruction of the Jewish nation was the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy to the disciples 33 years earlier described in this passage. The disciples wanted to know when this would happen and Jesus gives them the "signs" to watch out for because many of them would still be alive when it would happen.
15 "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), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.
The first sign was the "Abomination of Desolation." The point was that when the temple would be desecrated, this would be a sign that destruction was near and they should escape the city.
Daniel (11:31, 12:11) had prophesied that the temple would be defiled and this prophecy was fulfilled in the days of the Maccabees (167-160 BC) by the Syrian King Epiphanes who sacrificed a pig on the altar of the temple. Jesus picks up this idea and says that in the same way, when the temple will be defiled during their lifetime, it will be the signal to escape.
20 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.
Luke 21:20 tells us that the surrounding of the temple by foreign armies is what constituted defilement. The standards (shields) of the Roman army were idolatrous and often used for worship by the soldiers, and surrounding the temple with these would desecrate it.
Many scholars differ here as to what the abomination is and refer to Jewish historians for events that occurred before, during or after the siege that could fit, but Luke 21:20 is the only biblical reference that refers to this event in context. "He who reads" means he who reads Daniel. Those who read the prophet Daniel along with Christ's cryptogram will be able to know when it's time to get out. Historically we know that many did. In 68 AD the majority of Christians living in Jerusalem escaped to Pella (northwest of Jerusalem in the Decapolis region near the Jordan River) thus avoiding being killed in the massacre.
19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.
The tribulation is the suffering caused by the Romans that wiped out the nation.
- Over 1 million killed.
- The combination of the gravity of the sin (Jews who received the blessings and promises but killed their Messiah) and the horror of the punishment (nation wiped out) has not been equaled.
22 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.
God's providence permitted this war to end so that the Christians would not also be annihilated along with the Jews. Their city was destroyed and Romans made no distinction between Christian and non-Christian Jews.
23 Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 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.
The believers would naturally associate the destruction of Jerusalem with the return of Jesus, so the Lord warns them against being deceived by those who would claim to be the Lord or speak from God.
- Josephus, Jewish historian of the time, documents how during this period rumors of the Messiah coming or being present circulated in order to keep people in the city.
- In those days, hysteria and fear produced many "prophets" who claimed visions and messages from God.
One false prophet said that he would separate the Sea of Galilee and 25,000 people followed him.
27 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.
He tells them that when He does return, it will be evident to all, like lightening across the sky, all will easily and readily know that it is He.
28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
The corpse is the Jewish nation; the vultures are the false Christs and prophets. When you see them in abundance, this will be a second sign that the end of Jerusalem is near.
29 "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.
The first word in this verse presents a problem to some: immediately. If we make this next section a discussion about the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus, then it must occur right after the destruction of Jerusalem (some believe and teach Jesus has already returned: 70 AD theory). Since the Man of Lawlessness had not been revealed, Jesus has not returned, therefore this passage must still be talking about events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem.
30 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. 31 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.
Therefore verses 29-31 speak about the destruction and the effects that it has on others and believers. The language is Apocalyptic and is used by prophets to describe cataclysmic historical and political events (Isaiah 13 described the destruction of Babylon in similar language). Language using the symbolism of the destruction of heavenly bodies is used to described the very real fate of the world or the end (II Peter 3:10), but also the end and destruction of a particular nation on the earth. In this case, the end of the Jewish nation as a people under God's special care. The coming of the Son of Man refers to both the second coming at the end of the world and the final judgment, but also any judgment God makes on a particular nation, in this case the nation of Israel.
- It also fits the context of this passage.
- The Jews who rejected Him now will see Him coming as a form of judgment on their nation, a terrible catastrophe that would horrify the world but liberate Christians and the gospel from Jewish persecution.
The Greek word translated "angel" can also be translated as "messenger." This verse can be seen as prophecy concerning the spreading of the gospel throughout the world after the fall of Jerusalem. Verse 14 said this needed to be done before Christ returned, and now with the ideological and cultural restraints of Jerusalem removed, Christianity would flourish even more.
32 "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; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
Jesus warns them to pay attention to the signs He has given them because they will happen in their generation and He promises by His word that they will happen!
Telescope to Second Coming
Jesus has just explained to them the signs that will preview the destruction of Jerusalem.
- Preaching of the gospel to all nations (Romans 10:18)
- Multiplication of false Christs (Josephus)
- Abomination of the temple (Luke 21:20)
- Great tribulation (Josephus)
Now in verse 36-44 He makes a contrast using this event with the second coming at the end of the world.
36 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
No one knows the time. Not even Jesus while He is with His disciples. This refers to His second coming, not the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
37 For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 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, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.
There will be no cataclysmic signs and all will seem normal. Normal in the sense that the believers will be preparing themselves for the second coming and the end of the world, while the rest of the world will be ignoring it until it will be too late (just like in the time of Noah).
40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.
Some take this verse to mean that before Jesus returns some will be taken in a "rapture" and disappear to be with God in heaven. This is part of the Pre-Millennialist view of the rapture and 1000-year sign. In context, however, Jesus is talking about readiness and He says that when He returns suddenly one will be saved, one lost; no time for repentance and change. Just like Noah, when the rain came, they were taken and disappeared into the ark; the others remained outside to die in the flood.
When Jesus comes, the faithful will be taken to be with Him and the disbelievers immediately put away from His promise.
42 "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 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.
Since the end is to be like this, we should always be prepared and not foolishly lapse into sin, thinking we have plenty of time to repent and be ready for the return; we now know, and thus we must be ready.
Exhortation to Vigilance 24:45-25:30
After responding to the question of the judgment on Jerusalem and His return, Jesus warns them to be vigilant and does so with these parables:
1. Parable of the evil slave – 24:45-51
Here the lesson is not to presume we have the luxury of sinning because the end is far away, it can come at any time and the judgment is sure for those who are unfaithful.
2. Parable of the 10 virgins – 25:1-13
Here Jesus warns against the foolishness of not being ready, not a question of gross evil, but rather negligence. To neglect Christ will bring destruction in the end as will.
3. Parable of the talents – 25:14-30
Here the warning is for those who are in the kingdom but who fail to expand its borders, fail to serve the King with zeal. This slave was not caught or surprised unprepared, he just assumed that his preparation was sufficient when it wasn't.
All these parables have the element of preparation, judgment and punishment for those who neglect to prepare for the return of the Master.
Judgment Scene – 25:31-46
The climax of the discourse is the judgment scene at the end of the world. Those found to be righteous have obeyed the commands to love God (refer to Him as Lord) as well as their neighbor; this was the way to prepare. Those condemned have the same judgment and are condemned because they did not love their neighbor.
The punishment and reward is eternal in nature. The overarching theme is: be ready.