Matthew 24:  Is The End Near?

In Matthew 24, Jesus reveals a fascinating prophecy.  In this prophecy, Jesus provides a series of signs that will help us know when this prophecy is about to come to pass. 

There are two viewpoints in reference to this prophecy of Jesus.  

  1. First of all, there are those who believe that this is a prophecy predicting the end of time.  It is believed that the activity in the Middle East, the seismic activities, the threat of war and other such events are the very signs Jesus described in Matthew 24.  These signs indicate that the end is near.
  2. Second of all, there are those who believe that the prophecy in Matthew 24 does not refer to the end of time, but to the end of Jerusalem.  It is believed that the signs that Jesus described were signs that happened just prior to 70 A.D. when the Roman military marched into Jerusalem and destroyed the city, the temple, and surrounding walls.

It is my contention that there is a little bit of truth in each of the two positions.  Jesus set before His disciples a series of signs.  These signs were indicating something.  What were they indicating?  We can say for certain that the signs themselves were not indicating the end of time, but something that would occur within their own lifetime.  However, Jesus also gives attention to the end of time with this thought in mind:  Be ready!

Take a look at Matthew 24.36

Matthew 24.36:  “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”

In this verse Jesus is describing the end of time.  In reference to the end of time, He says that it was going to be on a “day and hour no one knows.”  If I were to turn to Mark’s account, I would find that Jesus included Himself among those who do not know.  Who knows when the end of time would come?  Jesus said, “My Father only.” 

Now watch this.  Jesus did not and does not know when the end is going to be.  So why did He provide signs to help us predict the day that not even He knows is coming?  How ironic for scholars to read the words of Jesus in Matthew 24, and from the signs He provides be able to predict when the end is going to be -- when Jesus Himself did not know, “but My Father only.”

That tells me that the signs that Jesus provided do not indicate the end of time but something else.  Actually, when you follow the flow of the context from the beginning of chapter 24 all the way to the end, there are two events being described.

  1. The first event is the destruction of Jerusalem in which signs are provided.  
  2. The second event begins at verse 36 when Jesus shifts subjects from the destruction of Jerusalem to the subject concerning the end of time. 

To understand any passage in the Bible, we must read the passage in light of the context.  If I am going to understand any passage accurately, I have to give attention to what is said in the surrounding verses.  

The Context of Matthew 24

 To understand the historical context and help us get into the mind of the disciples of Jesus whom He is addressing, we need to go all the way back to the last few verses of Matthew 23. 

In Matthew 23, Jesus hands a scathing rebuke to the Pharisees and scribes because of their hypocrisy.  Seven times in Matthew 23, Jesus used the phrase, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”  Toward the end of the chapter, Jesus focuses on one specific issue:  The Pharisees as well as many generations of Jews in the past had beaten and murdered the prophets  (Matt. 23.29-34).

For generations, the prophets of God had been sent to Jerusalem.  For generations, they were beaten and murdered.  Therefore, Jesus makes this statement…

Matthew 23.35:  “that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

Do not miss what Jesus just said.  This plays a critical role in how we understand the signs in Matthew 24.  Jesus is addressing the scribes and Pharisees who were responsible for murdering the prophets of God as did their fathers before them.

To them, Jesus promised that “on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth.”  What does that mean?  They were going to be punished for all the blood they shed of the righteous prophets that God had sent.  When was this punishment going to come?  Keep reading…      

Matthew 23.36:  “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

The punishment that was coming upon the city of Jerusalem because they shed the blood of the prophets whom God sent to Jerusalem would take place during the days of that generation.  The Jews who were alive during the days of Jesus would endure the punishment of God in Jerusalem.

With that, Jesus looks toward the city of Jerusalem and says these words…

Matthew 23.37:  "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

Mournful and saddened, like a father imploring his son to turn away from a life of crime, only to be spurned,  Jesus looks to the city of Jerusalem desiring to care and nurture His children, “but you were not willing!”

Here is the city of Jerusalem.  Those who lived there, especially the scribes and Pharisees, had beaten and murdered the prophets of God.  As a result, God is about to punish the city of Jerusalem, and this punishment “would come upon this generation”  (Matt. 23.36). 

That leads us right into chapter 24, where Jesus goes into detail about this punishment that was going to come upon the city of Jerusalem during that time.  That's the context where we find these signs in Matthew 24.  We cannot make a text say something that God never intended for it to say.  Contextually, it is clear that Jesus had destruction of Jerusalem that would take place in their generation in mind. 

Unfolding the Text of Matthew 24

With that context in mind, Jesus turns to His disciples and makes his prediction regarding the destruction of Jerusalem.  He just said in the previous chapter that Jerusalem would be destroyed because the Jews had shed the blood of all of God's prophets.  Now Jesus get's specific.

Matthew 24.1,2:  “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.”

Remember that Jesus had just condemned the scribes and Pharisees and those living in Jerusalem because of their abuse of the prophets of God.  He now shows His disciples all the buildings of the temple in Jerusalem.  The temple actually consisted of a number of different buildings. 

In keeping with the context, Jesus predicted that all the buildings in Jerusalem were going to be destroyed.  Not one stone would be stacked upon another.  Every stone in every building would fall to the ground.  After Jesus makes this prediction concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, His disciples come to Jesus.

Matthew 24.3:  “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?’”

The disciples were just shown how Jerusalem would be destroyed.  They were just told that all the buildings would be thrown down.  They then come to Jesus and ask Him two questions.

  1. When will these things be?  In other words, when will be the destruction of Jerusalem?  Jesus answers that question in Matthew 24.4-35.
  2. What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?  They also asked about the sign of the second coming of Christ and the end of the age.  Jesus answers that question in Matthew 24.36-51.  In doing so, He makes it clear that of this day, there will be no sign or indication of its arrival.  It will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief in the night  

In Matthew 24, Jesus answers these two questions in order. 

For the sake of this study on Matthew 24 we will only deal with the first question concerning the signs that Jesus provided and what they mean.  For the sake of brevity and space, let’s focus on a handful of key verses that really demonstrate that these signs would happen locally and would happen within their lifetime.

The Signs That Would Come

There would be a variety of signs that would indicate that the destruction of Jerusalem was near and that certain actions would need to be taken.  It is worthy of note that if the signs of Matthew 24 was in reference to the end of time, these signs and the actions that were required would be unnecessary.

1)  False Christs, Wars and Rumors of Wars, Famines, Pestilences, Earthquakes.

Matthew 24.5:  “For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many.”

Matthew 24.6:  “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.”

Matthew 24.7:  “And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”

How interesting that for years, every time there is a large magnitude earthquake or some nation threatening to go to war, preachers begins proclaiming that the end is near. 

As a point of fact, these false Christ’s, wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilence, and earthquakes have been happening for the past two thousand years.  However, history reveals that these predictions made by Jesus were unusually frequent and intense in the years leading up to 70. A.D.

In the four decades between the time Jesus made this prediction and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., these signs had been well documented by the historians of that day.  All we have to do is read the works of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, writings of the Roman historian Suetonius, the Annals and Histories of the senator and Roman historian Tacitus.

In these writings we find detailed records of the many false Christ’s, the wars and rumors of wars perpetrated by Claudius and Nero that resulted in “continual scarcity”  (Claud. c. 18).  We can read about the frequent and devastating earthquakes in and around Jerusalem.  All of this happened just prior to the Roman invasion and resulting destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. – just as Jesus predicted.  

2)  Great Tribulation Experienced by the Disciples of Jesus.

Matthew 24.9:  “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake.”

Were the disciples persecuted and killed because of their faith in the years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem?  Extensively so! 

  • The leaders of Jerusalem “had called for the apostles and beaten them”  (Acts 5.40).
  • They “plotted to kill”  Peter and John.  (Acts 5.33)
  • The men of the city ran at Stephen, “cast him out of the city and stoned him”  (Acts 7.58).
  • “At that time a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem”  (Acts 8.2).
  • Saul was on his way to Damascus “breathing threats and murder against the disciples”  (Acts 9.1).

All of these and many more examples in Acts show the hatred, persecution, and even murder in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. 

3)  The Gospel will be Preached throughout the World.

Matthew 24.14:  “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.”

Jesus predicted that prior to the destruction of Jerusalem the gospel will be preached to all nations.  With that in mind, notice what Paul declared in Colossians 1.23:  “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

You may be interested to know that the book of Colossians was written just a few short years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. 

4)  Idols will be Set Up in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Matthew 24.15:  “Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand),”

In the book of Daniel, we read of another prophecy that many believe to be a prediction of the end of time.  Jesus describes that the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy is in connection with His prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem.  I find that extremely interesting.

The “abomination of desolation” predicted in Daniel 11.31 and 12.11 refers to the Jews not being able to offer their sacrifices, for the temple where the sacrifices were to be made had been defiled.   Just before the fall of Jerusalem, the Roman military invaded the city, entered the temple, and set up their idols in the Holy Place.  The historian, Flavius Josephus, described what he saw after the Roman invasion and destruction of Jerusalem:  “Certainly it would have been good for me to die before I had seen the house of God full of so many abominations  (The Wars of the Jews, 4:3:10)

When You See The Signs...

In reference to seeing these signs, Jesus then explains what the Jews in Jerusalem were to do.  Again notice that the actions they were to take would not have mattered had these signs indicated the end of time.  

1)  Flee to the Mountains.  Leave your Belonging Behind.

Matthew 24.16-18:  “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.”

Did I read that right?  Those in Judea were to flee?  Those on rooftops were not to go get his belonging in the house?  Those in the field were not to go back home and get his clothes?  Why?

Jesus is describing circumstances which were urgent.  If this was referring to the second coming of Christ and the end of time, what would it matter if they fled to Judea?  What would it matter if they left town leaving their belongings behind? 

This was not a reference to the second coming of Christ, nor the end of time.  Jesus was telling them that when they saw the Romans come into Jerusalem and defile the temple with their idols, the “abomination of desolation,” that was an indication that the fall of Jerusalem was imminent. In other words, get out of town! 

2)  Concerning the Pregnant and Nursing Mothers.

Matthew 24.19:  “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!”

If Jesus was referring to the coming of Christ and the end of time, what would it matter if they were pregnant or nursing?  However, if Jesus was referring to the fall of Jerusalem, those who were pregnant or nursing would not be able to get out of town as quickly as the others if at all.

3)  Concerning the day and season these signs would come.

Matthew 24.20:  “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.”

Why would the Jews not want the prophecy of Jesus to come to pass in winter of on the Sabbath?  Those were days that would make travel impossible.  During the winter, the weather would greatly hinder or even prevent them from leaving the city. 

On the Sabbath day, the Jews were forbidden by law to travel beyond a short distance.  In fact, in the first century, the gates of Jerusalem were shut and locked on the Sabbath day to prevent anyone from leaving and thus violating the law. 

4)  Concerning the View of the Skies

Matthew 24:29-31:  “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." 

 From these verses, it sounds like the second coming of Christ and the end of time.  But remember the context.  Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem with all the buildings being destroyed.  He unveiled a series of signs that would indicate when this would happen.  He then says that when they see these signs, get out of town.  

From the perspective of those in the city of Jerusalem, the Roman army invades.  The buildings in Jerusalem begin to collapse and fall.  People are being slaughtered.  In the midst of all of this, the city is filled with smoke, dust, and flying debris.

Those who are still in Jerusalem when this happens will look up and not be able to see the sun and the moon through the smoke.  If they do see the moon, it will look red because of the dust in the air.  In fact, this is exactly what Joel said would happen in Joel 2.28-32.  To them, the sun will look like it failed.  The moonlight would be obscured.  The stars would be able to be seen, and it would be as if they fell from the sky. 

5)  Concerning the Origin of these Signs.

Matthew 24.30,31:  “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.”

If you read over this quickly without examining the details, it is easy to assume some catastrophic, global event in which Christ returns.  But look at the words of Jesus closely.  He did not say that the Son of Man will appear as in the second coming.  He said that the sign of the Son of Man will appear. 

In the original language, the phraseology is literally that the sign of the Son of Man who is in heaven will appear.  The idea is that the Son of Man who is in heaven will provide the sign. 

What it is the sign that the Son of Man who is in heaven will provide?  The sign is the destruction of Jerusalem.  The destruction of Jerusalem was proof that Jesus was now reigning in heaven at the right hand of God.  The idea of “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” is the idea of His reign.  He is on the clouds of heaven and is reigning as the head of the church. 

6)  Concerning the Time of these Signs.

Matthew 24.32-35:  "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.”

Notice that this prophecy would come to pass shortly.  Jesus said that “it is near – at the doors!”

 When will the signs appear indicating that the destruction of Jerusalem is near?  Jesus said that “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place"  (Matthew 24.35). 

The word “generation” comes from the Greek word “genea.”  It is defined as “the whole multitude of men living at the same time; the space of between 30 to 33 years.  [Thayer’s Unabridged Lexicon].      

Translators used the word “generation” for the Greek word “genea” for a reason.  The word is used by us to mean a specific age range.  My father belongs to one generation.  I belong to another generation.  My son belongs to yet another successive generation.   

Jesus said that these events would occur during “this generation.”  That is very specific.  It would occur during the lifetime of those who were currently living in the first century.

What Does Matthew 24 Mean For Us?

A series of signs was given to the disciples in the first century so that they could anticipate the coming destruction of Jerusalem.  This gave them the opportunity to flee from the city and run into the surrounding hills to survive the invading army which slaughtered thousands upon thousands of remaining Jews in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. 

While the judgment on Jerusalem had been carried out centuries ago, we still look for the coming of Jesus as He predicted in Matthew 24.36-51.  When will the second coming of Christ occur? 

Matthew 24.36:  “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”

So what are we to do in the meantime?  “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming”  (Matthew 24.42).

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