Matthew 24 (NRSV)
The Destruction of the Temple Foretold
Warning: This chapter is subject to many different interpretations. It is not an easy chapter to understand. If the end times is an interesting topic for you, I invite you to do further research yourself.
As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.
After the destruction of Solomon’s temple, this (second) 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).
After Herod’s work, the temple was huge: nearly 500 yards long and 400 yards wide. Herod’s plan for rebuilding started in 19 BC and was completed in AD 63, taking more than 80 years. The temple was finished only seven years before it was destroyed.
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.
2Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Signs of the End of the Age
3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
Romans 8:22-24 (ESV)
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.
9“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
from Whispers of His Power,
by Amy Carmichael:
Matt. 24:13: He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (KJV)
He that shall endure unto the end — these words come three times in the Gospels. In Hebrews 3: 6 and 14 we have firm unto the end, steadfast unto the end, and twice the thought of hope is linked up with the word. If we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end, and The full assurance of hope unto the end (Heb. 6:11).
How much easier it would be if we knew when hearts that are holding out against the Lord would yield, or when some private trial of our own would pass. It was like that in Bible days; there was the same temptation to tire in hope and to fail in the joy of hope, to weaken and get slack. So we have those glorious, strong words in the Gospels and in Hebrews, and there is another that is sheer joy — 1 Corinthians 1:8: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also keep you steadfast to the very end.
So we can turn Jude 24-25 into praise and thanksgiving. “Now unto Him that is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy . . . be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.”
Reflection question: What specific thing could you begin to do that would help you to “endure to the end”? Or what could you share with other people to help them continue to be faithful?
14And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
The Desolating Sacrilege
15“So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand),
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.
16then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ —do not believe it. 24For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25Take note, I have told you beforehand.
26″So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
The Coming of the Son of Man
29“Immediately after the suffering 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 heaven will be shaken. 30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven,
It is difficult to say exactly what this sign is. Perhaps it will precede His return as described in Revelation 19:11.
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. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
32“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
How will heaven and earth pass away? Will God will destroy this earth and sky and replace it with one that has never been stained with sin? One commentator suggests that the Lord is going to ‘burn’ up the earth (2 Peter 3 : 7, 2 Peter 3 : 10, 2 Peter 3 : 12 – 13); over 70% of the earth is water and the Lord is eliminating all oceans/seas and increasing the land mass tremendously. Well, that’s one opinion! Robert Frost considers some options in one of my favorite poems, “Fire and Ice”:Some say the world will end in fire,Some say in ice.From what I’ve tasted of desireI hold with those who favor fire.But if it had to perish twice,I think I know enough of hateTo say that for destruction iceIs also greatAnd would suffice.
The Necessity for Watchfulness
36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
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.
37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
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.”
42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
We see a dilemma. How can Jesus come to a “business-as-usual” world, and a world experiencing the worst calamities ever seen on earth? As I said earlier, this is not an easy chapter to understand.
HERE is “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” written by Larry Norman (1947-2008), who has often been called the “father of Christian rock music.”
The Faithful or the Unfaithful Slave
45“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.
Each one of us should be greatly impressed by the urgency of Jesus’ appeal. What work am I doing for the Master today?
47Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.