One of the most
misunderstood passages iis Jersus Big Prophecy in Matthew 24, sometimes known as
the Olivet discourse (there are parallel accounts in Mark 13 and
Luke 21). This passage is often misunderstood, so it needs
careful consideration. Most people assume that this passage
gives a number of signs of the second coming of Jesus. This is not
true. Verses 1-35 are actually a warning of the destruction of
Jerusalem. Jesus was giving a strong warning to the Jews of
what would happen to them, if they rejected him. Only at the
end of the passage is the second coming described, and here no
signs are given.
Before looking at Matthew 24 in
detail, we must get an understanding of the context in which Jesus
was speaking. Matthew records a long confrontation between Jesus
and the leaders of the Jewish nation. It began in the time of John
the Baptist. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to him, he
told them to flee from the coming wrath and produce fruit worthy
of repentance. He warned them that the axe was already at the root
of the trees, and every tree that did not produce good fruit would
be cut down and thrown on the fire (Matt 3:7-12). This was the
first ominous warning to the Jewish nation. History shows that
they did not repent, and Matthew 24 describes how the axe would
Early in his ministry, Jesus gave
a similar warning. After seeing the faith of the Gentile Centurion
he said that many of the Gentiles would take a place in the
kingdom of heaven, but many of the Jews, to whom the kingdom
really belonged, would be thrown our into the place of darkness,
and weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:11,12).
Matthew 12 records how the Jews
accused Jesus of using the power of Satan to cast out demons. From
that time on Jesus spoke in parables, so that they would not be
able to understand what he was saying (Matt 13:13). The Jewish
nation seemed to be set on a collision course with the purposes of
God. This confrontation came to a head after the triumphal entry
of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matt 21). The Jewish leaders again
questioned Jesus’ authority. Jesus responded with the parables
of the Wicked Tenants and the Wedding Banquet, which warn that
those who refuse to acknowledge him will find themselves shut out
of the Kingdom.
This debate reached a climax in
Matthew 22. The Jewish leaders had already begun to plot ways in which to kill
Jesus (Matt 12:14). Now they tried to trap him with trick
questions about paying taxes to Caesar, the resurrection, and the
commandments. Jesus’ answers were so confounding, that no one
dared to ask any more questions.
Jesus responded by denouncing the
Pharisees and Teachers of the law publicly. Matthew 23 records
this terrible accusation: of pride, false teaching, lack of mercy
and faith, false judgment, dishonesty, greed and self indulgence.
They are denounced in a series of seven woes. Jesus then
Fill up, then, the measure of
the sin of your forefathers. Matt 23:32
This sentence gives a picture of
a cup which is nearly full, and is being filled up to overflowing
by the present generation of Jews. The nation has been rebelling
against God, and grieving him for many centuries. Now with the
rejection of the Son of God, they would fill up the cup of God’s
wrath, bringing judgment on their nation. The law had warned that
a nation that refused to be corrected would be punished for its
sins, seven times over (Lev 26:23,24). This is exactly what would
Jesus pronounced a terrible
sentence against the Jewish nation.
Upon you will come all the
righteous blood, that has been shed on earth, from the blood
of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berakiah,
whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you
the truth, all these things will come upon this generation.
Upon this generation will come
judgment, for all the prophets that have been killed. They will
pay the price with their blood. Jesus then wept for Jerusalem and
Look, your house is left to
you desolate. Matt 23:38
Jesus had longed to draw the people of
Jerusalem to himself. Now he knew that they would reject him. He
declared that God’s immediate purposes for the Jews were
finished. Their house would be left desolate. The temple, which
had been the dwelling place of God, had become a place of
desolation. It was now deserted by God, so its destruction was
inevitable. After pronouncing this terrible sentence, Jesus left
the temple, never to return.
The disciples expected the
Messiah to rule from the temple, and that it would be a centre of
worship for all people on the earth (Acts 1:6). They were shocked
by Jesus’ words. They could not accept the idea that God would
desert the temple, so they pointed out the wonder of its
buildings. But Jesus made his meaning clear when he said,
Do you see all these things…I
tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on
another; every one will be thrown down. Matt 24:2
The temple would be totally
destroyed. This is the context in which Jesus made his prophetic
statement on the Mount of Olives. The leaders of the nation had
repeatedly questioned and rejected his authority. Jesus declared
that the consequence of this rebellion, would be the destruction
of Jerusalem and the Temple. All these things would come upon the
The message of Matthew 24 was
prompted by the disciple’s questions as they sat with Jesus on
the Mount of Olives. They came to him with two questions:
When will these things be (the
destruction of Jerusalem)?
What will be the sign of your
coming (parousia), and the end of the age?
The disciples thought this was
just one question, because they had assumed that these events
would come at the same time. They believed that the
destruction of Jerusalem would come at the second coming of Jesus.
He had already taught them about the day of judgment which would
follow his coming at the end of the age. When they heard him speak
of judgment against Jerusalem, they assumed that it would come at
the end of the age. They could not imagine a world without the
Temple of Jerusalem, and assumed that the destruction of the
Temple, must mean the end of the world. They wanted to know both
the sign and the time of these events.
Whatever the confusion of the
disciples, Jesus makes it clear that the destruction of Jerusalem
is different from the second coming and the end of the age. He
treats their question in two parts. Firstly, he gives the sign and
the time of the destruction of Jerusalem (question 1). Then he
speaks of the sign and the time of the second coming (question 2).
Matthew 24 has two parts. Verses 4-35 deal with the destruction of
Jerusalem. Verses 36-51 deal with the second coming and the end of
The correctness of this approach
can be seen from verses 34,35.
I tell you the truth, this
generation will certainly not pass away until all these things
have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words
will never pass away.
Jesus says that "all these
things" will take place before the present generation passes
away. We should be very clear about what Jesus means by "all
these things". He is referring to the things about which he
has just spoken (vv. 4-33) Yet in verse 3 he had used the same
expression to describe the destruction of Jerusalem.
Matthew 23:35,36 is a parallel verse to Matt 24:34,35.
Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has
been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood
of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple
and the altar. I tell you the truth, all these things will
come upon this generation (Matt 23:36).
The phrase "all things" is used in this verse to
refers to the judgment which will make the house of the Jews
desolate. This judgement will come upon the generation in
which Jesus was living. Matthew 24:34,35 should be
interpreted in the same way.
This means that the events described in the first section of Matthew 24, refer to
the destruction of Jerusalem. And when in verse 34, he says that
"all these things" shall happen before the present
generation has passed away, he is also referring to the
destruction of Jerusalem
To avoid the clear meaning of
Jesus’ statement, some people place another meaning on the word
"generation". They translate the word as
"race" or "nation", making Jesus say that the
nation of Israel will not pass away before the fulfilment of these
things. Not only does this make Jesus’ statement rather vague,
but it also has no basis in scripture. There is no other place in
the gospel where the word has this meaning. Matthew always uses it
to refer to people living in the present. Jesus is referring to
the people who were present (see also Matt 16:28).
Jesus was warning that a terrible
calamity will come upon the generation which is standing before
him. The only catastrophe that took place within the appropriate
time span was the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This is
clearly the event to which Jesus was referring. Matthew 24:4-35 is
a description, and a warning of the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jesus gives emphasis to his prophecy by saying that heaven and
earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away.
In Matthew 24:36-51, Jesus goes on to answer the second
of the disciple’s two questions. He gives a description of the second
coming and the end of the age. He makes this clear by dropping the
expression "these things" and taking up the phrase
"that day". This phrase would have been familiar to the
disciples. Jesus had used it many times to describe the last
judgment (Matt 7:22; 11:22). They would understand that he is now
talking about the day of judgment at the end of the age.
Jesus states clearly that there
will be no signs before the second coming. In fact he does not
even know the day or the hour. He warns his followers to be
prepared, so that whenever it comes they will be ready.
This is not the usual
interpretation of Matthew 24. Most people see it as a description
of the events leading up to the second coming. In view of this,
some further arguments in favour of dividing it into two parts
will be given.
destruction of Jerusalem is an important event. We would
expect Jesus to make some comments on it. The only lengthy
description and warning is found in Matthew 24:4-35. If as
some people say, this refers to the second coming, then Jesus
has let a vital event in the history of Israel pass without
comment. This would be impossible. It would also mean that
Jesus had avoided the disciple’s question.
In the equivalent account in
Luke’s Gospel, only the first part of the disciple’s
question is recorded; the part dealing with the destruction of
When will these things
happen? And what will be the sign they are about to take
place. Luke 21:7
And Luke only records the first
part of Jesus answer (the equivalent of Matt 24:4-36). He only
records the part about the destruction of the temple. Luke
recognises that Jesus’ comments about the second coming are
part of a separate topic, and records them separately in Luke
17:20-37. Here we see the Holy Spirit inspiring a writer to
divide the prophetic discourse in half, a confirmation that it
covers different topics.
in the first part of Matthew 24 are limited to the locality of
Palestine. This is indicated by the reference to Sabbath
travel (v.20). This would only be a hardship in Palestine.
Likewise, the command not to go down off their houses was only
relevant in Palestine, where houses were all joined together,
so people could flee along the rooftops. In contrast, the
second part of the passage is universal in application.
first section gives an impression of very tumultuous times.
There are wars, famines, earthquakes and persecutions. The
second section describes a more normal situation; people are
eating and drinking, getting married, and working in normal
employment. The two sections obviously refer to different
gives a specific sign for the events described in the first
part of the chapter; the abomination of desolation (v.15). In
the second part Jesus absolutely refuses to give any signs. He
tells three parables which all teach that there will be no
warning signs prior to his coming. This would be inconsistent
if he were speaking about the same events.
the first section Jesus tells his followers to flee from
Jerusalem into the mountains. This would be pointless
behaviour at the second coming, as his followers will simply
be taken (vv.40,41). It would be good advice if
Jerusalem was about to be besieged by a foreign army, which is
what Jesus was really describing.
is a sense of urgency in the first part of the chapter. Yet
the parables in the second part suggest that there will be
considerable delay before Jesus returns.
In the first few verses of
Matthew 24 Jesus speaks about the Jerusalem Temple. It can
have no relevance to the second coming as it was destroyed in
A.D. 70, so these verses cannot apply to the second coming.
Some commentators get round this by saying that the temple
will be rebuilt. This is no help as Jesus is specifically
talking about the temple which the disciples were looking at.
If Jesus was speaking about a future temple he would have
informed his disciples of this. Actually, there is no place in
the Bible which says that the temple will be rebuilt. In this
age the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
We can conclude that the first
part of Jesus’ prophecy describes the destruction of Jerusalem
in A.D. 70. It is his answer to the first question that the
disciples asked. It has no connection with the second coming.