“The apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master [Jesus] had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.” — C. S. Lewis
“Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?” – Matthew 24:3
Much has been written about this passage of Scripture and their various forms of interpretation. I am by no means an expert on the subject. End time theology, as I’ve stated elsewhere, is the most sketchy area of study that there is. I believe myself to be an exegetical eschatologist, which means I interpret Scripture with Scripture to understand the symbolism and events in context of the audience to whom it was spoken. I am not saying I am right, but I’m sharing my understanding of these passages, to encourage thought and dialogue.
Matthew 23 opens with Jesus in the temple, talking firstly to his disciples about the importance of listening to Religious leaders, but not living as they live. He then begins to expose much of the hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership to his disciples (Matthew 23:1-12). Then Jesus turns his attention to the Scribes and Pharisees, and he rebukes them openly in the Temple, addressing their many centuries of rebellion (Verses 13-16, 23-29). Finally Jesus builds to his climatic conclusion, as a final Judgment is pronounced against Jerusalem and her inhabitants for all her wickedness.
Matthew 23:34 -39 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
Jesus then walks out, and goes over to the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Temple, and as his disciples come to him, he reiterates his message.
Matthew 24:2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
This is how we encounter the three questions asked by the disciples in Matthew 24:3, when will these things happen? What will be the sign of your coming? What about the end of the age (world)?
The first question which the disciples asked Jesus was, “When will these things happen?” What are the “these things” that the disciples are asking about? They are asking about the spectacle they had just witnessed in the temple, and Jesus’ judgment he had just spoken against Jerusalem and the Temple in Matthew 23 & Matthew 24:2.
Jesus then answers this first question, describing the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. Jesus talks about the rebellions that broke out throughout the Roman Empire of the Wars and Rumors of Wars. Jesus speaks about the Great famines that are to come, and we see the Prophet Agabus declare its coming in Acts 11:28. The earthquakes occurred, not only when Jesus died and when he rose from the dead, (Matthew 27:51-52), but there were massive earthquakes recorded by Josephus, leading up to the judgement, including one that destroyed Pompeii in 63AD.
Great persecutions came against the church (Acts 8:1), first by Saul and the Jewish leaders, then later Herod got involved (Acts 12:1). Historically, after a fire broke out in Rome, Emperor Nero blamed the fire on the Christians, and the Roman Empire started persecuting Christians. Nero would light Christians on fire to illuminate his Gardens at night among other unspeakable acts.
Many false teachers and prophets came forth after the death of Jesus Christ. The first group was the Judaizes who pushed for Gentiles to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses as addressed by the Apostle Paul in the entire Book of Galatians. Then later, as the Gospel reached Greek-minded people, arose a sect of Gnosticism. The influence of Gnosticism was so widespread and influential that entire books were written in an attempt to incorporate Gnostic theology into Christianity. We have those writings with us today, known as the Gnostic Gospels.
The writings of the Apostle John set out to address many of their heresies, such as there is no such thing as sin (1 John 1:8), as well as the Gnostics’ belief that Jesus did not came in the Flesh. John repeatedly emphasized the importance of recognizing that Jesus had a physical body; “Our hands have handled the Word of Life (1 John 1:1), 2 John 1:7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
In that period, the Gospel had been spread throughout the entire world, according to the numerous attestations from Paul; Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
Romans 10:18 But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.
Colossians 1:23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;
Finally Jesus explains what is to come, Matthew 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
In the parallel account given in the Books of Mark and Luke, gives a clearer picture of what the abomination of desolation is, as spoken by Daniel.
Mark 13:14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:
Luke 21:20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.
In all three accounts the people in Judea are commanded to flee to the Mountains, (Matthew 24:16, Mark 13:14, Luke 21:21). Jesus further stresses the significance to his Jewish audience, by telling them to pray that their flight not be in winter or on the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20). From these verses we see that these events are not world wide, but localized, and further they are to a specific audience, The Jews.
In both, Mark 13 and Luke 21 there is the parallel witness to this account, but there is however one key difference. In Matthew 24, the disciples asked three questions, while neither Mark 13:1-4 or Luke 21:5-7 address the second or third questions. They say nothing of the Lord’s Coming or the End of the Age. Since Mark and Luke record only the question about the destruction of the Temple, we can see that the answer that Jesus gave in Matthew 24:4-28, is almost identical to the answer given in the parallel accounts. It is reasonable to see that when Jesus was talking about people claiming to be Christ, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, etc, he was addressing those events in connection to the First question as per the accounts in Mark and Luke.
If we compare Scripture with Scripture, we can see that Jesus is answering the first question asked by the Disciples, “When Shall the judgment he spoke against Jerusalem and the temple, occur?” From Matthew 24:4-28, he proceeds to answer this question, with a preamble leading up to the Roman siege against Jerusalem resulting in the destruction of the city and the temple in 70AD. It is believed that Jesus spoke those words circa 30AD, so within one generation, 40 years, those words were fulfilled exactly was Jesus said they would be. It is something to think about…
Gary DeMar talking about the Olvet Discourse in Matthew 24.