We are continuing our study of Matthew 24 that we began this morning. But in this lesson we are going to dig deeper into these pictures that Jesus is giving about the coming destruction against Jerusalem and the temple. This is the context of the discussion for Jesus with his disciples. Jesus has condemned the city and proclaimed that the temple is empty. God is not with them (cf. Matthew 23:38). Jesus tells his disciples that not one stone of the temple complex will be left on another (Matthew 24:2). So the disciples have asked two questions as recorded in verse 3. When will this happen and what will be sign of your coming and of the end of the age? To help us understand Jesus’ teaching here in Matthew 24 is very useful for us to compare this with the account recorded in Luke 21 of the same teaching. The reason why is that the Gospel of Luke was written to Gentiles and Luke then explains some of Matthew’s images that are harder for us to understand. When you look at Luke’s account, he records two questions. “When will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7). We noticed in the last lesson that scholars point out that Matthew’s account records two questions and that the sign of your coming and of the end of the age are connected as one question. Luke confirms that this is the case. The disciples are not asking about the end of the world. The disciples are asking about when the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple will occur and what will be the signs leading up to that event. To destroy the temple would to be bring the Jewish age to an end.
The Signs: Instability (24:4-14)
Jesus begins by describing the signs leading up to the temple’s destruction. Jesus says that in the time leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction, there will be many false people claiming to be the Messiah and leading people astray (24:4-5). You can go read in history about many false messiahs. The book of Acts even records three times that it happened (cf. Acts 5:36; 5:37; 21:28). There were also plenty of earthquakes in the first century. There were famines, even one recorded in Acts. There was political turmoil leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. For the sake of time, I won’t go through all of those events. You can do some research online if you are interested and find these kinds of things occurring in the first century. Disciples would be persecuted. They will be hated because of their faith in Jesus. Many will turn away from the faith as wickedness grows and love for God and others grows cold. The apostle Paul proclaimed that the gospel had been spread through the whole world in Colossians 1:5-6 and in Colossians 1:23, just as Jesus said would happen in the first century.
The Signs: The Abomination of Desolation (24:15-28)
But then Jesus says that the people who are in Judea are to run to the mountains when they see the abomination of desolation in the holy place that was spoken about by Daniel. Matthew clues us in that the reader needs to have some understanding about Daniel’s prophecy to grasp this image. So we have two paths we can take. We can look at Daniel’s prophecy and we can look at Luke’s account of this sermon. Rather than saying to run when you see the abomination of desolation, Luke records, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near” (Luke 21:20). This is the picture in Daniel’s prophecy. The abomination of desolation is described in Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11. In each of those texts you will read about a foreign nation coming into Jerusalem and desecrating the temple. In Daniel 9:26 we read a very clear picture of what will happen. “And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.” This is exactly what Jesus has been talking about in Matthew 21-23. This is exactly what the disciples are asking Jesus about. When will one stone of the temple complex not be left on another? The answer as one of the signs is when you see the armies of a foreign nation coming to destroy.
Jesus further says that when you see the armies coming, do not go back in your house and try to gather your belongings. Rather, you just need to run to the mountains because it is going to be a terrible time that Jesus calls a great tribulation. Jesus prays that this invasion of the city will not happen on a Sabbath because the Jews could only travel a short distance, called a sabbath’s day journey. He prays it will not be in winter when they would be exposed to the elements as they flee their homes. He proclaims a woe for those pregnant and nursing because when the Romans’ siege of Jerusalem occurred, the food ran out and historians record that the people began to eat their children since their children were going to die anyway. Thus, in verse 22, Jesus says that no one would have made it unless the Lord cut these days of judgment short. Many were going to be killed and many were going to be taken captive (cf. Luke 21:24). Therefore, do not believe any stories that the Christ is in the wilderness or some hidden place (24:23-28). This time of judgment is the coming of the Lord (the Son of Man) in judgment for the wicked city (24:27).
The Meaning of the Signs (24:29-35)
Now some will read verses 29-31 and believe that this surely must be referring to the end of the world. Listen to what it says. The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and stars will fall from heaven. The Son of Man will come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. He will send out his angels and gather his elect. However, all of these pictures are common symbols used by the Old Testament prophets to describe God’s judgment against peoples and nations (cf. Psalm 18:7-15; Jeremiah 4:23-28; Ezekiel 32:7; Isaiah 24:21-23; Joel 2:10; Joel 2:30-32; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Zephaniah 1:15). One of the easiest places to see this is in Isaiah 13. Isaiah 13:9-13 sounds like the end of the world and uses the same language of Matthew 24. Yet Isaiah 13:1 says that this is a prophecy against Babylon (cf. Isaiah 13:17-19). What are you supposed to know when you read imagery like this? You are supposed to understand that God is proclaiming the final end of the nation when this imagery is used. So the meaning of the signs and what will happen immediately after this tribulation is that the end of Jerusalem and its temple will have come. The nation is being destroyed. It is the end of the Jewish age (cf. 24:3).
The point is that when these kinds of judgments occur on the earth you are supposed to look up and see Jesus. This is Jesus coming in the clouds with power and glory, subjugating another nation under his feet (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26). Jesus even told Caiaphas that he would see Jesus coming in the clouds with power (cf. Matthew 26:64). How would Caiaphas see Jesus coming in the clouds? You are supposed to see Jesus when you see judgments. These judgment events are to gather God’s people to him. You are to see Jesus destroying another nation, be encouraged in faith, and draw closer to him. We sometimes forget that the message of the gospel is that your God reigns (cf. Isaiah 52:7)! So just as much as the sun being darkened is an image for judgment, the angels being set to gather his people is an image of vindication. The fall of another evil nation is the trumpet call for the righteous to not be ashamed and see their vindication. Listen to how Luke records what this picture means.
But when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift your heads, because your redemption is near.” (Luke 21:28 CSB)
So what were the people supposed to know? First, just as a fig tree producing leaves means that summer is coming, so when you see the armies coming means Jerusalem will be destroyed (24:32-33). Second, all of these things were going to happen in their lifetimes (24:34). We must not miss this statement by Jesus. This is not a discussion about the end of the world. The disciples asked questions about the destruction of the temple and its signs. Jesus is answering with pictures of the temple destruction and its signs. It will happen in their lifetimes. Third, there is no changing this outcome (24:35). Jesus’ words will not expire or be found false. His words are more sure than the continuation of heaven and earth. His words are more lasting than creation itself. You can bank on these things happening.
When Will The Temple Be Destroyed? (24:36-43)
The other question the disciples wanted answered was exactly when would these events take place. Jesus says that only the Father knows the day and the hour. As I stated in the prior lesson, the reason Jesus would not know when this judgment would come is not because he is not divine. Rather, Jesus would not know the day and time because the day and time had not yet been determined. God allows time for repentance. But there comes a point in time where there is only a fearful expectation of God’s judgment. So the time was certainly coming. But the precise day and hour was not known yet except to the Father. Only the Father knows when this judgment will come and he had not yet determined its timing (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16).
Jesus then reminds his disciples about the suddenness of God’s judgment. Everything can look like it will continue as it always has. But that is what the people thought in the days of Noah and they were wrong. They were carrying on as if no judgment would come and it did. The same will be true for this judgment against Jerusalem and the temple. When the Son of Man comes in judgment, people never believe it would really happen. The suddenness of the judgment is illustrated in verses 40-41. People will be in the field and some will be taken and some will be left. Women will be grinding grain with a mill and one will be taken and one will be left. This is not a teaching about some rapture at the end of the world. Again, our context is the destruction of Jerusalem by a coming army. Jesus just said that all of these things will take place in the lifetimes of the generation of people hearing these words. So it would happen in the first century. When the Roman armies came against Jerusalem, some would be captured and some would not be captured. The illustration is the suddenness. They are just going to come and catch the city by surprise unless they are watching and ready to run. This is the point in verse 44.
Why Wickedness Increases (24:44-51)
I want to end our lesson focusing on the problem of waiting for God’s judgment. Look at verse 48. The problem is that people think that the master is delayed. That is, people will think that the judgment is not going to happen because there is always a delay. It is interesting to think about God’s proclamations of judgment are never immediate. There is always delay. The problem with delay is what we read in verses 48-49. Notice that Jesus describes the wicked servant beat his fellow servants and participating in drunkenness. Why would the servant do this? He knows that this is not how a servant should live. Why would the servant now plunge himself into sin and self-indulgence? The servant thinks the master is delayed (24:48). Jesus said the same thing back in verse 12. Jesus said the love for many will grow cold because lawlessness will increase. Many people will stop loving as they should because wickedness will increase. We think we can act wickedly because the judgment seems delayed. Every day that goes by only appears to be confirmation that there is no consequence for sinning. So sinning and wickedness increases. This is a repeated problem in the scriptures. Listen to how the apostle Peter said this.
…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4 ESV)
Scoffers will scoff because they are following their own desires. They are going to question the promise because of the delay. Because they question the promise because of the delay, they will follow their sinful desires. We simply think that judgment will not happen to us. We think that there is no way that judgment will happen in our lifetimes. We think we control when we will stand before God in judgment, made accountable for our actions that we have performed while we lived on this earth. Our warning is to not let up in our pursuit of holiness and seeking God simply because God is choosing to delay his return and judgment.
Friends, God is not asleep and Jesus is on the throne. When the world appears to be shaken, we are to look up and see Jesus ruling over it all. We are not to be shaken when the world is shaken. We are not to run to our sinful desires when life seems to be falling apart. We are to look up and see Jesus seated on his throne. See him coming in the clouds, bringing his judgments on the earth and accomplishing his will and purposes. Waiting does not mean that judgment is not coming. You might have heard your mother tell you, “Just wait till your father gets home.” This did not mean you were off the hook. This meant your doom was certain. So how should we live our lives in holiness and godliness, knowing that the promise of his coming is certain?