AN HONEST LOOK AT MATTHEW 24

 

By Gary Ray Branscome

 

 

 

Self-appointed “experts” on Bible prophesy love to quote Matthew 24. They love to claim that they have some insight that no one else has and eagerly twist its words to convince people that it supports what they are teaching. At the same time, the wisdom of those who do not profess to be wise or claim to know far more than they can possibly know is ignored. People who want answers are drawn to those who claim to have the answers, even if those claims amount to nothing more than hot air. For that reason I want you to join me in taking an honest look at what the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew actually says.

 

Because the Bible says, “We are not writing any other things to you than what you read,” (2 Corinthians 1:13) a true disciple of Christ will not make up a bunch of explanations, but will look at what the Bible explicitly says, beginning with those truths that are so clearly stated that they need no explanation (John 8:31). That being the case let us begin with the first three verses of Matthew 24.

 

1   And Jesus went out, and left the temple: and his disciples came up to him pointing out the temple buildings to him.

2  And Jesus said to them, Do you see all these things? I tell you truly, Not one stone here will be left upon another, that will not be thrown down.

3 And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, Tell us, when will these things take place? and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?

 

In the third verse, Jesus is asked three questions. However, He does not clearly separate the answers to those questions. Therefore, one of the problems we have is in knowing which of His statements are dealing with the destruction of the temple, and which are not.

Now, many of those who profess to be wise just assume that everything He says about the destruction of the temple has to do with the time of the end. They then come up with elaborate scenarios and private interpretations, in order to reconcile that assumption with what the Bible says elsewhere. However, all such speculation is the word of man, not the Word of God. And, all who regard it as the Word of God are adding to His Word (Proverbs 30:6).

 

4   And answering Jesus said to them, be careful that no one deceives you.

5  For many will come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and will deceive many.

6  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you are not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

7  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there will be famines, and epidemics, and earthquakes, in various places.

8  All these are the beginning of sorrows.

9  Then they will hand you over to persecution, and kill you: and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

10  And then many will be turn away from the faith, and will betray each other, and will hate each other.

11  And many false prophets will rise up, and deceive many.

12  And because iniquity will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

13  But he who endures to the end, will be saved.

14  And the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.

 

            The word “you” (in the preceding verses) is addressed specifically to the apostles. Therefore, Jesus is telling them that these are things that would take place during their lifetime. In saying this, I am not denying that similar things have taken place throughout history. In fact, the words “All these are the beginning of sorrows” imply that. However, Jesus clearly does not want us to regard these events as signs of the end, or to assume that the world is ending every time something like this takes place. On the contrary, He makes it perfectly clear that the gospel will be preached in “all the world” before the end comes. [See Isaiah 2:2.]

 

15  Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (let he who reads understand:)

16  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains:

17  Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house:

18  Nor let him who is in the field go back to get his cloak.

19  But woe to those who are with child, and to those who nurse babies in those days!

20  Pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on the sabbath day:

21  For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world to this time, and never will be again.      

22  And if those days had not been cut short, no flesh would saved: but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

23  Then if any man says to you, Look, Christ is here, or he is there; do not believe it.

24  For false Christs, and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders; so as to deceive, if possible, the very elect.

25  Behold, I am warning you beforehand.

26  Therefore if they say to you, Look, he is in the desert; do not go out: look, he is in the inner chamber; do not believe it.

27  For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even to the west; so will the coming of the Son of man be.

28  Wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will be gathered together.

 

All of these verses can be understood as a description of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The word “you” clearly indicates that these are things that the apostles would experience in their own lifetime. Concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Dr. R.C.H. Lenski says:

“The word of Jesus about the ‘great tribulation,’… that will then ensue, the like of which has not been witnessed since the world’s beginning and will never again occur, is literally true — read the detailed account of Josephus in his Wars. No nation had ever piled up a guilt such as that of the Jews who were chosen of God, infinitely blessed, and yet crucified God’s Son and trampled upon all his further grace. No judgement had ever and can ever be so severe. In the history of the world no judgement can be compared with this that wiped out the Jews as a nation. (Commentary on Matthew, page 940.)

 

Now, verse twenty-one tells us that there will never again be such tribulation. However, the fact that Jesus did not return immediately after the events described by Josephus (see verse 29), and plainly said (in verse eight) that the things the apostles would witness were only the “beginning of sorrows,” suggests that such tribulation may be taking place Just prior to Christ’s return. If that is the case, then the tribulation that preceded the destruction of the Temple in 70AD is a type of what will take place just prior to Christ’s return. [Compare Revelation 20:9, with Luke 19:43 and 21:20.]

           

29  Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken:

30  And 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 in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

31  And he will send his angels with the sound of a great trumpet, and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. [See Matthew 13:30, 1 Corinthians 15:52, and Revelation 11:15.]

 

Concerning these verses, Dr. Lenski says, “When the last day arrives, when the tribulation of all the preceding days is concluded, ‘immediately’ all that is now stated shall occur. No intervals shall lengthen this time. All shall happen at once.” (Commentary on Matthew, page 947.)

 

32   Now learn a lesson from the fig tree; When its branch is still tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near:

33  So likewise, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

34  I tell you truly, This generation will not pass away, until all these things have been fulfilled.

 

            Christ’s prophesy ends with verse 31. Verse 32 is the start of a new paragraph, in which He admonishes His disciples to be prepared, while providing some illustrations. However, in reading verse 34 it is important to understand that Jesus is not talking about His own generation. Among the Jews the word “generation” was sometimes used in reference to a type or “breed” of people. We have an example of that in Psalm 12:7 “You will preserve them from this generation forever.” (See Lenski’s commentary, volume one, page 952.) Therefore, the thought is that the kind of people who persecute Christ and His followers will not cease to exist until all these things have been fulfilled.

 

35  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36  But no one knows the day and hour, no, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

37  For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of man.

38  For just as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark,

39  And did not know until the flood came, and took them all away; so also will the coming of the Son of man be.

40  Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken, and the other left.

41  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and the other left.

42  Watch therefore: because you do not know when your Lord will come.

43  But realize this, if the owner of a house knew when a thief would come, he would watch, and would not allow his house to be broken into.

44  Therefore you should be ready also: for the Son of man will come at a time when you do not expect him.

45  Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the right time?

46  Blessed is the servant, whom his lord finds doing just that when he comes.

47  I tell you truly, That he will make him ruler over all his goods.

48  But if that servant is wicked and says to himself, My lord delays his coming;

49  And begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;

50  The lord of that servant will come in a day when he is not looking for him, and at a time he is not aware of,

51    And will cut him to pieces, and assign him a place with the hypocrites: where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

As I mentioned earlier, Christ’s prophecy ended with verse 31. There we are told that when Christ returns in glory the stars will fall from heaven (verse 29-30), the trumpet will sound, and the angels will gather the elect from one end of heaven to the other (verse 31). In the verses that follow that description of the end (32-51) Christ admonishes His disciples to be ready. In those verses He compares His return to the sudden destruction that came upon the entire world at the time of Noah (verse 39). In the book of Luke, He compares it to the destruction that came upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29). Therefore, when He speaks of some being left, He is not saying that life will continue as before. On the contrary! He is saying that those who are left will be destroyed. Just as God destroyed those who were left behind after Noah entered the ark, and just as God destroyed those who were left behind after lot left Sodom, God will destroy all who are left behind after the rapture. The rapture will take place on the “last day,” and it is called the “last Day” because the entire world will be destroyed as soon as we are raptured out of it (John 6:40,44, 2 Peter 3:10). Those who imagine that life on this world will just continue after the rapture are reading their own ideas into the text while ignoring both the context and what the Bible says elsewhere (John 11:24 and 12:48).

The final judgement will take place immediately after the world is destroyed! [Compare John 12:48, Revelation 20:9&11, Matthew 24:29-31 and Matthew 25:31-32, Luke 17:29-30.]