Saturday, 8 February 2014

Matthew 24: the End of the World or Jerusalem's Fall?

     While Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem, the Lord predicted the demolition of the Jewish temple (Matt. 24:1-2). Apparently the disciples assumed the destruction would take place when the Lord returned for judgment, because they asked the following two questions: "tell us, when will these things be?" (i.e. the desolation of the temple); "and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?" (v. 3).1
     Jesus answers their first question, concerning the temple’s destruction, in verses 4-34. Note: "assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled" (v. 34). [These things were in fact fulfilled about forty years later.] Jesus then answers their second question, about the end of the age, in verses 35-51. Notice carefully the words "these things" and "those days" (vv. 3, 6, 8, 19, 22, 29, 33, 34) in contrast to "that day" (v. 36).
     Before the complexities of this passage are considered, let’s note some interesting historical facts. 1. False christs and false prophets (vv. 4-5, 23-26): Josephus recorded over seventy who claimed to be the messiah prior to the AD 70 devastation of Jerusalem (see Ant. 20.5.1; 20.8.10; Wars 2.13.4-6; cf. Acts 5:36-37). 2. Wars, famines, earthquakes, etc. (vv. 6-8): From AD 68-69, four Roman emperors were killed; there were civil wars in Rome which spread throughout the empire; Acts 11:28 records a worldwide famine; pestilence and earthquakes are certainly not phenomena peculiar to modern times (cf. Matt. 27:54; 28:2; Acts 16:26). 3. Persecution (v. 9): This was obviously taking place prior to Jerusalem’s siege (Acts 7:59; 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:19-21; et al.). 4. Betrayal and lawlessness (vv. 10-12): When the Roman armies besieged Jerusalem, the Jews inside the walls turned against each other (cf. Josephus, Wars 2.13). 5. He who endures to the end shall be saved (v. 13): Over 1 million Jews were killed in Jerusalem’s fall, but there is no record of a single Christian losing his life during this tragedy; when the Christians saw the signs of which Jesus spoke, they fled to Pella for safety.
     6. The gospel will be preached in all the world before the end (v. 14): Colossians 1:5-6, 23 (written prior to AD 70) mentions the gospel having been preached in all the world. 7. The "abomination of desolation" (v. 15): Luke says this was preceded by Jerusalem being surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20). 8. Judeans escaping to the mountains, etc. (vv. 16-20): These verses simply cannot refer to the end of the world; the emphasis is on the urgency and the difficulty of fleeing to safety from the region where Jerusalem was located. 9. Great tribulation, etc. (vv. 21-22): Josephus vividly described the horrific events of Jerusalem’s desolation, including such abominations as starving mothers eating their own children. However, the siege of the Romans did not last long enough to spread to the places where Christians had fled. 10. The coming of the Son of Man (v. 27): Considering the context, this symbolically describes the Lord coming in judgment against Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 13:6; 19:1).2 11. Eagles (or vultures) gathering around a carcass (v. 28): This is another symbolic description of national Judaism’s death as the Roman armies gather together against the principal city. 12. The parable of the fig tree (vv. 32-33): Just like they saw the signs of a fig tree and knew that summer was near, they could also know that the destruction of Jerusalem was near by the signs of which Jesus spoke. 13. All these things to be fulfilled during the generation of these disciples (v. 34): There can be no doubt that the events Jesus describes in the previous verses have reference to something that was going to take place in the first century AD. 14. There will be no signs pointing to the end of the world; it will be sudden and unexpected (vv. 35-51).
     The primary difficulty involves interpreting verses 29-31. If these words are taken literally, Jesus seems to be picturing the end of the world. But note the transition into symbolic imagery in vv. 27-28. When the immediate context is considered, as well as the common figurative language used in the Bible to depict God’s judgment on a nation (see The Day of the Lord), there is no need to force a literal interpretation on this section. Remember that Jesus’ original audience was Jewish and therefore familiar with Jewish apocalyptic literature where these symbols are common. From a first-century Jewish perspective, what would these symbols have conveyed?
     Constellations falling from heaven (v. 29) symbolize the fall of prominent powers (cf. Isa. 13:1-11; 14:4-12; 34:1-5; Luke 10:18). The phrase "Son of Man coming" (vv. 27, 30) does not always portray his literal second coming but sometimes refers to the Lord coming representatively (cf. Isa. 13:5; 19:1). In Matt. 10:23 the Son of Man was to "come" before his contemporary disciples had personally gone through the cities of Israel. Matt. 16:28 describes the Son of Man "coming in his kingdom" before some of his contemporary disciples had died (cf. Mark 9:1; Col. 1:13). Similarly, Matt. 24:27-30 figuratively describes his coming judgment on Jerusalem. Because of the Lord’s accurate predictions of this devastating event, everyone would know that this was his judgment against the unbelieving Jews.
     Jesus "coming on the clouds" is also symbolic in this context (cf. Isa. 19:1; Jer. 4:13; Psa. 68:4,34 [KJV]; 104:3; Matt. 26:64), describing his swift judgment. Verse 31 probably illustrates God’s providential care, protecting his righteous ones during Jerusalem’s siege. Angels are agents of God’s providence (Psa. 91:11; Heb. 1:13-14). Trumpets are symbols of sounding out warning (Num. 10:1-10; Jer. 4:5; 6:17; Zeph. 1:16; 1 Cor. 14:8). The word "heaven" is sometimes used to symbolize that which is widespread throughout the lands (cf. Deut. 30:4; Neh. 1:9; Isa.13:5).
     Despite the exegetical challenges of this passage, here are some important lessons to be learned: (a) the divine foreknowledge of Jesus; (b) the obvious historical fulfillment of the Lord’s detailed predictions, proving the reality of predictive prophecy and divine inspiration of scripture; (c) God’s providential care for his people (cf. Rom. 8:28); (d) with the Lord’s help, the gospel can be preached in all the world (Matt. 28:18-20); and (e) he who endures to the end shall be saved (cf. Heb. 3:14; 6:11-12; 10:35-36; Rev. 2:10).
     Admittedly portions of Matthew 24 are hard to understand. The difficulty intensifies when one is unfamiliar with the overall context of scripture and is laded with preconceived misunderstandings. But the important thing, whether or not one ever grasps the full meaning of this and related passages, is the paramount question: Are you ready to meet the Lord in the final judgment, whenever that may be?
Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the NKJV. See also the parallel accounts: Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 21:5-38. It was Peter, James, John and Andrew who asked the Lord these questions in private (Mark 13:3).
     2 See The Day of the Lord

Related Posts: Biblical Interpretation: Asking the Right QuestionsPreterism (Part 4)

Related Articles: Donald Taylor's Apocalyptic Literature

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  1. Please consider that the end of the world has commenced.

    As is seen in Revelation 6:1-2, Jesus Christ, on October 23, 2013, partially opened, on then again on May 12, 2014, fully opened, the First Seal of the Scroll of End Time Events, thereby releasing the Rider on the White Horse, who has the Bow of Economic Sovereignty, that is the Bow Without Any Arrows, to effect coup d etats world wide, to transfer sovereignty from democratic nation states to fascist regional leaders and bodies, thus destroying the monetary authority of the world central banks, and establishing the economic authority of regional governance in the world’s ten regions, and totalitarian collectivism in mankind’s seven institutions, as is seen in Revelation 13:1-4.

    The death of currencies, and also the failure of credit, that is failure of trust in the monetary policies of the world central banks to continue to provide investment gains and global economic growth on May 13, 2014, comes from the Rider on the White Horse seen in Revelation 6:2, being given a crown, that is the authority to rule over the nations, with the Bow of Economic Sovereignty, calling Interest Rates higher from 2.49%, and is exemplified in the trade lower in Ireland, EIRL, Italy, EWI, Greece, GREK, and the European Financials, EUFN, coming from the strong trade lower in the Euro, FXE, and has commenced destructionism, replacing the former inflationism, as the dynamic of economic activity.

    Through the First Horseman’s endeavors, a One Euro Government, that is a fiscal, banking, and totally fascist economic union, will emerge in the Eurozone; it will be the model for policies of regional governance, and schemes of totalitarian collectivism in all of the world’s ten regions, this being foretold in Revelation 13:1-4, as well as Daniel 2:20-45.

    Largely through the work on the soon to be revealed Sovereign, seen in Revelation 13:5-10, and his economic high priest, the Seignior, seen in Revelation 13:11-18, the EU’s power will become so great, that it will be the preeminent world power.

    And the end of the world is confirmed with The Red Eclipse, that is the recent blood moons

    1. Throughout history, in every generation, people have attempted to make direct application of the ancient symbols in the book of Revelation to current and near future events of their own time. Consequently the relevance of Revelation's intended message to John's original audience is completely ignored. See "Biblical Interpretation: Asking the Right Questions" . "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is" (Mark 13:33).

    2. "Biblical Interpretation: Asking the Right Questions" is linked above.