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: The 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 Jerusalem.
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 age.
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 uses the same expression to describe the destruction of Jerusalem. And in Matthew 23:35,36 the same phrase is used to describe the judgment which will make the house of the Jews desolate. 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 (Matt 23:36).
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.
When will these things happen? And what will be the sign they are about to take place. Luke 21:7And 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.
The 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 Jerusalem.
The events 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.
The 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 times.
Jesus 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 illogical, if he were speaking about the same events.
In 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.
There is a sense of immediacy 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.