is almost impossible to give a coherent picture of the many different ways this
section of prophecy is interpreted. I leave that as an exercise to the
student. We can, however, find the plain sense of the passage in many ways,
and will endeavor to do just that.
Mat 24:1-44 NIV
left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call
his attention to its buildings. (2) "Do
you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one
stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (3) As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the
disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when
will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of
the age?" (4) Jesus answered:
"Watch out that no one deceives you. (5)
For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. (6) You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but
see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is
still to come. (7) Nation will rise against
nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in
various places. (8) All these are the
beginning of birth pains. (9) "Then you
will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by
all nations because of me. (10) At that time
many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, (11) and many false prophets will appear and deceive
many people. (12) Because of the increase of
wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, (13)
but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (14)
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a
testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (15)
"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes
desolation,' spoken of through
the prophet Daniel--let the reader understand-- (16)
then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (17) Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything
out of the house. (18) Let no one in the
field go back to get his cloak. (19) How
dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! (20) Pray that your flight will not take place in
winter or on the Sabbath. (21) For then there
will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until
now--and never to be equaled again. (22) If
those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of
the elect those days will be shortened. (23)
At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he
is!' do not believe it. (24) For false
Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to
deceive even the elect--if that were possible. (25)
See, I have told you ahead of time. (26)
"So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out;
or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. (27) For as lightning that comes from the east is
visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (28) Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures
will gather. (29) "Immediately after the
distress of those days
" 'the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'
(30) "At that time the sign of the Son of
Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They
will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great
glory. (31) And he will send his angels with
a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from
one end of the heavens to the other. (32)
"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender
and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. (33) Even so, when you see all these things, you know that itis near, right at the door. (34) I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all
these things have happened. (35) Heaven and
earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
(36) "No one knows about that day or hour, not
even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
but only the Father. (37) As it was in the
days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (38) For in the days before the flood, people were
eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah
entered the ark; (39) and they knew nothing
about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is
how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (40)
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. (41) Two women will be grinding with a hand mill;
one will be taken and the other left. (42)
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will
come. (43) But understand this: If the owner
of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would
have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (44) So you also must be ready, because the Son of
Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
was the universal opinion of the church for its first 1500 years that this
section concerns itself first with the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70. The idea
that there could be a second such event was beyond the vision of the early
church fathers. We shall examine it, therefore, from their point of view.
This does not mean that the other point of view is wrong; prophecy is difficult
to deal with, especially where it concerns the future. And it’s none too easy
concerning the past, either.
at verse three. Tell me: are the disciples asking one question, two questions
or three questions? It’s clear that the answer to that question determines a
great deal about how you interpret this passage.
modern (pre-millennialist) view says it’s all one question – and therefore
the entire passage concerns the future only.
parallel passages in Mark and Luke quote this as two questions, however.
This would imply a short term and long term view.
(and others) saw this as three questions.
follow Mark and Luke; we shall treat this as having a long and short term
the short view the early sections are fulfilled by the sack of Jerusalem and
destruction of the Temple in AD 70. This is confirmed by the parallel passage
in Luke, to wit:
Luk 21:24 NIV
They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.
Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles
certain prophetic schemes the “times of the Gentiles” are very specifically
computed (usually to end in 1947, when the Jews returned to the land). This
sack of Jerusalem included a form of the “abomination of desolation” as the
Romans set up their worship in the Temple before destroying it. It was a time
of great distress (tribulation) as well. Church history records that the
apostles were warned ahead of time so that they could leave early.
early Christians were given some signs to look for:
were warned of false prophets and false Christs.
were also told of earthquakes, etc. and war – but that these were simply
the beginnings of things. There is no real significance to this or that
there are other signs that apply to the main event.
of the Age
the “birth pangs” come the signs of our Lord’s return. See if any look
– and severe at that. Some hold this to be the Diocletian persecution (AD
303-313); others think it yet to come.
away from the faith – including betrayal of other Christians and hatred
for them. (Hmm – getting warmer, huh?)
prophets. There’s been at least one – Mohammed.
increase in wickedness - which causes many Christians’ love to grow
cold. (Does that ever sound familiar!)
that the Gospel would be preached to all nations. (That could be
interpreted as just the Roman Empire as well as the entire planet.)
we have the warm up exercises completed; we can look at the signs specific to
are several theories of prophecy that hold that two things will happen due to
the prophecies in this paragraph:
is the Great Tribulation – usually cited as a three and a half year
period, the second half of the 7 years of Daniel’s last week.
other is that the Temple will be rebuilt – according to the instructions
given in the book of Ezekiel.
two may be right; other interpretations hold this not to be the case.
there are two signs we can look for: false prophets and false miracles. There
does not seem to be a shortage of people calling themselves prophets; and one
does have one’s suspicions about all those miraculous cures on television. But
when will Christ really come?
will be told that Christ has returned here or there – but just the fact that we
have to be told means that it’s false. He tells us here:
return will be highly visible – obvious to all.
location of the return is generally held to be the Mount of Olives. Other
passages indicate that his return will happen when the valley between
Jerusalem and that place will be filled with bodies.
we should expect “signs in the sky.” For most of Christian history this
has been taken figuratively (meaning huge political changes – remember
Joseph’s dream of the stars?), but it now is more commonly taken to mean
do we get so many interpretations? One reason is found in verse 34. The word
“generation” can be interpreted in several ways, such as these:
could mean the generation standing in front of Christ when he said this.
If so, fulfillment was made in AD 70.
could be the generation which (theoretically) will see the “millennial
Temple” described by Ezekiel.
word (genea in the Greek) can also be translated “race.” This
would mean that the Jews as a race would still be in existence when He
returns. Which, so far, is true.
be clear: we have signs of his return, but it is clearly stated that not even
Christ himself knows the date and time of his return – only God the Father
knows that. It seems highly unlikely that anyone will be able to figure it
out, therefore. This has not prevented people from trying; the Seventh Day
Adventists, for example, were founded on precisely such an attempt.
do know one thing about the time: life will be “business as usual” at his
return. It’s when we’re not expecting it.
gives us one other cryptic sign:
Luk 21:29-30 NIV
He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. (30) When they sprout leaves, you can see for
yourselves and know that summer is near.
difficult to tell if this is just a general instruction to “watch for the
signs” or if it is to be interpreted as the nation of Israel coming into
being. The fig tree is often used as a metaphor for Israel. You pick.
isn’t there something that we really do know will happen?
Over the course of the last two millennia, seven things have emerged as being
“last things” – those things associated with the time of the end. Some may
have happened; others clearly have not. Here, in some order (but not certain)
– held by some to have been fulfilled, or at least in part fulfilled, it
means that the church will be persecuted intensely for a limited time.
- Armageddon –
there will be a final military battle between the forces of evil and the
forces of God. It will happen at Har Meggido, and will result in the
decisive defeat of Satan.
- Rapture –
also called the resurrection of the dead. The number of separate
resurrections, and which group of people comes in what order, is still
debated. (Lindsay, for example, posits six resurrections).
- Second Coming – all views agree: the Lord will return in the
- Millennium –
which will happen before or after the return of our Lord, or might be
happening now. This is a major classification point of prophetic
- Judgment –
generally held to be after the resurrection, all will be judged. The
Christians to be given reward; all others on the deeds in their lives.
- New Heaven, New Earth – somehow (don’t ask the
physicist) the universe changes to one in which death no longer exists,
and God lives among men.
things I believe. So do most Christians of most times.
– nice problem. But just what should we be doing about it?
watch. Look for the signs of the times. Trust Jesus in this; these
things will happen, so be on the lookout.
careful. Why? Consider the parallel passage in Luke:
Luk 21:34 NIV
"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation,
drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you
unexpectedly like a trap.
and pray – that you may escape!
Luk 21:36 NIV
Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is
about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."