Notes Matthew chapter 24

©  copyright  1997 drs Gijs van den Brink

 

Jesus Predicts the Destruction of the Temple 24:1-2

24:1. Jesus left the temple. When Jesus now leaves the Temple, it is for the last time. He goes to the mount of Olives (v.3). This occurred on the Tuesday of the week before the Passover (cf. Mark 11:20-13:37). Pointing out the beauties of the Temple to the disciples (Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5) apparently took place in response to Jesus' words in Matt 23:38. The Temple was renowned for its beauty and was considered to be one of the wonders of the world. It is written in the Talmud, 'Whoever has not seen Herod's Temple has never yet seen a beautiful building.' (SB I,944).

2. not one stone here will be left on another. Nothing was more unlikely than what Jesus said. The Temple was the pride of the country and they were at peace. They were living in what was known as the 'Pax Romana', political peace, which Rome had brought to a great part of the known world. No single power could measure itself against Rome. It was certainly not obvious that the Romans themselves would lay waste Jerusalem and the Temple. And yet Jesus said that the OT prophecies (Dan 9:26; cf. Jer 26:6,18; Micah 3:12) were nearing fulfilment. And the prophecies were fulfilled a bare forty years later. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

 

Jesus Describes the Signs before the End 24:3-14

3. Here begins what has been termed 'Jesus' second Sermon on the Mount'. The disciples - in fact, four of them (Mark 13:3) - posed two formal questions: (a) when will this happen and (b) what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?

From their content, the two questions 'When' and 'What are the signs' are distinguishable. The signs themselves provide the answer to 'when'. Even less do the disciples differentiate between the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world.

when will this happen. 'This' (Gk. tauta), literally 'these things' include both the prophecy from v.2 and 'all these things' (tauta panta) from 23:34-39. In relating Jesus' answer Matthew and Mark (13:3-13) have their eye more on the end of the world, while Luke (21:7-19) tells more of the destruction of Jerusalem. In this way the different gospels complement each other beautifully.

the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? The 'end of the age' means the end of the current world (i.e., period, era, cf. Gr. ain) when Jesus returns in glory. The word parousia literally means both arrival and presence. Since the third century B.C., the technical term had been used to announce the visit of prominent authorities, espescially kings and emperors. The term suggests a coming in power and might.

4. Verses 4-14 recount a series of events which in themselves do not indicate the end (v.6), but they are called 'the beginning of birth pains' (v.8). They characterize the time before Jesus' immediate return (v.15 ff.).

Watch out that no-one deceives you. The warning against distraction is well timed. The presure of difficult circumstances will make the people receptive to false teachers, who promise them deliverance.

5. many will come in my name. Jesus says that many will come in His Name. That does not necessarily mean that they bear His Name, but that they claim to be Jesus who has returned ('I am the Messiah'). And many people will be misled by these false messiahs.

6. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars. After the religious temptation Jesus now begins to speak about political chaos. They will hear of wars near at hand and far off ('rumours of ...'). But that does not have to make them anxious or disturbed (cf. 2 Thess 2:2), for these things have to happen, i.e., they are in God's plan (cf. Dan 2:28; Rev 1:1; 4:1; 22:6). And they also do not mean that the end has come and that Christ's return is imminent.

7. Nation will rise against nation,...There will be famines and earthquakes. Wars does not mean only civil war and rebellion (such as the Jewish revolt of 70 A.D.), but wars between different nations (= peoples, vv.14,30) and kingdoms (= countries). Further there will be catastrophes and epidemics in various places, especially famine, the plague and earthquakes.

This had been foretold in the OT: Isa 19:2 (war); Isa 13:13; Hag 2:6 (earthquake); Ezek 6:12; 7:15 (plague); Isa 14:30; cf. Rev 18:8 (famine).

8. All these are the beginning of birth-pains. All these are but a prelude to far more serious occurrences which will take place just before Jesus' return - persecution such as the world has never known (v.21). They are the beginning of the pangs which must precede the rebirth of the wordl (Matt 19:28).

For the image of pangs, cf. Isa 26:16-19; 66:8; Hos 13:13; Micah 4:9-10 and Rev 12:1-5.

9. After the general signs in vv.5-8 Jesus now begins to speak about believers in particular (vv.9-13). At the same time as the occurences which are not themselves the end but a prelude to it (vv.6,8), the disciples will be persecuted by all peoples for the sake of Jesus' Name. Jesus foretells here a world-wide persecution of Christians.

10-11. many will turn away from the faith. Through these persecutions (v.9) and also through the appearance of false prophets (christian ones, from the context, cf. Matt 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John4:1) many will fall away from the faith and become betrayers and enemies of their brethren. The massive persecution of Christians (v.9) will lead to an enormous falling-off in belief (vv.10-12).

12. the increase of wickedness. Apostasy also appears in the increasing resistance to the divine law, the Scriptures, which is coupled to a cooling of love for God and one's neighbour. Just as respect for God's Word and love for God influence each other mutually, so too do disrespect for the Law and lovelessness. Jesus predicts here a considerable ('most') degeneration of the Church.

13. he who stands firm to the end will be saved. But there is still a promise for the believers. Those who continue to confess Christ despite their trials and continue to serve Him will enter God's glory. 'The end' (Gk. telos) is either the end of their lives (many will be killed, v.9) or the return of the Son of Man (vv.30-31). Cf. commentary on Matt 10:22.

14. Formally this sentence corresponds to 'The end will not come before this and that has happened'.
this gospel of the kingdom, cf. Matt 4:23 and Matt 9:35.
will be preached in the whole world.
Before the last days the gospel will be preached to all nations throughout the inhabited world (Gk. oikoumen), cf. Matt 28:19.

as a testimony. The Greek word marturion (+ dative) is a term from legal practice and means 'proof for or against' (Bauer s.v.), cf. Matt 8:4 and 10:18. Acceptance or rejection of the gospel that is preached will be the criterion, the burden of proof at the Last Judgement by the Son of Man, on the basis of which one will be acquitted or found guilty.

to all nations. 'Nations' does not here mean a country as a political unit (= 'kingdom,' v.7), but, as appears from v.30, in the sense of a tribe of the earth, i.e., a society united by language, customs, tradition and possibly descent. A country usually consists of different peoples.

 

The Great Tribulation 24:15-28

15. 'the abomination that causes desolation'. Here Jesus takes a prophecy from Daniel: Dan 9:27; 11:31 and 12:11. An 'abomination' is anything that cannot stand in God's sight (Lev 18:22,26,29; Prov 8:7 etc.). If something concrete is involved, as here, an abomination that stands and can be seen, then an idol or heathen altar is meant (Deut 29:17; 1 Kings 11:5; 1 Macc 1:54,59). The Greek word for 'desolation' (ermsis) may mean destruction or desolation. In connection with a city surrounded by an army (Luke 21:20) it means destruction, but linked with abomination we must rather understand depopulation and abandonment (Bauer, s.v.). The desecration of the holy place (= the Temple, cf. Ezek 42:13; Acts 6:13,14) by the erection of a heathen idol leads to the consequence that faithful worshippers abandon the temple.

Daniel's prophecy found its first partial fulfilment in 168 B.C. when the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes erected an idol on the altar of burnt offering in the Temple (1 Macc 1:54). It appears from the fact that Jesus repeats the prophecy that the final fulfilment lies in the future. A second partial fulfilment occurred in 70 A.D., when the Temple was desecrated by Roman soldiers. The definitive fulfilment will take place in the last days (v.14b; cf. Dan 9:27; 11:35), when evil attains its climax in the world and the antichrist will be adored and revered in the Temple (2 Thess 2:3,4).

let the reader understand: encourages the reader to consider this prophecy to grasp its meaning (cf. Rev 13:18; 17:9).

16. then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Just as at the siege of Jerusalem by encamped armies (Luke 21:20-21) Jesus orders His disciples, especially those who remain in Judea at the time when the antichrist reveals himself, to flee to the mountains.

According to Daniel's prophecy the desecration of the Temple will be followed by a persecution of believers (Dan 11:31-35). Jesus' prophecy is comparable (vv.21-22). He also gives practical instructions: flee, not to fortified cities, but to the mountains.

17-18. Let no-one on the roof of his house go down. The flight will have to take place in a hurry. The flat roofs were used functionally for drying fruit or places for study, or for meals, etc. Whoever finds himself on that day on the roof, with a flight of stairs leading along the outer wall, will not first have to re-enter his house to collect something. And whoever was working in the fields (in his undergarment) must not first go home for clothes.

19. How dreadful. The Greek ouai (litt. 'Woe') is not a threat but a cry of misery (cf. the first 'woe' in Matt 18:7) and means 'unfortunate' i.e., poor women. Expectant or nursing mothers are least able to withstand the rigours of rapidly fleeing.

20. Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. The disciples are to pray that aggravating circumstances such as wintertime or a sabbath will not be involved. The difficulty of winter consisted of the considerable rainfall which made the going very heavy, but the problem of the sabbath is not completely clear. It is not likely that these disciples still kept up Jewish traditions relating to the sabbath day's journey, for it was permitted to break the sabbath restrictions in case of persecution (SB I,952). We have to think rather of a slowing of the flight due to opposition by orthodox Jews (such as the city gates being closed and the absence of any means of transport). Jesus might also have thought of the fact that the fleeing disciples would be immediately recognized on a sabbath, which, considering the persecutions ('for' in v.21) would be catastrophic.

21. then there will be great distress. Jesus repeats Old Testament prophecies of the 'time of tribulation' which will occur just before the coming of the Kingdom of God (Jer 30:4-7; Dan 11:40-12:1, esp. 12:1; cf. Hab 3:16).

unequalled from the beginning of the world until now. It will be the most difficult period in the history of the world ('unequalled from ... '). The persecution is the climax of the 'beginning of birth pains' (v.8) and the 'persecution' of the interim (v.9) and is therefore called the 'great tribulation' (cf. Rev 7:14) and will be a time of tribulation for the whole world (Rev 3:10). This time, described minutely in Rev 8:3-19:21, has two aspects: the persecution of the church by the antichrist (vv.15-20; Rev 13:7-8) and the coming of divine judgements on a godless apostate world (Rev 8-19 passim).

22. for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. If the persecution at the time of the antichrist were to last as long as the persecutors wished and the persecuted feared, no-one would be preserved, but everyone would fall away. But just as God can extend the period of grace (Luke 13:6-9), so can He shorten the time of persecution and will do so for the sake of the elect who call on Him day and night (cf. Luke 18:7ff.).

The elect are the remainder of the true believers who endure to the end (v.13) in contrast to the mass that falls away in vv.10 and 12.

23-24. false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles. During the great tribulation, just like in the period before the end (v.5), false messiahs will come, who are either false prophets themselves, or are supported by them (cf. Rev 16:13). They will try to prove their identity (cf. Deut 13:1) by means of science and miracles (cf. 2 Thess 2:9; Rev 13:13,14; 19:20), so that even the elect run the risk of being deceived. 'Elect', see commentary on v.22.

25. See, I have told you ahead of time. This telling before (vv.23-24) serves to warn the believers.

26. 'There he is, out in the desert. The desert was often the place where prophets and resistance leaders collected a band of followers (cf. Mark 1:4; Acts 21:38; Jos. Bell. II,xiii,5).

'Here he is, in the inner rooms. According to Jewish notions the Messiah would first be present in concealment to reveal Himself at the right time (cf. John 7:27). But the return of the Son of Man will not resemble the coming of a national hero or a flesh and blood prophet. Now he will also not remain concealed for years as at His first coming before revealing himself.

27. as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west. The Son of Man will not come in secret but like a flash of lightning which sheds light from east to west, i.e., makes itself clearly visible to everyone with radiant glory (cf. Matt 28:3; 17:2). He will not organise His followers in the desert like a political leader, but He will appear in the heavens like lightning and come on the clouds of heaven (v.30). The coming of the Son of Man cannot be misunderstood and no-one will doubt it.

28. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. The Greek word for carcass (ptma, from pipt, to fall) means 'that which has fallen, the corpse', especially used of those who have died by violence (Bauer, s.v.).

The verse has a proverbial character and like v.27 (cf. 'for') reacts to the lying preaching from v.26. It is not even necessary to wonder where the Messiah will return. He will appear in the heavens like lightning (v.27) and come on the clouds of heaven (v.30). His presence will be as apparent to everybody as the gathering of vultures indicates the presence of a corpse.

In their content, the images of this verse speak of the coming of Jesus in judgment. The coming bridal feast for the faithful (Rev 19:9) has its obverse for the unbelievers (Rev 19:17,18). Jesus' coming means salvation for the elect church (v.31) but judgment for the unbelieving world (v.51; Matt 25:30,41,46).

 

The Coming of the Son of Man 24:29-31

29. This prophecy repeats Old Testament prophecies which tell of real cosmic occurrences and thus is not a parable. Cf. Isa 13:10; 34:4; Ezek 32:7,8; Joel 2:10,31; 3:15. Immediately after the great tribulation these cosmic occurrences will announce the coming of the Son of Man (cf. Rev 6:12-17).

the heavenly bodies will be shaken. The 'heavenly bodies' that will be shaken are not the stars, which will fall. We have to think here of the powers of the universe which keep the stars and the other heavenly bodies in their places (cf. 'elements' in 2 Peter 3:10).

30. the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. The coming of the Son of Man will not occur in a single stroke, but in three phases: the appearing of a sign, His personal coming and the assembling together of the elect (v.31). Together with the world-wide lamentation directly after the appearance of the sign, but before any mention of Jesus' personal coming, this indicates that the sign does not mean the coming itself, but that the sign announces the coming. The sign functions as a banner, which is seen, accompanying the trumpet, which is heard (v.31), cf. Isa 18:3. What it will be is not revealed. The early church (Chrysostom and others) thought of the cross. Or should we think of some phenomenon of light, in parallel with the expectations of Jewish tradition (SB I,954,956) on the basis of Isa 60:1 (Lightning? cf. v.27)? In any case the sign, judging by the reaction of the people, will be unambiguously clear.

all the nations of the earth will mourn. The mourning may partly be mourning for the death of Christ (Zech 12:10ff.), but for the vast majority represents an expression of despair and contrition for their personal fate in the imminent judgment of God (cf. Rev 1:7).

'The nations (litt. tribes) of the earth': a 'tribal unit' is a society linked by language, customs, tradition and possibly descent (cf. Gen 12:3; 28:14; Ezek 20:32; Amos 3:2; Zech 14:17-18; Rev 7:9). A tribe of the earth is not so much an independent state as a part of a greater whole, such as a kingdom (cf. v.7).

After the sign in the heavens the Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven (cf. Acts 1:9-11) in divine might and majesty, in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel (Dan 7:13,14).

31. he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call. The sound of the trumpet always announces something, cf. Lev 25:9; Num 10:1-10; 1 Sam 13:3, etc. In the last days of this era a heavenly trumpet will sound several times: 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16 (the ressurection of the dead); Rev 8 ff. (announcement of judgment). In all these cases the sound of a heavenly trumpet, which no earthly trumpet can utter, is involved. they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. The trumpet will sound when on the Lord's return the angels will gather together the elect (see vv.22,24) from the whole world (= 'from the four winds ...', cf. Deut 30:4; Ezek 37:9; Zech 2:6) to the place where King Jesus is (somewhere on the earth, as in v.28). The gathering in of the elect had been promised in the OT and is characteristic of the great turning-point in the history of the world (Ps 102:22; 106:47; 2 Thess 2:1; cf. Matt 13:47-50; 23:37).

 

The Parable of the Fig Tree 24:32-35

32. The lesson of the fig tree is very expressive. While almost all trees in Palestine keep their leaves in winter, the fig tree loses them all. Then, with its bare branches, it looks dead. Although the budding of other trees teaches the same lesson, the fig tree's putting forth leaves is the most characteristic and unmistakeably announces the coming of summer.

33. when you see all these things, you know that it is near. This verse contains two unknowns which we have to fill in: 'all these things' and what is near. In vv.14-31 the 'abomination of desolation', the great tribulation and the coming of the Son of Man are presented as events in the same dramatic sequence that succeed each other rapidly, like three climaxes of what is called 'the end' in v.6 and v.14. As in v.3, distinction is made in the disciples' questions between the sign and the end, so the same distinction is made here in Jesus' answer. 'All these things' that will be seen are like the fig tree's putting forth leaves (v.32) a sign of what is to come. We conclude that 'all these things' deals with the preliminary signs of vv.4-14 and 'that it is near' deals with 'the end', the events of which are described in vv.15-31. Moreover, 'all these things' refers primarily to the principal event, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (see 'all these things' in v.2 and 23:36-39).

34. this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 'This generation' in the gospels always stands for the generation of people living at the same time as the speaker (Matt 11:16; 12:41ff.,45; 23:36, cf. 12:39; 16:4; 17:7).

'All these things' naturally means the same as in v.32, that is, the signs of vv.4-14, especially those foretelling the judgment of unbelieving Israel: the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (23:36-39) and the transfer of the preaching of the gospel from Israel to the gentiles (v.14). Cf. 12:39-45; 21:42-43 and 22:1-14.

Here Jesus emphasises that His generation will share in these signs which are a prelude to the end (v.8). It is obvious that Jesus is not setting a time limit for His return (see v.36!) but wishes to emphasise the certainty of the coming of the end, by saying that His generation will experience the prelude to the events of the end of the world.

35. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. With these words Jesus wants to remove any doubt still lingering after the assurance of v.34 (cf. 1 Peter 1:24-25). The verse underlines the words of the prophecy of v.34.

 

No One Knows the Day or Hour 24:36-44

36. "No-one knows about that day or hour. Although it is certain that the end and the parousia will come, and that this can be seen in the signs and known from the words of Jesus (vv.32-35), no-one knows the day or the hour, i.e., the time, not even the angels, only the Father.

Some of the older manuscripts have, after 'not the angels of heaven', the words 'nor the Son'. If this is authentic it means that the Son's incarnation incurred His no longer knowing the time of His return.

'That day' (cf. 'on that day') is the 'day of the Lord' (cf. 1 Thess 5:2,4), a day of judgment (Amos 5:18-20; Isa 13:6-16; Joel 1:15) but also of salvation (Obad 15-21; Zech 14). It is the time of the end (vv.6,14; cf. v.33), the events of which are described in vv.15-31. 'Hour' is here identical with 'that day' and refers to the same period of time (cf. 1 John 2:18). The end will come on men suddenly (see v.37ff.)

37-39. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Just as in the days of Noah, people in the days of the coming of the Son of Man will go about their normal business (eating, drinking, marrying), while judgment hangs over their heads. As in the time of judgment by the Flood, so in the last days the judgment of the day of the Lord which will accompany the coming of the Messiah will come over the earth as a total surprise.

'Coming' (parousia), see commentary on v.3.

40-41. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill. Grinding corn ('mill': see commentary on 18:6) was usually done by the women in the early hours of the day before dawn.

one will be taken and the other left. The judgments of the day of the Lord reach their climax in this last great separation, which is definitive and surpasses the natural order of events. Two men will be out in the field, outwardly both alike, and two women will be grinding corn, both alike in the eyes of men, but one will be saved and the other will be disowned. This judgment is executed by the angels; they will carry the believers off and bring them to the place where the returned Messiah is (see commentary on v.31), but the unbelievers will be left behind, as in the times of Noah.

42. "Therefore keep watch. This verse is not so much a conclusion to the preceding, but rather an introduction to and a summary of verses 43-44. Jesus calls the disciples to awake, because the time of the end and the return are not known (vv.36,44; 25:13). For the significance of day and hour see commentary on v.36.

The Greek word for 'keep watch' (grgore) is literally 'to awake' and metaphorically, 'keep one's eyes open', 'watch out'. The disciples may not fall asleep, i.e., become lukewarm and forsake their mission (cf. vv.45-51), for then they too will be overcome by the suddeness of the judgment, but they must watch continuously and keep their eyes open so that they may see the signs and remain in expectation of the day of their Lord's return.

you do not know on what day your Lord will come. While the title 'Son of Man' (v.44) bears witness to power and majesty (see v.30) 'your Lord' also tells of the personal relationship the disciples have with Jesus.

43. But understand this: emphasises the contrast with 'do not know' from v.42.
would not have let his house be broken into. The Greek word di-oruss means literally 'break through', in this case the house wall of clay, but also more generally of thieves, 'break in'. A watch is a part of the night and consisted of three or four hours (see commentary on 14:25). Watch suggests a longer period and hour (v.44) the exact time. In other words: if the master of the house had known that the thief would come at that night, he would have stayed awake all night long.

44. So you also must be ready. Just as the master of the house who knows that a thief will come will stay awake, so must the disciples also be watchful. For they know that the end will come and also in which watch, that is, after Jesus' departure, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the giving over of the gospel to the Gentiles (23:37-24:14), but they do not know the day nor the hour (vv.36,42; 25:13). For this reason the disciples must be continuously watchful and prepared to meet their Lord, for the day of the Lord and the Son of Man will come as suddenly and unexpectedly as a thief (1 Thess 5:2,4; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15).

 

The Parable of the Good Servant and the Wicked Servant 24:45-51

45. "Who then is the faithful and wise servant...? The 'then' links the parable and v.44 and so proclaims the theme: preparedness for the unexpected coming of the Son of Man. The question form of this verse invites the hearers to identify themselves with the subject of the parable: the servant.

'Faithful' refers to carrying out the appointed task properly, in contrast to abusing his position (v.49). 'Wise' means bearing his Lord's return in mind, in contrast to thinking, 'My lord will be away for a bit longer,' v.48b (cf. 'watch', vv.42,43; 25:8-10).

whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time. He is not a common slave, but, considering his duties a servant in a position of trust performing a responsible task.

The picture of the servant is applicable to every believer in general terms, but to the twelve apostles and to other leaders among the faithful in particular (see Luke 12:41). For the ministry of giving food to the people, see Matt 14:16,19 and the commentary thereon.

46. The wise servant who expects his lord to return at any moment and who is occupied with his task on his lord's return is called happy (blessed).

47. he will put him in charge of all his possessions. The servant who has carried out his task faithfully receives a marvellous reward (cf. 25:21,23) when his lord returns: he is appointed ruler over all his lord's goods (cf. Luke 19:17,19). This promise involves recieving authority and a position comparable to that of his lord.

He who works faithfully for the Lord as prophet and priest, here and now, will in the future reign with the Lord Jesus as king over the earth (cf. Matt 19:28; 1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 5:10 20:4,6).

48. But if the slave is a bad one, he says to himself, 'My lord will be away for a bit longer', and starts thinking of his own advantage, which leads to the actions described in v.49. We see that the slave's wickedness begins with the unwise thought, 'My master is staying away a long time,' which results in dishonest actions (v.49).

49. The position of trust, which imply power and freedom, is misused by the servant to tyrannise, to oppress others in an authoritarian way, and to lead a wanton, sinful life.

50. Because the master has not announced the time of his return, he comes unexpectedly and his servant has to account for his actions.
For not knowing about the day and the hour, see vv.36,42,44; 25:13.

51. He will cut him to pieces. Because of his breach of confidence, the bad servant will be punished severely by his lord. The Greek word for 'cut to pieces' (dichotome) literally means 'cut in two', and also 'quarter', a drastic way of executing somebody which was not exceptional in antiquity (Bauer, s.v.).

The words assign him a place with the hypocrites (cf. Rev 21:8) and weeping and gnashing of teeth (8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 25:30) indicate a transition from image to reality and Jesus talks about the ultimate fate of the godless men in the 'lake of fire', the Gehenna.