NT Eschatology—Gospels Part 03
Last time we gathered a bird’s eye view of Matthew 23 and the beginning of 24. To summarize, Jesus blasted the Religious Elite of his day and proclaimed that their Temple would be destroyed (Matthew 23). The disciples, hardly able to grasp this, pointed out the Temple and its buildings as they left it (Matthew 24.1). Jesus told them as plainly as possible, that yes, they had heard him correctly. The Temple would be completely demolished and “no stone” would be “left on another” (v.2). Still in shock by this, the disciples approached Jesus and asked him when that would happen (v.3). In this post we will examine part of Jesus’ response.
Matthew 24.4-14: Jesus replied, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the Christ.’ They will deceive many people. You will hear about wars and reports of wars. Don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in all sorts of places. But all these things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end. They will arrest you, abuse you, and they will kill you. All nations will hate you on account of my name. At that time many will fall away. They will betray each other and hate each other. Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because disobedience will expand, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations. Then the end will come.
Again, this isn’t going to be an exposition of the Olivet Discourse, but I do want to point out a couple of things. First is the pronoun “you.” Jesus answered the disciples question specifically. In fact, his first thought was of them. “Watch out that no one deceives you.” Jesus used the word “you” six times in these verses. The disciples would no doubt conclude that Jesus was talking to them about things they would experience.
Matthew 24.15-22: “When you see the disgusting and destructive thing that Daniel talked about standing in the holy place (the reader should understand this), then those in Judea must escape to the mountains. Those on the roof shouldn’t come down to grab things from their houses. Those in the field shouldn’t come back to grab their clothes. How terrible it will be at that time for women who are pregnant and for women who are nursing their children. Pray that it doesn’t happen in winter or on the Sabbath day. There will be great suffering such as the world has never before seen and will never again see. If that time weren’t shortened, nobody would be rescued. But for the sake of the ones whom God chose, that time will be cut short.
Here again, Jesus refers to the disciples specifically (“When you see…”) but extends the warnings to other people within the same generation. This is crucial because we see that Jesus isn’t mixing up different times, different eras different ages. He is still talking about his (and by extension, the disciples) own generation. It is that generation that will experience what Jesus is talking about here (see Matthew 23.36).
A key piece to this is the reference to Daniel and the “the disgusting and destructive thing...standing in the holy place” (cf. Daniel 9.7; 11.31; 12.11). In the book of Daniel, Daniel is told that “your people,” i.e., Israel (Daniel 12.1), would experience the things seen in the visions. This wasn’t some “end of time” scenario but a “time of the end” scenario (Daniel 12.4). However we want to interpret Daniel, one thing is certain, Jesus ties it to the destruction of the very Temple that he and the disciples just left.
Furthermore, the suddenness of this desolation would be so quick that people wouldn’t even be able to gather their stuff. If they were in Judea, they must drop everything and get out right away. People outside the city shouldn’t even return to get a coat. The abruptness is so emphatic here. And the uncertainty is also a factor. Jesus told the disciples that he wasn’t even sure exactly when it was going to happen (it might be in Winter or on the Sabbath—another indicator that Jesus was speaking about his contemporaries) but it was going to happen to them nonetheless.
So, think about this for a minute. The disciples are sitting with Jesus on a hillside overlooking their city and Temple. Jesus is telling them a rather scary story about the complete and utter destruction of their beloved city—the city of G_d, the place that G_d promised to dwell, the place where “heaven” and “earth” overlapped and interlocked. Jesus is painting a picture that would leave some of them gasping in horror. I’m sure they’re imagining the smoke rising from the ruins. I’m certain some of them are hearing the wailing of the wounded and dying. I’m sure some of them were weeping. Jesus is telling them that he doesn’t exactly know when it will happen, but that it will happen and they will experience it. Because of his love for them, he starts giving them clues to help them as the time approaches. Can you feel the cloud of darkness forming around the disciples? Can you feel their despair?
Next time, we will continue with Matthew 24. Click here for the next post in this series.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC