The historical setting of the prophecy that Jesus made in Matthew 24 took place in the latter part of His earthly ministry (See also Mk 13 & Lk 21). The information revealed in the prophecy was for the purpose of preparing His Jewish disciples for the fulfillment of the prophecies of both Daniel and Ezekiel concerning the consummation of national Israel. The fulfillment of the prophecy of Matthew 24 subsequently became added information for the disciples as they went forth throughout the Roman Empire from synagogue to synagogue.
The disciples’ ministry was first to preach the gospel and proclaim that Jesus was the fulfillment of all Messianic prophecies (Lk 24:44). However, they were also to prepare the Jewish Christians for the consummation of their national heritage. When the disciples went forth with the message of the gospel, they informed all the Jews to whom they went that it was indeed “the end of times.” God was going to shut the book on national Israel.
The fullness of times had come upon national Israel, and now it was time to terminate this special nation of people that God had used to bring the Messiah and Savior into the world. There would be no more Messiahs. There would be no more Saviors. Therefore, unless the unbelieving Jews who rejected Jesus should hope that the Messiah was yet to come in Israel, God shut down Israel.
Israel was no longer needed as a physical heritage from whom a Messiah or Savior would come. The Savior had come and was standing in the midst of those to whom the message of Matthew 24 was directed. What was now offered to the Jews was the only alternative they had in reference to any covenant relationship with God (See At 4:12). All things were summed up in Jesus Christ, and thus the last excuse to respond to the gospel of Jesus was about to be taken away in the destruction of national Israel and Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Those who would seek to further their understanding of what transpired during the final days of Jerusalem should consult the Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus wrote Jewish Wars as a personal account of the final wars of Rome against the insurrectionist Jews of the Roman Empire. As a historian who was contemporary with the events, Josephus claims to have been a personal witness of the fall of Jerusalem. His account of the fall of the city is quite revealing.
In our novice years as an interpreter of the Scriptures, we missed much of the context and purpose for which Jesus gave the information of the Matthew 24 prophecy. Instead of applying the prophecy to Jesus’ intended audience to prepare contemporary Jewish Christian families for the end of their national heritage, we sought to steal the fulfillment of the prophecy from those immediate Jews. We mistakenly applied the fulfillment of the prophecies to a time two thousand years removed from the first century Jews.
In fact, our misapplication of the fulfillment of the Matthew 24 prophecy was quite calloused. Instead of Jewish fathers and mothers, who lived with their many children in Jerusalem at the time, being warned and prepared for the final destruction of Jerusalem, we stole the warning of the prophecy from these fathers and mothers. We left these Jewish families in Jerusalem unprepared for the coming of the Roman armies, and thus condemn them to suffer the fate of being a part of the over one million Jews who were killed during that calamity that overcame Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Those propheteers today who voice their own misunderstanding of Jesus’ prophecy steal away from those early Jewish families the warning that Jesus made to His beloved resident Jewish disciples in Jerusalem. They do so by applying the prophecy to some historical fantasies that are yet to occur in the future. In doing so, they have interpreted the prophecy selfishly. They are willing to leave those early Jewish families in Jerusalem without any warning to flee the calamity that would occur in A.D. 70. They are willing to do this in order to satisfy their own misguided prognostications concerning the final coming of Jesus. Fear tactics are thus used to fill both church buildings and church coffers around the world.
We are convinced that some preachers today need to take another look at what they would be doing if their application of the Matthew 24 prophecy does not refer specifically to the Jewish Christian families of the first century. If they were themselves Jews and residents of Jerusalem in those years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem, and were standing in the presence of Jesus when He made this prophecy, surely they would want to have their children and grandchildren warned concerning the devastation of their lives that would take place forty years after Jesus made the statements of the prophecy. They, too, would want their families to flee Jerusalem.
In fact, if Jesus was who He said He was, and God was bringing national Israel to a catastrophic conclusion through the destruction of Jerusalem, then we would rightly suppose that Jesus would forewarn the Christians who lived in Jerusalem. If He did not warn them, then two things would be true: First, Jesus was totally unaware of the consummation of national Israel, but supposedly, according to some interpreters, aware of all “signs of the times” in reference to His final coming. However, if He were supposedly aware of the signs of His final coming, then certainly He could have been aware of the signs that led up to the consummation of national Israel.
Second, if He knew of the coming destruction, but did not give the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem warning, then He was calloused and hard in heart. Jesus was at the time at least a prophet. And as God warned of the fall of national Israel through His Old Testament prophets, then Jesus was given the same privilege. We must always remember the principle of the statement of Amos 3:7: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing without first revealing His plans to His servants the prophets.”
Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven nor the Son, but My Father only” (Mt 24:36). On earth, Jesus did not reveal the “day and hour.” If He had, then we would accuse Him of not revealing that specific “day and hour” in order for the resident Jerusalem Christians to flee the day just before the “day and hour.” Instead, as God did through the Old Testament prophets, He gave them all the indications of the fulfillment in order that through faith, they would believe the “signs,” and then move away from Jerusalem the years before the fall.
Unfortunately, too many interpreters today do the same with the prophecies of the prophets of the Old Testament, as well as John’s prophecies of the book of Revelation. They leapfrog over the intended fulfillment of the prophecies in time in their obsessions to find some “signs of the times” for the end of the world at the end of time. In doing this, they miss entirely the fulfillment of the prophecies of these books in the context of those who would personally experience the fulfillment of the prophecies.
Throughout the Old Testament prophets, God prepared His people for their fall as an independent nation when the Assyrians and Babylonians were to be victorious over both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel (See Am 3:7). In the same way, Jesus, in the prophecy of Matthew 24, prepared the resident Jewish Christians of Jerusalem for the termination of national Israel in the destruction of Jerusalem.
As He did with those empires He used to punish Israel in Old Testament times, God would eventually bring down the Roman Empire. As God had brought down both the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms, He would also bring down the Roman Empire that rose up its head against His people, the church. In the book of Revelation, John would encourage the Christians of the Roman Empire concerning its consummation, which eventually took place in the latter part of the 5th century.
In the context of Matthew 24, we seek to identify those things that Jesus said would identify the “signs of the times” that exist during the consummation of a civilization. We seek to know those things that are indications of the fall of civilizations, for indeed, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus concerning Jerusalem was more than the fall of a city. As Josephus graphically explained, it was the consummation of a civilization.
In the fall of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel through the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, Israel lost her right to the possession of the promised land and her independence as a theocratic nation. However, the people were allowed to keep their Jewish identity. Nevertheless, in the fall of Jerusalem, not only were over a million Jews killed in the actual battle of Jerusalem, but the remaining eighty or more thousand survivors were sold off as slaves across the Roman Empire, thus eliminating any Jewish establishment as a people in Palestine. Though all the goals of the Romans were never truly realized in their war against Judaism, at least all the birth documents of the Jews were burned in the burning of the Jewish temple. All that the dispersed Jews had to identify themselves as Jews was their memory of who they were, which information was passed from one generation to another unto this day.
Some of the social reasons for the for the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70 are those reasons why all civilizations come to a close. When Jesus revealed the collapse of national Israel, He embedded within His message reasons for the fall. He wanted the Jews to understand at the time of the collapse of the Jewish civilization that it was their own fault. It was not that the Romans just woke up one morning and decided to end Israel. Vespasian, the commander of the Roman army at the time, simply responded to an increasing “Jewish problem” that necessitated the extraction of the Jewish cancer from the Empire. The following are some of the surrounding circumstances that Jesus revealed would occur during the final days of national Israel:
[Matthew 24 warnings in next post.]