For many years biblical interpreters have placed little emphasis on the consummation of national Israel that was demonstrated by God in A.D. 70. Judgment passages in the New Testament were commonly misinterpreted with emphasis on the end-of-time coming and the final judgment by Jesus rather than the end of national Israel by the coming of Jesus in judgment upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
As a result of our overzealous emphasis on the final coming, we have traditionally approached texts as Matthew 24 with emphasis on the end of time. Rather than an historical interpretation that had direct relevance to the ones to whom Jesus first delivered His message that God’s covenant with Israel was coming to a close, we have obsessed over the end of time. Add to this the fact that there have been too many prophecy thieves who have stolen the warning that Jesus gave to the Jewish Christians of His day in order that they prepare themselves for the end of national Israel.
We must always keep in mind three very important points when interpreting Matthew’s account of Matthew 24:
A. Mission to the Jews:
Matthew, a Jew, focused on Jesus’ ministry to those of His immediate time, specifically the Jews. He came to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:6). He came to choose the twelve apostles and then commission them to a worldwide task that would begin first with the Jews (Lk 6:13; Mt 28:20).
The immediate ministry of Jesus through the apostles was first to the Jews. His ministry then became worldwide and throughout all history when the apostles and other evangelists went into all the world. Until the end of time, Jesus will continue to accomplish His mission through the global ministry of His disciples. In order to accomplish His goal of populating heaven, this historical preaching of the gospel began. In order to accomplish this mission, He initially came to work with His immediate Jewish environment.
B. Jesus as the Messiah:
Secondly, Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience about Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew’s statements, therefore, have direct reference to the Jewish hope of a Redeemer. The Jews had to accept Jesus as the Messiah. They had to do so because God was about to physically close the book on national Israel. Those who would not accept Jesus’ messiahship would most likely be caught up in the destruction and close of national Israel in A.D. 70. Through His parables, and the direct statements of Matthew 24, Jesus’ prophecy of the end of Israel was meant to prepare Jewish Christians who lived during the decade before A.D. 70 that the end was coming.
C. The imminent coming:
The pronouncements of Jesus in Matthew 24 emphasize an imminent coming and “end.” This imminent coming would be in the lifetime of the disciples to whom Jesus made these statements (See Mt 16:27,28; 23:34-36).
The Holy Spirit inspired no New Testament writer to deceive the first century disciples into believing that Jesus would personally return in His final coming in their lifetime. Therefore, the context of Matthew 24 is talking about a “coming” within the lifetime of the immediate disciples.
But the “coming” in Matthew 24 cannot refer to the final coming of Jesus simply because Jesus did not deceive His disciples that He would personally come in their lifetime. Therefore, we must approach Matthew 24 from the viewpoint that Jesus was giving information to His immediate disciples concerning some traumatic event that was going to happen in the lifetime of the immediate Jews. He was going to come in judgment on all those Jews who did not accept Him as the Messiah and Savior of the world. God was going to bring judgment on those who did not recognized the time of His visitation to the house of Israel through His only begotten Son (See Lk 19:43,44).
Many scholarly books in recent years have correctly restored emphasis on the importance of the A.D. 70 consummation of national Israel that is taught throughout the New Testament. This has led to a more consistent interpretation of many passages that deal with God’s judgment that He brought on Israel in her final years as a covenanted people. For example, we feel that Jesus was primarily discussing in Matthew 24 a judgment “in time” upon Jerusalem. Therefore, we must question our thinking concerning some of the points Jesus mentioned in the context of Matthew 24 that refer to the personal lives of the disciples who would experience these events.
When studying the text of Matthew 24 one must consult the parallel accounts of Jesus’ words on this occasion that were recorded in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Both Mark and Luke record additional thoughts that Jesus gave in the discourse. However, neither Matthew, Mark or Luke give the complete discourse of all that Jesus said as it was initially stated on this particular occasion. Each inspired writer only gives that information which emphasizes the theme of his particular book. Matthew, however, gives the most complete information, and for this reason, we use Matthew as the guideline text for our interpretive comments that follow.
Also keep in mind the dates of writing for each book. Since the impending destruction was in the near future in relation to the dates of writing, we cannot but feel that the impending destruction that was coming in A.D. 70 was one reason that stimulated the writing of other New Testament books in the first century. At least certain portions of the New Testament letters concerning the destruction of Jerusalem were included in order to forewarn Christians of the coming calamity of Israel.
Mark wrote around A.D. 50-52, Matthew around A.D. 60, and Luke around A.D. 61,62. All three writers give us a sense of social and political turmoil that existed during the era leading up to the consummation of national Israel. The writers of these epistles wanted the initial readers to know that something was up in reference to the massive rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. As A.D. 70 drew near, the prophetic elements of Jesus’ prophecy concerning national Israel were becoming clear. In order to expedite conversions from Judaism, and also encourage the converted not to return to the Sinai covenant that God had set aside at the cross, Matthew, Mark and Luke write both to inform and to warn. Their writings have an air of urgency. There is a sense of a final call to a generation that was seeking for hope in a political environment that was in social upheaval.
With this in mind, we launch into an exciting portion of God’s revelation. Matthew 24 is one of the most exciting portions of God’s word because it explains what will occur in the disciples’ lives concerning national Israel and their homeland of Palestine. The sense of forewarning that is characteristic of the New Testament scriptures in reference to the coming of the Lord on unbelieving Israel leaves us with the same sense of urgency in reference to the final coming of Jesus at the end of time.
[Next in series: July 9]