Matthew 24:1: The Nationalistic Pride Of The Disciples
“Then Jesus went out [of the city of Jerusalem] and departed from the temple [courtyard]. And His disciples came to show Him the buildings of the temple [that were built by Herod the Great].”
Jesus had just pronounced judgment upon the city of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:38. He had also just stated, “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Mt 23:36). We feel that the disciples were surely stunned by what He had just said. In response to Jesus’ statements, Peter, James, John and Andrew later came to Jesus privately while He was on the Mount of Olives (Mt 24:3; Mk 13:3).
At least these four disciples showed their nationalistic feelings by expressing their pride in the physical structures that Herod the Great had constructed. As loyalist Jews, they were surely thinking that these buildings, and especially the temple, could not be destroyed by the will of God. God would not bring an end to His covenanted people. Their nationalistic feelings were struggling against Jesus’ prophecy. Nevertheless, their loyalty to Judaism would not preserve that in which Israel had taken so much pride for centuries.
Matthew 24:2: The Imminent Destruction Of The City Of Jerusalem
“Jesus said to His disciples, “Do you not see all these things [of Jerusalem and the temple]? Truly I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Jesus had prepared the disciples for this final pronouncement of judgment upon Israel. The parables of 13:3-9,36-43; 21:33-46; 22:1-14, and the definitive proclamation of 23:29-39, prepared the disciples for what He was going to reveal in this context. Jesus had earlier prophesied that the end of the national Israel was at hand. The “ax was laid at the root” (3:10) and a destructive blow was about to come upon Israel in about forty years from the time Jesus made these pronouncements. “All these things” would come to an end.
This last prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24 is of the coming destruction of the temple and Jerusalem that was initiated by the Roman general Vespasian, who would later be declared Caesar of Rome. Titus, his son, would complete the job. The destruction would signal the termination of national Israel as a covenanted people of God. This would be the fulfillment of Moses’ prophetic curse upon a people who had rejected God (Dt 28:15-68). The destruction would be great and final.
Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived during the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and claimed to be amount the Roman army at the time of the siege of Jerusalem. He personally witnessed the war and final fall of the city. In his Wars of the Jews he estimated that over 1,100,000 Jews died in the destruction; the few 80,000 or so who were left were sold into captivity. Though it is believed that Josephus may have embellished his figures, at least whatever the true figures of death and captivity were when the annihilation was complete, was nothing short of genocide. The temple was burned and the city levelled to the ground. The prophecy of Jesus in Luke 19:43,44 was realized.
“For the days will come upon you when your enemies will cast a barricade around you, and encompass you and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you. And they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
The destruction of the temple would be God’s demonstrated revelation that He was finished with the Jews’ religion, as well as His special covenant relationship with national Israel. The purpose for which Israel was called into a covenant relationship with Him was fulfilled by the conclusion of Jesus’ time on earth. What Jesus said in the following statement at the beginning of His earthly ministry explains His mission: “Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). Unless we conclude, as so many do, that He was not talking about doing away with the Sinai law and covenant with Israel, then we must read the context in which Jesus made the preceding statement:
“For verily I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled“ (Mt 5:18).
Some theologians just cannot connect the dots on this matter. They have a difficult time connecting the statement of Matthew 5:17,18 with what Jesus said in Luke 24:44 at the conclusion of this earthly ministry when He had fulfilled the law. After His resurrection, and before His ascension, He gathered the apostles together and said,
“These are the words that I spoke to you while was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms, concerning Me” (Lk 24:44).
When the preceding statement was made, the law had been fulfilled. When Jesus fulfilled all that was written in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Himself, then everything was fulfilled. The Sinai law and covenant could pass away as Jesus brought both Jews and Gentiles into a new relationship with God that was based on the gospel of grace.
The use of the pronoun “your” in Matthew 23:38 is significant. “See,” Jesus said, “your house is left to you desolate.” By the time of Jesus’ ministry, it was no longer God’s house. In the mind of God the Jewish religious leaders had already stolen the inheritance of the vineyard (See Mt 21:38,39). Jesus had said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mk 7:9; see Mt 15:1-9). Paul was certainly correct by calling Judaism the Jews’ religion (Gl 1:13). They no longer submitted to the word of God is the authority in matters of faith. By the time Jesus came into the world, the religious heritage of the Jews was their authority in matters of faith. Their religious traditions had supplanted the authority of the word of God. Once again in their history the curse for rejecting God and His word was coming upon them. On a similar occasion in their history before their destruction through captivity, Hosea wrote,
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children“ (Hs 4:6).
Because Israel had rejected God and His visitation through His Son, judgment was coming upon her.
[Next in series: July 11]