As He sat on the Mount of Olives [which was east of the city of Jerusalem], the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming [presence] and of the end of the age?”
We can understand the astonishment of the disciples concerning the words of Jesus when He had just pronounced the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. They realized that He was talking about a dreadful event that was to befall national Israel. In view of the fact that they still believed that Jesus would possibly “restore the kingdom to Israel” (At 1:6), they were having a difficult time processing His statements here concerning the destruction of all that in which they had taken so much pride throughout their.
When we consider the parallel accounts of Mark (13:4) and Luke (21:7), the disciples seem to be asking two questions: (1) When will the things of Matthew 23:36 happen? (2) What will be the sign of Jesus’ “coming” (or “presence”) and the end of the age.
The disciples still remembered Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the Sower that the tares should be left with the wheat until the time of judgment (Mt 13:29). “Therefore, as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age” (Mt 13:40). Jesus was talking about the age of His first century disciples, not some far off event that was beyond the life-span of the immediate disciples. He was certainly not speaking of events that would transpire over two thousand years later.
The Greek work aionios in Matthew 13:40 is correctly translated “age” as it is so translated in Matthew 28:20. This Greek word was unfortunately translated by the prejudicial King James translators with the word “world”—the translators believed that Jesus was speaking of the end of the world in Matthew 24. But in the context, Jesus was revealing judgment “in time.” The destruction of Jerusalem in time would be an illustration in some way of what would happen at the unique final coming of Jesus at the end of time. But in the historical context Jesus was preparing His Jewish disciples for the end of national Israel. The Jews would continue throughout history as a culture of people. However, their existence as a unique people in a covenant with God was terminated at the cross and demonstrated in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
In the context of Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus answered the preceding two questions. He used the word “coming” that is translated from the Greek word parousia. A better translation would be “presence.” In other words, the disciples were asking what the sign of His presence would be. Jesus subsequently revealed two “comings” or “presences” in His teaching concerning the end of Israel. First, there would be a coming (“presence”) in time in judgment upon the nation of Israel. He had earlier referred to this event in Matthew 16:27,28.
“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels [messengers], and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming [presence] in His kingdom.”
Second, by the end of chapter 25, it is possible that Jesus included a coming in judgment at the end of time. This would be a final presence, or final judgment of all the world. We are of the opinion, however, that the entire context of Matthew 24 refers to the coming in time in judgment upon national Israel. Only in chapter 25 does Jesus possibly moved on in the discourse to final events.
All “comings in judgment” of God in time are symbolic or typical of His final presence at the end of time. However, we must keep in mind that the disciples before His ascension did not comprehend Jesus’ previous discussions concerning His death, resurrection and kingdom reign. It is not probable here, therefore, that they would be asking questions about a final coming and judgment of Jesus at the end of time. Jesus possibly included information on the end of time for our sakes only.
The immediate disciples did not understand the end of Israel, let alone ask questions about the final coming of Jesus and judgment at the end of the world. This does not mean, however, that Jesus did not speak concerning final things while He was with the disciples during His earthly ministry. He revealed to them many things they did not fully understand. Only when such things were brought to their remembrance with the revelation of all truth did they fully understand what Jesus had revealed to them during His earthly ministry (See Jn 14:26; 16:13).
It is best to understand Matthew 24 as a type, or illustration, of the unique destruction of the world at the end of time. An example of this application would be when Jude used Enoch’s prophecy of the judgment of the flood of Noah’s day to refer to the coming judgment upon Israel for “all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jd 15,16). In the context of Matthew 24, Jesus also used “judgment language” in order to prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem. Such language was also used in other texts in reference to the end of the world. We would not be wrong, therefore, to use the general teaching of God’s judgments in time to illustrate His judgment at the end of time.
We are discussing two “ends” in the context of chapters 24 and 25. First, there is the end of national Israel that would happen in the lifetime of the immediate disciples of Jesus (23:36; see Mk 9:1). Reference to these things center around Israel’s end by destruction (See 23:36; 24:2,8,33,34).
Second, there is the end of the world that is illustrated by the judgment and destruction of the flood in Noah’s day and the destruction of Jerusalem. In an illustrative way, therefore, the end of national Israel would demonstrate the end of the world. As the typical Jew could not comprehend the end of Israel, so men today cannot comprehend the end of the world. Unbelievers will speak all sorts of harsh things against Christians because they believe there is no finality to the things of this world.
[Next in series: July 13]