END OF NATIONAL ISRAEL
(Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36)
Unfortunately, some biblical interpreters have placed little emphasis on the consummation of national Israel that was finalized in the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Emphasis is more on the end-of-time coming and final judgment by Jesus rather than the end of national Israel by the coming of the Messiah in judgment upon Israel in time. Interpreters forgot that the Old Testament prophets, during and after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, focused the Israelites on the finality of Israel when the Messiah would come into the world. The termination of national Israel would be a tremendous social shock for the Jews, and thus God, through the prophets, prepared the minds of His people for the end of the nation. We must not rob the Israelites of these prophecies in order to satisfy our desire to follow after end-of-time speculations. As a result of the emphasis on the end of time, biblical interpreters read into the texts of Matthew 24 many end-of-time speculations.
We must always keep in mind two very important things when interpreting the book of Matthew. First, Jesus’ ministry was first to those of His immediate company, the Jews. He came to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” in order to call them to repentance (10:6). He came to His own, the Jews (Jn 1:11). He came to choose the twelve apostles and commission them to a worldwide task of preaching the gospel to every creature (28:20; Mk 16:15,16; Lk 6:13). The immediate ministry of Jesus was worldwide and throughout all history until the end of time in the sense that He would continue His ministry and accomplish His task of worldwide evangelism through the global ministry of His disciples. In order to accomplish His goal, Jesus came to work within His immediate Jewish environment.
Second, Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience about Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew’s statements, therefore, have direct reference to the Jewish situation. The Jews must accept Jesus as the Messiah. They must do so because God was about to physically bring the Jewish State to a close. Those who would not accept His messiahship would probably be caught up in the destruction and close of national Israel in A.D. 70.
The pronouncements of Jesus in Matthew 24 emphasize an imminent coming of Jesus and an “end.” This imminent coming would be in the lifetime of the disciples to whom He made these statements (See 16:27,28; 23:34-36). The Holy Spirit did not inspire any New Testament writer to deceive the 1st century disciples into believing that Jesus would personally return in His final coming in their lifetime. But the context of Matthew 24 is talking about a “coming” within the lifetime of the immediate disciples. This “coming” cannot refer to the final coming of Jesus. Therefore, we approach this context from the viewpoint that Jesus was giving information to His immediate disciples about something traumatic that was going to happen in their lifetime. He was going to come in judgment in their lifetime.
Many Bible commentaries in recent years have correctly emphasized the importance of the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem in both the Old and New Testament. This has led to a more consistent interpretation of many passages throughout the Testaments. Since the destruction of Jerusalem was the primary emphasis of Jesus in this context, we would conclude that the early disciples took special note of what Jesus said. Throughout the New Testament, therefore, we would also conclude that the Holy Spirit mentioned these things again about which Jesus spoke here.
While studying the text of Matthew 24, one must consult the parallel accounts of Jesus’ words on this occasion that are recorded in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Both Mark and Luke record additional thoughts that Jesus gave in the discourse. However, neither Matthew, Mark nor Luke give the complete discourse as it was spoken by Jesus. Each inspired writer only recorded that information that emphasized the theme of his particular book. Matthew, however, gives the most complete information. For this reason, Matthew is used here as the guideline text for our interpretive comments of this historical event about which Jesus prophesied.
Also keep in mind the dates of writing of each book. Since the impending destruction was in the near future in relation to the dates of writing, we cannot but feel that this destruction in A.D. 70 was one reason that stimulated the writing of certain New Testament books in the 1st century. At least, certain portions of the New Testament letters concerning the destruction of Jerusalem were included in the New Testament. These portions were included in order to forewarn the Christians of the coming calamity of Israel, and thus to keep them away from Jerusalem.
Mark wrote around A.D. 50-52, Matthew around A.D. 60, and Luke around A.D. 61,62. All three writers sensed in the political atmosphere of the times that finality to national Israel was near. As A.D. 70 drew near, the prophetic elements of Jesus’ prophecy concerning national Israel were becoming clear. In order to expedite conversion from Judaism, and also encourage the converted not to return to the religion that God had set aside, Matthew, Mark and Luke write. Their writings have an air of urgency, a sense of a final call to a generation seeking for hope in a political environment that was in upheaval.
Nationalistic Pride Of The Disciples
24:1 Jesus had just pronounced judgment on the city of Jerusalem in 23:38. He had also just stated, “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (23:36). The disciples were surely stunned by what He had said. In response to Jesus’ statements, Peter, James, John and Andrew later came to Jesus privately while He was on the Mount of Olives (vs 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. Surely, they were thinking that these buildings, and especially the temple, could not be destroyed by the will of God. God would not bring an end to Israel. Their nationalistic feelings were struggling against Jesus’ prophecy.
Imminent Destruction Of Jerusalem
24:2 Not be left here one stone upon another: Jesus had prepared the disciples for this final pronouncement of judgment on 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 about to say in this prophecy. Jesus had earlier prophesied that the end of national Israel was at hand. The ax was laid at the root (3:10) and was to come with a destructive blow in about forty years from the time Jesus made these pronouncements. All these things of Israel would come to an end. This is the last prophecy of Jesus of the coming destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by Vespasian, Emperor of Rome, through his son Titus. This would be the final 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. He personally witnessed the war and final fall of the city of Jerusalem. In his Wars of the Jews he stated that over 1,100,000 Jews died in the destruction. The few 80,000 or so who were left were sold into captivity. The last holdouts at Masada committed suicide. The temple was burned and the city levelled to the ground. The prophecy of Jesus in Luke 19:43,44 was fulfilled in A.D. 70. “For the days will come on you that 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 physical manifestation that He was finished with national Israel. He had accomplished the purpose for which Israel was established as a nation, and thus it was time to bring the nation to a close. The promises had been fulfilled to the fathers (Gn 12:1-3). The Messiah and Savior of the world had come. And thus, it was time to assimilate national Israel into spiritual Israel, the church.
The use of the pronoun “your” in 23:38 is significant. “See,” Jesus said, “your house is left to you desolate.” It was not God’s house for the temple was never a part of the Sinai law. In the mind of God, the Jewish religious leaders had already stolen the inheritance of the vineyard (See 21:38,39). Jesus had said that they had rejected the commandments of God (Mk 7:9; see Mt 15:1-9). God would thus reject them (Hs 4:6). Paul was certainly correct by calling Judaism the Jews’ religion (Gl 1:13). They no longer submitted to the word of God. Once again in their history the curse for rejecting God was coming upon them (Hs 4:6). Because Israel had rejected God and His commandments through Jesus, final judgment was coming upon her as a nation.
The Disciples Question Jesus
24:3 We can understand the astonishment of the disciples concerning the words of Jesus. 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 establish a physical kingdom (At 1:6), they were having a hard time accepting His statements here concerning the destruction of the temple. When will these things be: 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 23:36 happen? (2) What will be the sign of Jesus’ “coming” (or “presence”) and the end of the age? They still remembered Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the Sower, that the tares should be left with the wheat until the time of judgment (13:29). Your coming: Jesus answered the above two questions in the context of Matthew 24 and 25. He used the word “coming,” which is from the Greek word parousia. A better translation would be “presence.” In other words, the disciples are asking what the sign of His presence would be. He discussed two “comings” or “presences.” (1) There would be a coming (“presence”) in time in judgment upon the nation of Israel. He had earlier referred to this event in 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.” (2) By the end of chapter 25, Jesus has “thrown in” a coming in judgment at the end of time. This would be a final presence, a final judgment upon all the world. The entire context of Matthew 24 refers to the coming of judgment upon national Israel. Only in chapter 25 does Jesus turn in the discourse to final events. All “comings in judgment” of God in time are symbolic or typical of His final judgment at the end of time. However, we must keep in mind that the disciples at this time did not comprehend or understand Jesus’ previous discussions concerning His death, resurrection and kingdom reign. It is not probable here, therefore, that they would be asking questions concerning a final coming and judgment of Jesus. Since they did not understand the end of national Israel, so they would not be asking questions about the final coming of Jesus and judgment of the world. This does not mean, however, that Jesus did not speak concerning final things while He was with the disciples on earth. He discussed with 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 understand (See Jn 14:26; 16:13). End of the age: Jesus said, “Therefore, as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age” (13:40). Jesus was talking about His age, not some far off event that was beyond the lifetime of the immediate disciples. The Greek work aionios in 13:40 is correctly translated “age” as it is so translated in 28:20. This Greek word was unfortunately translated by some versions with the word “world.” But in this context, Jesus is primarily emphasizing judgment “in time.” A secondary consideration, or application of these thoughts, is judgment at the “end of time.” The destruction of Jerusalem in time would only be a metaphor of what would happen at the unique final coming of Jesus at the end of time.
It is best to understand Matthew 24 as a type, or metaphor of the unique destruction of the world at the end of time. Jude quoted Enoch and used the judgment of the flood of Noah’s day in reference to the coming judgment upon Jerusalem for “all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jd 15,16). In the context of Matthew 24, Jesus also uses “judgment language” in order to prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem. Such language is also used in other texts in reference to the end of the world.
We are discussing two “ends” in the context of chapters 24 and 25. (1) 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 this end (See 23:36; 24:2,8,33,34). (2) There is also 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 illustrate 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.
Warning Against Deception
24:4,5 Take heed that no one deceives you: In view of the many modern-day, self-proclaimed prophets and seers, it is little wonder that Jesus here makes this statement. He knew that at the end of national Israel there would be many self-proclaimed “messiahs” who would lead rebellions against Roman domination. Some had already come, and subsequently been squashed by Roman authorities (See At 5:36). Such messiahs and their rebellions were what eventually motivated Rome to enact a final solution to the “Jewish problem.” That solution came in A.D. 70 with the termination of national Israel. Jesus’ message here certainly has a secondary application to Christians of all time. Christians must be warned in every century that there are many who come “in the name of Christ,” but are teaching false prophecies in order to lead people astray after traditional religion or religions that are centered around the emotional hysteria of misguided religionists (See Jr 29:8; 1 Tm 4:1,2). In verse 24 Jesus said that in the religious environment prior to the end of national Israel “false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” John possibly wrote 1 John in the few years before A.D. 70, near the end of national Israel. At least we see in 1 John a sense of finality, for John wrote, “Little children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now there are many antichrists. By this we know that it is the last hour” (1 Jn 2:18). For this reason, John warned that Christians “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God … every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God” (1 Jn 4:1-3). Simply because one claims to come “in the name of Christ,” and cries out “Lord, Lord,” does not mean that he is a Christian. Only those who do the will of the Father in heaven should wear the Christian name (7:21). Only those who are willing to submit to the gospel of Jesus by immersion into His death, burial and resurrection will inherit eternal life (Mk 16:16). This would be the condition for salvation, the condition for deliverance from a world of turmoil and sin. Salvation, therefore, is more than simply “believing on Jesus.” One’s faith must be manifested in obedience. Through obedience to the will of Jesus one proclaims Jesus as his Lord. It is through this obedience, therefore, that we determine one to be of the spirit of Jesus and a true disciple. Faith is essential, but the nature of the faith that is pleasing to God is the faith that takes action to serve God (See Js 2:14-26).
Rumors Of Wars
24:6 Wars and rumors of wars: When Rome started her campaign against Palestine, she marched down through Asia Minor with skirmishes here and there in order to eradicate from the Empire the “Jewish scourge.” There were also other wars throughout the Roman Empire that evidenced the political instability of the era. These wars would not be the end of national Israel. They would only indicate the beginning of the end. But such wars would be a warning to Christians who were in Jerusalem to leave the city. All these things must come to pass: Jesus is here giving pronouncements of prophecy that would be spoken among the disciples throughout the Roman Empire. Jewish Christians were to take heed to these prophetic utterances. If they did not, they might continue to cling to the traditional Jewish Passover/Pentecost journey to Jerusalem. Subsequently, they might possibly be entrapped in the city when the Roman armies came. One reason Jesus was giving these warnings, therefore, was for the sake of the early Jewish Christians. They must take heed to these warnings and stay away from Jerusalem when the hour approached (See comments Hb).
The Consequences Of War
24:7 The internal strife in the Roman Empire only increased its intolerance of any who would cause disorder. In the two year period before the destruction of Jerusalem, Galba, Otho and Vitellius struggled to seize power in order to become Caesar of Rome. Insurrectionist movements occurred throughout the Empire. At one time about 50,000 Jews were killed in an insurrectionist movement in Seleucia. Another similar movement led to the death of about 20,000 Jews in Caesarea. There will be famines: Famines occurred throughout the Empire prior to A.D. 70. Agabus had prophesied of one in Acts 11:28. Paul dealt with another with the “famine contribution” of 1 Corinthians 16:1-3. Earthquakes: In conjunction with the famines, earthquakes seemed to have plagued the Mediterranean area in the years prior to A.D. 70. Ancient historians recorded at least eight major earthquakes in the area in the few years before the end of national Israel in A.D. 70. Luke records that Jesus also said that pestilence, or disease and plagues, would occur. Such pestilence usually accompanies famines. Pestilence would intensify the trauma of the wars. In God’s judgments of apostate Israel in the Old Testament, He brought upon them famine and pestilence in order to bring them to repentance. We would conclude that the same purpose for the famine and pestilence before A.D. 70 came for the same reason.
The Beginnings Of Sorrows
24:8 Beginning of sorrows: The events of verses 6 and 7 would only be the beginning of the sorrows. Such would not constitute the end. Unfortunately, the disciples must to live in the midst of these sorrows. They could not escape their environment. Specifically, the Jewish Christians must live in a hostile environment that is against that message which they preach (See intro. to 1 Pt). The environment is hostile simply because Satan is the prince of this world who has deceived the masses of humanity. Those he has deceived make the world difficult for Christians. Luke also adds that “great signs from heaven” would be seen (Lk 21:11). This would possibly be the unusual occurrence of heavenly phenomena that some would interpret as “signs of the end.”
Hated For Jesus’ Name
24:9 Deliver you up to be afflicted: Luke is more explanatory in his record. Before the finality of “these things” (the destruction of Jerusalem), he records what Jesus said, “They [the enemies of the disciples] will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and rulers for My name’s sake” (Lk 21:12). The apostles would be tormented in their ministry (10:17). Jesus was certainly talking about the persecution of the early disciples because of the mention of “synagogues.” This is specific and Jewish in context. And this is exactly what happened (See At 4:1-22; 5:17-40; 8:3,4; 12:1-5; 16:23; 21:33-40; 24:23-27; 28:30). It is worthy of note that Mark records that this discourse was delivered privately to Peter, James, John and Andrew (Mk 13:3). James would be the first martyred apostle (At 12:1-5). Peter and the others would suffer extensively at the hands of the persecuting Jews (See comments At 14:22). Hated: The disciples were hated by the persecuting Jews. But this hate by the Jews would not match that which would be heaped upon the disciples by the end of the 1st century. Rome would eventually unleash its power against the disciples. When Nero was Caesar during the middle of the 60s, he launched in Rome a personal vendetta against those who claimed the name of Jesus. But this was only the beginning of Roman persecution against Christians. Such “hate” had been spoken before by the Lord (Jn 15:18,19; see Jn 10:17-19; At 3:4; 7:59; 12:2; 16:23; 18:12; 24:26; 28:22). Persecution of the early Christians was so prevalent that the early evangelists exhorted and comforted new Christians with the teaching that they would suffer (See Jn 16:1-3; At 14:22; 2 Tm 3:12). There were, therefore, two forces that persecuted the early Christians. The first was Jewish persecution that was first led in the beginning by Saul (At 9:1-3). This persecution eventually extended throughout many places of the Roman Empire. The second persecution was carried out by the head of the Roman Empire. Nero launched this personal vendetta against Christians in the middle 60s. However, all historical evidence indicates that this persecution was localized in and around Rome. It was not until the reign of Domitian that Roman State persecution was launched against Christianity throughout the Empire. In Rome’s early persecutions of Jews, the Roman State made little distinction between Jews and Christians. Christians were only considered a sect of Judaism. And since Judaism was causing the incessant problems of Palestine, Rome launched reprisals against both Jews and Christians. It is also significant to note from this context, and the context of John 16:1-3, that persecution would also come from those who were religious, and thus, believed that they were serving God by persecuting Christians. Even Rome’s persecution was instituted by religious leaders of Roman religion (See comments Rv 13). Persecution of Christians rarely comes from the state alone. It is usually generated by religions that seek to dispel competitive religious beliefs within the state, and thus seeks to suppress all other religious beliefs. A false religion can be determined by its will to suppress all other faiths by use of the sword of the state.
The Offended And The Betrayed
24:10 Many will be offended: Those with weak faith who were offended, or who were ashamed of the gospel (See Rm 1:16), would succumb to the pressure of persecution. They would call Caesar lord at the demand of Roman soldiers who had the power to kill them. They would inform on fellow brothers and sisters who were Christians (See Ph 1:12-18). But Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (11:6). Luke records the extent to which some would go in their betrayals. Christians would be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends (Lk 21:16). Knowing that these first disciples would be in such trying situations, specifically the Christ-sent apostles, Jesus promised that He would through the Holy Spirit reveal to them what to say when under trial (Lk 21:14,15). There is a practical principle here we must not overlook. Those who would take a stand for truth will be persecuted by the deceived. When one preaches truth, Satan, will not be silent. He will not stand at ease while his kingdom is ravaged by the truth of the gospel. The evangelist who goes forth and finds it surprising that there are those religiously misguided people who oppose him, has much to learn about the conflict between good and evil in this world.
24:11 Deceive many: Here again Jesus emphasizes the concept of deception. Jesus knew man’s fickle nature to follow after man. He knew the “sheep nature” of people to seek for a shepherd (Mk 6:34). This urge to seek for a shepherd is so strong that innocent, if not gullible, sheep would follow after any self-proclaimed prophet who might show some religious inclinations and leadership. Jesus knew that there would be those who would take advantage of the innocence of the sheep. Therefore, He warned the sheep that false prophets would come in among them as ravenous wolves (7:15). These imposters would often “practice sorcery,” “astonish the people,” and claim that they were “someone great” (At 8:9-11). Paul warned that from the elders of the church men would arise speaking perverse things (At 20:30). But he warned that such were false prophets who sought to deceive the people as masquerading apostles (2 Co 11:13; see 2 Pt 2:1,2; Gl 1:6-9; 1 Tm 4:1-4; 2 Tm 3:1-9; 1 Jn 4:1; Jd 11,16). The fact that both Jesus and the inspired writers warned of false teachers is enough to alert us to always be on guard against such. The only way to be on guard is to know well that which protects us against erroneous teachings. We must know the Bible. Biblically ignorant people do not guard against false teachers. They only persecute those who preach the truth.
Lawlessness And Lovelessness
24:12 Lawlessness will abound: It will be a social environment where men do not submit to the laws of either God or man. Human relationships will digress to animal instincts. There is no love of one’s neighbors in a state of anarchy. For this reason, God ordained governmental law (Rm 13:1,2). Anarchy among rebellious Jews would bring judgment upon themselves in A.D. 70. Because the Jews continually fought against the Roman occupation of Palestine, Rome unleashed her judgment upon the anarchists. The love of many will grow cold: In times of trial and persecution it is easy for some to fall from the love of the brethren (Compare 1 Tm 1:8,9; Rv 2:4,5). When men refuse to submit to God, they will not submit to one another. Submission to one’s fellow man begins with a humble submission to the will of God. But when arrogance is admired, humble submission is discouraged. The arrogance of the Jews was what led to their uprising against the Romans, and subsequently, Rome’s eventual crushing of the Jews.
[Lecture on Matthew 24 continues tomorrow.]