So last week Greg promised that this week’s sermon will only take 10 minutes, he was wrong. We are dealing with a very difficult passage of Scripture. So, from the get-go there might be disagreements with my position that I take in interpreting this portion of Scripture. However, please note everyone is trying to explain the text, this does not impact our salvation, and it is inherently mysterious. Therefore, we must be gracious to each other in our interpretation and seek together to see what the Word says.
However, the interpretation I take is trying to be as honest with the text as I can be. To let the text, speak in terms of what it was originally trying to say. So, we are going to go on a two-week journey through this difficult splitting it where there is a natural split in the text.
Let’s just dive in and I will show you what I mean. Jesus has just had a very intense interaction with the Religious leaders of his days and at the back end of this as they are leaving the Temple we read…
Matthew 24:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)
Jesus Foretells Destruction of the Temple
24 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
His disciples come up to Jesus and said look at this building isn’t it amazing. And Jesus says, well actually everything you see here it’s going to be destroyed. Now, we have to understand that this is the centre of Jewish life. The Temple was, in the mind of the Jews, where God met with His people. Now, for the sake of clarity for the rest of tonight the Temple that Jesus describes here was destroyed in AD 70 under the invasion of Titus. So, when we speak of the destruction of the Temple, that is what we are talking about.
Now, this perturbs the disciples, so they ask;
Matthew 24:3 English Standard Version (ESV)
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?
Now, notice, how many questions do the disciples ask here? Two! The disciples ask:
1. When will this (the destruction of the Temple) take place
2. When will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age be?
And church, this is gives us a clue on how to interpret this section. Jesus answers the disciples two questions in two parts which we will look at over the next two weeks. Firstly (and what we will look at tonight), when will the destruction of the Temple took place which Jesus answers from vs4-35 and then when will the coming of Jesus take place and the end of the age which Jesus answers from vs 36-51 (which we will look at next week).
Now, you might be thinking that that division doesn’t look right because it seems that Jesus slips in seriously “end of the world” type imagery in verses 4-35 so how can we limit the destruction of the Temple to verse 4-35 when there is clearly “end of the world events” like in verse 29 especially.
Well, that is what we are going to tackle tonight. Let’s continue through our journey through the text:
Jesus answers their question; and I am arguing that he is answering their first question here; which is when will the destruction of the Temple take place?
We read in;
Matthew 24:4-14 English Standard Version (ESV)
4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away[a] and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Now, there are many warnings that Jesus gives us here and then he says, then the end will come. What is Jesus doing? Is he describing the End or the destruction of the Temple? Now, to understand this section we need to get our mind into Jewish prophecy. We can try and go literal verse for verse and state this passage is talking about the end of time. However, in doing that we are limiting what Jesus is talking about and ultimately confusing ourselves in the process because the language does not allow us to do this and in the other Jewish prophets (such as Daniel, Isaiah, Micah etc) we will become increasingly confused as we read scripture.
Jesus describes how everything we are about to see, all the turmoil, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple these are the start of a serious of event that will culminate at the end of the age. These are birth pains Jesus says. The “end” sandwiched between the destruction of the Temple and the preaching of the gospel to all nations as a testimony.
So, just like the Old Testament prophets Jesus is using the coming events to point the reader to the goal of creation. The goal is that God is coming back to establish his just rule over all the earth and over every nation.
Now, Jesus describes many things here, false Christs, wars, destructive nature and lawlessness. This is human history! There had been and always will be people wanting to lead us astray, there has been and always will be war, the devastation of natural disaster and lawlessness. The lesson that Jesus wants us to take away (which we will come back to at the end of this sermon) is to stand firm, and preach the gospel.
Next Jesus gives details to the temples destruction;
Matthew 24:15-25 English Standard Version (ESV)
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.
Now we come to an image that sparks many debates. However, what we know of history according to the Jewish historian Josephus, in AD 66 riots broke out in Jerusalem that started in motion a serious of even that culminated in the siege of Jerusalem in AD70. The siege started on the 14th April and ended on the 30 August AD70. With the Temple being utterly destroyed and ransacked. As a final display of victory Titus (the Roman General who was leading the siege) sacrificed an offering to his gods on the altar of God therefor fulfilling what Daniel was talking about.
This is most likely for Matthew adding the “reader take note” part of this passage. The reality is that this section was a preparation for the Christians during the start of the Christian Church, as it has been reported that during the siege not many Christians were killed as they had heeded the warnings of Christ and fled the city at the first reports of a Roman invasion.
Next we read
Matthew 24:26-28 English Standard Version (ESV)
26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
Jesus warns his followers of false Christs, and there were. In fact, in Acts we have reports of this. But the church has always had people claiming that Messiah has come. Don’t believe them. Jesus says as lightning lights up the sky so it will be the coming of man. In other words, you are not going to miss it.
Again, Jesus is using the coming prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem to prepare the church for the end of days.
Next Jesus goes into this peculiar section in;
Matthew 24:29-31 English Standard Version (ESV)
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
And here you are like, Barry, this has to be about the end of days. I mean the starts did not fall from the heavens and the sun and moon were not darkened in AD70, so you are wrong. And in fact, I must admit I thought the same thing the first time I read this, until I looked for myself who Matthew is quoting here. So, who is Matthew quoting? It is the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 13:4-5;10-19
Isaiah 13:4-5 English Standard Version (ESV)
4 The sound of a tumult is on the mountains
as of a great multitude!
The sound of an uproar of kingdoms,
of nations gathering together!
The Lord of hosts is mustering
a host for battle.
5 They come from a distant land,
from the end of the heavens,
the Lord and the weapons of his indignation,
to destroy the whole land.[a]
Isaiah 13:10 English Standard Version (ESV)
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
Isaiah 13:17-19 English Standard Version (ESV)
17 Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them,
who have no regard for silver
and do not delight in gold.
18 Their bows will slaughter[a] the young men;
they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb;
their eyes will not pity children.
19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendour and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.
Let’s ask a dumb question; who was this prophecy against? It was against Babylon, and it was about the fall of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. Which happened in 539BC. Let’s ask a question, did the sky rip apart in 539BC? No, this is poetic language, depicting how the world has fallen apart. Babylon was the leading world power and so at its fall the world fell apart. Jesus is poetically leaning on this image to describe how the Jewish world too is going to fall apart!
But what about the Son on man coming with power? Well again Matthew is quoting from the Old Testament. He is quoting Daniel chapter 7:13-14. You can read it for youself, however, the image is of “the Son of Man” figure being destroyed by the beast however, then being exalted to the right hand of God.
What Jesus is talking about is what Daniel was talking about which is that the son of man will be exalted from death and persecution to the right hand of God to be the rightful King of the world. In This act of dying the messengers will go out and start gathering God’s chosen people from all corners of the earth. In other words; the death of Jesus is going to start the events that Daniel predicted that will move history to its final end so that God will gather a people, and justice will come.
All this leads to
Matthew 24:32-34 English Standard Version (ESV)
32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Now, biblically the bible gives us a reference to judge what a generation is. It is 40 years as that is how long the people of God wandered through the wilderness after they sinned and we forced to die in the Wilderness. Jesus says, this generation will not pass away until all this has happened and Jesus wasn’t far off, it was 37 years later that the siege of Jerusalem happened.
So, Jesus has answered the first part of the disciples question and he predicted it with startling detail and accuracy. Next week we will look at his answer for the second question.
However, our takeaway for tonight is this; the death of Jesus and his subsequence Resurrection has set in motion a series of events that will culminate in the Age to Come (which is what we will cover next week). This is inevitable, it is going to happen. And we must be warned as it was up to the destruction of the Temple so it will continue to the End of the age.
Our task and call is what Jesus tells us in verse 13-14. Stand firm and preach the gospel! This is our task. Hold on, and preach the gospel.
This is what we will have to do until this age comes to its end.