When Shall These Things Be?
1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the temple.
2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
Has Jesus returned and is he living in Houston? Well according to a story carried last year by ABC News, he has and is. [http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=2925021&page=1, Jesus of Suburbia -- Has He Risen Again in Houston, Texas? By JIM AVILA, March 6, 2007] And his followers are getting themselves tattooed with the number 666.
Jim Avila, the author of the article writes, “These people belong to a new movement devoted to a man who calls himself the Second Coming of Jesus, and also claims the title of Antichrist, which to him is the next incarnation of Jesus on earth, not an evil being. To show their devotion, some followers ink themselves with ‘666.’ One follower said, ‘I just want to make sure it's visible, that everyone knows my life belongs to the man.’ Another said, ‘I want everyone to know I'm one of the antichrists.’" They and others like them are fervently devoted to a 60-year-old Puerto Rican whose legal name is Jose de Jesus, or ‘Jose of Jesus.’ He counts followers in more than 30 countries; some say they total more than a million.
Now when I read that ABC News article on the internet this week, I thought, how can people be so easily deluded? How can anyone believe that stuff? Obviously, they do not know much about biblical prophecy. Perhaps the message is that we ought to study the Bible more and we ought to be more aware of Biblical prophecy.
Whenever we mention biblical prophecy, most people immediately ask questions like: How does this apply to us today? Is the second coming of Christ going to take place in our generation? Are we near the end of time?
And the answer is …. known to God. Many well meaning pastors have taught that the second coming of Christ would occur in their time, and they encouraged people to be vigilant and prepared and that is not bad. We should be prepared to give an account of our lives to our Lord and Savior, at any moment.
However, others have erroneously predicted the actual day of the Second Coming. They are unbiblical because the bible says that we cannot predict divine events. In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says "… of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
Still there are people who make predictions anyway. Edgar Whisenant sold 4.3 million copies of his book detailing why Christ would come in 1988. Well 1988 came and went and Christ did not come. The next year Whisenant sold 30,000 copies of a book he wrote detailing why Christ would come in 1989. 1989 came and went and Christ did not come. The amazing think to me is that he could still find 30,000 people to buy his book the second time. As P.T. Barnum said, there is a sucker born every minute.
Acts 1:6 is another text warning us not to set dates or times. The disciples asked the Resurrected Lord if he would not inaugurate his kingdom. Jesus replied, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
Ok, I heard that, but having heard that, what is Jesus talking about in Matthew 24? Matthew 24 is a chapter on prophecy, a long chapter, 51 verses. It is sometimes called the “Matthean apocalypse.” The first three verses provide a setting and introduction.
We are told that Jesus was leaving the temple in Jerusalem and the disciples were pointing out to him the buildings of the temple. This was an architectural marvel, a wonder of the age. Herod the great had launched a massive renovation and expansion of the temple beginning about 19 b.c. Even though Herod died in 4 b.c., the project continued for years after his death. By the time of Jesus, it was an awesome sight. The gleaming white marble of the edifice was visible from well outside the walls of the city. The scale of the building was designed to impress. It dominated the landscape. It was the pride and focus of Judaism. This then was what the disciples were showing off to Jesus. Then Jesus makes an astonishing statement in v2: “See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Imagine the scene. The disciples were happily playing the role of tour guides, pointing out to Jesus the grandeur of the temple complex, and Jesus prophecies, all this will be destroyed. Not one stone will be left in place.
Apparently, that was a conversation stopper. Jesus and his followers walk out of Jerusalem, down a little valley, cross a brook and go up on the Mount of Olives. V3 opens with Jesus sitting on the Mount. The disciples have been mulling over what he said, and they ask him three questions, or rather they ask three versions of the same question.
The verse says that their questions were: “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Now in context what the disciples are asking about is the prophecy of Jesus in v2. When shall these things be? When shall the temple be destroyed? And being good Jews, they did assume that the destruction of the temple would be the sign of the coming of the messiah and the end of the age.
Now we have what the disciples did not have. We have the perfect 20/20 hindsight of history. This conversation in Matthew 24 takes place about A.D. 30. We know that there was a great Jewish rebellion against the Romans beginning in A.D. 66. The Romans put down the rebellion was enormous slaughter. The legions of Titus stormed Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and utterly destroyed the temple. Most of the population of Jerusalem that was not killed was sold into slavery. The Jewish historian Josephus claims that over one million people were killed during the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and 97000 were enslaved. The entire world of Judaism, the world we find described in the gospels, ceased to exist. That Judaism was founded on the temple and priesthood. It was no more. At the end of the first century, Judaism was reconstituted and founded on the Talmud and the rabbis, and that is the Judaism we know today. So, for Jews the catastrophe of A.D. 70 was definitely the end of the age, and many commentators find all of Matthew 24 to be Jesus’ prophetic vision of what happened in Palestine some 40 years later.
For example, Adam Clarke (1760 or 1762–1832) was a British Methodist Biblical scholar. He spent 40 years writing a commentary on the Bible. His work is still the best-known Methodist commentary on the Bible.
Clarke writes: “This chapter contains a prediction of the utter destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, and the subversion of the whole political constitution of the Jews; and is one of the most valuable portions of the new covenant Scriptures, with respect to the evidence which it furnishes of the truth of Christianity. Every thing which our Lord foretold should come on the temple, city, and people of the Jews, has been fulfilled in the most correct and astonishing manner.”
Thus, we can summarize the chapter in this way. Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple and then he expands on his prediction, mentioning false messiahs in v4, and we know that there were false messiahs in that time. He mentions war, famine, pestilence, and earthquake. Beginning in v9 he prophecies the persecution of his followers—and remember that Nero launched the first persecution of the church in the 60’s. Jesus mentions general spread of the Gospel in v14. and in that period the gospel was spread throughout the Roman world.
Vs15-18 especially seem to point to the siege of Jerusalem. The abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel would be the destruction of the temple, and if you were in the city when the Romans took it, the best you could hope for was a quick death.
Then beginning in v23 Jesus warns again against false prophets and false messiahs. If anyone says Jesus is over here or Jesus is over there or Jesus will come on a certain day or in a certain place, we are to pay them no attention.
In this chapter, Jesus is talking about the total destruction of a way of life, of an age, of a human society and that happened and in the providence of God, it was replaced by something better. It was replaced by the coming of the son of man, by the coming of Christianity.
Thus, we read in v31, “And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” That is what God has been doing since the destruction of the temple, gathering his elect, gathering his people all around the world into the church.
Now that is one interpretation of Matthew 24. But let us say that you decide that you are going to read about biblical prophecy. You are interested; you want to find out about it. Therefore, you go down to your local Christian bookstore and buy some books on the subject. As you peruse these books, you are probably not going to find any mention of the interpretation I have just given. Americans are historical amnesiacs. Most Americans seem to think that theirs is the only generation that has ever lived. Therefore, every verse in the bible must apply to us right now. So most books on prophecy will not even mention the interpretation I have given you. Rather they will grab a verse here and a verse there and say, this applies to us right now. The end of time is right around the corner. There was an earthquake in China and Jesus mentioned earthquakes so this must be the end of time. There is a false messiah named Jose de Jesus, and Jesus mentioned false messiahs, this must be the end. So you better get ready, get your ducks in a row, believe in Jesus Christ now, right now because Jesus might return before the sun sets tonight.
Now as I mentioned earlier, I do not ridicule that way of thinking. Many sincere Christians believe that Jesus will return in our time. They may be right. They are certainly right when they say you should believe in Jesus right now.
But let us think about a principle of Biblical interpretation here. If you let me pick and mix verses of the Bible, I can prove anything. There is part of a verse that says, “Judas went and hung himself.” There is part of a verse that says, “Go thou and do likewise.” Put those two together and what do you have? You would say, well you cannot do that you cannot mix verses like that, and obviously, you are right. You have to consider the context of the verse.
I have been reading the Bible for many years. I have read Matthew 24 from several viewpoints. But I have to say I think the likelihood is that this chapter is about the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.
This is prophecy. It is fulfilled prophecy. What does that say to us? Ask yourself this question. Why did Matthew put this chapter in his gospel? What was Matthew’s purpose? Matthew had a definite purpose in writing his gospel. The gospel is about Jesus. Matthew is out to show us that Jesus is the greatest thing ever to happen in this world. When you look at Jesus you see God in action in this world, you see God in charge of time and history. That is what Jesus is demonstrating in Matthew 24. He knows about future events. He knows what is going to happen. Adam Clarke was right. He said this chapter furnishes evidence of the truth of Christianity. The evidence is that Jesus was a real prophet, indicating that he was really from God, and when he died on the cross, his death could really save us from our sins, and therefore you ought to believe in Jesus right now as your savior and lord.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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