Matthew 24:1-51 – Senior Pastor Jesus

SENIOR PASTOR JESUS

The disciples have asked Jesus some very important questions about the destruction of the temple.  Many argue that the temple mentioned in this text is in fact a new temple that will be built in Jerusalem at some point in the future.  However, the evidence from the text suggests that the temple that is destroyed is in fact the same temple the disciples have seen (Matt. 24:1).  Jesus answers His disciples questions with detail and compassion.  He is not trying to confuse them or inundate them with esoteric information.  Instead, Jesus speaks to promote obedience and faith that His disciples will need in a very disturbing time they will experience.  A time when Jesus won’t be there with them in physical form.  You will see and recognize the compassion of Jesus for His disciples throughout this text.

 

GENERAL AND PERSONAL SIGNS

Jesus begins by giving His disciples some signs of things that will take place before the destruction of the temple.  His first warning is to be watching for false teachers who offer false signs and false hope.  Only the words of Jesus are true.  Disciples shouldn’t steer from what Jesus is saying to them… no matter what happens or how realistic a false teacher may sound.  Jesus knows “what” will happen and is the only one adequate to prepare His disciples for the coming tribulation.  A series of general signs are then given including wars, rumors of war, earthquakes, and famines.  These things are always occurring in every age and no one should take these things as “the end.”  These things must happen and should be put in proper perspective in relationship to the destruction of the temple.

Jesus then gets more personal with His disciples.  There are trials and pains that they will endure specifically.  The disciples will be persecuted, hated, and even put to death.  Realize these persecutions only come because of the hatred people have towards Jesus, whom His disciples love and are identified with.  While these verses can obviously be applied to Christians at every time in history, these predictions were especially true of the disciples who followed Jesus in the first century.  A reading of the book of Acts gives a specific timeline to the truthfulness of the words of Jesus (Acts 4:3-5, 7:58, 12:2-4, 14:19, 16:19-23, 22:22-30, 25:12).  Paul also lists the afflictions he endured before the destruction of the temple (2 Corinthians 11:22-28).  Jesus warns His disciples of these things before they happen so they can endure their suffering with faith, hope, and endurance.

 

FLEE

Jesus now moves from speaking in terms of things that must happen to “the sign” that the destruction of the temple has reached its moment in history.  Pointing to the prophecy of Daniel 9:26-27, Jesus warns of the abomination that causes desolation.  Note that the prophecy details the destruction of not only the temple, but the city as well.  This is exactly what happened when Rome surrounded Jerusalem (Luke 21:20).  With Rome lurking over them, the Jewish Zealots seized control of Jerusalem by force.  They committed numerous trespasses including entering the temple, killing the priests, and committing murder in the holy of holies.  They even elected a new high priest of their own whose name was Phanni.  The Jewish historian, Josephus, refers to him as a clown and he was clearly seen as someone who was in a position that he should not be in.  Christians in Jerusalem saw these events and did what Jesus commanded.  They fled to the mountains.  We have historical records of the Roman general Cestius Gallus, who oversaw the 12th legion, withdrawing for a short time and allowing people to leave the city.  However, this escape did not last long.  When General Titus arrived with 3 additional legions of Roman soldiers they laid siege on the city.  All records we have from the eyewitnesses who were there describe the scene as a bloodbath.  However, no Christians were there because they had followed the instructions of Jesus closely.  They were safe in the mountains in a place known as Pella.  It is clear from the text and from the historical accounts that this great tribulation was local and not global… hence the command to flee.  No one would be able to flee this tribulation if it was concerning the end of all time.  Early church fathers like Chrysostom and Augustine saw the destruction of the temple as the proper meaning of the Olivet discourse of Jesus, as well as did numerous historians like Josephus and Eusebius.  Jesus was right.  The church was prepared.  God’s people were saved because they believed in and listened to the words of Jesus.

 

INTERPRETING TOUGH TEXTS

It is widely recognized by Biblical scholarship that the first 28 verses of Matthew are all concerned with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Scholars are  divided on what to do with the next three verses though (29-31).  Many believe that Jesus interjects these verses to teach His disciples about His second coming.  Many others believe that these verses still pertain to the context of the entire discourse and still has its primacy in the events of 70 AD.  If you choose to interpret these verses as referring to the second coming of Christ, you will find doctrinal truth.  Jesus is coming back visibly in the sky (I Thessalonians 4:15-18).  However, reading the text in this way suggests an unmerited break in the subject matter that Jesus is discussing.  Is it possible to understand these verses and find doctrinal truth while being completely faithful to the context?  I believe so.

 

THE SON OF MAN

Our first clue comes from the opening language of verse 29.  Jesus seems to be referring to immediately after the tribulation (siege on Jerusalem and destruction of the temple), which happened “in those days” and not 2,000 plus years later.  Jesus then uses very common imagery from the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 13:6-13, 19:1-2, 24:21-23, 34:4-6, Ezekiel 32:7-9, Nahum 1:1-5, Amos 8:9, Jeremiah 4:23-28, Daniel 7:13-14).  The Jews understood the imagery of cosmic signs as God acting in the affairs of men from the heavens.  God was involving Himself in the timeline of human history.  Jesus then refers to Himself as the “son of man.”  This was the favorite self-designation that Jesus used throughout the gospels (Mathew 16:13, Mark 2:28, Luke 19:10).  The name comes from the book of Daniel and refers to the one whom God will give all power and authority.  What would the Jewish disciples of Jesus be hearing through this repetition of Old Testament imagery that Jesus was using?  After the tribulation of those days you will see God move and transfer power from the Judaic system (temple, priesthood, sacrifices, etc) to the person of Jesus Christ Himself.  People will forever now be gathered to God through Jesus Christ, and not the temple!  Verse 34 seems to clarify the fact that this is the correct reading because these things all happened within 40 years (a generation) of Jesus speaking these things.  The temple was gone and people were finding God through Jesus Christ and His church, which was growing rapidly in spite of the severe persecution.  A physical transfer of power had taken place that only God could have accomplished.

 

STAY AWAKE

Jesus ends this diatribe with the command for His disciples to stay awake.  If the disciples were not paying attention they could have missed the warnings of Jesus and been killed in the siege of Jerusalem.  History tells us they believed the words of Jesus and were obediently watching for His signs to be fulfilled.  As a result, they were saved from the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Paul, gives the same warning to the church awaiting the second coming of Christ.  We are to “stay awake and be sober” (I Thessalonians 5:2-6).  God told Noah the flood was coming, and it came.  God said the messiah would be rejected by His own people, and He was.  God told His disciples the temple would be destroyed, and it did occur.  God tells us that Jesus is coming again… what do you think will happen?  God has a pretty good track record!

 

Study Questions

  1. How is the gospel evident through God fully revealing His plan to His children?
  2. If Jesus were talking about an event that ended all earthly human existence, and not the destruction of the 1st century temple, would a call to flee  the city seem reasonable?
  3. Understanding literary devices is an important part of correctly interpreting the Bible.  As an exercise, read Psalm 91:4.  This is poetry so imagery is used.  How are we to interpret this figurative language?  Does this help you better understand verses 29-30?
  4. As a further exercise, read I Thessalonians 4:13-18.  This is not poetry or prophetic writings.  This is teaching that is instructive and necessary for our encouragement (didactic and imperative).  Why should we not read this as figurative, but literal?
  5. Talk about possible dangers of interpreting figurative language literally, or literal language figuratively.
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