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(Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21)

The guiding prophetic force behind the book of Revelation is easily accessible in Jesus’ own words as recounted in His Sermon at Olivet.[1]Jesus’ here remarks regarding the future of the temple and Israel in the setting of His day in history. Matthew 24, popularly known as the “Little Apocalypse,”includes the foundational elements underlying what can be known about the “end of the age.”From Jesus’ basic outline in Matthew, as well from other of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, we can gain insight into what He expected from God’s unfolding plan for the next age. Too often Jesus’ words in this sermon are either ignored or disconnected from the book of Revelation, leaving the reader woefully ill-informed about the historical context of Scripture’s eschatological intentions. The real mystery lies not so much in the book of Revelation nor in its teachings alone, but in the person and message of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. Likewise, the more clarity we gain from reading Revelation, as a means to know the person and teachings of Christ, the better equipped we become to wrestle with the enigma that is the Apocalypse of John.

What follows is a cursory outline of the relationship between Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation. Burton Throckmorton’s Gospel Parallelshas been used to compare the synoptic versions of Jesus’ lesson.[2]

 

 

The Destruction of the Temple

Matthew 24:1-3

(also Mark 13:1-4 and Luke 21:5-7)

 

Jesus and the disciples leavethe temple,[3]both in the physical sense of traveling from one location to another, as well as in the spiritual sense of leaving the temple that is no longer the house of God.[4]This is an unmistakable implication of what’s to become of the temple in AD 70. The covenant had been broken and the seal of its annulment was marked by Israel’s rejection of God’s only begotten Son. Here the glory of God’s presence is about to departfrom Israel. The end of the “age of the Jews” is opening the way for the coming of the “age of the Gentiles.”[5]

Jesus and the disciples cross down into the Kidron Valley and climb up the Mount of Olives, with its exceptional view of Jerusalem. Looking back upon the magnificent temple, the disciples question what Jesus had told the Pharisees, a few verses earlier in Matthew 23 about the temple’s demise 23:38f, “Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The prophets Micah, in 3:12 and Jeremiah in 7:12-14, had previously dared to predict that Solomon’s temple would one day be destroyed, and that day had come in BC 587. But wait a minute! That day was yet to come again. Despite the Jewish penchant for having a graphic historical memory of prophecy, by Jesus’ era most Jews had come to assume that Herod’s version of the temple was somehow indestructible. But it wasn’t.

Gaging from the disciple’s question, they must have assumed that the destruction of the temple and the end of the world would necessarily be concurrent events. They evidently believed that the temple was permanent and that only the end of world could possibly bring about its ultimate demise. Jesus quickly dispels this myth stating that the temple would fall within “this generation,” then there would follow the end of the world and His Parousia (Second Coming).[6]In this simple line of thought, straight from the lips of Christ Himself, we have the expected sequence of the signs that lead to His Parousia. Thus, the end of the age occurs, then its followed by Parousia,and finally the end of the world.

The disciples evidently believed that the present world—run by pagan Romans—would come to an end and the covenant people of God, themselves, the Jews, would rule on earth just as they had ruled within their own kingdom under David and Solomon several centuries before. They were “looking for the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes to reach their appointed climax. The ‘end of the age’ for which they longed was not the end of the world, but the end of the present evil era in the world…and the introduction of the (this world) age to come…in other words, the end of Israel’s period of mourning and exile under Rome and the beginning of her freedom and vindication under her Messiah. Matthew 24:3 therefore, is most naturally read in its first-century Jewish context, not as a question about what scholars have come to call the ‘Parousia,’ but a question of Jesus arrival [Parousia] in the sense of His actual enthronement as king of Israel as consequence of the dethronement of the present world powers that were occupying the holy city (Rome)…The question…seen from within the story the disciples must have had in their minds was: When Jesus, will You come in Your kingdom? When will the evil age, symbolized by the present Jerusalem regime and Roman rule, be over?”[7]

 

II  Signs of the Second

Coming & Troubles Ahead

Matthew 24:4-14

(also Mark 13:5-13 and Luke 21:8-19)

 

Here Jesus downplays any tendencies toward premature excitement and speculation regarding the events predicted in Matthew 24:3. The point being that these are not necessarily the signs of the impending destruction of the temple nor of His parousia. These are only the “birth pains” toward that end. The transition from the Age of the Jewsup to this point and theAge of the Gentiles that was to come about soon was about to occur. And indeed, these pains would characterize the period from Jesus’ death and His resurrection in AD 33, to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.[8]Below are some of Jesus’ prophecies in Matthew 24 that were fulfilled prior to AD 70.

 

  1. Impostors and Messianic Pretenders(v.5)

Josephus reports that during the reign of Nero, deceivers and false prophets were arrested on a daily basis. In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius refers to the prevalence of false messiahs in this period as well.[9]

 

  1. Increased military conflict(v.6)

The period from AD 33 to 70 witnessed numerous military conflicts. There was an uprising in Caesarea that left 20,000 Jews dead. Then at Scythopolis there were another 13,000 Jews killed. In Alexandria, Egypt 50,000 Jews were slaughtered. And in Damascus, Syria 10,000 Jews were said to have died during that conflict. Josephus recounts Emperor Caligula’s order for a statue of himself to be erected in the temple at Jerusalem in AD 40. When the Jews refused to allow such blaspheme, they began living in dreaded fear of the emperor’s reprisal.

The Annals of Tacitus, describes events from AD 14-68 with phrases such as “disturbances in Germany,” “commotions in Africa,” “commotions in Thrace,” “insurrections in Gaul,” “intrigues among the Parthians,” “the war in Britain,” and “the war in Armenia.”[10]

Thus, the “end” Jesus was speaking about prophetically in v.6, refers to the end of the Jewish Age as marked by the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. Not the end of the world. Therefore, it would only make sense that this would be the way the early believers saw things as they unfolded, if indeed they believed Jesus to be a prophet. Otherwise, they would have logically understood that Jesus just got it all wrong in His Olivet Sermon.

 

  1. Political upheaval and turmoil(v.7a)

There’s a great chapter in N.T. Wright’s book (Chapter 6), The New Testament and the People of God(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992) that deals with this very prediction. Any summary on this author’s part would be woefully incomplete and an adequate quotation would be prohibitively long. Thus, his text is highly recommended for a better recounting of what Jesus meant by upheaval and turmoil in v.7.

 

  1. Natural disasters(v.7b)

The famine Luke describes in Acts 11:28 occurred around AD 44 and resulted in the Antioch church’s relief effort to ease the burden of the Christians in Judea (Acts 11:29). There were at least three other famines during Emperor Claudius’s reign. Tacitus and Seutonius both mention the prevalence of famines during this period, in particular the widespread famine experienced in Rome around AD 51.

Earthquakes were common in the region. Records reveal that there were quakes in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Apamea, Campania, and Rome. Also, the cities of Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae were hit by a huge quake in AD 60. Seneca wrote in AD 58: “How often have the cities of Asia and Achaea fallen with one fatal shock! How many cities have been swallowed up in Syria! How many in Macedonia! How often has Paphos become a ruin. News has often been brought to us of the demolition of whole cities at once.”

In Luke 21:11 Jesus warns, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” This probably refers to natural phenomena such as a comet that reportedly appeared around AD 60 during Nero’s rule. This led to public speculation that some change in the political scene was imminent. Not long after that, Halley’s Cometappeared in AD 66, followed by Nero’s suicide. Josephus would write in The War of the Jews,that “there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.” [11]

Again in v.8 Jesus makes it abundantly clear that none of these “sorrows” were meant to mislead disciples into thinking that His Parousia was now or that God’s judgment against Jerusalem was about to begin right then. These, He said, were only the “beginning of the birth pains.”

 

  1. Persecution and Martyrdom(vv. 9-10)

Mark 13:9 reads: “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them.” Jesus’ reference to “courts, councils, and synagogues” indicates that He had the first-century in mind as far as fulfillment was concerned since such officialdom was common in His era. After the Jewish religious and political systems ceased to exist in AD 70, there were no longer courts, councils or synagogues to be referred to.

The fulfillment of v.10 is the direct outcome of v.9 (cf. 2 Tim. 1:15 where Paul says, “all those in Asia have turned away from me,” and in 4:10 “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world,” and in v.16 “at my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.”

 

  1. False prophets(v.11)

All you have to do is recount Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Colossians, 2 Corinthians and 2 Timothy, as well as 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude, to see that all was written to oppose the influence of false prophets disrupting the early churches even before the era of Nero.

 

  1. Religious insurrection and indifference (v.12)

We’re told later in v.13 that perseverance is proof of eternal life. The “end” seems to mean, “right through, all the way, perhaps to the endof one’s life.”

 

  1. Worldwide preaching of the gospel (v.14)

This may, at first glance, seem unlikely to have occurred anytime between AD 33-70. But keep in mind this contextual clue. Such as when Jesus’ mentioned “this generation.” The audience to whom He addressed was the disciples, who had asked about the temple based upon their concern for its safety. This “should dispose us to seek a first-century fulfillment of this verse”[12]

What’s more, the phrase “whole world” is oikoumene, which literally means an inhabited area, or as in Jesus’ era or “the then known world.”[13]Kenneth Gentry states, “a surface reading of these texts suggests global events. Yet we know these ‘world’ events happen within the Roman empire of the first century.”[14]The reference to “nations”indicates that the point is not that every geographical area on the globe must be covered but that all the nations, (ie., Gentiles), must be reached. The question is; did this occur?

Writing before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, Paul says in Colossians 1:5, “…the gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world…” Then later he says in v.23, speaking of the Gospel, “…[it] was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.” Choosing to be a literalist with Jesus’ words in His sermon at Olivet, may cause some discomfort for those determined to tie Jesus’ return to verses like this.

III The Desolation

Matthew 24:15-31

(also Mark 13:14-27 and Luke 21:20-24)

 

When asked “When will these things be?” Jesus answers directly, “When you see the Abomination of Desolation.”In the Old Testament, an “abomination” was simply an object of hideous disgust that caused physical revulsion in response. It’s referred to four times in the book of Daniel (8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). The first reference in Daniel is to the Syrian king Antiochus, who ruled over Israel from BC 175-165. This diabolical egomaniac called himself Theos Epiphanesmeaning,”manifest God” but his enemies called him Epimanes, meaning “madman.”[15]

In BC 168, Antiochus killed 40,000 Jews and nearly destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. Legend has it that he sacrificed a pig on the temple altar, then erected an image of Zeus in its place. The fact is, Jesus had prophesied something similar to occur in His day. The fulfillment of which is been identified as follows:

(1) Some point to the Zealots who rose up in Jesus’ time against Roman oppression. At the outbreak of the Jewish-Roman Wars, the Zealots stormed Jerusalem and occupied the temple area. They committed numerous sacrileges, including murder, within the Holy of Holies. In the winter of 67 AD, they installed Phanni as high priest. Eventually the Zealots retreated to the mountain fortress of Masadaand there committed mass suicide in May of AD 73.

(2) The Idumeans occupied the ancient territory of Edom and came to Jerusalem at the request of Zealot leaders to participate in their revolution. After gaining entrance to the city, the Idumeans were said to have killed more than 8,000 Jews in the outer court of the temple, including the chief priest Ananias.

(3) Some argue that Jesus had the Jewish religious leaders in mind, insofar as their rejection of Him reduced the temple sacrifices to an abomination seeing that Jesus had offered Himself as the final sacrifice. Cf., Ezek. 5:11 “surely, because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable idols and with all your abominations, therefore I will also withdraw, and My eye shall have no pity…”(Cf. also Jn. 2:16 and Mt. 21:13).

(4) By far, the most common historical identification with Jesus’ Olivet prophecy is General Titus’ leading the armies of Rome into the city of Jerusalem while it was still burning. He is said to have entered the temple with legionary banners where he offered sacrifices to the Roman gods there. Thus, identifying Titus and his armies with the Abomination of Desolation, which by any account seems parallel to the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes. Josephus writes, “the Romans upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings lying round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple, and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator, with the greatest acclamations of joy.”[16]

All this helps explain Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 24:15-22 as mentioned above and delineated below.

  1. 24:16– Those in the countryside of Judea must take to the hills as the Romans come to ravage farmlands and this is, in fact, precisely what occurred; pillaging/killing was widespread.
  2. 24:17– Jewish houses within walled cities were flat-roofed structures that often formed a continuous terrace extending to the outer walls of the city, making it possible to quicken one’s departure by following this “elevated highway” to the gates of the city.
  3. 24:18– Working men will have to get by with the clothes they have on. There will be no time to go home and pack.
  4. 24:19– Nursing and pregnant women are obviously ill-prepared for quick escape.
  5. 24:20a– During the winter months in Israel, roads were practically impassable because of mud; harsh weather and cold temperatures would slow down one’s journey and make mountain hideaways unbearable.
  6. 24:20b– On the Sabbath, gates would be closed making it difficult to obtain provisions. Buying and selling was not permitted; one travelling on a Sabbath would receive no assistance from the Jewish populace.

Some point to the fact that in late AD 66, the Christian community, under the leadership of Symeon, withdrew to the village of Pella in Perea,[17]a mountainous region east of the Sea of Galilee. History records that the commander Cestius inexplicably and without warning ordered his troops to withdraw. This gave the Jewish Christians an opportunity to flee the city in accordance with Jesus’ advice in Luke 21:21. According to Josephus, after Cestius’s siege and retreat the Jews left Jerusalem “like swimmers from a sinking ship.”[18]By all accounts, no Christians died in the holocaust that engulfed Jerusalem shortly thereafter. Josephus writes:

“There may be another very important, and providential, reason we here assigned for this strange and foolish retreat of Cestius; which, if Josephus had been now a Christian, he might probably have taken notice of also; and that is, the affording the Jewish Christians in the city an opportunity of calling to mind the prediction and caution given them by Christ about thirty-three years and a half before, that ‘when they should see the abomination of desolation’ [the idolatrous Roman armies, with the images of their idols in their ensigns, ready to lay Jerusalem desolate], ‘stand where it ought not;’ or, ‘in the holy place;’ or, ‘when they should see Jerusalem encompassed with armies,’ they should then ‘flee to the mountains.’ By complying with which those Jewish Christians fled to the mountains of Perea, and escaped of Cestius, this destruction.”[19]

In Matthew 24:21ff, Jesus says, “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”[20]

Here we see the reason for the extreme urgency of escape. The reference is to the events of April-September in AD 70. Josephus offers his eye-witness account in his The Wars of the Jews, “The noise of those that were fighting was incessant, both by day and by night; but the lamentations of those that mourned exceeded the noise of the fighting…They, moreover, were continually inventing pernicious things against each other; and when they had resolved upon anything, they executed it without mercy, and omitted no method of torment or of barbarity.”[21]

[1]For a more expanded discussion of Jesus’ sermon, see Dr. Ogan’s book “Jesus Was Right!”

[2]Throckmorton’s book is used for the actual arrangement of the parallel versions of the gospel with the NIV as listed. See, Burton H. Throckmorton, ed., Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, 5th ed. (Nashville: T. Nelson, ©1992).

[3]In referring to “the temple,” unless otherwise indicated, this is a reference to the second temple (Herod’s Temple) in Jerusalem.

[4]ἐπορεύετο is a Gk imperfect verb in the 3rdpersons middle voice and literally means “to walk away.”

[5]The Apostle Paul aptly illustrates this evolution from temple to church in Romans 3.

[6]Parousiais the Greek word for visit.

[7]Wright, N T. Christian Origins and the Question of God. north american ed. 4 vols. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992-2013. Vol 2, Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 345-46.

[8]What the disciples must have been expecting regarding the end of the Jewish Age and coming of the Messianic Age would be equivalent to the end of the “Age of the Jews” and the inauguration of the “Age of the Gentiles.”

[9]Cf., Josephus Antiquitiesand Eusibius Ecclesiastical History

[10]cf. Gary DeMar Last Days Madness, p.62

[11]See Wars 6:5:3,742.

[12]K. Gentry, The Great Tribulation, 44

[13]See Luke 2:1, and Acts 11:28, 24:5).

[14]Ibid, p.44

[15]C. Habicht, “The Seleucids and their rivals”, in A. E. Astin, et al., Rome and the Mediterranean to 133 B.C., The Cambridge Ancient History, volume 8, p. 341.

[16]Josephus Book 6, Ch. 6:1.

[17]“Now this sect of Nazarenes exists in Beroea in Coele-Syria, and in Decapolis in the district of Pella, and in Kochaba of Basanitis– called Kohoraba in Hebrew. For thence it originated after the migration from Jerusalem of all the disciples who resided at Pella, Christ having instructed them to leave Jerusalem and retire from it on account of the impending siege. It was owing to this counsel that they went away, as I have said, to reside for a while at Pella” (Haer29:7). Quotation taken from A. Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity,Translated by James Moffatt [2d ed. London: Williams and Norgate, 1908], vol 2, 100-102.

[18]Josephus, Ant. Book 2, Ch. 20:1

[19]Ibid Book 2, Ch. 19:6b

[20]When it comes to the elect we must decide one of the following options: (1) God simply does not know the future or is subject to fate; Thus, the elect are those whom choose God and God discovers who they are when the person actually believes. (2) God knows who the elect are because He has foreseen who will choose Him. This view says that election is based upon God’s foreknowledge (previence) that is subject to human free will. God has the unique ability to see the future and knows who will choose Him, but not in terms of knowing from eternity. (3) God knows His chosen because He has eternally determined who they are or will be. People may elect to love God because God has elected them first, but He has chosen them from eternity, not in response to their decision.

[21]JW Book 5, Ch. 1:5.