By Peter Amsterdam
March 2, 2021
Note: When I originally started writing about the predictions regarding the temple in Jerusalem, I used the account in the Gospel of Mark. I have since received some questions regarding the parallel account in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24. Because many are more familiar with the account in Matthew, and because that account is more detailed and comprehensive as to predictions regarding the fate of the temple as well as endtime events, the focus from this point on will be on Matthew chapter 24.
While some Bible commentators consider Matthew 24 to be referring only to endtime events, many others understand the first part of the chapter to be referring to events which happened in history. Since many are not familiar with the historical view, I thought it would be helpful to present that view when covering this topic.
Like Mark chapter 13, Matthew chapter 24 begins with Jesus predicting the destruction of the Jewish temple.
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 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.”1
This prediction came true in less than 40 years, when the Jewish temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.
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 close of the age?”2
Jesus’ disciples asked Him three questions: When will these things be, what will be the sign of His coming, and what will be the sign of the close of the age?
Jesus warned them,
“See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”3
Jesus warned against those who would falsely claim to be the Messiah, the liberator of the Jewish people. (See examples in part one of this series.)
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”4
Jesus made reference to upcoming wars. Historically, there were a variety of wars in the ancient world and throughout the Roman Empire during the time between AD 30–70, including the civil war in Rome in AD 68–69. Jesus pointed out that wars and natural disasters would be part of humanity’s experience throughout history, and that they should not be interpreted as signs of the end. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.5 Jesus’ reference to the beginning of the birth pains or labor pain implies that the events He is speaking about were not imminent.
“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. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”6
While it’s not specifically stated who “they” are that will deliver the believers up to tribulation and death, it is understood that Jesus was speaking of people in places of authority, people who could take action against believers. Along with that, there would be believers who fall away from the faith. He wasn’t referring to those who would have a temporary setback in their beliefs, but those who would abandon their faith and betray their fellow disciples.
“Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”7
In the early church, prophets were ranked second in the hierarchy Paul outlined:
God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles.8
In the New Testament, some prophets are named.
In these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).9
Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words.10
We departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.11
Because of the role of prophets in the early church, those who were false prophets at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem were able to damage believers’ faith as they led them astray.
“Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”12
The use of lawlessness here does not refer only to criminal activity, but to living a life which is outside the law of God. Elsewhere, Jesus spoke of the lawlessness of the scribes and Pharisees: [You] outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.13 One author explains: If “love” (for God and for other people) is the key principle of living as the people of God (Matthew 22:37–40), and so the opposite to “lawlessness,” the “cooling” of love marks the end of effective discipleship.14
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”15
In light of what has been said about “the end” in this chapter—You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet;16 This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come17—the “end” in the context of these verses probably refers to the destruction of the temple, which is the subject of the disciples’ question.
In what way did the gospel of the kingdom get proclaimed throughout the whole world before the destruction of the temple? One author explains:
The “world” here is the “inhabited world,” the world of people, which at that time meant primarily the area surrounding the Mediterranean and the lesser known areas to the east, around which stretched mysterious regions beyond the fringes of civilization. More narrowly it was sometimes used for the area covered by the Roman Empire. The same phrase is used to describe the extent of the famine in Acts 11:28 and the extent of Artemis worship in Acts 19:27. Such uses suggest caution in interpreting it too literally, even in terms of the then known world. The point is that the gospel will go far outside Judea, as indeed it certainly did in the decades following Jesus’ resurrection.18
Throughout the New Testament, we find references made to the gospel being preached throughout the (known) world. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you.19 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”20
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”21
One sign that the end is near in Jerusalem would be the abomination of desolation placed in the temple. In the book of Daniel, the abomination of desolation refers to a terrible sacrilege, which was to be brought about by the “king of the north” when he would abolish the regular sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem.22 The event Daniel was predicting was when the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanies conquered Jerusalem in 167 BC and prohibited Jewish sacrifices. He set up an altar for pagan sacrifices on the altar of burnt offering in the temple. It remained there for three years, until the Maccabean revolt when the Jewish people regained control of Jerusalem and purified the temple. Jesus pointed out that in a similar fashion, the Jerusalem temple would again be desecrated, which it was when the conquering Romans entered the temple and eventually destroyed it. Jesus stated that those in Judea should flee when the Roman armies besieged Jerusalem. The Gospel of Luke states: Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.23
Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.24
Jesus made the point that no towns or villages within Judea would be safe, and therefore the inhabitants of the area needed to seek refuge in the hills. The examples that Jesus used expressed the urgency of the situation. One who is on the roof of their house should not even take the time to go indoors to pack a bag for travel. The field worker who had taken off their outer garment while working should not take the time to go and fetch it before fleeing. He also pointed out that it would be especially difficult for women who were pregnant or had newborn infants to make a speedy getaway, and that bad winter weather would make it worse. It can be quite cold in the hills of Judea in the winter, and heavy rain can cause flooding, which makes traveling very difficult.
The prayer that their flight wouldn’t occur on the Sabbath had to do with the Jewish law restricting how far one could travel on the Sabbath. One was only allowed to walk 2,000 cubits (roughly two-thirds of a mile, or 914 meters) on the Sabbath. As such, if one had to flee, but was bound by the Sabbath rules, they basically wouldn’t be able to. Another possible reason would be that on the Sabbath, shops would not be open and services would not be available, which could make unexpected travel even more difficult.
“Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 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.”25
The Jewish historian Josephus, who was a priest, scholar, and historian, and who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem, wrote about the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem. One author writes: The horror was in fact “cut short” by the Roman capture of the city after five months, bringing physical relief to those who had survived the famine in the city.26
The elect, God’s chosen people, who are referred to here will be mentioned again later in this chapter. They are those who belong to the Son of Man. The concept of God’s chosen people, which previously had referred to the Jewish people, is here being applied to Jewish believers in Christ, along with all who believe in Him from the ends of the earth.
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 24:1–2.
2 Matthew 24:3.
3 Matthew 24:4–5.
4 Matthew 24:6–8.
5 Matthew 24:6.
6 Matthew 24:9–10.
7 Matthew 24:11.
8 1 Corinthians 12:28.
9 Acts 11:27–28.
10 Acts 15:32.
11 Acts 21:8–9.
12 Matthew 24:12.
13 Matthew 23:28.
14 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 907.
15 Matthew 24:13.
16 Matthew 24:6.
17 Matthew 24:14.
18 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 909.
19 Colossians 1:3–6.
20 Romans 10:17–18.
21 Matthew 24:15–16.
22 Daniel 8:13, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11.
23 Luke 21:21–22.
24 Matthew 24:17–20.
25 Matthew 24:21–22.
26 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 915.