What Is Matthew 24 All About?

 In order to understand this controversial chapter, we need to understand two things:

  1. Context: That is, we need to know what Jesus and His disciples were doing and saying in this chapter, and in the surrounding chapters. Many problems will be avoided if we pay attention to context.
  2. History: The events spoken of in Matthew 24 do not exist in a vacuum. History shows us the fulfillment of many of the things Jesus spoke of in this chapter. The writings of Flavius Josephus serve as an important historical record that is helpful to our study.

Josephus was a Jewish historian, who in 64 A.D., found himself caught up in a civil uprising against Rome.  He decided to travel toRometo try to talk to Nero, but was imprisoned.  Later, Nero died and was replaced by Vespasian. Vespasian had two sons who are important to the historical setting of Matthew 24; the sons were Titus and Domitian.  Josephus gained favor with Vespasian and when the uprising in Judea grew more intense, Josephus was sent along with Titus (the commanded of the Roman army) to act as a go-between to convince the Jewish Zealots to surrender. They refused. But this allowed Josephus to be present during the overthrow of Jerusalem and his record of that event is based on his eyewitness testimony.

The Context of Matthew 24:

 Vs 1-4

And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.  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.  And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, (question 1 – C.C.) when shall these things be? And (question 2 – C.C.) what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?  And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

 The disciples were taking Jesus on what we would call a “tour” of the temple buildings.  In doing so they were surprised to hear him respond that “all these things” (the temple buildings) would be “thrown down.”  Jesus even said that all the stones of the temple would be dismantled.  The disciples mistook Jesus to mean that the temple was going to be destroyed at the end of the world.  Looking back in history, we know that the Jewish temple inJerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army in the year 70 A.D., not at the end of the world, since the world has not yet ended.  Jesus also understood the disciple’s mistake.  As a result, Jesus answered their two questions in the order that they were asked.

Two questions were asked by the disciples:

(1)  “When shall these things be?”
(2)  “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?”

 Jesus’ answer to question 1 begins in verse 4 and ends in verse 34.  He references “these things” in verse 6 and begins to give details of what will precede the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple.  He ends his answer of question 1 with verses 33-34.

Vs 33

So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

Vs 34

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

The reference to “it” is pointing back to what will cause “these things” to happen.  “It” is a reference to the war that will take place in 70 A.D.  Jesus had been accusing the Jews of rejecting God’s commands back in chapter 23 and that a judgment would be made against the nation as a result of their rebellious attitude.  An important point to note is that verse 34 ends the answer to question 1 by saying that “all these things” would happen in “this generation,” that being the generation present at that time.  Those things did in fact take place just as Jesus had prophesied. Those things took place about 40 years later in 70 A.D.; they took place in that same generation.  That is a historical fact.  But why was this terrible thing going to happen?  Notice the previous chapter.

23:36-38

Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!  Behold, your house (the Temple) is left unto you desolate.

 Once the city of Jerusalem and temple were destroyed, the Jews could no longer make the required sacrifices and most of the people would be killed. Those not killed would be taken as prisoners.  This war would, in effect, bring to an end the practice of the Jewish religion, as well as bringing the nation itself to an end.  Those Jews that survived would be scattered abroad.  Now, let’s look at some of the details that Jesus gave that would serve as a warning to those Christians living in Jerusalem so that they would be spared.

 Vs 4

 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

Vs 5

For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

Vs 6  

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

Vs 7

For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

Vs 8  

All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Jesus gave them a warning about being deceived by false prophets in vs. 4, “take heed.”  In Josephus’ eyewitness account (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 5), the historian describes what Jesus had just warned them about:

 A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance.  Now, there was a great number of false prophets…

 When Jesus, in verse 6, discusses “the end,” it is a reference to the end of the temple which was to be dismantled.  As the Roman army approached the city, they sent Josephus as their ambassador to negotiate surrender from the Jewish Zealots.  They refused.  As a tactical maneuver the Romans encircled the city like a noose and settled in to see how long the city inhabitants could hold out.  As Josephus explained how the war ended, he gave some astonishing numbers as he discussed the atrocities that took place.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 9

Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be 97,000 as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege, 1,100,000, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation with the citizens of Jerusalem, but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which at the very first, occasioned so great a straightness among them, that there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterwards such a famine as destroyed them more suddenly.

Notice more of Jesus’ warning to the Christians:

Vs 9

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.

Vs 10

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

Vs 11

And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

Vs 12

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

Vs 13

But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

Jesus told them that anyone who would “endure to the end” would be “saved.”  Being “saved” here does not refer to a spiritual salvation, but to the physical.  To “endure to the end” is a reference to how difficult it was going to be to survive the Roman siege of the city.  Most of the Jewish inhabitants would die.  But anyone who would endure to the end of the siege would “be saved,” which is simply a reference to their survival.

Vs 14

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

Verse 14 gives many Bible students trouble.  Understood in context it is quite simple.  After all these signs were given, Jesus commands the Christians in verse 16 to “flee to the mountains.”  One of the last signs that they were to be looking for is found in verse 14.  The gospel would be preached in all the world before the end would come.  And it was.  According to the Apostle Paul and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he revealed that the gospel had indeed gone to all the known world.

Colossians 1:5-6

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;  Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

Colossians 1:23

If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

It is important to note that the book of Colossians was written by Paul in about the year 64 A.D., just six years prior to the siege!  When the various congregations received copies of this letter, they would have immediately realized that the sign that Jesus had warned them to be watching for had finally taken place.  There was only one last sign that they were to watch for.

Vs 15

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)

Jesus mentions something that had been spoken by the prophet Daniel called “the abomination of desolation.”  He said that anyone who reads Daniel’s ancient warning should now understand it accurately.  This apparently was a passage that had given the Jews trouble in understanding its meaning.  Jesus clarifies for the Jews and for us, just exactly what Daniel’s warning meant.  Here are the passages in question:

Daniel 9:26-27

 …and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.  And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.  

Daniel 11:31

And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate”.

Notice the equivalent passage of Mt 24:15 in the book of Luke:

Luke 21:20-21

And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.  Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountain…

Jesus explained this difficult passage in Daniel to mean that an army would surround the city of Jerusalem and desolation would follow.  Daniel had warned that the sanctuary would be “polluted” and that the daily sacrifices would be “taken away.”  Jesus said that this would happen when someone would “stand in the holy place.”  Josephus, as an eyewitness of the war gives us details of exactly how this happened.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 5, Chap. 1

Each of these were followed by a great many of the zealots; these seized upon the inner court of the temple and laid their arms upon the holy gates, and over the holy fronts of that court; and because they had plenty of provisions, they were of good courage for there was a great abundance of what was consecrated to sacred uses and they scrupled not the making use of them.  Yet were they afraid on account of their small number and when they had laid up their arms there they did not stir from the place they were in…there were continual sallies made one against another as well as darts thrown at one another and the temple was defiled everywhere with murders.

Once the Christians learned what the zealots had done in the holy place, they would have realized that this was the last sign that Jesus had instructed them to be watching for.  Once this last sign happened what were they to do?  Listen to Jesus again.

Vs 16

Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:

Vs  17

Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:

Vs 18

Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.

Vs 19

And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!

Vs 20

But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day

Jesus instructed those Christians who were in the city when these signs began to be manifested to “flee to the mountains.”  If these verses in Matthew 24 are referring to the end of the world in verses 4-15 as some speculate, then what would be the reason for telling them to flee to the mountains?  If the world is ending, the mountains would offer no protection.  But if one correctly understands these passages and the warning that Jesus was giving, then for them to flee to the mountains would have been just what they needed to do in order to avoid the siege from the Roman army that was about to take place.  Jesus tells them that if they leave the city at that point, there was still time to get out safely.  In fact, Josephus does not record any Christians dying during the siege.  They had already left!  And what sense can we make of verse 19?  Why would it be any more difficult at the end of the world for a woman who is pregnant or who is nursing a small infant?  On the other hand, we can easily see the difficulty that young mother would have if she had just given birth and suddenly needs to flee to the mountains!  It would be much more difficult to go up into the mountains with a small child.  And what about verse 20?  What difference would it make if the world ends in the winter or on the Sabbath?  It would make no difference.  But if “the end” is a reference to the war and the Christians are about to flee up into the mountains, then it will be much more difficult to do so in the snow covered winter months.  And it they tried to flee on the Sabbath, the Jewish custom was to lock up the cities so as to prevent the Gentiles from going in and out doing commerce.  Travel would be very difficult for Christians fleeing on the Sabbath.  Jesus said that they should pray that it did not happen in the winter or on the Sabbath and apparently it did not.  Verse 21 is a very interesting and revealing passage.

Vs 21

For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Jesus describes what was going to happen in 70 A.D. at the destruction of the city of Jerusalem as something unparalleled in history.  This is precisely the way Daniel had described it back in the Old Testament.

Daniel 9:12

And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem.

It is interesting that Josephus described the horror of that war in precisely the same language as Jesus and Daniel.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 5, Chap. 1

But slew moreover many of the priests as they were about their sacred ministrations, for notwithstanding these men were mad with all sorts of impiety, yet did they still admit those that desired to offer their sacrifices, although they took care to search the people of their own country beforehand and both suspected and watched them…yet often destroyed by this sedition, for those darts that were thrown by the engines came with that force that they went over all the buildings and the temple itself and fell upon the priests and those that were about the sacred offices; insomuch that many persons who came thither with great zeal from the ends of the earth to offer sacrifices at this celebrated place, which was esteemed holy by all mankind, fell down before their own sacrifices, and sprinkled that alter, which was venerable among all men, both Greeks and barbarians with their own blood till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country and those of profane persons and those of the priests and the blood of all sorts of dead carcasses stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 4

…and when they were come near the holy house, they made as if they did not so much as hear Caesar’s orders to the contrary; but they encouraged those that were before them to set it on fire.  As for the seditious they were in too great distress already to afford their assistance toward quenching the fire.  They were everywhere slain and everywhere beaten and as far a great part of the people, they were weak and without arms and had their throats cut where ever they were caught.  Now round about the alter lay dead bodies heaped upon one another, as at the steps going up to it ran a great quantity of their blood, whither also the dead bodies that were slain above on the alter fell down.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 5

While the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain nor was here a commiseration of any age or any reverence of gravity, but children and old men and profane persons and priests were all slain in the same manner…Nor can anyone imagine anything either greater or more terrible than this noise…Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder, for one would have thought that the hill itself on which the temple stood was seething hot as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them, for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it.  But the soldiers went over heaps of these bodies as they ran upon such as fled from them.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 9

…the entire nation was shut up by fate as in a prison and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants.  Accordingly, the multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destructions that either men or God ever brought upon the world, for to speak only of what was publicly known…

One of the reasons this terrible episode was described this way was because of the atrocities that took place.  In Deuteronomy 28 where these events were prophesied, the text said they would resort to cannibalism.

Deuteronomy 28:49-57

“The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; A nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor shew favour to the young: And he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle, and the fruit of thy land, until thou be destroyed: which also shall not leave thee either corn, wine, or oil, or the increase of thy kine, or flocks of thy sheep, until he have destroyed thee.  And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land: and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.  And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the LORD thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee:  So that the man that is tender among you, and very delicate, his eye shall be evil toward his brother, and toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the remnant of his children which he shall leave:  So that he will not give to any of them of the flesh of his children whom he shall eat: because he hath nothing left him in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee in all thy gates.  The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter, And toward her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates.

Josephus details just exactly how this prophecy was fulfilled.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 5, Chap. 1

…till he set fire upon those houses that were full of corn and of all other provisions…all the places that were about the temple were burnt down and were become an intermediate desert place ready for fighting on both sides.  And that almost all of the corn was burnt which would have been sufficient for a siege of many years.  So they were taken by means of a famine.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 3

There was a certain woman…and it was now become impossible for her any way to find any more food while the famine pierced through her…she then attempted a most unnatural thing and snatching up her son who was a child sucking at her breast she said, O thou miserable infant!  For whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine and this sedition!…Come on, be thou my food…As soon as she had said this she slew her son and then roasted him and ate the one half of him and kept the other half by her concealed.

Jesus said that in order to help the Christians, the “elect”, the days involved in this time would be shortened.

Vs 22-27

And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.  Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.  For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.  Behold, I have told you before.  Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.  For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Think about why it would matter how long this took place.  If this is all a reference to the end of the world, then none of it makes any sense.  But if it is a reference to the war that will destroy Jerusalem, and the Christians have been told to flee up into the mountains, then we can easily see why a long period up in the mountains would be difficult.  It those days were shortened then the Christian’s hardships would be shortened.  Jesus also said that when any false teachers claimed that Jesus had appeared to them, not to believe it.  He said that when he did in fact come back, that it would be like lightning, and everyone will know.

Vs 28

For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

The Roman army carried banners of an eagle when they marched!  So the point of this verse is that where the carcase is (a reference to something dead), there will the eagles be gathered (the Romans).  This is a picture of the conquering Roman army over a defeated nation of Israel.

Vs 29

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

This language is a type that is common to the Bible, especially in the Old Testament.  It uses symbolism of light and darkness to represent God sending His judgments on a nation.  Notice the following examples:

Isaiah 13:1-10

“The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see… They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the LORD, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.  Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.  Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall melt: And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.   Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.  For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”

Ezekiel 32:2-11

“Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers.  Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will therefore spread out my net over thee with a company of many people; and they shall bring thee up in my net.  Then will I leave thee upon the land, I will cast thee forth upon the open field, and will cause all the fowls of the heaven to remain upon thee, and I will fill the beasts of the whole earth with thee.  And I will lay thy flesh upon the mountains, and fill the valleys with thy height.  I will also water with thy blood the land wherein thou swimmest, even to the mountains; and the rivers shall be full of thee.  And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light.  All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD.  I will also vex the hearts of many people, when I shall bring thy destruction among the nations, into the countries which thou hast not known.  Yea, I will make many people amazed at thee, and their kings shall be horribly afraid for thee, when I shall brandish my sword before them; and they shall tremble at every moment, every man for his own life, in the day of thy fall.  For thus saith the Lord GOD; The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon thee”

An important point to note here is that the fire that had started in temple area also consumed the repository of archives.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 6

So he gave orders to the soldiers both to burn and plunder the city…but on the next day they set fire to the repository of archives.

This was a very important building because it was where the scrolls were kept that were used to determine Jewish genealogy. And if a young man was a Levite and was planning to enter the priesthood, before he could do so he had to verify his ancestry as a true Levite. Notice the following from the days of Ezra. Some of those who would be priests could not serve in the priesthood because their records could not be found:

Ezra 2:61-62

“And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name:  These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood.”

We don’t know what happened to those records in the time of Ezra, but we do know what happened to the records in 70 A.D.  Those records were destroyed by fire; this served as a sign that the Jewish nation was no more.  No Jew from that time forward would ever be able to serve as a priest!  In addition, there would be no temple in which they could serve.

Vs 30

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

In order to understand this passage it is important to note, not only what it says but also what it does not say.  It does not say that “the Son of man” was going to appear in heaven.  Instead, it says that a “sign” would appear.  This sign would confirm that the Son of man was in heaven.  This simply means that Jesus had given all these warnings and said that when the event later took place, he would not be on earth, but would be in heaven at the right hand of God who was sending the judgment on the nation of Israel.  So when the events in 70 A.D. took place, it confirmed that Jesus was who he said he was and that he was where he said he would be!  In order to understand the latter half of verse 30 where it speaks of the son of man “coming in the clouds”, most will automatically assume it to be a reference to the second coming of Christ.  But that would be a mistake.  Again, this is symbolic language commonly used in the Old Testament to represent God sending His judgment on a nation.  Notice the following example:

Isaiah 19:1

“The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.”

The fulfillment of all of the prophesies that Jesus gave would serve to prove that the terrible judgment that was coming on the nation of Israel was a result of their disobedience to the Father and their rejection of His son.

Vs 31

And he shall send 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.

It is a mistake to automatically conclude that the word translated “angel” always refers to a heavenly being.  It does not.  The word means a “messenger” whether a reference to a being in heaven or to a human messenger.  Notice the following references to preachers of the gospel (and others) being referred to as “messengers”.

Matthew 11:10

For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. (a reference to John the Baptist)

Luke 7:24

And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?

Luke 9:52

And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.

James 2:25

Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? (a reference to the 12 spies)

Think for a minute.  If Jesus spoke of these events in 33 A.D., who would warn them in 70 A.D.?  The preachers (messengers)!

Vs 32

Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:

Vs 33

So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

There are those who claim that there is some special significance to Jesus choosing the “fig tree” as the symbol here as they attempt to tie the prophecy to modern-day Israel by claiming that it is represented by the fig tree.  But notice in Luke’s rendering of the same episode:

Luke 21:29

“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees.”

There was no significance to his choice of a fig tree.  In all probability, there was a fig tree nearby as he was giving this information and casually pointed to it.  However, he clearly says that his point involved looking at “all” trees or any tree.  When we look at a tree and see the buds coming out, we can accurately conclude that “summer is near.”  Trees bud out in the spring.  Those buds can serve as a sign that summer is near.  In verse 33 Jesus concluded his point by saying that when they see “all these things,” a reference to all the signs he had just given that would precede the destruction of Jerusalem, that they would know that “it” was near.

It is important to understand how the temple came to be dismantled in the war.  We know that when the temple was built, gold was used not only inside and out, but also much of the decorations as well.  When the temple caught fire during the war, Josephus records how it happened.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 4

And when they were come near the holy house, they made as if they did not so much as hear Caesar’s orders to the contrary; but they encouraged those that were before them to set it on fire.  As for the seditious they were in too great distress already to afford their assistance toward quenching the fire… While the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand… for one would have thought that the hill itself on which the temple stood was seething hot as full of fire on every part of it

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 6

So he gave orders to the soldiers both to burn and plunder the city…

Historians tell us that the Coliseum in Rome was build using the riches, primarily the gold, that was looted from the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and primarily from the temple itself.  Once the fire began to engulf the larger area and produce much heat, the soldiers noticed that gold was seeping out of the mortar joints around the temple.  Apparently, portions of the temple had not only been overlaid with gold inside and out, but gold also had been mixed in with the mortar!  As the soldiers saw this they realized that they needed to dismantle the walls stone by stone in order to get all the gold out of the mortar.  This process, though done simply as a result of greed on the part of the Romans, served to fulfill Jesus’ warning that during this terrible war, the city and even the temple itself was be laid waste.  Remember verse 2:

Vs 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.

Jesus ends his answer to question 1, “When shall these things be?” and begins to answer question 2, “What shall be the sign of thy coming & of the end of the world?”

Vs 35

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Vs 36

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Contrast “that day” of verse 36 with “those days” of verses (vs. 19, vs. 22, vs. 29).  In the passages where Jesus is answering question 1 about the destruction of Jerusalem he repeatedly speaks of “those days”.  Yet, when he begins to answer question 2 about the end of the world, Jesus changes his description to “that day.”  In addition, it is important to compare Mark’s rendering of this exchange.

Mark 13:32

“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

Jesus answered the question that the disciples had asked concerning when the world would end by saying that not only did no man know, no angel knows, but that Jesus himself did not know.  Only the Father knows when it will happen.  Think about it.  If Jesus says that he does not know when the world will end, then how could he possibly give signs that would precede the end?  The fact is that Jesus did not give any signs that will precede the end of the world.  He said that it would be like in the days of Noah.

Vs 37-39

But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.  For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Noah had preached that the flood was coming, though he did not know exactly when.  He had to be ready for the flood whenever it came by living a righteous life.  Likewise, the end of the world is coming.  We know that.  It is just that we do not know when.  But if we are righteous, like Noah, we will be ready whenever it happens.

Vs 40-43

Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.  But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.

Jesus compares the end of the world to a thief breaking into a house.  The thief does not announce when he will break in.  He comes when nobody expects him.  Jesus said that if the man of the house knew when the thief was coming, he would have prepared and not allowed the thief to get in.  Likewise, the end of the world is to come like that, without warning.  So, we must be prepared so as not to be taken by surprise.  That is exactly what Jesus commanded.

Vs 44

Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

Jesus said that the end of the world would come when we do not think it is going to happen.  God does not want men to be able to live a life of wickedness right up to the end and then repent at the last minute.  He wants us to live righteously all of our lives.  If we do that, then it will not matter when the world ends, we will be ready.  That is Jesus’ message.

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Quotations from Josephus are from Kregel Publications, 1978 Edition, Grand Rapids, Michigan

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