We are periodically working our way through Matthew's account of the Olivet Discourse. As we study this chapter, we must keep its context. Throughout Matthews gospel Yeshua continually warned the Jews of their coming judgement because of their apostasy, the rejection of Yeshua as their Messiah. The closer you get to chapter 24, the more you notice the building of the judgement theme.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, 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.'" Matthew 23:37-39 ESV
By "house," he was referring to Jerusalem, and certainly the Temple was included. The word "desolate" is the Greek word eremos; it means: "waste, desert, desolate, solitary, or wilderness." The city and the Temple were both destroyed in AD 70.
Yeshua 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." Matthew 24:1-2 ESV
In verse 1, as they depart from the Temple, the words of Yeshua, "Your house shall be left to you desolate," still burned in their ears. In verse 2, Yeshua predicted that this massive Temple would be utterly destroyed in an act of God's judgement.
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 end of the age?" Matthew 24:3 ESV
We could put the disciples' threefold question this way: "When will the temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of your presence in power and glory as Messiah and of the end of the Jewish age?"
We must remember that in this discourse the Lord is answering the disciple's questions about the destruction of the Jewish temple, the sign of His presence and the end of the age. As we work our way through this discourse, we must fight the temptation to read this as if it was written to us in the twenty first century. Yeshua is speaking to his disciples in the first century and we must study it in that context. Audience Relevance is something we must always keep in mind as we read and study the Bible; what did this mean to the original audience? Do you know of any book in the Bible written to the saints in Tidewater, Virginia? I don't. The Scriptures are not written to us! They are for us, but they were not written to us.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
The Scriptures are God-breathed and profitable for us, but they are not written to us. Thus, we must understand the original intent before we apply them to our lives. Now, as I'm sure you understand it is not always easy to find out exactly what the original intent of the author was; we are separated from the original audience by thousands of years, by culture, by history and by language. But if we do our homework, in culture, history, language and compare Scripture with Scripture, we can get a good idea of the authors original intent.
This passage of Scripture is very difficult to interpret with absolute certainty. This is one of the more difficult prophetic passages in the New Testament. W. Robertson Nicoll said, "What is said thereon is so perplexing as to tempt a modern expositor to wish it had not been there." I don't want to be like the little boy who was drawing a picture. His father asked him what he was drawing and he replied, "I am drawing a picture of God." His father said, "Son, nobody knows what God looks like." "Well," said the son, "they will when I get through with this picture!" Although I love the little boy's confidence, I don't want to assume that once I explain this passage everyone will know the correct interpretation of it. My understanding of this passage comes from comparing Scripture with Scripture, and since I believe that the Scripture interprets itself, I am fairly confident in my interpretation. I would ask that you all be good Bereans and search the Scripture and see if what I am telling you lines up with the truth of Scripture.
We saw in our last study that our Lord told the disciples that they would see the "Abomination of Desolation" spoken of by Daniel, which Luke explained as Jerusalem surrounded by armies, and when they did there would come a time of "Great Tribulation."
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. Matthew 24:21 ESV
We looked at this verse in depth in our last study of Matthew 24 and we saw that the "Great Tribulation" is past. Sorry to disappoint you but it is over, it happened 2,000 years ago. It was the destruction of Jerusalem as the context of this and the parallel gospel accounts makes abundantly clear.
We need to realize the scope of the great tribulation upon the people of Israel. It was not just those in Jerusalem that suffered and died, but all over Palestine, the whole country felt the judgement of God. Josephus said, "There was not a Syrian city which did not slay their Jewish inhabitants, and were more bitter enemies to us than were the Romans themselves."
Yeshua said, there will never be anything to equal it. Our Savior wept at the foresight of these calamities, and as we read the accounts of Josephus, it is almost impossible to keep from weeping ourselves. Josephus said, "To speak in brief, no other city ever suffered such things, as no other generation from the beginning of the world was even more fruitful of wickedness."
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. Matthew 24:22 ESV
Josephus computes the number of those who perished in the siege at eleven hundred thousand, besides those who were slain in other places: and if the Romans had gone on destroying in this manner the whole nation of the Jews would certainly, in a little time, have been eliminated.
The word "saved" here is the Greek word sozo which has a wide range of possible meanings. It can be referring to physical healing, rescue from danger, spiritual deliverance of various kinds, and to preservation from final judgment. We must determine its meaning from its usage in the context.
Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved." Acts 27:31 ESV
This is referring to physical deliverance from drowning. And in our verse in Matthew it is also used of physical deliverance, it is not a reference to redemption.
The Lord is saying that had the war in Jerusalem gone on much longer no one would have been left alive. "But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short"—Mark puts it this way in 13:20, "But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days." The "elect" is a well known designation in Scripture for Christians. Let me show you exactly who the elect are.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37 ESV
Two verses earlier Yeshua had connected "coming" to Him to "believing in Him." So, we could say, "All that the Father gives to me will believe in me." Why does anyone come to believe in Yeshua? It is only because He was "given" by the Father to the Son. So, the reason that anyone does not believe is because they were not given by the Father to the Son.
So, who believes in Yeshua? "All that the Father ‘gives’ to Yeshua"—the ability to believe on Yeshua requires divine enablement. It is only those whom "the Father" enables to believe that "come to" Yeshua in faith. These are "all" the people whom "the Father gives" to the Son as gifts. Yeshua viewed the ultimate cause of faith as God's electing grace, not man's choice.
The word "gives" is a word of destiny. It's divine sovereign election. The concept of the elect being a love gift from the Father to the Son is taught throughout Scripture. Notice what Isaiah writes:
Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. Isaiah 8:18 ESV
Who is speaking here? The Epistle to the Hebrews quotes these words as the distinct words of Yeshua:
And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, "Behold, I and the children God has given me." Hebrews 2:13 ESV
Speaking of Isaiah 8:18 The IVP Bible Background Commentary states: "These are not the words of the prophet, speaking of himself and his natural children, nor of his spiritual children, his disciples, called sometimes the sons of the prophets; but of Christ, who has a seed, a spiritual offspring who are given Him of God, in the covenant of grace." [IVP Bible Background Commentary].
The Tanakh represent the Father as promising the Son a certain reward for His sufferings on behalf of sinners:
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Isaiah 53:10-11 ESV
"He shall see His offspring"—this is a reference to the elect of God. God has given the elect to Christ, we are children of promise. Notice, that it says "He shall see and be satisfied," and not frustrated.
So, when Yeshua says, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me"—He is saying, "Though many may reject me, all that have been given me by my Father, the elect, will believe in me." How can Yeshua be sure that those who the Father has given Him will come to Him? Because the ones the Father gives to Christ, He draws to Christ.
So, it was for the sake of the Son’s love gift, the elect, that the days were shortened. Through the fury of the zealots on one hand, and the hatred of the Romans on the other, and partly through the difficulty of enduring in the mountains without houses or provisions, everybody would have been destroyed either by the sword or by famine, if the days had not been shortened. But providentially, the days were shortened. Josephus said,
"Titus himself was desirous of putting a speedy end to the siege, having Rome and the riches and the pleasures there, before his eyes. Some of his officers proposed to him to turn the siege into a blockade, and since they could not take the city by storm, to starve it into a surrender : but he thought it not becoming to sit still with so great an army and he feared lest the length of the time should diminish the glory of his success; everything indeed may be effected in time, but speed contributes much to the fame and splendor of actions."
The Jews, too, helped to shorten the days, by their divisions and mutual slaughters; by burning their own provisions, which would have lasted for many years; and by deserting their strong holds, from which they could never have been taken by force. By these means, "the days were shortened." Otherwise, Jerusalem could never have been taken in such a short time, it was well fortified, and able to sustain a longer siege. The Romans could hardly ever have prevailed but for the factions and seditions within. Titus himself ascribed his success to God, as he was viewing the fortifications, after the city was taken. His words to his friends were very remarkable: "We have fought," he said, "with God on our aide; and it is God who hath pulled the Jews out of these strong holds; for what could the hands of men or machines avail against these towers?" God, therefore, in the opinion of Titus, as well as the inspired writers, "shortened the days."
It wasn't in Jerusalem alone but all over the country that the war waged, and had it gone on many of the Christians who fled to the outlying areas would also been in danger.
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. Matthew 24:23 ESV
Yeshua had cautioned his disciples against false christs and false prophets before, but he gives a more specific caution against them about the time of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.
For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Matthew 24:24 ESV
We learn from Josephus that many such impostors did arise about that time and promised deliverance from God, being persuaded by the tyrants or governors to prevent the people and soldiers from deserting to the Romans; and the worse the Jews situation, the more open they would be to listen to these deceptions, and the more ready to follow the deceivers. Hegesippus, too, in Eusebius mentions the coming of false christs and false prophets about the same time. Dositheus was reputed to work wonders, according to Origen: Barchoebebas too, who Jerome saith pretended to vomit flames.
See, I have told you beforehand. Matthew 24:25 ESV
Christ had warned them about the coming of these false christs and false prophets.
So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. Matthew 24:26 ESV
Several of the false christs and false prophets led their followers "into the desert." Josephus, in his Antiquities says,
"Many impostors and cheats persuaded the people to follow them into the desert, where they promised to show manifest wonders and signs done by the providence of God; and many being persuaded suffered the punishment of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and chastised them."
Again, in his history of the Jewish war, speaking of the same people, he says,
"These impostors, under a pretense of divine inspiration, affecting innovations and changes, persuaded the multitude to grow mad, and led them forth 'into the desert,' as if God would there show them the signs of liberty. Against these Felix, for it seemed to be the foundation of a revolt, sent horse and foot soldiers, and slew a great number of them."
Josephus mentions another impostor,
"Who promised salvation to the people, and a cessation of all evils, if they would follow him 'into the desert;' but Festus sent horse and foot soldiers against him, and destroyed the deceiver himself, and those who followed him."
Several of these impostors led their followers into "the secret chambers" or places of security. Josephus mentioned a false prophet who,
"Declared to the people in the city, that God commanded them to go up into the temple, and there they should receive the signs of deliverance. A multitude of men, women, and children, went up accordingly; but instead of deliverance, the place was set on fire by the Romans, and six thousand perished miserably in the flames, or by throwing themselves down to escape them."
I'm sure you can understand that during a time of such distress, the people would be open to hear and follow anyone who promised them deliverance from their miseries.
For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:27 ESV
His coming will not be in this or that particular place, but like the lightning, will be sudden and universal. The appearance of the true Christ will be clearly distinguishable from that of the false christ. Josephus says,
"The Roman army entered into Judea on the east side of it, and carried on their conquest westward, as if not only the extensiveness of the ruin, but the very route, which the army would take, was intended in the comparison of the lightning coming out of the east, and shining even unto the west."
While this may be true, I think that Christ's emphasis here, based on the immediate context, is that His coming will be swift and universal judgement.
What this verse tells us is that the Lord's coming will be like lightning in some manner; there is a comparison here "for as" and "so will." The word "coming" here is the Greek word parousia. This word is used four times by Matthew, all of them in chapter 24. This is the same word the disciples used in their question to Yeshua. They asked, "What will be the sign of Your coming?" Remember from our earlier study on verse 3, that as we compare all three gospel accounts of this question, you see that the disciples considered His coming and the end of the age to be identical events with the destruction of Jerusalem. To the disciples, the parousia was not used of a second coming but signified the full manifestation of His Messiahship; a glorious appearing in authority and power. So, we could translate it this way, "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the glorious appearing in authority and power be of the Son of Man."
What does the idea of lightning tell us? Many of the modern futurists interpret the idea of lightning as something visible to the whole world. Walvoord says, "Apparently, the heavens will be ablaze with the glory of God." F.C. Cook says,
"The coming of Christ shall not be an obscure one, confined to a particular place, and signified from thence by report, but one visible to the whole world. Surely this again is an intimation that the second coming of Christ is not to be identified with any local event, such as the destruction of Jerusalem."
Now, folks isn't lightning a local event? Can a flash of lightning be seen by the whole world? No, but it can possibly be seen by a whole city. I think that by comparing Scripture with Scripture, we can see that lightning refers to God's judgement, not to a bright light of glory that everyone will see. In these passages in the Tanakh we see local judgements of God described by the use of lightning.
The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered his voice. And he sent out arrows and scattered them; lightning, and routed them. 2 Samuel 22:14-15 ESV
The Hebrew word for lightning is baraq, it means lightning.
And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Psalms 18:14 ESV
Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. Zechariah 9:14 ESV
The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering (baraq) spear. You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger. Habakkuk 3:11-12 ESV
Habakkuk interprets his imagery as a prophecy of the military invasion of Judah by the Chaldeans.
The Greek word used for lightning in Matthew 24:27 is astrape, it means, "lightning; by analogy glare:—lightning, bright shining." The same Greek word is also used in other passages that speak of judgement.
And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Luke 10:18 ESV
That speaks of the judgement of God on Satan.
And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. Revelation 16:18-19 ESV
It seems to me, that when Yeshua compares his coming to lightning, that he is saying that His coming will be seen in judgment. Albert Barns, in his commentary on this verse says, "…the destruction of Jerusalem is described as his coming, his act."
I think that the designation "Son of Man" is significant here. Son of man is a New Testament designation for Yeshua as God incarnate in flesh and agent of divine judgment. I think that this verse is clearly telling us that Christ's parousia will be seen in the destruction of Jerusalem. The immediate context bears this out, these verses all speak of judgement.
Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Matthew 24:28 ESV
The Jewish nation was a corpse, which was morally and judicially dead, and the Romans descended upon it and devoured it. This language is also seen in the judgement language of the Tanakh.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. Habakkuk 1:6-8 ESV
declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. Isaiah 46:10-11 ESV
And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste. Jeremiah 7:33-34 ESV
Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law. Hosea 8:1 ESV
The victories of the Romans were not confined to the city of Jerusalem, but like a flood, overran the whole land. Wherever the Jews are, there will Christ be taking vengeance upon them by the Romans. Josephus said,
"There was no part of Judea, which did not partake of the calamities of the capital city. At Antioch, the Jews being falsely accused of a design to burn the city, many of them were burnt in the theater, and others were slain. The Romans pursued, and took, and slew them every where, as particularly at the siege of Machaerus; at the wood Jardes, where the Jews were surrounded, and none of them escaped, but, being not fewer than three thousand, were all slain ; and at Masada, where being closely besieged, and upon the point of being taken, they first murdered their wives and children, and then themselves to the number of nine hundred and sixty, to prevent their failing into the enemies' hands. Many were slain in Egypt, and their temple there was shut up: and in Cyrene the followers of Jonathan, a weaver, and author of new disturbances, were most of them slain; he himself was taken prisoner, and by his false accusation three thousand of the richest Jews were condemned and put to death."
With this account, Josephus concludes his history of the Jewish war.
Albert Barnes says, "This verse is connected with the preceding by the word 'for,' implying that this is a reason for what is said there-that the Son of man would certainly come to destroy the city, and that he would come suddenly. The meaning is that he would come, by means of the Roman armies, as certainly, as suddenly, and as unexpectedly as whole flocks of vultures and eagles, though unseen before, see their prey at a great distance and suddenly gather in multitudes around it … So keen is their vision as aptly to represent the Roman armies, though at an immense distance, spying, as it were, Jerusalem, a putrid carcass, and hastening in multitudes to destroy it" (Commentary on Matthew 24:28).
John Broadus(1886) said, "Christ shall be revealed with a sudden vengeance; for when God shall cast off the city and people, grown ripe for destruction, like a carcass thrown out, the Roman soldiers, like eagles, shall straight fly to it with their eagles (ensigns) to tear and devour it."
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Matthew 24:29 ESV
Modern commentators generally understand this, and what follows, as the end of the world; but the words "immediately after the tribulation of those days," show, that he is not speaking of any distant event, but of something immediately following the tribulation just mentioned, and that must be the destruction of Jerusalem. The word "immediately" is the Greek word eutheos, it means directly, at once or soon, as soon as, forthwith, immediately, shortly, straightway. Notice carefully when this takes place—immediately after the tribulation of THOSE days. We have seen that the tribulation happened in 67-70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem so whatever this verse is referring to, happened immediately afterward.
If you are not familiar with the apocalyptic language of the Tanakh, you will not understand what Christ is saying here. This sounds to us like the end of the world, "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken." But if we are familiar with the first three quarters of our Bible, aka the Tanakh or Old Testament we would know that this language is common among the prophets. This idea is seen clearly as we look at passages where mention is made of the destruction of a state and government using language which seems to set forth the end of the world.
The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. Isaiah 13:1 ESV
In this chapter God is talking about the judgment that is to fall upon Babylon. The word "oracle" is the Hebrew word "massa", an utterance, chiefly a doom. This introduction sets the stage for the subject matter in this chapter, and if we forget this, our interpretations of Isaiah 13 can go just about anywhere our imagination wants to go. This is not an oracle against the universe or world but against the nation of Babylon.
Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! Isaiah 13:6 ESV
Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. I will make people more rare than fine gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. Isaiah 13:9-13 ESV
Now remember, he is speaking about the destruction of Babylon, but is sounds like worldwide destruction. The terminology of a context cannot be expanded beyond the scope of the subject under discussion. The spectrum of language surely cannot go outside the land of Babylon. If you were a Babylonian and Babylon was destroyed, would it seem like the world was destroyed? Yes! Your world would be destroyed.
Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Isaiah 13:17 ESV
This is an historical event that took place in 539 BC. When the Medes destroyed Babylon, the Babylonian world came to an end. This destruction is said, in verse 6, to be from the Almighty, and the Medes constitute the means that God uses to accomplish this task. This is apocalyptic language. This is the way the Bible discusses the fall of a nation. This is obviously figurative language. God did not intend for us to take this literally. If we take this literally, the world ended in 539 BC.
Milton Terry said, "From these quotations it is apparent that there is scarcely an expression employed in Matthew and Luke which has not been taken from the Old Testament Scriptures. Such apocalyptic forms of speech are not to be assumed to convey in the New Testament a meaning different from that which they bear in the Hebrew Scriptures. They are part and parcel of the genius of prophetic language."
James Stuart Russell (1878) said, "The symbols are, in fact, equivalent to those employed by our Lord when predicting the doom of Israel. 'Immediately after the tribulation of those days (the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem) shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken (Matt 24:29). Both passages refer to the same catastrophe and employ very similar figures; besides which we have the authority of our Lord for fixing the event and the period of which He speaks within the limits of the generation then in existence: that is to say, the reference can only be to the judgment of the Jewish nation and the abrogation of the Mosaic economy at the Parousia." (p. 289-290).