Bonus Post: History of the Siege f Jerusalem

The secular historical record contains an account of the siege of Jerusalem that is simply amazing to read in light of our study of Jesus’ prophetic words in Matthew 24. I would strongly encourage anyone following this study to read this short synopsis, for by reading it not only will you see our working theory confirmed by actual history, you will discover the reason why Jesus gave the answer that He gave to the disciples’ question.

This history is told by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who not only wrote the history of the Jewish people from Genesis to the time shortly before their last war of destruction (65-70 AD) Antiquities of the Jews,  but another volume entitled The War of the Jews which gives his eyewitness account of the entire Roman campaign against the Jews, including his eyewitness account of the siege of Jerusalem.

The war began when the Emperor Caligula commanded that his statue be erected in the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem.  This so outraged the Jews that they flew to arms and began to attack Roman outposts, beginning in Syria, and spreading throughout the region.  A large Roman army under Vespasian began its counter assault in that region, and then moved through Galilee destroying all Jewish opposition in its wake.  After ravaging the north, Vespasian returned to Rome, where he participated in a coup that overthrew Caligula (who was insane) and was replaced by Cestius, who was the general who began the siege.  Josephus tells of the horrors of this period, and to read his account is truly disturbing.  The believers trapped in the city, recalling the words of Jesus must have wondered how they were going to be able to flee as the conditions grew steadily more desperate; then a miracle.  The Romans suddenly withdrew!  According to Josephus, the Jews celebrated their divine deliverance.  The Christians fled to the hills and escaped.  What had actually happened was that the general Titus had arrived in the region with reinforcements. Cestius withdrew, joined up with Titus, and with Titus (the higher ranking officer) in command they soon returned to finish the job, only this time there were no Christians in the city: they had all fled because they had been forewarned by none other than Jesus Himself!  “See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matt. 24:25)

As Josephus tells the story, and he was no supporter of the Christians, not a single Christian died in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.  The Jewish deaths were over 100,000.  By the time the Romans launched their final assault, there was no resistance, and they had only a mop up operation; murdering the last of the survivors who couldn’t get away. According to Josephus, the Romans discovered to their delight that the Temple itself was full of gold.  In fact (as we know) it was inlaid with gold within the wood framework of the stone construction.  To render the gold from its structure, Josephus tells that the Romans set it ablaze, and then pried the stones loose from one another to get at the melted gold that had fallen, leaving not one stone upon another. (Matt. 24:2)


Wars, famines and earthquakes… Oh my!

Matthew 24:5-15

This passage is a little creepy don’t you think? False messiahs, lies and deceit and then wars, rumors of war…

Sounds like our times, oh no what are we going to do?

We are going to remember the context, that’s what we’re going to do! This passage is still about the destruction of Jerusalem, and yes it also sounds like the present day, but there is a good reason for that as you will shortly see. One of my boyhood heroes can give us a clue about this: “The only thing new in the world is history that you don’t already know.” Harry S Truman.

President Truman was so very right when he said this, and that sure is true of the present day… but now I must remind myself that this is a post on Matthew 24 and not on Revelation!

We are dealing with the period from the time of the Olivet Discourse to the time Jerusalem was destroyed; 34 AD to 70 AD roughly. There were wars and rumors of wars: When the Roman Emperor Caligula ordered his statue erected in the Temple and the Jews of the city reacted by rebelling against the Romans, do you suppose they weren’t talking about a war when the news got back to Rome?  According to our the secular historian Josephus, they were so concerned that many neglected to even till their fields.  Nation will rise up against nation… When the Jews and Syrians clashed in Caesarea, the Syrians drove the Jews from the city, and the death toll amongst the Jews was staggering, which is one of the reasons that the Jews attacked in Syria. Before the Roman garrison could respond, the killings numbered in the tens of thousands, and Josephus has recorded it all for your reading… This was not the only example of war, rumors of war and nation rising against nation in the region of Judea during this period.  Also during this period, during the short reign of Claudius, there were the beginnings of civil war in Italy and elsewhere, which would obviously make the “evening news” in Judea.

Famines? Acts 11:28 is interesting to remember: “One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)” This fact is confirmed by Josephus, Tacitus and Eusebius among others

Earthquakes? During the period between the Discourse and the fall of Jerusalem, history records quite a few, maybe even a record number in the Roman world: All in all, there are 15 recorded during this time, in places such as Rome, other parts of Italy, Judea, Syria, Asia Minor and Crete among others.

Persecution?  OK, don’t even pretend that persecution didn’t take place during this period!  It is well documented in the New Testament, along with the false teachers and the rest of it.

Note verses 13 and 14:” but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Verse 13 gives the main point: stand firm in all things, and you will be saved. In the last lesson we saw exactly how that took place; Jesus was good and reliable in His words.  Verse 14 takes us back to the Covenant priority: “and the Gospel will spread throughout the world,” even though there are to be difficulties. Finally, the end will come: remember the context, the end is that of Jerusalem.

In short, this period of about 36 years is pretty much like any other 36 year period in history; business as usual. What – you doubt me on this? Look back for the last 36 years… by my reckoning that would be 1978. Anything change in that time? Pick any 36 year period and research it, and I guarantee you’ll find all of these same things.

OK, let’s take stock of the whole section, we have an amazing picture right in front of is:

1. There will be difficulties, these are normal and a regular part of life on this earth.  There will be wars, famines, earthquakes, calamities and persecutions; even false teachers, but hold firm in your faith, and you will be delivered. Most importantly, the Gospel of the Kingdom of Christ will go forth. (5-14)

2. When the day of God’s judgment comes, our Lord will see you through its peril. If you are in the countryside, when you see the sign, get out. Flee through the mountains to the north. If you are in the city, hang in there for the Lord will deliver you, too. When the time comes, and the siege is cut short*,flee to the mountains of the north.  Those who are followers of the Lord will be saved; those who are not will be judged. (15-28)

3. When God’s judgment against those who have refused to follow Him comes, it will be terrible to behold for it will be sure and complete. Those who claim to follow Him, but who do not really, will be devastated for God will not be mocked, nor will He be fooled by performing the old rituals after they have been rendered obsolete by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. (29-33)

4. This will all be completed within the natural lifetimes of those who heard Him say it, even though that is not necessarily mean they will all live to see it. (34)

5. Even though this has all been accomplished by the end of the year 70, there are lessons for us to draw from this text as well.  What could they be?

Well, as you might suspect, we attend to that next time!

*Don’t forget to read the Bonus Post at 2 pm Eastern today!!


Look for the Sign

Good morning dear reader, and welcome back for another thrill-packed stop on our tour of the Olivet Discourse!  If you read the several posts I wrote recently about Biblical interpretation, then you have probably realized by now that I am practicing what I preached in those posts (and podcasts come to think of it). I have checked the old presuppositions of commentators at the door, and gone looking for context. Finding the context of Matthew 24 and 25, I then went looking for the internal structure to ascertain how many questions Jesus answered, and then respected the overall context and the internal context established by Matthew and Jesus. By doing that, we saw that in 24:29-33, Jesus was simply telling us that God would execute His righteous and just judgment on Jerusalem, and in this discovery the highly complex became very simple.

OK, I’ll admit that it took a little work to get there, but now the hard part is over.If you can keep going with me, you will soon discover that this is an amazing and awesome text.

Let’s move on to the preceding section, Matthew 24:15-28.  In this section, Jesus tells the disciples what the people of God will need to know when Jerusalem is besieged in the period leading up to 70 AD.  Verses 15-16 give a sign of warning to the people regarding the time to flee the region, giving a reference to Daniel’s prophecy; that will be discussed below.  When this sign appears, the people in Judea are to flee to the mountains, and along this route, they can travel through the back country all of the way to Lebanon behind the Roman advance to safety.  Verses 17-20 underscore the need for haste in their flight from the region.  It is important to note that He said “in Judea” and not in Jerusalem which is the capital of Judea.  This is because by the time they see the sign he referred to, it will be too late for Jerusalem, as we shall see.  Verses 21 and 22 detail just how horrible the coming siege will be, and gives the believers the hope that the horror will be cut short so that they may be able to escape destruction.  In verses 22-25, Jesus warns the believers not to be fooled by rumors, and urges them to stick with what He is telling them, ending with the note that they will be spared from Jerusalem’s doom.  In verse 25, He reinforces the thought that He is giving them advance warning of the situation.

“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.

Matthew 24:22-25

This is the sign for those Christians who are trapped within the city: “the days will be shortened.” This was crucial for their survival once the siege began and history records that they understood it. When the days were shortened during the siege, the Christians were to listen to no rumors and get themselves out of the city… no matter what anybody says. “See, I’ve told you ahead of time.”

Our text ends with a curious section from 26-28, where Jesus warns that some will be fooled into thinking that the destruction of Jerusalem is the end of the world and the time of his coming.  This is clearly not the case, and the believers mustn’t be fooled, for when He does come, it will not be in secret!

The Sign

The sign in our text is “the abomination that causes desolation,” and is used by Daniel in describing military attacks on Jerusalem in chapters 9, 11 and 12.  To a Jew, “abomination” would be something that defiles something that is holy.  A Gentile army surrounding the Holy City would be a possibility.  “Desolation” means emptiness, so what we are looking for is a gross defilement that results in emptiness.

Looking to the Olivet Discourse as recorded by Luke, we find the answer

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Luke 21:20-24

By comparing Matthew 24 to Luke 21, we see that the sign they were to look for was when a Gentile army surrounded the Holy City of Jerusalem, and this happened in 66 AD.  A question may arise as to why Matthew refers to Daniel, and Luke does not.  Remember that Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel written for the Jews, and Luke’s was the one written for the Greeks.  Frequently, Matthew refers back to prophecies that arte fulfilled, while Luke just spells out what happened.  This is because the Jews were aware of the prophets, and by reminding them of the prophecies that are fulfilled, Matthew is lending credibility to Jesus’ Messianic claim.  Luke’s audience is largely ignorant of Jewish tradition, and such comparisons would be of little value to those readers; Luke spells things out that Matthew relates to Scripture.

Thus, we come to see that what Jesus is giving as a signal to flee the area is the Roman siege at Jerusalem; those outside the city are to flee immediately, and those within the city will have to wait for another sign for deliverance… This signal comes in verse 22: those days will be cut short!

This whole situation is very easy to see in the secular history of this period, for it happened just as Jesus said that it would. This afternoon, at 2 pm Eastern Time, I’ll post a Bonus Post on the History of the Siege of Jerusalem, and I hope you’ll stop by and give it a read… it’s not long, and the sources are linked if you would like to investigate further. Our next post on this will be at 11:30 am Eastern and in it we’ll cover the verses all the way back to the question in verse 3, and then go back through the entire text to verse 34 and see how it all fits together. See you then!

Photo of the Week: July 30, 2014

MV 6-30-14 031-LR

Remember our old pal Jake the Ox? (An Ox Named Jake June 26, 2014) Well I ran into him again recently, as he and his bro’ were relaxing after a tough morning of irritating their handlers, and here he is chewing on his…. whatever he’s chewing on.  It’s pretty hilarious watching that lower jaw go around and around in circles as he chews; I should have made this a video!

Is This Difficult, or Is This Simple?

 “Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven,with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call,and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.

Matthew 24:29-33

 We have a working theory for understanding the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25 that says that the disciples asked two questions in verse 3 : When will this happen, relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, and what will be the signs of Jesus’ return and the end of the age. Jesus answers the first question about Jerusalem in verses 4-34, and transitions into His answer of the second question in verse 35 and continues with His answer through the end of chapter 25. We have reached this preliminary conclusion based upon the context of the passage, but we are still testing our working theory, because we want to be completely sure that we have it right. We left off yesterday with these verses, because these are the hardest verses in the Discourse to place, because they fall within that section of text that we have theorized should belong to the destruction of Jerusalem, but at first glance, they sound like they belong at the end of time. I’ve already had a couple of comments saying that this seems all mixed up; is Jesus bouncing around from question to question?

In the last post, I suggested the possibility that prophetic passages such as this should not be taken literally, for literalism does not appear to be the right way to understand them. If we apply a literal understanding to this text, then Jesus could not have been talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, simply because the sun is shining (and reflecting on my monitor screen as I type this) Jesus must be talking about the end of everything. The problem with that is, that if Jesus is telling us about the end of everything, He is doing so outside of His own context, and if our recent study of Mark’s gospel taught us anything at all, it is that Jesus is a master wordsmith; He certainly didn’t confound all of the “experts” with sloppy and ineffective use of language! I suggested yesterday that we search for other places in the Scriptures where similar language is used to determine if it has a figurative meaning, and lo and behold we found one such passage in Isaiah 13 that I discussed with you. In Isaiah 13, we saw very similar figures used in the description of God’s judgment of Babylon. Is that the only place where this happens?

Taking another quick look at Isaiah, I came across this passage, Isaiah 34.  This passage is about God’s judgment of Edom, the home of the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, and the ancient rivals of Israel. After they destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Roman legions continued their assault and utterly destroyed Edom. I can give you eyewitness testimony concerning this city which I have visited: it is utterly desolate to this day.

In verses 1-4, the prophet calls the peoples of all nations to witness his judgment, concluding in verse four: “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll;  all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.”

Following, he remarks on the awesome destruction of Edom. For the purposes of our study, note particularly verses 5, 9 and 10:

“v. 5 My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.

V. 9 Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! v. 10 It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again.”

Some interpreters have said that both Isaiah 13 and 34 contain prophecies that have no yet been fulfilled, but they cannot say this without taking them out of context, and to do so in the name of literalism is bizarre indeed, for literally speaking, “Babylon” must be Babylon, and “Edom” must be Edom. They cannot represent something else and still be literal.  Claiming that they literally mean something else is nonsense, and assigning a different meaning removes them from the context of the author, in these cases Isaiah. We can cut this whole thing short right here, with one simple question: Dear reader, are you prepared to make the case that Scripture can best be understood by taking it out of context? If you would like to assert that, please drop me a comment, and I will reward you with your very own “Bonus Post” on the subject! 🙂 Seriously, there are literally dozens of exaples in the Old Testament and Revelation of similar language being used to describe God’s judgment, and you can easily find them with a word search.

Back to our Matthew text…

Because of the context, Jesus is telling us here that Jerusalem will be judged by God. In the larger context, please recall that in the previous chapter, chapter 23, Jesus has in the last hour or so before the Olivet Discourse, in His very last public speech, pronounced God’s judgment upon the religious elite of Jerusalem in the Seven Woes. Also remember that this speech is what brought up the subject of Jerusalem in the first place, when Jesus ended it with His lament for Jerusalem in 23:37 ff. I am afraid, dear reader, that the context here is so completely solid that Jesus is still talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, that no matter how strong of an impulse we may have to place these verses somewhere else, they must remain here where Jesus spoke them in context, and when we keep them here, they will make perfect sense and be in harmony with all 66 books of the Bible, for what started out being so difficult has just become clear and simple. Here’s the picture:

Back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived in perfect fellowship with God. They had a direct relationship with Him, and He gave them a purpose, which was to exercise dominion over all of the creation of the earth. At some point, they made a deliberate decision to rebel against Him, to become like Him and to know both good and evil; they decided that they would make the rules and ate the forbidden fruit. For this there were consequences. Their fellowship with God was abolished and they were removed from His presence entirely. As the years went by, God began the process of redeeming Mankind, beginning with a covenant between He and Abraham in which He made certain promises to Abraham concerning a promised land and descendants through whom all nations would one day be blessed.  There were times of triumph and of tragedy ahead, but in the fullness of time, God made another covenant with Moses that established Abraham’s descendants as God’s holy nation of Israel. But Israel was seldom faithful to God’s laws. God warned them through the prophets time and time again, yet Israel continued to defy Him, thinking that they could make the rules, and as He had warned, they suffered serious consequences when they were conquered and carried away into captivity. Even then, after a period of time, God gave them yet another chance and allowed them to return and try again. He also promised a better future would become available to them. In due course  the day came when He sent His Son Jesus Christ to save them. Most of them did not want to follow Jesus because they wanted a Messiah to build them into a world power so that they could enjoy the pleasure of the good life on earth. In this they were led by the religious establishment of Jerusalem, and when the time came, Jesus pronounced God’s judgment upon those who so willfully and deliberately refused God’s gracious and merciful offer of forgiveness, preferring worldly status instead. A few days later, that same Messiah Jesus shed his blood  and established a New Covenant with the people of God, and the good news of His Kingdom was preached far and wide among the Jews. Many accepted God’s loving pardon and became His followers, but most joined with the religious establishment and persecuted Christ’s followers, the church.

The author of Hebrews gave the final warning when he wrote that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ had replaced the old ways and rendered the Law, the Temple and all of its observances “obsolete and useless” and went on to say that all practice of the old ways would soon come to an end forever. Less than five years after that, Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem, just as Jesus said they would, along with the Temple and its observances, and to this day there is no practice of the Temple ceremonies.

There is much left to say, dear reader, and we are only just beginning to study this amazing prophetic passage of Jesus’. You can take heart, for the difficult part of understanding it has passed, and the rest is much easier to follow!

Detective Stories and Working Theories

Well fellow detectives, how did you do?

What? You didn’t do your homework?  I’m shocked!

When we were together yesterday, your assignment was to look over Matthew 24 and 25 very carefully and look for structural clues that might help us to be certain about which question or questions Jesus answered after the disciples had posed their question in verse 3:

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Matthew 24:3

If you missed our last get-together, you should probably check it out here before going further.

For me, the first thing that popped out was verse 34, and once that popped out, I noticed that there are three other verses that tend to indicate transition giving us four total, verses 29,34,35 and 36. Something happens here. Since 34 is the most obvious, let’s consider it first:

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Matthew 24:34

There is an element of time here: “…this generation will not pass away until…” Now, let’s make a little comparison. The original question asks, “…when will this happen…” OK, what does “this” refer to? To see that, we need to look to what was being discussed, and that is really easy, for at the end of verse 2, Jesus was telling them about what would become of Jerusalem:  “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” The next time anyone speaks it’s, “…when will this  happen…” so, “this” must refer to the destruction of the city, since that was the subject on the table at the time: context. In verses 4-33 Jesus answers them until in verse 34 He tells them that this generation will not pass away until all of “these things” have happened. On the one hand you have “this” and then you have “these things” If “this” is the destruction of Jerusalem, then “these things” is also Jerusalem being destroyed, since the subject hasn’t yet changed. If this is correct, then “this generation” gives us an approximate timeframe for the destruction of the city, and we know from history that Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 AD… but let’s double-check just to make sure.

If we browse through Matthew’s text, can we find Jesus saying something similar to this and determine what He means by “this generation will not pass away until”?  There is something similar in 16:28 where Jesus said,   “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” In chapter 16, Jesus was telling the disciples that He would soon go to Jerusalem and face death(Matt. 16:21-28) and it is clear that He is referring here to the coming of the Kingdom at Pentecost. If our thinking is correct, then “this generation” in chapter 24 means the generation alive at the time Jesus made the statement, and 70 AD fits that bill easily.

If our thinking is right, then we should find a change of subject very quickly, and when we look at verse 35, the very next verse, we find it.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Matthew 24:35

From verse 34 where the subject is the destruction of Jerusalem, to  35 where the subject changes to His words, the subject has changed, and if we keep reading, we find another time indication in the next verse:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Matthew 24:36

Now we have a more complete picture of the structure of the entire discourse. The comment about the destruction of Jerusalem is in verse 2, the question is in verse 3. The answer begins in verse 4 and continues to verse 34 where a time frame is given for its completion. Verse 35 transitions the subject, and a new time frame is given, only it is a time that nobody knows yet; Jesus is answering the second question, which appears at first glance to be, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Since there is no more transition or subject changes after this, it would appear that Jesus is answering 2 questions in the Discourse, first when will Jerusalem be destroyed and when will He return and what will be the signs, which Jesus seems to be treating as one question, or at least in one answer. At this point, we are developing a working thesis to investigate, but before we can be sure, we need to go back to that other verse I mentioned, verse 29.

“Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

Matthew 24:29

Let’s begin by noting the difference in tense between “that day” in verse 36 and “those days” in verse 29.  The fact that verse 29 refers to a plural number of days and verse 36 refers to a single day would lend significant credence to our thesis: they are talking about different things.  Even with that said, and the fact that the grammar is different between “those” and “that”, verse 29 is a tough one to understand.  The method we use in determining what is intended will be to examine other passages in the Bible to see if we can find a trend as to the intended meaning that we can apply to this verse to ensure that our thesis is correct.

The difficulty that we must face is related to how we understand prophetic language.  There are two schools of thought on this subject.  The first school of thought is the Apocalyptic school which asserts that these are word pictures intended to transmit meaning about things through the use of descriptive language which reveals something to the reader.  The second school is the Literalist school which asserts that everything must be taken literally; if the sun, moon and stars are said to fall, then they will fall.  In looking at other passages, we should be able to discern which approach is correct.  If the Apocalyptic school is right, then so is our thesis.  If the Literalists are right, then our thesis may or may not be right. Let’s check out one passage to see if we can get an idea:

Isaiah 13:1-22 deals with God’s wrath and judgment against Babylon, in context the highlights are as follows:

v. 1 An oracle concerning Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw:… v.6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty…. V. 9 See, the day of the LORD is coming
—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate
and destroy the sinners within it. V. 10 The stars of heaven and their constellations
will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened
and the moon will not give its light…. V. 13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble;
and the earth will shake from its place
at the wrath of the LORD Almighty,
in the day of his burning anger.

For the full effect, you should read the entire passage.  For now, note that two things are very clear: First, the sun, moon and stars are said to be darkened, and second, God’s judgment is being poured out.  As we will see next post, this is a common connection in Bible prophecy.  Isaiah is talking about the destruction of Babylon in chapter 13, and God’s judgment on them.  In Matthew 24 Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s judgment upon the Jews.  (Don’t forget that Jesus Himself passed judgment on the religious establishment of Jerusalem in chapter 23, a short time before this Discourse) This, along with the change from plural in 24:29 to singular in 24:36 is enough to determine that we are dealing with two questions being under discussion in the Olivet Discourse: One relating to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in particular, and the other being of Jesus’ coming and the end of the age.  As mentioned, we will look at some more Old Testament passages next time which will solidify this position.

For now at least, we have a working theory:  Matthew 24:3 contains two questions which were answered by Jesus: First, when will the Temple be destroyed, and second, what will be the signs of his coming and of the end of the age? When we get back together later, we will continue to examine the Discourse, and test out theory further by looking a 29-33 in more depth Will our working theory withstand this test?

We shall soon find out!

The Real Question

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Matthew 24:3

In the previous post we saw the setting in which this question was asked by the disciples, along with the events that led to it. Recall that Jesus had just completed His last public discourse in which He had pronounced judgment upon the religious establishment in the “Seven Woes” of chapter 23. As they left the Temple Mount, the disciples commented on the great buildings of central Jerusalem as they sat there with the Temple itself presiding over them, perched as it was on its mountain, and Jesus had told them that all of these structures would be utterly destroyed. Now here they were on the Mount of Olives, and they approached Jesus to get some clarification of this alarming statement of His.

Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives according to the text; let’s try to picture this panorama…

The Mount of Olives has a panoramic view of central Jerusalem, overlooking the Temple Mount. Have you ever watched a TV news program that had a panoramic view in the background of a discussion? For example, if the people on-screen are discussing the latest news from Congress, there might be a dramatic view of the Capitol as a backdrop, or if the guest was in New York, they might have the New York skyline in the background. I would imagine that if the person on-screen was in London, they might have a backdrop of Big Ben and the House of Parliament in the background. Keep in mind that for this discussion, the backdrop is central Jerusalem, with the Temple itself dominating the scene, and in this case, the backdrop is quite real… Even today, the view from the Mount of Olives is dramatic; it’s the one that’s on all of the postcards, the one behind the modern-day reporter who is reporting from Jerusalem.

The question they ask Jesus is an interesting one, for in order for us to be clear on the context of what follows, we need to be clear on what they are asking; how else can we understand the answer? Clearly, they were asking about Jesus’ remark that the city, including the Temple, would be destroyed, and they seem to equate this with the end of the world, yet Jesus up to this point hasn’t mentioned the end of the world… has He? Jesus only said that the city would be destroyed. Remember our discussion of the significance of the Temple in the previous post? If the destruction of Jerusalem includes the destruction of the Temple, then it would certainly mean the end of the Jewish world… When you think of the significance of the Temple for the Jewish person of that time, it isn’t hard to see why they might make such a connection.

The next thing that is striking about the question, is that it is a compound question and at first glance, there seem to be three questions in one: When will this happen? What will the sign of your coming? What will be the sign of the end of the age? My best guess is that from the disciples’ point of view, all three parts of the larger question were really the same thing, kind of like a question my sister and I used to drive our Mom crazy with: When’s Dad going to be home? When’s dinner? When are we going to eat? In our house, these were really all the same question!

In our time, this is a critical issue, because Christians are often influenced by teachings regarding the end of the world, and various teachings approach this passages with presuppositions derived from their end of the world views, meaning that they are eager to fit the Discourse into their already established view on these things, with the result being that we may or may not get an accurate reading of Jesus’ teaching here. Since this conversation is about the Olivet Discourse, and not on the end of the world, I propose to follow Jesus’ words wherever they might lead us. If they take us to the end of the world, fine and dandy, but if they don’t, that’s fine too. Thus, I’m going to forget all about the end of the world for right now and investigate the direction Jesus takes in this Discourse.

When we get back together tomorrow, we’ll scan the entire text looking for clues as to how many questions Jesus actually answers: 1, 2 or 3… and what they are. Accordingly dear reader, you have homework!

Carefully read both chapters 24 and 25, and look carefully for changes in subject, tense or time; consider verses that could be the transition from one subject (question) to another. If you seriously want to know what Jesus taught, then resist the temptation to look the answer up to see what someone else had to say on the subject; it isn’t time for that just yet. Another way of saying this is: let’s try to approach this text without any preconceived ideas or notions so we can join the disciples as though we were hearing Jesus speak these words for the first time, always an interesting approach…