As mentioned in the last post, after Jesus completed His final public address with His lament for Jerusalem in 23:37-39, He and the disciples left the Temple area and walked to the Mount of Olives which overlooks the Temple Mount. Their conversation begins along the way as the disciples call His attention to the Temple:
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?”he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (24:1-2)
It is vital that we catch the timing of this: First the lament for Jerusalem, they leave and as they do, the disciples call His attention to the Temple, and He tells them it will be completely destroyed.
You may recall that when Jesus first arrived in Jerusalem, He went to the temple and cleared it in an act of active prophecy, directing our attention to its having been corrupted by the reigning Jewish religious establishment. Then we had that odd little scene the next morning when Jesus cursed the fig tree; another prophetic act that hinted at what would happen in the city. That was followed by the conflict at the temple, which has just ended; Jesus laments the city, and now, only minutes later, after pronouncing judgment against the religious establishment, tells the disciples that the temple will be destroyed. They arrive at the Mount of Olives, and sit down privately; they ask Him a 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?” (24:3)
It is important for us to notice that “this” can refer to nothing other than the destruction of the temple, for that is what they have been talking about: it is the context. It is also important that we note that their question contains a premise that the destruction of the temple is going to happen at the same time He returns and the age ends.
As the disciples would soon discover, the premise of their question was false; Jesus answered two different questions in His rather frank response that extends from 24:3 all the way through chapter 25.
This text is a controversial one today; there are many views on it and gallons of ink have been spilled as people record their thoughts. You may have a view that differs from mine, and that’s OK with me. Rather than get into a laborious discussion of the exegetic details, I will continue with Matthew’s larger narrative as we continue, for in my view, the larger narrative is vastly more important than getting lost in the details.