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Understanding The Olivet Prophecy
of Matthew 24
By David A. DePra
Verily I say unto you, ALL THESE THINGS shall come upon THIS GENERATION. (Matt. 23:36)
Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away till all these things are fulfilled. (Matt. 24:34, see also Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32)
End time prophecy usually focuses on a number of places in the Bible, not the least of which is Matthew 24, and the parallel accounts. In our very brief look the issue of end time prophecy, we must therefore look at this chapter. This will help us gain a context and perspective of end time prophecy as it is given in the Bible, and just as importantly, as it is NOT given.
It is always vital to show what the Truth is, but often just as important to show what it is NOT. Why? Because many people are already programmed with error, and if all you do is tell them what the Truth is, they will interpret it in the context of the error that binds them. So part of preaching the Truth is always to, well, "tell the Truth," about error – that is – to expose error. Certainly when it comes to end time prophecy there is much error abounding in the Body of Christ.
This article is not an attempt to catalog the many verses in scripture on the end times. Nor is it a comprehensive study of Matthew 24. It is simply an attempt to introduce the correct context for Matthew 24, and in doing so, to open up possibilities as to what God is trying to tell us in that chapter.
The above verses are the place to start. The chapter from which these words are taken is the chapter commonly referred to as Jesus,’ "Olivet prophecy." It is a passage which many Christians believe predicts present and future world events. They say Jesus was, in His Olivet prophecy of Matthew 24, telling us about the last days—and that WE are living in those last days.
The important term in Matthew 24 is, "this generation." Why? Because Jesus states that what He is saying in His prophecy is going to happen BEFORE, "this generation," passes away. The term, "this generation," therefore tells us the TIME to which the prophecy refers.
I don’t know if we catch the significance of that. Jesus is telling us point blank that His prophecy – and all the things therein – is going to come to pass before, "this generation," passes away. This does not give us any latitude to apply His words to another time frame. But it does tell us the task at hand: Discover, "WHAT generation," Jesus meant by, "this generation." If we do that, the entire prophecy will find it’s proper context.
Opinions and Theories
Many Christians today interpret the term, "this generation," to mean, "the last generation prior to the Second Coming." So when Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away till all these things are fulfilled," He was really saying, "All these things shall be fulfilled within a generation—the generation which is alive during the last days." Of course they admit they don’t know when, "this generation," will be alive. But the point is, those who hold to that theory believe that the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24 and 25 refers to a generation that is two thousand years removed from the time He spoke the words. Accordingly, by default, this would then mean that nothing Jesus predicted was intended for THAT generation which was alive in about 30 A.D..
The question is: Was Jesus really referring to the generation which would be alive immediately prior to His Second Coming? To one that was to live at least two-thousand years after He spoke those words?
Most prophecy teachers of our day would answer YES. Indeed, many have taken the words of Christ, the visions of John from the book of Revelation, some of the prophecies of Paul, and a number of passages from the OT, and have constructed nothing short of a, "last days timeline." You can find this type of thing cataloged, laid out, and precisely arranged on prophecy charts available at your local Christian book store. This theory, which gained widespread popularity with the Schofield Bible of about a century ago, has become so cemented in the minds of many Christians, that not many ever even think to question it.
There are, however, some other theories about end time prophecy that are not so widespread. For example, some supposed prophecy experts claim that Jesus was not talking about our time, but that EVERYTHING Jesus said in these passages happened in the first century. Yep. Everything. They even include the Second Coming of Christ. Generally, the idea that all prophecy happened by 70 A.D. is referred to as the "preterist" view of prophecy.
The preterist view of prophecy is not the Truth. Jesus did NOT come in the first century, and not all that He speaks in Matthew 24 and 25 happened before 70 A.D.. But neither is the standard view of prophecy correct – with it’s many variants. And yet there IS Truth that Jesus obviously wanted us to know. What is that Truth? What was Jesus talking about in Matthew 24, and how do His words align with other passages of the end times in the Bible?
Again -- a big part of the answer is the two word phrase, "THIS GENERATION." What, "generation," Jesus meant by, "THIS generation," is a vital key to understanding everything on this matter. Why? Because He said that, "THIS generation," would not pass away until what He said came to pass! Thus, if we understand THIS GENERATION, we will have identified not only the TIME FRAME, but much of the MEANING of the entire Mt. Olivet prophecy, and will find direction with regards to much else on this matter of end time prophecy.
The Context of Matthew 24
I wonder how we would understand Matthew 24 if we were reading it for the first time -- and had never had it pounded into us as to what it MUST mean? I wonder how we would understand the term, "this generation," then?
Well, in order to prove the Truth on this matter, we need to read Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 in context. But to do this, we really need to begin in Matthew 23. There Jesus pronounces a terrible judgment upon the Scribes and Pharisees -- in fact, upon the entire nation of Israel. (Matt. 23:1-35) Throughout their history, they had rejected every prophet that God had sent to them. Now they were rejecting the very Messiah of God. God would now bring judgment upon them. Jesus ends His rebuke with these words:
Verily I say unto you, ALL THESE THINGS shall come upon THIS GENERATION. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that kill the prophets, and stone them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, you shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: (Matt. 23:36-24:1)
Note again the words, "Verily I say unto you, all THESE THINGS shall come upon THIS generation." Given the context of His rebuke, can there be any question as to WHAT generation Jesus meant? No. Clearly, THIS GENERATION means the generation alive when Jesus spoke those words.
Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But the fact is, Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. – about forty years, or one generation, from the day Jesus spoke this judgment. So not only do we read His very clear words to THAT generation in the above passage from Matthew 23, but those words actually happened to THAT GENERATION! What other proof do we need? Jesus was speaking His words to THAT GENERATION – to the generation alive at THAT time.
We have barely begun searching for our answer and we have already found it. "THIS GENERATION," does not refer to OUR generation today, or to the generation immediately prior to the Second Coming. No. In fact, the term NEVER does! Rather, it ALWAYS refers to THAT generation – the one living when Jesus spoke His words of judgment. As we progress, we are only going to see this fact verified over and over again. And this meaning of, "this generation," will begin to interpret everything else spoken by Jesus in His Olivet prophecy.
All These Things
The Bible, of course, was not inspired by God with chapter divisions. Those were put in centuries later. And sometimes those chapter divisions break up the context of an event in a way that makes it seem as if the subject as been changed when it hasn’t. Matthew 23 and 24 is one such case. If there were no chapter break at the end of Matthew 23:39 we would more clearly see that the same conversation is continuing between Jesus and His disciples.
We must get that. Jesus starts Matthew 23 talking to His disciples about the Pharisees. His words quickly turn to the scribes and Pharisees themselves -- He spends most of Matthew 23 rebuking the scribes and Pharisees. He then pronounces a catastrophic judgment upon the nation of Israel in Matthew 23:35-39. Matthew 24 is a CONTINUATION of this SAME issue – now shifted over to a conversation between Jesus and His disciples.
Now, in order to understand this conversation, please read again Matthew 23:36 and take note of three words: ALL THESE THINGS. These three words are important, because Jesus said, "ALL THESE THINGS shall come upon THIS generation." So we need to ask, "What things?"
Well, the judgment Jesus just pronounced. Sure. That judgment was, "all these things," that Jesus said was going to come upon THAT generation. There is no doubt about this. What? Do we think Jesus was referring to OTHER things – to things He did not mention? No. When Jesus said, "All these things shall come upon this generation," in Matt. 23:36, He was talking about the very things He talked about – the judgment of God upon the nation of Israel.
That ought to be as clear as a bell: In Matthew 23:36, "all these things," means the judgment of God upon Israel. But this was not the only time Jesus said that, "all these things," would come to pass before, "this generation passes away." There was another time – and He said it right in Matthew 24.
First, go quickly to Matthew 24:3. The disciples had heard Jesus say, "All these things shall come upon this generation," in Matt. 23:36. They understood Him to mean judgment. So in Matthew 24:3 they begin to question Him about it. They ask, "Tell us, when shall THESE THINGS be? And what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
Can we see that the disciples were asking about THESE THINGS – the same, "these things," that Jesus said would come upon THAT generation? Sure. Jesus said, "All these things shall come upon this generation," and that prompted the question by the disciples, "Tell us when all these things will be." Their question is the continuation of the same conversation.
I can empathize with the disciples, can’t you? They were not expecting a great judgment of God to come upon their nation! No. Rather, they expected Jesus to restore Israel to glory – and to reign and rule as the Messiah. So when they heard Him pronounce judgment – and to pronounce it upon THEIR generation – this completely perplexed them. They needed clarification. So in Matthew 24:3 they asked Jesus, "WHEN is this judgment coming? When are ALL THESE THINGS coming upon Israel? Did we hear You say that ALL THESE THINGS were going to happen before THIS GENERATION passes away?"
Jesus did not leave them wondering. I don’t think they were really able to receive it at that time. But He was quite clear to them. Indeed, He answered their question directly – He absolutely affirmed to them that, "all these things," were going to happen to THEIR GENERATION. When did He affirm that? In Matthew 24:34. There He once again states, "Verily I say to you, THIS GENERATION shall not pass away until ALL THESE THINGS be fulfilled."
For the sake of clarity, let’s lay out this progression:
(1) Matt. 23:36: Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, All THESE THINGS shall come upon THIS GENERATION." Jesus was talking about the judgment of God -- which was the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D..
(2) Matt. 24:3: In response, we have the disciples anxiously asking, "Tell us, when shall THESE THINGS be?"
(3) Matt. 24:34: Jesus answers their question with the Olivet prophecy, and once again affirms WHEN, "all these things," will come to pass. He says, "Verily I say unto you, THIS GENERATION shall not pass away till ALL THESE THINGS are fulfilled."
All three of these occurrences are part of the same event, on the same day, and are actually part of the same conversation and teaching. Consequently, the phrases, "all these things," and, "this generation," mean the same thing each time.
This makes our conclusion easy. What DO those terms, "all these things, " and "this generation," mean? "All these things," refers to the judgment of God upon Jerusalem, indeed upon all Israel. This happened in 70 A.D.. And the term, "this generation" refers to THAT generation upon which that judgment DID come – for it was only 40 years later that every word spoken by Jesus that day came to pass upon THAT generation.
For anyone who continues to doubt that this interpretation is correct, the question really boils down to this: Did, "all these things," come upon Jerusalem before, "this generation," passed away? Absolutely – in 70 A.D.. So how could it be correct to take the words of Jesus and try to apply them to another time – to a future generation? It could not be correct.
The Disciple’s Reaction
We can hardly expect to understand Matthew 24 unless we first discover the context. We are already beginning to see it. The disciples were upset and confused at hearing Jesus’ prophecy of judgment upon THEIR GENERATION. So it was only natural that they come to question Jesus on the matter. Their question is found in Matthew 24:3 – "When shall THESE THINGS be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" And Matthew 24 is actually the answer Jesus gives them to this question.
But let’s look a little more into WHY the disciples ask this question of Jesus. It will help us understand His answer.
If you read the gospels, it is clear that the disciples of Jesus were NOT expecting Jerusalem to be destroyed. They were not expecting judgment upon Israel. Rather, they were expecting Jesus to eventually reign and rule from the temple in Jerusalem as Messiah, and for Israel to be restored to glory. In addition, they expected to reign and rule right beside Jesus as their Messiah. This is the story behind all of the arguments among themselves as to you was the greatest, who would sit on his right hand, etc., and accounts for their complete inability to understand Him when He talked about the kingdom of God. They expected a kingdom – right then – with Jesus as Messiah, and themselves beside Him. The destruction of Jerusalem, and judgment upon Israel, were not even possibilities that were in their thinking.
We cannot understate how much the disciples had at stake in this matter of the kingdom – how much they had at stake in THEIR expectation of the coming kingdom. Initially, this expectation was their whole reason for leaving everything behind and following Jesus Christ. There are many times these motives are exposed, not the least of which was the time when Peter asked, "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?"? (Matt. 19:27) Sure. These disciples expected to reign and rule with Christ. They expected to receive a reward. And as they walked through Jerusalem that day and saw the great buildings and the temple, this expectation certainly filled their thoughts.
But then Jesus – seemingly out of the blue -- pronounces a stern judgment upon Israel. And He says that ALL THESE THINGS – these terrible judgments – are going to come upon THEIR GENERATION. To the disciples, this didn’t jive with the bright future they had envisioned. The Messiah was supposed to drive out the Romans and restore Israel to her former glory. But Jesus was pronouncing judgment, not upon the Romans, but upon Israel. What could all of it mean? Had they heard Him right?
The words of Jesus, as recorded at the end of Matthew 23, certainly must have shaken the disciples. After all, they did believe He was the Messiah, the Son of God. They had all confessed that this was so in Matthew 16 – and Jesus had affirmed to them that they were right in doing so. Indeed, three of them had seen Him transfigured before them in Matthew 17. They had spent over three years with Him – hearing Him preach and seeing many miracles. So they could NOT have been wrong in their thinking about Jesus. Could they? He was the Son of God. So what did Jesus mean – all these judgments will come upon THEIR generation? What about the kingdom? Wasn’t He supposed to reign and rule in Jerusalem?
It was in that mood – we might even call it an emotional PANIC – that the disciples came to Jesus at the beginning of Matthew 24. It is THE REASON why they asked their question in Matthew 24:3 – "When will THESE THINGS be?" Given their expectations, over and against His words of judgment, they needed to know what was going on!
So the disciples approached Jesus. But as they did, they were still in denial. He could not have meant what they thought they had heard! Destruction upon Jerusalem? Judgment from God? No! It couldn’t be! Everything was fine.
What they did next was as much of a self-assurance as it was a rebuke of Jesus. As they departed out of the temple, the disciples showed Jesus the beautiful buildings of the temple. They were really saying, "Look how beautiful Your future place of rule is, Lord. Surely, you didn’t mean the temple was going to be destroyed. No. It is the seat of Your kingdom!"
But once again, Jesus would speak to them sobering words. He had already pronounced a terrible judgment upon Jerusalem. And now, despite the attempt by the disciples to gain some sense of assurance from Jesus that He did not mean what they thought He meant, Jesus simply CEMENTS the prophecy all the more. He said to them – right at the point that they were all standing there looking at the beautiful buildings of the temple mount:
He said, "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." (Matt. 24:2)
You can almost feel the sinking feeling in the stomach of the disciples at that point. He really DID mean what we heard Him say! There was NO escaping it. Jesus really did mean that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, and He really did mean that ALL THESE THINGS were going to happen before THAT generation passed away. So where did this leave the disciples and their expectation of a kingdom?
Well, it left them asking questions. It left them, in Matthew 24:3, almost in a panic, coming to Jesus and asking, "When shall THESE THINGS be? And what shall be the sign of Your coming (to reign as Messiah), and the end of the age (of this time before You reign as Messiah.)? The disciples were definitely out of sorts. Their kingdom was falling apart down around them, and they realized it. So they needed to KNOW. And the majority of the Olivet prophecy of Matthew 24 is the answer Jesus gave them.
Now before we move on into the meat of Matthew 24, I want to once again emphasis the importance of understanding the meaning of the term, "THIS GENERATION" – as Jesus used it, not once, but twice, in Matthew 23 and 24 -- as well as in a number of other places in the gospels. Based on what we have read so far, does it sound like Jesus could possibly be talking about a generation two thousand years in the future? No. He is clearly talking about THAT generation.
Let’s be very honest: If I said to you TODAY, "Before this generation passes away, such and such will happen," WHAT generation would you think I meant? Well, you would think I meant THIS generation – the one that is alive right now. Sure. If you took my words and applied them to another generation than the one we are in, especially one two thousand years away, you would be taking a liberty with my words you had NO right to take. Not only that, but if I used the words, "THIS generation," and did not mean the one alive right now, but meant ANOTHER generation, you could rightly accuse me of misleading you. So we need to use this same rational thinking when we read Matthew 24.
Picture it. Here were the disciples of Jesus, asking Him about an extremely important issue. All of their present hopes were hanging on the answer. They asked, "Tell us, when shall THESE THINGS be? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24:3) Jesus’ answer meant everything to them. They were depending on Jesus to level with them. Would Jesus mislead them?
Imagine yourself as one of them. You are there, one of those asking the question—the disciples to whom this issue was terribly important and vital. In response, Jesus Christ launches into this incredible narrative. He speaks of all kinds of terrible tribulation and destruction. And in conclusion, He says, "Verily I say unto you, THIS GENERATION shall not pass away till ALL THESE THINGS are fulfilled." (Matt. 24:24) Then He finishes His prophecy. A week later, Jesus dies and is raised from the dead. He ascends into heaven. You continue on, preaching the gospel. You live out your life and die. But NOTHING Jesus said comes to pass. Jerusalem is not destroyed. There is NO judgment upon Israel. Not one word of, "All these things," comes to pass, and certainly not in your generation.
Now project yourself into the after life. You stand before Jesus Christ. You see Him again. You get to ask Him any question you desire. So you ask, "Lord, you said that, ’this generation,’ would not pass away until all these things were fulfilled. But none of, "these things," happened in our generation. None of them. So what did You mean?"
Jesus answers, "Oh, you thought I meant YOUR generation? You thought when I said, ‘THIS generation,’ I meant YOU? No. I really meant the generation that would be living two thousand years later! That’s what I meant by, ‘THIS generation.’ How is it that you didn’t realize that? The end time generation which lived two thousand years later figured it out –right from my words! They figured out that I was talking about THEM, and not YOU. Why didn’t you see that? Well, maybe I shouldn’t have used so many personal pronouns. When I used the words like, ‘you,’ I didn’t really mean ‘you.’ I meant people reading the Bible two thousand years later. Sorry."
You might answer, "But Lord. WE were the ones asking you the question. It was important for US to know the answer. How could you mislead us that way? All you had to do was tell us outright that Your words did not apply to our generation. You could have told us You were referring to a yet future generation."
Jesus answers, "Well, you have to understand that when I use certain words they have secret meanings. I really never MEAN what I say. When I said, ‘THIS generation,’ I didn’t really mean, ‘THIS generation.’ No. I meant one two-thousand years later, in the last days. Sorry that you misunderstood Me. But I’m God and I don’t talk like people talk. Much of what I say has a meaning only the experts can figure out."
Such a conversation would be nonsense. God does not use words He doesn’t mean. All of His words are true and certain, and MORE true than we can possibly imagine. What Jesus spoke, as recorded by the gospels, is the Word of God. Jesus meant exactly what He said.
Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He was not a false prophet. So when He said, "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away till all these things are fulfilled," we can be sure that His words were certain. And in this case, we do not need to guess, for every thing Jesus said would come upon that generation DID come upon them.
Do we see what this means? It means that we don’t need to try to figure out what Jesus meant – although what He meant is quite clear. Rather, all we need to do is ask as to whether what Jesus said actually happened! If, "all these things," did come upon THAT generation, then He meant THAT generation. And if they did NOT come upon THAT generation, then He meant another generation. What is the answer? ALL THESE THINGS did come upon THAT GENERATION – in 70 A.D.! The fulfilled prophecy is the proof that should end the debate.
Use of the Term "This Generation"
It seems important here to further establish the fact that the term, "this generation," means the generation alive at the time of Christ, and not a generation thousands of years later. Actually, Jesus’ use of the term "this generation" is well documented in the gospels. There are fifteen times in the gospels where it is recorded that Jesus used the term "this generation." Some of these occurrences are parallel accounts. Here are some of the other times Jesus uses the term:
But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children. (Matt. 11:16-19)
Conclusion: John the Baptist was of THAT generation. THAT generation called Jesus a glutton and winebibber. So here Jesus is using the term to refer to the generation alive at that time.
An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. (Matt. 12:39-42)
Conclusion: Jesus died and rose during THAT generation, which Jesus in this passage calls, "THIS generation." The Pharisees of THAT generation had asked Jesus for a sign. THAT generation rejected the preaching of Jesus. THAT generation will rise up in the resurrection with the men of Nineveh, etc. So again, Jesus used the term, ," to refer to the generation alive at that time.
But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. (Luke 17:25)
Conclusion: Jesus Christ suffered at the hand of THAT generation. He was rejected by the generation of THAT time. Thus, Jesus used the term, "THIS generation," to refer to the generation alive at that time.
The correct conclusion is impossible to escape. When Jesus used the term "this generation," He meant exactly that. He meant the generation living at the time He spoke.
Now, let’s move forward in the actual prophecy of Matthew 24. So far we have discussed Jesus’ shocking prophecy of judgment upon Israel in the hearing of the disciples. We have seen how this upset everything they believed about the coming kingdom, and everything they believed about Jesus reigning and ruling as Messiah. And we have seen how all of that panicked them to the point where they came to Christ and asked Him:
Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world? (Matt. 24:3)
But what did the disciples mean by, "Your coming," and what did they mean by, "the end of the world?" We need to see that they did not mean what WE mean!
It is easy for the average Christian, who is trained to read Matthew 24 as an end times prophecy chart, to assume that when the disciples said, "Your coming," that they meant the Second Coming of Christ – as we would today define the event. And it is likewise easy to assume that when the disciples said, "the end of the world," that they were merely repeating the question, and asking about the Second Coming of Christ – which would end this world, and begin His millennial kingdom. In reality, however, the disciples meant NONE of those things.
That’s right. In fact, the disciples had no frame of reference for the Second Coming as we know it today. How could they? At that point in time, they did not expect that Jesus would be leaving them! Hardly. So they certainly would not be asking about when He would be coming BACK. Rather, the, "coming," they were asking about was Jesus’ earthly kingdom over Israel as the Messiah. They expected Him to reign and rule from the temple in Jerusalem.
The word, "coming," in this passage is translated from, "parousia," and means, "active presence." It is has no exact English equivalent. But either way, the disciples had no thought of a Second Coming at all. What they expected was for Jesus to actively begin His rule from Jerusalem as Messiah. However, because they had heard Jesus say that the temple, indeed, the whole city, was going to be destroyed, their expectations were now disturbed. So they wanted to know what would be, "the sign of His coming – of His coming to rule as Messiah."
This ties directly into their question as to the end of the, "world." "World," does not refer to the global earth, but really means, "age." If Jesus was to begin reigning as the Messiah, this would be a new age. So the disciples were asking when the present age would end, and the new age of the Messiah would begin.
The disciples were clearly groping for some assurance from Jesus that they had heard Him wrong, and that He had not really said that Jerusalem would be destroyed. But the answer that Jesus would give them would do nothing but confirm His previous prophecy. He would again tell them that ALL THESE THINGS would come upon that generation. And as far as the kingdom was concerned, He would tell them the same thing He tried to tell them all through His ministry – that the kingdom was not going to be an earthly one, but would initially be a spiritual kingdom.
If you once again read what the disciples ask Jesus, you will see that it falls nicely into TWO parts. And necessarily so. First, the disciples asked, "Tell us, when shall these things be?" That’s Part I of their question – and refers to the JUDGMENT Jesus pronounced. But then the disciples went on to ask another related question: And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of world." They were essentially asking, "Ok. You have said this whole place is going to be destroyed. But if that is true, then what will be the sign of Your coming to reign as Messiah, when You will bring an end to this present age?" The second question is really a plea for assurance that there WILL be a kingdom – in light of the doubt cast upon it by the judgment pronounced by Jesus upon the nation.
So notice: The first part of the question references the END of the old – they ask about, "all these things." But the second part, while it mentions the, "end of the age," is actually asking about the BEGINNING of the new age of the Messiah – His coming.
Jesus actually answers their two part question with a two part answer. First, He gives to them an accounting of the great judgment that is going to come upon THAT generation – and most of that prophecy is contained in Matthew 24:4 through Matthew 24:35. At the end of that narrative, Jesus once again summarizes His prophecy by saying, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." At that point, Jesus is finished talking about, "all these things," that are going to come upon THAT generation. He is done answering the question, "When shall these judgments upon Israel be….and when shall the end of the age happen?"
But then, in the next verse, Matthew 24:36, Jesus begins to answer the second part of the question, as to His coming. He says, "But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. "(Mat 24:36-37)
What may not be highly apparent is the subject change from verse 35 to verse 36. Verse 35 ends Jesus’ prophecy about the judgments that are to come upon Israel. And He ends that prophecy by once again stating that, "this generation will not pass away until all these things come to pass." But then verse 36 begins a new narrative about HIS COMING.
As we have already seen, the disciples could not have known the Truth about Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and Second Coming – two thousand years down the line. So when they ask when He would come, they weren’t asking about the Second Coming as we know it today, but rather, were asking about what, in THEIR MIND, was His coming – as Messiah to reign in Jerusalem. So their question to Jesus is fundamentally flawed – it was based in ignorance. But Jesus answers them anyways. He simply bypasses their ignorance and speaks the Truth to them about His true coming – first to dwell IN His people, and then to return to this earth in literal fashion.
The narrative about Jesus’ coming, as mentioned, begins with Matthew 24:36. It continues through the end of Matthew 25. In those chapters, Jesus speaks the Truth, yes, about His literal Second Coming. But there is also much about His coming to dwell in His people through the Holy Spirit – in His spiritual kingdom.
The TWO always go together. For there can be no literal kingdom unless the spiritual kingdom is first established in the hearts of people. Jesus Christ is going to come back to this earth only when He is satisfied that He has called OUT of this world a group of people who have allowed Him to reign and rule IN THEM. And when He is satisfied that He has built and established His kingdom in people, then those people can comprise a literal kingdom. You cannot have the literal without the spiritual. Much of what Jesus talks about from Matthew 24:36 through the end of Matthew 25 addresses this very Truth.
It is clear, once we understand the context of Matthew 24, that everything BEFORE Matthew 24:35 is generally speaking of the events leading up to 70 A.D.. All of the verses up to that point are a description of Jesus of, "all these things," leading up to the end of that old age. But then much that is after that in the prophecy – starting with Matthew 24:36 -- is applicable to Jesus’ coming – first IN His people, and then FOR His people – which is the NEW age.
So with that in mind, let’s do a quick review of the chapter and see if what is written there jives with the foundation we have laid. Let’s start with Matthew 24:4:
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for ALL THESE THINGS must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matt. 24:4-8)
Take special note of the warning, "Be not troubled, for all these things must come to pass, but the end is NOT yet." Jesus then added, "All these are the BEGINNING (not the end) of sorrows."
Just listen to Jesus. Even if we make the mistake of applying His words to our generation, Jesus nevertheless tells us that those calamities listed in the above passage are NO indication that the end is near! Do you see that? Sure. He even says, "Don’t be troubled by these events. The end is not yet." And what are those calamities He mentions? False prophets, wars, famines, disease, earthquakes, and the like. None of these, according to Jesus Christ, are an indication that the end is near. Yet prophecy preachers across the board will quote those verses and find them fulfilled in the daily newspaper and say, "Here is another indication that the return of Christ is near." Jesus said they are NOT an indication.
Read again the list of calamities. There isn’t one thing listed that has not been going on for many centuries. Jesus told the Truth, and we need to simply listen to Him.
Jesus goes on:
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. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. 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. (Matt. 24:9-14)
Jesus speaks of great persecution. And then He makes mention of an event that will signal, "the end:" When the gospel is preached in all the world for a witness. That’s WHEN the end will come.
But WHAT end? Well, in context, the end of that old age. Jesus was talking about events that would happen BEFORE the destruction of Jerusalem at this point. In fact, every place where Jesus speaks of, "the end," He is talking about exactly that – the end of that old age. But when He wants to talk about the new age, or His Second Coming, as He does later, He usually speaks of it, not as the end of anything, but as the beginning.
"The Great Tribulation"
Standard prophecy teaching states that what Jesus is describing in Matthew 24 is a period of time called, "The Great Tribulation." This is supposedly a seven year period of time that will contain unprecedented suffering and trouble for this world. Many Christians believe, however, that the church will be raptured immediately prior to, "The Great Tribulation." Others believe the rapture will occur AFTER, and some believe it will occur in the middle of the seven year period. But few believe what I am convinced is the Truth: There is no such period of time taught in the Bible as, "The Great Tribulation."
Revelation 7:14 and Matthew 24:21 are the only two places in the Bible where the term, "great tribulation," is used. In neither place is this, "tribulation," treated as if it is a set period of time. Instead, it is said that, "there shall be great tribulation," or that certain people have, "come out of great tribulation." Certainly nothing there to warrant a doctrine which establishes a seven year period of time.
Of course, there are other passages used to build up the notion of a Great Tribulation from Revelation. I’m not about to get into those here. But Christians need to start thinking outside of the box that prophecy teachers have created over the last hundred years. If you do, you will begin to discover that what has been portrayed as doctrine is not doctrine at all. In fact, some of it may not be in the Bible at all.
For example, in Matthew 24:21, Jesus says that, "there will be great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." He even says, "except those days be shortened, there should be no flesh saved (alive.)" This has lead many to conclude that Jesus must be talking about a future tribulation period – because surely no such time as ever happened to this point. But in context, Jesus was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem – and speaking to Israel as God’s people. Read Josephus and some other accounts of that time. You will find that it really was a time like no other as to destruction and suffering.
Furthermore, the tribulation Jesus spoke of was more than physical. It was also spiritual – there was a spiritual shaking going on for those forty years between His ascension and the destruction of Jerusalem. This is exactly what He is talking about in verses 29 through 31. Read that passage and then read Acts 2:17-21. Same quote from Joel – exactly. And Acts 2 says that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the FULFILLMENT of that passage from Joel. Isn’t it obvious that Matthew 24, where it quotes the same passage, is also talking about the spiritual shaking that happened when the kingdom of God began to invade this realm of darkness through those events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem?
This is a study all in itself, and not the scope here. I mention it only to affirm what I have been saying about the prophecy of Matthew 24. However, the debate between pre-trib, mid-trib, and post-trib goes away once we realize the answer is NO trib. Furthermore, once we realize that there is no seven year tribulation to come, but that Jesus can return for His people any day, it begins to explain many scriptures.
So many Christians are expecting a period of time called, "The Great Tribulation." How is it that we do not recognize that the entire world has been in tribulation throughout human history? That individuals have tribulation, even if the world does not? We could list some big world events -- the black plague of the 14th century, not to mention the world wars. I'm sure those people thought they were going through, 'the great tribulation." Today the world continues on the brink. I think we can conclude that there is going to be big trouble in this world from this point forward, and that it will probably get much worse. Perhaps worse than EVER. But we need to see that despite all of that, this doesn't not mean that there is to be an, "official set period of time," called, "The Great Tribulation." I submit that the shaking of this world and of the heavens, in preparation for the Second Coming, is great tribulation -- no matter how many years that has been, or will be.
My point is this: The Great Tribulation is not a period of time that is prophesied to happen -- such a doctrine is not Biblically defensible. But nevertheless, Jesus will come for His people. There will be a kingdom. Those promises of God DO stand. The mandate for us is BE READY for Jesus -- whether His literally coming is soon, or many years away.
Now, if Jesus was talking about events prior to 70 A.D., then how do we explain Matthew 24:14? He says that the gospel of the kingdom, "shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come." Someone is going to claim that the gospel was not preached to the whole world before 70 A.D., and so Jesus had to be referring to the days in which WE live.
First of all, as noted before, Jesus says in Matthew 24:34 that, "all these things will be fulfilled BEFORE that generation passes away," – and that would include the preaching of the gospel. But the question does remain. How was the gospel preached to the whole world before 70 A.D.?
Once again we need to examine the word translated, "world." Again, it doesn’t mean GLOBE – as in the entire earth. This time it is the word, "oikoumene," which means, "inhabited world." The meaning in this passage could easily mean, "in the inhabited countries of the known world." It is simply NOT used here in a way that ought to be taken literally – and neither did Jesus intend for it to be.
But aside from that important meaning of the words in the passage, we need to examine closely exactly what Jesus said. He does NOT say that the gospel will be preached IN ALL NATIONS. Did you notice that? No. He simply says that it will be preached in all the, "world," -- AS A WITNESS unto all nations. That is different. In other words, the disciples were going to preach the gospel in the known world, and the impact of their preaching was going to be a witness unto all nations.
Sure. And it HAS been exactly that. Not only do we have a Bible today of their preaching and teaching, but the impact of those few early Christians stands as a witness two thousand years later – to all nations. The disciples couldn’t preach in what would become America, for instance, but they preached the gospel in their world, and today it continues to stand as a witness TO America, and the rest of the world.
Furthermore, what Jesus said would happen did happen: They preached the gospel in the world for a witness unto all nations and the END DID COME – the end came to that old age. Indeed, the end came to the apostolic age, and the church was never quite the same again.
I realize that this cuts across the thinking of many people. So many have been taught that the gospel has to be preached in every country before Christ returns, and since only now is that happening, it must mean that the prophecy of Matthew 24 applies, not to THEN, but to NOW. But this is wrong reasoning – and if we simply interpret the passage based on what we know for sure, the rest of the passage lines up nicely.
The fact is, even if you want to believe that this promise that the gospel will be preached to all nations applies to NOW – there could still be hundreds of years to go before Christ comes. Because we could not know to what extent the world must be saturated. Is the gospel to be heard by every person, or just preached in every nation? And for how long must it be preached? One time? Or for decades? See what I means? The prophecy would still be so general. But if you look at the context of the prophecy, and understand that Jesus was simply telling them that the gospel would be preached – PLANTED, if you will – in this world as a witness to all nations before the end of that age was to come, then everything makes sense.
The Kingdom of God is Like.....
Starting in Matthew 25, Jesus begins to describe His kingdom. He talks about how it works and the principles which govern it. But He is NOT talking about an earthly, physical kingdom. He is talking about the kingdom into which we are to be born again: The spiritual kingdom.
We see this starting with Matthew 25:1. Jesus begins with the phrase, "THEN shall the kingdom of heaven be likened....". When? THEN.
But WHEN is "then?" "Then," is, "after all these things," come to pass in THAT generation. Do you see that? "Then," is after the end of that age. THEN—Matthew 25 comes to pass. Matthew 25 is after that generation passes away – and the new age has begun – the age of CHRIST IN US.
So what does Matthew 25 say about what happens after, "all these things come to pass," and that age passes away? As we read it we find out. Jesus says, "THEN the kingdom of God shall be likened unto......" Jesus says THEN there will be a kingdom to talk about. But what KIND of kingdom? A spiritual kingdom.
During His ministry, Jesus continually tried to tell them that the kingdom of God was to be IN THEM. This was necessary if there was ever to be a literal kingdom. Matthew 24 and 25 is nothing more than a prophecy that states this fact in detail. It dashes to pieces every idea those disciples had of an earthly kingdom during their generation. Instead, "all of these things," the things of JUDGMENT, was to come upon that generation. But for those who would turn to Christ, there would be a kingdom. It would be a spiritual kingdom. And this is the kingdom about which Jesus says, "Then the kingdom of God can be likened unto….."
"Likened unto," indicates that what Jesus is about to describe is NOT literal. "Likened unto" means that what Jesus is about to describe is parabolic in nature. It is a picture used to bring out spiritual Truth. Jesus is talking about His spiritual kingdom. That’s the kingdom which will THEN be established. That’s the kingdom which will come to pass when "all these things" are fulfilled.
What All of This Means
Understanding the context and intent of Matthew 24’s, "Olivet prophecy," goes a long way towards explaining to us the Truth about end time prophecy. The passage simply is NOT talking about it. Once we grasp that fact, so much else must be adjusted in our thinking.
"THIS generation" of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 24 is the generation in which HE lived. It was that generation of God’s people which faced the judgment of God, and which went through a great tribulation which was greater than ever before, or since. It was THAT generation which saw the end of THAT age, and the beginning of the spiritual kingdom of God.
And what of OUR generation? Well, we must BE READY for Jesus. Not only for His literal Second Coming, but for His many "comings" and workings in us leading up to that blessed event.
It would seem that almost every people since Jesus ascended thought that THEY would be alive when Jesus returned. Well, all of them have been wrong about that -- although someone will finally be right. There will come the day when Jesus returns -- and there will be Christians alive to experience it.
Do I think the return of Christ is near? It sure seems like this world, not to mention the church, is reaching the point of a great crisis. And I pray that it will be soon -- today. But NO ONE KNOWS. In my opinion, Christianity still needs a major shaking -- the likes of which we have never seen before -- so that God's people may be given a final choice to turn either back to Christ, or to apostasy. If you are looking for a great tribulation, that will certainly be one. But either way, Jesus Christ is going to return -- so whether we live or die we must be ready for HIM.
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