By Larry Ray Hafley
The disciples inquired, “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) “These things” refers to the buildings of the temple and their destruction (24:2). From verse 3 through verse 33, Jesus discusses the desolation and destruction of Jerusalem. From Matthew 24:36-25:46, our Lord describes “the coming of the son of man and the judgment.”
The Pivotal Passage
Matthew 24:34 is the pivotal passage. “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Note again the reference to “these things.” “This generation” is defined by its earlier use in the book of Matthew.
(1) Matthew 1:17-“So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.” (2) Matthew 11:16-“But whereunto shall I liken this generation?” The, “this generation,” of this text is the “now” of Matthew 11:12. (3) Matthew 12:39, 41, 42, 45 — “An evil and adulterous generation . . . this generation . . . this wicked generation” is that era, that day, the generation of Christ’s personal preaching, death, burial and resurrection (cf. Matt. 12:40,42). The “men of Nineveh” is the generation of Jonah. The “queen of the south” is the generation of Solomon contrasted with “this generation” of Jesus. (4) Matthew 16:4-“A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah.” The “generation” of this passage is the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day (cf. “sign” in Matthew 16:1,4). (5) Matthew 17:17 – “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you?” That generation was the time Christ was “with” them. (6) Matthew 23:36-“Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation. ” Observe that “this generation” is distinguished from “the days of (your) fathers” (v. 30).
“That Day” vs. “Those Days”
In describing the desolation of Jerusalem, Jesus spoke of the tribulation of “those days” (Matt. 24:19, 22, 29), but when discussing the judgment, He spoke of “that day and hour” (Matt. 24:36, 42, 44, 50; 25:13). A sharpening of the contrast is seen “in the days that were before the flood” as opposed to “the day that Noah entered into the ark” (Matt. 24:38). The parallel is “the days before the coming of the Son of man” as opposed to “the day and ‘the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:50; 25:13).
Signs vs. Suddenness
Jesus told of the signs preceding the destruction of Jerusalem; namely, “false Christs and false prophets,” and wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes-“all these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:6-8). Further, He told them of “the abomination of desolation,” the Roman army (Matt. 24:15; Lk. 21:20). “Then know that the desolation thereof is nigh” (Lk. 21:20). They could “know” the destruction of Jerusalem was “nigh,” but the coming of the Son of man and the consequent judgment were to be without warning (Matt. 24:42,43,50; 25:13). Compare “then know” with “knew not” (Lk. 21:20; Matt. 24:39). “So shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
The desolation and annihilation of “the buildings of the temple” were to be seen by signs — “When ye shall see a these things, know it is near, even at the doors . . . . But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:33, 36). At least three times, Jesus specifically indicated that He was giving tangible evidence of the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:8,25,33), but the second coming and the judgment were to be sudden, unknown, as when a thief strikes (Matt. 24:42, 44, 50; 25:13; 1 Thess. 5:2-4; 2 Pet. 3:10).
Local vs. World Wide
The destruction of Jerusalem was a local event as is seen in the following: (1) “Ye” versus the rest of the world (Matt. 24:6,15). (2) The Roman army was “in the holy place,” not everywhere (Matt. 24:15). (3) The Judean saints were to “flee into the mountains” (Matt. 24:16), but why do this if the topic is the end of the world and the final judgment? Hence, the destruction is local in nature. (4) Commands to those on housetops and in fields (Matt. 24:17, 18) have little relevance if the second coming and judgment is being considered; thus, the subject is local in occurrence. (5) The danger to pregnant women and mothers with infants and the difficulty of flight in the winter or on the sabbath (Matt. 24:19, 20) are also unnecessary fears if the end of the world and the judgment are referred to; therefore, they are not in view. (6) Jesus spoke of “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21). This implies that time will continue after “this time,” but there is no sense in saying, “nor ever shall be” if the end of the world and the judgment were being studied. (7) The same argument can be made from the next verse (Matt. 24:22). Those days evidently will “be shortened”; they will end, and the elect shall be saved because of it. But if the end of the world were in view, the elect would be saved whether the days were shortened or not. So, the destruction is local, not world wide.
However, the second coming and judgment are universal. They are compared to the “days of Noah” when “the flood came, and took them all away” (Matt. 24:39). The flood was not a local event. It was world wide (2 Pet. 3:6). It “took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” In the destruction of Jerusalem, the saved are ordered to “flee” (Matt. 24:16), but at the coming of the Lord, they are “taken” (Matt. 24:40, 41).
Finally, Matthew 25 supplements Matthew 24:36-51. The judgment of Matthew 25 involves and includes “all nations” (Matt. 25:32). It is the final judgment (Matt. 25:34, 41, 46). The ten virgins parable says, “be prepared,” “watch.” The parable of the talents stresses the necessity of diligence and faithfulness (Matt. 25:21,23,26; cf. 24:42-51). Are you faithfully and diligently watching?
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 19, pp. 588-589
October 3, 1985