What Matthew 24 says about "the end"

346 what matthaeus 24 says about the endImportant for avoiding misinterpretations is first of all to see Matthew 24 in the larger context of the previous chapters. You may be surprised to learn that the history of Matthew 24 is already in the 16. Chapter, verse 21, begins. There it says summarily: "Since the time Jesus began to show his disciples, how he must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders and high priests and scribes and be killed and resurrected on the third day." With this Jesus gives the first hint something that in the eyes of the disciples looked like an elemental show of strength between Jesus and the religious authorities in Jerusalem. On the way to Jerusalem (20,17-19), he prepares them for this coming conflict.

At the time of the first sorrow announcements, Jesus took the three disciples Peter, James and John to a high mountain. There they experienced the Transfiguration (17,1-13). By this alone the disciples must have wondered whether the establishment of the kingdom of God might not be imminent (17,10-12).

Further, Jesus announces to the disciples that they will sit on twelve thrones and judge Israel "when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory" (19,28). No doubt, this raised questions about the "when" and "how" of the coming of the kingdom of God. Jesus' talk of the kingdom even moved the mother of James and John to ask Jesus to give their two sons special positions in the kingdom (20,20-21).

Then came the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when Jesus entered the city on a donkey (21,1-11). Thus, according to Matthew, fulfilled a prophecy of Zechariah, which was referred to the Messiah. The whole city was up and wondering what would happen when Jesus arrived. In Jerusalem, he overthrew the moneychangers' tables and proved his messianic authority through further deeds and miracles (21,12-27). "Who is he?" People wondered (21,10).

Then, in 21,43, Jesus explains to the chief priests and elders, "Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people that will bring their fruits." His listeners knew that he spoke of them. This saying of Jesus could be taken as an indication that he was about to establish his messianic kingdom, but that the religious "establishment" should be excluded from it.

Is the empire being built?

The disciples who heard this must have wondered what was about to happen. Did Jesus want to immediately proclaim himself the Messiah? Was he about to attack the Roman authorities? Was he about to bring the kingdom of God? Would there be war, and what would happen to Jerusalem and the Temple?

Now we come to Matthew 22, verse 15. Here begins the scene with the Pharisees who want to trap Jesus with questions about the tax. With his answers they wanted to put him as a rebel against the Roman authorities. But Jesus answered wisely, and their plan was thwarted.

On the same day, the Sadducees had an altercation with Jesus (22,23-32). They did not believe in the resurrection and also asked him a trick question about seven brothers marrying the same woman one after the other. Whose wife should she be in the resurrection? Jesus answered indirectly and said they did not understand their own scriptures. He confused her by saying that there was no marriage in the Empire.

Then, finally, Pharisees and Sadducees asked him a question about the highest commandment in the law (22,36). He cleverly responded by citing 3. Moses 19,18 and 5. Moses 6,5. And countered with a trick question: whose son should be the Messiah (22,42)? There they had to be silent; "Nobody could answer him a word, neither dared anyone from the day to ask him away" (22,46).

Chapter 23 shows Jesus' polemic against the scribes and the Pharisees. Towards the end of the chapter, Jesus announces to send them "prophets and wise men and scribes" and predicts that they would kill, crucify, scourge and persecute them. He puts the responsibility for all killed prophets on their shoulders. Obviously the tension is rising, and the disciples must have wondered what meaning these confrontations might have. Was Jesus about to take power as Messiah?

Then Jesus addresses Jerusalem in prayer and prophesies that their house will be "left desolate". This is followed by the enigmatic remark: "For I say to you, from now on you will not see me until you say: Praise be He who comes in the name of the Lord!" (23,38-39.) The disciples must become ever stronger puzzled and anxiously asked questions about the things that Jesus said. Was he about to explain himself?

The prophesied temple destruction

After that, Jesus left the temple. On leaving, his breathless disciples pointed to the temple buildings. In Mark they say, "Master, look, what stones and what buildings!" (13,1). Luke writes that the disciples spoke in amazement of his "beautiful stones and jewels" (21,5).

Consider what must have happened in the hearts of the disciples. Jesus' statements about the devastation of Jerusalem and its confrontations with the religious authorities frightened and excited the disciples. You must have wondered why he was talking about the imminent downfall of Judaism and its institutions. Should not Messiah come to strengthen both? From the words of the disciples about the temple sounds indirectly the concern: It should not be done even this mighty church a damage?

Jesus thwarts her hope and deepens her fearful premonitions. He brushes aside her worship of the temple: "Do not you see all this? Truly, I say to you, there will not be one stone left on the other, which will not be broken "(24,2). This must have shocked the disciples deeply. They believed that the Messiah would not save Jerusalem and the Temple. When Jesus spoke of these things, the disciples must have thought of the end of the gentile rule and the glorious re-emergence of Israel; both are prophesied so many times in the Hebrew Scriptures. They knew that these events should occur in the "time of the end", in the "last time" (Dan 8,17, 11,35 & 40, 12,4 & 9). Then the Messiah should appear or "come" to establish the kingdom of God. This meant that Israel would rise to national grandeur and spearhead the empire.

When will that happen?

Of course, the disciples-who considered Jesus the Messiah-were eager to know if the "time of the end" had come. There were high expectations that Jesus would soon announce that he was the Messiah (Joh 2,12-18). No wonder then that the disciples urged Master to explain himself to the manner and the time of his "coming".

When Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, the excited disciples came to him and wanted a private "insider" information. "Tell us," they asked, "when will that happen? and what will be the sign for your coming and for the end of the world? "(Mt 24,3.) They wanted to know when the things prophesied by Jesus on Jerusalem would come in, because they undoubtedly related them to the end times and his" Come".

When the disciples spoke of "coming," they had no "second" coming in mind. According to her, the Messiah was to come and set up his kingdom in Jerusalem very soon, and it would last forever. A division into a "first" and "second" coming they did not know.

Another important point to consider is Matthew 24,3, because the verse is a kind of content summary of the entire chapter 24. The question of the disciples was repeated and some key words in italics: "Tell us," they asked, "when will that happen? and what will be the sign for your coming and for the end of the world? "They wanted to know when the things prophesied by Jesus about Jerusalem would come in, because they brought them into connection with the" end of the world "(exactly World time, era) and his "coming".

Three questions of the disciples

Three questions of the disciples peel out. First, they wanted to know when "that" should happen. By "that" may be meant the devastation of Jerusalem and of the Temple, the destruction of which Jesus had just prophesied. Second, they wanted to know which "sign" would announce his coming; As we shall see, Jesus calls it later in chapter 24, verse 30. And third, the disciples wanted to know the "when" of the "end." Jesus tells them this is not for them to know (24,36).

If we consider these three questions separately-and Jesus answers to them-we will save ourselves a whole series of problems and misinterpretations related to Matthew 24. Jesus tells his disciples that Jerusalem and the temple (the "that") would actually be destroyed during their lifetime. But the "sign" they asked for would be related to his coming, not the destruction of the city. And to the third question he answers, the hour of his return and the "end" of the world time no one knows.

Three questions in Matthew 24 and three separate answers that Jesus gives. These answers decouple events, which form a unity in the disciples' questions, and cut their temporal connection. So, Jesus' second coming and the end of the world time may well be in the future, although the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD) is very far back.

That does not mean - as I said - that the disciples had considered the destruction of Jerusalem from the "end" separately. They did not do that with almost 100 percent certainty. And besides, they have reckoned with the immediate arrival of events (theologians have the term "near-maintenance").

Let's see how these questions are treated in Matthew 24. First of all, we find that Jesus does not seem to have much interest in talking about the circumstances of "the end." His disciples are the ones who drill, who ask questions, and Jesus speaks to them and gives some explanations.

We also recognize that the disciples' questions about the "end" are highly certain from a fallacy - that events would happen very soon, and at the same time. So it comes as no surprise that they reckoned with Jesus' "coming" as Messiah in the near future, in the sense that it could occur in a few days or weeks. Nevertheless, they wanted a tangible "sign" of his coming for confirmation. With this initiation or secret knowledge they wanted to bring themselves into advantageous positions when Jesus took his step.

In this context we should see Jesus' comments from Matthew 24. The impetus for discussion comes from the disciples. They believe that Jesus is about to seize power and want to know the "when". You want a preparatory sign. They completely misunderstood Jesus' mission.

The end: not yet

Instead of directly answering the disciples' questions, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach them three important lessons.

The first lesson:
The scenario they were asking for was far more complicated than the disciples thought in their naivety.

The second lesson:
When Jesus "came" - or as we would say "come back" - they were not destined to know.

The third lesson:
The disciples should "watch", yes, but more and more to keep their relationship with God and less the local events or world events in mind. Taking into account these principles and the preceding discussion, let us now show how Jesus' conversation with his disciples develops. First of all, he warns her not to be fooled by events that may or may not look like end-time events (24, 4-8). The decisive and catastrophic "must" happen, "but it is not the end yet" (verse 6).

Then Jesus announces the disciples to persecution, chaos and death (24,9-13). How frightening that must have been for her! "What is this talk of persecution and death?" They must have thought. The followers of the Messiah should triumph and conquer, not be slaughtered and destroyed, they thought.

Then Jesus begins to speak of proclaiming the gospel to the whole world. After that, then "come to an end" (24,14). Again, this must have puzzled the disciples. They probably thought that first the Messiah would "come", then he would build his kingdom, and only then will the word of the Lord go out into all the world (Isa. 2,1-4).

Next, Jesus seems to be turning around and speaking again of the devastation of the temple. It should be an "abomination of desolation in the holy place," and "then flee to the mountains, who is in Judea" (Mt 24,15-16). Incomparable terror should break over the Jews. "Because then it will be a great tribulation, as it has not been from the beginning of the world until now and will not be again," says Jesus (24,21). It should be so terrible that nobody would live if these days were not shortened.

Although Jesus' words have a worldwide perspective, he speaks mainly of events in Judea and Jerusalem. "For great hardship will be over the land and wrath over this people," says Luke, outlining the context of Jesus' statements (Lk 21,23, Elberfelder Bibel, emphasis of the editors). The temple, Jerusalem and Judea are at the center of the warning of Jesus, not the whole world. The apocalyptic warning that Jesus pronounces refers primarily to the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea. The events of 66-70 n.Chr. have confirmed that.

Fleeing - on the Sabbath?

It is therefore not surprising that Jesus says, "Ask that your flight not be done in the winter or on the Sabbath" (Mt. 24,20). Some ask: Why does Jesus mention the Sabbath when the Sabbath is no longer binding on the Church? Since Christians no longer have to worry about the Sabbath, why is it specifically called an obstacle? The Jews believed that it was forbidden to travel on the Sabbath. They apparently even had a measure of the maximum distance that could be traveled that day, namely a "Sabbath way" (Act 1,12). In Luke, this corresponds to the distance between the Mount of Olives and the city center (according to the Appendix in the Luther Bible it was 2000 Ellen, about 1 kilometers). But Jesus says that a long escape to the mountains is necessary. A "Sabbath way" would not get them out of harm's way. Jesus knows that his listeners believe that on the Sabbath they are not likely to undertake long escape routes.

This explains why he asks the disciples to ask that the flight should not fall on a sabbath. This call is to be seen in the context of their understanding of the Mosaic Law at the time. We can summarize Jesus' reasoning as follows: I know that you do not believe in long journeys on the Sabbath, and you will not do any because you believe the law requires it. So if the things that are about to come to Jerusalem fall on a sabbath, you will not escape them and you will find death. Therefore I advise you: Pray that you do not have to flee on the Sabbath. For even if they decided to flee, the travel restrictions that prevailed generally in the Jewish world, a serious obstacle dar.

As we said earlier, we can relate this part of Jesus' warnings to the destruction of Jerusalem that happened in the year 70. Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who still held the law of Moses (Act 21,17-26), would be affected and would have to flee. They would come into conscience conflicts with the Sabbath law, should the circumstances demand an escape on that day.

Still not the "sign"

Meanwhile, Jesus continued in his speech, which had the purpose of answering the three questions of his disciples concerning the "when" of his coming. We find out that so far, in principle, he has only told them when he will not come. He separates the catastrophe that is about to break in Jerusalem from the "sign" and the coming of "the end." At this point, the disciples must have believed that the devastation of Jerusalem and Judea was the "sign" they sought. But they were wrong, and Jesus points out their mistake. He says, "Then when someone says to you, Behold, here is the Christ! or there! you should not believe it "(Mt 24,23). Do not believe it? What should the disciples think of it? You must have asked yourself: Since we are pleading for an answer, when is he going to establish his kingdom, we implore him to call us a sign, and he only talks about when the end will not come, and he names things that what the character looks like, but it is not.

Nevertheless, Jesus continues to tell the disciples when he will not come, not appear. "So if they say to you, Behold, he is in the wilderness, do not go out; see, he's inside the house !, so do not believe it "(24,26). He wants to make it clear that the disciples should not let themselves be misled, neither by world events nor by people who thought they knew that the sign of the end had come. Maybe he even wants to tell them that even the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple does not yet announce "the end".

Well verse 29. Here Jesus begins to finally tell the disciples something about the "sign" of his coming, ie he answers their second question. The sun and moon should be darkened, and "the stars" (perhaps comets or meteorites) should fall from the sky. The whole solar system should be shaken.

Finally, Jesus calls the disciples the "sign" they are waiting for. He says, "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. And then all the families of the earth shall mourn, and see the Son of Man come on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory "(24,30). Then Jesus invites the disciples to learn a parable of the fig tree (24,32-34). As soon as the branches soften and move leaves, we know that summer is approaching. "Likewise: if you see all that, know that he is near the door" (24,33).

All that

"All this" - what is it? Is it just wars, earthquakes and famines here and there? No. This is just the beginning of labor. There are many more afflictions before "the end". Does "all this" end with the appearance of false prophets and the preaching of the gospel? Again, no. Does "all this" come from the plight of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple? No. So what do you have to mean by "all this"?

Before we answer, a little digression, an anticipation in time for something the apostolic church had to learn and from which the synoptic gospels report. The fall of Jerusalem in the year 70, the destruction of the temple and the death of many Jewish priests and spokesmen (and also some apostles) must have hit the church hard. It is almost certain that the Church believed that Jesus would return immediately after these events. But he stayed away, and that must have offended some Christians.

The Gospels, of course, show that much more should happen before Jesus' return than the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. From Jesus' absence after the fall of Jerusalem, the Church could not conclude that she had been led astray. All three Synoptics repeat the doctrine for the Church: until one sees the "sign" of the Son of Man appear in the sky, do not listen to those who say he has already come or will come soon.

Nobody knows about the hour

Now we come to the core message that Jesus wants to convey in the dialogue of Matthew 24. His words in Matthew 24 are less prophetic, they are rather a teaching of Christian living. Matthew 24 is Jesus' admonition to the disciples: Be always spiritually ready, just because you do not know and can know when I will come back. The parables in Matthew 25 illustrate the same basic statement. To accept this - that the timing is unknown and remains - dispels many misunderstandings about Matthew 24 at a stroke. The chapter says that Jesus does not want to make any prophecies about the exact time of the "end" or his second coming. The "watch" means: always be spiritually awake, always prepared. And not: Always follow the world events. A "when" prophecy is not delivered.

As seen in later history, Jerusalem was indeed the focal point of many turbulent events and developments. 1099, for example, the Christian Crusaders surrounded the city and slaughtered all the inhabitants. During World War I, British General Allenby captured the city and dissolved it from the Turkish Empire. And today, as we all know, Jerusalem and Judea play a central role in the Jewish-Arab conflict.

To summarize: In response to the disciples' question about the "when" of the end, Jesus gives the answer, "You can not know that." A statement that was evidently difficult to digest and is. Because after his resurrection, the disciples still harassed him with questions about it: "Lord, will you rebuild the kingdom for Israel in this time?" (Acts 1,6). And again Jesus answers, "It is not proper for you to know the time or hour that the Father has determined in His power ..." (verse 7).

Despite Jesus' clear teaching, Christians have at all times repeated the error of the apostles. Again and again, speculations about the time of the "end" accumulated, again and again Jesus' coming was immediately predicted. But history has denied Jesus right and wrong to any juggler. Quite simply, we can not know when "the end" will come.

Keep watch

What should we do while waiting for Jesus' return? Jesus answers it to the disciples, and the answer also applies to us. He says, "Therefore watch; because you do not know, on which day your Lord comes ... Therefore you are ready! Because the Son of Man comes to an hour, because you do not mean it "(Mt 24,42-44). Being vigilant in the sense of "observing world events" is not meant here. The "waking" refers to the God relationship of the Christian. He must always be prepared to face his Maker.

In the rest of the 24. Chapter and in 25. Chapter then sets out Jesus, what is meant by "guards". In the parable of the faithful and the wicked servant, he urges the disciples to avoid worldly sins and not be overwhelmed by the attraction of sin (24,45-51). The moral? Jesus says the Lord of the wicked servant will "come on a day when he does not expect it, and at an hour he does not know" (24,50).

In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins a similar doctrine is taught (25,1-25). Some of the virgins are not ready to be "awake" when the groom comes. They are excluded from the Empire. The moral? Jesus says, "Therefore watch! Because you do not know day or hour "(25,13). In the parable of the talents entrusted to us, Jesus speaks of himself as a human being on a journey (25,14-30). He probably thought of his stay in heaven before his return. The servants should now manage the entrusted to trusted hands.

Finally, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus addresses the shepherd duties given to the disciples for the time of his absence. He draws their attention here from the "when" of his coming to the consequences this coming has for their eternal life. His coming and the resurrection shall be her judgment day. The day when Jesus separates the sheep (his true followers) from the goats (the evil shepherds).

In the parable, Jesus works with symbols based on the physical needs of the disciples. They fed him when he was hungry, gave him drink when he was thirsty, took him up when he was a stranger, clothed him when he was naked. The disciples were surprised and said that they had never seen him as such.

But Jesus wanted to clarify the shepherd virtues. "Truly, I say to you, what you have done to any of these my lesser brothers, you have done to me" (25,40). Who is a brother of Jesus? One of his true followers. So Jesus commands the disciples to be good stewards and shepherds of his flock - his church.

So ends the long discourse in which Jesus answers the three questions of his disciples: When will Jerusalem and the temple be destroyed? What will be the "sign" of his coming? When does the "end of the world time" come?


The disciples hear with horror that the temple buildings are to be destroyed. They ask when that should happen and when "the end" and Jesus' "coming" should occur. As I said, in all likelihood they were expecting Jesus to ascend to the throne of the Messiah right then and let the kingdom of God rise in all might and glory. Jesus warns against such thinking. There will be a delay before "the end". Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed, but the life of the church will continue. Persecution of Christians and terrible tribulations will come over Judea. The disciples are shocked. They had thought that the disciples of the Messiah would gain an instant sweeping victory, conquer the Promised Land, restore true worship. And now these predictions of temple destruction and the persecution of the faithful. But there are more frightening lessons to come. The only "sign" the disciples will see of Jesus' coming is His coming Himself. This "sign" no longer has a protective function because it is too late. All of this leads to Jesus' message that no one can prophesy when "the end" will occur or when Jesus will return.

Jesus has picked up on the false thinking of his disciples and derived a spiritual lesson from it. In the words of DA Carson: "The questions of the disciples are answered, and the reader is required to rejoice in the return of the Lord and, as long as the Master is far away, to live responsibly, believingly, compassionately, and courageously (24,45-25,46) "(Ibid, p. 495).

by Paul Kroll

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