The End of Days, Part One

An Exposition of Matthew 24

This chapter contains the most discussed and debated teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.  Although it is paralleled in both Mark and Luke, Matthew’s version of what we call “The Olivette Discourse” contains material found in no other Gospel.   Understanding the teachings of Jesus in this chapter, and the following chapter, is essential if one is to have a complete understanding the nature of the “last days.”  Indeed, grasping the truths of the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation would be impossible without the words of Jesus in Matthew because it is the key that unlocks the mysteries of Revelation chapters 6-19 and Daniel chapter 9.

1.  The occasion, verses 1 and 2

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. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As the chapter opens, we see Jesus leaving the great temple complex for the very last time.  It is late afternoon on the Tuesday before the Passover Lamb is going to offer Himself as an atonement for the sins of man.  It’s a busy day, and Jesus is accompanied by His friends, who remarked on the beauty of the temple buildings in response to something Jesus said in Matthew 23:38,

Look, your house is left to you desolate.

To the disciples that was a very curious statement because the temple and its associated buildings were anything but desolate that day; it was just before the Passover, and Jerusalem was teaming with visitors and the temple would have been a beehive of activity.  What was Jesus talking about?  So, they pointed this out to Him, and He restated what He previously said:  the temple would be utterly destroyed.  This must surely have  been a baffling statement to the disciples.  The temple in Jerusalem was magnificent.  It was massive, it was a true testament to man’s engineering abilities and his devotion to his religion.  Of the temple in Jerusalem, the Psalmist wrote:

It is beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth.
Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
the city of the Great King.

Walk about Zion, go around her,
count her towers,

consider well her ramparts,
view her citadels,
that you may tell of them to the next generation.  (Psalm 48:2, 12-13)

If the temple in the Old Testament could elicit such emotion, imagine what it must have been like for the disciples of Jesus’ day, when the temple had been greatly enlarged and lavishly adorned under King Herod!  Of that temple, Edersheim wrote:

Nor has there been, either in ancient or modern times, a sacred building equal to the temple, whether for situation or magnificence.

In Baba Batra, a Jewish essay which concerns things like houses and yards and regulations for such buildings, we read this:

He who never saw Herod’s edifice has never in his life seen such a beautiful building.

So, to the minds of the disciples, who had grown up around this temple, what Jesus had just said must have been both baffling and startling.

3.  The three pertinent questions, 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?”

Some time later, Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, which is a very appropriate location for a teaching on the Parousia, the Second Coming, considering what the prophet Zechariah wrote concerning this singular event:

On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.  (Zechariah 14:4)

Mark, in his Gospel, says that Peter, James, John, and Andrew were the ones who asked Jesus this question in private.  It is likely the other disciples were present, but that these four were the ones raised concerns about what Jesus had just said.  The word “privately” simply means that the following teachings were given only to the disciples, no one else was present.

There were three questions raised:

  • Tell us, when will this happen?
  • What will be the sign of your coming?
  • And of the end of the age?

Taken individually, the answers to these three questions paint a panoramic picture of Bible prophecy that encompasses the time of the early church to the end of days, a period of history yet to be written that the Bible calls “the Great Tribulation.”

(a)  Tell us, when will this happen?

This first question refers to the destruction of the temple, which was fulfilled in 70 AD by the Romans.  They sacked and destroyed not only the temple grounds, but the decimated the whole city of Jerusalem.  This horrible event in Jewish history was also prophesied by Daniel:

After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.  (Daniel 9:26)

At the time Jesus spoke of the temple’s utter destruction, some 40 years hence, there was peace all over the world; no word of prophecy seemed more improbable.  The Jewish nation, though subject to Rome, was at peace and the armies of Rome were obligated to protect the Jews, not destroy them!  Yet, within a generation, the words of Jesus came to pass with precision.  After a three year siege by Vespasian, then his son, Titus, Jerusalem was taken, much of it destroyed, and the temple utterly destroyed in August of 70 AD.  All exactly as Jesus had said.

(b)  What will be the sign of your coming?

It’s important that we read that question carefully, noting who is asking it, and the words used.  This question is being asked by Jews concerning the coming of their Messiah.  By now, the disciples seemed to understand who Jesus was and that He was going away but that He would return as their Messiah, the One their ancient prophets wrote about.  Theirs was, in fact, a very Jewish question, for centuries the Jews had been looking for a longing for their Messiah to come.  So this question was perfectly natural.

Notice also that they were not asking about  signs of the coming rapture.  The rapture does not concern Jews, but it concerns the removal of the Church, all born again believers, from the earth to meet Christ in the air, as taught by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.  The disciples were not asking Jesus about that because Jesus never taught anything about the rapture.  That “mystery” was left for Paul to reveal.  Jesus, however, often spoke about His return to earth physically, and this is what the disciples were asking about.

This is important to keep in mind because all that follows, that is, all the signs Jesus is about to talk about, do not relate to the rapture of the Church but to world conditions just prior to His literal, physical return to Earth.  There are, in fact, no signs leading up to the rapture of the Church.

Here are the signs leading up to the Second Coming of Christ as enumerated by Christ in Matthew 24:

  • There will be false messiahs, verse 5
  • There will be wars and rumors of wars, verse 6.  Of course, there have always been wars or at least the threat of wars in every generation of man, but they will increase just prior to the return of Christ.
  • The third sign will be nations rising against nations, verse 7.  There will be a grappling for power and world dominance in the days preceding the coming of Christ.
  • Famines will be the fourth sign that the Lord’s return is soon, verse 7.
  • There will also be an increase in earthquakes during this time, verse 7.

All these things, says Jesus, are the beginning of birth pains, verse 8.  The word translated “birth pains” is also used in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 this way:

While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

Paul was writing about the same time period as Jesus was talking about.  The troubles listed in Matthew 24 will characterize the time period we call “The Tribulation,” a period of seven years following our age, the Age of Grace, and preceding the Messianic Age of the Millennial kingdom.

  • The sixth sign, in verse 9, will be the dreadful persecution of believers during this time.  This shows us that even after the Church is removed from the scene, people will still come to Christ as Savior.  What will it be like for them?  The Greek word translated “persecuted” in the NIV come from the verb thlibo, which means “press.”  It is used to describe the crushing of grapes to get the wine out.  This is a vivid description of life for those who find the Lord during the Tribulation period.
  • The treatment of believers will lead to the seventh sign in verse 10, with people betraying each other, forsaking their faith just to stay alive.
  • Verse 11 speaks of the eighth sign, the rise of false prophets who will deceive many into following them.
  • The ninth sign in verse 12, which is found only in Matthew,  is ominous.  Lack of love will characterize people during the Tribulation.  During this time, as man grows more and more wicked and self centered, the love of most will grow cold, says Jesus.
  • The tenth sign, only given in Matthew, gives us an inkling of something that will be happening during the seven year Tribulation:  the Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, verse 14.
  • The next sign will be, as Jesus said, ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel.  Jesus is making reference to something Daniel prophesied about.  In fact, Daniel mentions this “thing” three times.  One reference is Daniel 9:27,

He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’  In the middle of the ‘seven’  he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

This is referring to something that the Antichrist will do in the temple in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation.  We also know that in 168 BC Antiochus Epiphanes marched into the Holy Holies and erected a pagan altar to Zeus, thus desecrating the temple God.  We see here a dual fulfillment of what was prophesied.  The Antichrist will do the same kind of thing when he turns on the Jews.

  • After the temple is ruined, conditions for the Jews will be so bad, according to verse 16, many will flee to the mountains to hide out.  This was partly fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but  according to what Jesus said in verse 21, He is also referring to a time in the future far worse than the world has ever experienced before.

For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

  • Verse 23 indicates that  just before He returns, there will be more false messiahs, more people claiming to the Christ.  Jesus is warning those who follow Him not to be deceived, and He is telling His disciples all this, not to frighten them, but out of love.  Verse 25 is a compassionate statement:  See, I have told you ahead of time.


Invariably, whenever these verses are taught or preached, people wonder what will happen to them.  Some Christians believe the Church will go through this period of great distress.  Others teach the Church will be removed at some point during the Tribulation.  If you are born again, if Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior, you have nothing to worry about.  Consider what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, people who were prone to worry:

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.   (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10)

“God did not appoint us to suffer wrath.”  Indeed, for us, for believers, Jesus suffered God’s wrath so that we don’t have to, ever; not now, not during the Tribulation, not in all eternity.  You and I, because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, are considered worthy to escape the coming wrath.

Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.  (Luke 21:36, KJV)

Next time, we will examine the most startling signs of “the end of the age,” the moments just before Christ returns to the Earth.  We will also look briefly at some parables Jesus taught to help His disciples  understand what He was teaching.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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