Before reading this brief study, please read,
- The Meaning of Eschatology
- Flashback to the Prophecy of Jesus Christ
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 1
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 2
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 3
- The Wedding Feast
- The Temple – Old and New
THE TEMPLE CONTEXT
Matthew 24:3 — While He was seated on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately and said, Tell us, when will this take place, and what will be the sign of Your coming and the end (the completion, the consummation) of the age?
Mark 13:3 – 4 — And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”
Luke 21:7 — And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”
The entire prophecy in Matthew 24 revolves around these questions. The disciples seem fascinated by the beauty of the buildings of the Temple. Jesus shocks His disciples when He says the beautiful buildings of the Temple which they see will be utterly destroyed.
Jesus had already made a prophetic statement of the coming persecution and destruction of the city and Temple which is recorded earlier in both Matthew and Luke.
Luke 19:41 – 44 — And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Jesus wept over Jerusalem and stunned His audience with His cry. Jesus then elaborated on the entire prophetic discourse by speaking of the destruction of the Temple, which leads to His disciples asking these questions. All three gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the signs that would precede the destruction of the Temple.
Matthew 10:16 – 23 — “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Matthew 16:27 – 28 — For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”
The phrase “he will repay” is a clear phrase indicating judgment. In the coming decades, great persecution and even martyrdom would be fulfilled just as Jesus prophesied. The upcoming chapters portray the great persecution that arose against the church and how the words of Jesus were fulfilled.
Mark also gives us a parallel to this passage,
Mark 8:34 – 9:1 — And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
Mark recorded Jesus speaking to a crowd and His disciples and according to this, it could be that many were still alive at the destruction of the Temple and the fulfillment of the prophecies would be in the lifetime of the people.
Jonathan Edwards, comments,
“Tis evident that when Christ speaks of his coming; his being revealed; his coming in his Kingdom; or his Kingdom’s coming; He has respect to his appearing in those great works of his Power Justice and Grace, which should be in the Destruction of Jerusalem and other extraordinary Providences which should attend it [So in Luke 17:20 – 18:8].” [ Edwards, “Miscellany no:1199” ]
The disciples came to Him privately and asked these questions which triggered the entire prophetic discourse.
- When shall these things be?
- What is the sign of your coming?
- What is the end of the age?
Many prophecy teachers have interpreted these questions concerning future end-time events. However, when we examine closely, we understand these being one question in three parts, rather than the usual interpretation of it being three different questions. The other gospels of Mark and Luke give us a summarized version of the same question.
The popular misconception which is widely used is that the first question concerns Herod’s Temple during Jesus’ time and the next two questions pertain to future events like the end of the world. Although a popular belief, it is misconstrued and an error in contextual interpretation.
In the upcoming chapters, we will prove that the entire context of these questions was the Temple and not some future event.
Thomas Newton writes,
The coming of Christ,’ and ‘the conclusion of the age,’ being therefore only different expressions to denote the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem, the purpose of the question plainly is, when shall the destruction of Jerusalem be, and what shall be the signs of it? [ Newton, p.374 ]
The disciples, being practicing Jews, had read and understood the old testament law and prophets, and so they framed their questions precisely. This whole prophetic sermon was prompted by Jesus’ prophecy that the Temple would be destroyed. Too often, we analyze the Olivet discourse as if its key emphasis is the end of the world, and the destruction of the Temple is either lowered to lesser importance or ignored altogether.
Jesus had stunned all who heard Him regarding Jerusalem with His prophecy in the previous chapter:
Matthew 23:38 — Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate (abandoned and left destitute of God’s help).
The house that Jesus spoke about was the Temple. The consequences of the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem would be adverse and eventually result in the following:
- For the city to be destroyed, the seat of political power and the structure of the nation would be left in ruins.
- For the Temple to be desolate, the religious life of the nation would cease.
- The sacrifices would cease.
- The Aaronic-Levitical Priesthood would cease. Therefore, the age of Moses would cease.
- No Temple, no old covenant, no age of Moses would mean the culture of the nation would no longer exist.
This was fulfilled accurately by the Romans in AD. 70, about 40 years or one generation [Numbers 32:13] after the prediction. Dispensationalists often take the verses out of context to prove their point. There is a major conflict in their explanation, as to which verses describe the destruction of Jerusalem and which describe the end of the world.
Thus, based on these pieces of evidence, we can now conclude these questions which His disciples asked refer solely to the Temple.
GOSPEL OF JOHN
Have you noticed that in his gospel, the apostle John completely overlooks the Olivet discourse, even though he was present when Jesus spoke these things? This is because the book of Revelation, which he authored, essentially functions as his detailed explanation of the discourse. Hence, he felt no need to include this discourse passage in his gospel account.
THE ISSUE OF “TIMING”
Most scholars agree that the timing of the question, “And when shall these things be?” is connected to the destruction of the Temple—the stones being thrown down as spoken by Jesus in Matthew 24:2.
Though the question of the timing of these events was not yet fully understood by the disciples, they certainly grasped that the coming of the Messianic Kingdom and the end of the Old Covenant era were linked to the destruction of the Temple and the City.
“That their question relates to the destruction of the Temple is obvious from the context. They had just been pointing to the Temple and Jesus had declared concerning it, ‘…There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.’ Immediately then the disciples ask, ‘When shall these things be?’ What could be more obvious than that the disciples are asking about the time when not one stone would remain upon another of the Temple.” [ Kik, p. 85.]
Jesus answered them because of the fear and anxiety which His sudden statement had evoked in their hearts and not to some future generation of Jews. Why would Jesus tell them of events which had no importance to their lives but a future generation? Jesus spoke directly to them and answered their question.
Whatever misunderstanding the disciples had concerning the timing or the nature of the coming Kingdom, they certainly comprehended that Jesus was speaking to them directly about the destruction of the Temple and connecting its destruction to the coming of His Kingdom in fullness and the end of the age in which they were living—the age of Moses—the old covenant.
THE ISSUE OF HIS “COMING”
The second part of the question which the disciples asked Jesus was, “And what will be the sign of Your coming…” [Matthew 24:3]
How were the disciples to know the sign of His coming?
A sign always points to something else. Jesus’ disciples were inquiring to know how and when He would come to destroy the Temple. We shall see Jesus answered this question in the explanation of the discourse further.
The Greek rendering for “coming” is the word “parousia” [Greek Strong’s Number: 3952— Strong’s Greek & Hebrew Dictionary] which is “the advent or arrival and continued presence of a person.” When the disciples put forth this question, they did not know where Jesus was going. They had no idea of the “coming” and the sayings of Jesus brought them into a difficult situation. Hence, this coming must be seen symbolically of Christ coming in judgment to destroy the Temple.
The Gospel of John gives us an account of the final admonition and instructions which Jesus gave His disciples during the last supper, right before He goes into the garden of Gethsemane. [John 13-17]
Jesus spoke of His going to the cross, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension to the Father and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—and all this He spoke preceding His Gethsemane experience.
The disciples did not understand His going. Some scriptures to establish this are:
John 14:1 – 5 — “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Thomas did not know where Jesus was going; and in fact, none of His disciples knew about His going. Another statement of Jesus at the Passover is,
John 14:28 — You heard Me tell you, I am going away and I am coming [back] to you. If you [really] loved Me, you would have been glad, because I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater and mightier than I am.
John 16:5 — But now I am going to Him Who sent Me, yet none of you asks Me, Where are You going?
In another place, Jesus said,
John 16:16 – 18 — In a little while you will no longer see Me, and again after a short while you will see Me. So some of His disciples questioned among themselves, What does He mean when He tells us, In a little while you will no longer see Me, and again after a short while you will see Me, and, Because I go to My Father? What does He mean by a little while? We do not know or understand what He is talking about.
Jesus spoke of the cross—and that they would not see Him for some time; however, after His resurrection they would see Him again. Nevertheless, His disciples did not understand what He spoke to them. This signified that even late in His ministry, the disciples did not understand the concept of His going. Matthew’s discourse concerning the Temple was almost a week before the Gethsemane experience.
During this time, they knew nothing of Jesus Christ going to the Cross, His resurrection, ascension or of His future return. Therefore, their question was not about the so-called “second coming,” but to the destruction of the Temple. Contextually, they were asking Jesus, when He would be coming to destroy the Temple or what would be the sign of His coming to destroy the Temple?
THE ISSUE OF THE “END OF THE AGE”
Jesus was definite in all His answers. The end of the age here refers to the end of the physical Temple age―Herod’s Temple. Some prophecy teachers argue that this question speaks about the end of the world, and their conclusion is based on the word “world” used in some translations of the Bible. However, the Greek word here for “age” is “aion” [Greek Strong’s Number: 165— Strong’s Greek & Hebrew Dictionary] which means “a period of time.”
Jesus was undeniably speaking about the end of the age of the Temple. He was not talking to them about the so-called end times or the end of the world. The disciples were not asking about the end of the world or the end of the physical universe. If this was true, then the Greek word used would have been “kosmos” which represents the physical world, universe or the orderly arrangement of the universe.
They were not asking Him about the end of some future generation nor the end of an age which was thousands of years from their day, but they were asking about the end of the age (Mosaic Age) in which they were living.