“As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 24:3 NET).
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 is still amongst the most controversial of all that he taught. It seems that in every age there are some who believe that Jesus was talking about the time in which they are living. Sadly they miss the context of Jesus’ message and instead begin to look for “signs” which would show that Jesus is about to return. We should notice what prompted the disciples’ question.
“Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away, his disciples came to show him the temple buildings. And he said to them, ‘Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!’” (Matthew 24:1-2).
If you were to visit Jerusalem today, at the foot of the Temple Mount is the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. Towards the end of the Western Wall, there are piles of stones from the second temple, the one standing during the lifetime of Jesus. When the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, they used heat to “blast” the stones off the temple mount. When they were uncovered by archaeologists they were left for all to see. These stones verify Jesus’ prediction made forty years before it happened.
What Jesus told the disciples about in this chapter were things they should watch for that would lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. These were specific signs for a specific time. When they saw one particular sign they were to recognize what was happening and flee the city.
“‘So when you see the abomination of desolation – spoken about by Daniel the prophet – standing in the holy place’ (let the reader understand), ‘then those in Judea must flee to the mountains’” (Matthew 24:15-16).
Although this reference may be enigmatic to us, we can be thankful that Luke, in his gospel, told us plainly what this meant: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Those who are inside the city must depart. Those who are out in the country must not enter it, because these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written” (Luke 21:20-22). The “abomination of desolation” was the Roman armies who laid siege to Jerusalem.
What good would it do for people to flee Judea for the mountains if this was talking about Jesus’ return at the end of the world? But it does make sense for those in the first century to flee Jerusalem when they had the chance after they saw the Roman armies!
Rather than trying to see signs all around us that Jesus is about to return in our day, we need to always be ready for the last day. We need to apply the admonition Jesus gave his disciples and always be ready.
“Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44).
We should live each day as if this were the day Jesus will bring in eternity.
Are you ready for that day?
Photo by Jon Galloway: pile of stones from the temple at the Western Wall
Readings for next week:
4 February – Matthew 24
5 February – Matthew 25
6 February – Matthew 26
7 February – Matthew 27
8 February – Matthew 28