One of the most significant, yet misunderstood chapters in the Bible is Matthew 24. It is the seed-bed for almost all modern speculation about the "end of the world." Premillennialists say Jesus described in detail the events of our generation. Amillennialists divide the chapter into a discordant mixture of two subjects — the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of time.
My purpose will be to examine this great chapter to place it within its proper context and see what it actually says. I welcome your comments and questions.
One of the most important things to determine about the text is in regard the disciple’s questions in verse 3.
In chapter 23 Jesus had predicted the fall of the city, 23:34-35. The disciples heard these remarks and in response, as they left the Temple, pointed to its magnificent stones. Some of those stones weighed several hundred tons! How could they possibly be thrown down?
Jesus’ response, "there shall not be one stone standing on another" astounded the disciples and they asked "When shall these things be and what shall be the sign of thy coming and the end of the age?" Matthew 24:3.
Most interpretations of Matthew 24 fail because of misconceptions about the disciples’ questions. Modern presuppositions about what the term "coming of the Lord" and "end of the age" mean cause mistaken ideas to be read back into Matthew 24 instead of allowing Christ and the Bible to define their own terms.
It will come as a surprise to many that the "coming of the Lord" and "end of the age" are not references to a physical return of Jesus on a literal cloud at the end of time. They are instead well established Old Covenant concepts. Any time God acted in judgment he "came." The "end of the age," refers not to the end of time but to the end of the Jewish Age; and was predicted by the Old Covenant, Daniel 9.
The disciples asked Jesus "what shall be the sign of thy coming," Matthew 24:3. Unfortunately when modern readers read this they automatically think of an "end of time" coming on literal clouds. This is not the Biblical idea of the coming of the Lord. The concept of the coming of the Lord is from the Old Covenant and never carried the idea of ending time. It meant God was going to destroy the "world" under consideration, not physical creation.
Isaiah 19:1ff said God would ride the clouds into Egypt and destroy that nation. Did he do it? Well, he did not literally, bodily ride a cloud into Egypt. But chapter 20 tells us the Assyrians did destroy Egypt. God used the Assyrians to do His work; therefore He was said to come on the clouds.
Isaiah 34 said the heavens would be destroyed and the mountains would melt. Sounds like the end of creation doesn’t it? But this is a prediction against Edom, vs. 5. Obadiah predicted the same thing. The Babylonians destroyed Edom. God said he had destroyed them, Malachi 1:1-3. Now physical creation was not destroyed, but Edom’s "world" was.
Zephaniah 1 said the day of the Lord was "at hand." This was written about 630 BC and predicted Jerusalem’s fall. It fell in 606-586 BC. Did Jehovah literally, bodily come? No, but he used the Babylonians as his instrument; therefore He came. These are but a few of the Old Testament passages that help us define the Day of the Lord.
In Matthew 16:27-28 Jesus said he was going to come with the angels, in glory and judgment before all of the multitude standing around him died. This is the same coming he predicted in Matthew 23:34-39 and chapter 24 when he promised to destroy Jerusalem, at his coming, in that generation, Matthew 24:29-31, 34.
The language Jesus uses in Matthew 24 is taken directly from the Old Covenant. Jesus was speaking as a Jewish prophet, using prophetic language never intended to be understood literally. It is the great tragedy of modern Biblical interpretation that modern methods of interpretation have been imposed on this language. Let us allow the Bible to define its own terms!
In Matthew 24 Jesus was not predicting, nor were the disciples asking, about when Jesus would return to end time. They were asking about the sign of his return to destroy the Temple and city. He did this in AD 70 by using the Romans as his instrument.
Many believe that when the disciples asked Jesus "What shall be the sign of… the end of the world?" Matthew 24:3, they were asking about the end of time. This is unfortunate.
The word translated "world" in the King James is from the Greek word "aion" and is better translated "age" as most modern translations do.
The Greek Lexicons define "aion" as "a period of time marked in the New Testament usage by spiritual or moral characteristics." Vine’s Theological Dictionary, Vol. IV, p. 233. Thayer’s lists the first meaning of "aion" as "age," p. 19. The idea is, "aion" is not simple "time." The disciples were not asking about the end of time; they were asking about the end of the age.
In what age were the disciples living when they asked about the end of the age? Were they living in the Christian Age? No, that did not begin until Pentecost. The disciples were living in the last days of the Jewish Age.
Jesus’ prediction of Jerusalem’s fall was to the disciples, proof positive of the impending demise of their Old World. They knew Daniel had predicted the same event and said that by the time it happened God would bring in "everlasting righteousness," Daniel 9:24-27.
Jesus answered the disciple’s question by giving some signs that would precede the end. Verse 14: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world (Greek – oikoumene) for a witness to the nations, then cometh the end." In verse 15 he spoke of the Abomination of Desolation.
Was the Gospel preached into all the world in the first century? If we believe the Bible, it was. Read Romans 10:18ff; Colossians 1:6,23, Titus 2:12, etc.
Jesus told the disciples to flee from Judea when they saw the Abomination of Desolation. Interestingly, the Encyclopedia Judaica says the Christian community fled Judea in 66 AD.
Now the disciples asked for a sign of "the end of the age." Jesus said the gospel would be preached in all the world "then comes the end;" and when they saw the Abomination of Desolation to flee.
The Gospel was preached in all the world in that generation and the disciples fled from Judea just as Jesus warned them. Since the signs of the end came in that generation, "the end of the age" which was to follow the signs also came in that generation. And, in fact, that is exactly when Jesus said it would happen. Read Matthew 24:34.
The "end of the age" about which the disciples inquired was not the end of time; it was the end of the Old World of Israel in 70 AD. The disciples asked for signs; they were given. The signs appeared in the first century generation. The end of the Old Age of Israel came when Jerusalem fell in 70 AD.
Recently I was studying with a gentleman about Matthew 24:14: "This gospel of the kingdom must be preached in all the world for a witness to the nations, then cometh the end." Being a premillennialist he insisted this verse has never been fulfilled. Our generation will probably witness its fulfillment he said, therefore the end will be soon. I shared with him some interesting facts from scripture that I would like to share with you.
Matthew 24:14: Promise Fulfilled — or Promise of Future?
In Matthew 24:14 Jesus said the gospel would be preached in all the world "then cometh the end". Has that commission been fulfilled? Some say yes, some no. What says the scripture?
The table below lists the prophecy or command relative to the Great Comm
ission, with the original Greek word for "world" used to define the scope of the command, and the New Testament passage giving the fulfillment.
|In all the "world"||In all the "world"|
|Matt. 24:14||Rom. 10:18|
|Greek – oikoumene||Greek – oikoumene|
|Into all the world||Into all the world|
|Mark 16:15-||Col. 1:6-|
|Greek – kosmos||Greek – kosmos|
|To all creation||in all creation|
|Mark 16:15||Col. 1:23|
|Greek – ktisis||Greek – ktisis|
|Teach all nations||Made known to all the nations|
|Matt. 28:19||RM. 16:26|
|Greek – ethnos||Greek – ethnos|
|Judea, Samaria, world||Into all earth|
|Acts 1:8||Rom. 10:18|
|Greek – ge||Greek – ge|
Every word used by the Spirit to describe the scope of the Great Commission is used by the Spirit to describe the fulfillment of Jesus’ mandate.
Is it not dangerous to insist a prophecy has not been fulfilled even though every term, every word employed in the prediction of that event is used by the inspired writers to say the prediction has been fulfilled?
What more emphatic proof is needed to accept the fact that Jesus’ mandate of world evangelism was fulfilled? As Kik succinctly comments "Those who would deny this must quarrel with the statements of Scriptures. All nations of the world heard the Gospel proclaimed before the year 70 AD."