Without doubt, Matthew 24:36 is used very, very often to negate the time statements of scripture found in the epistles. The argument goes like this: Jesus did not know the time of his coming. If Jesus did not know, then the apostles and writers of the epistles did not know, therefore, we cannot take their statements of the nearness of the end literally or objectively. This is a patently false argument, and in the following article by my friend Jim Gunter, you will see how fallacious the argument really is.
Little Verse, Big Controversy!
By Jim Gunter
There is one particular verse in the new covenant Scriptures [Matt. 24:36], which although relatively short in content, lends itself to enormous significance as it relates to the eschatological thinking among 21st century disciples. This is because it has much to do with how we think regarding the “parousia” (coming, presence, arrival) of our Lord, which is most often referred to as “the second-coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This little verse is a part of what is often spoken of as Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse,” which is actually a private conversation with His apostles on the Mount of Olives immediately after leaving the temple. This discourse is found in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. The little verse under consideration reads as follows:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of Heaven, nor The Son, but The Father alone.”
In this little essay, it will not be our purpose to make an in-depth study of all the constituent elements contained in the entire discourse, but to simply express my modified understanding of this one little verse. I say “modified” understanding because just a few years ago I began asking myself many questions regarding not only this verse, but a number of those eschatological passages over which disciples are divided as to their meanings. And this is one of the verses that fit that mould. Therefore, after much study of the Olivet Discourse and related scriptures, I have arrived at a different conclusion from how I once understood this verse 36. I sincerely hope that should you find my understanding on this little verse to be different from that of your own, you will not infer from that, that I am in any way saying or implying that I’m right and you’re wrong! I sincerely believe that we are all on the same quest, and that is, for a better understanding of our Father’s Word. Surely, we all realize that not any one of us has the corner on the truth when it comes to understanding the scriptures. There are no two of us who have reached the same conclusion or understanding on every passage of scripture. And so, for that reason, I say, thank God for His marvelous and wonderful grace, otherwise we would all be without hope, would we not?
My Former Understanding of the Olivet Discourse:
I would like to begin by relating to you how I previously understood this “little verse,” as it relates to the discourse as a whole. I would then ask you to please examine it, and see if it sounds familiar. For many years I understood Matt. 24:36 to be a sort of pivotal verse, which divided this discourse into two distinct “comings” of Jesus, with these two “comings” separated by a period of more than 2,000 years. As I’m sure you know, Jesus’ apostles had asked Him questions in verse 3 which were as follows:
(1.) “When will these things be?
(2.) “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
From my former perspective, I understood our Lord to apply everything He said from verse 4 through verse 35 to the “70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem.” However, when I came to verse 36, I saw it as a pivotal verse. It was here, that I perceived a dichotomy or division in His discourse. And so what I saw in verse 36 was that our Lord ceased to instruct his apostles about the 70 A.D. event, now shifting gears, so to speak, and suddenly changing the subject to a different “coming”…His second coming, if you will; a “coming” that I understood would not come to pass for more than 2,000 years well into our future! I understood that at this point, “time would be no more,” and the physical universe would be destroyed, at which time Jesus would then effectuate the resurrection and final judgment! And so, as you can see, at that time I did not view our Lord’s coming at the destruction of Jerusalem as being His “second coming.”
I think I should also add, that anytime I was in a discussion with others on this particular subject, I would always place great emphasis on the word, “that” in the phrase, “but of that day and hour.” This I did for the purpose of differentiating between the things Jesus said in verses 1-35, and the things He would then say in verses 36-51 and on through chapter 25. I did this because I honestly understood there to be a dichotomy or division in our Master’s Olivet Discourse indicated by verse 36. And so this is why I understood there to be “two” comings of Jesus under consideration, separated by more than 2,000 years!
My Revised Understanding:
But good folks, I’m confident that you would agree with me, that the view of no one person, or group of persons for that matter, makes any view right or wrong. The “truth” is “the truth,” no matter what; and certainly, truth never fears honest investigation, but earnestly welcomes it.
Having now shared with you my previous understanding of the structure of the Olivet Discourse, if you would be so kind, I would like to express what I now understand about our Master’s words there. I will begin by saying that my understanding of verses 4-35 remains unchanged; I still understand them to apply to the “70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem.”
However, the big change for me comes with my understanding of the subsequent verses that continue on through chapter 25. In other words, I no longer understand verse 36 to be a pivotal verse, for the simple reason that I no longer see a dichotomy or division in the discourse as I once did. No longer do I perceive The Master to suddenly shift gears in the middle of His discourse, and change the subject from the destruction of Jerusalem, to then explain what I once perceived to be a totally different event that would not come to pass for another 2,000 years and counting!
Brothers and sisters, in my advancing years, I have come to realize that in those former years of my Bible study (and I have mentioned this before), one critical mistake I made in my approach to the study of our Father‘s Word, was that I failed to be careful to look at the new covenant scriptures through the eyes of a 1st century disciple. And as a result, I do believe that I deprived myself of understanding them as the 1st century disciples understood them. I was not thinking about what these things spoken by Jesus and those written by His inspired apostles, would have meant to those to whom they were directly spoken or written. But thanks be to our Heavenly Father, I’m beginning to learn, and now I strive to keep that fact ever before me! Just to give you an example of this, please allow me to cite a passage which I believe demonstrates what I mean. It’s a passage with which we will also deal again a little farther along in this thesis. In Matt. 24:15-16 Jesus said,
“Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”
Now, when I read this passage, I believe it is incumbent upon me to view it, and listen to it through the eyes and ears of the ones to whom Jesus was directly speaking, and to whom Matthew was writing, namely, Jesus’ apostles and Matthew’s 1st century readers. I believe this is evinced by verses 3-4. As I consider this warning by Jesus, I see it as a warning, not to “me,” but rather to His apostles. They (the apostles and 1st century disciples in Jerusalem and Judea) were warned to “flee to the mountains” when they would see “the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place” (vss. 15-16). Clearly, this was not a warning to you and me today. The inspired writer, Matthew, even saw fit to interject into this passage, the admonition, “let the reader understand,” to those of his generation! Therefore, it is for this reason, and for the reason that Jesus said all these things would come to pass “in that generation [verse 34],” that I clearly see the need for us to consider these things in a 1st century context. To do otherwise, I believe, does violence to the scriptures, and thwarts our very purpose of correctly understanding the message conveyed by our Lord.
Please let us not lose sight of the fact that in this 24th chapter of Matthew, Jesus is speaking all these things in response to questions asked of Him by His apostles in verse 3. It should also be noted that their questions were prompted by His stunning declaration in verse 2, regarding the complete and total destruction of “the temple,” which was so revered by the Jews, and at the very epicenter of their world. Yes, it was to be burned and razed to the ground, along with the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation!
Matthew Chapter 23; Backdrop for Chapter 24:
Now, there is one other thing which I really believe to be paramount for a better
understanding of Matthew 24 and that is, to first make a close examination of chapter 23, primarily because it serves as a backdrop for much of what is said in chapter 24.
In this chapter 23, one learns that Jesus was speaking in “the temple” and to the rulers of the Jews, the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, the people, and also His disciples. This would be His last time to teach in this marvelous edifice, the very epicenter of the Jews’ religion. Upon a careful reading of Matthew 23 (vss. 29-39 in particular), we find Jesus excoriating the rulers of the Jews for not only their self-righteousness and gross hypocrisy, but even more so for the “murder of God’s Prophets” down through the centuries! Then notice carefully what He says to them, beginning in verse 34. He first says that He also is going to send them “prophets, wise men, scribes, etc,” and that “some of them YOU (Jewish rulers-jg) will kill and crucify, and some of them YOU will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city.” Now please watch verse 35 and following:
 “That upon you (1st century unbelieving Jewish leaders-jg) may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth (land-jg), from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Truly I say to you (1st century Jews-jg), all these things shall come upon this generation” (that then-present, 1st century generation-jg).
Then in verse 37, we find Jesus literally weeping over Jerusalem, declaring:
 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  Behold, your house (the temple-jg) is being left to you desolate. For I say to you (1st century, unbelieving Jews-jg), from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ’blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Good folks, when Jesus said “this generation,” it should be noted that the Greek word used here for generation is “genea,” which the lexicographers and linguists render, “all the people alive at one time.” I bring this out because it has been suggested by a few bible students that it means “this race of people (i.e., the Jewish race),” which of course is not according to the Greek. The Greek word for race is “genos,” which as one can clearly see is an entirely different word; a word which the inspired apostle Matthew did not use. So, I believe we can correctly ascertain from chapter 23, that the things spoken there are what precipitated what follows in chapter 24. With that said, let us now proceed to chapter 24.
For purposes of this particular study, we will not go into minute detail of the entire Olivet Discourse, however, we will go deep enough for us to determine if there is cause for dichotomizing the discourse it into “two” comings, or if the entire discourse is to be seen as a unit and understood as pointing to just “one” event!
Matthew 24; A Look into the Discourse:
We see in verse 1 that Jesus, after verbally blistering the Jews, now leaves the temple with His apostles. It is not at all surprising that as they depart the temple, His apostles immediately call to His attention, the magnificence, beauty, and grandeur that adorned the many buildings which comprised this marvelous complex. One can only imagine the feelings that must have come over them as they now hear their Master exclaim in verse 2,
“Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
It should become quite clear now why, upon their ascent to the Mount of Olives, that the apostles pull their Lord aside to ask Him the questions recorded in verse 3:
“…tell us when will these things be, and what will be the sign ‘of your coming/presence (Gr. parousia)’ and of the end of the age?”
According to Mark’s account (Mk. 13:4), it was Peter, James, John, and Andrew who asked these questions.
Beloved, it seems to me that we learn some very important things from these questions, and from what we saw in chapter 23. Those things, plus the very structure of the apostles’ questions, suggest to me that they associated several things with their Master’s coming/presence (parousia):
(1.) The destruction of the temple Jesus prophesied [Matt. 23:38; 24:2].
(2.) The destruction of the city of Jerusalem which He also prophesied [Matt. 23:37-38; 24:16—Also compare Matt. 22:1-13; Lk. 21:20].
(3.) The destruction of the Jewish nation [Matt. 23:37—Also compare Lk. 19:11-27; Lk. 21:20-24; Matt. 8:12; 24:28].
(4.) The full end of the old covenant age [Matt. 24:3].
End of the World, or End of the Age; Which?
One thing that I had not taken into account in years past, was something oh so very important! Please, don’t you make the same mistake that I did all those many years! When one reads verse 3 very carefully, one learns that after the apostles asked their Master “when” the things He prophesied would come to pass, they asked Him in the same breath, this question:
“and what will be the sign of your coming (parousia), and of the full end of the age.”
Dear ones, do you see what I see here? Did you notice that in this “one” question the apostles inquired of “two” things? First, please notice that they did not ask for two “signs”; one to indicate His “coming/presence” and another to indicate “the full end of the age.” No, no! They asked for only one “sign” (singular); one sign that would indicate both His “coming/presence” and “the full end of the age.” I really do find that remarkable! I believe it shows beyond a doubt, that the apostles associated their Lord’s “coming/presence” with “the full end of the age.” And so I ask this: should it be any different with us? This is one of the reasons why I was compelled to alter my thinking on this discourse!
Another vital point that I believe needs to be made here is that the apostles said, “the full end of the age,” not “the full end of the world,” as the KJV unfortunately renders it. This is truly unfortunate because the erroneous translation, “world,” has led to so much confusion and misunderstanding of this question by the apostles! Until I learned differently, I had thought, just as many others do, that they were asking Jesus what would be the sign of “the end of the physical world or universe!” However, I see now that nothing could be further from the truth! Folks, this is of great import here, because the Greek word used here is the word, “aion,” which in truth translates to, “age,” suggesting the old covenant age; the age in which Jesus and the apostles were presently living. It just simply does not mean, “world or universe!” The Greek word for “world” or “universe” would be,“kosmos”; a word that the inspired apostle Matthew did not use! Most all of the modern translations (even the NKJV) have corrected this most egregious error in translation! So I beg of you; please don’t be misled by that!
Further evidence that the apostles did not ask Jesus about the “end of the world or universe,” is because of all the frightening language they had just heard from Jesus! Surely, these things were looming large in their minds! After all, they had just heard their Master declaring both in the temple [Matt. 23:29-39] and now to them privately [Matt. 24:2], that a terrible judgment was coming very soon, even in their own generation [vs. 34]; with the attendant destruction of the temple, the holy city of Jerusalem, and the Jewish nat
ion! Certainly, these were no small or trivial matters with them! These facts alone, I believe, would dismiss the notion that the apostles were asking Jesus about the end of the world (universe). For the sake of making a point, let’s use our sanctified imaginations for just a moment and picture ourselves as being 1st century Jewish disciples, along with these apostles. And so here we are; we’re listening to our Master as He reveals to us some horrific words of judgment upon our temple, our holy city of Jerusalem, and even our nation! And what’s even worse, these horrible things are going to take place soon—even in our own generation! Now let’s ask ourselves this question:
“Since we are listening to this warning from our Master, do you suppose that it would even enter our minds, that these things our Lord is warning us about are not actually going to take place for at least another 2,000 years or more, even though He specifically tells us that our generation will not pass away until all these things take place [vs. 34]?”
I’m sure you see my point here! Good folks, I just have to say that I am unable to make any logic at all of such an idea! Please, let’s not forget, they knew quite well the meanings of “aion and kosmos,” and they also understood the difference between the two! Moreover, they understood the meaning of “genea (generation).” And when their Lord spoke of “this” generation (Matt. 23:33, 36, Matt. 24:34; Matt. 12:25; Mk. 9:19; Mk. 13:30; Lk. 21:32 et al.), they clearly understood that He meant “the generation in which they were presently living!” As for what was really on their minds, surely, it would have been the destruction of the temple, the holy city of Jerusalem, and the nation, would it not? Another question I would have is this: Since the apostles did not even ask Jesus about the “end of the world,” then isn’t it only logical that their Lord would have stuck to the subject at hand and simply answered the questions they asked? I certainly believe that He would have. And I’m persuaded that this is exactly what He did! For Him to do otherwise, seems to me, would have been misleading and confusing to His apostles!
End of Which Age?
It should be noted that our Lord and the 1st century Jews, during their generation, spoke of “two” ages. They referred to them as “this age” and “the age to come.” The following two passages are examples of this:
(1.) Jesus said in Matt. 12:32:
“And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age (Mosaic age-jg), or in the age to come (Christian or Messianic age-jg).”
(2.) In Heb. 6:4-5, the writer of the Hebrews epistle spoke words of warning to the 1st century Jewish disciples who were being severely persecuted and coerced by the unbelieving Jews, to apostatize from Christ and the gospel, and return to the curse of The Law for justification. This was his warning to them:
“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come (Messianic age-jg), and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.”
Upon examining the Matt. 12:32 passage, we see that Jesus, and those to whom He was speaking, were living in what He called “this age (old covenant age-jg).” He says for those who would blaspheme the Holy Spirit in “this age (old covenant age-jg),” there would be no forgiveness for such a sin. But He doesn’t stop there! He further says that neither would there be forgiveness of such a sin in the “age to come.” And just what would that age be? Well, obviously, it would be the age that would follow the one in which they were presently living; it would be the “new covenant or Messianic age,” would it not?
As for the Heb. 6:4-5 passage, the author wrote those words later on in that same age Jesus called, “this age (old covenant age-jg),” albeit, he wrote it very near the end or consummation of the age (64-65 A. D.), for in his letter, he declares in Heb. 8:13, that the old covenant was presently, “becoming obsolete, growing old, and ready to disappear.” And so he admonishes these Jewish discipl
es to not dare abandon Christ and the gospel, because having already tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the “age to come,” for them to do such, would be nothing less than, “again crucifying to themselves the Son of God, and putting Him to an open shame.” Good folks, since the “old covenant” was about to disappear, what age do you suppose the writer is referring to here as the “age to come?” Wouldn’t it just have to be “the age of the new covenant?”
Before leaving this matter of “the age to come,” there is just one more little tidbit of information which I find to be not only very interesting, but also very helpful in further determining the identity of the “age to come!” In both of these two passages, as they relate to the expression, “age to come,” the Greek construction of the text is ever so helpful regarding the phrase, “to come!” This little phrase is a form of the Greek word, “mello,” Strong’s #3195. Linguists tell us this word “mello” means: “to be about to be, do, or suffer something; to be at the point of being or doing something.” Therefore, in the case of the “the age to come,” one can see that “the age about to come” would be the more accurate translation. Surely, a lot of confusion and misunderstanding could have been avoided for all of us had the translators properly translated the word “mello” here. However, because most of the translators were “futurists” in their eschatological thinking, and of course, uninspired men, it would seem that perhaps bias played some part in their conclusions. However, in spite of that, one can clearly see from the context of the language we cited in Heb. 8:13, that as late as the time when the Hebrew writer penned his epistle (64-65 A.D.), the age that was “about to come” would have been the “Christian or, new covenant age” which, even though having had its inauguration at Pentecost, was not yet fully consummated, pending the promised return of the Messiah at the removal of the old temple (See also Heb. 9:8-13). Please, let us not allow that fact to escape our memory because it is extremely important!
Jesus Answers the Apostles’ Questions:
After hearing the earth-shaking declaration of Jesus in Matt. 24:2 with regard to the temple, we see that they wanted to know two things:
(1.) First, they asked a “time” or “when” question. They wanted to know “when” these things were going to happen [See also Mk. 13:4; Lk. 21:7].
(2.) After this, they then asked a two-pronged “sign” question. They wanted to know what would be “the sign” they should watch for, that would signal both the occurrence of these things (destruction of the temple, city, and nation), and the end of the age [See also Mk. 13:4; Lk. 21:7].
Therefore, in light of these facts, I believe it would call into question the logic of my former reasoning, i.e, that the apostles were asking Jesus about two different events (separated by two millennia) when they asked: “…and what will be the sign (singular) of thy coming, and of the end of the age?” I can see now that this reasoning would beg the question: How could one sign signal two different events separated by more than 2,000 years? I’m sure you can see the problem with that reasoning!
Now in Matt. 24:4, Jesus begins answering their questions, and He begins with the “sign” question first. However, before He tells them exactly what “the sign” would be, He informs them of some terrible things they could expect to see before they would see “the sign”; things which would “mislead many,” and by which many “would be deceived.” But as He says in vss. 6, 13, 14, “the end is not yet.” Please let me repeat; in verses 4-14, Jesus does not give them the answer to their “sign” question, but rather cautions them to not be misled by the terrible things that would take place before they would see “the sign” of “His coming/presence-Gr. parousia” and which would also mark “the end of the age!” The following are those things they should expect to see:
[vs. 5] Many would come in His name; saying they were the Christ!
[vs. 6] They would hear of wars and rumors of wars! But He says, that would not yet be “the end!”
[vs. 7] Nation would rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There would be famines and earthquakes to occur in various places. But all of these things are just the beginning of birth pangs.
[vs. 9] The apostles (as well as other disciples) could expect to be delivered up to tribulation (by the unbelieving Jews), to be hated and killed for the name of Christ.
[vs. 10] Because of the persecution (by the Jews and Nero-jg), the faith of many believers would wax cold, and thus there would be a great falling away! [See also Acts 20:28-31; 2Thes. 2:1-8]
[vs. 11] They would see many false prophets arise, misleading many disciples.
[vs. 12] Because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many would grow cold.
[vs. 14] The gospel of the kingdom would be preached throughout the world (the Roman world/Empire) for a witness to the nations (gentiles). [See also Rom. 10:18: Col. 1:23]
[vss. 15-20] They would see the “abomination of desolation,” of which the prophet Daniel spoke, standing in the holy place, at which time, the elect were to flee Jerusalem and Judea and escape to the mountains! [See also Mk. 13:14; Lk. 21:20-21]
“Truly I say to YOU (you apostles-jg), this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” [Matt. 24:34; Mk. 13:30; Lk. 21:32].
[vss. 21-28]. These verses, I believe, speak to the 3½ years (a time, times, and half a time) of Dan. 12:1,6-7) of the “great tribulation (spring of 67 A.D. to fall of 70 A.D.),i.e.,” the shattering of the power of the holy people.” They (the unbelieving Jews), not being disciples, and thus “in darkness” (not receiving this warning Jesus gave to disciples), would not escape this great tribulation, desolation, and destruction that was soon to come (See 1Thes. 5:1-6). Instead, they would have been trapped, mostly in the confines of the city of Jerusalem; an event which both Jesus [vs. 21] and Daniel [Dan. 12:1] describe as the time of the greatest distress and tribulation that there ever was, or would be! Just as a side note, I would think Jesus’ expression, “or ever would be,” would of necessity, suggest that there would be other times of distress and tribulation for people, but none of this magnitude. Therefore, the fact that other times of distress would come is, I believe, one more bit of evidence against any notion that Jesus was predicting the “end of the world” in vs. 3.
Their Master further says in vss. 23-24, that during this period many false christs and false prophets would come [See Acts 5:36-37; Ax. 20:29-30; 1Thes.1:6-9; 2Thes. 2:3-9], showing great signs and wonders, misleading many, except for the elect. In vs. 28, The Master implies that the Jewish nation (except for the remnant) had become nothing less than a dead, putrefying corpse, with the Roman armies portrayed here as vultures circling her dead carcass.
[vss. 29-30] Here, Jesus describes to His apostles what would immediately follow the “great tribulation.” He declares in vs. 29,
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Folks, one only has to look at the works of His Father in His judgment on Babylon in Isa. 13:9-10, and one will see the same prophetic, apocalyptic language used to describe our Father’s bringing down of the Babylonian authorities, the king (Nebuchadnezzar), his generals, and leaders of his kingdom; all brought down to destruction when Yahweh used the Medes [Isa. 13:17] to judge them in 539-536 B.C.
Consequently, the account of Jesus in Matt. 24:29-31 is a classic case of, “like Father, like Son!” Let us not forget that our Master did indeed promise that He was going to come “in the glory of His Father for judgment’ [Matt. 16:27]. And He did! Only in this case, it was judgment brought upon His own people; the Jewish hierarchy, high priest, chief priests, and all the Jewish rulers! I thinks it’s only fitting that God uses “the sun, moon, and stars” to symbolize such men in authority! If you would like to see the beginning of the usage of the heavenly bodies as symbolism for those in authority, then please see the account of Joseph’s dreams in Gen. 37:5-11.
Jesus Answers the “Sign” Question:
Now it is in verse 30 where our Lord answers the “sign” question that the apostles had asked for in verse 3, i.e., “the sign” they were to watch for that would show them His “coming/presence-Gr. parousia,” and the full end or consummation of the old covenant “age,” about which they had asked Him. Here their Master told them:
“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” [ASV & KJV].
I believe it should be carefully noted here that The Lord does not say they would see “the Son of Man” in heaven. No, He clearly says that they would see “the sign” of the Son of Man in heaven. That is, the sign that Jesus Christ was on the throne, having received the Kingdom from His Father, and that this is His judgment on the unbelieving Jews, the city of Jerusalem, the priesthood, the Jewish nation, and the removal of the temple! As we know, it was Jesus’ prophecy of destroying the temple that prompted the apostles’ questions in the first place. And so it seems only logical that they would ask Him what “the sign” of His coming (or presence), and the end of the age would be! J. Marcellus Kik writes regarding “the sign”:
“A sign was not to appear in the heavens, but the destruction of Jerusalem was to indicate the rule of the Son of man in heaven.”
Yes, this was indicative, not only of His being on the throne, but also of His coming in the glory of His Father. He came to Jerusalem “on the clouds” just as His Father came to Egypt “on the clouds” when He used Assyria to judge them in about 670 B.C. [See Isa. 19:1]! Surely, no one believes that the Father literally rode into Egypt on a physical cloud! Therefore, if Jesus came and destroyed the old temple in the glory of His Father, why then would we demand that He do so on a literal, physical cloud? We should remember that this prophetic, apocalyptic language is a highly-charged, symbolic speech!
[vs. 31] Since this “removal of the old temple” would bring a close to the old covenant age, our Master continues by telling what would then happen regarding “the righteous” Jews at His coming/presence. He says,
“And He (Son of Man-jg) will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
Upon reading, closely, Matt. 13:24-30 and Matt. 13:36-43, one learns that this is exactly what our Lord prophesied would happen in His parable of “the tares of the field!” He said in Matt. 13:39-4
3, that at His “coming” at the end of the age, He would send His angels to reap the field and gather the tares, bundle them up and burn them, and then “the righteous would shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” See also how perfectly this comports with Daniel 12:2-3. All was to take place “at the end of the age,” i.e., the old covenant age (See also Dan. 12:13).
Jesus Answers the “When” Question:
[vss. 32-35] It is here, where we find the answer to the apostles’ question as to “when” their Master would come. First, He begins by saying in vs. 33, that when they would see all the things He had just prophesied in vss. 28-30, i.e, the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jewish nation, and the temple, then “know that the Son of Man is near, right at the door.” Then He declares in vs. 34,
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
But of That Day and Hour No One Knows:
Good folks, at this point, I would like to say a word about those who dichotomize this 24th chapter of Matthew into “two” comings of Jesus. As we stated at the outset, some disciples believe as I once did; that vss. 1-35 all pertain to Jesus’ “coming/presence” in the destruction of Jerusalem, but then vs. 36-51, plus chapter 25, all pertain to a “coming” that is yet in our future. As we also stated, it is this little verse [vs. 36] that is the pivotal verse in that understanding. At this time, I would like for you to join me as we examine that verse closely and see if it does in fact mean what I once thought it meant. Again, the verse reads:
“but of that day and hour no one knows; not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
Now it is argued by those disciples who see this verse as a pivotal verse where our Master ceases to prophesy His coming in judgment at the destruction of Jerusalem, and suddenly changes the subject and begins to prophesy about another “coming/presence.” They argue that His words above in vs. 36 indicate that the rest of the 24th chapter, along with all of chapter 25, are to be understood as another “coming/presence” of Jesus more than 2,000 years later, even though the apostles only asked about “one” coming/presence! But good folks, even though I once held this view as well, if you would be so kind, I would like to express what I feel I have since learned about this matter, and why I have changed my thinking on it. Then you can decide for yourself if you think it is consistent with our Father’s word.
First, I would ask you to please read vss. 4-35 again, very carefully. In doing so, I believe you will find in those verses, that nowhere does our Lord ever speak even one word as to the exact “day or hour” of His coming, or for “all those things” to take place. Please, this is most important! Moreover, nowhere does He ever speak of an “exact day or hour” when the Roman armies would come to execute His vengeance on Jerusalem, the Jewish nation, and the temple. He just simply does not do it! However, in vs. 34, He did give them the answer to their question as to “when” these things would come to pass. He very clearly and quite definitively exclaims,
“Truly I say to you, this generation (Gr. genea) will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Good folks, I really don’t see how our Master could have made it any more transparent than that! He plainly says that these things would all come to pass in that, then-present, 1st century generation, does He not? And then, as you can see, He proceeds to elaborate in vss. 37-51 and, on through chapter 25, stressing the “suddenness” of His coming. Moreover, He declares how the unbelieving Jews would be caught unawares, and destroyed, just as the ante-deluvians in Noah’s day.
Would you please consider with me just a few passages that stress the imminency of the coming/presence of the Lord Jesus in the 1st century? For example, in 1Thes.5:1-6 Paul first addresses the d
isciples at Thessalonica, and then declares the fate of the unbelievers at Christ’s coming/presence. He says,
“Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you (Thessalonian disciples-jg) have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying ’Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them (unbelievers-jg) suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape. But you (Thessanonian disciples-jg), brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of the night nor of darkness; so then let us (Paul and Thessalonian disciples-jg) not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober” [See also Mk.13:28, 30; Lk. 21:31-33; 2Pet. 3:10].
The Hebrews writer, in about 64 A.D, speaking of the nearness of their promised salvation as well as judgment on the temple, city, and Jewish nation declared this:
“Therefore, do not throw away your (1st century Jewish disciples-jg) confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay” [Heb. 10:35-37].
”So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of the many, shall appear a second time for salvation, without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” [Heb. 9:28]
In approximately 65 A.D, one of these very apostles questioning Jesus (the apostle Peter–Mk.13:3), declared this in 1Pet. 4:7 and 17:
“The end of all things is (at hand—lit. has come near); therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.
“For it is time for (the) judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with US (1st century disciples) first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
In about 64 A.D, even James, the Lord’s own brother declared,
You (1st century disciples), too, be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brethren against one another, that you (1st century disciples-jg) yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” [Jas. 5:8-9].
Paul, to the disciples in Rome, who were also eagerly awaiting the Lord and their salvation, said this:
“And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you (1st century disciples) to awaken from sleep, for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand” [Rom. 13:11-12].
”And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your (1st century disciples’) feet” Rom. 16:20].
Good folks, I must confess to you that after reading all the passages we just cited, I clearly see a stern warning to those disciples to whom the letters were written (1st century disciples), that the coming/presence of Jesus was indeed imminent. However, since the 1st century disciples were the recipients of these epistles of warning of the Lord’s imminent coming/presence, do you believe those disciples would have reasoned that those urgent warnings were not for them, but rather for a time 20 centuries in the future, just because the inspired writers didn’t give an “exact day or hour” for the Lord’s coming? Or we may consider this for just a moment: Suppose you and I had just picked up a bible today for the very first time, and read the above eight passages; Do you think it would even be conceivable that we would reach such an interpretation?
A Reasonable Explanation of Vs. 36:
Good folks, we have noted that in all of the first 35 verses of the Olivet Discourse, our Master nowhere gives His apostles an exact “day or hour” for His coming/presence and the full end of the age.” Personally, I would think that if He had in fact given them an exact day or hour, then what would be the need for Him to warn them in vs. 4 to not be misled by all the things they were going to see come to pass before they would see the sign of His presence/coming? Please read of these things in verses 5-28!
In those first 35 verses, even though Jesus did not give His apostles an exact “day or hour,” we did learn, however, that He did give them a general time-frame as to when it would be. Yes, He said in verse 34 that it would be “during that generation,” did He not? But dear ones, I really do feel that since our Lord never gave an exact day or hour, that it would be unreasonable for us to exegete the 35 verses as though He had. Apparently, it was this kind of reasoning that gave birth to the notion that Jesus totally changes the subject in verse 36, and then supposedly proceeds to give an answer to a question that the apostles never asked Him in the first place! And really, for Jesus to do such a thing, wouldn’t that totally confuse and/or mislead the apostles?
If I may, I would like to offer what I now understand Jesus to be telling the apostles in verses 34-36, and then I will cite a prophetic passage from the old covenant scriptures, which I believe sheds much light on this matter. I believe Jesus is telling them this (and I will paraphrase):
“Men, I want you to know that as far as an exact ’day or hour,’ on which you can expect all these things to come to pass; well, I cannot say, because no one knows; the angels of heaven don’t know; in fact, neither do I, the Son, know. Only the Father knows the exact day or hour.” But I can tell you this much: that it will be in this generation,” and also, here are some things that you can expect to take place before my coming!
Now I would like to visit that old covenant prophecy which I believe will help to clarify this for us. In Zech. 14:6-7, the prophet said regarding this very day in question… the day of the Lord:
“And it will come about in that day, that there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light.”
O how marvelous, and how invaluable are the beautiful truths from those often neglected pages of our Father’s word! Hebrew linguists tell us, regarding this prophecy, that the Hebrew word for “known” is a word which suggests that it is something “known only to The Lord” i.e., “known only to The Father” [See also Mk.13:32–NASB]. And so, good folks, in light of this fact as it relates to Matt. 24: 36, let us now ask ourselves a question: Wouldn’t this be totally consistent, and in perfect harmony with everything that Jesus has said all throughout this Olivet Discourse? Personally, I see absolute consistency, and not only consistency, but also “continuity” in His statement in v-36. However, I cannot see how there could be any consistency or continuity whatsoever, if our Master, in vs. 36, totally changes the subject from an event that would happen in just 40 years, to another “perceived” event that would not come to pass for another 2,000 years and counting! Please let us remember, it was because He could not give them an exact day or hour, was the very reason for His warning them to be “vigilant!” Yes, they were to be vigilant, simply because He was going to come “as a thief in the night.”
Another thing many disciples today tend to overlook, just as I did for many years, is the connection between what our Master says in the Olivet Discourse, and what the apostles passed on to all 1st century disciples of their generation. For example, please notice how the apostle Paul draws on these very words of Jesus in his epistle to the Thessalonian disciples. He wrote:
“Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But you, brethren (Thessalonian disciples-jg), are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief, for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of the night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober” (1Thes. 5:1-6) [See also Mk. 13:32-37; 2Pet. 3:10].
Finally, in closing, let me just say; I believe that the kingdom was given to Christ at His ascension [See Acts 2:32-36; 2Sam. 7:10-13; Dan. 7:13-14], as He began His reign “sitting at the right hand of His Father in the ‘midst’ of His enemies” (Psa.110:2; Matt.22:44; Mk.12:36; Lk.20:42; 1Cor.15:24-27; Heb.1:13). Subsequently, upon the Father making His enemies the footstool for His feet, He then reigned “over” all His enemies, with the defeat of “death” (sin-death-1 Cor. 15:25) being His last enemy to be destroyed, which He did at His coming at “the end of the old covenant age” at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. And I also believe that the fulfillment of the prophecies made by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, in which He predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple (with its fleshly priesthood), and the Jewish nation. I believe all these things were the manifestation (i.e. the sign) to all of Israel, of His “coming.” All of these things showed that He was the Messiah of Yahweh reigning in Heaven. This also answered the question by His apostles as to the time when that old covenant age would come to a full end (Matt. 24:3)!
It is my prayer that you will simply consider these things presented in this little thesis, to see if they are consistent with our Father’s word! And good folks, if you have stayed with me through this little study, then you have been most kind. May the Lord richly bless you with His grace and peace.
Yours in Him