Matthew 24 - Part 2
Matthew 24: part 2
The Persecution of Christians: 24:9
"Then they will deliver you to tribulation" (Matthew 24:9); "For they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues" (Mark 13:9). The word "synagogue" places the events in this context as finding their fulfillment when the synagogue had the authority to persecute Christians (Acts 9:1-2m14; 26:10-11; 2 Corinthians 11:24). In addition, other "time-limits" are also found in this section of Scripture: 1. The gospel being preached through the known world (24:14; Colossians 1:23). 2. The promise of Divine inspiration when on trial (Mark 13:11), a promise which was given to the Apostles (Matthew 10:2, 19-20). It is clear that the events in Matthew 24 would find their fulfillment during the lifetime of the Apostles (Matthew 10:19-22 compared with Mark 13:11-13). "You will be hated by all nations on account of My name" (Matthew 24:9; Acts 17:6; 28:22). The Roman writer Suetonius wrote, "Christians are a race of men holding a new and criminal superstition", and other writers of the time voiced the same contempt. "Many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another" (Matthew 24:10; Luke 21:16). During the persecution instituted by Nero, often Christians found themselves betrayed by family, friends, and other professed believers who were attempting to save their own lives."Many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many" (Matthew 24:11; Acts 20:29; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Peter 2:1; Galatians 3:1). "Most people’s love will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12; 2 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 10:25). "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world… and then the end will come". Contrary to Paul’s statements in Colossians 1:6,23, those of the Premillennial persuasion insist that this verse has never been fulfilled. They argue that when the gospel finally penetrates every pocket of the globe that Jesus will come. But verses 15-21 clearly teach that Jesus is speaking about a physical judgment that would fall upon Judea.
The Sign to Flee: 24:15-16
It cannot be emphasized enough that the "sign" in this chapter is a sign that will signal the need to flee from Jerusalem. Obviously, this section is not talking about the Second Coming of Christ, for a command directed to Christians to flee when Jesus comes again would be both impossible and unnatural (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
"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" (Matthew 24:15).
Points to Note: 1. No signs are given for the Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3), but this chapter has a sign which Christians would be able to see and which would give them ample warning. 2. The "abomination of desolation" means the "abomination that makes desolate" (Vine p. 300), and includes the ideas of "devastation, destruction and depopulation" (Arndt p. 30). Because the word "abomination" is at times connected with idolatry, many have thought that this refers to some sort of idol placed by the Roman military in the Temple area after they took the city. But by this time, it would have been too late for an escape. This expression should never have been a mystery, for the Bible gives us a very clear interpretation, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand" (Luke21:20). 3. The word "surrounded" is in the present tense, that is, "being surrounded", or in the process of starting to be surrounded. This sign had to be clear and obvious, for the lives of Christians were at stake. The expression describes the Roman Legions as they marched against Jerusalem, a pagan army which would completely devastate and depopulate the city. "When you see the Roman Legions appearing—get out!" 4. In A.D. 66, the Syrian Governor Cestius Gallus appeared with an army before the walls of Jerusalem, but withdrew. In the Spring of A.D. 68, Vespasian’s forces after reducing Perea, western Judea, and Idumea, were set to take Jerusalem, but withdrew after hearing that Nero had committed suicide. In A.D. 70, Titus besieged and destroyed the city. The Jews were so confident in the invincibility of Jerusalem that on the very eve of its siege, large numbers of Jewish pilgrims went up there as usual to celebrate the Passover feast. Once the siege began it was too late to flee. "Let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house" (Matthew 24:17). Most Jewish homes had stairs which led from the flat housetop (which was used as additional living space), down to the street level. But this statement doesn’t have any relevance in our culture and would be meaningless if this context were talking about the Second Coming. For what difference does it make if I am on the housetop or not when Jesus comes again? "And let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak" (24:18). All consideration for comfort must be abandoned. But why would one want to get their belongings or an overcoat, if this is talking about the Second Coming?"Pray that your flight may not be in the winter" (24:20). In winter during the rainy season, roads could be difficult or impassable, especially leading from Jerusalem. Food by the wayside would be scarce, daylight would be limited, and traveling and sleeping in the open country in winter would be miserable.
The Great Tribulation: 24:21
"For then" (Matthew 21:21); "For those days", that is the days just mentioned (Mark 13:19). It should be obvious that this verse is directly connected with the previous physical judgment coming upon Jerusalem and Judea. The Premillennialists claim that this "great tribulation" is a period of 3 ½ years directly prior to the Battle of Armageddon. Points to Note: 1. Tribulation upon whom? "For there will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people…and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles" (Luke 21:23-24).Jesus is specific, the tribulation is upon Jerusalem and its inhabitants, and not upon the entire world. 2. "Such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall" (Matthew 24:21). People have thought that this verse can only apply to an all-out-world-war at the end of time. First, the Bible doesn’t have Jesus coming during a time when the world is on the verge of nuclear annihilation (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). Secondly, the statement "nor ever shall", infers that life on this earth will continue after this tribulation, life which will include other tribulations. Please note that according to Luke 21:24, the world still continues after this "great tribulation", and not only do the nations still exist, but human cruelty and sin also still exist. Remember, this statement is discussing tribulation upon this city and its inhabitants, and not tribulation upon the entire human race. In view of what the inhabitants of Jerusalem suffered in A.D. 70, this expression isn’t too strong. Before the Romans entered the city, the people on the inside had been fighting among themselves. Famine gripped the city, and the Romans tortured and crucified 500 Jews on a daily basis. Josephus estimates that 1,100,000 people died in Jerusalem alone and another 97,000 were sold into slavery. He then writes, "I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly…that neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world" (p. 565). 3. People love to speculate about the technology and weapons that will be supposedly used at some end of the world battle. But note the weapons mentioned in this chapter, "They will fall by the edge of the sword" (Luke 21:24). 4. "For the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short" (Matthew 24:22). These verses clearly have Christians suffering and on the earth during this "great tribulation". But according to most Premillennialists (those who claim that these verses are talking about the Second Coming), all Christians have been removed from the earth before this event. If the siege of Jerusalem had lasted for years, the war with Rome would have spread throughout Palestine and even the Christians would have suffered many deaths. But due to Jewish inexperience, neglected preparations, and a lot of fighting among themselves, the city fell within a short period of time.
"Then" (Matthew 24:23). Here is another connecting link. "Then", that is, during the siege, during this time of tribulation, the "then" of this verse cannot refer to events 2000 years or so after the events of the previous verse! "Behold here is the Christ…do not believe him. For false Christ’s and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect". 1. Please note that when Jesus comes again, there won’t be any doubt concerning whether He is here or not (2 Thessalonians 1:7). 2. Josephus records various false prophets existing in Jerusalem during this time. In fact, the leaders of various factions within the city enlisted the services of false prophets to keep the people from deserting to the Romans. The false prophets told the people that God would deliver them. "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather" (Matthew 24:28). The corpse or carcass in the context is the city of Jerusalem, which was morally and spiritually dead (Matthew 23:38). "Where there is a dead body the vultures will flock together", means in effect, "Where there is a situation ripe for judgment, there the judgment will fall". What Jesus is saying is that false Messiah’s would arise during this period of distress, for the express purpose of giving the people false hope. "Be not deceived", the only deliverance for Jerusalem was to be a deliverance to destruction.
"But Immediately After" (24:29)
"But immediately after the tribulation of those days" (Matthew 24:29). The word "immediately" connects these verses with the previous physical and local judgment, we cannot add 2000 plus years between 24:28 and 24:29. "The sun will be darkened": In the Old Testament the exact same language was used when God came in judgment upon various cities and nations (Isaiah 13:1,10,13,19; 34:4-5; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Ezekiel 34:7-8).
"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky" (Matthew 24:30). Notice what the text does not say. It does not say, "The Son of Man in heaven, or a sign in heaven". Rather, it is a sign of the Son of Man in heaven, that is, proof that Jesus is ruling in heaven. The judgment that came upon Jerusalem, was a definite sign that Jesus was reigning as King. Points to Note: 1. "Then", all these verses are inherently connected together to the same time period. 2. No sign will foretell the Second Coming (2 Peter 3:10). 3. "They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky": Again, the Old Testament had used the same language in reference to when God came in judgments upon various cities and nations (Isaiah 19:1). Jesus had made it clear to His contemporaries, that they would experience His wrath as Judge (Matthew 26:64).
"Even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door" (Matthew 24:33). The expression, "all these things" links the whole context to a single event. The statement "He is nigh" tells us that this section is obviously not talking about the Second Coming. Just suppose for a moment that all the events, especially those in verses 29-31 are happening literally, and this is the return of Christ. So Jesus would be saying, "When you see the stars falling out of the sky, the sun extinguished, the universe collapsing, and Jesus Himself riding on the clouds with angels sweeping Christians off the earth, then you will know the Second Coming is nigh? If this was the Second Coming, Jesus wouldn’t be "nigh", rather He would be here! Matthew 24 is speaking about a judgment in which God came near.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/ (503) 644-9017