First Sunday of Advent
We should read the whole of chapter 24 of Matthew instead of cutting it in pieces. It follows the Seven Woes—the criticism of the Teachers and Pharisees—and precedes the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Their messages are interrelated.
The message of chapter 24 is that the end of times will come, and no one except God knows when.
Anyone who studies the Bible should always read what comes before and what comes after a passage. That is especially true for today’s assigned reading in Matthew. Chapter 24 is a whole. And what a chapter it is.
Chapter 23 opened with these words of Jesus. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for do not practice what they preach.” NIV I like Clarence Jordan’s version. “The theologians and the preachers plant their feet in the Bible; therefore, listen to all they tell you and live by it. But don’t you act like them, because they are forever talking and never doing.” Cotton Patch Jesus then continued in that vein as he attacked the teachers and Pharisees.
Next, he turned to the physical Temple in 24. His answer to the disciples was, “I tell you every stone will be thrown down till there is not a single one left standing upon another.” Phillips When Matthew wrote, likely around 60 AD, neither Matthew nor his readers knew just how soon that prophecy would be fulfilled. In 70, the Romans pushed every stone of the Temple off the Temple platform. (Many scholars believe Matthew wrote his Gospel after 70.)
When the disciples pushed him about the time, Jesus gave them, and us, the best piece of advice about the end times. “Be careful that no one misleads you,” Phillips
Jesus went on to say, And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. ESV
This warning from Jesus should caution us as we read through verse 35. He paints a dark picture, but we have seen all that he spoke come true. The lone exception is at verse 15. “But be ready to run for it when you see the monster of desecration set up in the Temple sanctuary. The prophet Daniel described this. If you’ve read Daniel, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’re living in Judea at the time, run for the hills.” MSG But, even this does not signal the end times. “If anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Christ,’ or ‘Over here,’ do not believe it; for false Christs and false prophets will arise and provide great signs and portents, enough to deceive even the elect, if that were possible. Look, I have given you warning.” NJB
The single most important eschatological statement in the whole Bible is verse 36-37. But about that actual day and time no one knows—not even the angels of Heaven, nor the Son, only the Father. For just as life went on in the days of Noah so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. Phillips
This statement serves as a turning point in Jesus’ talking about the end. Up to 36, Jesus seems to be mixing near and distant events. After this passage, Jesus turns to the true end of time. Even so, he cannot give us the last key event because he does not know what it is. Only God knows.
Now, let’s back up to verse 34-35. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ESV
C.S. Lewis wrote, It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. No one alive when Jesus spoke those words is still alive today. So, did Jesus give us a false prophecy? Or did he have no clue what he was talking about?
Don’t knee-jerk your Christian reaction. A non-believer will jump all over this verse. We need to understand what Jesus was talking about to respond to attacks.
The Greek word is genea, which refers to a short period of 20 to 40 years. But if that is what Jesus meant, then he was wrong. Chrysostom, writing about 390 AD, had this to say about the meaning. What does he refer to when he says “this generation”? He is speaking not of the generation then living but of the age of believers. For his is prone to distinguish a generation not by times only but also by the mode of their religious service and practice, as when he says, “Such is the generation of those that seek him.” ACCS Jesus included all his followers in all time.
Chrysostom went on. He said “all these things will take place,” and yet “the gospel will be preached.” These two are not inconsistent. The generation of the faithful shall remain through all things that will surely come to pass. The faithful will not be cut off by any of the things that have been mentioned. ACCS
Back in verses 24:13-14, the Greek word used for end is telos, which is a general term for completing, ending, finishing, etc. The semi-technical word eschatos means the end of time, but that was not used here.
In 24:30, Jesus seems to be thinking of Daniel 7:13. In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. NIV
Mark 14:61-62 has Jesus quoting even more of Daniel. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” NIV
In this latter portion of Matthew 25, starting at verse 29, Jesus is talking about taking his place on the throne beside his Father. That is very different from what Jesus described in the preceding verses. From our standpoint, we are living in the generation Jesus described in the verses leading up to 29. Starting with verse 36, Jesus gives us some teaching about the actual Parousia.
And, as Jesus said, no one knows when it will come.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here and here.
Be righteous and do good.