“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
– Matthew 24:35
Matthew 24 and 25 make up the final of the five discourses in Matthew’s gospel. This final discourse can be one of the more difficult discourses to comprehend because Jesus is not speaking in parables, nor is he giving straight teaching. Instead, Jesus is sharing prophecy with his disciples about the end times. You may hear someone refer to things about the end times as “eschatology”. Eschatology is the study of the last things. In these two chapters, Jesus tells his disciples about what will happen in the end times. While some of these prophecies may seem vague, they can often be better understood when compared with other prophecies.
Jesus’ disciples marveled at the buildings of the temple as they left. Jesus prophesies to them about what will happen to the temple. Jesus’ prophecy about the stones of the temple being thrown down came partly true in AD 70 when the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. However, because Jesus is talking about the end times, many people suggest that such destruction will happen again in the future. speaks of such a day when nations will come against Jerusalem and plunder it.
Jesus’ disciples ask a very important question of their teacher: when would this all happen? Obviously, we know that the time and day of such events is unknown and will not be revealed, but the disciples desired to know the signs of its coming.
Jesus gives them signs to watch for: others claiming to be the Christ, wars and rumors of wars, nation rising up against other nations, famines, and earthquakes. These events should not fear the believer because we know that Christ is coming soon! Jesus describes these as the “birth pains” of the end times. These are just the beginning signs of something more. records what that day will be like.
Jesus warns the disciples of what will come. Believers will experience persecution and even death for their faith in Jesus Christ. Many believers will turn away from Christ because of the persecution, or they will be led astray by false prophets. The love that these believers once had will grow cold. Jesus encourages his disciples to endure until the end. When troubled times come, we must rely on Christ alone and his power to see us through. We have an eternal perspective and we know the outcome – Christ wins. Jesus says that the gospel will be preached to the whole world before the end times come, which is the fulfillment of the Great Commission given in .
In , Jesus talks about what is called “the abomination that causes desolation.” This was a prophecy of Daniel (). This event was partially fulfilled in 168 BC when Antiochus Epiphanes built and altar to Zeus in the temple; however, there are still elements of this prophecy which have not yet been fulfilled. These will take place in the end times. reveals what will happen in the last days – the anti-christ will come to the rebuilt temple and will seat himself and proclaim himself to be God. This day will be dreadful and cause great distress.
Jesus says that no human being would be saved if this dreadful day would not be cut short. Jesus tells his disciples that false messiahs and false prophets will come to deceive people. Jesus, however, has given them a way to tell when he comes back. In , he says that it will be evident when he returns because it will be like lightning lighting up the whole sky around the world. No one will be confused about it on that day.
Jesus describes the cataclysmic end to all these distresses: the sun will be darkened, the moon will not shine, the stars will fall, and the heavens will be shaken. The ultimate sign of the Lord’s return is the Lord himself descending from heaven in great glory. Many will mourn at that time because of the impending judgment that follows his return. They realize their fate and mourn their judgment. Those who will be gathered are the believers of all generations gathered unto him.
Jesus’ lesson from the fig tree is helpful for understanding what he has just said. Just like a person can tell the seasons based on a plant’s growing process, so can we tell the nearness of the end times based on the signs Jesus has given us. This, however, should not lead us into unguided speculation about when the end times will take place. Only God know that.
has a variety of interpretations. Jesus could not have meant that this would all occur in the disciples’ lifetime (the entire world has not been evangelized to this day). Jesus’ statement most likely means that all these things would occur within the lifetime of one generation, not over hundreds or thousands of years. Though heaven and earth will pass away by this destruction, Jesus’ words remain the same and will never pass away.
Despite the disciples wishing to know when such things will occur, Jesus tells them that only the Father knows and that they should keep watch for the time.
It is important that only the Father knows the time of Jesus’ return. If the disciples or anyone else knew when Christ would return, many would fall into sin and would seek repentance when they knew Christ would be coming back again. Noah is a great example of what it will be like. Noah was prepared for the flood, but others mocked him and went about their routine business. Though we must always be prepared, we must not become obsolete in our daily lives. Jesus describes people doing routine daily tasks when one was taken and the other left. We must continue with routine life as we anticipate Christ’s return.
We must keep watch for the Lord’s return even though we do not know when it will happen. We should eagerly look forward to the time when Christ will return and evil and suffering will cease. Since we do not know when Christ will return, our character should be prepared for him to return at any minute. Jesus gives a short parable about two servants who were put in charge while the master is gone. This parable should encourage us to live rightly at all times as we wait for Christ’s return.