1 Thessalonians: A Look Back at Matthew 24, Part 2

1-thessaloniansNow that we’ve considered some of the history and significance of the Fall of Jerusalem, let’s turn to the text of the chapter —

(Mat 24:1-2 NIV) Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Now, this truly happened. When Rome defeated the Jews in Jerusalem, they tore the buildings to the ground and destroyed the orchards and gardens. They utterly laid waste to the city — as a lesson to all who would rebel against Rome.

(Mat 24:3 NIV) As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

The disciples asked two questions — when will Jerusalem be destroyed and how will know that the end of the age has dawned.

4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ [Messiah],’  and will deceive many.

In fact, many men came along after Jesus claiming to be the Messiah (quotes are from padfield.com).

Josephus claimed that, “there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place.” (The Wars Of The Jews, 2:3:5).

Josephus also wrote: “Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their efforts with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words.” (The Antiquities Of The Jews, 20:5:1).

Jesus further prophesied —

6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.

In fact, many insurrections and wars took place. And earthquakes were common in the those days.

Tacitus, a Roman historian, said of this period: “The history on which I am entering is that of a period rich in disasters, terrible with battles, torn by civil struggles, horrible even in peace. Four emperors fell by the sword; there were three civil wars, more foreign wars, and often both at the same time.” (The Histories, 1:2).

But, Jesus says, these are not signs of the Fall.

8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

Moreover, there will come times of persecution of the church, but this does not indicate the Fall is near either.

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations [or “the Gentiles”], and then the end will come.

“End” does not mean the end of time, but the end of God’s patience with Israel.

15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel — let the reader understand — 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

The “abomination of desolation” is from Daniel 9:27 —

(Dan 9:27 NIV) He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

(Dan 12:11 NIV) “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.

Antiochus Epiphanes, a Seleucid king who sought to impose Hellenism on the Jews in 168 BC, had idolatrous prostitutes placed in the temple and flesh of a pig burned on the altar. This led to the Maccabean revolt, which overthrew Seleucid rules and gave Judea a few years of independence before Rome conquered the city.

Jesus was likely referring to the 3 1/2-year period, ending with the Fall, while, because of the rebellion, no sacrifices were offered in the temple. Of course, many other things happened that profaned the temple, with Roman armies killing and raping on temple grounds and then destroying the temple — but the end of the sacrifices seems to be the warning Jesus was referring to.

And, in fact, when the Christians saw the sacrificial system end (about halfway through the siege) and Roman armies approach, they fled the city.

I have to note that the ensign of the armies was an eagle, and the solders offered sacrifices to the banners showing the eagles, in preparation for battle. This harkens back to —

(Deu 28:49) The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young.

Jesus then warns that there will be no time to wait, as once the siege is in full force, anyone leaving the city will be killed.

17 Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. 22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

Jesus again warns against false signs and portents —

23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.

26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.

Rather than hiding in the desert or a monastery, Jesus’ coming will be obvious — as easy to see as lightning.

27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

“Vultures” translates aetos, which can mean vulture or eagle. Of course, eagles aren’t carrion eaters, but the Roman army carried an eagle ensign.

28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

Jesus then speaks in apocalyptic language, which has led many to figure he is speaking of the end of time —

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

This sort of language was commonly used by Old Testament prophets to refer to the fall of earthly nations —

(Isa 13:10 NIV) The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. (Babylon 13:1)

(Isa 34:4 NIV) All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. (Edom 34:5)

(Amos 8:9 NIV) “In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. (Samaria 8:14)

(Ezek 32:7-8 NIV) When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. 8 All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Egypt 32:2)

Therefore, there is simply no reason to imagine that Jesus is predicting that the End of Time will immediately follow the fall of Jerusalem. His language is the language used of the fall of a human nation — in this case, Judea.

30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Jesus’ reference is primarily to Daniel —

(Dan 7:13-14) “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. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

In prophecy, God’s “coming” does not normally refer to God’s actual presence. Rather, it refers to his victory —

(Isa 19:1 NIV) An oracle concerning Egypt: See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.

(Isa 26:21 NIV) See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed upon her; she will conceal her slain no longer. (Moab 25:10)

(Isa 63:1-4 NIV) Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.” 2 Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress? 3 “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing. 4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come.

(Micah 1:3 NIV) Look! The LORD is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down and treads the high places of the earth. (Samaria 1:6)

Gathering of the elect in v. 31 is a reference back to Deuteronomy —

(Deu 30:2-3) and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.

Hence, this is a promise of God’s blessings on the elect — the church — despite his awful vengeance on Israel.

32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Plainly, to this point Jesus is speaking of the Fall of Jerusalem. After all, he says that many of his hearers would be around to see it.

In fact, it’s currently thought that Jesus was crucified in 30 AD (not 33, the cornerstones in the church buildings notwithstanding). This puts the two events 40 years apart — or one generation in Biblical terms.

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Now that we’ve learned about the new heaven and new earth, we’re hardly surprised to learn that Jesus’ words will survive the end of space-time as we know it. But why did he say this?

I think his point is that the events he is describing with his words will have cosmic ramifications — consequences that will outlive the Creation itself. The Fall of Jerusalem announced God’s end of the Law of the Moses and the necessity of faith in Jesus — and so shows who will be among the elect and who will not.

Years ago, I spoke with a Jewish friend about Christianity vs. Judaism. I asked him what the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple means if not God’s unhappiness with Israel? He was silent.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to 1 Thessalonians: A Look Back at Matthew 24, Part 2

  1. John F says:

    Even realizing that Josephus was writing for the Romans, his descriptions of the events leading to the fall of Jerusalem and the temple make for absorbing reading: Josephus seems to view the destruction as fulfillment of divine judgment (Josephus does not write from a Christian, but Jewish viewpoint) (§120 [2.120]- Wars: “I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he (Cestius) was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.”

    Any serious student of the NT would be well rewarded to read Josephus

  2. Jim H says:

    I agree with Jay’s posit, which, as I understand it, is the partial Preterist view.

  3. Dwight says:

    Jospehus was a Hellenistic Jew and wrote that way. Much of his writings were based upon what he had heard from others and not from first hand witnessing. Now he does collect the sense of what was going on, but he is off many times as well. He even retells scripture from a third party perspective. The Temple was never meant to be an infinite structure and this was shown when the Babylonians sacked it and destroyed it. Then it was rebuilt. Then it was desecrated by Pompey, when he entered the Holy of Holies. Then Herod renovated it. Then it was finally destroyed in AD 70.
    But during Jesus and the apostles time the worship and place of God was shifted from the Jerusalem Temple to man, who was the temple, a priest and a living sacrifice.

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    Will heaven and earth really pass away as Jesus said, or will one just be refined by fire and the other continue to pass away?

  5. Dwight says:

    Yes Larry, This is a point that I do not understand. We assume earth is well, earth and if so then heaven must be heaven. Now there are two heavens…one over the sky and one where God dwells. If the earth is going to cleansed, then heaven will be as well. So the questions are: Which heaven is being cleansed? and why does either heaven need to be cleansed at all? After all when God flooded the earth he just cleansed the earth.
    If God has many rooms for us in heaven, will there be a remodeling?
    Why are there rooms up in the spiritual heaven if we are going to be living on the material earth?
    Why are we being asked to live spiritually as God is spirit, if we are going to be remade fleshly again. While the Jews were looking for a physical kingdom, why did Jesus state that the kingdom already existed outside of the earth? If “not of this earth” means not of this time, then he was contradicting himself.

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