The first two verses of this chapter refer to the destruction of the temple by the Romans, and this took place within forty years in AD 70.
Many commentators put "the end of the age" (24:3) at the time of a second coming of Christ which has not yet occurred. They assume that this second coming will be preceded by a tribulation (24:4-22), it will take place suddenly (24:27), and it will be characterized by a period of "wars and rumors of wars" (24:6), followed by portents in the heavens (24:29), including a visible sign of the Son of Man (24:30). In that interpretative model we are still in the generation of Jesus' hearers (24:34). A modified version of this model grants that some the events, such as the wars and time of tribulation refer to that time, but they will also precede the end times which we are now experiencing.
Instead of this model of a long delayed second coming, the comments that follow are based on taking Jesus' words in Matthew 24 as referring to the period of terrible tribulation that preceded his coming to destroy the temple in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (24:4-22).
Jesus had intervened or come as Lord again and again in the Old Testament period. The first coming of the Lord was in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8), and then to confuse the builders of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:5-8). He came on several occasions to Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 15:1; 17:1; 18:1, 7; 22:1,2), and to Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 26:2, 24; 32:24, 30) He also came to give Sarah a child in her old age (Genesis 21:1), and to call Moses to lead his people out of Egypt (Exodus 3:4, 6; 6:2, 6-8; 12:51; 15:6).
He also came to topple cities and nations. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-21; 19:24, 29), and came to judge Egypt (Exodus 7:5, 25; 8:24, 31; 11:7; 12:13; 14:13; 15:6-12), and intervened in other nations (Deuteronomy 2:19, 21, 22; 3:3). Evidently the eternal Son of God came to intervene from the earliest days of the Jewish people.
That is why in the prophets the expression "Day of the Lord" refers to a coming or intervention of the Lord to upset or change the normal course of history (e.g. Isaiah 11:11; 13:6, 9; 22:5, 12; 24:21; 25:9; 26:21; 27:12; 28:5; 34:8; Jeremiah 30:8; 31:31; 46:10; Amos 5:18, 20; Joel 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14-15).
So now two or three days before his crucifixion the Messiah tells his disciples that when they see the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in their own lifetime (23:36; 24:34), it will be a sign of his coming (24:30). That will prove to them that the Messiah was the Lord of all the "Day of the Lord" advents in the Old Testament, and he will continue his reign as he keeps making his advents again and again throughout history among all nations.
Isaiah had used the portents of the sun and moon being darkened, the stars falling and the powers of the heavens as a metaphorical description of the day of the Lord in the fall of Babylon (Isaiah 13:6-13). Joel had used the same portents as metaphorical of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (Joel 2:10-11, 30-32; 3:15-16). Now Jesus uses these same portents (24:29) as metaphorical of the equally cataclysmic fall of Jerusalem in that generation (24:14, 34).
It is true there will be final advent when he comes to terminate this world system, and replaces it with "a new heaven and new earth" (Revelation 21:1; but the same expression is used regarding Jerusalem in Isaiah 65:17; 66:22-23).
The Day of the Lord or advent referred to in this chapter including the fall of Jerusalem (24:14, 27, 30, 33-34, 44, 46, 50) and the world-wide establishment of gentile churches (24:14, 31) will be decisive proof for the Jewish people that the Jesus who was crucified is now the reigning Messiah (already spoken of by Peter in Acts 2:36).
Christians will also know from his coming in AD 70 that our reigning Messiah will step in from time to time in every nation throughout all future history to topple corrupt and oppressive regimes. We have sufficient evidence of such interventions in our twentieth century. He will also intervene when necessary in churches that are taken over by false teaching and so fail to perform their function (see his coming in Revelation 2:5, 16; 3:3, 11).
24:1 After a day of teaching in the temple courts, the disciples are more interested in getting Jesus to notice the architecture and decorations of the building (compare Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5). This can occur when God is forgotten, and people only care about the beauty and history of a cathedral.
24:2 Jesus tells them the whole edifice will be razed to the ground, as occurred in their lifetime in AD 70.
24:3 Having left the temple area, and crossed the valley of Kidron to the slopes of the Mount of Olives, the disciples want to know when exactly this will take place, and what will be sign of the end.
24:4-7 Instead of giving them a time Jesus begins by telling them that many will come claiming to be the Messiah (see 24:23-26). There will also be a period wars, famines, and earthquakes. Prophetic interpreters in the past two hundred years have often taken this or that event as proof we are in the last days before the second coming. But the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus, who lived through the wars that culminated in the fall of Jerusalem, describes exactly these events in his Concerning the Jewish War.
24:8 The imagery of a woman's agonizing birth pangs before a child is born is often used to describe a period of tribulation before a "Day of the Lord" (Psalm 48:6; Isaiah 13:6-8; Jeremiah 6:24; 22:23; Micah 4:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
24:9-12 Torture, death, betrayal, false prophecy (24:4-5) will characterize this period of tribulation (24:4-8).
24:13 Here Jesus is not speaking of eternal salvation but of endurance till the end of this terrible period (10:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; Hebrews 10:36-39). Throughout church history, when circumstances have been similarly agonizing, Christians have been rewarded with the direct intervention of the Messiah to terminate an evil age and open up new opportunities of freedom and service.
24:14 Jesus speaks of two different periods of Messianic goodnewsing (24:14 and 31). In this verse we have the proclamation, mainly by Jewish apostles and converts before the fall of Jerusalem. During this time the first gentile (non-Jewish) churches are established and begin to grow over the known world (Acts 10:44-45; 14:21-23; 15:14, 23; Romans 15:18-20; Colossians 1:6).
Here the "end" is not the end of the world but the fall of Jerusalem. After the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 the work of goodnewsing will be by people of all nations as the church spreads to "the four winds" (see 24:31).
24:15-20 We do not know what was the "desolating sacrilege" (the term was used in Daniel 12:11) that gave the Christians in the area of Judea the signal to leave just before the ring of Roman legions closed around the city (see 24:28). The fact that the Christians did escape in great haste according to Jesus' warning is recorded in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History 3:5).
24:21-22 The suffering by the end of the three year siege, including mothers eating their own children, was unbearably awful. And if the Christians in the area had not obeyed Jesus' words not one of them would have survived.
24:23-26 Again Jesus warns the disciples of false messiahs and prophets who will claim he is here or there (as in 24:4-5, 11; 1 John 4:1).
24:27 The coming of the Messiah to terminate the city and its religious establishment will be some time in that generation (24:34) but the actual event will be very sudden (as in 24:33, 38, 43).
24:28 Vultures gather when an animal is about to die. Here they are probably a reference to the Romans legions which had eagles on their battle standards. When these began to encircle the city Christians would know the end was near (as in 24:15).
24:29 Jesus uses an exact quote from Isaiah's description of the "Day of the Lord" in the fall of Babylon seven hundred years before (Isaiah 13:6-13). The stars falling are metaphorical of the great and mighty who would be toppled. The sun refers to the impressive glory of the city now being darkened. The moon is the reflected light from the city among Jews. And the powers of heaven being shaken is metaphorical of a cataclysmic upsetting of their society.
The same imagery was used to describe a "Day of the Lord" in the previous fall of Jerusalem predicted by the prophet Joel (Joel 2:30-31; 3:15-16). In the case of Babylon it was a final end, and that city is still a ruin to this day in present-day Iraq. The Jerusalem that was destroyed by the Babylonians has been destroyed and rebuilt again and again. But the temple of Jerusalem toppled by the Romans was never rebuilt. The temple area is occupied by a mosque, and it is at the heart of the enmity between Arabs and Jews which goes back 3,700 years to the two sons of Abraham.
24:30 A comparison with Mark's Gospel (Mark 13:26) shows that Matthew has preceded the words "They will see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26) with Jesus' explanation: "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heaven." The sign and proof that Jesus is indeed the reigning Messiah will be his direct intervention in the toppling of the temple and the subsequent establishing of temples of the Holy Spirit in all nations.
24:31 Before the fall of Jerusalem there had been the planting of churches in the Roman world through Paul and other apostles (see 24:14). Now God's apostolic preachers (In Greek, angelos means "messenger") will begin fanning out all over the world.
During the next two centuries there would be a series of terrible persecutions of Christians in the Roman empire around the Mediterranean. But during that time churches grew all over the Arab world to the east, into Persia (present day Iran), India, and as far as China. They would also grow across the barbarian lands of northern Europe, including the first Celtic churches in Britain.
24:32-33 Just as the first leaves on a fig tree announce the summer, so the events described in 24:4-15 will announce the beginning of the end. Once the disciples have left Jerusalem for the mountains (24:15-16) the terrible siege will begin (24:21-22). During that time false Messiahs will abound (24:23-26), but the actual end of the city will be very sudden (24:27).
24:34 All this will take place during the lifetime of Jesus' hearers (24:1; as in 23:36). Jesus has therefore answered exactly the three questions the disciples had asked: "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age (24:3)?"
24:35 The expression is similar to "The grass withers the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever" (Isaiah 40:8). It is used (as in 1 Peter 1:24-25) to remind us that in our world everything changes, and the only certainty is what God tells us about his purposes. Jesus is therefore declaring that the answer he has given is as certain as the very words of God.
24:36-39 It would be impossible to know the precise day and hour, but the Messiah's coming to topple the city of Jerusalem and its religious establishment is as certain, as sudden, and as unexpected for those who ignored the warning as the flood that Noah prepared for.
The advent of the Messiah is referred to ten times in this chapter (24:14, 27, 30, 33, 37, 39, 42, 44, 46, 50; and also in 25:6-10, 19, 31; see Hebrews 10:36-39). Many Christians assume that the second coming will be the end of the world, but the advent in this case is clearly followed by other events (see 24:30, 31, 39, 40, 43, 45, 47; as in 25:10, 21-23; see comments on 25:31-34).
Others think (based on 24:13) that the second coming will be after the world has been evangelized. But Jesus announced a first proclamation before the fall of Jerusalem (24:13) and an in-gathering from all over the world after his advent (24:31).
Another common pre-millennial view is that the second coming will be when Jesus comes to rapture or take away the true believers, and all others will be left behind to face the tribulation that will follow.
The model used in this commentary pictures the Messiah as coming to topple Jerusalem and its temple, and this is followed by the world-wide spread of the Church. And throughout history the Messiah will intervene in days of the Lord among the nations, and also to deal with the churches (as in Revelation 2 and 3).
24:40-41 Earlier in this chapter there is reference to those on the flat roof of a house and those out in a field (24:17-18) when Jerusalem is about to be surrounded. As in those verses, Jesus is warning of the urgent need to recognize the imminent end of Jerusalem and escape its destruction.
These two verses are often used as evidence of a rapture of true believers at a second coming, which is still expected by students of prophecy in our day after twenty centuries. The idea of a rapture to come and take away the true believers is based on one text in one of Paul's letters (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). He was trying to comfort Christians who would still be alive when the Messiah came in their generation (1 Thessalonians 4:15; compare Matthew 24:30 and 34). They were mourning for brothers and sisters who had died before AD 70. So it is hard to see how a rapture which would be delayed for two thousand years could encourage (1 Thessalonians 4:18) Christians facing the imminent destruction of Jerusalem.
In the next chapter of that epistle Paul uses the same imagery of a day of the Lord, a thief, labor pains, wakefulness, and imminent wrath as in Jesus' words concerning the fall of Jerusalem (24:8, 27, 42, 43, 48-49, 50-51; compare 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9). Paul must have had the same picture of the Messiah's coming as the writer of Matthew's Gospel. And there is no hint of a rapture anywhere in the Gospels.
24:42 Jesus makes clear that his coming is not in the far distant future but in that very generation (23:36; 24:24).
24:43-44 Similarly the parable of the thief suggests the note of wakefulness and readiness for the signs of the Messiah's advent in their generation. The same imagery of the Lord's advent like a thief in the night is also used of the final end of our world by fire (2 Peter 3:10-13). Since the Messiah made his advent in the fall of Jerusalem, and he will make a final advent to terminate our world system, we should be ready for him to make his advent interventions in every Day of the Lord in every nation throughout history. In revolutionary and cataclysmic situation Christians should expect to be warned (Amos 3:6-8) and prepare themselves by the Holy Spirit (see comment on 25:4) for Messianic service.
24:45-47 Being ready for the advent of the Messiah in the destruction of Jerusalem does not mean passive inactivity. And faithfulness in the Lord's service will result in greater responsibility (as in 25:21, 23). 24:48-50 Those who behave abominably, on the assumption that the Messiah's intervention will be delayed, are in very grave danger (see Romans 13:11-14; Hebrews 10:35-39; James 5:8-9; 2 Peter 3:3).
24:51 Christians who turn aside to behave abominably will suffer the same wrath consequences as the hypocrites (see comment on 23:29-33). The weeping and gnashing of teeth as a result of being trashed on the Gehenna rubbish dump is the same as in the parable of the weeds (13:42).
That parable suggests that the result of this kind of Day of the Lord purging is so that "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (13:43). Again and again throughout church history in every nation there are examples of the Lord's servants having new responsibilities and opportunities as a result of a cataclysmic end of the previous regime (as in 24:47; 25:21, 23).