“his disciples came to him to draw his attention to the buildings of the temple.” To fully understand what is happening in Matthew 24:1-2, we must connect them with Jesus’ teaching in the Temple in Matthew 21-23. In fact, Matthew 24:1-2 are perhaps easier to understand if they are thought of as the last two verses in Matthew 23 rather than the first two verses in Matthew 24.
In Matthew chapter 21 Jesus enters the Temple and disrupts the crooked buying and selling, saying that the leaders have made God’s house into a den of thieves (Matt. 21:12-17). The next day Jesus has a pointed discourse with the leaders (Matt. 21:23-27) and speaks a number of parables about them (Matt. 21:28-46; 22:1-14). The leaders, in return, try to trap Jesus with questions about taxes, the resurrection, and the Law (Matt. 22:15-40). Jesus asked them a question they could not answer (Matt. 22:41-46), then spoke to the crowd about the leaders (Matt. 23:1-12) and pronounced woes over the leaders themselves (Matt. 23:13-36). Then Jesus made what must have been a very disturbing statement to his disciples and others who were around him: “Look!, your house is left to you desolate. For I say to you, you will absolutely not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt. 23:38-39).
After hearing that statement by Jesus, we can see why the disciples wanted to draw Jesus’ attention to the magnificent buildings of the Temple, which were also likely filled with excited worshipers who were there for Passover. To the disciples it certainly did not look like the House of Yahweh was desolate. In fact, since many of the disciples were from Galilee and did not see the Temple very often, they themselves were likely excited and proud of this wonderful national treasure. So it would be natural for them to try to draw Jesus’ attention to the magnificent buildings there. But Jesus, looking at the future and not being attached to the things of this life no matter how magnificent, spoke of the future of the Temple—this den of thieves—that it was desolate and would be completely destroyed (Matt. 23:38, 24:2).
Jesus’ attitude and his awareness of the future is an example that every believer should follow. It is hard not to get attached to the things of this world when we put so much time and effort into making them nice for ourselves and others, but no one knows when this age will end and the earth will be devastated by wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes, and more. The right way to live is to obey God, enjoy the work of our hands (Ecc. 2:24), be helpful and thankful, and not be overly attached to the things of this life.
“to draw his attention to.” The Greek word epideiknumi (#1925 ἐπιδείκνυμι) means “show” or “point out,” and in this context, “call his attention to” catches the meaning very well (cp. CJB; CSB; NIV; NJB).
“Temple.” Properly understanding this verse requires an understanding of the Temple complex during the time of Jesus. The “Temple” that Jesus was going out of in the first part of Matthew 24:1 is the Temple proper, into which only Jews were allowed to enter. Once a person left the Temple proper, he was in the Temple courts. The courts were an approximately 40 acre area enclosed by walls. On the south end were tall buildings that were used as marketplaces, etc. On the north end was the Antonia Fortress, the Roman fortress that allowed the Romans to control mobs in the Temple (Cp. Acts 21:34 etc. “castle” KJV).
Jesus left the “Temple,” the Temple proper, called the “sanctuary” in some versions, but in doing so was in the presence of the huge buildings on the south end of the Temple Mount enclosure. The disciples, mostly Galileans who did not have anything in Galilee like the Temple structure, were amazed by the buildings, even though they had seen them before, and pointed them out to Jesus. Jesus answered them in a way that should have kept them grounded in the truth that we are not to get too attached to the things of this life, for they are all temporary. Jesus said that not one stone of all those great buildings would be left standing on top of another. True to Jesus’ teaching, there is now not one single stone of those buildings left standing. The disciples, rightly believing they were speaking with the Messiah, but wrongly thinking that very soon he was going to come into Jerusalem and conquer it and set up his kingdom, then asked him the question in Matt. 24:3, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”