Matthew Chapter 24  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Matthew 24
Mat 24:1

“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?”

Mat 24:2(top)
Mat 24:3

“And as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives.” The Mount of Olives is across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem and the Temple, and gives a wonderful view of both. Matthew 24:3 begins a new discourse and Matthew 24:1-2 are perhaps better understood as the end of Mattew 23 than the beginning of Matthew 24 (see commentary on Matthew 24:1).

“the disciples came to him privately.” Mark 13:3 identifies these disciples as Peter, James, John, and Andrew.

“Tell us, when will these things be.” This discussion between Jesus and his disciples is extremely important and would have taken a lot of time, much more time than it would take to read what is said about it in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Even the opening question asked by the disciples, which is different in all three Gospels, shows us that there was not just one question, but a number of disciples speaking up and asking Jesus about the end after he told them that not one stone would be left upon another. Thus, Matthew has, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and end of the age?” Mark has, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?” And Luke has, “Teacher, so when will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are about to come to pass?” The Gospels do not contradict each other but instead, show that Jesus’ statements provoked an intense interest among the disciples with lots of them speaking up and asking questions that differed somewhat.

“what will be the sign of your coming.” This question of the disciples was prompted by Jesus saying that not one stone in all the buildings around them would be left upon another (Matt. 24:2). The “coming” of Christ that the disciples asked about in this verse is misunderstood by most Christians. As we study the verse, we will see that the Apostles were not speaking of Jesus “coming” from heaven to earth, but were talking about him simply coming into Jerusalem and conquering it.

It is important to properly understand both the Apostles’ question and Jesus’ answer. It helps if we remember that the Apostles asked this question during the last week of Jesus’ life here on earth, and even though they had been with him for a long time, there was a lot they did not understand. For example, the Apostles did not think of Jesus’ “coming” the way we do today. Therefore, we must be careful not to read our understanding of the coming of Christ back into the minds of the Apostles and disciples.

The Apostles did not think of Jesus’ “coming” as “coming from heaven.” To fully understand this, it is helpful to know that the word translated “coming” is parousia (#3952 παρουσία; pronounced par-oo-'see-ah), a fairly common Greek word with several different meanings, including to refer to a king or official “coming,” “arriving,” the “presence” of the person after he arrived, or a “visit,” in the biblical sense of visiting in blessing or judgment. The visit of a king, for example, was referred to as a parousia.

Parousia was “the official term for a visit of a person of high rank, esp. of kings and emperors visiting a province.”a Robert Mounce writes that parousia “is widely used in nonbiblical texts for the arrival of a person of high status.”b Ann Nyland writes that Emperor Nero wanted as many people present as possible at his parousia to Corinth.c Visits by dignitaries were expensive, so the cost of the “visit” was often paid for by special taxes that were levied, making the parousia of a high-ranking official a burdensome event for many people. A parousia was a public event, because kings and dignitaries arrived with great pomp and pageantry. So when the Apostles asked Jesus about his parousia, they understood that when he came in judgment and to set up his kingdom it would be something everyone would see. It was not going to be an event that was private or hidden from public view.

Even after Christians started using parousia as a technical term for the “coming” of Christ from heaven, which they did after Jesus ascended into heaven, it still never lost its ordinary meaning of the arrival or personal presence of someone important. So, for example, Paul refers to the “coming” (parousia) of Stephanas (1 Cor. 16:17) and the “coming” (parousia) of Titus (2 Cor. 7:6-7). Paul also uses parousia to refer to his own “coming” to visit people (Phil. 1:26; 2:12), and in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 he refers to the “coming” (parousia) of the antichrist. Then Paul uses another meaning of parousia, “personal presence,” in 2 Corinthians 10:10.

Knowing the many meanings of parousia helps us understand that just because the Apostles asked, “what will be the sign of your coming,” that does not mean that they knew he was going to come down from heaven. They did not even know he was going to die, so they certainly did not understand the things that were going to happen to him after his death; i.e., his resurrection, ascension into heaven, and his coming back to earth from heaven.

The Apostles could not have known about Jesus’ coming from heaven when they asked him about it as recorded in Matthew 24:3 because they did not know about it a couple days later at the Last Supper (almost one-quarter of the Gospel of John is taken up by the Last Supper; chapters 13-17). At that final meal before his arrest, in a lengthy teaching and prayer, Jesus told the Apostles he was going away to the Father. But the Apostles did not understand what he was saying to them. They said among themselves, “We do not understand what he is saying” (John 16:18; see commentary on John 16:31).

Since the Apostles did not know Jesus was going to die, be raised, ascend, or return to earth from heaven, what did they mean by the question, “What will be the sign of your coming…”? To answer that question it is vital to remember that Jesus had been speaking of the city of Jerusalem and that it would be destroyed (Matt. 24:1-2). Although Jerusalem was controlled by the Romans, the Apostles knew that it was going to be conquered by the Messiah, and that he would rule the earth from there (Isa. 2:1-3; Jer. 3:17; Micah 4:1-2; Zech. 2:12). So when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple, it was natural for the Apostles to ask when it would happen.

Jesus was going to “come” to Jerusalem, bring the “present evil age” to an end, and start the new age. The New Jerusalem, the new Temple, and the division of the land of Israel when Jesus rules the earth is described in Ezekiel chapters 40-48. The essence of the Apostles’ question was, “Tell us when you are going to come to Jerusalem in judgment and end this age?” It is possible that the Apostles thought that Jesus was going to go back to Galilee for a while before he came in judgment. Or, since Isaiah said that the Messiah would come from Edom, splattered in blood (Isa. 63:1-4), they may have thought he needed to leave Jerusalem and start his conquest of the earth from another place.

What the Apostles were asking was, “When are you going to come to Jerusalem to conquer and judge it, and end this present evil age?” Roger Hahn writes, “The fact that they connected the coming of the Messiah and the end of the age reflected their acceptance of the general Jewish understandings of eschatology. Most Jews believed human history was divided into two great ages: the present, evil age and the glorious age to come. …The ages overlapped during the lifetime of the Messiah.”d Sadly, the pre-conceived notion held by the Apostles from their Jewish upbringing, that when the Messiah came the present age would end and the new age would begin, was the main thing that kept them from understanding what Jesus had been clearly telling them for months about his death and resurrection. That teaching did not fit with what they had been taught, and so they did not understand it. Similarly, they could not grasp that Jesus would go away into heaven without ushering in the Messianic Age. They had been taught since they were children that when the Messiah came he would bring in the Messianic Age, but that erroneous teaching was why, at the Last Supper, they did not understand what Jesus was talking about when he told them he was going to the Father (John 14-16).

Jesus did not try to directly correct the Apostles misunderstanding about his parousia. W. C. Allen correctly observes that Jesus “overlooks the fact that the disciples, according to the Gospel narrative, did not have the requisite understanding of the future for a question about Christ’s coming.”e Instead, he answered the Apostles’ question in a straightforward way, realizing that they would later be able to remember and understand those things that they did not understand right then. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the nature of his parousia became clear, just as what Jesus had said about his death and resurrection became clear after his resurrection. Hindsight is always 20-20, especially if we remember that people told us beforehand what would happen.

The book of Acts gives us more proof that the Apostles did not understand about Jesus ascending to heaven until when it occurred. In the days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples asked him, “Lord, is it at this time you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Their question was logical because Jesus had just spoken to them about the coming holy spirit (Acts 1:5), and the disciples knew that the Old Testament prophecies connected the giving of the gift of holy spirit with the Messianic Age (cp. Isa. 32:15-18; Joel 2:28-3:17). So when Jesus told them that the gift of holy spirit was going to be poured out, it was natural for them to assume that the Messianic Kingdom was at hand. But for them to think that Jesus could restore the Kingdom to Israel right then meant they did not expect him to go to heaven and spend time there. Had the disciples known that Jesus was going to ascend into heaven and be there for a while, they would have never asked him if he was going to restore the Kingdom to Israel at that time (see commentary on Acts 1:6).

We now shift our focus from the “coming” of Christ to the purpose of the Gospel of Matthew, and study the word parousia from that perspective. Each of the Four Gospels presents a different picture of the Messiah. Matthew shows Jesus as the King, Mark as the servant, Luke as a man, and John as the Son of God (see commentary on Mark 1:1; “the Gospel of Jesus Christ”). In light of that, it is noteworthy that the only Gospel that uses the word parousia is Matthew (Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39), the Gospel portraying Christ as a King. In Matthew, the “coming” of Christ is a parousia. In contrast, Jesus’ “coming” in Mark is the word erchomai (#2064 ἔρχομαι), the standard Greek word for coming or going, used over 600 times in the New Testament. Since Mark portrays Christ as a servant, it makes sense that Mark does not use the word parousia. Similarly, Luke portrays Jesus as a man, a human being, and Luke also uses the word erchomai for Christ’s coming. Kings got a parousia, servants and “men” did not. The Gospel of John, which portrays Jesus as the Son of God, could appropriately use parousia for the coming of Jesus, but does not contain Jesus’ teaching on the end of the age that Matthew, Mark, and Luke, do. So from a study of the Four Gospels and an understanding of the word parousia, we can see that the use of parousia in Matthew supports its specific portrayal of Jesus as the King.

“and the end of the age.” One thing we can see from the Greek text is that the disciples thought of Jesus’ “coming” and the end of the age as one event, not two. Although most translations have something such as, “the sign of your coming and the end of the age,” in the Greek text the sentence has only one definite article (“the”), thus connecting the “coming and end of the age.” We know that when Jesus comes from heaven and fights the Battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11-21), he will end this present evil age and start the new Messianic Age. The Apostles did not know anything about the Rapture of the Christian Church, which is part of the Administration of the Sacred Secret, so they did not mention it (see commentary on Ephesians 3:2).

BDAG, s.v. “παρουσία.”
Mounce, Matthew [NIBCNT].
Nyland, The Source New Testament, note for Matt. 24.3.
Hahn, Matthew: A commentary for Bible Students.
Allen, Matthew [ICC], 254.
Mat 24:4

“Watch out, so that no one leads you astray.” The Greek word translated “lead … astray” is planaō (#4105 πλανάω, pronounced plan-'ah-ō). It means to cause to stray or to lead astray, lead aside from the right way; to go astray, wander, roam around. We get our English word “planet” from planaō, because, unlike the fixed stars, the planets “wandered about” in the night sky. Planaō was used metaphorically for “to lead away from the truth, to lead into error, to deceive.”

It is a powerful truth that when the disciples asked Jesus about the end of the age, the very first thing he told them was to make sure they were not being misled and deceived. There will be much deception in the end times, and deception figures prominently in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24. There will be general deception (Matt. 24:4) and deception concerning the Messiah (Matt. 24:5). Also, Jesus said that many false prophets will arise and deceive many (Matt. 24:11), and there will be false prophets and false Messiahs who even do lying signs and wonders (Matt. 24:24). It is important that we take the time to understand Jesus’ teaching about false prophets. In today’s world, a “false prophet” is not some wild-eyed person who is dressed in some kind of long robe and is predicting the end of the world, although there will no doubt be some of those. A false prophet is someone who claims to have heard from God or ascertained some spiritual truth that supposedly is from God. They may be well educated, clean-cut, and soft-spoken, but their doctrine is of the Devil. Like the beast from the earth in Revelation 13:11, they may have the outward appearance of a lamb, but they speak like a dragon. These people will be very effective in deceiving people, and it will be due, at least in part, to the fact that they are “of the fold.” In our case, they will be, or say that they are, Christians.

When Jesus told the Apostles to beware of false prophets, he was not warning them to be wary of pagan prophets. The prophets, oracles, and spiritualists from the Greco-Roman culture that surrounded the Jews would not have misled the Apostles or many other Jews for that matter. The false prophets that would be able to mislead the Jews were Jewish false prophets. That same truth applies today. Most Christians are not in danger of being misled by a Muslim Imam or a Buddhist holy man, but they are in danger of being misled by a well-educated, soft-spoken, “man of God” who teaches about “God’s love” and under that guise contradicts the basic truths of Scripture. For example, a modern false prophet might say that God loves everyone, but then misinterpret that and teach that God would never be so restrictive as to say that salvation only came through belief in Christ. Or that God understands human faults and failures so He would never condemn anyone to the Lake of Fire but will ensure that everyone is saved and lives forever. Or that God is too compassionate to say that the only acceptable sexual relation is between a man and a woman inside a marriage relationship. God promotes love, and as long as two people love each other and their relationship is a free-will choice, God is okay with it. Or that, the Bible is a very old book, and teachings that applied thousands of years ago do not apply today, we have to be guided by “goodness and love.” These are all hollow and sinful teachings, but they sound good and logical to someone who does not know the Bible.

But how are we to know who is a false prophet? The fact that Jesus told us to see to it we are not deceived tells us that there is a way we can know a false prophet from a true one. The key to not being deceived is to know the Bible, and know it well. We cannot trust our heart and follow our own human logic and wisdom: “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28:26 KJV), and “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9). We only get one life to live, and then comes Judgment Day. Is it really wise to ignore what God has said and had written down, and bet that God did not really mean what He said but instead relent and ignore His own words on that Day? Hebrews 4:12 says it is the Word of God that is sharper than any double-edged sword and is a discerner of the considerations and intentions of the heart. Revelation 20:12 says that on Judgment Day “the books” (the scrolls) will be opened and people will be judged “out of the things that were written in the books.” Wise people learn and live the Bible and biblical principles.

Mat 24:5

“in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah’” There are three aspects to this statement, and they seem to be in conflict, but actually they add depth to one another. The first is that Jesus said that many will come “in my name.” A quick perusal of the many uses of the phrase “in my name” in the Bible shows that it refers to representing someone or the authority of someone. For example, prophets who prophesy “in my [God’s] name,” speak as God’s representatives or with His authority. Those who pray “in the name” of the Lord call upon his authority.

There are no examples in the Bible of someone coming “in the name of” God who is passing himself off as God, or anyone praying in the name of Jesus who is claiming to be Jesus. So here in Matthew 24:5 (cp. Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8), the fact that the person comes “in my name” suggests that he is not claiming to be the Messiah himself, but rather is coming as a representative of the Messiah or in the power and authority of the Messiah. However, the second part of the phrase seems to be saying that the person who comes is saying, “I am the Messiah,” and thus claiming to be the Messiah—the anointed one or savior—or even Jesus Christ himself.

How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory statements? One thing we should do is recognize that all three things are true: there will be people who claim to come in the authority of Jesus or to have special revelation from him but who are deceivers (even if they are deceived themselves), there will be people who will actually claim to be the Messiah, the anointed savior, and there will even be some people who will claim to be Jesus Christ himself. Thus, this verse is not speaking about only one particular type of person, but three.

To more fully understand Jesus’ statement, we must have the same concept of “Messiah” as the people in biblical times. If we translate the verse as it appears in most English versions, “I am the Christ,” most Christians will get the wrong idea about the verse: they will think that many people will actually claim to be Jesus Christ. Although there may be people who will make that claim, that is not the primary meaning of the verse. In Greek, the word christos (#5547 Χριστός) meant “anointed” or “anointed one.” It was a translation of the Hebrew word mashiyach (#04899 מָשִׁיחַ), which gets transliterated into English as “Messiah,” but which means “anointed” or “anointed one.”

Linguistically, the Hebrew word mashiyach (Messiah) means the same as the Greek word christos (Christ), which is “anointed one.” But the term “anointed one” was widely used of different people. Throughout the Bible, many people were “anointed ones,” thus Messiahs or Christs. For example, Leviticus 4:5 mentions the priest that is “anointed,” which is mashiyach (Messiah) in the Hebrew text and christos (Christ) in the Septuagint. So the priest was a Messiah or Christ. (Lev. 4:16; 6:22). In 1 Samuel 2:10, the king is called a Messiah or Christ (1 Sam. 12:3, 5). In 1 Samuel 16:6, when Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he thought he was the Messiah, the Christ (i.e., the next king). In 1 Samuel 24:6 (and other verses as well), David refers to King Saul as God’s Messiah, or Christ. In 2 Samuel 19:22, Abishai called David the Messiah, or Christ. The Bible even says the pagan Persian king Cyrus is a Messiah, a Christ, because he did God’s work (Isa. 45:1).

Nobody thought that these different Messiahs or Christs were THE Messiah or Christ that God promised who would bring salvation to the world. The people who lived in the biblical culture and spoke the biblical languages understood that God anointed many different people for many different tasks. That is why when the angels appeared to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, they made themselves clear by saying this baby was “Savior,” “Christ” and “Lord,” not just “Christ.”

The average Christian does not know that priests, kings, and people commissioned to do God’s work were called “Messiah” or “Christ” because when mashiyach (Messiah) appears in the Hebrew Old Testament (and christos in the Septuagint) those words are not transliterated as “Messiah” or “Christ,” but are instead are typically translated as “anointed” or “anointed one.” That means that the average Christian never sees that there are many Messiahs (or “Christs”), in the Bible. However, once we know that there were many “Messiahs” in the Bible, we are in a better position to understand what Christ was saying, which in its fullness was that as we approach the final days, many deceivers will come. Some will say they represent Christ or have his authority. Others will say they are anointed by God (“I am the anointed one”) and demand that people follow them. And still others will actually claim to be Christ himself.

Mark and Luke record the same basic statements as Matthew does (Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8). Just like in Matthew, both Mark and Luke say deceivers will come “in my [Jesus’] name.” However, instead of then saying, “I am the Messiah,” like Matthew does, they have, “I am the one” or “I am he.” But in the culture, the phrases “I am the Anointed One” and “I am the one” can be equivalent. It is likely that when Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, he made the statement both ways to be sure they understood him, and Matthew records one way Jesus said it while Mark and Luke record the other way. Just like “I am the Messiah,” the phrase “I am the one,” could mean someone was claiming to come in the authority of Jesus Christ with a special revelation, or that he was claiming to be an “anointed one” and people should follow him, or that he was actually Jesus Christ.

The REV translation uses “Messiah” rather than “Christ” for clarity, although it could have used “Anointed One.”a The REV used “Messiah” for the Greek christos in several other places, so that pattern was continued in Matthew 24:5 as well.

Although some scholars assert that Jesus is only speaking of people who are claiming to be a Messiah, other scholars do not make that claim. For example, Grant Osborne writes, “‘In my name’ has a twofold thrust—they will come using Jesus’ personal name and also his ‘name’ or office as Messiah. In terms of the latter, there were many false messiahs in the first century, several named in Acts (Theudas, Acts 5:36; Judas the Galilean, Acts 5:37; the Egyptian, Acts 21:38) and more in Josephus. …Jesus is also predicting the rise of Christian false teachers, as in 1 John 2:18, ‘even now many antichrists have come.’ Instead of proclaiming truth they will ‘deceive many,’ (exactly what Jesus warns against in verse 4).b R. T. France notes: “A Christian reader…might think that those who will come in Jesus’s name claiming to be the Messiah are claiming actually to be Jesus…[But] He would be coming in Jesus name not because he is impersonating Jesus but because he is claiming the role and title which properly belong to Jesus.”c

What believers must learn from Matthew, Mark, and Luke is that in the last days there will be liars and deceivers who will try to get believers to follow them instead of the true Messiah who brings salvation to the world. Some will claim to come with authority and revelation from the Messiah, others will come claiming to be a Messiah, and still others will actually claim to be Jesus Christ (Jesus “the Messiah”). The believer’s best defense against these false Messiahs and prophets is to know the Word and train ourselves to hear God’s still, small voice. Jesus Christ knew the Word and heard God’s voice, and in cases when he could have been misled, he said, “It is written.” We need to do the same.

Cp. Nyland, The Source New Testament.
Osborn, Matthew [ZECNT], 873.
France, The Gospel of Matthew [NICNT].
Mat 24:6

“you will hear wars nearby and reports of wars far away.” This phrase is traditionally translated as “wars and rumors of wars.” But we feel that is misleading even though some of the “reports” may in fact turn out to be rumors. We should keep in mind that this statement of Jesus is a prophecy of the last days, and in our modern time worldwide communication and reporting is both more immediate and more accurate than it was years ago. In our common English, a “rumor” is a report that is most likely false, and that is not the meaning of the Greek here. In this verse the “reports” are reports of war, not false or unsubstantiated reports of war. The Greek word usually translated “rumors” is simply akoē (#189 ἀκοή pronounced ah-ko-'ā), a noun, and it means the ear (the organ of hearing), or what is heard by the ear, in this case, a report.

In the first part of the sentence, “you will hear wars nearby,” the word “hear” is a verb, akouō (#191 ἀκούω; pronounced ä–koo-ō), and it means “hear.” The verb “hear” is followed by the noun “wars,” and the whole phrase is usually translated as, “you will hear of wars,” as if the word “wars” was in the genitive case, but it is not. The word “wars” is accusative, the direct object of “hear,” meaning the people will “hear wars.” To understand what Jesus is saying we must remember that the Bible is Israel-centered. So in the first part of the sentence, Jesus is saying that as the times of the end approach, the people in Israel will be able to hear wars going on (which they may themselves be involved in). Then, the second part of the sentence tells us the people will also hear “reports” (or “news”) of wars that they cannot hear themselves; wars far away.

B. Newman and P. Stein write: “The word ‘rumors’ in English is usually used for news about things that may or may not have happened, but it is important to note that the sense here is that there will be wars everywhere. The TEV rendering [given below] is thus a good model to follow.”a Also, H. Meyer notes that Jesus is speaking “with reference to wars near at hand, the din and tumult of which are actually heard, and to wars at a distance, of which nothing is known except from the reports that are brought home.”bc

Today’s English Version (TEV) translates the sentence as, “you will hear the noise of battle close by and the news of battles far away.” The New English Bible is very similar to that, saying “near at hand” instead of “close by.” The Source New Testament has: “You will hear wars nearby and you will hear reports of wars.” Other versions that have a similar translation include the Complete Jewish Bible and the Concordant Literal New Testament.

Newman and Stein, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 734.
Meyer, Meyer’s Commentary on the New Testament, 408.
See also, John Bengel, Bengel’s New Testament Commentary; D. Hagner, Matthew 14-28 [WBC].
Mat 24:7

“group will rise against group.” The Greek word translated as “group” is ethnos (#1484 ἔθνος), which has a large number of different meanings. These include the meaning that we feel fits the best in this context: a group of people united by kinship, culture, or traditions. The other meanings of ethnos include: a group or multitude (of people or animals) that is living together or closely associated; the whole human race (thus “people”); a race; a nation; a company, troop, or mass of people; a group of the same nature or ancestry; the unbelievers in contrast to God’s chosen people; also, in the New Testament ethnos is sometimes used for Gentile Christians in contrast to Jewish Christians.

The exact meaning of ethnos has to be determined by the context in which it is used. In this case, Jesus is speaking of the end times and saying that ethnos will rise and fight against ethnos, and the meaning that fits best is people groups that are united by kinship, culture, traditions, and belief systems. Lenski basically agrees and says the term refers here to “a body of people that is held together by the same customs.” Although ethnos has been traditionally translated “nation,” that is not its best use in this context. One reason for that is today most of what we call “nations” would be called “kingdoms” in the biblical culture, even though they are not strictly ruled by a “king,” and thus would be included in the next phrase, “kingdom against kingdom.” That leaves the phrase ethnos against ethnos to refer to smaller people groups.

What we see in the world around us is “group against group” and “kingdom against kingdom” (more properly, “nation against nation”). While it is true that nations (kingdoms) are fighting each other, such as North versus South Korea, or Russia versus the Ukraine, the greater fighting seems to be group against group. In the USA, gangs are fighting other gangs, and there is also much racial violence. All over Europe, anti-Jewish groups are rising up and terrorizing Jews. In the Moslem world, Shiites are fighting Sunnis. It seems to be group versus group all over the world. These “groups” are people groups that are united by kinship, culture, traditions, and belief systems, and the “group versus group” mentality is intensifying around the world.

It is decidedly difficult to translate the word ethnos as it is used in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 into English. A few modern translations are getting away from the word “nation,” which is misleading, and translating ethnos as “people” or “peoples” (cp. CJB, MGI). While “people” is certainly better than “nation,” the reader may misunderstand and think that Jesus was speaking of general violence between individuals. While there will certainly be violence by individuals in the end times, that is not what the verse is referring to. On the other hand, we must understand “group” as referring to a group that is connected by lineage, race, creed, tradition, or belief, and not just a gathering at the local store. Each member of the group is definitely connected to the group. Perhaps 50 years ago, “tribe” would have communicated the meaning well, but today “tribe” is more exclusively used of native tribes. Other words that come close are “sect,” but that puts too much emphasis on belief, and “ethnic group,” but that puts too much emphasis on race. Jesus was referring to the fact that as we approach the end, groups will rise up against each other: racial and ethnic groups, religious groups, socio-economic groups, and so forth. The concept of ethnos as a connected group of people was much easier to understand in the ancient world, when governments were often adversarial to people and families, and families were both big and the foundation of the culture. In the ancient world much more than today there was “safety in a multitude,” and people grouped based on family, ancestry, and creed.

Mat 24:8

“the beginning of birth pains.” The Bible foretells a period of seven years of tribulation for the people of earth (Dan. 9:27). This period of tribulation is described in some detail in the Book of Revelation. Especially for people who come to believe in Christ during this tribulation period, the first half of this tribulation period is the “beginning” of the birth pains. The really intense “birth pains” for believers and unbelievers alike but especially for believers, are the last half of the Tribulation period—the last three and a half years of it, when the Antichrist comes to full power and has authority over the believers and persecutes, tortures, and kills them (Dan 7:21, 25; Rev. 13:7).

Events that occur in this beginning-of-birth-pains time period include false Messiahs (Matt. 24:5; Mark 13:5-6; Luke 21:8), wars and group-on-group conflicts (Matt. 24:6-7; Mark 13:7-8; Luke 21:9-10), “famines” (Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11), “earthquakes” (Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:1) “plagues” (Luke 21:11) and “terrors and signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11).

If we put the teaching of Jesus about the “beginnings of birth pains” together with the seal judgments in the Book of Revelation, we can see that what Jesus referred to as the “beginning of birth pains” is the seal judgments of Revelation 6 and the first half of the “week” in Daniel 9:27). There are false Messiahs (Rev. 6:2; Matt. 24:5; Mark 13:5-6; Luke 21:8), wars (Rev. 6:3-4; Matt. 24:6-7; Mark 13:7-8; Luke 21:9-10), “famines” (Rev. 6:5-6; Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11) all kinds of lethal things including “death,” that is, “plagues” (Rev. 6:7-8; Luke 21:11) earthquakes (Rev. 6:12; Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11), and “terrors and signs from heaven” (Rev. 6:12-14; Luke 21:11).

Mat 24:9

“Then they will hand you over.” Jesus will speak of this terrible time during the Great Tribulation again at the Last Supper (John 16:2).

“tortured.” The Greek is thlipsis (#2347 θλῖψις), and it refers to outward trouble that inflicts distress; oppression; affliction; tribulation; and also the inward experience of distress, affliction, or trouble (BDAG Greek-English lexicon). It was common practice to torture prisoners in the first century, and in this case, the fact that believers would be handed over to thlipsis clearly means torture. Two thousand years after Matthew was written, we humans have not become any more civilized, and torture is common practice all over the world. It will be even worse after the Rapture, which is why Revelation 14:13 says that those who die in the Lord (i.e., without remaining unconverted or renouncing the Faith) will be blessed.

“you will be hated by all the nations.” The Greek word translated as “nations” is ethnos (#1484 ἔθνος), and it is translated as “group” in Matthew 24:7, and it arguably should be translated that way here. In the Last Days, believers will be hated by everyone. There will be such widespread ungodliness and wickedness that every different group will have a reason to hate believers. Although “nations” has more the meaning “group” in this context than what is today referred to as a “nation,” it should be recognized that it often referred to the Gentiles in exclusion of the Jews. Thus the emphasis here in Matthew is that in the End Times believers will be hated by everyone, with more emphasis placed on the Gentiles.

Mat 24:10(top)
Mat 24:11

“false prophets.” One of the most important things we need to be aware of about these false prophets is that they will arise from among the believers. While there will certainly be people who are not believers who will say many erroneous things about God, Christ, the Word, Christians and Jews, etc., these are not “false prophets” in the most common sense of the Word. In the Old Testament, the false prophets who got the most attention were prophets from among the Jews who left the true faith and followed other gods or spoke lies to the Jews.

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 says there will be prophets who try to lead the Jews into the worship of other gods. Jeremiah 28 records the conflict between Jeremiah and the prophet Hananiah, who turned out to be a false prophet. Ezekiel 13:1-12 is about the false prophets in Israel who “see false visions and speak lying divinations. They claim, ‘This is the LORD’s declaration,’ when the LORD did not send them” (Ezek. 13:6 HCSB). Jeremiah 27:14-15 and Jeremiah 29:8-9 record God saying that He did not send many of the prophets who were speaking in His name. Thus, they were prophesying lies (Jer. 23:26). In fact, Jeremiah 29:8 (HCSB) says, “Don’t let your prophets who are living among you…deceive you.”

Many of the false prophets in the Old Testament were living among the Jews because they were Jews. It will be the same today. Many of the false prophets will be believers—which at this time means Christians—who will be claiming to speak by revelation or what they know from the Word, but what they will be saying will not be true. We hear many of those voices today already (although they don’t necessarily agree with each other): “There is no everlasting punishment for the unsaved; people can get saved without believing in Jesus Christ; sexual sin is not a sin after all; diligently obeying the Word is ‘legalism,’” and so much more. The wise believer knows the Word of God and diligently works to separate truth from error so he is not misled. In Matthew 24:4, Jesus said to watch out that we are not misled, and it is up to each believer to take the time to learn the truth about God and the Word so he or she is not misled.

Mat 24:12

“And because of the increase in lawlessness.” There are many ways that lawlessness will increase in the Last Days. Although many people think of lawlessness as in early America’s Wild West when there were no laws and no effective way of enforcing laws, actually, much lawlessness occurs when there are plenty of well-defined laws but the authorities refuse to enforce them, and also when the authorities make all kinds of oppressive and demonic laws that go against the way God would rule.

“Lawlessness” is generally defined as contempt for, and violation of, the law. But whose law? People might be deceived into thinking that lawlessness is breaking man’s laws, and in certain contexts that may be true, but the greater truth is that God is the creator of the heavens and earth and the earth belongs to Him (Ps. 24:1; 1 Cor. 10:26), and He is the lawgiver, not any human being (Isa. 33:22; James 4:12). Any human law that contradicts a written or unwritten law of God is “lawless.” Jesus Christ made it clear that any laws that the religious leaders put in place that contradicted God’s laws were not valid (Matt. 15:4-9; Mark. 7:5-13). The religious leaders made the laws for Israel, yet Jesus Christ called them lawless people because they broke God’s laws, which are the only valid laws, by their evil laws (Matt. 7:23, 29). Isaiah 10:1-3 makes it clear that the human laws have to be in line with God’s laws to be righteous. Isaiah says, “Woe to those who enact unrighteous laws, and to the writers who write oppressive regulations, to deprive the needy of justice and to rob the poor among my people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil, and so that they may make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:1-2).

When there is lawlessness, life becomes unpredictable and frightening, and often good or righteous acts only bring persecution and trouble. In those conditions, people keep to themselves and try to stay safe and not draw attention to themselves, and thus their love to reach out and help others grows cold because there is no way to tell how trying to help someone will really turn out. Proverbs 28:12 says, “when the wicked rise up, people hide.”

Mat 24:13

“the one who.” Salvation is an individual thing. No one is saved and granted everlasting life based on being a part of a group.

Mat 24:14

“good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed.” In this context, the “good news of the kingdom” refers to the coming of the reign of Jesus Christ as king on the earth (the Millennial Kingdom), and the fact that Jesus, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ disciples all taught that it was near (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15) The coming kingdom, called the “Kingdom of God” and “the Kingdom of Heaven” was the primary subject of Christ’s teaching. Although some people say that the Kingdom of God was the time that Jesus was on earth, Matthew 24:14 (and Luke 21:31) shows that cannot be the case. In the time when Matthew 24:14 applies, Jesus will have already ascended into heaven and will not be on earth any longer, but Christ’s kingdom on earth, the Millennial Kingdom, will still need to be a major subject of preaching and teaching.

Jesus foretold that the Good News of the kingdom would be preached to the whole world, and then the end would come. But a study of the Tribulation period shows how difficult preaching the Good News will be because the Antichrist and evil people will pretty much control the world. But the prophecy of Jesus will be fulfilled by an angel flying high in the sky and proclaiming the Good News to the people of earth (Rev. 14:6). Everyone on earth will have a chance to hear the Good News and believe. Furthermore, soon after the angel proclaims the Good News, the end will come. The seven last plagues, the bowl judgments, come upon the earth (Rev. 16:1-21), then Jesus comes from heaven and conquers it and defeats the army of the enemy (Rev. 19:11-21), and then Jesus sets up his Millennial Kingdom on earth.

[For more on Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]

Mat 24:15

“Holy Place” is a designation of the Temple.

“Place” is the Greek topos (#5117 τόπος). The word “place” can refer to any place specifically mentioned; however it was also one of the designations of the Temple in Jerusalem, which it is here in Matthew 24:15 and other places in the New Testament as well (cp. Matt. 24:15; John 4:20, 11:48, 19:20; Acts 6:13-14, 21:28).a

Also see Kittle [TDNT], s.v. “τόπος”; Ernest Martin, Secrets of Golgotha, chap. 8.
Mat 24:16(top)
Mat 24:17

“not go down.” How could a person on the roof leave town without coming down from the roof? It was often possible to get quite close to the edge of town without going down into a house. In biblical times, houses had flat roofs, and the Mosaic Law commanded that a railing be built around the roof so people would not fall off (Deut. 22:8). People would spend time on the roof when the weather was nice, which is why Peter went up on the rooftop to pray (Acts 10:9).

The houses were built close together, often even having common walls, and were generally close enough to get from one roof to another. The streets between the houses were usually very narrow. That meant that getting to the outside of town by traveling from rooftop to rooftop was usually quicker than using the narrow streets through town. Moving from roof to roof was known as “the road of the roofs,” and that was why Jesus said that when people saw the signs of the end times they should flee town without going back down into their houses (Matt. 24:17; Mark 13:15; Luke 17:31). In contrast to the flat roofs, the narrow and often winding roads between the houses were not a good way to travel quickly through town because they would clog up so quickly. [For more on houses, see commentaries on Isaiah 22:1 and Proverbs 17:19].

Mat 24:18(top)
Mat 24:19

“But how terrible.” This warning is also in Mark 13:17.

“how terrible.” The Greek word is ouai (#3759 οὐαί; pronounced ooh-'eye). For an explanation of the meaning of “how terrible,” see commentary on Matthew 11:21.In this context, ouai is an expression of grief because of the distress, hardship, and divine retribution that is coming in the future (1 Cor. 9:16; Rev. 9:12). People who cannot easily travel or who have to take care of others will have a very hard time in the Great Tribulation.

Mat 24:20(top)
Mat 24:21

“great tribulation.” Jesus would have learned a lot about the Tribulation period from the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah 13:9-13; 24:1-23; 34:1-8; 63:1-6; Jeremiah. 30:6-7; Daniel 12:1; Joel 1:15; 2:1-11; 3:14-16; Amos 5:16-20; 8:8-14; Obadiah 1:15-16; Micah 5:10-15; Zephaniah 1:7-18; Zechariah 12:1-9; 14:1-6; and Malachi 4:1-3. It is a terrible time on earth in which most people will be killed.

Those who survive the Tribulation and Armageddon are divided by Jesus into two groups: the sheep and the goats, and the sheep will be allowed into Christ’s kingdom, while the goats will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Matt. 25:31-46).

[For more on the terrible time during the Great Tribulation, see commentary on Isa. 13:9 and Dan. 12:1. For more on the Sheep and Goat Judgment and the chronology of the events in the end times, see commentary on Matthew 25:32.]

Mat 24:22

“no flesh would have been saved.” The Tribulation and Armageddon are so horrific that compared to the number of people alive on earth today, only “very few” are left.

[For more information on very few people surviving the Tribulation and Armageddon, see commentary on Isaiah 24:6.]

Mat 24:23

“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.

“Messiah.” See commentary on Matthew 24:5.

Mat 24:24

“Messiahs.” See commentary on Matt. 24:5.

Mat 24:25

“Pay attention!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.

Mat 24:26

“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.

“inner rooms.” A reference to the inner rooms of the Temple. It would have been a sin for an ordinary Israelite to enter into the Holy Place or the Holy of Holies of the Temple, so it was safe to say the Messiah was in there when no one would check to see if the report was true.

Mat 24:27(top)
Mat 24:28(top)
Mat 24:29(top)
Mat 24:30

“Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus’ coming in the clouds is a reference to Daniel 7:13. This is the “Second Coming” of Christ. Jesus spoke of his Second Coming and the events that surround it quite often. Some of these include, Matthew 16:27 (cp. Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26); Matthew 24:30-44 (Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27); Matthew 25:31-46; 26:64 (Mark 14:62); Mark 8:38; Luke 12:40; 17:24-30; John 14:3, 18; 21:22). See commentary on Matthew 16:27.

Mat 24:31

“they will gather together his chosen ones.” In this context, the “chosen ones” are the sheep of the Sheep and Goat Judgment, and also likely the people of the first resurrection, the resurrection of the righteous, who come up out of the graves and are brought back to the land of Israel (Ezek. 37:12-14).

In the future, there will be a time of great tribulation; a time of terrible destruction and death. The Old Testament prophets spoke of it often (see commentary on Dan. 12:1), Jesus Christ taught about it (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) and it is described in some detail in the Book of Revelation, which says there will be seal judgments, trumpet judgments, thunder judgments, and bowl judgments. That time of great tribulation will end when Jesus Christ comes down to earth and fights the Battle of Armageddon and conquers the earth (Rev. 19:11-21). Then Jesus will set up his 1,000-year kingdom on earth. Christ’s kingdom on earth will include Christians, who were in the Rapture, the people who are in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:1-5), and the “sheep” of the Sheep and Goat Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46).

When Christ conquers the earth he will send out his angels who will gather the people who survived the Tribulation and Armageddon. Those survivors will be divided into two groups, the “sheep” and the “goats,” and the sheep will be allowed to enter the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ (the “sheep” of Matt. 25:31-46 are also the “wheat” of Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). The “sheep” who are gathered are part of the “chosen” who are gathered in Matt. 24:31 Also, however, the Old Testament says that when the people get up from the grave in the first resurrection, they have to be brought back to Israel, so it is likely that here in Matthew 24:13, the “chosen” who are gathered also include both the “sheep” and the righteous people who are in the resurrection of the righteous, the first resurrection. Other scriptures also speak of Jesus coming with his angels when he comes to earth (Matt. 13:41; 16:27; 24:31; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 13:27; Luke 9:26).

[For more on the Sheep and Goat Judgment, see commentary on Matt. 25:32 and 25:33. For more about Jesus’ future kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]

Mat 24:32(top)
Mat 24:33

“door.” The Greek text is actually “doors” or “gates.” “Doors” (or “gates”) made more sense in the biblical world than it does to us today because double doors, and certainly double gates, were much more common then than now. The word “door” carries the sense of the situation much better in modern English than “doors” does, and it avoids the confusion that there may be more than one door that Jesus has to go through to get to us. Or, “gates” would be a good translation if the reader thought of Jesus approaching the cities and being right at the gates of the city.

Mat 24:34

“this generation will absolutely not pass away.” Matthew 24:34 is part of the very long two-chapter answer—Matthew 24:4-25:46—that Jesus gave to the disciples when they asked when the End of the Age would be: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3).

The disciples wanted this present evil Age to end and the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom to be real, so they asked Jesus about when the End of the Age would come. Jesus answered their question, and part of what he said was, “this generation will absolutely not pass away until all these things come to pass.” The straightforward meaning of Jesus’ multi-verse answer is simple: he told the disciples that their generation would not pass away until the things he had just mentioned had occurred, which no doubt gave the apostles much energy and hope. After all, how would any of us feel if we found out Jesus would return in our generation?

As it has turned out, what Jesus said was historically inaccurate. That generation passed away and what Jesus said would happen did not happen. In that sense, Jesus followed in the footsteps of many prophets before him who prophesied that the End was coming soon but then God delayed it for His own purposes (see commentary on Matt. 16:28).

We will better understand how to properly interpret Jesus’ statement if we review what he said would happen in “this generation.” Gleaning information from the records in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see that there will be “many” false prophets and false Messiahs who will mislead many people. There will be wars, famines, earthquakes, plagues, and “terrifying events and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11). A great persecution of the believers will occur, and many believers will turn from the faith and betray one another, and people’s love will grow cold. Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20). The “abomination that causes desolation” that Daniel wrote about will stand in the holy place, the Temple, and there will be great tribulation, which will be so great that if the time was not shortened by God, no one would survive (Matt. 24:22). The sun and moon will be darkened, stars will fall from the sky, and the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. He will come with “power and great glory,” and seeing this, all the nations will mourn (Matt. 24:30). Then his angels will go out with a loud trumpet blast and gather the elect from the ends of the earth.

As we read these words of Jesus, we can see that these events of which he spoke are still future. No events in past history have fulfilled these prophetic words of Jesus, but the Great Tribulation, written about by Old Testament prophets and described in some detail in the Book of Revelation, will fulfill every prophecy. However, the fact that these prophecies have not been fulfilled has caused a problem for Bible commentators because Jesus said, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,” and yet “this generation” has indeed passed away but the signs he spoke of have not yet happened.

Theologians have set forth a number of theories to avoid the natural conclusion people would get from a straightforward reading of Matthew 24:34, which is that what Jesus said did not happen as he said it would. Some of these explanations are below, and all of them fall short of explaining what Jesus said.

  1. Jesus was referring to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
  2. The word “generation” refers to the “race” of Israel, the Jewish race.
  3. The word “generation” refers to the “kind” of people (i.e., wicked).
  4. The word genetai, “happened” can be taken as an ingressive aorist and can mean “will have started to take place.”
  5. The word “this” in “this generation” refers to the generation at the time, not the one Christ was talking to.
  6. The prophecy, like others, is capable of multiple fulfillments, some of which have occurred, and some have not yet.

These explanations that have been posited by various theologians need to be examined one at a time. As to possibility number 1, that Jesus was referring to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the fact is that the events mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24 did not occur in 70 AD. Anyone reading the list of signs in Matthew 24:4-31 will see that most of the signs Jesus spoke about were not fulfilled. Furthermore, the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD does not answer the question Jesus’ disciples asked him. The disciples wanted to know when the Second Coming and end of this present evil age would come, and neither of those things happened in 70 AD.

Explanation number 2, that the word “generation” should be translated as “race” and refers to the “race” of Israel, the Jewish race, does not explain what Jesus said. Frankly, the word “generation” does not refer to “race.” If it did, then that would make Jesus say that the Jewish race would not pass away until the signs he spoke of had happened. But that would not answer the disciples’ question or tell us when Jesus would come. The Jews were on earth long before Jesus was born, and the Jewish race will continue through the Tribulation and on into the Messianic Kingdom.

When the disciples asked Jesus for signs about the timing of his coming and the end of the age, what if Jesus had said, “God will still be God.” Well, that would be true, for God will still be God when Christ comes, but is that a sign of his coming? No, it is not. Similarly, since the prophecies indicate that the race of Israel would always continue, Jesus saying that the race of Jews would not pass away would not have been a sign of his coming. Beyond that, however, the wording Jesus used shows that “generation” cannot mean “race.” If Jesus had said, “this race will not pass away until...,” then he would have been saying that after the signs he spoke of occurred, then the Jewish race would pass away. But that will not happen. The Bible says that the Jewish race would continue and be a part of Christ’s kingdom on earth. So Jesus could not have said “This ‘race’ will not pass away until…” because it is untrue and because it does not answer the apostle’s question. If, however, Jesus said that “this generation,” i.e., the one he was speaking to, would not pass away, then that would be a very important sign that his coming was close, which is exactly what the disciples were asking about.

Explanation number three, that word “generation” refers to the “kind” of people (i.e., wicked), not passing away until the signs are fulfilled falls short on the same basic grounds that trying to make the word “generation” mean “race” does. Many prophecies in the Old Testament speak of how wicked the earth is when the Messiah comes to conquer it, and even by the end of Christ’s kingdom on earth there will still be wicked people on earth (Rev. 20:7-9). Unbelieving people will not “pass away” when Jesus sets up his kingdom. So Jesus would not be answering the disciple’s question and giving a sign of the timing of his Second Coming by saying that wicked people will not be gone from the earth until his prophecies were fulfilled.

One of the major works arguing that the word “generation” refers to the “kind” of people was done by Neil Nelson, Jr., and published in the “Journal of Evangelical Theology” (38/3; Sept. 1996). However, to make this idea work, Nelson asserts that the first part of Jesus’ answer (Matt. 24:4-14) refers to an “interadvent age” a period of “indefinite duration” that perhaps starts with the destruction of the Temple (and thus is now some 2,000 years long), and only Matt. 24:15-28 refer to the end times. However, there is no reason to split Jesus’ explanation like that, and the fact that Jesus is speaking to his disciples and saying “you” throughout the teaching argues strongly against it (Matt. 24:4, 6, 9, 15, 20, 23, 25). Even if Jesus’ teaching were divided, the explanation still does not work because it does not answer the apostle’s questions. Jesus clearly said that even the appearance of false messiahs, wars, famines, and earthquakes were “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matt. 24:8), but how is that helpful to show the sign of the Second Coming if those birth pangs last some 2,000 years? Nelson then states that the only specific answer to when the close of the age will come is Jesus’ statement that “of that day and hour no one knows,” but that explanation turns Jesus’ 32-verse answer into a non-answer. If Jesus did not know the time or any sure signs of it, then he should have simply said so in Matthew 24:4 and ended the conversation. Saying that there would be some 2,000 years of non-signs before the Second Coming only clouds his answer. The only reason that Nelson and others go to great lengths to try to explain what Jesus was saying instead of taking it at face value is that the apostle’s generation is dead and what Jesus said did not come to pass.

Explanation number four, that the word genetai, “happened” should be taken as an ingressive aorist and read to mean “will have started to take place” is rejected by most theologians, and for good reason. First and foremost, it is a “forced” translation. It would have never been posited as an explanation if people were not uncomfortable with the plain meaning of Scripture. Secondly, if the signs of the Second Coming started while the apostles were still alive, then we have been seeing the signs of his coming for the last 2,000 years! Thus, those “signs” would not be helpful in pointing to the timing of the Second Coming and would not answer the disciple’s questions. If on the other hand, the signs Jesus mentioned as signs of his Second Coming were to occur in one generation, as the text says when properly translated, then there are indeed some very specific signs to pay attention to.

As to explanation number five, that “this generation” refers to the generation the events were to happen to, not the generation that was listening to Jesus, falls short for a few different reasons. While that explanation does admit that all the signs will occur in one generation, grammatically the explanation is untenable, and it is fair to point out that we know of no scholar familiar with the Greek text who takes that position. The word “this” in “this generation” refers to the generation Christ was actually speaking to at the time, which is why scholars attempt to make “generation” become “race” or “kind.” Jesus was speaking to disciples alive at the time, and he told them to be careful that no one “misleads you,” and he continued speaking to them as “you” throughout his teaching (Matt. 24:4, 6, 9, 15, 20, 23, 25). Furthermore, the explanation that “this generation” can refer to any future generation does not answer the question the disciples asked. The disciples asked Jesus for a sign of his coming, and if he said, “Well, there will be a future generation that will experience great tribulation,” that would not be helpful because they already knew that from the Old Testament prophecies (see commentary on Dan. 12:1). The disciples asked Jesus for a sign of his coming and the End of the Age and he told them what would happen, but then God delayed his Second Coming, something Jesus had no way of knowing or anticipating.

As to explanation number six, some people have postulated that Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 is capable of multiple fulfillments, part having been fulfilled during the life of the apostles, and part not having been fulfilled. While it is true that some prophecies have multiple fulfillments, the evidence is that is not the case here. Jesus’ teaching was a single long answer to the disciple’s question, and Jesus’ use of “you,” speaking to the disciples, shows that he expected them to go through every event. Also, the nature of many of the signs Jesus mentioned is such that they will only happen one time, not two times. Also, the disciples wanted to know the timing of the Second Coming and the end of the age, and if Jesus answered them by speaking about signs that were going to be fulfilled more than once, then he did not answer them at all. How were they to know which signs to look for? Also, the double fulfillment explanation fails to explain what Christ actually meant when he said that “This generation will not pass away until all these things be fulfilled.” That generation is dead and gone but all those signs were not fulfilled. The fact is that all of Christ’s prophecies in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21 will be fulfilled in one generation, but God delayed the timing of the Second Coming so that fulfillment is still future.

F. F. Bruce writes, “When we are faced with the problem of understanding a hard saying, it is always a safe procedure to ask, ‘What would it have meant to the people who first heard it?’ And there can be but one answer to this question in relation to the present hard saying. Jesus’ hearers could have understood him to mean only that ‘all these things’ would take place within their generation. Not only does ‘generation’ in the phrase ‘this generation’ always mean the people alive at one particular time; the phrase itself always means ‘the generation now living.’ Jesus spoke of ‘this generation’ in this sense several times, and generally in no flattering terms.”a In saying that, F. F. Bruce is correct. The simple and straightforward meaning of what Jesus said was that that generation, the generation that he and his disciples lived in, would not pass away until all the signs he spoke of were fulfilled. The only difficulty is that the generation died and the signs were not fulfilled; the Second Coming did not occur and the age did not end. But God has the authority to delay the Second Coming, and He did. Jesus only spoke what God revealed to him, and he also had very good scriptural reason to believe that the Tribulation would come very shortly after his death and resurrection, certainly within his generation.

[For more on Jesus speaking about his Second Coming occurring soon, see commentary on Matt. 16:28. For more on the coming kingdom of Christ on earth, the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]

F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, 226-27.
Mat 24:35

“Heaven and earth will pass away.” This sentence is almost exactly the same in Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, and Luke 21:33.

Mat 24:36

“But about that day and hour no one knows.” Many attempts have been made to determine when Jesus will Rapture the Church, then later come to earth, fight the Battle of Armageddon, and set up his Millennial Kingdom. Usually, people who try to determine the dates for the events of the End take the phrase “day and hour” in a Western, literal way, and say that we may not know the day and hour, but we can know the year. This misses the simple point of the way the vocabulary was used at the time of Christ and in the Bible. Although they could be used specifically for a 24-hour “day” and a 60-minute “hour,” there is no reason to think “day” or “hour” were used that way here.

In the Bible and in the Greco-Roman world, both “day” and “hour” were often used generally. In fact, the word “day” was sometimes used to describe a quality, such as in the phrase, “children of the day” (1 Thess. 5:5), and “day” was also used to describe a period of time (cp. Eph. 6:16, the evil day). Similarly, although “hour” is sometimes used of just an hour or a short period of time, it is also used of a specifically appointed time, such as the hour of the incense offering (Luke 1:10), or the dinner hour (Luke 14:17). Remember, in this teaching, Jesus is trying to tell people what they do not know, and making the point that these future times are unknown; he was not trying to tease people and get them to guess the “year” by saying they did not know the “day” or “hour.” In this context, the phrase seems to best refer to the fact that people do not know the time period (including the duration) or appointed time of the return, and in fact, we do not. We do not know how long the Battle of Armageddon will take, for example.

This understanding of the verse is augmented by the way Matthew 24:36 reads. It does not say that only the Father knows the day and hour. It says that only the Father knows “about” or “concerning” (the Greek is the preposition peri; “about” or “concerning”) that day and hour. This is a subtle but important point to understand, because since the Father works with people, it is possible that even He does not know the exact time He will send Jesus back to earth, but will adjust it depending on what people do, just as He did with many other events in history, such as the death of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-6); the destruction of Ahab (1 Kings 21:20-29).

“nor the Son.” This is also stated in Mark 13:32. This verse is part of the biblical evidence that shows that Jesus was not God, but only knew what God showed him. Although there are Greek texts that omit the phrase “nor the Son,” textual scholars are quite convinced that the phrase was in the original text of Matthew. Roger Omanson writes, “The best representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western text-types contain the words oude ho huios [“nor the Son”], and the syntax of the sentence suggests that these three words are original. …Copyists omitted these words because of the doctrinal difficulty of saying that the Son did not know when the Son of Man would come.”a Omanson goes on to say that it is very unlikely that “nor the Son” was not in the original texts but was added by scribes so Matthew would then agree with Mark 13:32, which has “nor the Son.” Even if the words, “nor the Son” were not in the original text of Matthew, the textual evidence is clear that they are in the original text of Mark 13:32.

Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32 are problematic for Trinitarians, who are forced to say that Jesus’ human side had limited knowledge and did not know the time of the events of the End, but his God nature had unlimited knowledge and did know the time. But there are huge problems with that assertion. One is that the Bible never says it was only Jesus’ human nature that did not know but his God nature did know. That is only assumed because it makes Trinitarian doctrine work. Furthermore, it cannot be explained how Jesus could have had both limited and unlimited knowledge at the same time. Theologians refer to it as communicatio idiomatum, but that is just Latin for “the communication of the properties,” and it does not explain how Jesus’ two natures could co-exist; it just assumes they do.

Trinitarians also assert that the two natures, God and man, existing simultaneously is a mystery, but again, the Bible never even says the two natures exist in Christ, much less that it is a mystery. About mysteries, Roger Olson wrote: “We must point out here the difference between mystery and contradiction; the former is something that cannot be fully explained to or comprehended by the human mind, whereas the latter is just nonsense—two concepts that cancel each other out and together make an absurdity.”b Although Olson wrote about the mysteries of Calvinism, his comment about mysteries applies equally to the “mysteries” created by the doctrine of the Trinity. We assert that it is a clear contradiction that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man.

Jesus got knowledge from God throughout his ministry. For example, John 5:20 says that the Father was showing Jesus what He was doing, and also Jesus said that his teaching was not his own, but came from God (John 7:16-17). Even after His resurrection Jesus still receives knowledge from God. The information in the Book of Revelation was given by God to Jesus Christ: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him” (Rev. 1:1). The simple and straightforward explanation for why Jesus did not know the timing of the events of the End is that he was not “God in the flesh” as the Trinitarian doctrine stated, but “a man approved of God” as Peter so plainly stated (Acts 2:22).

[For more information on Jesus not being God in the flesh, see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” Also see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?”]

Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament, 44.
Olson, Against Calvinism, 105.
Mat 24:37

“For as in the days of Noah…” For an explanation of why Jesus used the days of Noah as a comparison to his Sheep and Goat Judgment, see commentary on Matt 24:40.

Mat 24:38(top)
Mat 24:39(top)
Mat 24:40

“one is taken, and one is left.” This verse describes the harsh reality of what happens when Jesus Christ comes down from heaven and sets up his kingdom on earth—some people will be allowed into the Messianic Kingdom on earth and some will be destroyed in the flames of Gehenna. Jesus describes this event in different terms about 50 verses later in his explanation of what is known as “The Sheep and Goat Judgment” (Matt. 25:31-46). The people who are “taken” are the goats, and they are taken away to Gehenna. The ones who are “left” are the sheep, and they are allowed to enter the Messianic Kingdom, the “Kingdom of Heaven.” It helps to understand this section of Scripture if we keep in mind that Matthew 24:3-25:46 is all an answer to the question Jesus was asked in Matthew 24:3.

The Apostles knew some general facts about the end of the Age. For example, they knew about the Tribulation period from the many references to it in the Old Testament (Isa. 13:9-13; 24:1-6; Dan. 12:1; Amos 5:18-20; cp. Matt. 24:21). They also knew that the Tribulation would be followed by Jesus setting up his kingdom on earth (cp. Dan. 2:44; 7:13, 14; Ezek. 40-48), and that the Messiah’s kingdom would be inhabited by resurrected believers (Ezek. 37:11-14; Dan. 12:2; cp. John 5:25-29). Of course, there were things the Apostles did not understand; such as that the Messiah would have to die, be resurrected from the dead, and then ascend into heaven for a time before setting up his kingdom on earth.

The Apostles were anxious for the Kingdom to come, so in Matthew 24:3 they asked Jesus about when his kingdom would come. Matthew 24-25 are Jesus’ answer to their question. In the first part of Matthew 24, Jesus describes some events of the Great Tribulation, which occurs after the Rapture of the Christian Church and precedes his coming from heaven (Rev. 19:11ff). Matthew 24:30 begins to describe Jesus coming to earth and gathering the elect, who are the ones who will be allowed into the Kingdom. Jesus described the Judgment that will follow his arrival on earth in a way they could all understand it: the Flood of Noah. In the Flood, evil people were “taken” away, while Noah and his family were “left” on earth and repopulated the earth.

After comparing the Judgment to Noah’s Flood, Jesus tells the disciples to watch and be ready, and tells the “Parable of the Ten Virgins” (Matt. 25:1-13) about staying ready in order to be able to enter the Kingdom, and he also tells the “Parable of the Talents” about getting into the Kingdom and being rewarded by the Master (Matt. 25:14-30). Then Jesus returns to his teaching about the events of the Tribulation and Judgment. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells about how, when he comes to earth, he will gather everyone who is left alive after the Great Tribulation (“all the nations”). He will have them brought before his throne and he will judge them, dividing the people into two categories: the “sheep” (righteous) and the “goats” (unrighteous). Jesus will let the sheep into his kingdom and they will live on the earth. In contrast, the “goats” will be taken away to destruction. Although it was never stated in the Old Testament or Gospels, we learn from the Book of Revelation, that the first part of Jesus’ Kingdom on earth lasts 1,000 years (Rev. 20:2-5).

It is sometimes wrongly taught by Christians that Matthew 24:37-41 is about the Rapture of the Church. But these verses in Matthew 24 cannot be wrested from their context, which is Jesus Christ’s Second Coming, when he comes to the earth in judgment and to reign as king (cp. Rev. 19:11-20:4). Matthew 24:30 says the nations will see the Messiah as he comes in power and glory, and that they will “mourn.” Then Matthew 25:31-33 speaks of the coming of the Messiah and notes that Christ will “sit on his throne” and “all the nations will be gathered before him.” These things are not associated with the Rapture of the Christian Church. At the Rapture, the Church meets the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). He never comes all the way to the earth. Those left on earth will be confused about the disappearance of the Christians. They will not know where the Christians went. Furthermore, at the Rapture the nations do not see Christ nor do they “mourn.” So the context shows that Matthew 24 and Luke 17 are speaking of the Second Coming of Christ to the earth to Israel when he fights at Armageddon, judges the people, and sets up his Kingdom.

The meaning of “one is taken, and one is left” is made clear by the words themselves, the context, and the scope of Scripture. The time of Christ’s coming in judgment will be similar to the time of the judgment in the days of Noah when the flood came and “took” people away. Note that Matthew 24:39 specifically says that the flood “took” the unrighteous, while the righteous—Noah and his family—were “left.” That is historically correct. The flood took all the unrighteous people away and left Noah and his family alive on earth. So too in Matthew, the ones who are “taken” are taken for judgment and then “taken” off the earth and sent to the “fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41 NIV). Being “taken” is not a blessing. At the Sheep and Goat Judgment, the unrighteous are “taken” to punishment in the flames (Matt. 25:41, 46), while the righteous are “left” on the earth and inherit the Kingdom. Spiros Zodhiates writes:

In Matt. 24:40-41; Luke 17:34-35, paralambano in the passive form is used as the opposite of aphiemi, “to let be.” In these verses, those who are taken are not to be misconstrued as those whom the Lord favors, as if they were the same saints spoken of in 1 Thess. 4:17 who will be raptured (harpazō, “to seize, catch away, as if by force”) to meet the Lord in the clouds. The verb paralambano in most cases indicates a demonstration in favor of the one taken, but not always. In Matt. 4:5, 8, it is used of Satan “taking” Jesus up to tempt him. In John 19:16 it is used of “taking” Jesus to lead him to the cross. It is used to refer to those in the days of Noah who were taken away, not being favored but being punished, while Noah and his family were “left” intact. Therefore, in this passage in Matthew and the parallel passage in Luke, paralambano must not be equated to the believers who are to be raptured at the coming of the Lord for his saints. It refers rather to those who, as in the days of Noah, are taken to destruction. The others are left alone (aphiemi) for the purpose of entering into the blessings of Christ’s kingdom (identified by some as the Millennium) and the righteous rule of Christ upon earth.a

Robert Mounce writes:

“The man working in the field (Matt. 24:40) and the woman grinding meal (Matt. 24:41) will be taken away in judgment (not to safety; cf. parallel in Matt. 24:39 with those ‘taken away’ by the flood).”b

Another way we know that Matthew 24:37-41 is not about the Rapture is by comparing it to its parallel Scripture in Luke 17:26-27. As in Matthew 24, in Luke 17 Jesus was asked when the Kingdom would come (Luke 17:20). Luke 17 gives a much shorter answer than Matthew 24, and includes different information, but it speaks of Noah’s Flood and says when the Flood came, it “destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27). Luke also then compared the coming of the Son of Man to the days of Lot, when fire fell on Sodom and Gomorrah and “destroyed them all.” This parallel teaching shows that Jesus was not teaching about the Rapture because in the Rapture Christians will be taken from the earth while the unrighteous who are left on earth to experience the Tribulation. The unbelievers will not be destroyed at the Rapture, but will continue their lives.

People sometimes doubt that there will be the “Rapture” because Jesus did not mention it in this teaching about the end times. Jesus did not teach about it because it is part of the “Sacred Secret,” of the Administration of God’s Grace (see commentary on Ephesians 3:2). The Rapture is not found in the Old Testament or the Gospels but is part of the revelation of the Church Epistles. The revelation that is addressed specifically to the Christian Church is written in the seven epistles (letters) of Paul to the Church, known theologically as the “Church Epistles.” The fact that these seven epistles (Romans through Thessalonians) are especially important to the Christian Church is not often taught, yet it is of vital importance. Israel will not be Raptured but will be resurrected and then return to the land of Israel (Ezek. 37:11-14).

One last thing to cover is the objection of those Christians who say that the scholars quoted above are wrong and that “take” refers to those who are taken for a blessing in the Rapture while “left” refers to those who are left for judgment. Even though this interpretation ignores the context, there is another, more important point that needs to be made. The context of Matthew and Luke are crystal clear about the circumstances of Christ’s coming, such as the nations mourning and being gathered to the Judgment, and this is plainly his Second Coming and not the Rapture. Therefore, no matter which group is blessed and which group is judged, neither group is Raptured. One is blessed and left on earth to enter the Kingdom (Matt. 25:34) while the other is judged and taken away (Matt. 25:41).

[For more on Matthew 24:40 not being about the Rapture, see, John Schoenheit, The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul, chapter 3.]

Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, entry on paralambano, 1108.
Mounce, Matthew [NIBCNT], 229.

Additional resource:

Video expand/contractWas Jesus teaching about The Rapture in Matthew 24? (12:50) (Pub: 2014-10-16)

This teaching answers the question of whether Jesus was referring to the Rapture in Matthew 24. The answer lies in understanding the uniqueness of the Christian church, the context of what Jesus said in Matthew 24, the audience to whom Jesus was speaking, and various prophecies to Israel.

Verses: Ezek. 37:12-14; Matt. 24:30-31, 37-41; 25:31-34, 41, 46

Teacher: John Schoenheit

Watch on Youtube popout

Mat 24:41

“Two women.” Although the word “women” is supplied from the context and is not in the Greek text, it is correctly supplied on the basis of the biblical culture. The biblical culture was very segregated by sex: there were jobs men did that women just did not do, and jobs that women did that men would not do. Working in the fields was usually done by men, hence “men” is supplied in verse 40, and the grinding of the grain with a hand mill was always considered to be women’s work, just as carrying water was considered women’s work (thus it is a woman Jesus meets at Jacob’s well in John 4:7). It was also considered women’s work to set up and take down the family tent, which was why Jael was so confident in driving a tent stake through Sisera’s head (Judges 4:21); she had driven many tent stakes in her lifetime.

Mat 24:42(top)
Mat 24:43

“allowed.” This is the Greek word eao (#1439 ἐάω) which means “1. to let, allow, permit; 2. to let alone, to allow to do as one wishes; 3. to let go, give up, leave.” The difference between “let,” “allow,” and “permit” can be very slight, but “allow” usually means no more than lack of prohibition whereas “permit” implies a granting of express permission. Thus “allow” was usually the better choice for eao in this verse.

“dug through.” Biblical custom. Most houses were of some mud or mud and stone construction, so thieves “dug through” the wall and gained entrance to the house.

Mat 24:44(top)
Mat 24:45(top)
Mat 24:46(top)
Mat 24:47(top)
Mat 24:48(top)
Mat 24:49(top)
Mat 24:50(top)
Mat 24:51

“sobbing and gnashing of teeth. The mention of sobbing and gnashing of teeth occurs seven times in the Bible (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). All of these occurrences are in the Gospels. There is only one future Messianic Kingdom, and it fills the whole earth. The unsaved are not part of that Kingdom but are thrown into the Lake of Fire where there is sobbing and gnashing of teeth (Rev. 20:13-15).

[For a more complete explanation of the sobbing and gnashing of teeth, see commentary on Matt. 8:12.]


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