matt 24 (1)… introduction


Matthew 24 and 25 record what is often called the Olivet discourse because it is delivered from the Mt of Olives (v3). It is the last of five discourses in Mathew and appropriately describes last things – it spans the interadvent period and beyond. Jesus’ eschatological teaching informs NT books like Thessalonians and Revelation. In turn, Jesus draws from OT prophets, particularly Daniel, in his discourse, and teaches us how to interpret these OT texts..

As in the first discourse (5-7) Jesus sits to teach. His teaching arises from his disciples admiration of the temple. Heron’s temple was by all accounts a truly impressive building – a wonder of the then known world. The status of Israel and Judaism was closely tied to the temple. It is little wonder the disciples were impressed by it:it dazzled. But it was a deception. Jesus wishes to reorientate the hearts of his disciples. The future, their future, did not lie with ethnic Israel, Judaism or the temple however solid and impressive the latter may be; shortly this solid magnificence will be no more. Soon, says Jesus, not one of its massive stones will be left on top of another. Israel will suffer great trauma. Jerusalem, the temple and Judaism, already formally judged by Jesus (23:37-38) now simply await the execution of sentence which will come upon that generation (23:36; 24:34). Such realities were an astonishing prospect and in the minds of the disciples were of such significance they could only herald the end of the age and Jesus’ return; they seemed to see the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of the age and the return of Jesus as one event.

Jesus teaches them the reality will be more complex. He speaks as a prophet throughout this discourse. He describes the experience of his, disciples, the fledgling church, the impending judgement of Israel, and events in the more distant future. Remarkably much about which he speaks will be fulfilled within a generation. The disciples will live in a troubled world and face many trials, Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed and so Judaism in its covenantal form will be no more (23:36). The only person who could have protected Jerusalem, her Messianic King, she rejected and in a few days will judicially murder (23:37.20:17-19). As a consequence, on the city and nation will fall the righteous blood of all God’s prophets she has murdered over the centuries (23:34-36). The crucifying of God’s messianic son is the last straw (21:38). The signal of impending judgement in the past was God abandoning the temple and the nation to their fate at the hands of gentile armies (Mic 3:12; Jer 7:12-14; Ezekiel 10). Once again the House of God is abandoned (23:38). It is no longer ‘God’s house’ but ‘your house’. Jesus is leaving the temple and city (for the last time) and the divine departure was foreboding judgement (23:38).

Sitting on the Mt of Olives east of the city (from which Jesus will depart to heaven and to which he will return from heaven) and looking over the city the disciples follow through Jesus’ earlier pronouncement of the temple’s demise with the question, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Visiting dignitaries were often preceded by forerunners signaling their arrival. Perhaps that is what the disciples have in view when they speak of a ‘sign’ of his coming.

The disciples, we noted, conflate two issues – the destruction of the temple and the return of Christ at the end of the age. In the OT, Jerusalem’s end-time suffering and the Lord’s deliverance, are united (Zech 14; Dan 12:1). This climactic suffering, however, was preceded by ongoing suffering which were part of the expected ‘messianic woes’, the contractions that will in time birth the messianic age (Dan 7:25-27). As we read the discourse it seems that Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70 may be that final suffering that will result in the return of Christ and the arrival of the kingdom, however it proves to be one of the many contractions or birth pangs along the way and not the final birthing. The AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem does not result in the coming of the Son of Man; AD 70 and the Son’s return it seems are two separate events.

Yet, this part of the discourse, the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man (vv15-29) has subtleties that have engaged Christian minds. These subtleties have given rise to different interpretations over the years. Three main approaches have emerged.

Partial Preterism

PP’s believe the majority of the discourse was fulfilled by AD 70 and that Jesus did ‘come’ in AD 70.. Only from v36 is the Second Coming in view. Commentators like, Kik, Tasker, R T France, N T Wright and D Garland support a PP interpretation. It is a view that seems to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity at the moment. The strength of its position is that it does justice to Jesus’ words ‘this generation will not pass away until all these things are accomplished’ (24:34). Its weakness is that language more obviously associated with the Second Coming (clouds, power and great glory, a trumpet call and the gathering in of the elect) it refers to an invisible ‘coming’ in judgement in AD 70 via the Roman army (v20-31). This does not seem a likely interpretation and is a major hurdle for PP to overcome. Further, ‘the end’ does not refer to the end of the OC in the destruction of the temple but the end of history when Christ returns (Matt 28:18-20; 13:39,40: 1 Pet 4:7).


The second position is the polar opposite. It believes nothing in Matt 24 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The passage that seems to do so (vv15-28) it insists refers to the years immediately preceding Christ’s Second Coming. Jerusalem, is not the Jerusalem of AD 70 but Jerusalem at the end of history just prior to Christ’s return which will suffer great tribulation before being rescued by Jesus at his coming.

Arguments can be forwarded for this position too. The OT Scriptures to which Jesus alludes describe a Jerusalem at the heart of a final eschatological drama before Jesus returns and rescues her (Zech 14; Dan 7, 12:1-4). The disciples inquiry was about the second advent and the end of the age. We expect an emphasis on ultimate things. Further, there are aspects of vv15-30 that do not fit easily with AD 70. There really was nothing comparable to ‘an abomination that causes desolation’ in AD 70. By the time the temple was entered by the Romans it was already too late to flee. And, in what sense could the fall of Jerusalem be an event ‘cut short for the sake of the elect’? Not only so, the description of the coming of the Son of Man looks very like the second advent. Jesus, futurists insist, was referring to an event immediately prior to his return. Of course such a view struggles with the historical marker ‘this generation will not pass away until these things are accomplished (24:34). Some understand ‘this generation’ to mean ‘this wicked and adulterous generation’ which will exist until the second coming (Matt 16:4). However, ‘this generation’ is definitely the generation then alive in Israel (23:36).


The third position is a combination of the partial preterist and the futurist. The prophecy (24,25) it affirms, spans the whole era of the church from the ascension to the second advent. While features of the prophecy are fulfilled in the C1 vv 4-34 this does not exhaust their fulfilment. Many are general features that continue through the whole history of the church. The specific prophecy regarding the destruction of Jerusalem combines a near and ultimate events. The events of AD 70 are indeed in view (vv15-28) but superimposed on these events are end-time events that will be cut short in mercy by the return of Christ. Sometimes this is called prophetic foreshortening – the fusion of two horizons. A climber may stand on a ridge and look at a mountain range beyond. He appears to see one mountain peak but in fact is seeing a number. The valleys between are hidden and the peaks are fused into one. This seems to be happening in Matt 24. AD 70 is a typological fulfilment that points to an eschatological fulfilment; a fulfilment in the middle of history that points to another fulfilment at the end of history.

This is not nearly so strange an idea as we may think. Anyone who knows the OT realises this dual perspective was often at work in the OT prophets. Events in the near future were often fused indistinguishably with events in the distant future. For example, the historical deliverance from Babylon and eschatological salvation are knitted. Jesus is a prophet (Deut 18:15) and we should not be surprised if he employs familiar prophetic hermeneutics. Thus the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is the immediate prophetic event which when fulfilled proves Jesus is an authentic prophet and confirms the fulfilment of the prophecies that await the end of the age. For the preterist-futurist the immediate and ultimate future are linked, even inextricably wedded. An interesting example of this arises in a conversation Jesus has with his disciples following the transfiguration episode.

We read,

10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

Notice Jesus speaks of Elijah as yet to come and he will restore all things. Then he goes on to say, Elijah has already come in the person of John the Baptist. I think this dual fulfilment has similar dynamics to the dual fulfilment of AD 70 and a future tribulation (Rev 13). Certainly Paul is clear that a man of lawlessness will arise and with him ‘a rebellion’ he will exalt himself above every god and take his seat in the temple of God claiming to be God. We are looking again at Dan 7,11,12. The language of abomination is implied. The Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth at his coming (2 Thess 2, Rev 13; 19), AD 70 was not the end of the age (as PP’s affirm) that happens at Christ’s return.

The perspective that I find most convincing is the Preterist-futurist. It seems the prophecies concerning Jerusalem have an immediate and ultimate reference.

The disciples

It is a mistake to assume the disciples are only representative of Jews. They are of course Jewish because the early church was Jewish. They were likely as Jews to be caught up in the Jewish wars and in the destruction of Jerusalem. However, in all these situations they were Christians first and Jews second. When we read the unpleasant history that Jesus sketches it involves things that troubled the early church. Antichrists (1 Jn 2:18), false prophets (2 Pet 2:1; 1 Cor 11: 13-15), persecution (1 Pet 4:12-19; Hebs 10:32-39. All this calls for endurance (Rev 2:10; 2 Tim 2:12, Hebs 3:14). The parallels with the rest of the NT make it certain that Jesus addresses his disciples not primarily as Jews but as his church. Only a strong pre-conditioning could persuade otherwise.


In approaching the discourse we should recognize the emphasis on ‘delay’. Throughout ch 24,25 the message is ‘the end is not yet’. Despite. ‘This generation shall not pass away.. accomplished’ (v 34) Jesus teaches the Son of Man will return but his disciples must be prepared for a considerable delay. This delay will be a time of testing for the church. for the disciples are the new messianic community, the new Israel (16:18) and the love of many will grow cold (v12). We have already discussed the role of the disciples in the discourse. Delay in Jesus return is going to put faith under pressure. In forewarning them they are being forearmed.

And so the events of Ch 24 in my view describe the whole age of the church. The features of 4-14 are general and while they happened to the first generation (v 34) they have been the experience of every subsequent generation and will continue until Christ returns. Vv15-30 describe an event with both a near manifestation and a distant manifestation. Vv36-51 describe the second coming of Christ, it’s unexpectedness and delay and the need therefore to be alert and watching.

Perhaps it’s time to look more closely at the chapter.


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