The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Matthew 24

Mat 24:1

Vv 1-3: "And now he and his disciples had departed from the temple. Once more they lingered in sweet retirement on the mount of Olives. The purple light on the mountains of Moab was fast fading out. Across the city the sinking sun cast a rich glow over the pillared cloisters of the temple, and over the silent courts as they rose terrace upon terrace. From where they stood they could see over the closed Beautiful Gate, and right to the entrance of the holy place, which now glittered with gold; while the eastern hills and the deep valley below were thrown into a solemn shadow, creeping, as the orb sunk lower, further and further towards the summit of Olivet, irradiated with one parting gleam of roseate light, after all below was sunk in obscurity. Then it was and there that the disciples, looking down upon the temple, pointed out to the Master: 'What manner of stones and what buildings are here!' The view from that site must have rendered belief in the Master's prediction even more difficult and more sad. A few years more and it was all literally fulfilled" (Temple 59,60).

JESUS LEFT THE TEMPLE: The Glory of God departs from the city via the mountain on the east: Eze 11:23 (cp Acts 1:11: his final departure).

TO CALL HIS ATTENTION TO ITS BUILDINGS: Both (a) how massive were the stones (Mar 13:1) and (b) and how beautiful (Luk 21:5). According to Josephus, huge stones, 70 ft long, 10 ft wide, 8 ft tall, in walls. 40-ft high white marble pillars -- "whited sepulchres". Titus, etc, caused "Zion to be plowed as a field" (Mic 3:12).

Mat 24:2

Cp Mat 21:21: "Mt removed and cast into sea".

NOT ONE STONE HERE WILL BE LEFT ON ANOTHER: Certain stones were even pried apart in order to collect the gold leaf that melted from the roof when the temple burned. Excavations in 1968 discovered many such stones thrown down into the valley.

True of temple building itself, but not true (as yet?) of the great foundation stones of the Temple mount.

Mat 24:3

AS JESUS WAS SITTING ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES: Instances of Jesus withdrawing into a mountain, apart -- sometimes for privacy and prayer, and sometimes to instruct his followers: Mat 5:1; 8:1; 14:23; 15:29; 17:1; 24:3; 28:16; Mark 3:13; 6:46; 9:2; 13:3; Luke 6:12; 9:28; 22:39; John 6:3,15; 8:1.

THE DISCIPLES: Peter, James, John, Andrew (Mar 13:3).

WHEN WILL THIS HAPPEN...?: The disciples, of course, expected that Christ would "come" as King, with a royal presence, and to remove the Romans and thrown down the corrupt temple, all at the same time and soon!

COMING: Gr "parousia": a literal, visible coming -- not some invisible or spiritual aura: see sw, 1Co 16:17; 2Co 7:6; 10:10; Phi 1:26; 2:12. See Lesson, "Parousia".

Mat 24:4

Vv 4-22: "The view usually held of the Olivet prophecy is that it requires to be considered in two sections: vv 4-22 foretelling the troubles connected with the fall of Jerusalem; v 29 onwards concerning the return of Christ. This is broadly true, but there is more to it than that.

"There is good reason for believing that the first section of Mat 24:4-22 will also find further fulfilment in the day of the Lord's return:

Mat 24:5

False Messiahs: "(1) Josephus says (War, b.ii.c.13) that there were many who, pretending to Divine inspiration, deceived the people, leading out numbers of them to the desert, pretending that God would there show them the signs of liberty, meaning redemption from the Roman power: and that an Egyptian false prophet led 30,000 men into the desert, who were almost all cut off by Felix. See Acts 21:38. It was a just judgment for God to deliver up that people into the hands of false Christs who had rejected the true one. Soon after our Lord's crucifixion, Simon Magus appeared, and persuaded the people of Samaria that he was the great power of God, Acts 8:9,10; and boasted among the Jews that he was the son of God. (2) Of the same stamp and character was also Dositheus, the Samaritan, who pretended that he was the Christ foretold by Moses. (3) About twelve years after the death of our Lord, when Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judea, arose an impostor of the name of Theudas, who said he was a prophet, and persuaded a great multitude to follow him with their best effects to the river Jordan, which he promised to divide for their passage; and saying these things, says Josephus, he deceived many: almost the very words of our Lord. (4) A few years afterwards, under the reign of Nero, while Felix was procurator of Judea, impostors of this stamp were so frequent that some were taken and killed almost every day: Jos Ant b.xx.c.4,7" (Clarke).

Mat 24:7

EARTHQUAKES: The May 1984 National Geographic shows through color photos and drawings the swift and terrible destruction that wiped out the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79. The explosion of Mount Vesuvius was so sudden, the residents were killed while in their routine: men and women were at the market, the rich in their luxurious baths, slaves at toil. They died amid volcanic ash and superheated gases. Even family pets suffered the same quick and final fate. It takes little imagination to picture the panic of that terrible day. The saddest part is that these people did not have to die.

Scientists confirm what ancient Roman writers record -- weeks of rumblings and shakings preceded the actual explosion. Even an ominous plume of smoke was clearly visible from the mountain days before the eruption. If only they had been able to read and respond to Vesuvius' warning!

There are similar "rumblings" in our world: warfare, earthquakes, the nuclear threat, economic woes, breakdown of the family and moral standards. While not exactly new, these things do point to a coming Day of Judgment. People need not be caught unprepared. God warns and provides an escape to those who will heed the rumblings.

Mat 24:9

Act 4:1-22: Apostles at Jerusalem.
Act 5:17-42: Apostles at Jerusalem.
Act 6:11 -- 7:60: Stephen at Jerusalem.
Act 12:11: James and Peter before Herod Agrippa.
Act 16:19-40: Paul and Silas at Philippi.
Act 17:5-9: Jason and others at Thessalonica.
Act 18:12-17: Paul before Gallio at Corinth.
Act 19:29-41: Gaius and Aristarchus at Ephesus.
Act 21:27--23:11: Paul in Jerusalem.
Act 24:1-21: Paul before Felix in Caesarea.
Act 25:6-12: Paul before Festus.
Act 26:1-32: Paul before Agrippa.

Death of the apostles:

Mat 24:10

The Jewish plot: to wreck the developing ecclesias from within: 2Pe 2:1; 1Jo 4:1; 2Co 11:26.

Mat 24:12

THE LOVE OF MOST WILL GROW COLD: "It is much easier to sell looseness and downhillness and let's-blur-the-edges-ness and compromise-ness, than it is to sell steadfastness and holiness and firmness of purpose and faithfulness to exclusive Truth. It's easy to become both popular and powerful and draw the crowds, if that is our stock in trade. But let us not be discouraged if what we have to sell does not have the common appeal of the broadly popular goods. The Truth of God is a narrow, exclusive, flesh-crucifying, demanding, high-standard thing. It is not designed for the masses, and it has never appealed to the masses, or the shallowly unthinking. It appeals only to the thoughtful, and the wholly dedicated, and those whom the masses call 'extremists.' The Truth is indeed a total, all-consuming, all-demanding 'extreme' thing" (GVG).

Mat 24:13

Cp Rev 2:10; Heb 10:36,39.

Mat 24:14

TO THE WHOLE WORLD: Now, for the first time in the world's history, there is the possibility -- due to technical advancements of communication, travel, etc -- of the gospel truly being taken to all the world.

WORLD: Gr "oikoumene" = the habitable. Perhaps in the first century, this would have been restricted to the Roman empire: the known, or civilized world of the Middle East.

Mat 24:15

THE ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION: The // passage in Luk 21:20 has: "Jerusalem being surrounded by armies"! Based on the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Ephiphanes: see Dan 11:31, notes.

Mat 24:16

LET THOSE WHO ARE IN JUDEA FLEE TO THE MOUNTAINS: To Pella (Tes 48:25,26). Cp days of Lot (Gen 19:17). The situation in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus is being likened to the state in Sodom. Rather like the way in which Isaiah (Isa 1:10) speaks of the leaders in Jerusalem in his day.

"To advise anyone to flee from a city already encircled by a besieging army sounds the height of absurdity; nevertheless this was the instruction, which the saints of those days received from their Lord. Nor was there any absurdity, for throughout the siege Titus, the Roman general, seems to have been actuated by an earnest desire to keep destruction of both life and property to a minimum -- so much so that, according to Josephus, in the early days of the siege there were several opportunities for flight. At one time, for example, the siege of Jerusalem was as good as raised for a period of four days, so casual was the watch maintained by the Roman army. In another place Josephus writes (2.20.1): After the first attack upon the city many of the most considerable of the Jewish folk forsook it as men do a sinking ship. Eusebius, the Christian historian, has this similar narrative: 'The whole body of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine Revelation given to men of approved piety there, before the war removed from the city, and dwelt in a certain town beyond Jordan, called Pella; there those that believed in Christ having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judaea, the divine justice for their crimes against Christ and his Apostles finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of those evil-doers from the earth' (Eccl Hist 3.5)" (WRev).

Mat 24:17

Do not worry about material things.

LET NO ONE ON THE ROOF... GO DOWN TO TAKE ANYTHING OUT OF THE HOUSE: But rather descend stairs on outside of house -- ie in extreme haste (LB 43).

Mat 24:20

IN WINTER: When the wadis would be swollen with floods.

ON THE SABBATH: When the city gates were closed (Neh 13:17), and Jewish prejudice would be aroused.

Mat 24:21

DISTRESS, UNEQUALED FROM THE BEGINNING: "A time of trouble such as never was" (Dan 12:1; cp Joe 2:2; Jer 30:7; Amo 8:8; Zech 14:4; Isa 2:21).

At the end of the 19th century two French writers went to visit the well-known French scientist, Pierre Berthelot. Berthelot was a kind of scientific prophet. He forecast some of the weapons of mass destruction which would appear in the next century. He said to the writers, "We have only begun to list the alphabet of destruction."

Silence fell over the meeting. Then the elder of the two writers said quietly, "I think before that time comes, God will come like a great gatekeeper with his keys dangling at his waist and say, 'Gentlemen, it's closing time.' "

Mat 24:22

IF THOSE DAYS HAD NOT BEEN CUT SHORT: The civil wars of Jewish factions inside the city shortened considerably its siege and suffering. The city fell in only 5 months.

Mat 24:26

THE DESERT: (1) Abode of John the Baptist; (2) Asceticism; (3) Mohammed, and Islam: the desert religion.

INNER ROOMS: "Secret chambers" (AV): (1) the Holy Place of the Temple; (2) the "mystery" religions and cults of the first century; (3) Roman Catholicism: the "mystery" system; (4) the "invisible presence" of the "Jehovah's Witnesses".

Mat 24:27

// Mat 16:17; 2Th 1:7,8.

FROM THE EAST... IN THE WEST: That is, from Mt Olivet to Jerusalem (Eze 43:2-4; Zech 14:4).

COMING: See Lesson, "Parousia".

Mat 24:28

CARCASS: Destroyed Jerusalem, as well as a warning of rejection at the return of Christ.

VULTURES: Roman legions.

Mat 24:29

SUN... MOON... STARS: Sym Israel in Jer 31:35,36. Or more literal: 2Pe 3:7,10; Isa 24:18. Also see Gen 37:9,10; 15:5; 22:17; Amo 8:8-10; Mic 3:6; Song 6:10; Isa 24:23; Jer 33:20-26; Joe 2:10,30-32; Act 2:20; Rev 6:12; 8:12; 12:1.

Mat 24:30

THE SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN WILL APPEAR IN THE SKY: Cp the first sign of Christ, appearing in the heavens: the "star" or Shekinah-Glory that led the wise men to where he lay (Mat 2:9).

Perhaps, in future, a strange day of miraculous darkness and light: Zech 14:4,6,7; Joel 2:2; Zeph 1:14,15.

AND ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN: Or "all the tribes of the Land": national repentance of Israel: Zech 12:10,12; Rev 1:7.

THE CLOUDS: The Divine glory revealed in Israel as cloud (Exo 13:21,22; 14:19,20,24; 16:10; 19:16-19; 20:18; 24:15-19; 33:18-21 with Exo 34:4-7; 40:34-38; Num 10:34; 12:5,10; 14:9,10,14,21,22; Deu 31:14,15; Psa 105:39; 1Co 10:1,2). The same Shekinah glory appeared to Abraham (Gen 15:17; Act 7:2), David (Psa 18:6-15), Ezekiel (Eze 1:4; 10:4); Elijah (1Ki 19:11-13), Job (Job 38:1), apostles (Luk 9:34,35). Judgments of God in last days are manifest in this cloud (Dan 7:13; Joe 2:2; Zep 1:15; Eze 30:3; Isa 19:1; 25:5). Jesus will so come from heaven (Act 1:9,11; Luk 21:27; Mat 26:64).

Mat 24:31

A LOUD TRUMPET: Connected with the resurrection: 1Th 4:16; 1Co 15:52.

Mat 24:32

FIG TREE: Luk 21:29 has "fig tree and all the trees": "Fig tree" = unsatisfactory covering: Gen 3. Fig sym Israel: Mar 11:13-21; Luk 13:6,7; Jer 24; Hos 9:10; Mic 7:1. "All trees": Intense national pride; proliferation of nations in Middle East: Psalm 83 lists 10 nations -- giving their ancient names -- which will join together in their determination to destroy Israel as a nation in the Last Days. Likewise, recent Mideast history has seen ten Arab nations, occupying generally the same territory as the nations of Psa 83, gain their independence during the same generation (1922 -- 1971) that saw the rebirth of the nation of Israel in 1948. There are currently, in the area occupied by the old Roman Empire, exactly 10 such independent Arab nations. This scenario even allows for the infamous eleventh "horn" of Dan 7, which arises after the others and acts as a catalyst in the defeat and persecution of Israel -- the incipient "nation" of Palestine. Not yet independent, will this be the eleventh horn which comes up among, and after, the former ten?:
1. Egypt (1922)
2. Saudi Arabia (1932)
3. Iraq (1932)
4. Lebanon (1943)
5. Syria (1946)
6. Jordan (1949)
7. Kuwait (1963)
8. Bahrain (1971)
9. Qatar (1971)
10. United Arab Emirates (1971)
11. Palestine (?)

TENDER: In ct to the previous fig tree (Mar 11:13), cursed by Christ, this tree puts forth tender branches (the first sign of fruit).

Mat 24:34

THIS GENERATION: "This is generation of them that seek your face" (Psa 24:6 and context). "Genera", in general, a race (NIV mg; the Jewish race: Luk 21:28,29), but sometimes a single generation. Possibly, "this present evil order of things", which continues until Christ returns.

Mat 24:36

NOR THE SON: Notice that Jesus had Daniel to read. Thus, Daniel alone is not enough to predict the time of the Kingdom accurately! "If Jesus could not use the book of Daniel to know the precise time of the end, what hope for anyone else?" (HAW, LD 15).

Mat 24:37

Vv 37-42: Jesus is stressing the interventionist nature of his return. With respect to the flood and the destruction of Sodom, life seemed to be going on quite normally... UNTIL the final catastrophic intervention of Yahweh. The same will be true at the time that Jesus returns.

COMING: See Lesson, "Parousia".

Mat 24:38

EATING AND DRINKING, MARRYING AND GIVING IN MARRIAGE: Nothing wrong with these activities in and of themselves, but only as an obsession with materialism and self-indulgence. We do well to remember that such activities are the mere "scaffolding" of a life, but not the life itself. They are all destined to come to an end with the return of Christ.

Mat 24:39

AND TOOK THEM ALL AWAY: "Universal was the doom, neither rich nor poor escaped: the learned and the illiterate, the admired and the abhorred, the religious and the profane, the old and the young, all sank in one common ruin. Some had doubtless ridiculed the patriarch -- where now their merry jests? Others had threatened him for his zeal which they counted madness -- where now their boastings and hard speeches? The critic who judged the old man's work is drowned in the same sea which covers his sneering companions. Those who spoke patronizingly of the good man's fidelity to his convictions, but shared not in them, have sunk to rise no more, and the workers who for pay helped to build the wondrous ark, are all lost also. The flood swept them all away, and made no single exception" (CHS).

One hundred different varieties of evil and indifference and neglect were all swept away by the waters of the flood -- unique though each form of life was at the time, they were at last all together in a common death. The only ones who were saved were those who actually sought places in the ark of safety.

COMING: See Lesson, "Parousia".

Mat 24:42

KEEP WATCH: Implies keeping awake and alert, like a watchman: Mat 25:13.

Mat 24:43

IF THE OWNER OF THE HOUSE HAD KNOWN AT WHAT TIME OF NIGHT THE THIEF WAS COMING: Christ is portrayed often -- he even portrays himself -- as a "thief" in the New Testament, in connection with his Second Coming (Mat 24:42-44; Luk 12:39,40; 1Th 5:2,4,6; 2Pe 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15). This may seem extraordinary, since stealing is a sin, and a "thief" therefore must be a sinner -- and how could Christ be a sinner? (A similar question might be asked: how could Christ compare himself to a serpent: John 3:14; Num 21:7-9? But that's another story!) However, there is one instance when a "thief" is not committing a crime, and that is when he is simply reclaiming (by stealth or surprise) what is rightfully his (cp David and his men, who followed the Amalekites and retrieved their kidnapped families and stolen goods: 1Sa 30!). And that seems to be exactly the point in these NT instances also: Christ when he returns will be merely taking back what is rightfully his! The true "thieves" will be seen to be those servants who ate his bread and drank his wine and enjoyed themselves in leisurely consuming that which belonged to their Master (see the parable in Mat 24:48-51 and Luk 12:45-47). Their mistake -- and it was a crucial one -- was in forgetting they were mere stewards or caretakers, and instead supposing that all their Master's properties belonged to them, and acting accordingly! So, if we are to be sure that Christ does not come as a "thief" to us, we must not act as "thieves" ourselves now, stealing from him what is rightfully his. We must remember that all we possess really belongs to the One who is our true Lord and Master; that we merely hold it all in trust, to be used to serve him.

Mat 24:45

FAITHFUL: Like the servants who were faithful in Mat 25:21.

WISE: Like the wise virgins in Mat 25:2.

GIVE THEM FOOD: Like the brethren in Mat 25:36. Ref not just to ecclesial leaders, but to all brothers and sisters: Mat 20:27; John 13:12-14.

Mat 24:46

DOING SO: Not by happenstance, but because it is the fixed object and routine of his life.

Mat 24:49

TO BEAT HIS FELLOW SERVANTS: They do not serve God truly, and abuse those who attempt to do so.

EAT AND DRINK WITH DRUNKARDS: Enjoying the worst fellowship of the world.

Mat 24:51

HE WILL CUT HIM TO PIECES: "And shall cut him asunder" (AV): The Greek is "dikotomesi" (cp Engl "dichotomy") lit to cut in two. The "Lord" upon his return will, by the "sword" of his judgment, separate the real man from the actor, revealing him for a hypocrite. Or, possibly, cutting in two, as is done with the covenant-victim -- to make him a sacrifice! See Lesson, Covenant-victim, the.

WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH: Mat 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30.

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