Mathew 24’s first two verses begin by describing a comment Jesus made about the incredible stones with which the temple was made, this comment then triggered the rest of the discourse. The disciples probably thought that Christ would be impressed, as they were, by the beautiful stones, but instead He goes on to predict that this temple they admired so much was to be destroyed- Christ invites them to consider ‘all these things’ and then went on to predict the total destruction of the entire temple. The point of the discourse is to explain how these believers should continue to live godly lives amidst the troubles to come.
My intention is not to focus on the first two verses, except for my above comments. The verse which interests me and has much significance with regard to eschatology is verse 3, “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ’’when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age’.(NASB)”
Both Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus was seated on the mountain; Mark says that they were opposite the temple. Most likely the view helped remind the Disciples of Christ’s words (there is a break between verse 1-2 and verse 3). Now what I believe occurs in this text, is that the disciples ask Jesus two questions. The time when all this would happen, and what the sign of your coming and of the consummation of the age would be. It appears the disciples thought these two events to be closely connected.
Just to comment on the word ‘coming’ in ‘sign of your coming’. The word παρουσια (coming), is found four times in Matthew (v27, 37 and 39) and nowhere else in the Gospels. The term has the idea of ‘being present, presence’[i] and thus ‘coming’. The Technical Use of the Terms in Hellenic Greek was for the visit of a ruler[ii], and it becomes the usual word in the epistles for the ‘coming’ of Jesus at the end of the age. Important to note, the other Gospels have the question about ‘when these things will be’ but only Matthew refers to Jesus’ coming.
Interestingly the phrase, consummation of the age is found five times in Matthew (13:39, 16:27, 24:31, 25:31) with age being the correct translation as opposed to world.
I don’t think we should be to suspicious regarding the connection of the two questions in the mind of the disciples, as Leo Morris points out, “ …. It was an age when all sorts of speculations about the Last Things were in vogue…[iii]” Something like the destruction of the temple would surely bring up issues of Last Things.
We know that Christ’s prediction in 24:1-2 was fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. However, there are some interesting contrasts in the chapter which also suggest two questions. For example:
Firstly in verses 3-34 Jesus talks about various sign, and even tells the disciples to pay close attention to the so that they would know how to respond to them (v6, 14, 15-18, 23, 29, 32). Furthermore v34 says that these events will occur within ‘this generation’[iv]. In distinction to this Jesus specifically says that no one knows when this will occur (V36, 42, 44). Logically two events must be spoken of if one response is to flee the city (v16) and the other response is to continue to serve faithfully (v46). In addition it would be odd to say that a number of signs suggest the nearness of the events, and that they should cause some kind of action (v14, 16, 33), and at the same time say that the ‘day and hour’ no one knows, not even the Son of God, or the angels. Is the point of this so that the disciples can know the week or month, but not the specific day or week? I would say that this is an unnatural reading of the text, a way of reading which, as one author puts it, ‘smooths over huge differences between the relative ease with which the occurrences if the two events can be predicted’.
I would love to spend more time here, but this is enough for now. Many questions are still unanswered, but this is at least the beginning of my dealing with verse 3.
[i] Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament
[ii] The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
[iii] Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. PNTC. Pg 596.
[iv] I am open to the possibility that this is not to be taken as referring to the generation of Jesus’ audience, but my beginning point will be to assume as much, till a study of this text is made later in this series.