Matthew 24 records the last of Jesus’ central gospel of the kingdom of God messages. It is called The Olivet Discourse because His disciples came to Him with questions at the Mount of Olives. The Discourse is Jesus’ answer to their questions about the future. He gives prophetic insight for preparation
The events that aroused their questions began on Palm Sunday. Jesus gave this message to His disciples shortly before He was crucified.
For context, let me briefly overview Matthew 21-23. Matthew 21 begins with the royal welcome Jesus received when He came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey on what we call Palm Sunday.
This happened so that what the prophet said would come true: Tell the daughter of Zion, “Look! Your King is coming to you, gentle, riding on a donkey and a colt of a donkey.” Matthew 21:5
Much of the crowd followed Jesus to the temple. Money changers and merchants had set up shop right in the temple. Jesus drove them out because they were making His Father’s house a den of thieves. Then He healed the blind and lame who came to Him.
The following day He went back to the temple and was confronted by the ruling priests and elders who questioned His authority to do these things.
Jesus answered them, “I will ask you a question. And if you answer Me, I’ll tell you by what authority I’m doing theses things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from men?”
They argued among themselves, “If we say, From heaven, He will ask us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say ‘From Men,’ we’re afraid of the people: they all think John is a prophet.” Matthew 21:24-26
They wouldn’t answer. Jesus responded by teaching the crowd and the leaders with the parable of the Two Sons—one said he wouldn’t but did, the other said he would and didn’t. He asked the leaders,
“Which of the two did what the father wanted?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom ahead of you. John came to you in a righteous way, but you didn’t believe him; the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. But even when you had seen that, you didn’t change your minds and believe him.” Matthew 21:31-32.
He followed with the parable of the Wicked Tenants who killed the heir of the owner of the vineyard to get it. He concluded: “That is why I tell you, God’s kingdom will be taken away from you and be given to a people who will do its works” (Matthew 21:43). The ruling priests and Pharisees wanted to grab Him but were concerned about what the crowd would do.
Jesus told another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding for his son” (Mt 22:2). The invited guests rebuffed the invitation and mistreated and murdered his slaves. “The king got angry, sent his soldiers, and they killed those murderers and burned their city” (Mt 22:7). Then the king sent his slaves to gather guests from where the roads leave the city and the wedding hall was filled.
In 70 A.D, less than 40 years after Jesus told that parable, the soldiers of Rome killed everyone remaining in Jerusalem and utterly destroyed the temple and the city.
The Pharisees went and tried to trap Jesus with the question about paying tax to Caesar. “Give Caesar what is Caesars,” He told them, “and God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21b).
The Sadducees tried a question about a man who died childless and the widow being married by the brothers. They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.
“You’re wrong,” Jesus answered them. “You don’t know the Scriptures or God’s power. When the dead rise, men and women don’t marry but are like angels in heaven. About the dead rising—didn’t you read what God told you: Didn’t you read what God told you: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He’s not the God of the dead but of the living.” Matthew 22:29-32
Then one of the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking,
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus answered him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your life, and with all you mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The next is like it: Love your neighbor like yourself. All the Law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40
Jesus put an end to their attempts to trap Him with their questions by asking,
“What do you think of the promised Savior? Whose Son is He?
“David’s,” they answered.
He asked them, “Then how an David by the Spirit call Him Lord? He says, The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right till I put your enemies under Your feet.’ Now, If David calls Him Lord, how can He be his Son?”
Nobody could answer Him, and after that nobody dared to ask Him another question. Matthew 22:41-46
After that, Jesus warned the crowd and His disciples, “Don’t do what they do, because they don’t do what they say” (Mt 23:3). Then He pronounced woes upon the leaders. Woe for locking people out of the kingdom. Woe for making converts twice as fit for hell as they are. Woe for swearing facetiously. Woe for legalistic tithing to the neglect of being just, merciful and trustworthy. Woe for looking clean on the outside but inside being filled with greed and lust. Woe for intent to kill prophets like their fathers did. He concluded:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you murder the prophets and stone those sent to you! How often I wanted to bring your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you didn’t want to! Now your house will be left to you a deserted place. I tell you, you will not see Me again till you say, ‘Blessed is He who is coming in the Lord’s name.” Matthew 23:37-39
Three days later the religious leaders had their revenge. After they had a mock trial, they turned Jesus over to Pilate who questioned Him and found no fault in Him. By then the leaders had the crowd in frenzy. Pilate attempted to set Jesus free by offering to free Barabbas or Jesus. The crowd chose Barabbas. Pilate washed his hands of the whole affair and the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Mt 27:25). Pilate yielded to them, had Jesus scourged and handed Him over to be crucified. Within 40 years, Jerusalem was left a deserted place.
The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25)
Now we have a pretty good idea where this is going. We’ll have a better understanding as we find Jesus’ answers to the three questions put to Him by His disciples after they left the temple.
When Jesus walked out of the temple and was going away, His disciples came to show Him the buildings of the temple. “You see all these things?” Jesus asked them. “I tell you the truth; not a stone will be left on another here but will be torn down.”
When He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, His disciples came to Him alone, saying, “Tell us, when will this be and how can we tell when You’re coming back and the world will come to an end?” Matthew 24:1-3
The disciples had just pointed out the magnificence of Herod’s Temple to Jesus and He had told them, “not a stone will be left on another.” Now they rapid fire three questions. Regarding the destruction of the temple, “when will this be?” Regarding the second coming, “how can we tell when You’re coming back?” The final question: How can we tell when “the world will come to an end?”
Regarding the destruction of the temple, “when will this be?” Jesus tells them:
“Be careful not to let anyone deceive you,” Jesus answered them. “Many will come using My name, and saying, ‘I am the promised Christ,’ and will deceive many.”
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you don’t get alarmed. It must happen, but that’s not the end yet. Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in different places. But all theses are only the first pains.”
“Then they will hand you over to those who will make you suffer, and they will kill you, and all nations will hate you on account of My name. Then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and lead many people astray. And because there will be more and more wickedness, the love of most people will turn cold. But endure to the end, and you will be saved.
“This gospel of the Kingdom must be preached all over the world so that all nations hear the truth, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:4-14
In the short term, many false Messiahs did come. Israel was under bondage to Rome. Militant political protesters rose up as Messiahs to liberate the people. Many zealous but deceived people followed these false Christs to their deaths.
Wars, famines and earthquakes happened. Jesus told His disciples not to be deceived by the violence they would see and experience. These would be the first pains as in the pains a mother experiences prior to giving birth to a child. They characterize events occurring in 33-70 A.D.
Jesus now gives the disciples the sign of the destruction of Jerusalem, the abomination of desolation.
“When you see what the prophet Daniel told about, the abomination laying waste the land and standing in the holy place (anyone who reads this should understand it), then if you’re in Judea, flee to the hills. If you’re on the roof, don’t come down to get things in your house. If you’re in the field, don’t turn back to get your garment.”
“Woe to the women who in those days are expecting babies or nursing them. Pray that it may not be winter or a Sabbath when you flee. It will be a time of great misery such as hasn’t been from the beginning of the world till now and never will be again. And if that time had not been cut short, nobody would be saved. But that time will be cut short for the sake of those whom He has chosen.” Matthew 24:15-22
In three extensive articles on Matthew 24, Sam thoroughly presents and documents the primary interpretations of current scholars and his own. Matthew 24 and the Olivet Discourse – Part I, Matthew 24 and the Olivet Discourse – Part II and Matthew 24 and the Olivet Discourse – Part III.
Here he explains the abomination of desolation.
The reader of the book of Daniel would understand. Daniel 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11. The first abomination took place in 168 B.C. when the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes slaughtered 40,000 Jews, sacrificed a pig on the alter of burnt offering and plundered the temple. Jesus is warning of the second abomination prophesied in Daniel 12:11.
The abomination signals that the first pains are over and now the destruction begins. God’s judgment against Israel is described. Jesus provides survival instructions to his disciples for unprecedented tribulation. It was a time of great misery that took place between 66 and 70 A.D. Historians tell us Jews who had converted fled from Jerusalem in droves prior to its destruction. Jesus’ apostles surely saw this coming and warned the believers.
If anyone tells you then,” ‘Look, here is Christ!’, or, ‘There He is!’ don’t believe it, because false Christs and false prophets will come and do great miracles and wonders to deceive if possible even those whom God has chosen. You see, I’ve told you this before it happens. So when you’re told, ‘There He is in the wilderness,’ don’t go out; or, Here He is in the inner rooms,’ don’t believe it. The Son of Man will come like the lightening that flashes from the east to the west.—Where the dead body is, there the vultures will gather. Matthew 24:23-28
Again, Jesus warns His disciples not to be caught up in the frenzy of religious zealots. “I’ve told you this before it happens.”
For this explanation, Sam quotes Gentry, “The direction of this judgment coming of Christ in Matthew 24:27 apparently reflects the Roman armies marching toward Jerusalem from an easterly direction. Josephus’s record of the march of the Roman armies through Israel shows they wreak havoc on Jerusalem by approaching it from the east.
The enigmatic saying about vultures is probably referring to the Roman eagle found on the ensign at the head of every Roman legion. If this be the case, it is the Roman ‘eagle’ (vulture) that gathers over the corpse of Jerusalem to pick it clean.
Now we come to three verses that have stirred up all kinds of theories and doctrines. Jesus has just finished answering His disciples question about when the destruction of the temple will occur. Jesus tells them:
29 Right after the misery of that time the sun will turn dark, the moon will stop shining, the starts will be falling from the sky, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. 30 Then the sign announcing the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all people on earth will mourn when they see the son of Man coming on the clouds in the sky with power and great glory. 31 And with a loud trumpet call He will send out His angels [messengers], and they will gather His chosen ones from the north, south, east, and west, from one end of the sky to the other.
32 Learn this lesson from a fig tree: When its branch gets tender and grows leaves, you know summer is near. 33 So also when you see all these things, you know that He is near, at your door.
34 I tell you the truth, these people [this generation] will not pass away till all this happens. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but what I say will not pass away. Matthew 24:29-35
Again, from Sam Storms: “Here it appears that Jesus says his second coming will occur ‘immediately after’ the tribulation just described.”… “The problem is this: if vv. 15-28 refers to the events of 70 a.d., why didn’t Jesus return at that time?”…
R. T. France represents a growing number of scholars (N. T. Wright, Peter Walker, Kenneth Gentry among others) who insist that vv. 29-31 do not refer at all to the second coming of Christ at the end of age but rather to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. …
Thus, according to this view, Jesus does not address the issue of his second coming at the end of history until v. 36. Therefore, “all these things” (v. 34) which must take place before “this generation” (v. 34) passes away refers to everything described in vv. 4-31, i.e., events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. …
Still at the center of attention is the question the disciples had asked Jesus back in v. 3. a) When will “these things” be, i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple as prophesied in 23:35-36, 38; 24:2? b) When will you return and consummate the age? The disciples thought the two events would be simultaneous. Jesus says, “No, the destruction of Jerusalem will be in your lifetime. I’ll even give you a sign that will warn you of its nearness. But the day of my second coming will not be preceded by signs. It will come only after a period of delay of undetermined duration. Everyone of this present generation will be aware of when Jerusalem will fall, but not even I know when the second coming will occur.”
In summary, Jesus says: “I want you to be alerted to the approach of Jerusalem’s destruction. Here is how you can know when its fall is impending. It will as surely follow the Abomination of Desolation as summer follows the budding of figs. But, on the other hand, when it comes to the timing and proximity of my return and the end of the age, not even I know when that day will occur.”
Matthew 24:35 (Mk. 13:31) records Jesus’ words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Most commentators have given scant attention to the significance of this statement in its context, simply assuming that our Lord had in mind the destruction /collapse of the space-time cosmos at the close of history. However, Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis has put forth a compelling argument “that ‘by heaven and earth’ is meant the Jerusalem temple and the Torah constitution at the center of which the former stands. … [Thus the phrase ‘heaven and earth shall pass away’ refers] to the imminent end to the social, religious and economic structure of Israel’s covenant relationship with God with the attendant destruction of the temple” (“The Destruction of the Temple and the Relativization of the Old Covenant: Mark 13:31 and Matthew 5:18,” in Eschatology in Bible & Theology: Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium, edited by Kent E. Brower & Mark W. Elliott [Downers Grove: IVP, 1997], 146).
Regarding the second coming, “how can we tell when You’re coming back?”
“No one knows about that day or hour, not the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36
Whereas the parable of the fig tree makes it possible to know the nearness of Jerusalem’s fall, nothing will help you fix the date or proximity of Christ’s return. Here, then, is our Lord’s answer to the second half of the disciples’ question (v. 3). “That day” (v. 36) refers to the second coming at the end of human history.”
When the Son of Man comes, it will be like the time of Noah. In the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, and men and women were marrying till the Noah went into the ark. They learned nothing till the flood came and swept them away. That’s how it will be when the Son of Man comes.
Then there will be two men in the field—one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at a mill—one will be taken and the other left. Matthew 24:37-41
Peter provides context for the second coming and judgment in 2 Peter 3. There he taught how surprised people were when Noah’s flood destroyed the world then how the earth would be destroyed and regenerated when the Son of Man comes. Revelations 18 describes the fall of great Babylon. Totally hedonistic people will be buying and selling luxury items including slaves and the souls of men right up to the last minute.
Watch, then, because you don’t know which day your Lord is coming. You know if the owner of a house had known what time of the night the burglar was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let anyone break into his house. You too get ready, because the Son of Man is coming when you don’t expect Him.
Now, who is the faithful and sensible slave whom the Master has put in charge of his servants to give them their food at the right time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds doing this when he comes. I tell you, he will certainly put him in charge of all his property. But if that slave is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying a long time,’ and starts to beat his fellow slaves and eats and drinks with the drunkards, the master of that slave will come one day when he’s not expecting him and at a time he doesn’t know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. There they will grind their teeth. Matthew 24:42-51
The last three parables Jesus told (Matthew 25)
Here, Jesus concludes the Olivet discourse to His disciples with three teaching parables of the kingdom answering the last 2 questions in verse 24:3. “How can we tell when You’re coming back and the world will come to an end.”
The Bridegroom parable answers the question about when He is coming back. His answer is we can’t. Jesus shows the stark consequences of coasting along and relying on others to do for us what needs to be done. We are to be prepared and alert.
The foolish five forgot to bring extra oil, and the wise five couldn’t share their personal supply with the others because there wasn’t enough for everyone. This point in the parable is a reminder that each person believes in Jesus for himself or herself. You can’t believe for someone else. A wife can’t believe for her husband. A parent can’t believe for a child. A person can’t believe for his friend or neighbor. Each individual person needs to be ready for Jesus to return, and no one else can prepare another person for that day.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten girls who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The foolish girls brought their lamps, but they took no extra oil. The wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. But the bridegroom delayed, and so they all dozed off to sleep.
At midnight there was a shout: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out and meet him!’ Then all those girls woke up and got their lamps ready.
But the foolish asked the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil. Our lamps are going out.’
The wise girls answered, ‘There will never be enough for us and for you. Better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’
While they were away buying it, the bridegroom came, and the girls who were ready went with him to the wedding, and the door was shut.
Later the other girls also came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us!’
“I tell you the truth he answered them, ‘I don’t know You.’
“Keep awake, then, because you don’t know the day or the hour.” Matthew 25:1-13
In The Parable of the Talents, Jesus shows the kingdom is like a man going on a trip. He gives His servants resources to use. Jesus made it clear to His disciples they should make good use of the resources of the kingdom. God in the Messiah has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places. He calls us to put His blessings to good use. This parable also pictures judgment day in the kingdom.
It’s like a man going on a trip. He called his slaves and put his money in their hands. He gave one man $10,000, another $4,000, and another $2,000, each according to his ability. Then he left.
The one who got $10,000 immediately went and put it into business and made another $10,000. The one who had $4,000 did the same and made another $4,000. But the one who got $2,000 went and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”
After a long time the master of those slaves came and had them give an account. The one who got $10,000 came and brought another $10, 000. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you let me have $10,000. See, I’ve made another $10,000.”
“Well done, good and faithful slave!’ his master answered him. ‘You proved you could be trusted with a little. I will put you in charge of something big. Come and be happy with your master.’
“The one who got $4,000 come and said, ‘Master, you let me have $4,000. See, I’ve made another $4,000.’
‘“Well done, good and faithful slave!’ his master answered him. ‘You proved you could be trusted with a little. I will put you in charge of something big. Come and be happy with your master.’
“Then came also the one who got $2,000. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I found out you’re a hard man. You get grain where you didn’t sow and you gather where you didn’t scatter. I was afraid, so I went and hid your $2,000 in the ground. There’s your money!’
“You wicked and lazy slave!’ his master answered him. ‘You knew I get grain where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? Then you should have invested my money with the bankers, and when I came back, I could have gotten my money back with interest. Take the $2,000 away from him, and give it to the one who has $10,000. Whoever has anything will receive, and so he will have more and more. And from him who doesn’t have what he should have, even what he has will be taken away. Throw this good-for-nothing slave out into the dark where there will be crying and grinding of teeth.” Matthew 25:14-30
In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus teaches us to love one another and do for others what we would have them do for us. Whatever we did for one of His brothers or sisters, we did for Him. What we did will be gloriously rewarded with the inheritance our Father gives us—eternal life in the kingdom to come.
When the Son of man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His throne of glory. And all nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will have the sheep stand at His right but the goats at His left.
Then the King will say to those at His right, ‘Come, you whom My Father blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the time the world was made. I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me into your homes; naked, and you gave Me something to wear; sick, and you looked after Me; in prison, and you visited Me.
Then the righteous will ask Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You a drink? When did we see You a stranger and take you into our homes, or naked and give You something to wear? When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?”
And the King will answer them, ‘Let Me assure you, anything you did for one of My brothers here, however humble, you did for Me.”
Then He will say to those at His left, ‘Go away from Me, you cursed ones, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; thirsty, and you didn’t give Me a drink; a stranger, and you didn’t take Me into you homes; naked, and you didn’t give Me anything to wear; sick and in prison, and you didn’t look after Me.”
Then they, too, will ask, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t help You?”
Then He will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you didn’t do for one of these, however humble, you didn’t do for Me.”
Then these will go away to everlasting punishment, but the righteous to everlasting life.” Matthew 25:31-46
One of the major ways we do for our brothers and sisters is by serving family members. Then the circle broadens to those we know or are personally acquainted with, especially our family of believers. “So whenever we have a chance, let us do good to everybody but especially to our family of believers” (Gal 6:10). The Church includes all believers everywhere. Our family of believers is composed of the people we know and love and share our lives with. They mostly live near where we live, but some live over there on the other side of the world.
I look forward to the day Jesus will say to billions of believers including you and me, “Come, you whom My Father blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the time the world was made.” Matthew 25:34
Scripture quotes are from An American Translation, Beck