Matthew chapter 24 has been described as the biggest problem in the gospel. Much confusion exists regarding this chapter because of the tendency on the part of many to refer to all the discussion within it to the Second Coming of Christ. Some have even attributed error to the statement of Jesus in verse 34, “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished.” It is the consensus of many that Christ and the apostles were mistaken. Seemingly, no thought is give to the idea that the exegesis of scholars is at fault.
An examination of this chapter in its proper context will clarify many difficulties. The larger context is found in John the Baptist’s statement regarding the eventual downfall of Israel (Matthew 3:7-10). Jesus further pointed to the conversion of the Gentiles and the cutting off of the Jewish nation because of their lack of faith (Matthew 8:10-12). In His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well Jesus related to the time when worship would not be confined to a particular geographical location (John 4:21). The Jewish nation would become like a barren fig tree and would be cut down (Luke 13:6-9). He severely denounced the empty religion of the Jewish leaders (Matthew 23:1-36) and concluded with a tender and moving lamentation over their spiritual destitution (Matthew 23:37-39).
The immediate context of the Lord’s prophecy was prompted by the disciples’ questions regarding the destruction of the beautiful temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1-3). They mistakenly associated the overthrow of the temple with the end of the world and they wanted to be informed in advance of the signs that would accompany the final coming (Matthew 24:3). Jesus responded by discussing two comings and two ends of two worlds. The first judgment would fall upon Jerusalem and would mark the end of Judaism. The final judgment would mark the end of the world at which time Jesus would come again, not as a Savior but as a Judge.
Note the signs that would precede judgment upon Jerusalem (Matthew 24:4-28). There would be misleading signs (Matthew 24:4-14) such as false Messiahs (vs. 5). There would also be wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation (vs. 6-7), famines, earthquakes, natural calamities (vs. 7-8), and persecutions (vs. 9-13). The gospel would also be preached to the world before the temple would be destroyed (vs. 14).
Jesus said that when you see the “abomination of desolation,” identified as the Roman army in Luke 21:20, you will know the time for Jerusalem’s destruction is near (Matthew 24:15-28). Its destruction will be extremely horrible and devastating (Matthew 24:29-31). It would occur within the lifetime of those who heard Him speak on this occasion (Matthew 24:32-35). In 70 A.D. the Roman army under General Titus besieged Jerusalem just as Jesus prophesied.
However, by way of contrast the end of time would not have any specific signs that would accompany it. Life will be carried on as usual when suddenly, without advance warning, Jesus will come again (Matthew 24:36-52; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). Man needs to stand in readiness for that great day to come at any moment.