Matthew 24 is a very important prophetic passage because it contains detailed prophecies of Jesus concerning future events. It consists of a speech delivered by Jesus during the last week of His life (in about 30 A.D.) as He and His disciples sat on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent Temple. The speech is recorded in three places: Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.
The discourse was prompted by one of Jesus' disciples as they were leaving the Temple where Jesus had been teaching. The disciple, obviously overwhelmed by the beauty of the Temple, said, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings" (Mark 13:1). Jesus' immediate response was a startling one: "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down" (Mark 13:2).
A Series of Questions
This statement must have greatly perplexed the disciples of Jesus, because later, after they had ascended the Mount of Olives and had stopped to rest, they asked Jesus: "Tell us when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3).
Note carefully the three questions Jesus was asked:
- "When will these things be?" That is, when will Jerusalem and the Temple be destroyed?
- "What will be the sign of Your coming?" That is, what event will signal Jesus' return?
- "What will be the sign of the end of the age?" That is, what event will mark the consummation of history and the launching of a new world order?
Jesus does not address the first question in his discourse as it is recorded in Matthew 24. His response can be found only in Luke's account, in Luke 21:20-24. The answer is that Jerusalem and the Temple will suffer destruction when the disciples "see Jerusalem surrounded by armies" (Luke 21:20). This occurred 40 years later in 70 A.D. when the Romans besieged the city and then destroyed it. Jesus referred to this event as "days of vengeance" (Luke 21:22).
The answer to the second question is provided in Matthew 24:4-22. Basically, the point that Jesus makes is that the sign of His coming will be the Great Tribulation, a future period of seven years during which God will pour out His wrath on the nations of the world.
The third question is answered in Matthew 24:30. The sign of the end of the age will be the appearance of Jesus in the heavens, "coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory."
Signs of the Tribulation
In the process of delivering this discourse, Jesus mentioned many signs that would characterize the period leading up to and including the Tribulation, signs which altogether would point to His soon return (Matthew 24:4-15). These included such things as false Christs, wars and rumors of wars, persecution of believers, and lawlessness. Signs of nature were also emphasized. Jesus said that natural catastrophes such as famines, earthquakes, pestilence and signs in the heavens would increase like birth pangs — in frequency and intensity.
The only positive sign Jesus mentioned was the preaching of the Gospel to all the nations of the earth (Matthew 24:14).
According to Jesus, the climactic sign of the Tribulation would be the erection of what the prophet Daniel had called "the abomination of desolation," which would be situated "in the holy place" of the Temple (Daniel 11:31 and Matthew 24:15).
So, what about it? Is Matthew 24 history or prophecy? Find out as we continue with the next segment in this "Olivet Discourse" series!