The differences in the religious world on the subject of eschatology are remarkably diverse—whether a-millennial, post-millennial or pre-millennial. These differences do not relegate themselves to a few isolated texts in the Bible, but touch scripture at every turn from the Old through the New Testaments. Due to the broad divergence of views, it is incumbent upon every Christian to have a firm footing on the study of last things in the Bible.
The task before us is an examination of Matthew chapter twenty-four. This study or research has limitations, which include a lack of a thorough word studies, a complete settling of all passages which need reconciliation with Matthew chapter twenty-four (e.g. Luke 17:20-37) and a complete comparison and contrasting of the a-millennial and pre-millennial views. Hence, the short paper is appropriately entitled, Toward An Understanding of Matthew 24. Dialogue is welcome with good spirited students that the author of this short work awaits with joy.
Contextual Setting of the Text
The judgment pronouncements and pictures of Matthew chapter twenty-four are couched in the greater context of the narrative of Matthew. William Hendriksen writes:
In general it can be said that the purpose of this Gospel was full to win the Jews for Christ; that is, to gain those still unconverted and to strengthen those already converted. The Hebraistic character of Matthew’s Gospel..points to this as its goal. In order to achieve it the emphasis throughout is placed on the fact that Jesus is indeed the long awaited Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures. In Matthew particular stress is placed on the fact that Jesus is indeed the Christ of prophecy.
Jesus presented Himself to the Jewish nation as the rightful Messiah. Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ genealogy sets Him forth as the regal heir to the throne of David to whom God had sworn an oath that He would bring from his body a “seed” or descendant to reign over the eternal kingdom. Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy was presented to the Jewish nation as proof of the truthfulness of His claim to be the Messiah (e.g. virgin birth, place of His birth,[ the appearance of the star, being preceded by a forerunner, His centralized work from Capernaum His healing ministry, withdrawal of ministry to remote places before His time, the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on the donkey, His rejection by the nation, the abandonment of the disciples at the time of Jesus’ trial, the death of substitution,[ and His crucifixion between two thieves). Jesus powers over disease,[ dead, nature and demons demonstrated that He was the Son of God fulfilling prophecies by His mighty acts. The truthfulness of Jesus’ identity, His death, burial and resurrection was to be the electing power to call the true Israel of God out of the Jewish nation.The straight gate led to eternal life, but few would find it. Yet, before Jesus and His Apostles’ work was completed, all the true Israel of God would be called by the electing power of the gospel This true Israel of God would be those who were from the Jewish and Gentile nations who came to believe Jesus to be the Son of God, identified with Him in baptism and lived under His Lordship
Yet, this overwhelming body of evidences was presented to the Jewish nation and the message even began to spill over the boards of the Jewish race to other races during Jesus’ earthly ministry. After healing the centurion’s servant and amazed at this Gentile’s faith and insight, Jesus said:
Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, no even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The exclusion of ethnic Jews (sons of the kingdom), or those who everyone would have believed due to their ancestry would have been in the kingdom and the inclusion of people (like the centurion) from other races was a shock to Jewish ears. The Jewish leaders viewed their ability to trace their physical lineage back to Abraham to be sufficient grounds to expect right standing with God and acceptance in the Messiah’s kingdom. Yet, the Baptist had made it clear that God could “raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” The dye had long since been cast in God’s eternal purpose and expressed in Old Testament prophecy that God’s future people would not only be composed of physical descendants of Abraham but from the nations—all who believed in His Son. Further, physical connection with Abraham had never been the criteria required of God for acceptance in the Kingdom of the Messiah or the Ishmaelites, Edomites and all the sons of Keturah would have had right to claim Messiah’s “blessing” based on physical lineage. This truth was sorely misunderstood by the Jewish leaders, as well as Jesus’ own disciples prior to the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would provide the supernatural instruction necessary for them to perceive the spiritual nature of Christ’s Kingdom.
Only a certain kind of heart would receive the truth of Jesus’ deity and identity as the Messiah. Jesus in the Beatitudes painted the spiritual profile of true members of the kingdom of God. Jesus explained this concept in the parable of the separation of the wheat and tares to His disciples. Regarding the wheat (those who would be saved) He said, “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” In the words of John the Baptist, the separation between those who would receive the Holy Spirit or not would not be over ethnic Jewish ancestral lines, but to those who would bear the fruit sought by God. John said, “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”His separation metaphor was of a threshing floor where wheat is separated from chaff with the wheat gathered into the barn and the chaff piled and burned. What a sobering foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish economy, which would be expanded on in Matthew chapter twenty-four.
Why would belief in the true Messiah be so difficult for most of the Jewish nation? Even the forerunner of the Messiah cried, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The nature of the message was shockingly unexpected for it involved life change for all with no credit given to ancestry realization of one’s spiritual bankruptcy (which did not square at all with the general Jew’s concept of righteousness) and totally trusting the grace of God for one’s salvation. Jesus’ exposure of their vengeful hearts toward their fellowmen, their hearts filled with adulterous thinking,] their wholesale divorce for any and every reason, their track record of lying for personal gain through carefully crafted loop-holes,and their spirit of retaliation against those who had wronged them would create repentance in the hearts of the sincere, but casual dismissal to murderous intents in the minds of the hardhearted. Jesus unveiled the hypocrisy of Jewish people (leaders) showing that there were those who gave alms, prayed and gave the appearance of fasting all to be seen of men. Surrender and total commitment to the Lordship of Jesus was the demand and that was what those who were not the spiritual sheep of Jesus were perfectly unwilling to do.
The remnant the truth of the Messiah drew was a surprising conglomerate that only served to draw Him greater criticism. Included in Matthew’s record, we have a group of simple Galilean fishermen, a Roman centurion, former demon possessed men, a Jewish tax-collector (and other potential disciples from among the “tax-collectors and sinners”] a synagogue ruler and a woman with an twelve-year ceremonial uncleanness, an unknown number of true disciples from the “great multitudes (who) followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan and a thief on His right hand at His crucifixion.
Was the truth so difficult to see? Blind men saw it. Jesus said if Tyre and Sidon had been permitted to see all the evidences He gave they would have “repented long ago.” Had ancient Sodom the opportunities of the Capernaum of Jesus’ day, He said, “they would have remained until this day.”
Thus, the program of the Messiah and His body of truth was plain. “Every plant which My Heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
As Jesus made His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem one week before His resurrection on the eve on the Passover to be celebrated on Thursday (14th day of the 1st month), the multitudes hailed Him saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” The King was presenting Himself to the Jewish nation, but upon investigation He found that they had changed His Father’s house into a den of thieves with the graft and corruption. As He neared the city on Monday, there was a fig tree at a distance on which He found no fruit. He said, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Here we have a somber forecast of the Jewish nation, which was on the eve of being cursed for their lack of spiritual fruit. In all of Jesus’ dealings with the Jewish leaders, chief priest, elders, Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees on that controversial Tuesday before His death, He found them driven by self-interests and not truthand failing to believe in the Scriptures and the power of God.
In Jesus’ parable of the landowner whose son was murdered by evil vinedressers, one can vividly see the specter of the Jewish nation who would crucify the Messiah and in their judgment of those vinedressers judge themselves saying, “He will destroy those wicked men, miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” In Jesus’ parable of the marriage feast, spurned and violent rejections of invitations of a king are repaid with the execution of the murders and the burning of their city.Then, invitations are extended to people in the highways. In short, when the Jewish nation was destroyed for their rejection of the Lord’s invitation, then the message would be preached to the Gentile nations, but the requirement of a wedding garment (presumably, righteousness which comes through grace) was required of all.
Jesus’ pronounces eight woes on the scribes and Pharisees, who are characterized by Jesus as binding heavy loads on the people which cannot be born, who loved the position and prestige, have a pretense of religion but cheat widows, who evangelize only to lead disciples into heresy, who created loop-holes for lying, who major in minors and minored in majors and who were dirty of character. Jesus bemoaned the fate of Jerusalem who had often been invited under His divine protection, but refused. Jesus concludes, “See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Against this previously described backdrop, we read:
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
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