LINK: Matthew 24
Seeing Jesus' lament over Jerusalem and the temple (23: 37 - 38), the disciples call His attention to the temple's buildings - well-kept and sturdy and thriving - probably wondering why He called the place desolate. Jesus makes His point clearer. The temple will be completely destroyed (24:2).
Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives when His disciples come to Him with a question prompted by what He said about the temple. He answers them, though perhaps not as straightforwardly as they wished, and He gives them instruction and warning as He does so. Because they're on the Mount of Olives this is often called the Olivet Discourse.
Here is what the disciples asked:
"Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?" (v 3, English Standard Version)
They asked two questions. Jesus begins a long discourse and in the process He does answer them, but He says a whole bunch more, too! This is a passage of prophecy, and prophecy often weaves multiple events together and is easier to understand in hindsight than beforehand!
Let's deal with the answer to their questions first. Jesus' answer to the first question (When will these things - the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem's suffering - be?) is this: "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until these things take place." Jesus says that the temple will be destroyed before that current generation passes away. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and at least one of the disciples (John) and lived to see it. The disciples also understandably want to know how they will know when Jesus will come back to close the age. Jesus answers that question this way: "Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only."
This seems to me to be the best explanation for Jesus' statement about that generation not passing away. Throughout the discourse He interweaves what will happen when the temple is destroyed (70 AD) with what will happen when He returns a second time (still unknown). It makes sense to me that His answer would include both as well.
The rest of His discourse about what will happen between His first and second comings can be summed up in five sentences:
- Don't be surprised or deceived!
- The earth will suffer many wars and natural disasters.
- Jesus' followers will be hated and persecuted.
- Jesus' return will be very obvious (like the presence of an animal's carcass is from the vultures that circle it).
- Keep watch and be faithful!
We live in that time between Jesus' first coming and His return so I think it's important for us to take this to heart. Jesus told His disciples what to expect. We here in the U.S. have lived in a very comfortable era, but that isn't something we should plan on. If there are wars and disasters in the world, we shouldn't be surprised - though we should meet them with compassion and care as Jesus did those who suffered. If we are hated and persecuted we shouldn't be taken aback or wonder what is wrong. Finally, we shouldn't be deceived by those who tell us that Jesus has returned.
There are some things we don't (and won't) know. We don't know exactly which parts of the chapter apply to the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple and which parts refer to Jesus' return (though we have a better idea than the disciples did at that time). We won't know exactly when Jesus is going to come back. We will know when He does!
What is our attitude to be in the meantime? The stories Jesus tells in this and the following chapter tell us. We are to be watching and serving faithfully. We don't know when it will be (just as the owner of the house doesn't know when the thief is coming), so we must be watchful and always ready. We are to continue serving Him faithfully like the servant who was left in charge of the master's household while the master went away. That faithful servant continued to serve and carry out his tasks while waiting for his master's return.
Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our tendency to have short attention spans, to give up hope. I think that's why He spoke the words in this chapter. He wants us to understand that there will be suffering - both for the whole earth and for believers. He doesn't want us to give up in the face of hard times while waiting for His return.
Let's encourage each other to continue to be alert and faithful.
I want to be found serving my master, Jesus, when He returns! What about you?
We shouldn't be surprised by wars and natural disasters, Lord, but please give us compassion and a love that reaches out to those people who suffer from them. I think especially of the people of Haiti right now. Help us to help them. Please also help us to keep on watching and to continue to serve you faithfully in obedience no matter what.