Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (1) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
This month Rev. J.W. Wullschleger of Langley, B.C. begins a series of Bible studies on Matthew 24 and 25. It is intended that the Bible Study column become a regular feature. Discussion questions appear at the end of the exposition so that these studies are eminently suitable for study groups as well as for personal devotions.
These chapters are commonly referred to as ÒChristÕs Eschatological Discourse,Ó or to put it in simpler terms, ÒChristÕs Discourse (or Sermon) on the Last Things.Ó This is the last of ChristÕs six discourses that we find in the Gospel of Matthew. We can find parallel passages with the other Evangelists: Mark 13:1Ð37 and Luke 12: 35Ð48; 17: 20Ð37 and 21:5-36. These Evangelists are much briefer than Matthew. They omit a lot of what Matthew has recorded. Conversely, they add a few things that Matthew has omitted.

In the coming months I hope to study these chapters with you. In this installment we will only look at the opening verses, Matthew 24:1-3. These verses are crucial to understanding the discourse that follows.

Matthew 24:1-3:
In verse 1 we read of the disciples showing Jesus the buildings of the temple. They had probably staggered at His words to the Pharisees and Scribes, ÒBehold, your house is left unto you desolate, Ó 23:38. ÒIs it really true that this magnificent structure is going to be deserted?Ó the disciples wondered. The question of the disciples sounds as if they pity it that such a building should be left desolate. So they show their Master the huge buildings of this glorious temple. The temple, rebuilt after IsraelÕs return from exile, was greatly enlarged and beautified by king Herod I. Actually, he only started the work. It was finished a few years before its destruction.

It was a rabbinical saying, ÓHe who never saw HerodÕs edifice has never in his life seen a beautiful buildingÓ. The temple was a building the disciplesÐas the other Jews--were very proud of. The Jews almost counted it blasphemy to say anything against the temple.

IsnÕt there a danger for us here too? We can be impressed so much by the outward appearance of things. Should we not always realize that God is not impressed by the appearance of things, but that He looks at the heart? A beautiful church building, a perfect liturgy in our worship services, these are not the things that will save our souls, but only faith in Jesus Christ.

In response to their question, Jesus predicts the utter ruin of the temple in words that must have been shocking to the disciples. See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down (vs.2). Not one stone upon anotherÉ This is a figure of speech that indicates total destruction. JesusÕ words were fulfilled to the letter. In AD 66 the Jews revolted against the Romans. Upon this the Romans besieged and took the city. Titus, the Roman commander, who later became emperor, commanded his soldiers to spare the temple when they entered the city. But in their rage they also set the temple on fire. This happened in the year AD 70.

Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian and eyewitness of this, wrote a book titled ÒThe Wars of the Jews.Ó This work consists of seven books. Particularly the books V and VI give a detailed account of what transpired during the siege and after the fall of Jerusalem. Josephus relates that Titus ascribed the relatively easy capture of the city to higher than human powers. Though himself a heathen, he acknowledged, ÓWe have certainly had God for our Assistant in this war, and it was no other than God Who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men, or any machines, do towards overthrowing these towers!Ó (VI,9,1) Josephus says further, ÒÉbut for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabitedÓ(VII,1,1).

The ruins of Jerusalem stand as a sermon to us. Matthew Henry says, ÒA believing foresight of the defacing of all worldly glory will help to take us off from admiring it, and overvaluing it. The most beautiful body will be shortly wormsÕ meat, and the most beautiful building a ruinous heap.Ó

The words of doom which Jesus spoke must have caused sorrowful meditation among the disciples. They silently continue on their way from Jerusalem to Bethany, crossing the Mount of Olives. On its summit Jesus seats Himself, over against the temple, seeing the city spread out before Him. Four disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Mark 13:3), as the spokesmen of the others, come to Him, and ask, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world? (vs.3).

There are two, some say three questions here. The disciples first want to know when the fall of Jerusalem will take place. Next, they ask about the sign of ChristÕs coming and of the end of the world. This question arose from ChristÕs prophecy with which He closed his previous discourse, ÒFor I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the LordÓ (23:39).

There are different opinions on what order of time the disciples had in mind. Do they think that the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world will take place at the same time? Or do they think of the latter as something taking place in the remote future? We know that at that time the disciples had confused notions concerning the future. They thought their Master would soon ascend the throne in Jerusalem and establish an earthly kingdom. They were thinking in terms of immediate glory, not in terms of cross, death, and resurrection.

The most obvious explanation of their question is that the destruction of Jerusalem would mean the end of the world. The Jewish rabbis used to say that the sanctuary was one of the seven things for the sake of which the world was made. This idea implies that the world would not survive the temple. It is not the most important thing for us to know what the disciples thought. It is more important to know what answer Christ gives. Their question gave rise to ChristÕs discourse on the Last Things. We will find that Christ does not correct their wrong view, but directs them to the right attitude: be prepared! That is the lesson to us too. We are given a glimpse of the unveiling of the future, not to satisfy our curiosity, but to be prepared for the day of ChristÕs glorious return.

For further study I refer you to well-known commentaries such as John Calvin, Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, etc. The commentary of William Hendriksen I also found helpful. Those who are interested in Jewish history can find information in Flavius JosephusÕ ÒThe Wars of the Jews.Ó Maybe your church library has this book. Alfred Edersheim (a converted Jew) gives a lot of Jewish background information in his book, ÒThe Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.Ó The valuable information he gives, however, does not mean that we always agree with every part of his exposition.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Why did the disciples show Jesus the temple complex (vs.1)?
2. Is there something uncovering (revealing about our depraved human nature) in their attitude?
3. Why was the temple going to be destroyed (vs.2)?
4. Are there unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible? How should we view them?
5. Do you think that the question of the disciples (vs.3) was right?
6. Do you expect the day of ChristÕs return with Òardent desireÓ (Belgic Confession, Article 37)?
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