When the disciples were questioning Jesus in Matthew 24, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the disciples were now asking about the end of the world. That question would be out of context if you through from Matthew 21. They just heard Jesus proclaim a series of woes over the Jewish leaders and giving parables about how their city would be burnt. They couldn’t have come out of such shock and be suddenly inquisitive about the end of the world.
The KJV uses the word “world” which in the greek is “aion” which is translated as “age”. When they asked about the “end of the age,” they were not asking about the end of the world.
What age will come to an end? It must be an age that they were under and familiar with. What age would a Jew be familiar with in Jesus time? It is clear from the context that Jesus was going to come and bring destruction to Jerusalem and the Temple; So if the Temple was destroyed what would be the implication. The temple was run under the Mosaic covenant and its end would mean the following:
1. No temple. Which would mean no more sacrifice,
2. No more priesthood and rituals.
This would be the end of an age which governed the Jewish nation. Their identity was in that Mosaic foundation. The disciples were asking when the end of the Age of Moses, which Jesus had just prophesied, would happen. The end of the age actually happened in AD70 when the temple was destroyed.
Throughout the New Testament, there is much written about the expected end of the age of Moses but there is very little said about the end of the whole world. We have to appreciate that the Israelites had lived as the chosen people with exclusive access to God for approximately 4,000 years based on the covenants he had with them. So an end to that exclusive covenant was to be the single largest event to ever occur in their national history.
As Paul said in Romans 9:4 “who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises,”
Jesus was the only prophet prophesied that He was going to come on the clouds to destroy Jerusalem and that the Age of Moses was about to end. By comparison, all the false prophets were declaring that they had come to save Israel from the Roman rule, which was what the Jews were expecting.
Now that we have seen that the disciples were asking about the end of the Age of Moses, we can clearly understand many verses that are scattered throughout the New Testament. These verses are about the end of the Age of Moses and the destruction in AD 70; they are not about the end of the world. For example:
…You [the twelve] will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes(Matthew 10:23).
…You [the high priest] will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64).
Now it is high time to awake out of sleep… the night is far spent, the day is at hand… (Romans 13:11-12).
…For this world as we know it will soon pass away (1 Corinthians 7:31 NASB).
On [us]… the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:11 NASB).
…The Lord is at hand (Philippians 4:5 NKJV).
…The coming of the Lord is at hand….Behold, the Judge is standing at the door (James 5:8-9 NKJV).
The end of all things is at hand… (1 Peter 4:7 NKJV).
…It is the last hour… we know that it is the last hour (1 John 2:18 NKJV).
From scriptures It is true that Jesus will return in bodily form to resurrect the dead and bring final judgment. Yet, most of the “end of the age” language used in the New Testament was in reference to the most important event in Jewish history—which was about to happen. The first century Jews were not focused on the end of the planet; that was not their concern considering the the oppression of the Romans on them.
Jesus’ final words in Matthew 28 which was to exhort his disciples are one of the most well-known passages about the end of the age: “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20 NKJV). He promised them protection to that glorious moment. In this reference to the “end of the age,” Jesus was not saying that He would only be with them until AD 70. He specified that He would be with them always. The disciples of the first century wouldn’t have been focused on what would happen in 2000 years to come in our time. The prophecy would loose its relevance to its reader. They would have been more focused on whether He would be with them when the end of the age came because Jesus’ description in Matthew 24 of the way in which the end of the age would come was quite terrifying considering the fact that many of them would be persecuted for the gospel sake.
Jesus also told a parable about the end of the age that many have wrongly interpreted to be about the end of the world.
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:24-30).
It is clear from the original Greek manuscripts that the end of the age (aion) is in reference to the end of the Age of Moses, not the end of the planet Earth. With a surface reading of this passage, it is easy to come to the conclusion that it is about the final judgment on the earth. The scripture actually points to the salvation of the Christians when the temple and the city was about to be destroyed. God’s mark of protection was upon them and they escaped heading to Jesus warning.