This is one of the most controversial part of scripture that has been debated in the last 300 years with regards to its interpretation. Many see it as the end of the world, some the Jewish world and some believe it’s the prophecy for both of them.
First of all we understand one vital aspect of biblical prophecy. Prophecy always a fulfillment. It does not have double fulfillment. Its fulfillment could take a process of time such as the prophecy called Daniel’s 70-weeks. The scriptures gives a time frame concerning landmarks for its fulfillment.
Jesus never said Matthew 24 would be fulfilled twice, and there’s no rule anywhere in the Bible saying prophecy should be interpreted this way. Infact he says such would never occur again in the same strength of incidence. According to Adam Maarschalk, “The double-fulfillment concept is simply an untenable fabrication created in desperation, probably deemed necessary because its adherents expect literal fulfillments of the highly figurative, cosmic predictions in Matthew 24 and other places, which of course, have never occurred (and never will).”
What we can find in scriptures are cases where we find type and antitypes happen. Always it pointed to shadows of the old covenant and the realities of the new covenant. In the new testament we don’t see the case where more shadows are created for a further fulfillment in our own time. The gifts of the Holy Spirit in the New covenant is not shadow but a reality that is the life of the church.
People seem to read what the Bible says about “the Last Days” and without proper research on what that term meant to the people who used it in the first century, they are quick to presume that it must be talking about the day and age that we live in.
These are common comments about the last days from Christians.
“Do you think we are in the Last Days?”, “well, thats just a sign that we are in the End Times”, or “the Bible did predict that such wars/tsunamis/whatever would happen at the End – these things will just get worse because we are in the Last Days and the End Times are upon us”
Let me make this shocking statement! We are not living in the “Last Days”. We are NOT in the “End Times”. When the Bible speaks of the “End Times” it ALWAYS speaks about the “End of the Age” – not the end of the world, but of the “Age”.
In Greek, the word for “world” is kosmos, whereas the word for “age” is aion. The disciples asked Jesus about the end of the aion. They did not ask about the end of the kosmos.
So if they were not asking about the end of the world, what were they asking Jesus about?
From the context it is evident that Jesus was going to come and bring destruction to Jerusalem and the Temple; therefore, if the Temple was destroyed, it would mean the end of sacrifice. No temple would mean no more sacrifice, which would mean no more priesthood and rituals. This would be the end of an age or, as we might say it, the end of an era. The disciples were asking when the end of the Age of Moses, which Jesus had just prophesied, would happen. The Mosaic economy was the Jewish world.
When the Bible speaks of the “Last Days” it is ALWAYS speaking of the “Last Days of the Age” ….. not the Last Days of our current Age, but the Last Days of the Age that was coming to an end THEN. You can go through every New Testament reference to “the Last Days” and read it in context. You will make a startling discovery …. every passage says that JESUS AND THE FIRST APOSTLES, and early Christians in the first century AD, lived in the “Last Days’.
…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).
…The form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31 NASB).
… “Peter said: What you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.” (Acts 2:17 – Pentecost happened in “the last days”)
…“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. But now, in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son”. (Hebrews 1:1 – Jesus teaching ministry took place during “the last days”)
…“God chose Jesus as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake”. 1 Peter 1:20 – Jesus death took place during “the last days”)
…“You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times.”
There are many others to show you but for the sake of our focus.
The first mistake anyone would make understanding Matthew 24 is to read it in isolation. First and foremost, you need to know that scriptures were not written in chapters.
Matthew chapters 23-25 contain the only major prophecy delivered by Jesus. Which is often misapplied to our generation – many people believe that the things predicted by Jesus (including a great tribulation etc) are going to happen either in our lifetime or in the nearest future. That is why some have called our generation “The Terminal Generation”. Well they are not the first and possibly won’t be the last. The main issue is that ignorance of history and shallow reading of the passage itself has led to this confusion.
One minute we believe we can change the world by the power of the Spirit and at another we believe everything will go bad until it is destroyed by God. Brand Confusion!
A correct understanding of history would teach us that everything Jesus predicted has already happened. If we read the passage carefully, we would know that Jesus clearly said when it would happen (within ONE GENERATION) who would see it (HIS DISCIPLES) and where it would happen (JUDEA).
If you look at Jesus prediction – section by section – and you will see how it says NOTHING about the day and age that we live in, nor about “the End of the world”, nor any of the “popular” images that people superimpose upon it. We will see – if we simply read it in context – that it is a prophecy of a time of trouble and tribulation which would come upon Judea (not the whole world), within the lifetime of the disciples who were listening (not our lifetime), at the hands of invading Roman armies (not the “Antichrist”), and it would result in the final end of the Temple in Jerusalem (not the end of planet earth), and this would be the end of the Old Covenant Age (not the end of the world).
Do you remember that Jesus had already made a very significant statement about the disappearance of (the old) heaven and earth in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will be any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
This is the confusion some people have. Has Jesus fulfilled the law? Some say yes because Romans 8 says so but if is truly so then why is heaven and earth still in place. Many conclude that until the physical heaven and earth are destroyed, the law is still in force. This idea has led people to live covenant by mixture (the old and new covenant combined)
Is the Law 100% intact even now and are we thus still under the old heavens and earth? Or did Jesus accomplish everything and fulfill the Law, so that we are now under the covenantal framework of the new heavens and earth? Matthew 5:17-18 is an all-or-nothing statement. If “heaven and earth” have not yet disappeared, neither then has even one trace of the Law of Moses.
The “heaven and earth” spoken of by Jesus here is symbolic reference to the temple worship and law keeping of the Jewish world. The heaven is simply where God met with man. That place is usually sared, that is why it is called a sanctuary or temple.
II Peter 3:7-13 also speaks of the heavens and earth of that time being “stored up for fire” (verse 7) and ready to “pass away with a roar” and be “burned up and dissolved” (verse 10), giving way to “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (verse 13). That fire occurred in 70 AD when Jerusalem was burned by the Roman armies, as Jesus said would happen to the city of those who rejected His Father’s wedding invitation and murdered His servants: “And the king sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (Matthew 22:7).
Peter said …That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat (2 Peter 3:12).
The Greek word Peter uses for “elements” is stoicheion. This word appears only five other times in the New Testament (see Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8, 20; Heb. 5:12), and in each occurrence, it refers to the basic principles of the Mosaic Law.
In Galatians, Paul referred twice to these elements. First, he stated that the Jews had been under the elements of the world until the fullness of time had come; then, he asked his readers why they would want to return to these elements.
So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world (Galatians 4:3).
But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? (Galatians 4:9 NKJV)
In context, these elements concerned rituals and observances of feast days (see Gal. 4:9-10). Paul was trying to keep his audience, the church in Galatia from coming under the principles of the Law again (see Gal. 5:1).
In Colossians, Paul also referred twice to these elements, warning his readers not to let anyone hold them captive to the elements of the world, for by accepting Christ, they had died to these elements; therefore, they did not need to submit to such things (see Col. 2:8,20-22).
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ (Colossians 2:8).
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings (Colossians 2:20-22).
Here Paul was encouraging his readers not to let anyone judge them for failing to observe feast days, festivals, and Sabbaths because those things merely foreshadowed the person and work of Christ (see Col. 2:16). So again, we find that the elements of the world referred to the principles of Judaism—and Paul went on to remind his readers that these rules were destined to perish!
The author of Hebrews also commented on these elements saying,
By this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary[stoicheion] truths [logion] of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food (Hebrews 5:12).
Taken in context, the author was expressing regret that he had to teach his Jewish readers how the basics of the Law foreshadowed the work of Christ in order to implore them to leave those principles for the sake of a new and better covenant.
The Apostle Peter and other Apostle writing of the destruction of the elements of Judaism. In order for the New testament to be fully established. Two covenants cannot run the same time.
Destruction of Jerusalem
R.C. Foster once commented:
Much of the confusion in interpreting the predictions of Jesus recorded in Matthew 24 and the parallel passages arises from the failure to see that the disciples asked and Jesus answered two questions: one, concerning the fall of Jerusalem; the other, concerning His second coming (1971, 1187).
The disciples likely assumed that the destruction of the temple, and the end of the world, would occur at the same time. The Master sought to correct that impression, first, by discussing the Roman invasion (vv. 4-34), and then by commenting regarding his final coming to render universal judgment (vv. 35-51). He gave them 8 signs:
1. False messiahs and false prophets (see Matt. 14:4- 5,11,23-26)
2. Wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation (see Matt. 24:6-7)
3. Famines (see Matt. 24:7)
4. Earthquakes (see Matt. 24:7)
5. Persecution of believers (see Matt. 24:9)
6. Falling away from the faith (see Matt. 24:10)
7. Love growing cold (see Matt. 24:12)
8. Gospel preached in the whole world (see Matt. 24:14)
As unlikely as some of these prophetic declarations may seem to the skeptic, each of them was fulfilled by the time Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70.
In His prophecy Christ declared that the impending invasion had been foretold in the book of Daniel 15. The Savior thus urged the disciples to be ready to flee the city, praying that God would providentially accommodate their departure (Matthew 24:16-19).
He described the intensity of the Roman assault and promised that God would intervene for “the elect’s” sake (vv. 21-22). The disciples were not to be swayed by false claims that Jesus had personally arrived, because, when that event actually occurred, it would be globally evident (vv. 23-27).
The Jewish nation was described as a rotting carcass where birds of prey would gather (v. 28). The fall of the Hebraic world is portrayed in the sort of apocalyptic motif that is characteristic of Old Testament prophetic language, e.g., when the prophets pictorially portray the overthrow of Jehovah’s enemies:
The stars of heaven and their constellations
will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened
and the moon will not give its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth [the tribes of the land] will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).
First, we must recognize that this passage does not refer to a global event. Where it says “earth,” the root word is ge, which means “land,” as in the land of Israel. This passage does not use the word kosmos, which would refer to the whole planet earth. That is why many new translations use the phrase “tribes of the land” (inserted above) or, at the very least, include it in their footnotes.
He told his disciples that it would be like the days of Noah.
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:36-39).
There is just a vivid picture of utter destruction that Noah’s flood conveyed to the Jewish mind. In the days of the flood, Noah declared a coming destruction, yet people carried on with normal life and ignored his warnings. They ignored him right to the last moment, when they were then destroyed. So it was in AD 70, when Jesus in His coming destroyed Jerusalem like the flood.
Finally, just as the ancient citizen of Palestine could determine the coming of summer by the budding of the fig tree, even so, by reflecting upon the signals given by Christ, the disciples would be able to discern the approach of the promised calamity (vv. 32-33).
C.H. (Charles) Spurgeon in a sermon which he delivered in 1865 (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vo. XXXVII, p. 354), said:
Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away and we now live under a new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it.
Let me end with a quote from one of my dearest friend and minister Simon Yap:
“The whole context here is about the destruction of the temple. The destruction of the temple also marks the end of the age. Do notice that the end of the age is the end of the system of the temple.
Jesus was saying he will fulfilled the Law and that once he died there was no need for sacrifices anymore. As such when that is done, the temple was burned down. This happened in AD 70. The Jews referred the temple as heaven.
When that happened there was no more sacrifices and that was no more temple for the sacrifices could not be carried out anymore. Hence the Law came to an end. At the same time great persecution happened. The Romans not only destroyed the temple, they persecuted the Jews and torture them. This period is called the great tribulation. Israel as a nation were dispersed. They had ran onto the hills and all over the nations. Resulting to Hebrews running all over the place.
Israel as a nation hence also disappear. Hence “heaven and earth” disappeared. When that happen the Gospel went to the Gentiles. The Gentiles was never under the Law. They are saved by faith. The Law is no longer in operation.”
Halleluyah! God ended one age and began another with the blood of the everlasting covenant. Now the temple are the sons of God where true worship manifests in spirit and in truth.