Following the context of our study on understanding Matthew 24 we see in chapter 23 that Jesus pronounced seven woes upon the scribes and Pharisees. Verses 13-26 of this chapter form the most terrible of all discourses ever delivered to mortals. It was pronounced in the temple, in the presence of multitudes. This was the last of the Lord’s public discourses; and it is a most impressive summary of all that he had ever said, or that he had to say, of a wicked and hypocritical generation.
This discourse is followed through from chapter 21 in his visit to the temple. This was the last lane on the journey to the cross that would be sparked up by his confrontation with a system that produced no fruits, denied God’s people his benefits and shut them out of the kingdom.
As we saw previously the Greek word used for “woe” is ouai; it is hard to translate for it includes not only wrath, but also sorrow. These woes can be contrasted to the Beatitudes. The book of Revelation gives us a rundown on how these woes would unleashed in form of wrath from the bowls of judgment. Those in Christ’s spiritual kingdom would be blessed, but those who reject it are damned. Jesus, the Messiah, is here pronouncing judgement.
33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. – Matthew 23:33-35 (NKJV)
Jesus’ charge is that the history of Israel is the history of the murder of the men of God. Notice, who their blood is come upon; “upon you” — the scribes and Pharisees of the first century; the ones Jesus was then speaking to. This is confirmed in the next verse.
“Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. – Matthew 23:36 (NKJV)
The discussion that Jesus had just had with the scribes and Pharisees took place inside the Temple grounds. Now, as they depart from the Temple (hieron – the temple complex) the words of Jesus, “Your house shall be left to you desolate,” still burned in their ears. They pointed out the buildings of the Temple and their magnificence due to the reverence it enjoyed even in distant lands. To think that it would be destroyed was imaginable.
“Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” – Matthew 24:1-2,
2 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” – Mark 13:2
Jesus predicted that this massive temple would be utterly destroyed in an act of God’s judgement. At the time this was spoken, no event was more unlikely than this. After the city was taken, Josephus says that Titus,” gave orders that the soldiers should dig up even the foundations of the temple, and also the city itself.” Thus fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 3:12
Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins,
And the mountain of the temple[b]
Like the bare hills of the forest.
So the context of Jesus answer to his disciples is this;
The disciples asked Jesus, “When will the temple be destroyed? When will one stone not be left upon another?” And they also asked, “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”
We also have confirmed that the disciples were not asking Jesus, “When will you return?” The word “coming” is the Greek word “parousia,” which means presence. It signified the full manifestation of His Messiahship; His glorious appearing in power. And the “end of the age” refers to the end of the Jewish age, the Old Covenant age; not the end of the world.
4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you.5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.
– Matthew 24:4-5
Who is the “them” in verse 4? Keep in mind the principle of original relevance.
The Lord begins with a warning against expecting His immediate parousia. He doesn’t want them to be deceived by false Christs that would soon be appearing. Jesus told them a number of things that would happen before the end came; the gospel would be preached to all the world, they would see the “abomination of desolation” that Daniel had spoken of (Luke tells us that this refers to the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem). There would come a time of great tribulation. Then immediately after the tribulation, they would see the sign of the Son of man come in the clouds of heaven.
Jesus told them that all these things would happen in their generation.
“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. – Matthew 24:34 (NKJV)
I really don’t know where we get the right to stretch this prophecy beyond their lifetime and into our own timeline. Its unbelievable that we had to do that for a long time. We must realize that Jesus is always true to his words.
Biblically it is confirmed that a generation was about 40 years. The disciples to whom He addressed knew that the Lord would return in their life time, but they did not know not know the “day or the hour,” as Jesus told them in:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. – Matthew 24:36 (NKJV)
Now since they did not know the day or hour, they were admonished ALWAYS BE READY AND WATCHING.
“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. – Matthew 24:42 (NKJV)
This exhortation to watch was given to the disciples who asked Jesus the question that related to his return in judgment over that old covenant system and administration and not our generation. Sometimes I come across some messages on social media from folks who share strange visions of the Lord’s imminent return. I always wonder “A return for what?”
The word “watch” as used in this prophetic discourse is the Greek word gregoreuo. It means to keep awake, i.e. watch (lit. or fig.):–be vigilant. It is in the present imperative, meaning “to be constantly on guard.” Why would Jesus urge His disciples “to be constantly on guard” for something that was not going to take till another 2,000 years or more? Why be watchful for the thief that would not come in your lifetime except the opposite is true. That he was due to come within a relatively short period of time.
This is not a case where they are told be watchful and we are also to be watchful. The fall of the city and temple has no direct consequence to all of us who are not Jews living in that time and dispensation.
They were to be watching for His coming in judgment upon that wicked city of Jerusalem. The house of natural Israel house was to be destroyed. The outpouring of judgment was a sign for them to relocate far way from the city. Christians who were watching could escape the judgement on the city by fleeing from it, as their Lord had earlier instructed them.
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 “Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 “And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. Matthew 24:15-18 (NKJV)
The lives of those early Christians were dependent upon their watchfulness as they couldn’t afford any chance of being caught in the catastrophe that was to occur in their time. Jerusalem was a fortress for them to hide against the advance of enemy troops but not this time as Jesus warned them.
Jesus gave them a parable to drive home his point.
“But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 “Therefore YOU also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. – Matthew 24:43-44 (NKJV)
This sort of coming of the Lord was also referred to by Paul in one of his earliest letters, the letter to the Thessalonians .
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For YOU yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 (NKJV)
Jesus told them “YOU also be ready”
Paul told “For YOU yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes…”
This is an example of audience relevance in the understanding of Biblical prophecy.
The day of the Lord is a phrase that was common to the Jews of those days. It is found in the old testament was used many times as regards to the judgements and destruction of various nations.
In those day there were lots of territorial conquests. The invading armies of other nations brought judgement and destruction upon various nations, and these times were each called “the day of the Lord,” especially when they were proclaimed of the Lord.
The idea for them to be watchful was coming according to the expression that Jesus used. It would be like a thief in the night. It would catch them unawares.
Peter employs this same thought of the Lord coming as a thief in the night:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. – 2 Peter 3:10 (NKJV)
Then we find in the book of Revelation that states that the contents of the prophecy was about to be fulfilled in a short time that John quotes Jesus when he addressed a particular church assembly.
“Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. – Revelation 3:3 (NKJV)
Notice what Jesus says, He comes as a thief if they are not watching.
“Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” – Revelation 16:15 (NKJV)
How would they be without garment and be naked? That is if they decide not to walk in garments of His righteousness and go about to seek their own righteousness. This would only be possible if those Christians were returning back to the law. The book of Hebrews addresses this to a large extent.
The exhortation to be watchful also comes together with the need to be ready. Ready for what? A rapture? Surely and biblically NO! The Greek word for ready is hetoimos, from an old noun heteos (fitness); adjusted, i.e. ready:–prepared. This is how Luke puts this same warning:
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35 “For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 (NKJV)
The way for them to be watchful and ready is not looking at the window staring into the heavens each morning expecting everyday to be it. This is how Jesus exhorts them in a parable.
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? 46 “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. 47 “Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. 48 “But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ 49 “and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, 50 “the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, 51 “and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 24:45-51 (NKJV)
He was asking that they were to live a life of faithfulness to His Words. They would be surrounded with the apostasy that blinded the house of Israel and would be tempted to draw back perdition.
According to parable the master has appointed certain servants and given them responsibility during the time of his absence. The only job he gave them is that of feeding the household.
Their readiness would come from feeding and being fed by the Word of God.
We see various admonitions on this post-cross and Jesus ascension.
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. – Acts 20:28 (NKJV)
Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. – 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 (NKJV)
Paul told Timothy that in order to prevent apostasy of their time which was Judaism that he was to continue in doctrine:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, – 1 Timothy 4:1 (NKJV)
Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. – 1 Timothy 4:13-16 (NKJV)
Timothy was to save himself and his hearers from apostasy by continuing in the Word. Save himself from what? The destruction that was to soon befall that nation. So the faithful servants are those who were involved in teaching the truth of Scripture. That is the reason we Jesus warn a certain church in the book of Revelation.
As I stated in my previous blog “Watch and be ready for what?”
“The exhortation not to sleep was to be firm and steady ONLY in the grace of God. To be asleep was to lose consciousness of their identity and position in Christ. Being awake to the truth would be their deliverance from the wrath that was about to be poured out on that generation.”
When Paul spoke to the Thessalonians church he expressed his hope that they wont be caught when the thief in the night comes because they were not in the darkness that engulfed Israel.
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the CHILDREN OF LIGHT, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5 (KJV)
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. – 1 Thessalonians 5: 6
“Therefore”- because of who we are (in Christ). The word “sleep” here is katheudo and the word “watch” is gregoreuo. These are the same words that our Lord used in the parable of the unfaithful servant in Matthew 24. It is believers who are not to sleep.
As long as they were being fed with the truth of the word of His grace, they won’t find themselves looking for what has been fulfilled in Jesus. Their understanding and foundation was their safety as they won’t find themselves going back to celebrate the feasts and ordinances that trapped many in destruction that marked the end of that Jewish age. This brings to us the need for us to be fed on the true gospel which unveils Jesus in his loveliness and presence of his glorious kingdom with us now.
The need for to watchful is not for any moment return of Jesus but for us not to be taken captives by strange and elementary thoughts that does not uphold Jesus at the centre. The key to being steady is to keep our gaze on the grace of our Lord Jesus and realize that the scriptures are all about Him.