Understanding Matthew 24

 Jamma Mokhriby


In verses 1 & 2 of Matthew 24 Jesus directs His attention towards the white and blue marbled temple which was then standing in Jerusalem and prophesies of its destruction. A short time later Jesus would be crucified upon the cross for the sins of the world and within 40 years His prophecy of the destruction of the Temple would be fulfilled to the letter by the Romans. Not one stone was left standing upon another, just as Jesus prophesied.

In verse 3 the concerned disciples of Jesus ask 3 important questions from their Jewish perspective. Referring to Jesus’ remarks in Matt. 23:37-38 & 24:1-2 about the future of Jerusalem and the temple they ask, "…when will these things be?" They then inquire, "And what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?" This was in response to Jesus’ revelation in Matt. 23:39 that He would soon be leaving them. They were Jews who were inquiring about the return of their Messiah and when He planned to establish the kingdom which God had promised to their forefathers. The disciples were already aware that it would be established at the end of the age, but they desired to know exactly how long it would be until that day. It must be kept in mind that the future Church, which would one day be comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, is not the subject being discussed, nor is it even in view in Matt. 24. We find this truth revealed in John 7:39, "But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

Unless this important point is grasped, a proper understanding of Matt. 24 will not avail itself to a student of Bible prophecy. It is a fact that the first record of the Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit and uniting with the Jewish believers is not recorded in the Scriptures until after Christ’s death and resurrection in Acts 10:44-48 & 11:1-18. Although all Scripture is given to believers, Matt. 24 was written with a Jewish focus.

In verses 4-12, referring to a time called "the beginning of sorrows," Jesus warned of the signs that would preclude the judgment of Jerusalem and His return. These signs run parallel with those Jesus gave in Rev. 6:2-11 for the first 3 ½ years of the 7 year Tribulation Period designated for the close of the age.

In Matt. 24:13-14 Jesus promises that those who endure to the end will be saved and that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world before this end will come. Jesus was not talking about believers being able to lose their salvation in verse 13 as some erroneously teach. It is just a clear and simple statement to the Jews that those believers who manage to survive until Christ returns will be physically saved (see Zeph. 3:14-20).

In verse 14 we were told that the gospel (good tidings) of the kingdom will be preached to everyone in all the world. We are shown in Rev. 14:6 that this incredible feat will be accomplished by an angel. Up to this point in time the preaching of the gospel was exclusively conducted by mankind. Matt. 24:15 then makes a clear demarcation point to the Jews for recognizing the middle of the 7 yr. Tribulation period when Jesus warns that the "’abomination of desolation" spoken of by Daniel the prophet [will be] standing in the holy place" (Dan. 9:27). This reference relates to the Temple and the worship of the Jews, not to the Church.

Verses 16-20 further emphasize the Jewish believer’s relationship with Matt. 24 and the Tribulation Period when Jesus specifically addresses those in Judea and those who are obeying the Sabbath laws. Before the Tribulation Period begins God does not recognize a separate body of Jewish believers within the Church according to Rom. 10:12, Gal. 3:28 & Col. 3:11. (For further information see RW Message #122 "And so all Israel shall be saved").

Those who try to put the Church on earth during the Tribulation in Matt. 24 are in a major dispute with the Scriptures as to why God is independently recognizing Jewish believers in a separate manner, when His word in 3 different places unquestionably denies that such a thing is possible during this dispensation (see RW Message #183 "Lines in Time - Update ‘99").

In Matt. 24:21-22 Jesus again emphasizes the horrifying events of the Tribulation Period and that it will be only because of His returning to the earth that people will be physically saved from destruction. Continuing on we find that Matt. 24:23-31 has absolutely nothing to do with the Rapture of the Church before the Tribulation Period begins and everything to do with the Second Coming of Christ at the close of it. The passage once more directly answers the questions of the disciples concerning Christ’s Second Coming. He tells them unequivocally in verse 29 that this time period is when He returns "immediately after the tribulation." Verse 30 can be directly cross-referenced with God’s Word for the tribes of Israel found in Zech. 12:10-14.

In Matt. 24:32-35 Jesus tells the disciples that all the things He had been speaking of would be fulfilled in the generation that witnessed when the fig tree puts forth its leaves. The fig tree is a symbol of national Israel which was restored in 1948. It is our own opinion that she put forth her leaves in 1967 when Jerusalem was recaptured.

Mark 11:11-22 reveals a direct relationship between the greening of the fig tree and Jerusalem. It is necessary to understand that the fig tree produces fruit before the leaves, when reading this passage from Mark. Jesus was entering Jerusalem to receive the fruit of Israel’s faith (see Luke 20:9-16). They had a display of duty to God when He arrived, but no true faith. It was not their fruitful season when they would receive the Son of God. In these last days collective Israel once again has had Jerusalem and the holy sites returned to her care, and just like it was at Christ’s first coming there is still no fruit. The parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9 is a companion passage representing both Christ’s first coming as their rejected Messiah, and of Israel’s coming great time of tribulation when she will be made ready to bear the fruit worthy of her Creator upon His return (Jn. 1:1-5 & 10-14).

A common interpretation of a biblical generation is apx. 40 years. It should be remembered that it was within the 40-year generation after Jesus prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem in Matt. 23:36-38 that His words came to pass in 70 AD. The things that Jesus had been speaking of in Matt. 24 are what the Jews are to look for regarding the signs of His second coming and the end of the age, signs which we as the Church would be wise to recognize are upon us since we will be Raptured 7 years before Jesus returns.

We now come to the portion of Matt. 24 in verses 36-44 that initiates some of the greatest debates. Referring in verse 36 to what Jesus had been speaking about previously (that is His Second Coming and the end of the age) Jesus said that no one knows the day and hour except His Father. Verses 37-39 compares those who were unprepared for the flood of Noah’s day to those who will be unprepared for Jesus Christ’s Second Coming. Verses 39 & 40 (along with verse 28) are not misplaced references regarding the Pre-Tribulation Rapture as is sometimes taught. They are placed precisely where they belong with the preceding references to the flood as an earlier judgment of God, which is presented as a counterpart to the final judgment for the close of the age found in II Pet. 3:3-7 and also for the second coming of the Lord. The righteous were left to inherit the earth after the flood and the wicked were removed according to Gen. 7:21-23.

The word for body in verse 28 is "carcass" in the original Greek. It is an error to try to connect this Scripture with the Rapture of the Church. Carcasses are bodies which are fallen in death. It is a contradiction to the Word of God found in I Cor. 15:44-54 to say that carcasses are caught up to God at the Rapture. Instead verse 28 of Matt. 24 tells us that these dead bodies will be found at Christ’s second coming among the gathered eagles, which are vultures. The noble picture we often see displayed of birds of prey does not change the fact pertaining to their scavenging natures.

Matt. 13:41-43 makes this truth abundantly clear that at the close of the age, immediately after the Tribulation, it is the wicked that are removed for destruction and those found righteous are the ones left behind. Matt. 24:31 also tells us that at that time God’s elect (the believing Jews which have been the main people of focus in Matt. 24), are to be gathered together by angels. They will be returned to Israel not only by the angels, but also by men to receive their promised inheritance of the kingdom. The elect will be brought by any means possible, according to Isa. 66:18-20&23. Isaiah 66:24 again reveals the truth that the corpses of the ungodly will be gathered together from the face of the earth.

Verses 42-44 of Matt. 24 reiterates the point of verse 36 that those living at the time Jesus Christ returns, will not know the hour of His return and that His coming will be like a thief. Some believe that this proves Matt. 24 presents the Rapture of the Church. They argue that if these particular Scriptures referred to the Second Coming then they wouldn’t make sense. They point out that people will most certainly be able to figure out the exact time Christ will return at His Second Coming by noting when the abomination of desolation that Christ and Daniel spoke of is set up in the soon to be rebuilt Temple and then just counting down the days recorded in Dan. 12:11-12. The error in this logic is that Dan. 12:11-12 makes no reference that the numbering of days which are given are the same as those of the day and especially the hour of Jesus Christ’s second coming (Mark 13:33-37 & Luke 12:36-40).

We would have to agree that these are indicators of tremendous happenings and could very possibly include the return of Christ, but it is still an assumption and not scriptural that Christ will return at the end of one of the two numerical countdowns given in the Book of Daniel.

More importantly though is what the Scriptures do say! Reading in Rev. 16:15 we find our proof text. The time given in Rev. 16:16 is at the close of the great Tribulation Period just prior to the nations being gathered together for the final great war of Armageddon. We quote, "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." In like fashion of the Rapture before the Tribulation, there will be a limited number of believers at the second coming of Christ who will understand the urgency of the times they are living in and will be prepared for the day Jesus comes, while everyone else will be disbelieving or oblivious (see Rev. 3:3, I Thess. 5:4-11 & II Pet. 3:3-4).

Matt. 24:45-51 then closes with the parable of the faithful and evil servants. The faithful servants are those who are believers. Their faith is manifestly evident by their words and Christ knows their heart. The unfaithful servants are those who are aware of what the Word of God says, but do not truly believe they will one day soon give an account. This is a picture of the two types of people to be found among the Jews in particular at the close of the age.

It can also be used to illustrate the two types of people that will be found within the Church at the time of the Rapture. Verse 51 is the key. There we are told the evil servant will have "his portion with the hypocrites." The Greek word for hypocrites "hupokrites" denoted a stage actor. The evil servant is nothing more than an unbeliever who knows what is in the script and can even recite every line, but the fact remains he is nothing more than just another actor who reveals his true self when he grows weary of playing the role.

For the Church, Matt. 24 is rich with instructions and is overflowing with prophetic revelations. To the Jewish believers of the Tribulation it is a prophetic blueprint for the trying days they will soon enter and a brilliant light of promise that those days will be shortened by the return of their true Messiah Yeshua, the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5).

Today is the day to trust in the atoning blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Don’t delay.