First, we need to remember why the disciples are asking these questions in the first place. They have not been thinking about global events that will transpire at the end of the world or cataclysmic phenomena that would usher in the end of history. These men were thinking about the things that were in front of them, such as the abandonment and destruction of their beloved temple and when Jesus would return to make sure that event happened. They were not assuming a multi-millennia wait for the second coming of Christ. They saw His next coming would be against Jerusalem when He destroyed it within a generation.
Black Mamba Eschatology
One of the things that separate great players from legendary players is drive. Great players wake up early in the morning and give everything they have in practice. Legendary players get up hours before everyone else, play through blood, sweat, and tears, perfecting every facet of their game before practice, and then outwork everyone else during practice. Great players get scoring titles and end up in the hall of fame. Legendary players put their teams on their back and will get them into championship, after championship, after championship. Great players are disappointed after a hard-fought loss. Legendary players would rather die than lose a game.
That, in my humble opinion, is what differentiates truly great players like Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, and Lebron James from NBA legends like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, (also known as the black mamba). One group was truly great and deserves all the accolades we can give them. The other group lived with a never-ending obsession to be the greatest that ever lived and they are in a class all by themselves.
One of the ways we see this distinction playing out is among childhood fans. Fans love the great players and cheer for them. But when it comes to who they want to be when they grow up, or who they pretend to be in their driveway when no one else is looking, children almost always choose the legends, because they can sense the difference. And as a child growing up in the 80s, I certainly fell afoul of this fandom, wanting with all my heart to be “Like Mike”, while being unwilling to put in the effort of men like Jordan and Kobe. This silly introduction, ironically, may help us understand one of the great dilemmas in eschatology and may aid us when we come to Matthew 24.
The Most Important Chapter
When it comes to Biblical chapters of eschatology, Matthew 24 is the zenith of all the end-times passages. It is the Superbowl, it is game seven of the NBA finals or the last round at Augusta. No one wins at that level accidentally just as no one begins to understand Matthew 24 by sloth. It is a chapter that will only yield its treasures to the ones who are willing to put in the maximal effort. Perhaps this is why so few understand eschatology in the church today. Because passages like this one can only be understood with rigorous effort, which is out of style in a culture of easy believism.
For the last eight weeks, we have been working towards Matthew 24. We did so by attempting to understand the basics and introductory materials of eschatology in our first couple of weeks. Then we moved along to Malachi where we learned the hermeneutical principles for interpreting eschatology. From there we saw those principles playing out in the theology of John the Baptist and our Lord. And over the last several weeks, we have observed how Matthew 21-23 provides the essential context that will aid us in understanding Matthew 24. Had we not labored in the way we did, we would not have been prepared for what we now face. So, with that introduction, let us remember very briefly the context and then let us dive, or maybe only stick our pinky toe, in the water of Matthew 24.
Remembering the Context
Matthew 24 occurs as a part of the dramatic events surrounding Jesus’ final week where He will bring judgment to some and salvation to others. In judgment, He rides into the fruitless city, judges the fruitless temple, curses a fruitless tree, and shows how this judgment applies to Jerusalem (Matthew 21). With three successive parables of judgment, Jesus demonstrates that Jerusalem will soon fall and that God’s Kingdom will be given to a people who will bear God’s fruit (Matthew 22). After prophesying Jerusalem’s downfall, Jesus seals their fate with seven covenantal curses of woe and pronounces the wrath of God upon the city and its temple (Matthew 23). In Matthew 24, Jesus does not abandon the narrative of judgment against Jerusalem but instead gives the clearest prophecy ever uttered describing its downfall.
Since this passage is of the utmost importance for our understanding, we will move slowly through it over the next several weeks until we have sufficiently covered its material. Our goal is that we would understand it, not fly through it. With that, let us begin.
A Shocking Point
The passage picks up immediately where Matthew 23 left off. Jesus finished uttering fiery woes against the Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-33). Then He prophesied God would visit that generation with the harshest judgment ever given (Matthew 23:34-36). And then He tells them Jerusalem’s house, the temple, will be left entirely desolated (Matthew 23:37-38).