Welcome to part 2 of a 5-part study of Jesus' most in-depth teaching about His second coming, the resurrection and the judgment. The events we are studying occurred two days before Jesus' crucifixion.
This is the 20th post in my series on rethinking Christian eschatology. If you've not already read the previous posts, I invite you to do so, as each builds upon the previous.
Two posts ago, I presented a consolidated textual account of what Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote regarding the events of this important day.
Last post, we began studying these events, covering sections 1-12 of 25.
In this post, we resume with section 13 from the consolidated account.
These posts contain a lot of information. Keeping all of this information in our heads is hard.
Yet, keeping this information in mind is important because Jesus’ recorded words from this day are foundational to key Christian doctrines around the resurrection, judgment and our individual future, such as what happens when we die.
Over the centuries, misunderstanding about these subjects has had—and continues to have—a major impact on Christian beliefs, teachings and the world's history.
As you read, temporarily suspend what you think you know about this subject and consider afresh the evidence I present. If you see where I obviously go wrong, stop right there and bring it to my attention. BUT... stay within the confines of what we have discussed in this series up through this post. Don’t run ahead to other Scripture that we have yet to discuss; we’re going to get there. It’s impossible to deal with everything at one time.
Let's dive in...
Resetting the Context
The text covering this day's events is too long to cover in a single post, so I've broken it down into twenty-five sections. We resume with section 13 below.
- Lesson from fig tree
- Jesus' authority questioned
- Parable of two sons
- Parable of murderous tenants
- Rejected stone
- Religious leaders angered
- Parable of wedding banquet
- Leaders ask about taxes
- Sadducees question Jesus on resurrection
- Greatest commandment
- Jesus asks about ancestry of Messiah
- Woes of Matthew 23
- Lament over Jerusalem
- Widow an example
- Temple to be destroyed
- Disciples ask questions
- Jesus tells of signs
- Exact times unknown
- Jesus urges watchfulness
- Wise and foolish virgins
- Parable of talents
- Concerning last judgment
- Jesus foresees crucifixion
- Priests and elders conspire
- Judas agrees to betray
Within each section, I've included the combined text (previously provided here) followed by my observations on that combined text.
By way of reminder, this is what Jesus had just finished saying in section 12 at the end of part 1:
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
With these statements, Jesus concludes His harshest and most bitter attacks on the Jewish religious leaders—the entirety of Matt. 23.
Part of the challenge in studying this information is that there are no good breaking points, yet our human weakness (and sheer time requirements) hinder our ability to study it all in depth, end-to-end. Therefore, picture Jesus at the end of His vehement attacks against the hypocrisy and evil of these men when He utters the words of this section.
Jesus had just finished repeatedly warning and prophesying to these men and the Jews listening that Jerusalem would be destroyed and burned up because of wickedness. As we have seen, this destruction of Jerusalem and end of the old covenant is consistently discussed by the prophets in the OT, beginning with the Song of Moses all the way through Malachi.
Concern for Jerusalem
Jesus shows the depth of His concern and compassion over Jerusalem as He voiced His longing to bless and gather the city. Everything we have seen to this point in this day’s events concerns Jerusalem and its religious leaders.
Just two days earlier, as Jesus rode into the city on a colt—events known to many as the triumphal entry—Jesus was moved to tears as He approached Jerusalem and obviously foresaw its coming destruction and severe suffering only a few decades later. Luke records it as follows:
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
(Luke 19:41-44 NIV)
Acknowledging Jerusalem’s impending destruction as the central theme of this day’s events which we have studied so far is extremely important moving forward.
The (Second) Gathering
Note that Jesus here also mentions the gathering. Jesus longed to gather the physical children of Israel to Himself, but they were unwilling. Recall what Moses prophesied regarding the scattering and gathering:
1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. 7 The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. 8 You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. 9 Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
(Deut. 30:1-10 NIV)
Jesus longed to bring about this promise for these people, but they were unwilling. Because they resisted, they missed out on GOD’s promise and suffered a bitter end as a result.
Jesus’ words, “Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” are a reference to Psalm 118, which we examined in the last post. Here it is in context:
22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
25 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
(Psalm 118:22-26 NIV)
In Psalm 118, who is calling out for salvation? It is a righteous, persecuted Israelite. See:
4 Let those who fear the Lord say:
“His love endures forever.”
5 When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
he brought me into a spacious place.
6 The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
7 The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
I look in triumph on my enemies.
(Psalm 118:4-7 NIV)
Mentally file this “righteous, persecuted Israelite” away for now. It’ll be useful in later posts. (And remember what Jesus prophesied about the prophets, sages and teachers He was sending the religious leaders—referring, of course, to the apostles!)
Now, returning to Jesus’ statement here regarding His return to the temple, recall what we looked at previously from Malachi:
1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.
(Mal. 3:1-5 NIV)
Jesus’ prophecy here in Matt. 23 is discussing the same events as Mal. 3.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and, as he looked up, he watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. He saw many rich people putting their gifts of large amounts into the temple treasury.
He also saw a poor widow come and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. All these people gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had—all she had to live on.
The fiery confrontations with the religious leaders now having subsided, Jesus took a moment to rest across from the temple treasury. Ever the Master Teacher, Jesus took advantage of this teachable moment which continues to instruct disciples of all generations about faith, generosity and how GOD looks at human sacrifice compared with how men see it.
Men tend to focus on the budget and the quantity of the donation, but GOD looks at and evaluates the heart.
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"
But Jesus said, "Do you see all these great buildings? As for what you see here, truly I tell you, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."
Jesus got up from opposite the temple treasury and walked out of the east gate of Jerusalem, down the hill to the Kidron Valley and up the hill to the Mount of Olives, opposite the city. As they are walking out, the apostles expressed awe at the beauty of the temple buildings.
Jesus plainly told them (again—remember, He’d been discussing Jerusalem’s fate seemingly continually since the triumphal entry two days earlier) that the temple buildings were going to be completely wiped out, not one stone left upon another.
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, the disciples—Peter, James, John and Andrew—came and asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this happen? When will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place, the sign of your coming and of the end of the age, the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"
Arriving at the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked Jesus some follow-up questions regarding His prophecy about the temple destruction.
First, look again at what Jesus had said which prompted the apostles’ questions:
Do you see all these great buildings? As for what you see here, truly I tell you, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.
Note that Jesus’ comments here are 100% concerning the future of the temple buildings.
Now, look at the individual questions that these apostles asked Jesus:
- When will this happen?
- When will these things happen?
- What will be the signs:
- That they are about to take place?
- Of your coming?
- Of the end of the age?
- That they are all about to be fulfilled?
As you probably know, there is much disagreement among believers regarding the intended meaning of this text.
What were the apostles asking about, exactly?
To help us answer, let’s make some observations that we can definitively conclude from the text.
Dissecting the Individual Accounts
First, let’s look at each gospel account individually. Notice how each inspired writer recorded these apostles’ questions to Jesus:
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
(Matt. 24:3 NIV)
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
(Mark 13:3-4 NIV)
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
(Luke 21:7 NIV)
The Synoptic Gospels are entirely consistent in how they recorded the first question: When will these things happen?
What “things” are they referring to?
The previous verses tell us:
1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
(Matt. 24:1-2 NIV)
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
(Mark 13:2 NIV)
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
(Luke 21:5-6 NIV)
The “things” the apostles asked about in the first question are the destruction of the temple buildings.
Now consider the apostles’ second question. Mark and Luke record the question as: What will be the sign that these things are about to happen?
But Matthew recorded the second question much differently than Mark and Luke.
Consider this: Jesus spoke these words around 30 A.D. The temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. The gospel accounts were written sometime in the first century after 30 A.D. For some period of time, it is likely that the earliest Christians did not individually possess a copy of Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospel account. They likely had one or perhaps two. Anyone who read(s) only Mark or Luke’s account of these events would conclude without question that it dealt entirely with the destruction of Jerusalem.
But, what about the second question in Matthew’s account? (What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?)
What triggered Peter, James, John and Andrew to ask Jesus about His second coming and the end of the age when Jesus mentioned the future destruction of the temple? Were these apostles abruptly and quite randomly changing the subject in order to ask Jesus about events to occur thousands of years later—and well after they were dead? Or did they think that Jesus’ second coming and the end of the age was connected with the temple’s destruction?
From the Synoptic Gospel accounts, we can definitively say that:
- Every recorded thing that happened prior to this moment on this day, as well as the immediate context of Jesus’ statements which prompted these apostles’ questions dealt with the destruction of Jerusalem and the punishment of the wicked religious leaders.
- The verses which follow harmonize very closely across the three Gospels. This indicates that Jesus’ answer dealt entirely with the time period of the destruction of Jerusalem. Otherwise, Mark and Luke’s readers would be quite confused as to why Jesus would be discussing events thousands of years into the future when all Mark and Luke recorded about the apostles’ questions was, essentially, “What will be the sign that the temple buildings are about to be destroyed as You just said, Jesus?”
Jesus’ Other ‘Second Coming’ Statements
Would Jesus’ second coming occurring at the time of temple’s destruction be consistent or inconsistent with His other statements about the second coming?
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
(Matt. 10:16-23 NIV)
And on another occasion:
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
(Matt. 16:1-28 NIV)
And shortly after the events we’re studying in this post, at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, we read:
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
64 “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
(Matt. 26:63b-64 NIV)
The combination of these statements makes it crystal clear that Jesus said He would return during the lifetime of the apostles and first century Jews.
Furthermore, Jesus’ second coming occurring in the first century is perfectly consistent with Malachi’s prophecy (suddenly the Lord would come in judgment to the temple), John the Baptist’s prophecy (the wrath about to come … the ax laid at the root of the tree and the two baptisms—one of the Holy Spirit and the other of fire), the Song of Moses (the fiery judgment upon wicked, physical Israel, bring about their end), Daniel’s prophecies regarding the end of physical Israel and the crucifixion and war continuing till the end, and so on. In fact, it’s fully consistent with the entire Old Testament Scriptures.
But for many of us, the possibility of Jesus’ second coming having already occurred is inconsistent with deeply-held, core beliefs. In fact, I can see some of you reaching to close the browser tab right now. Hang on!
The ‘End of the Age’
What about "the end of the age?" What does that phrase mean?
Understanding Jesus meant by the phrase ‘the end of the age’ is the primary key to understanding the remainder of what Jesus taught here (and so very much more of Scripture).
Following the death of the apostles, by the early second century, evidence shows that most Christians have understood the phrase “the end of the age” to be a reference to the duration of the Christian Age—the period of time from Jesus’ ascension to heaven until the end of time when He returned and the universe was destroyed.
Yet, in this text we see that the apostles connected Jesus’ statements about the temple buildings’ destruction with the end of the age.
In the post, "A Spotlight on the Shadows of Israel's Exodus," we looked at 1 Cor. 10. That chapter includes a very important statement regarding the end of the age:
11 Now these things happened to [the children of Israel] as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
(1 Cor. 10:11 NASB)
Paul said that the end of the age had come upon those living at the time—the first century.
We find a similar statement in Hebrews regarding Jesus' crucifixion:
26 [Jesus] then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
(Heb. 9:26 NKJV)
The Hebrew writer says that Jesus’ first coming was at the end of the ages.
So what is the end of the age, exactly?
Why do the NT writers all seem to assume that the reader knows what the end of the age is? In other words, why is that phrase not defined in the NT writings?
Having focused most of my private study time on these things over the past three years, I am now firmly convinced that the Scriptures show that "the age" is referring to the period of GOD's original covenant with Israel, with its Law, temple, priestly system, sacrifices and system of public worship… all of it. GOD eliminated everything involving the first covenant with Israel at the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D.
That's why the phrase "the last days" is used, as we have already studied, to refer to the final period of time before the end of this age occurred—the last days of GOD's covenant with physical Israel.
As the Hebrew writer says, probably in the mid-60s A.D.:
13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
(Heb. 8:13 NKJV)
This is why, even though Mark and Luke make no mention of "the end of the age" as Matthew does, all three accounts proceed to tell very much the same story regarding what Jesus prophesied.
Concluding Part 2 Observations
First, the context continues to show that the full focus of the discussion of this entire day's events was about the looming destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.
Second, the apostles Peter, James, John and Andrew asked Jesus privately for signs when the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem were about to be fulfilled.
Matthew includes the phrase, "the end of the age," in these apostles' questions to Jesus. Although Christian tradition as far back as the second century has been that "the end of the age" is a reference to the Christian age, the Scriptures do not support this.
Instead, everything in the Scriptures points to "the end of the age" and "the last days" being a reference to the end of GOD's original covenant with the physical children of Abraham.
Besides the evidence I presented from Scripture, consider how illogical it would have been for the apostles to have endured several hours of continuous discussion about the coming punishment of the hard-hearted religious leaders and the city of Jerusalem, only to ask a random question—one that would have been completely unprovoked by the context of what had happened and was being discussed at the time—about unrelated events that wouldn't occur for over 2,000 years, thousands of years after these men were dead! I don't know about you, but that seems very improbable to me.
Got questions or comments? Leave them below.