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Matthew 24:4-28 - The First Question

Matthew 24:4-28 - The First Question

When shall these things be? Before reading this post, I encourage you to read this first.

The context of what is written in Matthew 24 begins in Matthew 23. After the Lord spoke of the judgment coming upon Jerusalem and the people (Matthew 23:35-38), Matthew 24:2 records that he said: “...See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was on the minds of the disciples and it seems natural they would be wondering when this would come to pass. The Lord’s words, as we can imagine, were shocking to the ears of the Jews. This was such a serious proclamation that it appears the disciples were wondering if it coincided with the end of the world, as seen by their third question in Matthew 24:3. Eberle and Trench, in their book Victorious Eschatology, show how everything recorded from Matthew 23:36 to Matthew 24:35 happened within a generation (40 years) of the Lord’s words. The first question in 24:3, about when Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, is the context for Matthew 24:4-28.

Matthew 24:4,5 - Deceivers

Futurists are constantly looking for an evil leader that claims to be Christ, thinking this will occur right before the end of the world, but the Lord warned there would be many claiming to be the Messiah in the days ahead leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and we know this calamity occurred in AD 70. For these words of the Lord to be fulfilled, imposters would have to arise in the first century.

We are told this indeed happened. The Jews, desiring to be delivered from Roman rule, were eagerly awaiting their Messiah. The coming Messiah was their hope, and it is easy to see how many of the Jews could be easily deceived since they wanted him to arrive so badly. When the Lord Jesus died, many gave up the hope that he was the Messiah (see Luke 24:21), and others rose up and gathered followings as they promised political deliverance. As cited by Eberle and Trench, Eusebius and John Wesley wrote the following (in order):

“After the Lord was taken up into heaven the demons put forth a number of men who claimed to be gods” (The History of the Church, 1965, II:13).

“And, indeed, never did so many imposters appear in the world as a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem, undoubtedly because that was the time wherein the Jews in general expected the Messiah” (Wesley’s notes on the Bible).

Matthew 24:6,7 - Wars and Rumors of Wars

Eberle and Trench inform us that this was a time known as Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. The rule of Rome was powerful and stable when the Lord gave these words. No doubt those that were oppressed by Roman rule did not consider it a time of peace, but the point is, Roman rule was established in that part of the world. Rome was firmly in control.

Eberle and Trench tell us that not long after these words of the Lord, “...wars broke out all over the empire. Within a period of 18 months, four emperors in Rome were violently murdered. Civil war broke out in the city of Rome. Then, in AD 66, 50,000 Jews were killed in Alexandria. Another 50,000 Jews were killed in Seleucia and 20,000 in Caesarea. It was a time of great turmoil, and there were constant rumors of new rebellions” (pg. 26).

Matthew 24:7 - Famines

A sign the disciples were to look for was famines in the land. Though there have been famines since that time, and we could face them in the future for various reasons, these words of the Lord were to be fulfilled within that generation. Do we read about a great famine during that time? Indeed. In Acts 11:28 we read of the great dearth, or great famine, in the region of Judah.

“And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.”

The historian Josephus wrote of this time period and the turmoil that occurred due to the famine in The Wars of the Jews. Foreseeing this famine and the destruction it would cause led the Lord Jesus to say:

“But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck” (Luke 23:28-29).

Imagine what it was like to live in a period in which mothers would regret having children because of the suffering that would transpire. Others have definitely faced similar circumstances since that time, and still could, but the Lord was specifically speaking to the “daughters of Jerusalem.”

Matthew 24:7 - Earthquakes

Eberle and Trench tell us there was a time of unusually high seismic activity leading up to AD 70. Pompeii was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 62, and other historical writers tell of earthquakes at Colossae, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Laodicea, Simos, Hierapolis, Campania, Crete, Rome, and Judea. See here.

All of this was the beginning of sorrows. I too, previously, thought of this as a reference to the time leading up to the Lord’s Second Coming, but if I had not merely accepted what futurists claimed about this section of the Word, maybe I would have remembered that the Lord himself said these things would occur within a generation of his words being spoken. Certainly we can see pain and suffering around us today, but the Lord was here speaking of the sorrows that were leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Matthew 24:9 - Persecution

We know from the Bible that the Jewish religious leaders persecuted Christians, and Saul (later Paul) was one of these men that were overseeing the deaths of these Christians. Acts 8:1 says:

“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

The persecution spread and Government officials also got involved.

Acts 12:1 tells us: “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.”

The persecution increased in AD 64, the year that a third of the City of Rome burned to the ground. Nero blamed Christians for the fire. Eberle and Trench tell us: “The historian, Tacitus (AD 55-120), wrote how thousands of Christians were tortured, being covered in animal skins then torn to death by dogs, or being nailed to crosses, or being covered in tar and then lit on fire to illuminate Nero’s gardens while he entertained guests in the evenings.” See here for more on this.

Matthew 24:10-13 - Apostasy and False Prophets

We read in the Paul’s epistles how he warned Christians to watch our for false prophets. John wrote about the many false prophets that were in the world in that time (1 John 4:1), as did Peter (2 Peter 2:1). Some of the early Christians were influenced by the Judaizers and the Gnostics and they fell away from Christ.

Matthew 24:14 - Preaching the Gospel

We can’t forget that the Lord Jesus said that what he was speaking of would happen within a generation of his message. People have often looked at verse 14 in a futurist sense. They don’t think it was fulfilled in the first century, because they have been taught to believe otherwise. We must learn to read the scriptures and stop allowing commentators and mainstream preachers to determine truth for us. Eberle and Trench highlighted several verses that put to rest the notion that verse 14 is something that had to happen centuries in the future from the time the Lord spoke those words. Here are three of those verses.

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8).

Notice that Paul told these Christians their faith was already being proclaimed throughout the whole world when he wrote this.

“For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:” (Colossians 1:5-6).

Paul says that during his lifetime, the word of the truth of the gospel had come to his readers, as it is in all the world. In the same chapter we read the following:

“If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;” (Colossians 1:23).

According to the inspired Word of God, these words of the Lord were indeed fulfilled in the first century. The gospel would be preached and then the end would come. Not the end of the world, but the end of Jerusalem and the Temple, as we see in next few verses.

Matthew 24:15-20 - Warning of Destruction

Instead of the abomination of desolation being a time in the future when the antichrist will set up an idol of himself in the Temple and declare that he is God, and when the tribulation will begin, read and understand that the Lord was talking about events that would happen soon, in Jerusalem and the surrounding area of Judea. He said when the abomination of desolation stands in the holy place, those in Judea (not people all over the earth) would need to flee to the mountains. The Lord said to pray their flight would not be in the winter. Just in case anyone doesn’t realize this, it isn’t winter in all regions of the earth at the same time. He also told them to pray that their flight wouldn’t be on the Sabbath, a day of special significance to the Jewish people.

What was the Abomination in the Holy Place?

The Lord was telling his disciples that generation would witness this event. This was an abomination they would see in their lifetime. Where was the abomination to stand? Matthew said in the holy place, and Luke referred to Jerusalem:

“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh” (Luke 21:20).

Is this a contradiction? No, Matthew was referring to the same place as Luke – not a future Temple, but Jerusalem, in the near future, not 2,000 years later. According to Luke, the abomination of desolation was the armies surrounding Jerusalem. What could be more despicable and unholy to the Jewish people than to see heathen armies surrounding Jerusalem? Is this what happened in history? Well some of us believe what the Bible says without having to have other historical records confirm it, but in fact there is further confirmation of these events. According to Eberle and Trench, in the year AD 70, 20,000 Romans soldiers surrounded the holy city. Also see here.

Eberle and Trench also cite John Chrysostom:

"...the abomination of desolation means the army by which the holy city of Jerusalem was made desolate" (Cited in Present Truth Lifestyle: Daniel in Babylon by Scantlebury).

The Lord Jesus, in verse 15, had referred to the abomination of desolation “about which Daniel spoke.” What did Daniel write?

“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined” (Daniel 9:26). (Italics added)

The Romans soldiers starved the people for 4 months, they they flooded (invaded) and destroyed the city.

Fleeing Jerusalem and Judea

When the Roman soldiers encircled the surrounding area, there was only a short time for people to flee, and we can see why it would have been unwise for the Jews to go after their possessions. After that short time passed, the city was sealed.

Eberle and Trench cited Josephus:

“So all hope of escaping was cut off to the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the marketplaces like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead, wheresoever their misery seized them” (The Wars of the Jews, 1998, v:xii:3).

According to Eusebius, again cited by Eberle and Trench:

“The members of the Jerusalem church, by means of an oracle given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the City before the war began and settle in a town in Peraea called Pela" (The History of the Church, 1965, III:5).

The early disciples fled the city because they remembered the words of the Lord.

Matthew 24:21,22 - A Great Tribulation

Some of us were taught this is an event that awaits us, an event that will affect the entire world, but in reality the Lord was answering the first question of the disciples, the question about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Eberle and Trench recount the following details. Many horrible events have happened since that time, with more people dying at one time than during this past event, but in terms of suffering and anguish, this event was the greatest of calamities. Josephus recorded how the Jews turned on each other and how they even resorted to cannibalism. He told of a woman murdering her small son and cooking half of him and how thieves broke into her house and an argument ensued about who would eat the other half. It has been said that the Jews would swallow precious jewels and try to escape in the darkness. The Roman soldiers caught on to this and when they would catch someone trying to escape they would cut the person open looking for the jewels. Others that tried to escape had their hands cut off. When the Romans finally invaded the city, it is said they caught around 500 men per day, whipped them, tortured them, and crucified them. All the people were killed, except for the 97,000 that were sold as slaves or killed for sport in the theaters. Josephus also wrote about how Jews were killed in the surrounding regions. Over a million Jews were starved, tortured, and killed over a 4 month period. More Jews were killed in the Holocaust, but a greater percentage of Jewish people were killed, and the atrocities were more extreme, in the events of AD 70.

Matthew 24:23-27 - False Christs Appear

No doubt, the Jewish people longed for their Messiah to arise during this time. How sad that they had already rejected him and brought this judgment upon themselves. Imposters took advantage of this, and Josephus wrote about the many false prophets and leaders that rose up claiming to be their deliverer. Eberle and Trench say these were not the false prophets referred to in verse 5. These false Christs were those who offered a false hope while the city was being destroyed. Knowing this would happen, the Lord gave his warning in these verses. Eberle and Trench explain how Josephus gave an example of one false deliverer who declared that God was going to deliver them, and how the people followed him to their deaths. He also described “how extraordinary signs appeared, including a star resembling a sword over Jerusalem, and then a light around the Temple for a half hour.” There were “great signs and wonders”, no doubt created by the master counterfeiter himself.

As cited by Eberle and Trench, Jerome wrote:

"At the time of the Jewish captivity by Rome, many Jewish elders claimed to be the Christ. There were so many, in fact, that there were three distinct camps of them when the Romans besieged Jerusalem" (The Ancient Christian Commentary, 2002, Ib: 97).

The Lord warned of these false leaders. The Lord’s coming would not be something done in secret, it would be as evident as lightning flashing through the sky.

Matthew 24:28 - The Corpse and The Eagles

People today read this and think of perhaps the bald eagle, but according to Eberle and Trench, back then, unlike modern times, eagles and vultures were not considered separate animals. The term eagle here then probably is a reference to what we call vultures, and we know that vultures are drawn to corpses. I think I heard once that eagles will not feed on corpses, but this simply isn’t true. I saw one in Texas feeding on a dead deer on the shoulder of the highway. To the point, Jerusalem was a corpse and the vultures gathered around to feed on the carnage.

Eberle and Trench go on to explain the parallel verses in the other gospels. They point out how wrong futurist teachers are, and show how the second and third questions are not recorded in Mark or Luke, further confirming these events related to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

What a significant event this was. The Old Covenant was made obsolete, the Jewish religious system was abolished, and the New Covenant had arrived.

“In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).

I will take the words of the Lord Jesus over CI Scofield, John Darby, and Tim LaHaye.

Go here to read about the second question asked by the disciples in Matthew 24:3, as well as the Lord's response.

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