The Word Made Fresh
1As Jesus was leaving the temple, his disciples began to point out to him all the buildings in the temple area. 2Jesus said, “Are you impressed with all these? The truth is that not one stone will be left on another. It will all be thrown down.”
3While he was resting on the Mt. of Olives, the disciples came to him in private and asked him, “Tell us when all this will happen. And what signs should we look for that you are coming, and what will signal the end of the age?”
4“Take care that no one leads you down the wrong path,” Jesus told them. 5Many will come claiming to be me, saying, ‘I am the Christ!’ trying to deceive the people. 6And you’ll hear news about wars and rumors of wars, but don’t be alarmed. All this will happen, but the end won’t come yet. 7First, there will be nations and kingdoms at war against each other, and famines and earthquakes will come in various lands, 8but all of these things are just the beginning of the birth pangs.
9“Then they will arrest you and torture you and execute you. Nations will hate you because you belong to me. 10A lot of my followers will fall into sinful ways, betraying each other and hating each other. 11False prophets will appear; they will lead many people astray. 12And because lawlessness has increased so much, the love of many followers will grow cold, 13but those who resist to the end will be rescued. 14The good news of the kingdom will spread around the world. All the nations will receive the testimony, and then the end will come.
15“So, when you see the sacred place ruined and deserted, as the prophet Daniel foretold, 16those in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17Those on the rooftops must not try to salvage whatever is inside the house. 18Those working in the fields must not take the time to run home and get a coat. 19When those days arrive it will be too bad for pregnant women and for those who are nursing infants. 20Pray that you won’t have to flee in the wintertime or on a sabbath. 21There will be terrible suffering, more terrible than anything seen since the creation of the world, and never will be seen again. 22If those days weren’t shortened no one would be saved, but they will be shortened for the sake of those who are chosen. 23In those days if anyone tells you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ – don’t believe them. 24False saviors will appear and perform signs and wonders to try and lead astray even those who are chosen. 25You are forewarned. Take note of what I have told you. 26So when people try to tell you, ‘Look! He’s in the wilderness,’ don’t go looking for him. 27The coming of the Son of Man will be like the lightning that comes from the east and flashes across to the west. 28The vultures will gather wherever the dead lie.
29“As soon as the suffering of those days has ended, the sun will grow dark, and the moon will disappear. The stars will fall from heaven and the powers of heaven will be challenged. 30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the skies, and all the people of the earth will grieve. They will see the Son of Man coming on clouds, powerful and glorious. 31He will send his angels out with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his faithful followers from every direction, and from one end of heaven to the other.
32“Learn this lesson from the fig tree: when its branches begin to wave and put forth leaves, you know that summer is close at hand. 33So, when you see all these signs you will know that the LORD is near – right there at your gate! 34I tell you the truth, this generation will not all die until these things happen. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but not my words.
36“But no one knows the day and hour these things will come – not even the angels of heaven, but only the Father. 37The coming of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah: 38before the flood they were eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah got on board the ark. 39And they knew nothing until the flood came and wiped them out. That’s how the coming of the Son of Man will be: 46two men will be working in the field; one will be taken and the other left behind. 41Two women will be grinding grain; one will be taken and the other left behind. 42So stay awake! You don’t know exactly when your LORD is coming. 43But know this: if the homeowner had known when in the night the thief was coming he would have stayed awake to protect his home and family. 44You must be ready! The Son of Man is going to arrive at an unexpected hour.
45“So, who among you will be like the faithful servant whose master has put him in charge of his household, and who gives the others food at mealtimes? 46That servant will be rewarded if his master finds him at work when he returns. 47He will be put in charge of everything that belongs to his master. 48But if that servant is wicked and thinks the master will be delayed, 49and begins to mistreat his fellow servants, and begins to keep company with gluttons and drunkards, 50the master will arrive on a day and at a time when he is least expected. 51He will punish that servant severely and throw him out with the others who are undependable, and they will cry out and grind their teeth.
1-2: Chapters 24 and 25 comprise a new section of the gospel in which Jesus presents to his disciples teachings about God’s plans for things to come. His confrontations with the Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, and elders are finished, and he leaves the temple area with his disciples to retreat to the Mount of Olives near the little village of Bethany where we think they are being housed during the Passover. The disciples marvel at the temple buildings, which truly are architectural wonders, and Jesus tells them rather abruptly that these magnificent structures will be torn down.
3-8: They are surprised, of course, and ask when such a thing might happen. Jesus launches on a lengthy discourse about the things that will come after the crucifixion, a subject in which Matthew’s readers would have been intensely interested. He tells them that false messiahs will come and go, and there will be wars and other tragedies as there always have been. They are not to jump to conclusions about these things.
9-14: The things Jesus talks about here are certainly the kinds of trials and tribulations with which the early church had to struggle. He encourages them to keep the faith through it all, for ultimately the gospel will bear fruit.
15-28: The idea of the “sacred place ruined and deserted” is a reference to Daniel 9:27. The phrase is also in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees (1:54). There is a reference to the desecration of the temple in 167 B.C. when Antiochus IV Epiphanes filled the temple with images of pagan gods. Jesus is clearly referring to a future event, however, that some commentators identify as the sacking and destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. Verses 27 and 28, however, indicate that Jesus did not intend to pin down a specific date.
29-31: The imagery of these verses is the language of apocalyptic literature and is not intended to be a concrete description of actual future events. It is simply a way of saying that the changes to come are cosmic in scope.
32-35: These verses make the issue more confusing, but that is the nature of apocalyptic literature: something extraordinary is going to happen that cannot be described in a straightforward manner. The signs Jesus has mentioned — earthquakes, wars, etc. — are things that happen in every generation. However long it takes, even to the end of the world, his words will still hold.
36-44: Even so, it is necessary to be aware of what is happening in the world and to realize that all the suffering poured out on the community of Jesus’ followers points toward the fulfillment of his promises.
45-51: Leaders in the Christian community are charged to be faithful no matter how long it takes.
Jesus didn’t “sugar coat” the future for his followers. There is much evil in the world, and we, God’s people, will suffer. When a general orders the troops to go and battle an enemy, they are not being punished; they are being used for the purpose their training prepared them for. Just so, when we suffer at the hands of an evil and unfaithful world, we are not being punished; we are being placed in a position to use our training as God’s people.