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MATTHEW 24:1-44 Signs of the End

At the end of chapter 23, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, 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.'” Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV)

With these somber words, Jesus left the Temple after saying, “Your house is left to you desolate.” He never returned.

Imagine His reaction, then, when His disciples began to marvel at the construction of the Temple as they were leaving. This is when He said,

You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down. Matthew 24:2 (ESV)

Those words must have been sad for Him to say, for this was the Temple where the glory of God had rested in the Most Holy Place. These words must have been astonishing for the disciples to hear, for the Temple was the seat of Judaism. How could God allow it to again be thrown down when He had sent His Messiah?

Is it any wonder that they came to Him to ask about what He had said?

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV)

If we want to understand this question (or questions), we must put ourselves back into the mind-set of the ones who asked it. Indeed, in the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke, the question is a little differently worded.

Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished? Mark 13:4 ESV

Luke 21:7 is very similar to Mark. All three accounts ask about when and what will be the sign. Matthew differs in the “sign” portion. Whereas in Mark and Luke the disciples ask for the sign “all these things are about to be accomplished,” in Matthew they ask for “the sign of your coming and of the close of the age.”

It is easy for us to assume that the disciples meant by “your coming” what we mean when we speak of the Lord’s second coming. It would have been difficult for them, however, to ask about His return when they did not realize yet that He was going away! Rather, it is more likely that what Matthew recorded is essentially the same as what Mark and Luke recorded. That is, their question was about when the Temple would be destroyed and what sign would there be that it was about to happen. The way Matthew said it shows that the disciples would have thought that anything as momentous as the destruction of the temple would have to be associated with Jesus’ coming in Messianic glory and that it would certainly mark the end of their present age. For the Jewish nation, the destruction of the temple would surely mean that life as they knew it would be over. What could be left, then, other than the Christ acting to restore the kingdom to Israel?

Jesus answered their question in apocalyptic language, language that was common to the prophets and to much of the inter-testament literature of the Jews. We see it most frequently here and in parts of Revelation or The Apocalypse of John. Because we are not as familiar with the prophets as Jesus and His disciples, it is more difficult for us to follow.

Perhaps that is why Jesus began His answer with a warning:

See that no one leads you astray. Matthew 24:4 ESV

There would be many who would attempt to lead them astray by claiming (falsely) to be the Christ. There would be tumultuous times of war, persecution, betrayals, and false prophets (who would also deceive many). Because of these things, the love of many would grow cold. However, Jesus did not offer these things as signs of the approaching end. He said these things would happen, but that the disciples should endure through these things to the end (see Matthew 24:5-14). As these things were happening, He said,

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations. Then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 ESV

It is not until verse 15 that He gets to the sign of when these things would happen and when He gives instructions as to what they were to do.

So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel standing in the Holy Place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Matthew 24:15-16 ESV

Then follow more warnings against being deceived by and false Christ, against delaying their flight when the time came, and urging them to pray that their flight not be on a Sabbath or in the winter when flight to the mountains would be more difficult. Most of what is said through verse 28, people have little difficult applying to the destruction of Jerusalem. The apocalyptic language of the next verses is different. It is so, well, apocalyptic, that we have difficulty seeing how such language can apply to a mere event on earth.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Matthew 24:29-31 ESV

Yet, similar language is in the prophets as they speak of temporal judgments of God on various cities. Run cross-references from these verses and see where the language originates. You will find the same or something very much like virtually every phrase in these verses. These are sprinkled liberally through the prophetic books of the Old Testament and in some of the Psalms.

That Jesus meant this language to apply to the destruction of Jerusalem is nailed down in verse 34:

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Some say “this generation” means “the Jewish race.” There is no linguistic justification for this, even though some respected translations (such as the NIV) put “this race” in a footnote as an alternate translation.

The sign was the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel. Luke’s account, instead of referencing this abomination, says “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near” (Luke 21:20 ESV).

Does This Have Anything To Do With the Lord’s Return?

Yes, it probably does – but not in a way that we can use this chapter to find signs or times as to when that will be.

The application of verses 36-44 is that since you do not know when, you should always be ready. This was spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem. It also applies to Jesus’ return.

The parable in verses 45-51 segues into chapter 25 where Jesus does speak of when He will come in judgment. More about that in the next post.


  1. Is there any way the disciples could really be asking about the 2nd coming of Jesus in v. 3? Why do you say that?
  2. How can a passage that begins by warning against allowing any to deceive us be used by many to deceive?
  3. What in verses 5-14 indicates we shouldn’t take these verses as “signs”?
  4. How can this judgment on Jerusalem be a type of the second coming of Jesus?
  5. What are some Old Testament passages that use language similar to verses 29-31?

2 Responses

  1. Jerry, thank you for this great review of a passage which gives many people serious problems! A key point to remember is “The application of verses 36-44 is that since you do not know when, you should always be ready. This was spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem. It also applies to Jesus’ return.” For many (all of us to this point in time), “Jesus’ return” was the point of their own death: it did not matter whether He comes 5,000 years from now or not – we have to be prepared when we die.

    • Sam,
      Thank you for your kind comments. My analysis of this interesting chapter depends on a class taught by Richard Rogers when I attended the Sunset School of Preaching (now Sunset International Bible Institute) way back in the 1960’s. It is certainly not original, though I’ve probably put some of my own wrinkles on it in the past 40+ years.

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