Matthew 24 Exposition
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
An honest exposition of Matthew 24:3-51 This is the second-longest discourse of Christ recorded in the Gospels. It takes place a few days prior to His crucifixion. The same week, Jesus told these same disciples (and us) “I will come again and receive [paralambano - see Matt 24:40-41] you unto myself” (John 14:3). The discourse was addressed initially to four of His disciples who were with Him on the Mount of Olives (Mk 13:3). But we know it was also intended for us the readers of Matthew's account because the Holy Spirit in verse 15 says “whoso readeth, let him understand” and the events concern believers at the end of the age. The four asked Him a question with three parts. “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming (parousia), and of the end of the world (aion)?” The first refers to the timing of the destruction of the Temple which took place in 70 AD. The second and third are answered together because Christ's coming effectively ends the present world (aion = age). They asked Jesus to tell them of the sign that would portend His return, that is His parousia, His second coming. Parousia is a somewhat technical term meaning arrival and continuing presence. It is translated both as “coming” and “presence.” It involves the whole of Christ's activity after being sent by the Father (Gal 4:4; Acts 3:19-21). When Jesus was speaking these words, He was in the midst of His first parousia. In verse 4 Jesus begins to answer their questions concerning His future Parousia, His second. (Only Luke records Christ's answer to the first question concerning the destruction of the Temple - Lk 21:20-24). Let us look at what Jesus says concerning the sign of His parousia. Remember He is answering “what shall be the sign of thy coming”. Therefore, what He has to say is in the context of that future day. First, He warns that there will be deceivers in that day, and false Christs. He says that these will deceive many. “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” (Mat 24:4-5) He speaks of a time of rumors of wars, war (even world war - nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom), famine, pestilences, and earthquakes that He calls “the beginning of sorrows”. He lets us know that these are NOT the end of the age. It is important to recognize that these conditions closely correspond to what John sees at the opening of the first three seals (Rev 6:1-6). Although it is likely that these begin in the seventieth week there is no statement within the Scriptures that require it. All that is required concerning the nearness of these “beginning of sorrows” events to Christ's parousia is that a single generation will witness all these things (beginning of sorrows, great tribulation, Christ's arrival at His parousia) (Matt 24:34). “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Mat 24:6-8) He goes on to say, that next, there would be violent persecution upon the followers of Jesus Christ for Christ's name's sake. Other than speaking in the second person, this is the first textual indication in the chapter that the followers of Christ are central to Christ’s description of this future period of time that precedes His return. The word thlipsis, translated "afflicted" here, is translated "tribulation" in verses 21 and 29. This use of the same word “thlipsis” should be the first indication that verse 9 begins to define what Jesus later calls "great tribulation." The word “then” connects this period of persecution to the beginning of sorrows, indicating that the persecution follows "the beginning of sorrows". “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.” (Mat 24:9) Because of this persecution, many will be offended, that is, they shall fall away or depart from the Faith. Just like those who were represented by the stony ground who gladly received the Word, but were offended when persecution came along, so these also will be offended and fall away (Matt 13:20-21). This is the apostasia (falling away) that Paul made reference to in 2Thes 2:3. Their response to the intense persecution is to turn from Christ, deny Him, and betray other Christians. “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” (Mat 24:10) At that time many false prophets shall contribute to the falling away by their deception. Not only will the violent persecution cause many to fall away, but it shall be coupled with deceiving signs and wonders (Matt 24:24; 2Thes 2:9). Due to the increase in lawlessness, many will fail to act in love for others. It will be a time when the saying “no good deed goes unpunished” is the rule of the day, creating an environment of fear toward the vulnerability of loving others. “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Mat 24:11-12) However, Jesus says that those who survive to the end of the persecution and the end of the age, will be saved (delivered Dan 12:1; 1Thes 5:9; raptured). This is physical deliverance. Believers are saved spiritually whether they survive physically to the end of the age or not. “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mat 24:13) Then He says, the gospel shall be preached throughout the world before the end comes. It is important to notice that the Great Commission which was given to the founding members of the church and continues to be the responsibility of the church today, closes with these words "...lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." Jesus said He would be with us in the making of disciples and in the teaching of those disciples, all things whatsoever He taught. He said He would be with us unto the end of the world (aion). The disciples understood that His coming would inaugurate a new (aion), the present age would end at that point. The church will continue in Gospel ministry until the second coming of Christ. “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Mat 24:14)
Jesus now gives further details concerning the persecution He began to speak of in verse 9. We know this by His use of “THEREFORE” in verse 15. He says the unprecedented persecution begins when the rebuilt temple is defiled (abomination of desolation) in the middle of the week (Dan 9:27) by the revelation of the man of sin (the Beast) (2Thes 2:3-4). He says to the inhabitants of Judaea that when they see that happen, to flee. It is important to note that emphasis is made upon haste and the willingness to forsake possessions in order to escape the violent persecution. Most prophetic statements of the Scriptures are centered around Jerusalem in Judaea, so we would expect Christ's warnings to be centered there, especially since that is where the revelation of the man of sin takes place. However, Rev 13 makes it clear that this persecution will be worldwide. The restrictions of the Sabbath in Israel, or the difficulties of travel while pregnant, with an infant, or in winter will make it more difficult for believers and uncooperative Jews (those not submitting to the Beast) to escape the Beast's persecution at a moments notice. “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:” (Mat 24:15-20)
Jesus further describes the severity and scope of this persecution (thlipsis) saying that it is unprecedented. This is that unprecedented time of trouble that Daniel spoke of in Dan 12:1 and Jacob's trouble that Jeremiah prophesied of in Jer 30:7. This is unprecedented persecution of the elect (believers in Christ). Notice that this is the first thing that is said to be unprecedented in the events leading up to the coming (parousia) of Christ. All that was included in the beginning of sorrows (verses 4-8) which precedes the great tribulation has been that which mankind has experienced in the centuries prior. There is nothing unprecedented about conquest, war, famine, pestilence, and earthquakes, however, they are said to precede the great tribulation. The only other unprecedented period of time that will come at the end of the age is of an altogether different type. It is the day of the Lord (Joel 2:1-2, Isa 2; Isa 13; 1Thes 5:2-3; 2Thes 1:6-10). A period of God’s unmixed fierce wrath upon the unbelieving, Beast worshiping, earth dwellers. This period of God’s wrath only coincides with the 42 months of the Beast after the arrival of Christ in the clouds to bring physical salvation to those elect who are alive and remain unto His coming.
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Mat 24:21)
He says that the thlipsis is so violent that it will threaten to extinguish every believer from off the earth. To save some of the elect (believers) alive upon the earth, He says those days are cut short (shortened). We should note that this is the first use of the word elect in the account. We see that it is the elect (true believers) who are being killed in the unparalleled persecution. Remember, from verse 9, those that are being persecuted unto death are persecuted for the name of Christ. The elect Jesus speaks of are not unbelieving Israel, they are fellow members of the body of Christ, the saints of God, the church. Also, note that “those days” are referenced in verse 29 which speaks of the end of the unprecedented persecution that began in the middle of the week.
“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake, those days shall be shortened.” (Mat 24:22)
Again, Jesus warns of false Christs and the lying wonders that they will use to deceive those who “profess” Christ. He says the deception will be so great that if it were possible even the true believer (“the very elect”) would be deceived. This is the second use of the word elect in the text. Here Jesus implies that the truly elect cannot be deceived by the signs and wonders done by the false prophets. However, unbelieving Israel is still in blindness because the fullness of the Gentiles is not yet come in. We know this because Rev 7:9-17 describes an innumerable multitude of primarily Gentiles that came out of the great tribulation. These Gentiles (ethnos) are said to be saved just as we are, in the blood of the Lamb. If God is still calling out a people for His name from among the Gentiles during the great tribulation then Israel, in part, remains forensically blinded until these Gentiles have been added to the body of Christ (Rom 11:25). Therefore, the elect (“very elect”), who cannot be deceived, must be the Church.
“Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Mat 24:23-24)
The age-old adage is, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”. With these warnings, Christ has armed us against deception, specifically that deception related to His arrival at His parousia. He says His arrival will be visible to all, like the lightning that fills the dark sky with light. He says that His coming (parousia) will be unmistakable, as unmistakable as the smell of the dead to carrion-eating birds.
“Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” (Mat 24:25-28) Jesus then tells us what event signals that the unprecedented persecution of the great tribulation is over. It is an identifiable cosmic sign, the very sign that Joel (Joel 2:31) and Peter (Acts 2:20) said would precede the day of the Lord. While it appears that it is the great earthquake (Rev 6:12-14), that moves islands and mountains out of their places, that causes the persecution to cease, the great earthquake takes place just prior to and in association with the cosmic disturbance (Rev 6:12-17). This is when Christ “ariseth to shake terribly the earth” (Isa 2:19). Luke records Christ’s words saying that when we begin to see these things, the cosmic disturbance and the effects of the earthquake (sea and waves roaring), to be encouraged (“lift up your heads”) and look up for our redemption is near (will take place at any moment) (Luke 21:25-28). Following the cosmic sign, the whole world will see the wonder of Christ in heaven as He comes with all His holy angels. John tells us, every eye will see Him (Rev 1:7). The day of the Lord has arrived. The Christ-rejecting earth dwellers will mourn in fear, having been caught unawares, like a thief in the night catches the unsuspecting home dweller. Christ will, with the trump of God, raise the dead and change the survivers of the great tribulation. He will then send His angels to gather (catch up) His elect, the persecuted, to Him in the clouds. The day of the Lord begins with His arrival at His singular future Parousia.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Mat 24:29-31)
Jesus now reassures us, that when we see ALL these things, His coming [parousia] is near. Just like the disciples knew that summer is nigh when the fig tree (or "all the trees", Luke 21:29) puts forth leaves, so should we expect Him when these events, that He has heretofore described, have taken place. He says that a single generation will witness "all these things". Then He tells us, although Heaven and Earth shall pass away, His words (the prophetic promises He is giving in this discourse) shall not pass away; they shall most certainly be fulfilled.
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Mat 24:32 -35)
Next, Jesus says that only the Father knows the day and hour when this will happen. Neither man, angels, nor even Himself (Mk 13:32) knew when this will take place. Then He begins to emphasize the unexpected nature of His parousia and wrath. Just as the wrath of God upon the wicked came unexpectedly in the days of Noah so shall it be at Christ's parousia. The unbelieving, Beast-worshiping earth-dwellers will be going about life as usual, all the while persecuting believers and ethnic Israel unto death, in the days prior to Christ's appearing.
“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Mat 24:36-39)
Now, Jesus further describes that physical salvation of the survivors of the great tribulation that He mentioned in verse 13 and the gathering of His elect to Himself via the angels in vs 31. He describes various situations in which two will be together, one will be taken, but the other will be left. It is important to understand that the Greek word translated “took them...away” in verse 39 is of a different character than paralambano which is translated “taken” in verses 40 and 41. Paralambano is the Greek word used by Christ in John 14:3 where it is translated receive. He said, "I will come again and receive [paralambano] you unto myself".
“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” (Mat 24:40-41)
Jesus says that we are to watch so that His coming does not catch us by surprise. If we are watching for the events that He has described as preceding His return, we can be ready for His coming, even though we do not presently know the day or hour.
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Mat 24:42-44)
Next, Christ speaks to those whom He has given the responsibility to care for His household. Those who are charged with feeding and meeting the needs of His own during these days of great persecution that take place prior to His return. Those who are fulfilling their charge, He says, are blessed and that He will make them ruler over all His goods. But those who neglect this charge and mistreat Christ's servants will be dealt with in the harshest manner.
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 24:45-51)