Can You Repeat the Question? – Comments on Matthew 24:1-4

Have you ever been wading in a river, or a lake, and one moment you are doing just fine, walking along and able to touch bottom. Then, for whatever reason, the next step takes you into a deep underwater hole. One step earlier you felt like you were some sort of “Aqua Superhero”… and the next you feel like you might drown. 

Theologically, that’s what some people experience when they step into Matthew 24. You might feel pretty confident of your footing in the chapters leading up to this one… then all of a sudden you are treading in deep theological waters and feel like you are about to go under.

Why do I say that? 

There are so many ways people read Matthew 24. This is the type of passage that inspires charts… and diagrams… and long extended analogies to explain. So many charts… and at least potentially (from this chapter)… so little time. 

The chapter begins with a comment about nice buildings… and then a promise of destruction of those buildings.

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

Then the real question… the one where the theology suddenly get deep. What exactly do the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 24:3?

“… the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your Coming, and the end of the age?”

Most modern readers would like to split the question in to two (or even three) parts and then try and figure out which part of Jesus’ answer refers to each part of the question.

  • When will these things happen? 
  • What will be the sign of Your coming?
  • What will be the sign of the end of the age?

In the disciples mind… they expected all these things to be happening within their lifetimes. That’s where a lot of the confusion comes in.

Luke’s version of these events can help us out a bit in interpretation. Luke was a Gentile author… writing to a largely Gentile audience. He repeats the question, and his version is reduced down to it’s basic meaning. Luke 21:5-7 records the disciples’ question as,

“Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”

We can see the disciples were asking about what they perceived as one set of events… or a series of events that would be happening at one time.

Mark repeats the question in his gospel, and his version backs this theory as well.

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”

The interesting thing about Mark’s gospel is that Jesus’ answer seems to back the idea that everything was to happen at one time. In Mark 13:30 Jesus concludes his response to them.

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

It seems from Mark’s gospel that Jesus was answering the same question the disciples were asking. If he was, what did he say? What would happen within the next generation?

  1. The destruction of the temple structures occur. 
  2. The “destruction of the temple” would signify the “end of an age”. (It signified the end of the Old Testament covenant age that the temple buildings signified and regulated).
  3. The “coming of the Son of Man” is a reference to the earthly ramifications that would be realized as the result of the fulfillment of Daniel 7’s coronation ceremony.

This confusing question and Jesus’ complicated answer is just one of the topics I cover in more detail in The Matthew Study video lesson for chapter 24. You can watch the video below… or preview the other videos (and download chapter lessons) from The Matthew Study by visiting: THE MATTHEW STUDY VIDEOS page.

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