1 ¶ Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.
2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
3 Now 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 end of the age?"
So, I was interrupted by a few odds and ends, but I felt they were worth posting. In any case, I had just concluded a small exegesis of Matthew 23, which I believe is often left out of the context by those who claim that Matthew 24 is in regards to our future. I will also warn you that I see similar parallels to the Book of Revelation here as well. I’ll point them out as we go and I will try and post some written comments on my study of Revelation, which I have begun in our assembly.
First things first: We find Jesus leaving the temple. He has just laid out 8 woes against the Pharisees and scribes and told them that their house would now be desolate. To catch up on Matthew 23 start here. This sets the context for what we are about to read from Matthew. Unlike John MacArthur, I proceed under the assumption that the context sets the stage for understanding the passage, not what the Jews presumed upon. MacArthur in his commentary on Matthew 24 starts out:
“The teaching of the Olivet discourse is much debated and frequently misunderstood, largely because it is viewed through the lens of a particular theological system or interpretive scheme that makes the message appear complex and enigmatic. But the disciples were not learned men, and Jesus’ purpose was to give them clarity and encouragement, not complexity and anxiety. The intricate interpretations that are sometimes proposed for this passage would have left the disciples utterly dumbfounded. It is preferable to take Jesus’ words as simply and as strait forwardly as possible.”
Notice the problem here. MacArthur is stating that others misunderstand this passage because they view it through “the lens of a particular theological system”. When someone makes that statement we need to make sure they are not doing the same thing. In fact, he does do the same thing. However, his “lens”, if you will, is the lens of dispensationalism. There is not question that the disciples were unlearned men and that Jesus was giving them clarity, but let’s recall that Jesus often was misunderstood by the disciples many times when he was as simple and clear as could be. The interpretation I offer is not intricate, nor should it leave one dumbfounded. I would propose that the interpretation of dispensationalism and futuristic interpretations fall short of what is really in mind here and fail to make things clear.
Herod’s temple must have been a beautiful sight. Notice, the disciples come to Jesus show (epideiknumi) Him the buildings of the temple. Buildings here can refer to the many structures of the temple or most likely it can refer to the building that was actually taking place at the time. The temple was not fully complete until just prior to its destruction in 70 AD. Therefore what we have is an uncompleted temple at this point in time, though the main edifice was there. The disciples come up to Jesus to point him to these things and notice what Christ says:
"Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
Christ speaks directly concerning this temple. He is not referencing a future temple. If as MacArthur says, Jesus was trying to be clear shouldn’t He have made it clear that this was a future time and temple that he had in mind? I think Jesus is abundantly clear. There would come a time, when by the hand of God through the means of the Roman armies God would come and literally make “their house” desolate, even to the point of one stone not being left one upon another.
Just to note this did occur when the Romans overran the city in 70 AD. The temple and its walls were built with massive stones. Josephus describes these stones used for its building in Antiquities:
Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits, their height was eight, and their breadth about twelve.
We know from ancient measurements that the cubit is about the space from the elbow to the fingertips (appox. 18 inches). To help us understand not only the incredible building techniques that must have been used, but also the strength of the Romans in coming in and tearing this down, let’s get a handle on the size of each of these stones, which are referred to as “Herodian” stones.
20 cubits long = 30 ft. long
8 cubits high = 12 ft. high
Twelve cubits wide = 18 ft. wide
One writer commented on the fact that some of the stones of the “wailing wall”, which is a foundation wall below the temple and consequently the only structure truly left visible after the temple’s destruction, weighed as much as 400 tons!
While there were many contemporaries who saw the building of the temple and the placing of this stones, it would have never entered their minds that the words that Christ just uttered would have any bearing upon this temple. They would simply reason that this would never happen in a million years, and yet it did, just as Christ had spoken it. Josephus gives us an incredible description of how great the city was fortified and the temple mount erected, along with the surrounding mountains that it was one of the most “naturally” protected cities of the ancient world.
Though Josephus tells us that Titus in the beginning desired to keep the temple and simply bring the Roman fury upon the men of Jerusalem, he later made a declaration that it be totally destroyed after his men had providentially set it on fire. Josephus gives this account in chapters 5 and 6 of The Wars of the Jews. Later the soldiers cleaned out the gold that had melted between the stones, thus breaking them apart in their plunder. Josephus later gives the account that the sight was melancholy to all who beheld it as Jerusalem was turned into a desert and flattened to the ground.
Clearly Jesus is about to prophesy in accordance with what the Scriptures had foretold all throughout the Old Testament the judgment that was to come upon Jerusalem. This is prophecy is an answer to questions that the disciples ask, which we will note in a moment, but it is also a word of instruction to those that heard it. It was because Christ cared for His own that He gave this message. It was not so much for the unbelievers, as for the believers. It was a means of giving them a “heads up” if you will of what would come to pass “in this generation”.
The disciples pick up on this prophecy of Jesus from verse 2 and ask the questions found in verse 3. In order that we narrow the question(s) down to understand what they are asking let’s point to the parallel passages in Luke and Mark.
Matthew 24:3 - Now 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 end of the age?"
Mark 13:3-4 - Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?"
Luke 21:7 - So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"
First, remember that Matthew’s gospel has a primarily Jewish audience; therefore there are many things that are tied to a Jewish understanding of things. An example of this would be the “exception clause” in Matthew 5 and 19 and yet not found in the other gospels. Notice that when we look at the parallel passages they really get at the heart of the question. The simple question the disciples are asking seems to center on this: “When are these things going to take place?”
They then ask concerning a sign. Matthew specifically uses the Old Testament language of coming and of the end of the age. This references judgment which the disciples would have understood. This would not have brought to their minds in any way, shape, or form a Second Advent. They still did not grasp the fact that in a few short days their Lord would be nailed to a cross. They were still in the mindset of a “visible” kingdom with a “visible” King, One who would conquer Rome and set them up as His right hand men. Jesus was to do away with that concept.
Coming is usually seen in the Old Testament as judgment language. It is often accompanied by clouds and God is spoken as One who is in the midst of them (cf. (Gen. 15:17; Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19-20; 19:9, 16-19; Deut. 4:11; Job 22:14; Psa. 18:8ff.; 97:2; 104:3; Isa. 19: 1; Eze. 32:7-8;Psa. 18:7-15; 104:3; Isa.19:1; Joel 2:1, 2; Nab. l:2ff.; Zeph. 1:14, 15). Jesus also is referred to in this manner (cf. Matt. 24:30; 26:60; Rev. 1:7; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4: 13ff.).
The phrase “end of the age” has often been taken as the Authorized Version renders it “end of the world”. However, the word here is not kosmov, but aiwn. In other words Matthew’s account is not about the end of the world, but the consummation of the age or the Old Covenant Age. Thus we see the setting for what is about to be revealed in the words of Christ on the Mount of Olives.
I trust that this discourse will aid in our understanding, but also serve as a warning for those who might follow in the church today as the Pharisees and scribes and the Jews did in the days of the Messiah and suffered judgment for their evil hearts of unbelief.