Our passage today contains a remarkable feature: a specific prophecy which we know was fulfilled as Jesus predicted. Read on to learn how we know, and what it means for us today.
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Download Matthew Part 84
Matthew #84 Matthew 24:1-14
Our passage today contains a remarkable feature: a specific prophecy which we know was fulfilled as Jesus predicted. Jesus tells his disciples that the temple will be destroyed, even while some of those alive at the time (“this generation”) are still living. In fact, between 35 and 40 years after Jesus spoke these words, the Jewish nation rebelled, and the Romans responded brutally, utterly destroying the temple in 70 A.D., slaughtering thousands, and sending a large number of the remaining Jewish people into exile in other countries. Some of you have heard about the Jewish Battle of Masada: that took place shortly after 70 A.D., and was part of the same brutal Roman response to the Jewish rebellion.
So Jesus predicts a specific event within a specific timeframe, and we know that that event did indeed occur within that timeframe. This is just one of hundreds of reasons we can trust that the Bible is reliable, and that the words of Jesus are true.
Perhaps you know someone who is skeptical about this. I would like to spend a little time responding to such skepticism, because it speaks to the reliability of the Bible and therefore, the assurance of our faith. A skeptic might say: “Someone just went back and put in this prophecy after the temple had already been destroyed. Or perhaps, Matthew didn’t even write this until after the temple was destroyed.”
First, let me say that the skeptic starts with absolutely no evidence in support of either idea. The only reason to hold the opinion that the book of Matthew was either changed, or written after the destruction of the Temple, is because the skeptic has already decided she doesn’t believe in miracles like predictive prophecy. In other words, with regards to this subject, skepticism is a matter of belief, not evidence.
Let me explain further, starting with the first objection: the idea that the book of Matthew was edited later on. We have many hundreds of ancient copies, and partial copies, of the book of Matthew. They are all virtually exactly the same. In other words, there is no evidence whatsoever that someone went back and “edited” Matthew’s gospel, or indeed, any part of the New Testament. No “early copy” of Matthew exists; all of the copies are the same. Thus, there is absolutely no evidence that what Matthew wrote was changed in any way, at any point in history.
Now, let’s consider the second idea: Was the book of Matthew written after the destruction of the temple? New Testament authors did not provide dates on their manuscripts; I often wish they had. In the absence of exact dates, we have to take what we know of history, and compare it to what is written, and then speculate about whether it was written before or after a particular historical event. In the case of Matthew, we find that in many, many places, he writes about issues that would have been either unimportant, or would require more explanation, after the destruction of the Temple. Here are just a few:
23So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24, HCSB)
The “altar” in this case, is the altar in the temple. If the temple was already destroyed, it would have been strange for Matthew to include these words of Jesus; certainly he should have offered some explanation. After 70 A.D. it would not be safe for him to assume that his readers knew what he was talking about.
Here is another, one which we considered quite recently:
16“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the sanctuary, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by his oath.’ 17Blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that sanctified the gold? 18Also, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the altar, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gift that is on it is bound by his oath.’ 19Blind people! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20Therefore, the one who takes an oath by the altar takes an oath by it and by everything on it. 21The one who takes an oath by the sanctuary takes an oath by it and by Him who dwells in it. 22And the one who takes an oath by heaven takes an oath by God’s throne and by Him who sits on it. (Matt 23:16-22, HCSB)
Again, if the temple had already been destroyed, it is surprising that Matthew would have included these words without explaining them. There are, of course, principles here that apply to all generations. Even so, if the temple had been destroyed before he wrote this, it is strange that Matthew neither mentioned it, nor explained the practice in order to make the principle more clear. Now consider this one:
4For God said: Honor your father and your mother; and, The one who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death. 5But you say, ‘Whoever tells his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift committed to the temple” — 6he does not have to honor his father.’ In this way, you have revoked God’s word because of your tradition. (Matt 15:3-6, HCSB)
Again, no comment about the status of the temple, and no explanation of the practice in question. If Matthew wrote after 70 A.D., he would have been writing primarily for Gentiles who would not have understood these sorts of things. As it is, the entire book of Matthew reads as if it was written for Jews, or at the very least, people very familiar with Jewish culture and practices, including those that involved the temple in Jerusalem.
There are several others, however, I will include just this one more:
24When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the double-drachma tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the double-drachma tax? ” 25“Yes,” he said. When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? Who do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes from? From their sons or from strangers? ” 26“From strangers,” he said. “Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him. 27“But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for Me and you.” (Matt 17:24-27, HCSB)
After 70 A.D. (when the temple was destroyed), the Romans taxed their subjects to maintain the temple of Jupiter, in Rome. If that was happening at the time Matthew wrote, he surely would have made some sort of comment, or explained the situation further.
We know that the book of John was written about 20 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. John explains many things to his readers about Jewish customs; Matthew offers no such explanations. All of this is powerful evidence that Matthew wrote before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.. The evidence against that conclusion is merely the baseless belief of someone who does not want to accept the supernatural. In other words, nothing credible suggests that Matthew wrote his book after this prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled.
There’s another important thought. Jesus seems to be talking both about the destruction of the temple, and of the nation of Israel, in 70 A.D., and also the end of time. If Matthew wrote all this after the destruction of the Temple, he would have known that the other things mentioned by Jesus were not fulfilled at the same time, and, if he was writing after the fact, trying to make it look like Jesus prophesied accurately, he surely would have left out these other words of Jesus which did not necessarily happen until later on, or have not even happened yet.
Let’s look more carefully at the text. I have spoken before about the “telescoping” nature of prophecy. In other words, a prophet may jumble together predictions of the near future, predictions of the far-off future, and predictions of the end of the world. From a distance (that is, from the prophet’s perspective) it may look like all these things will happen at the same time; it is like looking at a distant range of mountains, where all the peaks and ridges look almost like cardboard cutouts standing next to each other. Now, some people may object that in this passage we are not dealing with an ordinary prophet: this is Jesus. How could Jesus be confused about which things will happen sooner, and which things will happen at the end of the world? The answer comes in Matthew 24:36.
“Now concerning that day and hour no one knows — neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only. (Matt 24:36, HCSB)
Part of the deal with Jesus coming to earth, is that he laid aside his own power, and chose to live like any other human being: completely dependent upon the Father. In this case, the Father chose not to reveal the date of the end of time to Jesus while he was still on earth. So, through the Father, Jesus understands that some of these things will come upon the generation of those who are alive while he is speaking. He understands that some of them will come at the end of time. But, because he limited himself to only what the Father showed him, and because the Father did not show him the exact date of the end of time, even Jesus cannot tell for sure when each of these things will be.
So Jesus prophesies the destruction of the temple, and also events that presumably have not even occurred yet by 2016. I think he shares these things together because they have a common theme. The things that will come on the generation to whom he speaks, and the things that will come at the end of the world, are connected theologically. We are not meant to assume that they are connected chronologically.
This is the theological connection: the judgment of God upon those who reject him. First, judgment on the people who were alive when Jesus still walked the earth (whom he calls “this generation”), and second, the judgement at the end of the world upon all those who reject God. Jesus lumps them together because they are both about God’s judgment upon those who reject him.
Let me say a quick word about that judgment: It – is – optional. The whole Bible is very clear that if we repent, and turn to Jesus in trust and humility, he will forgive us and reconcile us to God, and give us eternal life. You don’t have to experience his judgement, or the punishment of hell. If we repent and trust, he graciously forgives us, comforts us and brings us into His kingdom.
I think there are several very important things that we need to hear from this passage. First, Jesus says this:
“Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. 6You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. (Matt 24:4-6, HCSB)
There is always a certain element of Christianity that seems ready to declare that the end of the world has come. Jesus tells us here not to jump to such conclusions. In fact, as I have already pointed out, in verse 36 Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour. So one thing we should get from this passage is to not be alarmed, and to understand that we cannot build a timeline for the end of the world.
A second thing that we should pay attention to is that Jesus describes the kinds of things that will happen before the end of the world. The types of events he describes indicate that we are getting near to the very beginning of the end, not that we are at the end. He says there will be:
- hatred towards his followers
- betrayal, hatred and strife
- false prophets
- many people who fall away from him
When we experience these things we should not be surprised, and we should not feel that God has abandoned us – he told us these things were going to happen. It should be a comfort to know that even when these terrible things happen, God is in control, he is not forgotten us, and he will work all of this to the good of his own plans, and to our own good (Romans 8:28). He tells us that there will be deliverance and salvation for those who endure to the end (v. 13).
Finally, he says that the good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come. Have you ever thought of it like this? If you want the bad things in the world to come to an end, if you want Jesus to come back soon and take us all to be with him in the new heavens and new earth, the only way we can help that happen more quickly is to proclaim the good news of the kingdom in all the world.
We’ve covered a lot of ground, but just to summarize: 1. This shows us that Jesus and the Bible are reliable. 2. Don’t be deceived into thinking the end of the world is here just because others say so. 3. Don’t be alarmed by the events which Jesus mentions. They are part of the plan. Our part is to endure to the end, to hold on to Jesus through it all. 4. If we would like these difficult events to be shorter, we should assist those who are proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.
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