Asking God for Discernment; The Desolation of Jerusalem, PT. 1

Eschatology is a divisive matter in our time because people disagree about so much, and we don’t really know how to have civil discussions. When talking about the end-times, people from every camp like to light their fires with Matthew 24. I’ll be upfront about what I think. I am postmillennial. Yet, I want to recognize that if all we do is try to use Matthew 24 as a defense of a position we hold instead of expositing it, I think we have missed the mark. God provided the Scriptures to us for our edification, not so we could use them to bicker about doctrines we already hold. I think we see this in the first three verses.

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.” As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

Matthew 24:1-3 NASB95

Jesus was just in the temple complex teaching. He spoke woes upon the Pharisees and Sadducees. He lamented the coming desolation of Jerusalem, a desolation that would overtake Jerusalem within that generation (cf. Matthew 23:36; 24:34). It is no wonder why Jesus’s disciples point out the temple buildings. Without context, it’s odd that they would do so. Jesus has just claimed that God left Jerusalem desolate. Yet, Jerusalem stands. The Temple is in good shape. Jerusalem seems blessed, not desolate. So, the disciples mean to ask what Jesus meant. Jesus explains Himself to them. He does not want them to remain in the dark.

“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.” Jesus sees what will come to Jerusalem as the current reality. He perceives Jerusalem as it is, not as it looks outwardly. Within the generation, her buildings will fall and the Temple toppled. 

Some time passes between Jesus’s exit from the Temple and His rest on the Mount of Olives.  They had some time to think about Jesus’s prediction. So, they ask, “When will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” In order to understand the disciples’ question, we need to understand Old Testament language. It was said that God came down each time He judged a nation and when He established Israel (cf. Genesis 11:5, 7; Exodus 19:11, 18, 20; 2 Samuel 22:10; Isaiah 64:3; 34:5;  Matthew 16:27ff). When the disciples ask, “…what will be the sign of Your coming?” they are asking how they will know that Jerusalem is about to be destroyed because of God’s divine judgment on the city, His coming. Further, when they ask about the end of the age, they are employing Old Testament prophetic language to ask when God will save the world, pour out His Spirit on all mankind, and finally bless the whole world through national Israel (cf. Joel 1:1ff, esp. Joel 2:28-29, 31). The disciples know that the judgment of Israel precedes the salvation of the whole world—which includes a remnant of Israel (cf. Joel 2:32). This is The Day of the Lord (Joel 2:31). 

The disciples want to be ready. They want to know when Jerusalem will be left desolate and the Temple destroyed. They want to know when Christ will judge Israel. They want to know when Christ will restore Jerusalem and bless the whole world, a new age which is known in the New Testament as The Last Days (cf. Acts 2:17, quoting Joel 2:28-32). When the New Testament speaks of the last days, it means the current age that began at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. It should not be construed to mean a short period of time directly preceding Jesus’s second coming. The age the Apostles lived in is the last days. The age we live in is also the last days—whether Jesus returns tomorrow, in one hundred years, or in two thousand years.

In Matthew 24, Jesus does not fault the disciples for asking. He doesn’t tell them that no one knows when. He doesn’t tell them to stop asking and simply walk by blind faith. Instead, He tells them the signs to look for. So, we are faced with a conundrum. Earlier in the narrative, Jesus called the Pharisees an evil and adulterous generation because they asked for a sign (Matthew 12:38-39). While the Pharisees were asking for a sign in order to believe, the disciples here already believe and desire to know when Christ will do what He has said and what was written in the Prophets. So, an evil and adulterous people crave a spiritual sign in order to believe. Those who are of God desire to know more about what God is doing. In the disciples’ case, they are not asking for something supernatural—it’s not that kind of sign. They want to know what to look out for—warning signs. God is quick to warn us. He does not withhold His plans. God is good. It is good to ask Him for discernment.

As we continue in Matthew 24, we will consider historical and grammatical context (a method of interpretation we call the literal interpretation of Scripture). Many notions about Matthew 24 as it is popularly understood will be challenged because it has for so long lacked context in popular teaching. I have to urge you to keep your focus on Christ. Pray for discernment. Seek to understand what He is doing. May He bless you and keep you in these last days.

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