Jesus’s disciples have asked Him about the signs that would precede the destruction of the Temple complex. Jesus has accurately predicted the events leading to the Temple’s destruction in AD 70. He has also revealed that under the new paradigm, He will send His messengers out with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Immediately following this statement, Matthew records Jesus’s parable of the fig tree. To understand Jesus’s teaching, we now look to the parable in which He explains His own statements in this literary context.
Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door (Matthew 24:32-33).
Parables were a common way of teaching in Jewish culture. It is likely that a version of the fig tree parable was also common and used by religious leaders of the day. By looking at a tree, we can discern the season upon us. When it begins growing leaves and the warmth causes it to sway freer in the breeze, we discern that the summer season is near. Jesus tells His disciples that when they see all these things, they will recognize that the Son of man is about to destroy the Temple in judgment. When Jesus refers to all the signs He has been talking about, He means all of them. Not a single sign is left out or separated from the others. All the signs will be seen leading up to the destruction of the Temple and desolation of Jerusalem. Remember, Jesus is answering His disciples’ question about this specific claim (Matthew 23:38; 24:2-3).
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (Matthew 24:34-36).
Jesus provides a timeline for all of these signs to take place. He looks at His disciples and tells them plainly that their generation will not pass away until all these signs take place. He is clear–all these signs will take place before this generation passes away. Jesus is not merely providing the age in which Jerusalem will be destroyed. He also tells His disciples that His words will not pass away. All things are temporary. Heaven and Earth wither or decay. God’s words are eternal. It is very easy to get into the weeds, here, discussing all sorts of minutia that are not provided in the text. It is easy to infer certain things and make those the priority of the text. It is not our inferences about Scripture that profit us the most. It is Scripture. So, let’s move forward.
The Temple will be destroyed. The word of God will not. The Temple will be done away with by God’s plan. The word of God will remain. Faith will be of the order of Abraham and Melchizedek, as it always was. God never did depend on the Temple. Further, it will be made evident that Christ alone is the atonement for sin. There is no longer need of a Temple to signify the promises of God because the Messiah has, at the point of the Temple’s destruction, finished His atoning work and finally delivered His people from their sins.
Even though Jesus has given a timeframe, He has not given a specific date. He reveals, here, that no one but the Father knows the specific date on which the Temple will be destroyed. We know now, because it is in our history; but this was future for Jesus’s audience at that time. I find it interesting that not even Jesus knows the exact date when He is teaching. There are many who will use this statement from Jesus to question His divinity because God is omniscient. When we understand the basics of the hypostatic union, we understand why there is some knowledge Jesus does not have in His humanity. We cannot say in correct theological fashion that God gave up His divinity to become a man. He did not transition between divinity and humanity. Such would be a form of Modalism or Arianism depending on the particulars. Instead, we say that the second person of the Trinity assumed human flesh and a human nature in addition to His divine personhood and nature. As such, Christ is 100 percent God and 100 percent man. In the flesh, Jesus’s brain still developed and learned like any human person (cf. Luke 2:52). Though His human brain had divine insight, it could not contain all divine knowledge. It was limited like ours is limited. Jesus is here speaking from His assumed human flesh and nature. I assume that, in His divine nature, He retains His omniscience since He and the Father are one.
So, all the signs of Matthew 24 will befall the generation with Jesus at the time (1st Century AD). But, Jesus does not provide them with a specific date. They are to discern the times like they discern the seasons.
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left (Matthew 24:37-41).
Jesus will judge Jerusalem like He did the world in the days of Noah. People in Noah’s day were concerned with their pleasure, families, and property. They did not understand that God would judge them until the moment He did. In and around Jerusalem, there will be two men in the field, one will be taken and one left—like in the days of Noah. What took the men in Noah’s day? It was a flood. In like manner, the destruction of the Temple will claim the life of one man, taking him, while the one who works with him will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken—like in the days of Noah. The destruction of the Temple will claim the life of one woman while the other will be left. People will be so concerned about their worldly responsibilities that they will have ignored Jesus’s warnings, here, and, instead of fleeing Jerusalem, will be caught in the judgment. Some will die in the judgment. Some will survive. It will be terrible. The historical records of Rome confirm as much. The whole decade would be terrible, but especially the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. Such is why Jesus makes the application He does not verses 42-51:
Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will (Matthew 24:42-44).
Therefore, since His disciples do not know the exact date of His judgment on Jerusalem, they should be on the alert. Jesus presents another metaphor like the fig tree. The master of a house is on the alert against thieves, who come unexpectedly. In this way, Jesus’s disciples are to be ready. Jesus will come in judgment against Jerusalem when the people do not think Jerusalem will be judged.
Even though Jesus isn’t referring specifically to a time in our future, I do think we should take His application, here, to heart. Jesus is the just judge. We should always live prepared lives, pursuing holiness and waging war against our sin. Jesus’s disciples in the First Century were to be ready for the destruction of Jerusalem. We are to be ready for any coming season by following hard after Christ. We do not know on what day God will do whatever He will do in our future. We truly do not know the date of Christ’s bodily return to the earth. We should be ready, live on the alert. Though many people teach this section of the narrative as if it were future from our perspective, the application remains the same. Be ready.
Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:45-51).
Jesus asks a rhetorical question about identifying those who are faithful. He blesses those who are found doing their master’s work when He comes to judge. He tells them that He will place the faithful servant over all His possessions. The one who is not about the master’s business will not be so fortunate. He will be cut to pieces and assigned a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. So it is that those who are ready, who live faithful lives to Christ, will remain on the earth and inherit the earth. Those who serve only themselves will be taken and, after their death, be assigned a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth–a place we refer to as Hell or the Lake of Fire.
We cannot teach that we must be found faithful to a worldly ideology, a nation-state, a law, or anything other than Christ. We must ask: Will we be found good and faithful servants of Christ at the time of judgment?