Two Questions; Two Comings (Part One) – Matthew 24:1-35

[Recommendation for reading: Josephus, Wars of the Jews (chs. 4-7), a 1st century eyewitness; also, Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History (Book 3, chs. 3-9) (early 4th century).]

Now, possessing Jesus’ warning, alerted by the Roman army’s actions that the abomination was near, then with the horrors going on in the city and the temple, the alarm bell was ringing loudly for the Christians in Jerusalem. In the window of time before Titus’ armies arrived, many of them wisely fled the city with urgency. Some of those who fled may have taken to the hills as Jesus advised, and others (according to the 4th cent. church historian, Eusebius) headed for “one of the cities of Perea which they called Pella.”[17] Whatever direction they fled, they made haste away from Jerusalem, which was Jesus’ point—“Flee!!!”

From there, with Jerusalem sieged, totally surrounded by the Roman armies, things went from bad to worse. Jesus describes it in 24:21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” Jesus here refers to what is known as the great tribulation. It took place in Jerusalem, in the time of the siege, before the city’s destruction in August AD 70. Josephus records its horrors in his book, The Jewish Wars, and they are truly horrifying. I won’t get into the details of all the misery, but he records that during the siege, 1,100,000 Jews died.[18]

Across Judea, during the War “the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews in Judea and the enslavement of untold thousands more,”[19] even the annihilation of whole cities and towns, had the Jews desperate. Jesus further warns that during these times, people would be desperate, looking for the Christ to save them. There would be rumors he was here or there. He says not to believe it when people say that Christ had come to save them from the Romans (which is consistent of the popularized idea of a Messiah they tried to put on him, but which he rejected).

Why not believe the rumors? Because the real Parousia, when the Christ, the Son of Man would return, at the consummation of his Kingdom, would be an event that no-one anywhere would miss. It would not be secret. Verse 27: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Jesus here refers to his second coming, using the word “parousia.” There would be no mistaking his physical and final return. Thus, Jesus “explicitly distinguished the parousia from the events of the siege of Jerusalem.”[20]

Then he gives this enigmatic statement (Verse 28): “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” There are a number of reasonable ideas as to what this saying means. But, perhaps, R.T. France is correct when he says, “As the presence of the vultures infallibly indicates where the corpse is, so there will be no need to search for the coming of the Son of man—it will be obvious.” [21]

We’ll have to break off here, today, and pick-up next Sunday, Lord willing. But I hope, at this point, you are getting the thrust of Jesus’ message.

In the Olivet discourse, here in Matthew 24, Jesus was answering the questions of the disciples, correcting their misconceptions in his answers. Their question, really two questions, was asked based on Jesus’ statement concerning the temple being destroyed. Jesus answers in detail, answering the “when,” concerning the things that would happen before the generation that was then living would pass away, including the temple’s destruction. The various events Jesus addressed that we’ve touched on today were not signs of Jesus’ second coming, including the great tribulation of AD 70. Indeed, he is specific in v. 27, that when people are desperate for the conquering Christ to come and save them from their tribulation, and are drawn to various false-Christs, to not be fooled. Jesus’ physical return (bringing the consummation of his Kingdom, his Parousia) was not to be during that time. For, when he returned at his second coming, it would be an unmistakable event for everyone.

So, when you see people pointing to various things that Jesus mentions here in this discourse, saying they are signs of his second coming, know that they are wrong. Don’t be confused by them. They have taken temporally dated events, that happened long ago, and mistakenly moved them to some future fulfillment. Like Gentry comments, “Christians have embarrassed themselves for too long with calls for the end. Most of the verses they use for this purpose can be understood as referring to the destruction of the temple in AD 70.”[22] Beware of self-proclaimed heralds of the end.