When we read parts of Matthew 24, we may quickly assume that Jesus is talking about his Second Coming and the end of the world. Such assumptions are based perhaps primarily on the questions the apostles asked, as recorded in 24:3: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” We are also influenced strongly by the wording of his answers in verses such as these:
“Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31).
Wow! Jesus must have been describing the end of the world – right? Let’s not be too hasty in reaching that conclusion. When we look at the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke, we see some differences that appear to be significant. Let’s begin by looking at the questions the disciples asked Jesus in those passages and at the answers he gave to them. Keep in mind that a basic rule of hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) is that we need to interpret difficult passages in light of simpler passages on the same subject, not vice versa. Therefore, we will do well to begin with Mark’s account, written to a Roman type of Gentile audience, and then proceed to Luke’s account, written by a Gentile to a general Gentile audience. After delving into these parallel passages, we will be in a much better position to examine Matthew’s account, which is clearly the more difficult one. The difficulty lies in the fact that he uses much Jewish terminology, since Jews were the main audience he had in mind when he wrote his Gospel.
Mark 13 – The First Parallel to Matthew 24
Thus we begin with Mark 13, the text of which we will include here to make it easier to study out the specifics of the passage.
As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. 9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.
13 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong–let the reader understand–then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak.
17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!
18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now–and never to be equaled again. 20 If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.
21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect–if that were possible. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
24 “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 26 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
32 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!'” (Mark 13:1-37)
It is immediately noticeable here that Mark records two questions by the apostles and not three, as Matthew 24 seems to do. Jesus had just foretold the destruction of the temple, to which they replied: “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” They had a time question (when will these things happen?) and a sign question (all these events about to take place?). Both questions refer to “these things,” the destruction of the temple Jesus had just predicted. Absolutely no mention is made by the apostles about a second coming or the end of the world, as far as Mark’s account is concerned.
What just preceded all of these comments were Jesus’ observations at the end of Mark 12 regarding the little widow who gave her last coins into the temple treasury. Jesus wanted to make sure the disciples didn’t miss the lesson provided by her example, so he called them over and said: “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44) They were evidently not only shocked at what he said, but felt compelled to offer him a correction by way of a gentle reminder. “As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’” (Mark 13:1) Luke will make it even clearer – they wanted to make sure Jesus remembered that the temple was built by the offerings of the rich, not by the pennies of poor little widows. That prompted him to foretell the absolute destruction of the temple in the not-too-distant future. Material things may be highly impressive to men (even supposedly spiritual men), but they mean absolutely nothing to the King of Glory! We cannot afford to miss that lesson while in the process of trying to deal with a difficult passage.
Jesus begins to answer the two questions by first saying what the sign is not (verses 6-13). It is not false Christs (verse 6). It is not wars and revolutions (verses 7-8). It is not natural calamities (verse 8). It is not persecution (verses 9-13). Next, he addresses what the sign actually is, starting in verse 14. First he mentions the “abomination that causes desolation.” That just sounds scary, doesn’t it – like something that would be associated with the end of time. If Jesus were describing his second coming and the end of the world at this point, nothing that follows in these verses would make any sense at all. When Jesus returns, how could anyone be tempted to go back into his house to get his cloak or anything else, and where would he get the time to do it? In a passage that clearly talks about the Second Coming, we see that everything associated with Christ’s return is going to happen fast – really fast! “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) A twinkle of an eye won’t leave any time to worry about coming down off your roof, and you surely won’t be concerned about whether it is winter or not!
Just read Mark 13:14-20 with these things in mind. Jesus was talking about an event of great distress from which he said to flee. No man can flee the return of Christ at the end of time. Note in verse 20 that the Lord was going to shorten these days of distress. When God sent the Roman army to destroy Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70, he indeed shortened the days to protect the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea. In a siege against the city lasting nearly a year, Cestius Gallius, the Roman general, withdrew to Caesarea and brought back a larger army. This break in the battle allowed the Christians who understood Jesus’ prophecy to flee the city, and Josephus, the Jewish historian and eyewitness to the event, says that many did, leaving behind the Jews in the city who were determined to fight to the death (which they did).
Next, Jesus turned his attention to the time question – about when this calamity was going to take place (verses 24-32). In this section, he used what we call “apocalyptic” language, using symbols to describe this time of upheaval. It is a passage virtually guaranteed to be misunderstood and misinterpreted by anyone not familiar with the same type of language in the Old Testament. However, for those who are familiar with the OT Prophets, it is understood that this type of symbolic language was used frequently to describe God’s judgment against nations. We should take the time to give some examples to make sure this point is obvious.
Help From the Old Testament
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. 7 Because of this, all hands will go limp, every man’s heart will melt. 8 Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame. 9 See, the day of the Lord is coming –a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger– to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. 10 The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. 11 I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. 12 I will make man scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir. 13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger. (Isaiah 13:6-13).
Note in verse 1 of Isaiah 13 that all of this is spoken against Babylon centuries before Christ.
An oracle concerning Egypt: See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them. (Isaiah 19:1)
The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter. 3 Their slain will be thrown out, their dead bodies will send up a stench; the mountains will be soaked with their blood. 4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. 5 My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed. 6 The sword of the Lord is bathed in blood, it is covered with fat– the blood of lambs and goats, fat from the kidneys of rams. For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah and a great slaughter in Edom. 7 And the wild oxen will fall with them, the bull calves and the great bulls. Their land will be drenched with blood, and the dust will be soaked with fat. 8 For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause. (Isaiah 34:2-8)
In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month on the first day, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him: “‘You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas thrashing about in your streams, churning the water with your feet and muddying the streams. 3 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “‘With a great throng of people I will cast my net over you, and they will haul you up in my net. 4 I will throw you on the land and hurl you on the open field. I will let all the birds of the air settle on you and all the beasts of the earth gorge themselves on you. 5 I will spread your flesh on the mountains and fill the valleys with your remains. 6 I will drench the land with your flowing blood all the way to the mountains, and the ravines will be filled with your flesh. 7 When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. 8 All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord. 9 I will trouble the hearts of many peoples when I bring about your destruction among the nations, among lands you have not known. 10 I will cause many peoples to be appalled at you, and their kings will shudder with horror because of you when I brandish my sword before them. On the day of your downfall each of them will tremble every moment for his life. (Ezekiel 32:1-10)
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand – 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. 3 Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste– nothing escapes them. 4 They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry. 5 With a noise like that of chariots they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble, like a mighty army drawn up for battle. 6 At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale. 7 They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course. 8 They do not jostle each other; each marches straight ahead. They plunge through defenses without breaking ranks. 9 They rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows. 10 Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. 11 The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? (Joel 2:1-11)
And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the survivors whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:28-32)
Many other similar accounts from the OT could be cited, but these are sufficient to help us understand just how such language was used, and how often it was used. You will recall that this last passage from Joel 2 is quoted in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost when the church was established, and was referring to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that occasion. The language in all of these passages is very similar to that used in Matthew 24 and parallels, and also in the Book of Revelation. It can be (and was) applied to God’s judgment against any people in rebellion. Taking it literally will lead to more misunderstanding and twisting of Scripture than you can imagine. If you try to make symbolic language literal, you will at some point be forced to make literal language symbolic. Much modern interpretation of Revelation provides a clear example of such erroneous exposition. But the main point here is that no one is equipped to deal with Matthew 24 (or Revelation) without having a reasonably good grasp of the writings of the OT Prophets.
Now let’s return to Mark’s account. In continuing to answer the time question, Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree (verses 28-31). While no specific time is given, the general time is to be within one generation (verse 30). In that era, a generation was considered to be 40 years. Jesus spoke these words around 30 AD and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD – 40 years later. However, Jesus said that no one could know the exact time – expressed by the term “day or hour” (verse 32). Therefore, Jesus concludes by speaking of the need to watch for the sign (verses 33-37). If this material was only found in Mark and Luke, the confusion would have been reduced considerably. One thing to be learned in this situation is the need to study less difficult passages on any subject and allow them to help us understand the more difficult ones on the same subject. It is, after all, one of the most common principles of biblical interpretation, but espoused more than practiced in trying to interpret passages like those we are considering here. Too many people love speculative “end time” interpretations to practice good biblical exegesis or exercise common sense.
Luke 21 – The Second Parallel to Matthew 24
Luke even more basic and simple than Mark in describing these events. As stated earlier, he is a Gentile writing to Gentiles, and he simplifies quite a few things for his intended original readers. He is clearly the least “Jewish” in writing style and terminology, which is of great help in understanding this particular section of Scripture. Again, to make is easier to follow, let’s include Jesus’ words as Luke describes them.
As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 All men will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By standing firm you will gain life.
20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkeness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:1-36)
The order is about the same as that of Mark 13. Jesus first commends the little widow, after which the apostles remind him of how beautiful the temple is and how it was built with the gifts of the rich. He tells of the temple being destroyed, and Luke records the two questions by the apostles regarding the signs and the time when they would take place. Luke’s order follows very closely to Mark’s, so we don’t need to go back through it in detail – except in the things that are slightly different and will help us understand better what Jesus is saying. The two questions both refer to “these things” about which Jesus had just spoken. If the Second Coming was in view, Theophilus, to whom the Book of Luke was addressed (1:3), would have been misled. The sign was not false Christs (verse 8); wars and revolutions (verse 9); natural calamities (verses 10-11); or persecution (verses 12-19).
Verse 20 removes any confusion in talking about what the other two accounts call the “abomination that causes desolation.” Older versions call this the “abomination of desolation,” a term widely used by the “end time” speculators. Luke could not have made it clearer: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.” Jesus follows this statement with the warning to flee when the armies were approaching Jerusalem. With this comment, he switched to what the sign was, and he goes on to describe in symbolic language the great upheaval of God’s judgment against the Jews and Jerusalem. The fig tree parable came next, with the general time before the destruction being a generation. Jesus concluded with the warning to watch for the sign and to live life accordingly –righteously and not carelessly (verses 34-36).
Matthew 24 – A Very Jewish Passage
Let’s move directly to the key issue here in Matthew’s wording of the questions. Did Jesus’ disciples really ask three questions, or did Matthew just use Jewish terminology to state the same two questions recorded in Mark and Luke? By now, the latter possibility is becoming obvious, isn’t it? When we read “the sign of your coming” in verse 3, it should be noted that the Greek word translated coming is parousia, commonly denoting presence. Readers with a Jewish background would have taken these words to describe a coming in judgment (as we read about in OT passages such as Isaiah 19:1). Actually, Matthew 16:28 speaks of another coming of Jesus which cannot be the second coming as we know it. “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Clearly, all “comings” of God or Jesus were not associated with the end of the world. See also Luke 19:44 for “the time of God’s coming to you,” a clear reference in context to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
What about the “end of the age?” The Greek term is aion, for “age,” not kosmos, for “world.” The same phrase is used in Matthew 28:20. Whatever may be said of Jesus’ answers in Matthew 24, it is virtually certainly that the disciples could hardly have been asking about a second coming according to our concept, since they had not yet wrapped their minds around even his death or resurrection, much less a “second coming” at the “end of the world.” See Luke 9:45 and 18:34, which shows that their understanding of even his clearly-told death was absolutely nil.
The word end here is the same root word in Greek translated fulfilled in Mark 13:4. It refers in Matthew 24:6, 14 to the same event, which in its context, points to the destruction of the city. If the disciples were not asking about the second coming and the end of the kosmos, what were they asking? Two possible interpretations have merit contextually. One, the disciples may have assumed that such a great event would be the end of the Jewish world (or perhaps the whole world) – if the Jews (23:34-36) and the temple (24:1-2) were to be destroyed, their world ends. Two, since coming is from parousia (presence), often used in contemporary Greek to denote the arrival of a king, they may have pictured Jesus coming in battle against Jerusalem literally, thus terminating the old age and ushering in a new age. This view coincides with popular Messianic expectations of the disciples pretty closely. Either way, the question refers to these things as in Luke 21 and Mark 13, the destruction of the temple about which Jesus had just spoken.
Matthew adds a few things besides a different wording of the apostles’ basic questions. He mentioned the apostasy, when the love of most would grow cold (verses 10-12). He also speaks of the gospel being preached in the whole world before the “end” comes (verse 14). Of course, Colossians 1: 6, 23 give us a first century fulfillment of that prediction. Christ’s coming will be definite, in contrast to the false Christs (verses 26-27). The location of this coming will be where the vultures gather for the desolation of the decaying carcass (of Judaism – verse 28). Compare this statement with Hebrews 8:13; 12:25-29. Judaism with its sacrificial system was nearing its final end when all of these statements were made and written.
In verse 29, Jesus ushers in the apocalyptic language section with the phrase “Immediately after the distress of those days.” Immediately is from the Greek eutheos, meaning at once or soon, and it obviously refers to something which will occur shortly. Trying to fit in 2,000 years would strain the meaning of the word considerably! “Sign” in verse 30 is from the Greek semeion, which refers to a token of something rather than to the thing itself. In other words, a signification of Christ’s coming would be seen in the events he predicted rather than the Son of Man in person. Mourn in verse 30 is in the future passive tense, and could be translated “mourn for themselves.” The angel gathering the elect (verse 31) could refer figuratively to the preaching of the gospel to the world after the destruction, or it could refer to a gathering of the elect out of the city before its destruction. See the following verses for the gathering concept: Deuteronomy 30:4; Psalm 22:27; Isaiah 27:13; 45:22.
The need to watch for the sign Jesus had predicted is described in more detail than in the other passages. The wicked are contrasted with Noah, the righteous (verses 37-39). Noah was not caught unprepared – only the wicked were. Therefore, the comparison to the destruction of Jerusalem makes sense. He says that one is taken, and one is left in verses 40-41. The wicked were taken, not the righteous, for the righteous fled at the approaching armies. Of course, this text is a favorite of those who teach the “Rapture” doctrine, a doctrine with many biblical difficulties – but one that we cannot discuss in any detail here. We will save that one for a later discussion. The admonition to watch is concluded in verses 45-5l.
Remember that the Bible had no original chapter divisions. Since verse 44 is a culminating statement, this section may go better with chapter 25. Three views of kingdoms are given in Matthew 24 and 25: the kingdom destroyed (Jewish) – chapter 24; the kingdom remaining on earth (Church) – 25:1-30; and the kingdom eternal (exalted at God’s throne) – 25:31-46.
Luke 17:22-37 – Unsolvable Mystery or Mystery Solved?
This passage is not a parallel to Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, but it contains many of the same signs. However, the order in which they occur is different – in fact, they occur rather in random order compared to the other three passages that follow a similar outline. It will be worth our time to read this passage as well before proceeding.
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” 22 Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.
23 Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left. 37 “Where, Lord?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” (Luke 17:20-37)
A number of biblical scholars divide Matthew 24 into two major sections: the destruction of Jerusalem (verses 1-34); and the end of the world (verses 35-51). Let’s call the first part Section A and the second part Section B. When you parallel the Luke 17 passage with Matthew 24, here is what you find:
Luke 17 paralleled with Matthew 24, with the wording classed in Sections A or B:
1. Luke 17:24 – Matthew 24:27 (A)
2. Luke 17:26-30 – Matthew 24:37-39 (B)
3. Luke 17:31-33 – Matthew 24:17-18 (A)
4. Luke 17:34-36 – Matthew 24:40-41 (B)
5. Luke 17:37 – Matthew 24:28 (A)
Obviously, the signs in Luke 17 are mixed up considerably when compared to Matthew 24 and the parallel accounts. We are left with three possibilities when trying to make sense of Luke 17. One, Luke 17 is a jumble which cannot be understood, which reflects negatively on the Holy Spirit who inspired it. Two, the entire passage refers to the second coming – a position with multiple problems, to put it mildly. For example, the same wording is found in Matthew 24 and parallels, definitely referring to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. And then why (and how) could one go into his house for material goods (verse 31) when Christ comes? We have already elaborated on that point earlier. Lot is used as an example in verses 28-29, which exactly coincides with the case of Jerusalem where the righteous fled and wicked remained to be destroyed in the city. In the day that the Son of man is revealed (verse 30), the watchful are to escape rather then going back to their homes (verse 31). Of course, no such choices will exist when the second coming occurs!
Third, all of Luke 17 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. In light of all the evidence, this view is really the only logical and consistent view. Therefore, Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 are referring entirely to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish age, rather than speaking about the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. Other passages discuss those subjects, but these passages under discussion do not. I pray that this rather lengthy article not only answered the original question to your satisfaction, but motivates you to study the Old Testament more – especially the Prophets. If that is the result, the study will have been well worth it. God bless!