In Mathew 24 Jesus gave a brief but remarkably comprehensive outline of the future until His coming. The setting for Jesus' prophesy was two days before the Passover feast when Jesus would be crucified. The scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees had tried unsuccessfully to trap Him with clever arguments and He in turn had fully unmasked their hypocrisy. He ended weeping for His city and His people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her…See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37,38).

The disciples were shocked to hear this. The temple was one of the wonders of the world at that time, the pride of the nation, and the thought that it would be "left...desolate" was inconceivable. But in answer to their suggestions that the massive stone buildings were impregnable, Jesus gave an even more shocking reply. “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, 'Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1,2).

For something this momentous to happen the disciples assumed that Jesus must be talking about the end of the world when He would come to establish His kingdom. Wanting to understand what He meant, “His disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (v.3). Although they didn’t know it, the disciples were actually asking three questions, about three events that they mistakenly assumed would happen at about the same time.

  1. “When will these things be?” “These things” referred to what He had been talking about: the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Roman army under Titus.

  2. “What will be the sign of your coming?” Here the disciples were asking for signs of the Second Coming of Christ.

  3. “What will be the sign of...the end of the age?” In other passages Jesus used the phrase “the end of the age” to refer to that last period of time when the angels would judge and separate the righteous from the unrepentant. [1] The prophet Daniel called this period “the time of the end” (Daniel 8:17), and he was shown that “the time of the end” would begin at the end of the 2,300 prophetic days (years) prophesied in Daniel 8:14 when “the sanctuary shall be cleansed.” This is the Day of Atonement which began in 1844.[2]

We see that the disciples were asking three questions concerning three separate events, which happen at three separate times. Jesus did not clarify their thinking at this time, and in fact they were psychologically and spiritually unprepared for a full revelation of the future.[3] Instead He gave a skillfully blended reply which answered all three questions at once.[4]

Jesus introduced His prophecy by warning His followers that understanding the last events would not be easy. "And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the Christ’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4). The purpose of His discourse was not to give a point-by-point revelation of future events, but rather to help those who would live through these events so that they would not be deceived. Three times He emphasizes the deceptions that would surround the destruction of Jerusalem, the approach of “the end of the age” and His Second Coming.

Jesus also cautioned against interpreting or finding application of prophecy from the current headline news. “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:6-8). Every time there is a war, a major earthquake or some disastrous weather conditions people begin to speculate about the end of the world. Certainly events such as the two world wars of the twentieth century and recent destructive earthquakes, storms, and famines captured everyone’s attention, but Jesus said not to be troubled; we are to look elsewhere for the signs of His coming.

Continue to next section: THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION

[1] In the parable of the wheat and the tares, given in Matthew 13:24-43, Jesus said that “the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat” (vs. 24, 25). They were to be left to grow together until “the harvest”—“at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, first gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn” (v. 30). This shows a process of separating, gathering and bundling before the final burning of the tares. In His interpretation Jesus said “the harvest is the end of the age.” The Greek is “suntelia aeonos” which means end of the ages. Jesus goes on to explain: “the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire” (vs. 39-42). Here we see the two phases of judgment: separation (the investigative judgment) and reward and punishment (executive judgment). This is even more clear in the parable of the dragnet in Matthew 13: 47-51. “The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire.” Here Jesus makes it clear that “the end of the age” is the time when the unrepentant and the righteous are distinguished and separated, resulting in the unrepentant being burned and the righteous inheriting the kingdom. This corresponds to the final Day of Atonement, also known as the investigative judgment, which began in 1844, followed by the executive judgment at the Second Coming and after the Millennium.

[2] See sections 3:8, 4:1, 5:7,8, 14:7 and Appendix 5 for further explanation of the Day of Atonement and the calculation of the 2300 days.

[3] At this time the disciples did not even have a clear conception of what His kingdom was, let alone how it would come about. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).

[4] The use of a blended prophecy with multiple applications finds its model in Isaiah 13, a judgment against Babylon which was directed both toward ancient Babylon (“I will stir up the Medes against them” v. 17) and last-days Babylon (“the day of the Lord comes…the sun will be darkened in its going forth and the moon will not cause its light to shine. I will punish the world for its evil…” vs. 9-11). Likewise the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 was applied by Peter to the day of Pentecost (“I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh…” v. 28) but the context shows the primary application to be the last days (“The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” v. 31).