The Time of the End or The End of Time? A Study of Matthew 24:3 – #3
In our previous article, we examined the relationship between Matthew 13 and the Olivet Discourse as it relates to the question of whether Jesus’ disciples wrongly linked the time of the end with the fall of Jerusalem and the temple. What we want to do now is to take note of some of Jesus’ other predictions of the time of the end that the disciples had heard prior to the Olivet Discourse, to see if it is justified to say that they were so horribly confused when Jesus spoke in Matthew 24. Surely it will be admitted that what Jesus had said prior to Matthew 24 would have informed the disciples’ understanding as Jesus spoke in Matthew 24. Take a look then at just a few of the passages in Matthew in which Jesus had spoken of the time of the end.
Matthew 16:27-28 – Jesus had predicted his coming in judgment before all of that current generation died. This coming, as Wright has corrected noted, was to be in vindication of his suffering and that of his disciples. (N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, (Minneapolis; Fortress, 1996), 338). It simply will not do to claim that this prediction was fulfilled just a few days later in the Transfiguration vision. (See Don K. Preston, Can You Believe Jesus Said This?, (Ardmore, Ok.; JaDon Management Inc. ), for a refutation of the claim that the Transfiguration was the fulfillment of Matthew 16:27-28).
The agreement between Matthew 16 and Matthew 24 is too strong to ignore. And this means that we have the twin statements that the events were to be in that generation (Matthew 16:28; Matthew 24:34). Now, did the disciples understand that Christ said he was coming in judgment of those who were about to kill him, and persecute them, in that generation (Matthew 16:27-28)? If they did, then it surely is difficult to argue that they were confused in Matthew 24 when Jesus had just warned them of the very same persecutions mentioned in chapter 16, and then promised vindication of those sufferings (Matthew 23:29-37). The correspondence is perfect, and is a challenge to those who would claim that the disciples were so confused about the time of the end in Matthew 24. If the disciples remembered Jesus’ prediction of Matthew 16, then upon what basis can it be argued that they were confused in Matthew 24?
The Time of the End in Matthew 21
Matthew 21:33f– Jesus told the parable of the Wicked Vineyard Husbandmen. The parable contains the elements of persecution of God’s prophets, just like Matthew 16:23f, Matthew 23 and Matthew 24:9f. It contains the promise of the coming of the Lord (v. 40-41), and the vindication of the suffering saints. And, there can be no dispute that the focus of the coming of the Lord in the text, the coming that would crush and grind to dust the enemies of the Vineyard owner (Matthew 21:40f) was to be the judgment of the Pharisees and religious leaders. As Jesus predicted the impending judgment that would result in the removal of the kingdom from Israel, the text says that the Pharisees “understood that he spoke of them” (Matthew 21:45). This is then, an unequivocal judgment of the coming judgment of Jerusalem. Yet, it is the coming of the Master of the Vineyard!
What is so important is that Jesus’ citation of the OT prophecies of the Stone (Matthew 21:40f) that would crush the opposition must be viewed within the context of the establishment of the kingdom at the end of the age, i.e. in the last days (Daniel 2:28; 7:13f; Isaiah 8, etc.)– in other words, at the time of the end! The citation of Psalms 118:22f is an allusion to the Messianic Temple that would be established in the last days. So, Jesus’ citation of the OT prophecies of the Stone, in the context of the coming judgment of the Jerusalem leaders for persecuting the saints, must be viewed as an eschatological prediction. Furthermore, it must be seen in the context of the coming of the Son of Man.
Did the disciples not have a clue about what any of this meant? Those who argue for a confused group of disciples in Matthew 24 must be able to demonstrate that the disciples were likewise confused when Jesus uttered this parable. Of course, the difficulty with this is that Jesus specifically told the parables so that his disciples would understand his teachings (Matthew 13:10-16).
So, in Matthew 21 we find the very elements found in Jesus’ Temple discourse, which of course is what led to the disciple’s questions in the first place. We find the past persecution and the threat of future persecution. We find the promise that God was about to act in vindication of the suffering saints, and that promise would be fulfilled in the coming of the Master of the Vineyard. and that judgment was coming soon.
Are we to believe that although the Pharisees and chief priests “perceived that he was speaking of them” in Jesus prediction of the coming of the Vineyard Master to destroy his enemies, that Jesus’ own disciples did not understand that message? Where the Pharisees and chief priests truly more perceptive about Jesus’ message of impending doom– i.e. The Coming of the Lord!! – than Jesus’ own inner circle? And, did the Pharisees or even the disciples believe that the predicted judgment was to be the end of the time-space world? How would one justify such a claim?
Matthew 22 and the Time of the End
Matthew 22:1f–The Parable of the Wedding– It is somewhat rare when commentators of virtually all stripes agree on a given interpretation. It is significant therefore, to discover that there is virtually no disagreement as to the application of Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22. As Hagner expressed it: “It is virtually impossible for post-AD 70 readers of the Gospel not to see the destruction of Jerusalem alluded to in these words.” (Donald Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33b, Matthew 14-28, (Dallas; Word Books, 1995), 630).
What does Jesus predict in Matthew 22? One thing is certain: He did not predict the “end of time.” He chronicles how representatives of the King were sent to the invited guests, to tell them the Wedding (the eschatological hope of Israel, (Hosea 2:19f; Isaiah 62, etc.) was now ready. The invited guests persecuted and killed the messengers. The King sent his servants to destroy the murderers and burn their city. Likewise, in the Temple discourse, Jesus chronicled the sending of YHWH’s servants to Israel, and how those servants had been slain. Now, Jesus said, he would send his messengers who would in turn be slain. But, judgment and vindication would come in his generation. The murderers would be slain, their city destroyed.
These motifs continue right through the Olivet Discourse. Just as Jesus said in Matthew 23:34f that he would send his disciples to Israel, and they would kill his “apostles and prophets and wise men and scribes” in Matthew 24:9f, speaking to those very disciples that he was sending out, he told them “they will deliver you up to persecution” (thlipsis). The persecution of Matthew 24:9f is the persecution predicted in Matthew 21, by the Vineyard keepers and the same persecution as in chapter 22 by those who had been invited to the Wedding but refused the offer. Likewise, the persecution in chapter 23:34f is the first century Jewish persecution of Jesus’ disciples that would, just like in chapter 21 and 22, lead to the coming of the Lord in judgment of those persecutors.
To reiterate, In chapter 21, the owner of the Vineyard would come in judgment of the persecutors.That judgment was in AD 70.
In Matthew 22, the Father would send out His armies to destroy the city of the persecutors.That judgment was in AD 70.
In Matthew 23:34f Jesus predicted the coming desolation of the city that spurned him and his disciples.That judgment was in AD 70.
In Matthew 24, Jesus predicts the utter desolation of that Temple, and proceeds to explain why: the persecution of his disciples. That judgment would be at his coming on the clouds in power and great glory, in that generation (24:29-34).
The parallels are precise.
All of this raises the question: Did the disciples understand that Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 21 and 22? Just how would they have misunderstood it? If they understood from Jesus’ parable that Jerusalem was to be destroyed as a result of the persecution of those who followed him, how could they then become so dense, to use the term, in Matthew 23-24 when Jesus is expounding on those very same topics?
So, we have several major texts (16:27-28; chapter 21, 22 and 23) in Matthew alone in which Jesus, prior to the Olivet Discourse, foretold the impending destruction of Jerusalem, at his coming and the end of the age – the time of the end.
Do we have any indication in those passages that the disciples misunderstood what Jesus was predicting? Not a syllable!
Did Jesus in any way rebuke the disciples for a failure to understand him? No.
Do we have a single word by the writers telling us that the disciples did not understand until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension? No. This stands in stark contrast to other passages in which we are told – explicitly – that the disciples did not understand something Jesus said. But, and this is critical, we are never told this about any of Jesus’ eschatological teachings!
This raises the question then about why we should believe (assume) that the disciples were so egregiously ignorant and confused in Matthew 24. Exactly what is it that demands this? To help settle this, even though we have looked at Matthew 13 to some extent, let’s take another look at it. We will do that in our next installment in our study of The Time of the End or The End of Time, so stay tuned!
Be sure to get a copy of my book The Last Days Identified, to understand clearly that the Bible no where predicts the end of time. It is always “the time of the end.”