This is perhaps the most anticipated post in my series on Matthew 24. As it is at this moment in the text that I maintain Jesus transitions from speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem to actual end-times prophecy.
It is outside of the scope of this blog to exegete the section verse by verse. Especially as Jesus transitions into parables about the Kingdom of God, it is not the goal to explain those specifically.
The goal is to demonstrate that there are good textual reasons for reading Jesus as transitioning into a new topic here. Since the overall aim of my blog series was to simply challenge my Christian brethren to rethink Matthew 24 and not just assume these are end-times warning for us to look for, it seems most appropriate to stay in that general vein and defend why I believe now the text transitions into eschatology. For example, I will not shed commentary on the controversial idea of Jesus not knowing when the final day will be (although I will write a separate blog on that). I will not be walking through whether or not verses 38-39 teach a pre-tribulational rapture, and I will not walk through the parable of the master and his servants (45-51).
It is my aim only to justify why I now decide to switch topics from the Temple to the final judgment. Otherwise, I will look as if I simply threw my hands in the air, and when, not being able to find anymore connections between Jesus’ words and the destruction of the Temple, I arbitrarily gave up and forced upon the text a new topic.
It is my conviction that Jesus, in Matthew 24, beginning with verse 36 and working all the way through Matthew 25, is
speaking of the end-times; Jesus is speaking of things in our future.
This is not to say that we will necessarily experience them; it simply means what Jesus says from verses 36 to the end of chapter 25 are things not yet happened or finally consummated.
What are the textual warrants for leaving the topic of the destruction of Jerusalem and transitioning to the topic of the final judgment? There are 3:
1) A clear concluding remark
2) The ambiguity of the English word “That”
3) The transition from plural days to a singular day
Verse 34 was crucial in determining that Jesus was speaking of 1st century Jerusalem and not the final days of the universe, because verse 34 is explicit that whatever Jesus is talking about, the generation of his day would experience them.
However, verse 34 serves another purpose as well: it serves as a clear conclusion to Jesus’ statements. Jesus just listed off a number of prophetic events, and makes for a wonderful conclusion to summarize how all of the events listed will soon happen.
In other words, why would Jesus take the time to tell His audience “all of these things will take place before this generation passes away” if He were planning on continuing the list of all the things that need to take place? Verse 34 serves as the conclusion to Jesus prophetic list. He told them the signs of His coming, and then told them when they would take place. That is the completion of His thought.
Verse 35 could serve as either part of the conclusion or part of the new thought. When Jesus says in verse 36, “concerning that day”, He could be referring to the day “when heaven and earth pass away.” Or, verse 35 could be tied more directly to the new thought, and could serve as the introduction to Jesus’ new teaching, and the “that” could be referring not to when heaven and earth pass away, but still some day in the future.
Either way, the ambiguity of the word that is actually helpful. Because that could be referring to a new day or the one previously mentioned, that phrase alone does not force our interpretation in one direction or the other. This is exactly opposite of verse 34. Verse 34 has no ambiguity, which is why it must drive our interpretation. Unlike 34, verse 36 is ambiguous and therefore has freedom to be contextual defined.
If the English rendering used the word “this” rather than “that”, although there would still be room to interpret contextually, it would be much more restricting. If Jesus said, “concerning this day” then we would not be permitted to forward to a day in the future, but to look backward at the day already mentioned. However, using the term “that” allows freedom to set sail in either direction, provided the context is our compass.
Always save the best for last, right? This is the strongest argument in my view as to why a shift of topic is necessary in the text. In verse 36, Jesus uses the word “that day”. He is speaking about one singular day. However, thus far in the chapter, the events Jesus is pointing toward are always described as plural days.
I understand the plural “days” appears in Matthew 24: 37, but that is referring to the events surrounding Noah, not to the event Jesus began to speak of in verse 36. Jesus has switched to a singular day.
The first time Jesus prophecies are described in terms of days shows up in Matthew 24: 19,
“And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!”
Notice then that whatever Jesus is talking about is described in the plural as “days.”
It shows up again in verse 22 in the plural,
“And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
And then probably the most important use shows up in verse 29,
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
(By way of a side-note, this by itself serves as evidence for my interpretation up to verse 36. For Jerusalem’s judgment was not a one day thing. The plural days supports the reading that Jesus is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem which did not happen in one day.)
Back to the point, Jesus’ topic from verses 1-34 are described in the plural. Jesus clearly then shifts topics in verse 36 because He is not speaking of a single day event; He transitions to the singular, indicating a transition of topic. Verse 36, “But concerning that day and hour, no one knows…”
Along with this, the passages which address Jesus’ second coming more clearly all refer to it as a single day or a single moment. 1 Corinthians 15: 50-53 describes the resurrection as a very quick moment, 1 Thessalonians 1: 10 describes it as being a single day, 2 Peter 2: 9; 3:7 refer to it as a single day, along with many other New Testament verses such as Acts 17:31; 1 John 4: 17 and others. Jesus Himself has done this already in the very Gospel at our attention in Matthew 11: 22-24 and 12: 36.
Thus, the New Testament wider context always refer to the final coming as a single Day. This means we have good biblical warrant to assume that is what Jesus is speaking of in Matthew 24: 36; and likewise, what Jesus is not referring to in verses 1-34.
It is hard for me to imagine ever getting to the place with many difficult doctrines and passages where I am not able to admit some difficulties with my interpretation. I think all Christians ought to be humble and admit problem passages on doctrines which are not as perspicuous as the basic ones (eschatology certainly fits the bill). There is no doubt that there are still some difficult things for my position to explain. In the Spirit of transparency, allow me to bring them to light and try to form a semblance of an explanation.
As I maintain that verses 36 and all the way through chapter 25 are all about the end times, one of the problems is when Jesus parallels language from what I call end-times talk to a passage which I maintain are not about the end of times.
Read Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: 31-32,
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
Now compare them to Matthew 24: 30-31,
“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
In both passages the coming of the Son is mentioned, the angels are mentioned, and some separating (the negative of gathering) the elect is mentioned. Thus, it could be argued these passages are referencing the same event. I have two responses:
1) The passages are similar, there is no doubt about it, but there is a great deal of difference between them that I am only a little bit concerned.
2) I do not think there is a room necessarily for interpreting all of Matthew 24 as having a “double-fulfillment”, but I do think the similarities raised make the point that all of the Lord’s physical judgments on nations are types and shadows for the final Day.
Jesus Himself compares the physical judgment of Noah’s day to the final day, and I think He is subtly doing that with the judgment of Jerusalem as well. Types are not the same as double-fulfillment, but there is a similarity between them.
Thus, the conclusion is this:
The famous judgments in Scripture like the Flood, Sodom/Gomorrah, the Exodus, the fall of Babylon, and the destruction of Jerusalem were all very epic. And they all shadow that final day when the Lord will return with sudden, swift, and righteous judgment. Although it is will be much more severe and on a much wider scale, the final coming of the Lord will be much like the judgments we read about in Scripture and in history. It will be violent, it will be sudden, it will be cataclysmic, and perhaps most importantly, it will be just.