One of the difficulties in understanding Matthew 24 is in the fact that so many misconceptions exist about its meaning. In a sea of confusion and misinterpretation, it is very likely that some of the students will have heard or learned falsehoods about this chapter and its applications. For the sake of clarity, do not spend too much time on each point, for one of the best ways of considering this chapter in the context of a children’s Bible class is broadly. Try to get the students to see the big picture, and not focus on details that seem incongruent when taken out of context. If we only look at parts of Matthew 24 it is very confusing, but when everything is lined up appropriately, the big picture is one of great importance and significance. When differences do occur regarding the interpretation of this text, we need to be careful not to gloss over them:
· Some try to argue that issues like Premillenialism and Matthew 24 interpretations are matters of opinion and have no bearing on salvation.
· Yet many of the quirky ideas surrounding misinterpretations of this text cut to the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
· Why believe Premillenialism when it leads us to believe that Christ failed when He came to this world?
· If Matthew 24 means what a lot of people think it does, then other verses about the Judgment Day are incorrect (its mysterious nature, its silence and surprise, etc.).
· Any plain misinterpretation of the Bible has to do with salvation. If one can teach strange doctrines relating to the Judgment Day, then what about salvation, church organization, etc.?
Let us establish, first of all, a few facts about this chapter. Jesus clearly sets a timetable for these events, stating, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (24:34). Therefore, anything that is discussed up until this point has to take place while His audience is still living. Of course, this would put the events of this chapter before the close of the first century. If we view everything else in this chapter with this in mind, it will all be much more clear and congruent with other passages of scripture. Second, we must realize, contrary to common opinion, that all of the things he discusses are not signs of the second coming of Christ at the end of the world. A lot of religious thinkers would like to assert that these things will all happen when Christ’s return is imminent, yet it is a truth that Christ’s coming would be shrouded in mystery (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). Jesus Himself even says, “See to it that no one misleads you.” He says all of things for the purpose of warning the disciples: wars, famines, false prophets, and all of the calamities described in the chapter are deceptions, not to be confused with the actual coming of Christ.
“Not a stone shall be left”
Matthew 24:1-3 – The entire discussion begins as the disciples are pointing out to Jesus the glorious buildings of the temple complex in Jerusalem. In response, though, the Lord asserts that all of them would be torn down, completely destroyed, and the city left desolate (Matthew 23:38). This would, in fact, happen in the year 70 AD, as the Romans sent an army into Judea for the purpose of subduing the Jews once and for all. The legions plundered Jerusalem, tore down the walls, and completely crushed the temple.
Matthew 24:4-14 – It is important that the disciples guard themselves against deception, just as also ought to today in the presence of so many fallacies and misconceptions. For, according to Jesus, many false prophets would come, and many supposed signs would lead people astray. Do not people do the same thing today? Every time a war breaks out, there is a grand movement of supposed Christians who claims that it is a sign of the end of the world. Earthquakes, famines, solar irregularities – whatever the catastrophe of the time happens to be is that generation’s “sign.” There are some practical applications here:
· But Jesus refutes these claims, stating that wars, famines, and earthquakes should not make us fear the end of the world.
· Instead, all of these events are simply natural occurrences in the world of sin and imperfection. “For these things must take place…”
· Rather than allow ourselves to be startled by calamities, we should take comfort in the fact that they are just signs of normalcy. When an earthquake happens, it means that the world is going on as normal, and that judgment is delayed further.
· Furthermore, Jesus encourages His disciples by saying they should not fear persecution (24:9-14).
· Hatred and strife will fill the religious world, but this is unavoidable. There will always be false teachers in this world, but it is our mission to guard ourselves against their wiles and help lead others in the path of righteousness. “The one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.” The person who goes the distance, carrying his cross the whole way and confessing Jesus, he will be the kind of person who makes it to heaven. The Lord is not looking for half-hearted flip-floppers in His kingdom.
The destruction of Jerusalem
Matthew 24:15-28 – In this section of scripture, Jesus is going to go into more detail about the destruction of Jerusalem, and the conditions that will surround that event. The “abomination of desolation” is a figurative way of describing the impending doom of Jerusalem, embodied in the Roman legions. The same statement is made in Luke 21:20-21, except not in an analogy. The point of this section of the text is to indicate when the righteous people of Jerusalem need to flee from the coming crisis. There are several reasons why these verses do not describe the premillenial idea of the “rapture.” First, if this is describing the coming of Jesus, why would righteous people have any reason to flee? In fact, even the sinners of the world will not be fleeing from Jesus, for it is said in Romans 14:10-12 that on the judgment day everybody will be praising God – the sinners, of course, will be praising in vain, hoping that their last-minute pleas will mean anything to God. Second, what good would fleeing do if this event was, in fact, the coming of Christ in judgment? How would it make a difference if it occurred in the winter or on a Sabbath?
Next, He describes some of the elements of the great tribulation of this time. “And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short” (24:22). The entire idea of premillennialism does not fit into the Bible! According to the doctrine, the rapture will occur first. The rapture is an event that is not biblical, in which all of the righteous people of the world are taken away by God to paradise. After the rapture, a period of time will pass in which the “tribulation” will occur. This is a time when unbelievers will have a chance to experience great suffering, but can learn from their sins and become saved. My answer to this is: where is it in the Bible? According to Matthew 24, the tribulation involves many righteous people. There are so many, in fact, that God clearly decided to reduce the length of the tribulation on their behalf.
Matthew 24:23-28 – This portion of the chapter describes more clearly the supposed coming of the Son of Man. Indeed, many have taken these words to mean the coming of Jesus on the last day, but it is much more conceivable to say that these words mean the coming of Jesus in judgment against Jerusalem. “For just as lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” This language has been used before to describe invading armies. Throughout the minor prophets, God condemned His people for wickedness and said He would come in judgment like lightning, or pestilence, or even a plague of locusts. “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures gather.” Wherever a dead body is found, it is only logical to assume that a vulture is not far away. In the same way, the judgments of God do not follow far behind unrighteousness. The evil of the people of Jerusalem is like a corpse, just waiting for judgment, attracting it even.
Matthew 24:29-31 – While it would be tempting to assume that this is describing the judgment day, it is not, for this is all qualified by the fact that it must take place before the passing of Jesus’ contemporary generation. Instead of the judgment, it is more congruent with the rest of the Bible to say that these verses are figurative of the invasion of the Romans. Notice a very important, often overlooked detail. “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear…” Nowhere in the verse does it the Son of Man will appear in the sky, but that His “sign” will appear. This is not talking about the coming of Christ, but simply the sign that His judgment is at hand, ready to destroy Jerusalem.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). This may be an indication that Jesus is transitioning into a discussion of the last day, not just His judgment of Jerusalem. The verse means that no matter what happens to the world, the Holy scriptures will always be intact and whole. Although the armies of mankind can topple kingdoms, nothing can defeat the Word of God from spreading throughout the world.
Are we talking about judgment day yet?
Matthew 24:36-42 – Now it seems that we are talking about the end of the world in these verses. Unlike the day of the Lord described in the first half of the chapter, in which great calamities were causing people to fret, the day of judgment in the second half of the chapter is one that catches people entirely off guard (24:38-39). In 24:40-41, the language could mean that on the glorious final day, the righteous people of the world would be taken away to glory, while the unrighteous would be left to eternally die in sin. The “left” could mean “left out,” that is, the sinners of the world will be left out of the glory of heaven, similar to the way the rich man could only look to Paradise from the outside (Luke 16:23).
Matthew 24:42-51 – These verses include several memorable parables about readiness in the face of the last day.
Matthew 25:1-13 – This is the parable of the ten virgins before the wedding feast. As was the custom of the day, ten virgins waited outside the domain of the bridegroom, each with an oil lamp. When the procession of wedding guests entered the bridegroom’s home for a grand feast, these virgins would light their lamps in celebration. Jewish weddings much longer than ours do today, and this was just one part of an extended celebration. In the parable, there are five foolish virgins and five prudent virgins. The foolish women did not bring enough oil for their lamps to last during a peculiarly long delay by the bridegroom, so when it was actually time for the celebration, their lamps began to fade in brilliance and go out. The five prudent virgins refused to give up their own oil for the others, stating that if they shared their oil, then they would not have enough for the entire duration of the occasion. So while the foolish virgins hurriedly ran to the dealers to purchase more oil, the bridegroom approached and welcomed the five prudent virgins into his home for the feast. “And later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open up for us.’ But he answered and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” This story represents the need for Christ’s disciples to be prepared for the coming of God at any moment. If we do not prepare ourselves adequately, He may come at a time we are not ready and we will be left alone in the abyss of condemnation.
Matthew 25:14-30 – Another parable that is well-known is found in this text. The lessons are numerous, beginning with the idea that we are rewarded or punished according to our deeds, and not because we were predetermined for either one. What we make out of life is our choice, and it is within each person to live up to his or her potential or fail to meet standards.
There are three slaves who are put in charge of their master’s possessions. One slave is given five portions of wealth, another two, and another only one. It is interesting, though, that no matter how many talents the master gave to these men, he did not expect anything less from each of them than honest effort. In the same way, if we are only given one talent in this world, it is not to our discredit. There is nothing shameful about only having one talent, and God does not look down on the man or woman who is limited in abilities. It is more important to God that we use our talents, whatever they may be, to their fullest.
The one talent man, however, does nothing with his portion of wealth, and is condemned by the master as being worthless to him. Let us never fall into this category!