The Little Apocalypse

The Little Apocalypse; How to distinguish between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Return of Christ.

Little Apocalypse – The Greek word translated “revelation” in Revelation 1:1 is apokalupsis.  This is transliterated to English as apocalypse.  Matthew 24 is sometimes called the little apocalypse because it contains Jesus’ most comprehensive description of future events.

Return of Christ – In Mathew 24:30-31 Jesus said, “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  and He will send forth his angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other”.   This seems to describe the physical return of Christ, but a few verses later He added, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (v34).  The purpose of this article is to study the text to understand whether Jesus said that He would return in the first century.

Parallel chapters – Luke 21 and Mark 13 contain the same explanation.  A separate article (Little Apocalypse Support) has been published which compares the three gospels, as support to this article.  The reader is advised to first read that other article.

Variations confirms reliability   The three chapters closely resemble each other, but there are also many differences.  The similarity of the chapters is quite amazing, if one remembers that these gospels were written about 30 years after Jesus was on earth.  Prior to that Christians mainly relied on verbal teachings.  The variations actually confirm the truth of the Bible because they show that these are the reports of three different people of the same events.

Interpretation of the variations –  When at least two of the three authors agree, one can accept their report as factual.  When one author mentions something which the other two do not, it will be assumed that that was also actually said, for “the Helper, the Holy Spirit … will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

Sections –To discuss these chapters, they are divided below into sections, and each section is discussed separately.  Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB.

The Place

Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6

The conversation started when, while they were leaving the temple, the disciples pointed to the beautiful temple building.  Jesus responded and said:

Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down”.

He must have said this with sadness in His heart, for in Matthew 23:37-38 He said,

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!

Your house” refers to the temple.

The Questions

Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:3-4; Luke 21:5-7

From there they went to the Mount of Olives, where the disciples asked Him:

When will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?

Since this conversation took place on the Mount of Olives, it is sometimes also called the Olivet Discourse.

Jesus only mentioned the destruction of the temple, but the disciples now included His “coming” and “the end of the age” in their questions.  The stones of the temple were huge; each more than 40 feet in length, and the disciples assumed that the temple will be destroyed at the return of Christ, and that that will be the “end of the age”.

With respect to these things, the disciples asked two things:

  • when and
  • what the sign will be that these things are about to take place. The Jews were fond of signs (Mark 8:12).

The False Teachers

Matthew 24:4-5; Mark 13:5-6; Luke 21:8

When Jesus responded, He did not answer their questions immediately.  He started by warning them against false teachers:

many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many”.

The Non-Signs

Matthew 24:6-8; Mark 13:7-8; Luke 21:9-11

The disciples asked for signs of the end, but Jesus next warned them of things that are not signs of the end, namely wars, rumors of wars, plagues, famines and earthquakes.

Persecution

Mat. 24:9-10; Mark 13:9-12; Luke 21:11-19

He then warned His disciples that they will be persecuted and killed.  They will be hated by all “because of My name”.  They will be brought “before kings and governors for My name’s sake” (Luke 21:12).

At that time many will fall away and will betray one another”.

Jesus continued to say that when they are brought “before kings and governors” it will provide them with an opportunity to testify.  He told His disciples not to prepare beforehand to defend themselves, for He would give them wisdom which none of their opponents would be able to refute. (Luke 21:12-15).

The End

He also said:

Most people’s love will grow cold, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Mat. 24:12-13; Luke 21:19; Mark 13:13).

This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mat. 24:14; Mark 13:10).

The end” in the first quote may perhaps be understood as the end of the person’s life, but for the following reasons it more probably refers to “the end of the age”:

  • The disciples asked about “the end of the age” (v3).
  • In the next verse (v14) refers “the end” is “the end of the age”.

In addition to these references to “the end”, all three gospels refer to the non-signs as “not yet the end”.  Of the twelve times that the phrase “the end” is used in the gospels, seven are in the chapters containing the Little Apocalypse.  This shows the unique nature of the Little Apocalypse; It is Christ’s most comprehensive discussion the “the end”.

A separate article is available on the phrases “the end”, or “The End of the Age”.  In that article it was concluded that “the end” is when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups.  “Those who commit lawlessness” will be thrown “into the furnace of fire”, but “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mat. 13:41-43; 49-50).  This happens at His coming.

So Far only General Warnings

So far Jesus has not answered the disciples’ questions.  So far He has said nothing of the destruction of the temple or of His return to this world.  So far He has used the phrase “the end” three time, but only to say:

That the non-signs are “not yet the end” (Mark 13:7);

That “the one who endures to the end … will be saved” (Mat. 24:13), and;

That “gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mat 24:14).

He therefore has not explained what will happen at “the end” or when it will be.

So far He has warned that false prophets will arise, that wars, plagues and famines do not mean that the end is near, and that they will be persecuted, causing many to fall away and betray one another.  These things do not describe any specific period or event, but are the general experience of believers until “the end of the age”; applicable to all times and places.

The Abomination of Desolation

Matthew 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20; Luke 21:20-24

But then He spoke specifically about Jerusalem.  Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 refer to the “abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet”.  Luke, writing to non-Jewish believers, who were not familiar with Daniel’s prophecies, interpreted the “abomination of desolation” for his readers as “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20).  This is the first reference in the Little Apocalypse to a specific historical event, namely the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman in AD 70.  This was during the First Jewish-Roman War in the years 66-73, following after years of Jewish rebellion.

Since the description in Luke is easier to understand, Luke is quoted here:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains … and those who are in the country must not enter the city. … These are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. … there will be great distress (Matthew – “a great tribulation”) upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations” (Luke 21:20-24; Mat. 24:15-21; Mark 13:14-20).

Since Jesus told them to flee to the mountains, this is not the return of Christ, for then it would not help to flee to the mountains.

The purpose of this warning is that, when they see the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem, they must flee immediately to places where they cannot be found (the mountains).  According to historical accounts, the Christian Jews did flee from Jerusalem just prior to the Roman attack.

The Times of the Gentiles Fulfilled

Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20; Luke 21:24

The warning to flee Jerusalem closes with differently worded statements in the three gospels:

In Luke: “Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

In Matthew and Mark: “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Mat 24:22; Mark 13:20 is similar).

This verse in Luke is sometimes isolated from its context, and given an end-of-time interpretation, but consider the context:

Luke 21:20But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. 21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains… 22 … these are days of vengeance … 23 … there will be great distress upon the land …  24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword … and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

In this context the “times of the Gentiles … fulfilled” in Luke 21:20 must be interpreted as the end of the time of “great distress” caused by the Romans with their attack on Jerusalem in AD 70.

Luke 21:24 and Matthew 24:22 are therefore the reports by two different people of the same words of Christ, both describing the attack on Jerusalem in AD 70.  This is confirmed as follows:

  • Both refer to destruction.
  • Both refer to time (“those days had been cut short” versus “times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”).
  • Both refer to the end of the time of destruction,
  • These verses are found in the same place in the sequence of the descriptions in the two chapters.

Matthew 24:22, Mark 13:20 and Luke 21:24 may be combined as follows:

Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Romans (Gentiles).  If these days were allowed to continue, they would have killed everybody in Jerusalem and vicinity, but God put a time limit on the persecution.

So Far

The disciples asked about both the destruction of the temple, “Your coming” and the “end of the age”.  So far:

Jesus responded by giving His disciples certain general principles that are applicable to all times and places, such as that some will try to mislead them by claiming “the time is near”, and that they will be hated and persecuted.

Then He shifted the focus to the destruction of the temple in AD 70 specifically, warning His followers to flee to the mountains without delay, for Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Romans, slaughtering the residents.

Although He has referred to “the end”, He has not yet elaborated on His return to this world.  Nor has He given any specific about “end of the age”.

The Signs and Wonders

Mat. 24:23-28; Mark 13:21-23; Not in Luke 21

Next Jesus warned them that “false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders”, saying that Jesus is “in the wilderness” or that He “is in the inner rooms”.  Jesus warned them not to follow these false prophets, “for just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be”.  In other words, these false prophets will claim that Jesus has already come.  Earlier He warned the disciples of people that will mislead them by saying He is near (Luke 21:8), but now He is warning them against false prophets claiming that He has already come. 

This warning of false prophets does not relate to previous section on the attack on Jerusalem.  Note the differences:

  • In the Jerusalem-section the threat was the Roman armies, but now the threat is false prophets, performing “great signs and wonders”.
  • In the Jerusalem-section the Christians in Jerusalem were warned to flee to the mountains, but now they have freedom of movement to go to “the wilderness” or to “the inner rooms”, and are warned not to follow the false prophets.

Christ therefore is no longer dealing with the attack on Jerusalem in AD 70.

The Sun, Moon and Stars

Mat. 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25-26

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 the sky”.  “Men will faint from fear because of the roaring of the sea and the waves and the things which are coming upon the world”.

The phrase “immediately after” links this section to a previous.  The previous time that we saw the word “tribulation” was in verse Matthew 24:21, which is in the Jerusalem-section.  But the word “tribulation” also appears in verse 9, describing tribulation as characteristic of the entire church age.  So what “tribulation” does Matthew 24:29 refer to?

To answer this question, we notice the following pattern in the gospels:

Matthew and Mark mention the false prophets performing “signs and wonders”, and then continues by saying “immediately after the tribulation of those days”.

In Luke we find neither.

It is therefore concluded that “the tribulation of those days” (Mat. 24:29) refers to the period of the false prophets that perform “signs and wonders”.  Since tribulation is always part of the Christian experience (Mat. 24:9), this is also a time of tribulation.

This means that the false prophets, that perform “signs and wonders”, and teach that Christ already came, will appear immediately prior to the “signs in sun and moon and stars“ (Luke 21:25).  These “false prophets” may be compared to the end time “beast coming up out of the earth … had two horns like a lamb” (Rev. 13:11) and “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (Rev. 13:13).  In Revelation Jesus is called a lamb.  This beast from the earth therefore looks like Christ.  A false prophet is somebody inside the church; not somebody that attacks the church from outside.

The Son of Man Coming

Mat. 24:30-31; Mark 13:26-27; Luke 21:27

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great gloryAnd He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other”. (Mat. 24:30-31)

Since “His elect” are gathered from out the peoples of the world, this is “The End of the Age”, when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups; “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Mt. 25:46)

The word “then” with which this section starts, connects it to the signs in the sky in the previous section.  Just like the darkening of the sun, moon and stars follows “immediately after” (Mat. 24:29) the false prophets performing “great signs and wonders” (Mat 24:24), the coming of the Son of man follows immediately after the darkening of the sun, moon and stars.

The false prophets, performing miracles, the darkening of the sun, moon and stars, His coming and the gathering together of “His elect” therefore belong together, and describes “the end of the age”.

Three Main Sections

The Little Apocalypse may therefore be divided into three main sections:

General – He firstly gave general principles that are applicable to all times and places.  This includes the false teachers proclaiming “He is near”, the non-signs, such as wars and earthquakes, the persecution, falling away and betrayal, and the preaching of the gospel to the entire world.

Jerusalem – He secondly warned them about the severe tribulation of the Jewish nation and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

The end – He thirdly described specifically “the end of the age”; the false prophets performing miracles and claiming that Christ already came, immediately followed by the signs in the sun, moon and stars, and concluded.

This Generation

Mat. 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-31; Luke 21:28-33

But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. … Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.” (Luke 21:28-33)

These things” do not include the wars, earthquakes, famines and pestilences, because the latter are non-signs.  For the following reasons it is proposed that “these things” refer to the false prophets performing “great signs and wonders” and to the darkening of the sun, moon and stars:

The darkening of the sun, moon and stars follows “immediately after” the false prophets performing “great signs and wonders” (Mat 24:24).

The coming of the Son of man follows immediately after the darkening of the sun, moon and stars.

The “great signs and wonders” and the darkening of the sun, moon and stars therefore form a unit with the return of the Son of man.

Redemption” is when the angels will gather together His elect.  While Matthew and Mark reads, “He is near”, the parallel verse in Luke 21:31 says that “the kingdom of God is near”.

Due to the controversial nature of the quoted statement, a separate study has been made of how the gospels use the phrase “this generation“.  In that article it is concluded, on the basis of the usage in the gospels, that “this generation” most probably refers to Christ’s contemporary generation.  For instance, just prior to the Olivet discourse Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:36), which is an undisputed reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple A.D. 70.

It is certainly possible that “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 refers to the last generation that will see the signs of the end, instead of to Christ’s contemporary generation.  Each “this generation” must be evaluated in particular context, and the previous verse refers to the people that will see the signs.  The meaning would then be that the generation that sees the signs of the end, will also see the second coming and experience the judgment.  In other words, when the signs come, they will not drag on for many generations, but will happen within a generation.

On the other hand, the previous verse says, “when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near”, as if Jesus said that His disciples will see “these things”.  And even if “this generation” here does refer to the last generation that will see the signs, this will not solve the bigger problem, for this is not the only time that Jesus said that He will soon return to this world.  Furthermore, Paul and Christ’s apostles also believed that He would return soon, which implies that they understood Him to teach that.

Commentators offer different solutions, such as that Jesus was mistaken, that Jesus’ words are reported incorrectly, or that “the Son of man coming” was symbolically fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  A separate article (Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised?) has been developed to discuss these views.  Please see below.

No One Knows that Day and Hour

Mat. 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-31; Luke 21:28-33

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mat. 24:36).

The disciples asked, “when will these things happen” (Mat. 24:3)?  The Son responded firstly by warning them not to be misled by false prophets saying “the time is near” (Luke 21:8) or that He already came (Mark 13:21).  He secondly indicated that He does not know the day and hour, but He did know that it would not be in the distant future, for “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mt. 24:34).  This conundrum is one of the main purposes of this series of articles.

Some people are troubled with the realization that Jesus does not know everything.  The Bible teaches that God is one (Deut. 6:4-5; Mark 12:28-30; James 2:19) and clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus (e.g. John 17:3; 1 Timothy 2:5).  On the other hand, the Bible refers to Jesus as “God” (e.g. John 1:18; Titus 2:13-14).  An article is available which discusses the Son of God.

Conclusion

Many interpreters solve the problem of Christ’s statements of the nearness of the end by concluding that He was referring to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.  Since one of those statements are included in the Little Apocalypse, they therefore conclude that the Little Apocalypse also does not go further than A.D. 70.

In contrast it has been discovered here that the Little Apocalypse is be divided into three main sections.  The first section includes general principles applicable to all times and places.  The second describes the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, but the third is neatly separated from the events of A.D. 70, and describes Christ’s return to this world.    The Little Apocalypse therefore goes beyond the events of A.D. 70.

TO: Table of Contents of the articles on the Second Coming

TO: General Table of Contents

The Olivet discourse

The Olivet discourse: Comparison of the Christ’s depiction of future events in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21

Christ’s explanation of future events, as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 is sometimes called the Olivet Discourse Jesus gave this teaching on the Mount of Olives.  It is Christ’s most comprehensive explanation of His return to this world and of the End of the Age.  For that reason it is also called the Little Apocalypse.

This article serves as support for the main article on the Little Apocalypse.  To allow that article to explain the Little Apocalypse as easy to understand as possible, and because the reports of Christ’s teaching in the three gospels differ in some respects, this article compares the three chapters.  It presents the three chapters side by side to show the similarities and differences.  It also makes some observations about the text.  Perhaps the reader can print this article to use as reference while reading the main article.

All quotes are from the NASB translation.  Key words that are similar in all three gospels have been made bold.

The Situation

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away 1 As He was going out of the temple,  
when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings! 5 And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts
2 And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” He said, 6 As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”

Questions

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, 3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple,  
the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled? 7 They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”

In all three chapters the disciples ask about “these things”, which in the context refer to the destruction of the temple, but only in Matthew do the disciples also ask about the return of Christ or “the end of the age”.  Since Matthew was also led by the Holy Spirit, we assume that the disciples asked both about the temple and “the end of the age”.

False Teachers

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6 Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many. 8 And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them.

It is not clear whether the false teachers will say that Jesus is Christ, or whether they will claim to be Christ themselves.

Only Luke adds that the false teachers will say, “the time is near”.  The main issue is therefore that false teachers will come; not that they will claim that the time is near.

Non-Signs

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 9 When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.”
7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. 8 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. 10 Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, 11 and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines;

All three gospels refer to “the end”.  This confirms that the disciples did ask about “the end of the age” (Mt. 24:3).

Persecution & Opportunity To Testify

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
9 Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 9 But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10 The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 You will be hated by all because of My name, and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. 16 But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be hated by all because of My name.
12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.  13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 18 Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. See verse 10  

Luke starts with “there will be terrors and great signs from heaven”, but interrupts himself to say that this will only happen later (v11, 12).  Luke therefore mentions the “terrors and great signs from heaven” out of sequence.  These will be discussed below.

Mark mentions “the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” in verse 10, but this seems to fit better with Matthew 24:14.

Both Mark and Luke have a number of verses on the opportunity they will have to testify before kings and governors, but Matthew does not mention this.  Again, the assumption is that when one gospel records a statement which is not recorded by the others, that this statement was actually made.

All three gospels in this section refer to “the end”.  While the previous section referred to things that are not yet the end, this section refers to things that will continue to the end.  The main purpose of this series of articles is to understand why Jesus said He would return while some of His hearers are still alive (Mt. 10:23; 16:28; 24:34).  The authors of the New Testament also wrote many times that “the coming of the Lord is near” (James 5:7-8).  See the article Second Coming in the New Testament.  The current section reads, “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Mt. 24:13).  This may be understood as the end of the person’s life, but for the following reasons it more probably refers to “the end of the age”:

  • The disciples asked about “the end of the age” (v3).
  • The next verse (v14) refers to “the end” clearly as “the end of the age

According to Luke’s version Jesus said “by your endurance you will gain your lives” (v19), referring to the disciples specifically.  Combining this statement with the parallel verses in Matthew and Mark, this implies that His disciples will live until “the end”.  This is therefore another statement of the nearness of the Second Coming.

Abomination of Desolation

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
15 Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 14 But when you see the Abomination of Desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), 20 But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.

 

Luke, a gentile himself, writing to non-Jewish believers, who were not familiar with Daniel, interpreted the “abomination of desolation” for his readers as “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20-24).  Luke does seem to refer to the prophesies of Daniel in verse 22 below, when he refers to “all things which are written will be fulfilled”.  It is generally agreed that this section refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Great Tribulation

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 “Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 “Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; 16 and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. 21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city;
    22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.
19 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 17 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18 But pray that it may not happen in the winter. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days
21 “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 19 For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20 Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

The persecution discussed in the previous section (In Matthew, verses 9-14) was the persecution of Christians, but now the Jews are persecuted.

The word “elect” in Matthew 24:22 are the people whom God has chosen.  It may refer to the Jewish nation, because it remains “beloved for the sake of the fathers” “from the standpoint of God’s choice (election)” (Rom. 11:28).  Or it may refer to “those who were chosen” (Romans 11:7), namely the Jews who believed in Jesus.  The Jewish Christians were part of the Jewish nations, and it was their fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters that were slaughtered in the massacre of A.D. 70.

They must pray that their flight will not be in winter (Mt. 24:20), for then it would be cold.  They must also pray that their flight will not be on Sabbath.  This may be out of respect for the Sabbath, or that the Jews might prevent them walking further than the distance allowed on the Sabbath.

Signs of the End

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. … 26 “So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, …  27 “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.  
29 But immediately after the tribulation of those days 24 But in those days, after that tribulation,  
the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 25 There will be signs in sun and moon and stars and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Luke does not start the section on the darkening of the sun, moon and stars by referring to “the tribulation of those days” because it omits the section about “false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders” (Mat. 24:24).  The “tribulation of those days” (Mt. 24:29; Mark 13:29) therefore refers to the time of “false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders”, and not to the destruction of Jerusalem on AD 70.  This is a very important conclusion to properly understand the Little Apocalypse.

Matthew 24:28 states, “wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather”.  The meaning is explained by Luke 17:34-37, which twice uses the well-known phrase one will be taken and the other will be left”.  When the disciples asked Him, “Where, Lord?”, He answered “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered”.

The statement that the powers of the heavens will be shaken is understood to be a summary of the statements that the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky.

His Coming

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn    
and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
31 And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. 27 And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.  

Parable of the Fig Tree

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
    28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
32 Now learn the parable from the fig tree 28 Now learn the parable from the fig tree: 29 Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees
32 when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 30 as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near.
33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 29 Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 31 So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.

Luke still does not explicitly refer to His coming, but to the “kingdom of God”.

This Generation

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
34 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 30 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 32 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

No One Knows

MATTHEW 24 MARK 13 LUKE 21
36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

 

32 But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.  

The Son does not know the day and hour, but He did know that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mt. 24:34).  This conundrum is one of the main purposes of this series of articles.

TOTable of Contents of the articles on the Second Coming

TO: General Table of Contents

TO: The main article on the Little Apocalypse

This generation

What generation, did Jesus say, will not pass away until all these things take place?

After describing His return to this earth, which it will be “just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west”, Jesus said “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:27, 34).  This statement has caused much uncertainty, for it seems as if Jesus said that He would return in that same generation.  Some argue that “this generation”, refers to the generation that will see the signs of His coming.  The purpose of this article is to analyze how the gospels use the word “generation” in support of the main article on Matthew 24 (The Little Apocalypse).

Overview

In Matthew 1:17 it is said that there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to Babylon and another fourteen generations from Babylon to the Messiah.  Similarly, Mary said that “His mercy is upon generation after generation” and that “from this time on all generations will count me blessed” (Luke 1:46-49).  This is also how we also use the word “generation” today.

But Jesus also used the phrase “this generation” to say things that may be applicable to all generations, for instance:

  • That when “He comes in the glory of His Father”, He will be ashamed of everybody in “this adulterous and sinful generation” that is ashamed of Him (Mark 8:38);
  • That “this generationis like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children” (Mat. 11:16);
  • That the last state of “this evil generation” will become worse than the first (Matthew 12:43-45); and
  • That this is an “unbelieving and perverted generation” (Matthew 17:17);

These four statements might be applicable to all generations or to His contemporary generation specifically, but in the following examples “this generation” can only refer to His contemporary generation.  He said:

  • That no sign will be given to “this generation” but the sign of Jonah;
  • That the Queen of the South and the men of Nineveh will stand up with “this generation” at the judgment and condemn it (Luke 11:29-32; Mark 8:11-12);
  • That He will send prophets to “this generation”, whom they will kill and crucify, so that “all these things will come upon this generation” (Mat. 23:34-36 – It is generally agreed that this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.);
  • That the Son of Man must first be rejected by “this generation” (Luke 17:24-25);

The context in Matthew 24 must be studied in more detail, but, on the basis of the usage in the gospels, “this generation” most probably refers to Christ’s contemporary generation.

Texts Quoted in More Detail

Jesus said:

Matthew 24:34 “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Also Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33)

A few verses before this, He spoke about His return to this earth:

27For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

These words have caused much uncertainty for Christians, for it seems to say that the Jesus would return in that same generation.  The purpose of this article is to analyze how the gospels use the word “generation”.

In the following examples it refers to a specific generation:

Matthew 1:17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Luke 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord … 48  … For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me … 50 and His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear him.

In the following example it may refer to all generations, although it could also refer to His contemporary generation:

Mark 8:38 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”  This may be compared to Matthew 10:32-33, where Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven”.

Matthew 11:16 “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children … “ (Also Luke 7:31-32)

Matthew 12:43 “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45 “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”

Matthew 17:14 “A man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, 15 Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is … very ill …  16 I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” 17 And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” (also in Mark 9:17; Luke 9:38-42)

In the following example it can only refer to His contemporary generation:

Luke 11:29As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (See also Matthew 12:39 & Matthew 16:4)

Mark 8:11The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. 12 Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.

Matthew 23:34Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (The same is recorded in Luke 11:4551.  The general agreement is that this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.)

Luke 17:24For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. 25 But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

TO: Table of Contents of the articles on the Second Coming

TO: General Table of Contents

The End of the Age

Jesus referred to “the end of the age” as His return to this earth, when the peoples of the world will be separated into two groups; those who will be thrown into the furnace of fire and those who will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Jesus referred to “the end” and to “the End of the Age”.  These phrases are recorded twelve times in the gospels.  The purpose here is to determine the meaning of these phrases, as a background study to the interpretation of the controversial texts in Matthew 10:23; 16:28 and 24:34, where Jesus seems to say that He will return within the lifetime of some of His hearers.

Summary

Matthew 10 – The first time that the phrase “the end” is used in the gospels, is in the controversial Matthew 10:22-23, where “the end” is when “the Son of Man comes”.

Matthew 13 – Next the phrase “the end of the age” is used three times in Matthew 13, where it is described as “the harvest”, when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups; those who commit lawlessness” are thrown “into the furnace of fire”, while “the righteous will shine forth as the sun”.

Daniel 12 – The concept of “the end” comes from the book of Daniel.   The phrase, “the end of the age”, specifically, comes from the last verse of Daniel, where Daniel is told that he will “rise again” (come to life) at “the end of the age” to receive his “allotted portion”.  This “allotted portion” is described earlier in Daniel 12, where it is stated that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life” (v2).  Since others will awake to “everlasting contempt” (v3), Daniel 12, similar to Matthew 13, describes “the end of the age” as the time when the peoples of the world will be separated into two groups; those that “commit lawlessness” and the “righteous”.  What Daniel 12 adds is that people will again come to life at “the end of the age”.

Little Apocalypse – The next time that the phrase “the end” is found, is in the Little Apocalypse, in which Jesus foretold the events leading up to and at “the end”.  These chapters (Mt. 13; Mark 13; Luke 21) use the phrase “the end” seven times.  The Little Apocalypse confirms, as concluded above, that “the end of the age” is the Second Coming, when the people of the world will be separated into two groups; “those on His right”, who will “inherit the kingdom” (Mat. 25:34), and “those on His left”, who “depart … into the eternal fire” (v41).

Great CommissionThe only other place in the gospels where the phrase “the end” is found, is in the great commission: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20).

Matthew 10

The first time that the phrase “the end” is used in the gospels, is in Matthew 10, where Jesus sent His disciples on a mission trip on their own to the cities of Israel.  While giving them instructions, He said:

22You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

The end” is used here in the immediately context of the difficult verse 23.  Read in isolation, “the end” in verse 22 may be understood as referring to the person’s death, but in verse 23 Jesus said that He will come before His disciples have finished “going through the cities of Israel”.  He said, in other words, that He would come while they are still alive.  This implies that “the end” is when “the Son of Man comes”.  (A separate article is devoted to Matthew 10:23.)

Matthew 13

The next time that the phrase “the end” is used, is in Matthew 13 in Christ’s explanation of two of His parables.  Here the phrase “the end of the age” is used three times.

39 the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

49 “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The end of the age” is therefore “the harvest”, when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups:

Those who commit lawlessness” are thrown “into the furnace of fire” (vv42, 50), also called the “eternal fire” (Mat 18:8) or “lake of fire”, which is “the second death” (Rev. 20:14-15).

The righteous will shine forth as the sun” (v43, 49).

Daniel 12

The phrase “the end of the age” is found once only in the Old Testament, namely in the last verse of Daniel, where a supernatural being tells Daniel:

But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age“. (12:13)

The phrase “the end” does appear in the other books of the Old Testament, but only in Daniel is it used for the end of time.  This appears in various forms, such as “the end of the age”, the “time of the end” (Dan. 8:17, 19), “the end of time” (Dan. 12:4) and “the end time” (Dan. 12:9).  Just like Jesus used the phrase “Son of Man” from Daniel 7:13 to refer to Himself, He used the phrases “the end” and “the end of the age” from the book of Daniel.  The meaning of “the end” in Daniel 12 is therefore important for an understanding of “the end” in the gospels.

According to Daniel 12:13 Daniel “will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age”.  This helps to explain what “the end of the age” is:

Rest– Similar to Revelation 6:11, “rest” in Daniel 12:13 refers to the condition in which Daniel will be while dead, which the Bible often refers to as “sleep”, for instance “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep”.  (1 Cor. 15:20).

Rise again – “Rise again” in Daniel 12:13 refers to his coming to life again.  As stated earlier in Daniel 12, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake” (v2)

 

Allotted portion – The “allotted portion” is also explained by Daniel 12:2-3 when it says that “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life … Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

These verses are also the source of Christ’s reference in Matthew 13:43 to the shining of the righteous at “the end of the age”.

But Daniel 12:2 also describes what happen to the lost at “the end of the age”, when it says “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake … to disgrace and everlasting contempt”.

In conclusion then, in both Daniel 12 and Matthew 13, “the end of the age” is when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups; “those who commit lawlessness” and the “righteous”.  While the emphasis in Matthew 13 is on “those who commit lawlessness”, Daniel 12 emphasizes “those who have insight”.  An additional principle found in Daniel 12 is that, at “the end of the age”, people will come to life again.  Similar to John 5:27-29 and Revelation 20:4-5, it says that both “those who commit lawlessness” and the “righteous” will come to life.

Little Apocalypse

So far, four of the twelve occurrences of the phrase “the end” in the gospels have been discussed.  The next time that this phrase is found is in the Little Apocalypse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), in which Jesus foretold the events preceding and at “the end”.  In these chapters this phrase is mentioned 7 times.  This shows the unique end-time focus of the Little Apocalypse.  The Little Apocalypse is discussed in a separate article.  In summary:

Questions – The disciples asked two questions:

  1. When the temple will be destroyed?
  2. What will the sign of His coming and of the end of the age be (Matthew 24:3)?

Jesus’s answer may be divided into three broad sections:

First: General Principles – Jesus commenced His answer by warning them that people will mislead them by saying “the time is near” (Luke 21:8).  He then told them that wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines and pestilences are not signs of the end (Mat. 24:6; Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9).  He also warned them that they will be persecuted (Mt. 24:9).  So far He has not answered their questions.  He only gave general principles; applicable to all times and places.  But then He concludes this first section by mentioning “the end” twice:

but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved … this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mat. 24:13-14; Mark 13:13).

Second: Jerusalem –He then warned them to flee to the mountains when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, because that will be a time of extreme distress; if God did not shorten that time, all people in Jerusalem would have been killed.  This happened in A.D. 70.

Third: Second Coming – In the third section He described His Second Coming.  He first told them that false prophets will arise that claim that He has already come.  He then described the signs of His coming, namely when the powers of heaven will be shaken, resulting in the roaring of the seas.  They will then see Him coming “in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26), and “He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds” (Mark 13:27).

The phrase “the end” is not used in the third section, but since this concludes Christ’s description of the future events, this is “the end” to which He referred at the end of the first section.  When He comes His angels “will gather together His elect from the four winds” (Mark 13:27).  This means the other will be left.  As stated a little later in Matthew 24 “one will be taken and one will be left” (v40-41) to be destroyed (Rev. 19:21; Luke 17:29-30).  Matthew 25 continues the discussion of His return (v31), when the people of the world will be separated into “those on His right”, who will “inherit the kingdom” (v34), and “those on His left”, who “depart … into the eternal fire” (v41).  Please see the article on the Second Coming in the New Testament for more detail.

This confirms, as concluded above, that “the end of the age” is His return to this earth, when the people of the world will be separated into two groups.

Great Commission

The only other place in the gospels where the phrase “the end” is found, is in the great commission: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20).

Conclusion

Judgment Day –  “The end of the age” therefore refers to His return to this earth, when the peoples of the world will be separated into two groups.  “Those who commit lawlessness” will be thrown “into the furnace of fire”, but “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mat. 13:41-43; 49-50).  It cannot be interpreted, as some do, as the attack on Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.

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