The Olivet Discourse – Matthew 24
Read the Passage: Matthew 24
Suffering of Believers (24:1–25)
Matthew 24 contains what has become known as the Olivet Discourse. This chapter records Jesus’ response, while sitting on the Mount of Olives, to His disciples’ two questions about: (1) the destruction of Jerusalem, and (2) the timing and events related to His second coming (cf. Matt. 24:1–3). Christ addresses the first question in Matt. 24:4–25. In His reply, Jesus speaks about the destruction of Jerusalem, but also He describes the state of the world between His first and second comings. Thus, this chapter gives details about the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in AD 70, as well as information about world history. Here Jesus notes that in the present age the effects of sin will be constantly seen in the created order (cf. Matt. 24:4–8). This includes the presence of religious heresies, international warfare, and all manner of natural disasters.
In Matt. 24:9–14 Christ teaches that in the present age the gospel will go forth into all the world and will be rejected by many. As the gospel is shared, many believers will be persecuted (some to their death), false religions will arise to deceive mankind, and the love of many people will grow cold. Jesus also notes that as sin affects the created order we must remember God governs the world and He will protect His church (cf. Matt. 24:15–25). As persecution ebbs and flows in the present world, then, we must not forget that God is sovereign. While Christians will suffer and die, salvation is assured, divine love is unending, and nothing happens apart from God’s purview. Note the “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15; cf. Dan. 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) most directly refers to the Roman commander Titus’ army offering Temple sacrifices at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Coming of Jesus (24:26–31)
In Matt. 24:26–31, Jesus addresses His disciples’ second question about the signs of His coming and the end of the age (cf. Matt. 24:3). Whereas there are many signs that preceded the destruction of Jerusalem and that mark the sinful condition of the present age—such as false Christs, warfare, natural disasters, etc.—in Matt. 24:26–31 Jesus teaches that His second coming will not be marked by many signs, but will be unmistakable, sudden, and public. In this passage Christ exhorts His hearers not to listen to reports about false messiahs that will inevitably arise prior to His arrival. Indeed, Jesus teaches that His second coming will be as evident as lightening in the sky (cf. Matt. 24:27), as sure as eagles gathering around a carcass (cf. Matt. 24:28), and will be marked by obvious cosmic and universal disturbances (cf. Matt. 24:29).
Illustrations of Imminence (24:32–51)
In Matt. 24:32–51 Jesus gave several illustrations to help His readers understand His teaching. First, in Matt. 24:32–35 Christ gave the Parable of the Fig Tree to illustrate His answer to the disciples’ first question about the destruction of the Temple. Fig trees were common on the Mount of Olives, so this was a natural object lesson. Recall that Jesus had previously cursed a fig tree (cf. Matt. 21:18–22), which actually occurred on the day before He spoke this parable. In this parable Christ teaches that just as the leaves on a fig tree indicate the arrival of imminent summer, so the signs He cited in Matt. 24:3–25 indicate the time of the destruction of the Temple. It is clear that Jesus is especially focusing on the destruction of the Temple here, as he teaches, “This generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34).
In Matt. 24:36–51 Jesus gives a number of illustrations to explain his answer to the disciples’ second question about His second coming (cf. Matt. 24:3). All of Christ’s examples here highlight the idea of imminence—that is, the teaching that Jesus could return at any moment. In this passage Christ teaches that just as no one expected Noah’s flood, and many people were not prepared for it, so will His second coming be. Note Jesus’ exhortation to his hearers is to “be ready” (Matt. 24:44), not to try and figure out the exact hour His return. In Matt. 24:45–51 Christ illustrates readiness by mentioning a servant who is prepared for his master’s return. Such a servant will be blessed by his master and given a greater stewardship (cf. Matt. 24:45–47). In contrast, however, Jesus gives the example of a lazy, unprepared servant. Such a servant will be surprised by his master’s return and will be destroyed for his sin and hypocrisy (cf. Matt. 24:48–51).
- Having read through this chapter, what is your interpretation of Jesus’ teaching here? Do you think the disciples understood Christ’s teaching here?
- Amid personal suffering, are you ever tempted to think that God is not sovereign? If God loves us and is sovereign, how can we explain our suffering and trials?
- In asking Jesus about His second coming, the disciples likely wanted a specific answer; therefore, why is Christ’s answer lengthy and vague?
- Are you ready for Jesus’ return? How ought our readiness for Christ’s second coming affect the way in which we interact with the present world?
- While believers must live with an awareness of Christ’s eventual return, is it possible to focus too much on the signs that precede Jesus’ second coming?