Friday, March 25, 2022

Matthew 24:36 and the Olivet Discourse

In Matthew 23, Jesus tells the the scribes and Pharisees that because of their hypocrisy, unbelief, and consistent persecution of God’s messengers and saints, God’s judgment would be poured out on that generation. In Matthew 24:1-3, the disciples ask about the timing of this judgment and the destruction of the temple, although they conflated it with Christ's coming at the end of the age.

Jesus answers their question and gives a clear indication of the timing. From verse 4 to 34 he prophesies concerning the events that would take place in that generation in connection with the desolation of Jerusalem. In verse 36 he begins to speak of the end of the age and distinguishes it from the destruction of Jerusalem and he gives no timing or sign for that day. Here are several reasons to take 24:36 as the point where Jesus shifts from the fall of Jerusalem to his second coming at the end of the age.

1. “But concerning…” (24:36) is a phrase used in the New Testament to indicate a change of subject or to move on to a different question. This is the case in Matthew 22:31, six times in 1 Corinthians, and twice in 1 Thessalonians. Reviewing these occurrences, commentator R.T. France writes, “In each case peri de is the rhetorical formula for a new beginning. The analogy with 1 Corinthians indicates that here the phrase marks the transition from the first of the two questions asked in v. 3 to the second.”

2. 24:34 makes a fitting conclusion to his instructions regarding the desolation of Jerusalem. In it he says that “these things” which he had described up to that point would happen before that generation passed away (compare this with the similar expression used in 23:36).

3. The disciples had asked about “the end of the age,” which is a phrase which always refers to the final judgment and consummation. It is used in the parable of the wheat and weeds for the harvest when the kingdom will be purified of all causes of sin and lawbreakers (13:39-40). It is used in the parable of the net for when those gathered by the kingdom will be sorted by the angels (13:49). It is also used in the Great Commission, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20). So Jesus begins to speak of this final event after he has finished describing the events of that generation.

4. Jesus refers to “that day.” He had already spoken of a particular day throughout his ministry: the day of judgment, a universal judgment, when he would judge (Matt. 7:22, 10:15, 11:22, 24, 36). His parables had taught that this would occur at the end of the age. Thus, it makes sense for him to refer to his coming and the end of the age by “that day and hour.”

5. While he had spoken of the coming of the Son of Man in heaven as occurring in that generation - a reference to his ascension and reign at the Father’s right hand - he has not spoken of his “parousia,” the word for “coming” in their question, until after verse 36, except to say in verse 27 that it will be unlike the appearances of false Christs during the fall of Jerusalem.

6. While he gave clear timing and signs for the desolation of Jerusalem, he did not have knowledge (with respect to his humanity) concerning that day and hour of his coming, and so does not indicate its timing or signs. There is some mystery here, but this further serves to indicate a shift at verse 36. 

For more on the Olivet Discourse, check out the sermons on Matthew 24-25 in my series on the Gospel of Matthew

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