Tag Archives: Luke 21

When Jesus returns, it may not be Christians who are “taken away” – Matthew 24:36-41

Who those “left behind” when Jesus return may actually be.

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)

In a previous article titled “Jesus’ Return Will Be Visible to Everyone,” I discussed the importance of interpreting Jesus’ discourse about the end times in Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28 in light of the two questions His disciples were asking at that time: “When will the temple be destroyed?” and “What will be the signs of your coming?” I asserted that since the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. that this was most likely when the prophecies regarding the destruction of the temple in these passages as well as the one in Daniel 9:25-27 were fulfilled. I also pointed out that Jesus said that His return – His second coming – will be visible to everyone and that all will mourn when they see Him coming in the clouds (Matthew 24:30).

In this article I will provide support for my conclusion that Jesus’ return will be followed by immediate, permanent, and dire consequences for those unprepared for it, and that the “taken” when this happens will be those who do not have a saving relationship with Jesus.

One is taken and one is left

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:36-41).

The first thing to note about the above passage is that it begins with the words, “about that day.” I believe that the “day” it is referring to is the day when Jesus returns – the day when “all the peoples of the earth … see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 24:30). What follows is what I believe are some symbolic representations of this event and what will happen immediately afterwards.

Portions of the above passage are often used to support the belief that when Jesus returns that He will remove all believers from the face of the earth and will leave behind those who don’t believe in Him. This event is commonly referred to as the “Rapture of the Church.” Those who hold to this view often associate believers with the “taken” in the above passage and say that those who are “left” or “left behind” are unbelievers. They then claim that what follows the “Rapture of the Church” will be seven years of tribulation ending with another return of Jesus – another “second coming.”

One of the difficulties I have with the above understanding of this passage is that it requires two second-comings of Jesus: one that is unseen by those “left behind” and another seven years later. But as I noted earlier, it seems clear when reading Matthew 24:30 as well Luke 21:27 that when Jesus returns that everyone will see Him coming in the clouds; it will not be a secret nor will it will be hidden from anyone. If this is so, then either the above passage is referring to the final “second coming” of Jesus or there is only one “second coming” and the verses above as well as the ones that follow are describing what will happen at that time.

A key question about Matthew 24:36-41 is therefore who are the ones “taken” and who are those that are “left.” It should be noted that the word “taken” can have two different meanings in this respect. It can mean to be taken away – to be taken somewhere else. But it can also mean to lose something – to lose one’s life for example. We use the latter meaning when someone dies and we say that they were taken from us or that their life was taken from them.

It’s interesting when trying to understand who the “taken” are in the above passage to note how Luke records the same discourse. Here’s his version:

26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. 27 Then the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-27).

While Matthew said that the “flood came and took them all away” (Matt. 24:39), Luke said that “the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27). It would not be unreasonable to conclude based on comparing the two versions that to be “taken” means to be “destroyed” and that therefore those who are “taken” in Matthew’s account are unbelievers – those who are not followers of Jesus.

Additional support for the conclusion that those “taken” are unbelievers and the ones “left” or “left behind” are followers of Christ comes from noting Jesus’ use of pronouns when referring to those taken. Jesus said that in the days before the flood that “people were eating and drinking … up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away” (Matt. 24:38-39). Note that the only “they” in these verses are the “people” who were eating and drinking in the days of Noah. Noah is an individual and the passage doesn’t say that he was taken away; it says that they were taken away. Although some have tried to reconcile this by noting that Noah’s family also entered the ark and that this could be the “they” the passage is referring to, this insertion of Noah’s family into the passage is arbitrary and is not supported by the text.

Although I believe that the above arguments are adequate to support the conclusion that the “taken” in Matthew 24:36-41 are unbelievers and that those “left” or “left behind” are Christians, the parables that follow provide additional support that those “taken” are unbelievers and not Christians and that therefore being among those “taken” is not a good thing.

Some Principles for Interpreting Parables

What follows Matthew 24:36-41 are five parables that describe in symbolic language what will happen when Jesus returns. The first is the parable of the thief (Matthew 24:42-44); the second is the parable of the unfaithful servant (Matthew 24:45-51); the third is the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13); the fourth is the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30); the fifth is the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

One principle I use when I see parables grouped in this fashion is to look for what is similar in each and to discount what is not. As I do this, I try not to get so bogged down in the details of the parables that I miss the point the speaker was trying to make. The message in this respect is not found so much in the events described but in the what point is being conveyed through them. I look for what’s common in the parables and use this to help me determine what their combined message may be.

Here are the common elements I’ve found in these five parables:

  1. Each describes some event that happens unexpectedly or without notice.
  2. Each describes a measure that is used to determine the fate of those affected by it.
  3. Each states or implies what happens to those unprepared for the event.
  4. Each states or implies what happens to those prepared for it.

In the sections that follow, I will point out how each of the above elements are in evidence in these five parables.

The Parable of the Thief

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:42-44).         

This parable compares the return of Jesus to a thief coming in the night. What’s interesting is that this picture of Jesus coming as a thief shows up elsewhere in Scripture including in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, and Revelation 16:15. In a future article, I intend to note how looking for where the same symbols (like the thief) show up in different passages can help us understand which ones may be describing the same event. For now I’ll just point out what parts of this parable align with the common elements described earlier:

  1. The Event: A thief comes in the night. No-one knows when he is coming.
  2. The Measure: Keeping watch; being ready.
  3. Those Unprepared: Their house is broken into. What’s implied is that something of value is taken from them.
  4. Those Prepared: Unknown. What’s implied is that their house is not broken into and they lose nothing.

The Parable of the Unfaithful Servant

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:42-51).

This parable describes what happens to a servant who is entrusted with his master’s household while the master is away. Here is what aligns with the common elements described earlier:

  1. The Event: A master who put his household in charge of a servant returns unexpectedly after a long absence.
  2. The Measure: How the servant treated his fellow servants while his master was absent.
  3. Those Unprepared: Cut to pieces and assigned a place “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  4. Those Prepared: Put in charge of all of his master’s possessions.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.    

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’                                            

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.    

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’  

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13).

This parable begins with the words, “At that time.” I believe that these words were included to make sure the reader knows it is linked to the event Jesus was referring to in Matthew 24:30 – the time when He returns. In this parable, ten virgins are waiting with lamps for the coming of a bridegroom so that they can attend his wedding banquet. Some have insufficient oil for their lamps and while shopping for more, the bridegroom arrives. Here are the portions of this parable that align with the common elements of the others:

  1. The Event: A bridegroom who was “a long time in coming” shows up without notice.
  2. The Measure: To be ready for his return by having enough oil for their lamps.
  3. Those Unprepared: They were shut out of the wedding banquet and disowned.
  4. Those Prepared: They were welcomed into to the wedding banquet.

I want to add one other observation about this parable before I move onto the next. I noted earlier that when interpreting parables that are grouped like this that I look for what’s common and discount what is not. Since this is the only parable in this group that mentions a wedding, the fact that it does so is not important. In my opinion, it is not describing anything that has to do with what some call the “marriage supper of the Lamb” or the “marriage of the Lamb to His bride.” The message Jesus was trying to convey through this parable is not found in the event itself but in the similarities between it and the other parables it is grouped with.

The Parable of the Talents

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’  

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’          

22 The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’  

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’      

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’      

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.  

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:14-30).

This parable describes what happens when a master returns after a long journey. Before the journey, he gave each of servants some wealth (or talents). When he returns, he asks for an accounting from each of his servants regarding what they did with what he gave them. Here are the portions that align with the common elements of the others:

  1. The Event: A master entrusts his servants with different amounts of wealth. After a long absence, he returns.
  2. The Measure: What they did with what he left in their care.
  3. Those Unprepared: They are taken into the darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  4. Those Prepared: They are given more.

Like the parable of the ten virgins, I believe that the event described in this passage has little to do with the point Jesus trying to make. In my opinion, it’s not a promise that our gifts will be multiplied if we use them wisely during this life. What’s important is not the event itself but how its message parallels what is being conveyed through the other parables.

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’    

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’      

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’    

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’    

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’        

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’      

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).

This passage begins with the words, “When the Son of Man comes.” Like similar terminology found in the other parables, I believe that this was included to show that it is elaborating on the event described in Matthew 24:30 – Jesus’ return – so that the reader knows it is referring to what will happen after this occurs. Here is what fits the common elements of the other parables:

  1. The Event: The return of Jesus and the final destination of both “sheep” and “goats.”
  2. The Measure: If ones’ actions are aligned with what Jesus considers important.
  3. Those Unprepared: They will be sent away to eternal punishment.
  4. Those Prepared: They will receive eternal life.

I don’t believe that Jesus’ intent when telling this parable was to indicate that our works will be used to determine our eternal destination. We are not saved by our works; we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Concluding that this parable  is describing the means upon which one gains eternal life is in my opinion beyond the scope of what Jesus or Matthew intended. I don’t believe that this parable and the ones that precede tell us how we are saved. Their purpose is to warn us that if our relationship with Jesus is not right – if we is not prepared for His return at all times – if we are not saved – than we may find ourselves falling short of what is required to be able to spend eternity with Jesus and may end up spending it in a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Considering the Message as a Whole

Here are some things that I believe Jesus was trying to communicate as a whole through what is recorded in Matthew 24:36 — 25:46:

  • His return will come at a time when it is unexpected. Although there are some things that must happen before Jesus returns (the topic of my next article), there is no way to know exactly when the day or time of His return will be. It’s also impossible to know what conditions will immediately precede it. We therefore have to be prepared for His return at all times knowing that it could occur at anytime.
  • What follows His return will result in immediate, permanent, and dire consequences for those unprepared. There is no gap of time between Jesus’ return and what follows; there is no second chance for those not ready for that day; there will be no additional opportunity for them to repent and do what is right in God’s eyes. There will on the other hand be immediate, permanent, and good consequences for those who are prepared for His return – those who have put their faith and trust in Him.
  • When He returns, it will is not a good thing to be among those who are “taken”.

The understanding that Jesus’ return is followed immediately by a time of judgment reinforces the urgency of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:42 when He said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” If we knew the day Jesus was returning, we could prepare for it at the last moment. Since we don’t, we have to be prepared for it at all times.

And so, I believe that the “taken” in Matthew 24:40-41 are nonbelievers who are taken to a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” because of their rejection of Jesus. They, as Luke 17:37 notes, are destroyed. The ones left behind – the ones not destroyed – are those who have prepared for the coming of Jesus by putting their faith and trust in Him and by living in a way that honors Him.

That’s my understanding of Matthew 24:36 — 25:46, as I see it today.

Jesus’ return will be visible to everyone – Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28

Jesus discourse about the end times – A Tale of Two Questions

Why I have concluded that Jesus returns only once and that when He does that everyone will see Him.

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)

I’ve always been intrigued by the various views regarding the end times. At one point I held to the one that Christians will someday be whisked into the sky during an event called the Rapture and that what follows will be a seven-year period of tribulation for those left behind. But over the years as I’ve studied what Scripture actually has to say about the end times, I’ve concluded that Christians will for the most part not be spared from the troubles the Bible says will characterize the end times and that will occur before Jesus returns. I also believe that Jesus will return only once, that when He does that it will be visible to everyone, and that what follows will result in immediate and dire consequences for those unprepared.

I will not be able to explain in one article how I came to this conclusion. What I intend to do in this and subsequent ones is to note some of the passages that affected my viewpoint regarding the end times and how I understand them now. I am going to begin with Jesus’ discourse regarding the end times in Matthew 24:1-30 and its parallel account in Luke 21:5-28.

Where it took place and what Jesus’ disciples wanted to know

Among the first things one should note when discussing Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28 is are the event recorded took place and what concerns Jesus’ disciples may have had at that time.

Here’s is what Matthew wrote about this:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:1-3) 

Here is what Luke wrote:

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” (Luke 21:5-7) 

Jesus was apparently with His disciples either near the temple in Jerusalem or on the Mount of Olives overlooking it when this event took place. As they gazed upon the temple, Jesus said that at some point not one stone of the temple would be left on another; at some time in the future, the walls of the temple would be torn down.

The disciples then asked two questions. According to Matthew the first was, “When will this happen?” and the second, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” According to Luke the first was, “When will these things happen?” and the second, “What will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

How these two questions are understood greatly affects how the passages are interpreted. The mistake I believe many make in this respect is to combine the two into one and to conclude that they are referring to the same event – to conclude that the only thing the disciples were concerned about at that time was Jesus’ return and what would happen prior to it and the end times.

It’s my opinion that the disciples’ questions were in regards to two separate and distinct events. Jesus had just informed them that the temple walls would one day be torn down. One thing His disciples wanted to know was when this, the destruction of the temple, was going to take place and what would be the signs that it was about to occur. But they also had some concerns about the end times and wanted to know what signs would precede it and Jesus’ return.

It seems to me that what follows in both accounts is Jesus’ answers to these two questions: the first, when was the temple going to be destroyed and the second, the signs that would precede His return. In order to understand Jesus’ answers to these two questions, one must first determine which portions of His response were directed towards each one.

The chronology of the events prophesied 

What makes understanding of Jesus’ response to the two questions challenging is that Matthew and Luke do not provide His answers in the same order. Here’s is Matthew’s version:

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. 

15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. (Matthew 24:4-21) 

This is the order of events in Matthew’s account:

  • There will be a day when many will come who claim to be the Messiah.
  • There will be wars, famines, and earthquakes.
  • Those who follow Jesus will be persecuted. Some will deny Him.
  • Those who stand firm to the end will be saved.
  • The Gospel will be preached to all the nations. Then the end will come.
  • An abomination will occur that fulfills a prophecy in Daniel regarding the destruction of the temple.
  • When this occurs, those in Judea should flee to the mountains, for what follows will be dreadful.

Here is Luke’s version:

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”  

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. 

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life. 

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:8-24)

This is Luke’s order of events:

  • There will come a day when many will claim to be Jesus or that the end is near.
  • There will be wars, earthquakes, famines, and pestilences. These are not the signs of the end.
  • Before this, they (Jesus’ disciples) would be persecuted, imprisoned, and brought before kings and governors.
  • This would result in opportunities for them to testify about Jesus.
  • They would be betrayed and the world would hate them because of Jesus.
  • If they stood firm to the end, they would be saved.
  • When they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies, they would know that its desolation is near.
  • When they witnessed this, they should flee to the mountains, for what followed would be dreadful.
  • Many would fall by the sword. Others would be taken prisoner.
  • Jerusalem would remain trampled until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled.

One important difference in the two accounts is Luke’s insertion of the phrase “Before this” after mentioning the proliferation of false messiahs, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, wars, and other fearful events. It seems to me that Jesus was telling His disciples in Luke 21:12-24 what was going to happen to them before the terrible events in Luke 21:8-11 occurred. 

What actually happened  

What’s interesting is that nearly everything Jesus said would happen to His disciples in Luke 12:12-17 actually occurred in the lifetime of some of those listening to Him as well as to some of them personally. The book of Acts records this. Here are some examples:

  • Some were seized (vs. 12) – (Peter: Acts 12:3; Paul and Silas: Acts 16:19)
  • Some were persecuted (vs. 12) – (The apostles: Acts 5:17-42; believers in Jerusalem: Acts 8:1)
  • Some were put in prison (vs. 12) – (Peter: Acts 12:4; Paul: Acts 21:33)
  • Some had the opportunity to speak to kings and governors about Jesus (vs. 12) – (Paul: Acts 24:24, 26:1)
  • Some were killed (vs. 16) – (Stephen: Acts 7:54-60; James: Acts 12:3)
  • Some were hated because of their testimony regarding Jesus (vs. 17) – (Stephen: Acts 7; Paul: Acts 19:23-41)

I don’t think it’s an accident that Luke noted what Jesus said regarding what was going to happen to some of those listening to Him. Since he wrote the book of Acts and as well as the gospel that bears his name, it may have been his intent to show in his accounts in Acts of the apostles’ evangelistic endeavors how their efforts  fulfilled the prophecies he recorded in Luke 21 regarding what lay ahead of them. If this is true, then these prophecies have already been fulfilled.

I believe that the prophecies recorded in Luke 21:20-24 regarding the destruction of the temple have been fulfilled as well, perhaps in 70 A.D., in the middle of a seven-year period beginning in 66 A.D. and ending in 73 A.D. Here is a short chronology of that period:

  • 66 A.D. – Some Jews in Judea staged a revolt against the Romans.
  • 67 A.D. – Roman armies commanded by Vespasian invaded Galilee.
  • 70 A.D. – Roman armies under Titus besieged Jerusalem. The siege lasted 7 months.
  • 70 A.D. – 960 Jews took refuge on Masada, a mountain south of the Dead Sea
  • 70 A.D. – The Romans entered the temple, desecrated its holy spots, and raised a banner at the corner of it.
  • 70 A.D. – Jerusalem was destroyed. The walls of the temple were torn down and rest burned.
  • 72 A.D. – The Romans began building a siege ramp at Masada so they could breach its walls.
  • 73 A.D. – The Romans broke into Masada and found that most the Jews had chosen death over captivity.

Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, described in his writings the extent of suffering those living in Jerusalem experienced during its 7-month siege. He noted that because there was no food that some resorted to eating belts and shoes and other things that even animals wouldn’t consume. He mentioned one woman who was so hungry that she killed and ate her own child. Josephus claimed that 1.1 million died during the siege, mostly Jews, mostly through starvation, and that nearly 100,000 were taken into captivity. Some of those living in those days seemed to have heeded Jesus advice to flee to the mountains when they saw the Roman armies outside the walls of Jerusalem.

It should be noted that Jerusalem has remained in the hands of Gentiles either wholly or in part since its destruction in 70 A.D. This could be a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that the city would be trampled by the Gentiles until their time comes to an end (Luke 21:24).

The Link between Matthew 24 and Daniel 9 

Matthew noted in these verses Jesus’ statement that the destruction of the temple would be a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy regarding its demise:

14 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 15 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:14-15). 

This is the prophecy I believe Jesus was referring to when He said this:

24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. 

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” (Daniel 9:24-27). 

The above passage in Daniel is often cited by those who believe that there is one remaining week of years in the “seventy-sevens” of years that are yet to be fulfilled –  a seven-year period of tribulation preceded by the Rapture of the Church. But if the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. fulfills Jesus’ prophecy regarding its demise, then it fulfills as well the prophecy in Daniel 9 regarding its destruction. If this is so, then no seven-year period in the “seventy-sevens” of years remains to be fulfilled.

I hope to be able to discuss some of the implications of this understanding of Daniel 9 in another article.

What comes after the destruction of the temple

It seems to me that all the events that Luke indicated were to happen before the terrible events recorded in Luke 21:8-11 have already taken place including the destruction of the temple. But there are some things that I believe both Matthew and Luke indicate will happen after the events Luke noted are “before this.” Here is Matthew’s account of these.

22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 

26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. 

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’” (Matthew 24:22-29) 

Here is Luke’s account:

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. (Luke 21:25-26)

One of the challenges in comparing these two passages is understanding how they relate to what precedes them. It seems to me that Luke 21:25-26 was meant to follow Luke 21:8-11 chronologically. After inserting a statement recorded in Luke 21:12-24 about what would occur in the disciples’ immediate future including what was going to happen to the temple, it seems to me that Luke returned to the question of what the signs of the end and of the return of Jesus would be, noting that there would be indications in the heavens and on earth that the very structure of nature was falling apart, signs that would terrify those living in those days.

Understanding the sequence of events in Matthew 24 is a bit more challenging and is hindered by how various translations combine the verses into paragraphs. I believe that Matthew 24:22 should be combined with Matthew 24:15-21 and that what Jesus was saying that if the days when the city and temple were being destroyed weren’t shortened that no one would have survived. Matthew 24:23 then returns to what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 24:4-14, the signs of His imminent return, noting the rise of false messiahs (which Luke recorded earlier in his account) and the terror caused by the increasing amount of turmoil in the heavens.

It may seem when considering this that Luke and Matthew were recording different chronologies of the same events. But it seems to me that both accounts start and end with the events that will precede Jesus’ return and then insert in between these prophecies regarding what was going to happen in the near future of those listening to Him and how they should respond when those events occurred.

Jesus returns only once. And its visible to everyone.

Jesus concluded by describing what was going to happen when He does return. Here is the beginning of what Matthew had to say about this:

30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30). 

Here’s is what Luke began his account of this with:

27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:27)

Both Matthew and Luke note that when Jesus returns that He will come in a cloud and that when this happens, it will be visible to everyone. Neither writer supports the concept of a secret return where followers of Christ suddenly disappear with no understanding by those left behind of what has taken place. All people of the earth see Jesus’ return; all will mourn as a consequence of it.

One other thing worthy of note in Matthew’s account is that Jesus only returns once and that when He does, it is followed by immediate and dire consequences for those unprepared. The remaining verses in Matthew 24 and the parables in Matthew 25 provide some insights regarding what that something is and what the consequences to those unprepared will be. What those consequences are may be one of the causes of the mourning noted in Matthew 24:30.

I’ll discuss that topic when I address the remaining verses in Matthew 24 and the parables in Matthew 25 in another article.

Summary

I believe that Jesus was addressing two questions in Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28. The first was, “When will the temple be destroyed and what will be the signs that it is about to occur?” The second was, “What will be the signs that the end is near and that your return is imminent?”

I believe that Jesus’ answers to these two questions is best understood by comparing Matthew 24 with its parallel account in Luke 21.

I believe that Jesus’ answer to the first question was that the destruction of the temple would be preceded by Jerusalem being surrounded by an army and that when His followers saw this happening that they should flee to the mountains. I believe this prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Romans.

I believe that Jesus’ response to the second question was that He would return sometime in the distant future after times of war, famine, earthquakes, and other terrible events.

I believe that Jesus was warning those listening to Him at that time that some of them would be persecuted, imprisoned, or  killed.

I believe that Jesus was saying that He will return only once and that when He does, it will visible to everyone. And, as I’ll note in a future article, His return will be followed by immediate and dire consequences for those unprepared.

That is my understanding of Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28 as I see it today.