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MATTHEW - Chapter 24

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Matthew 24

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS   3-25 (continued)

6.  Last Ministry at Jerusalem  21-25 (continued)

24, 1-14:  Destruction of Jerusalem and End of the World.  With this section Matthew begins the last of the five great discourses of Christ as recorded in the First Gospel (cf. the typical conclusion in 26, 1).  This so-called "Eschatological Discourse" is partially paralleled in Mark 13 and Luke 21, 5-38; but in the First Gospel it is much longer, embracing two long chapters (24-25).  Its divisions are: (a) Prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world (24, 1-35); (b) The necessity of being always prepared for the unexpected coming of Christ (24, 36-51); (c) Two parables demonstrating this truth (25, 1-30); (d) The Last Judgment (25, 31-46).

1-3.  The occasion of the discourse.  Parallels in Mark 13, 1-4 and Luke 21, 5-7.    1.  The temple of Herod was justly famed for its grandeur.  Herod had a mania for building on a gigantic scale.  Some of the stones of his temple which still remain in Jerusalem are about fifteen feet long.  The Talmud gives enormous dimensions for some of them.  Cf. the exclamation of one of the disciples in Mark.    2.  One stone upon another: actually at least one section of the retaining wall of the temple's substructure is still intact.  This is the well-known "Wailing Wall" of the Jews.  But our Lord is speaking of the temple proper, of which not a vestige remains.    3.  From the summit of the Mount of Olives one can obtain a magnificent view of all Jerusalem and especially of the temple area.  Privately: therefore this discourse was not spoken publicly to the people, nor was it spoken even to all the Apostles, for Mark tells us that Christ's audience consisted solely of Peter, James, John and Andrew.  These things refer to the destruction of the temple which Christ had just foretold, undoubtedly to the great amazement of the disciples.  The sign of thy coming seems to correspond to "the sign when all things (the destruction of Jerusalem) will begin to come to pass," as the question is recorded in Mark and Luke.  Perhaps at this time the disciples considered that these two events would be more or less simultaneous.  Christ therefore answers their question by speaking both of the destruction of Jerusalem and of His coming at the end of the world.  But nothing in His discourse shows that He considered these two events as simultaneous.  On the contrary, He clearly taught that there would be an indefinitely long period between them (cf. Luke 21, 24b).  The common opinion both of the Fathers of the Church and of modern exegetes holds that some parts of the discourse refer primarily to the destruction of Jerusalem and some parts primarily to the end of the world.  But since the former event was intended by God as a type of the latter, the thought may seem to pass rather abruptly from one event to the other, and one cannot always be certain which event Christ is primarily referring to.

4-8.  Parallels in Mark 13, 5-8 and Luke 21, 8-11.  These words probably refer primarily to the troubled years that were to precede the destruction of Jerusalem.  But they can be understood also of the troubles on earth during all the following centuries.    4.  In times of grave crises men's minds are easily upset by false rumors.  Therefore such warning phrases as Take care, occur frequently in this discourse.  Christ told His disciples of these future events primarily in order to warn them against such dangers, not in order to satisfy our idle curiosity about the future.    5.  This was a time of great Messianic expectations.  Therefore the Jews who refused to accept Jesus as the Christ were often deceived by men who falsely claimed to be the Christ.  For the period between the death of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem we know the names of some of these false christs, such as Menander, Dositheus and Theudas.    6.  During this same period there were wars along the eastern borders of the Roman Empire, and several times before the actual outbreak of hostilities between the Jews and the Romans there were serious threats of war between them.    7.  These words were also fulfilled in the first generation after Christ, but they have been even more completely fulfilled in all the following centuries; the break in the narrative as given in Luke might be understood in the sense that Christ is now referring rather to these later times.    8.  The beginnings of sorrows: literally in Greek, "the beginning of the birth-pangs"; in the Jewish apocalyptic literature of that time "the birth-pangs" is a common expression referring to troubled times preceding the "rebirth" of the world (see Commentary on 19, 28).

9-14.  The persecutions which are to befall the followers of Christ.  In Matthew these words seem to refer to all the persecutions and troubles of Christians until the end of the world.  But the corresponding sections in Mark 13, 9 f and Luke 21, 12 f are perhaps to be understood only of the persecutions by the Jews before the destruction of Jerusalem.  Cf. 10, 17 f; John 15, 20; 16, 2.  On the great defection in the last days when through the efforts of the false prophets of the Antichrist many will fall away and the charity of the many will grow cold, cf. 2 Thess. 2, 3-10; 2 Tim. 3, 1-5.    14.  The whole world: the Greek can also be understood in the sense of "the whole Roman Empire" (cf. Luke 2, 1).  To all nations, or "to all the Gentiles": the preaching of the gospel will be for a witness to them, i.e., that this fact may be used as testimony against them on the last day, if they will not receive the gospel.  Mark 13, 11-13 and Luke 21, 14-17 add here other words of Christ concerning persecution which Matthew gives in 10, 19-22.

24, 15-22:  Destruction of Jerusalem.    15-20.  Parallels in Mark 13, 14-18 and Luke 21, 20-23a.  All commentators are agreed that this section refers directly to the destruction of Jerusalem.  The abomination of desolation: cf. note to the text.  Christ gives this as a warning sign for the  Christians to leave Jerusalem at once.  Luke omits this sign but records another sign, "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by an army."  These two signs were probably seen more or less simultaneously, but they were certainly not identical, for the abomination of desolation was to be seen in the holy place, i.e., in the temple (cf. Acts 6, 13; 21, 28).  Dan. 9, 27; 11, 31; 12, 11 prophesied that the abomination of desolation would be seen in the temple.  According to 1 Mach. 1, 57 this prophecy was first fulfilled in 168 B.C. when Antiochus Epiphanes placed the statue of Jupiter Olympius in the temple of Jerusalem.  But this desecration was itself a type or figure of the desecration that was to take place there during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.  This latter profanation of the temple must have happened about the same time as the first appearance of the Roman soldiers before the walls of Jerusalem (cf. Luke); therefore this prophecy cannot be understood as fulfilled in any earlier profanation, such as Caligula's attempt to place his statue there in 38 A.D., nor to any event after the fall of Jerusalem.  The Holy City was first besieged by the Romans in 66 A.D.  A few months later the party of Jewish fanatics known as the Zealots seized the temple and with the aid of the Idumeans slaughtered the priests and the people, even within the temple itself, and caused the daily sacrifice to cease.  We know from Josephus that at this time many of the inhabitants fled from the doomed city, the Christians no doubt being among these fugitives.  The abomination of desolation is therefore probably to be understood of these outrages of the Zealots and Idumeans.  The word standing can be understood in the general sense of "being," i.e., taking place; in the fulfillment of the prophecy it need not be understood as referring to a person or a statue.  The parenthetical phrase let  him who reads understand occurs also in Mark where there is no preceding reference to Daniel, as there is in Matthew.  Many commentators conclude from this, that this remark is made by the writer, not by Christ, and that both Evangelists are therefore using a common written source which contained this remark.  The sense would then be, "Let him who reads these words of Christ understand His warning and flee from Jerusalem when they see these things come to pass."  But even in Mark Daniel is implicitly referred to, and therefore we can just as well understand this parenthetical phrase as spoken by Christ, in the sense, "Let him who reads the prophecy of Daniel understand."  The warning to the reader that is given in Apoc. 13, 18 about the intentionally obscure allusion of the writer, is not quite parallel.

17 f.  The Christians must flee from the doomed city with all possible haste.    20.  Or on the Sabbath: only in Matthew, the Gospel intended primarily for the Jewish Christians.  By these words Christ is not implicitly inculcating an obligation concerning the Jewish prohibition of making long journeys on the Sabbath; He merely takes cognizance of the fact that many Jewish Christians will still feel bound by their ancient customs.    21 f.  It is not certain whether these words refer to 70 A.D. or to the terrible afflictions before the end of the world.  The corresponding, but not parallel, passage in Luke 21, 23b-24a is certainly to be understood only of the Roman conquest of Palestine.  Although this passage in the First and Second Gospels may seem too strong for such a sense, still it is possible to understand it in such as limited sense.    21.  In the siege of Jerusalem, according to Josephus well over a million people perished---perhaps the most frightful siege in the history of the world.    22.  The sense is, "Unless God had decided for the sake of the Christians to curtail his wrath in those days, all men (in the limited sense of the passage, in Palestine) would perish."

24, 23-31:  The Signs of the Last Day.    23-25.  Parallel in Mark 13, 21-23.  Jesus refers here to the false prophets, i.e., the false teachers who at various times in the Christian era but especially in the last ages of the world, would induce men to believe in false christs, i.e., false saviors of mankind.  The great signs and wonders may signify certain prodigies done by magic or with the help of the devil, or this may be understood in the more general sense of the illusions of earthly prosperity and happiness by which these deceivers will lead men astray.  If possible: it is only too possible that even the elect may be led astray by these false allurements; but with the help of God's grace the elect can remain true to the Faith.    26-28.  Only in Matthew; but cf. a similar saying of Christ in Luke 17, 23 f.  The coming of Christ at the last day will not be in some out-of-the-way place but will be known to the whole universe.    28.  Cf. the same words in Luke 17, 37.  The body: literally in Greek, "the corpse" or "the carcass."  The eagles: apparently "vultures" are meant.  Probably a proverbial saying.  Various interpretations are offered.  (a) The body signifies the spiritually dead nation of the Jews in the doomed city of Jerusalem; the eagles are then the Roman soldiers who surround it and tear it to pieces.  But the immediate context is not concerned with the destruction of Jerusalem.  (b) The body represents the sinners whom Christ and His angels come from heaven to punish.  This is a rather far-fetched interpretation.  (c) Just as vultures are drawn from afar to the place where a carcass lies, so also will all men necessarily be drawn to the judgment-seat of Christ.    29-31.  Parallels in Mark 13, 24-27 and Luke 21, 25-28.  This passage is certainly to be understood of the coming of Christ at the last day.

29.  If the word immediately is to be taken literally, the tribulations of those days must refer to the afflictions shortly before the end of the world, which however are not mentioned in the preceding verses.  It is certain that Christ foretold an indefinitely long period between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world (cf. nor will be in 21, and Luke 21, 24b).  But immediately may also be understood in the sense of "suddenly, unexpectedly" (cf. Apoc. 4, 2).  This description of the cosmic disturbance is in the language of the prophets (cf. Isa. 13, 10; 34, 4) and need not be understood literally.    30.  The sign of the Son of Man: according to the traditional interpretation, the Cross of Christ.  Then will all the tribes of the earth mourn: cf. Zach. 12, 10 f; they will be overcome with fear, but the Christians should rejoice (cf. Luke 21, 26.28).  This description of the Son of Man is based on Dan. 7, 13 f.    31.  The sound of the trumpet on the last day is also referred to in 1 Cor. 15, 52; 1 Thess. 4, 16; Apoc. 8, 2; it is probably to be understood figuratively of God's power summoning the living and the dead to judgment, the figure being derived from the ancient Jewish custom of summoning the people to religious services by means of the ram's horn (cf. Lev. 25, 9; Num. 10, 1-10; 29, 1; Joel 2, 1.15; and the figurative use of Isa. 27, 13).

24, 32-35:  Jerusalem's Impending Destruction.  Parallels in Mark 13, 28-31 and Luke 21, 29-33.  Having given a description of the destruction of Jerusalem with its preceding signs of warning and a description of the end of the world when Christ will come as unexpectedly as lightning, our Lord now speaks of the time when each of these two events will occur.  The former event will take place in the near future and the disciples of Christ will have ample signs to warn them of its coming (32-35), but the time of the latter event cannot be foretold; the Second Coming of Christ at the last day will be sudden and unexpected, and therefore the disciples must always be prepared for it (36 ff).    32.  Now signifies a transition, i.e., from the thought of the last day back again to the thought of the destruction of Jerusalem; the same Greek particle is more accurately rendered as but in 29 and 36.  Parable is used here in the more general sense of any comparison; just as men know from such natural signs as the budding of the trees that a new season is approaching, even so the disciples are to know from the signs of which Christ told them that the destruction of Jerusalem is fast approaching.    34.  According to the immediate context, this generation has its natural meaning of "the men now living"; Jerusalem was destroyed about thirty-seven years after Christ spoke these words.  If this passage is understood of the end of the world, this generation would probably signify "the Jews" who will always exist as a distinct group (cf. Rom. 11, 25).    35.  A general statement referring to the absolute truth of all of Christ's predictions.  The present universe is finite and cannot last eternally, but must give way for "a new heaven and a new earth" (Apoc. 21, 1).

24, 36-41:  The Need of Watchfulness.    36.  Parallel in Mark 13, 32.  God alone knows when the last day will come.  The better Greek manuscripts have in Matthew, as do all the manuscripts in Mark, the words nor the Son, which must mean, "the Son of Man," i.e., Christ as man in the special circumstances under which His human nature operated during the period of His mortal life (cf. Phil. 2, 6 f).  Christ of course knew of the time of His Second Coming not only by His divine knowledge but also by His supernatural human knowledge.  But during His mortal life Jesus ordinarily acted like other men according to His experimental knowledge and the knowledge derived from this by human reason.  Since a knowledge of the time of His Second Coming surpassed all finite intelligence, Jesus could thus honestly say that He was ignorant of it.  Moreover, it was the Father's will that Christ should not communicate this knowledge to men (cf. Acts 1, 7).    37-39.  Cf. the similar saying of Christ in Luke 17, 26 f.  The end of the world is very aptly compared to the Deluge (cf. Gen. 7), for (a) both events come suddenly; (b) only a few are prepared; (c) most men are preoccupied in worldly pleasures and are overwhelmed by the disaster.  Cf. Luke 21, 34-36; also Heb. 11, 7; 1 Pet. 3, 20; 2 Pet. 2, 5.    40 f.  Cf. the similar words of Christ in Luke 17, 34 f.  At Christ's coming people will be engaged in their ordinary occupations.  Here to be taken means to be saved, to be left is to be damned.  These words, as well as this whole section on Christ's coming at the end of the world, can very aptly be applied to Christ's unexpected coming to each person at the hour of death.

24, 42-51:  Exhortation to Vigilance.    42-44.  In order to show the necessity of always being spiritually awake and ready for His coming, Christ compares Himself to a thief who comes in the night when man least expects him.  The same little parable of the thief occurs in Luke 12, 39 f; cf. also 1 Thess. 5, 2; 2 Pet. 3, 10; Apoc. 16, 15.    45-51.  The parable of the faithful servant and the wicked servant.  The same parable occurs in a different setting, in Luke 12, 42-46.  There is a similar parable on the unexpected return of the master in Mark 13, 33-36; Luke 12, 37 f.  These parables were intended especially for the Apostles and the others in authority in the Church, who are the stewards in the household of the Faith; but they were also intended for all Christians (cf. Mark 13, 37).    48.  That wicked servant: but no wicked servant had been mentioned in the preceding verses; the sense is probably, "But if that servant, instead of being faithful and prudent, should be wicked and say to himself . . ."  My master delays his coming: cf. 2 Pet. 3, 3 f.8 f.    49.  Those in authority in the Church must not be cruel to their subjects (cf. 20, 25).    51.  Cut him asunder: an extraordinarily gruesome punishment that was unknown even among the wicked tyrants of Christ's time.  The same verb in Hebrew and in Aramaic signifies both "to cut asunder" and "to cut off."  If the Greek verb can be understood in the latter sense, it would fit in very well with the context, i.e., the unfaithful servant is "cut off" from his office and made to share the lot of the hypocrites.  The lot of the hypocrites is the eternal punishment of hell, as is clear from the following words (cf. 8, 12; 22, 13; 25, 30).

Confraternity Bible:

End of the World  1 And Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came forward to show him the buildings of the temple.  2* But he answered and said to them, "Do you see all these things?  Amen I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down."

3 And as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when are these things to happen, and what will be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?"

4* And in answer Jesus said to them, "Take care that no one leads you astray.  5* For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray.  6* For you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars.  Take care that you do not be alarmed, for these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  7* For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be pestilences and famines and earthquakes in various places.  8* But all these things are the beginnings of sorrows.

9* "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and will put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.  10* And then many will fall away, and will betray one another, and will hate one another.  11* And many false prophets will arise, and will lead  many astray.  12* And because iniquity will abound, the charity of the many will grow cold.  13* But whoever perseveres to the end, he shall be saved.  14* And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a witness to all nations; and then will come the end.

Destruction of Jerusalem  15* "Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place---let him who reads understand--- 16* then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; 17* and let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything from his house; 18* and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.  19* But woe to those who are with child, or have infants at the breast in those days!  20* But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on the Sabbath.  21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, nor will be.  22 And unless those days had been shortened, no living creature would be saved.  But for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

Signs of the Last Day  23* "Then if anyone say to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or, 'There he is,' do not believe it.  24* For false christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.  25* Behold, I have told it to you beforehand.  26* If therefore they say to you, 'Behold, he is in the desert,' do not go forth; 'Behold, he is in the inner chambers,' do not believe it.  27* For as the lightning comes from the east and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  28* Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

29* "But immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.  30* And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then will all tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty.  31* And he will send forth his angels with a trumpet and a great sound, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.  32* Now from the fig tree learn this parable.  When its branch is now tender, and the leaves break forth, you know that summer is near.  33* Even so, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the door.  34* Amen I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things have been accomplished.  35* Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

The Need for Watchfulness  36* "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but the Father only.  37 And as it was in the days of Noe, even so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  38 For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage until the day when Noe entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and swept them all away; even so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

40 "Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.  41 Two women will be grinding at the millstone; one will be taken, and one will be left.

Exhortation to Vigilance  42 "Watch therefore, for you do not know at what hour your Lord is to come.  43 But of this be assured, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would certainly have watched, and not have let his house be broken into.  44 Therefore you also must be ready, because at an hour that you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.  45 Who, dost thou think, is the faithful and prudent servant whom his master has set over his household to give them their food in due time?  46 Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, shall find so doing.  47 Amen I say to you, he will set him over all his goods.  48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master delays his coming,' 49 and begins to beat his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day he does not expect, and in an hour he does not know, 51 and will cut him asunder and make him share the lot of the hypocrites.  There will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth.


2: Not only would the temple be abandoned by God, but it would be completely destroyed.

4-14: This passage probably refers not to the time which precedes the destruction of Jerusalem but to the whole period which precedes the Second Coming.  That it will be of considerable duration is indicated by the statement that the Gospel will be preached to the whole world.

15-20: These verses refer to the destruction of Jerusalem. --- 15: The abomination of desolation: An application of the prophecy is found in the setting up of a statue of Jupiter in the temple.  The prophecy will be fulfilled a second time for Jerusalem but not necessarily in the same way.  St. Luke sees "the abomination of desolation" in the army which surrounded and destroyed Jerusalem.

23-31: The description of the Second Coming is given partly in figurative words of Scripture, as in Isa. 13.  The language is not all to be taken literally; but it is hard to say where the figure ends.  The sign of the Son of Man is probably the cross. --- 28: As birds of prey gather at the place where the body is, so will men be gathered to Christ for the judgment.

32-36: This passage seems at first sight, on account of its immediately preceding context, to refer to the Second Coming as well as to the destruction of Jerusalem; and so the words of our Lord, This generation will not pass away till all these things have been accomplished, would promise the Second Coming before the death of many of those then living.  But He does not actually make this promise, for He says explicitly that no one knows, not even Himself (with a knowledge He may communicate), when it will come.  That day: in the Bible, this predicted day always refers to the day of judgment.  This generation: may mean that the Jewish nation would survive to the end of the world.  The expression does not always necessarily refer to contemporaries.  And despite their position, the words may be referred to the destruction of Jerusalem.  The signs announcing it would enable the Christians to flee; whereas the end of the world was to come suddenly and there would be no escape from the calamities which preceded it.