November 28 I Wednesday
1 Peter 5
“‘Tell us,’ they said, ’when will this happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?’”
Stunned after Jesus said the temple would be destroyed, the disciples waited to ask Him in private the question in the opening verse. Based on this question, we know the disciples assumed the destruction of Jerusalem, Christ’s return and the end of the age were connected events, but history has shown they are clearly separate. The temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., but we are still waiting on Jesus’s return and the end of the age.
The main interpretive challenge in Matthew 24 is determining when Jesus ceases to talk about one event and starts to talk about another. It seems He gives a combination of statements about the immediate and the long-term future, with some details applying to the destruction of Jerusalem, some to the second coming of Christ at the end of the age, and some to both. The earlier judgment on Jerusalem, which has already occurred, foreshadows the final judgment to come.
Many Old Testament prophecies follow a similar pattern. For example, when the kingdom of Aram was attacking Jerusalem, God gave King Ahaz of Judah a sign that Aram would not be successful. The sign was, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). This prophecy was fulfilled nine months later in the birth of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, born to King Ahaz and his wife, but is also quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a prophetic announcement of Jesus’s birth. Only in hindsight is it easy to see which details applied to Ahaz’s son, which applied to Christ’s birth and which overlapped both.
We do not have the same benefit of hindsight for all the prophecies in Matthew 24. We are between fulfillments; the immediate context has been fulfilled, but the event it foreshadows has not. It is therefore difficult to determine which details apply to which events or if, as New Testament scholar William Hendriksen describes, there is a telescoping of near and far events so that “the widely separated mountain peaks of historic events merge and are seen as one.”
It may well be that we should read Matthew 24 as a telescoping of history, but until the end of the age arrives, we can only speculate. The end times is a fascinating topic to be sure, but we must not dwell excessively on what has or has not yet been fulfilled. Jesus did not warn of coming wars, natural disasters and false messiahs so we could map out the end times, but to keep us alert and focused on Him as we await the final fulfillment of these prophecies at the end of the age.
Prayer: Sovereign Lord, how reassuring to know that You know all of history, both past and to come. Help me to be satisfied with what You have revealed of the end times. Thank You, God.