Luke 12:54-56: “Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, ‘Here comes a shower.’ And you are right. When the south wind blows, you say, ‘Today will be a scorcher.’ And it is. You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.”
In this passage, Jesus is talking about how the Jews couldn’t discern the signs of their time. What time was He talking about? His time! They saw His miracles, heard His teaching, watched Him fulfill prophecy right before their eyes, and they still didn’t understand who Jesus was! People have always been interested in signs and point to what is going on today to teach that the return of Jesus is imminent. But is that true?
In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples asked Him two questions: Matthew 24:1-3: “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
Jesus answered these two questions and explains that the two events were separate – one is predictable (the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans) in Matthew 24:4-35; and the other is not predictable at all (Jesus’ coming and the end of the age) in Matthew 24:36-51.
The emphasis in the first part of Matthew 24 is on the destruction of Jerusalem and the latter part is on the Second Coming.
Matthew 24:4-14: “And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
This passage is used by many people to say that Jesus could come back any day now because it refers to wars, natural disasters, famines, persecution, and the like, all of which we see today all over the world. But a closer look at these verses reveals that they teach exactly the opposite! These are not just signs of the end, they happen all the time. They occurred in the first century, the second, and the third, right down to today. It takes it out of context to say this refers to the second coming specifically because these things have “always” existed.
Jesus said these “wars and rumors of wars” are “NOT” signs of the end of the world (Matthew 24:6 – “…but the end is not yet”).
The tribulation, wickedness, and betrayal described in Matthew 24:9-14 refer to the events of terrible suffering connected with the siege and complete destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Roman armies under Titus. This was Israel’s punishment for rejecting her Messiah.
Jesus wrapped up the list of “non-signs” by saying the gospel would be preached to the whole world before Jerusalem would be destroyed. Several weeks later He gave the great commission to His apostles telling them to go into the whole world to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
About AD 63, seven years before Jerusalem was destroyed, Paul wrote this: “…the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Colossians 1:23).
Then Jesus told His disciples how they could know that Jerusalem would shortly be destroyed by identifying the sign they should be looking for: Matthew 24:15 – “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand)…”
In the parallel passage in Luke 21:20, Jesus explained that this would mean when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies: “And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived.”
Then Jesus told them what they should do when they saw the armies – get away from Jerusalem at once! Matthew 24:16-20: “…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.”
Where a person was, whether pregnant or nursing, the season, the day of the week, have nothing to do with the second coming, these won’t matter. But it did matter during the destruction of Jerusalem. Because of this sign and warning, church history records that the Christians fled from Jerusalem and Judea across the Jordan River to Pella for safety. But nobody will be able to flee the second coming – there’s no place to go!
Then Jesus described the destruction of Jerusalem – Matthew 24:21-22: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
Jerusalem was under siege for over three years. In AD 70 Titus succeeded in capturing the city. Over 1,100,000 Jews were killed, 97,000 taken into captivity and slavery. The Romans tore down the city, destroyed the temple, melted the gold out of the temple, and in the process left no stone unturned, just like Jesus said would happen. The city was completely destroyed. Israel’s relationship with God as His chosen people was over!
Jesus anticipated that during this time many counterfeit Christ’s would arise, giving false hope to the disciples (Matthew 24:23-26: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it”).
Jesus gave a simple test – whenever someone attempts to predict the time of His coming, “Do not believe him.” When He does return, no one will have to announce it, because everyone will know! Matthew 24:27 – “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
His coming will be as bright and as obvious as the lightning, plainly visible to everyone. There is no need to look for special signs. Just be faithful to Him and wait. When He comes, you will know it and rejoice! Then, looking ahead, Jesus pronounced the Jewish nation dead (Matthew 24:28 – “For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together”).
This brings us to one of the more difficult sections of the Bible (Matthew 24:29-31: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”).
This sounds like the Second Coming. However, if Matthew 24:34 include Matthew 24:29-31, Jesus must have had another event in mind. All the terms used in this passage are used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to a variety of catastrophic events. For instance, the sun, moon, and star symbolism is used to refer to the fall of kings and kingdoms (Babylon, Edom, Egypt, etc).