What does Matthew chapter 24 mean?After proclaiming God's judgment on the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:13) and the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37–398), Jesus leaves the temple, walking toward the Mount of Olives with His disciples. Someone in the group refers to the temple, saying something about the buildings. Jesus responds another dire statement about God's coming judgment on Israel. He says the temple will be destroyed: every brick displaced. History indicates that this prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70. After a siege of the city and the slaughter of its people, the Romans burnt the temple, then tore it apart brick by brick to reach the precious metals that had melted into the rubble (Matthew 24:1–2).
After Jesus takes a seat on the Mount of Olives with the temple in view, the disciples ask Him for more details. Their questions focus on "the end of the age," meaning the end times. They also wonder about when Jesus will return. Christ's response fills the remainder of this chapter, as well as the next (Matthew 24:3).
Jesus begins to describe a time when He will be gone from the earth and the disciples will be on their own. He warns them that many will come claiming to be the Christ: the Messiah. They will hear news and gossip about violence, conflict, and other tragedies. There will be international conflicts and famines and natural disasters. None of these will mean the end has arrived. At most, they are signs that the end is approaching (Matthew 24:4–8).
That era will bring great suffering to the followers of Christ. They will be persecuted and murdered. This hate will be due to the world's rejection of Christ. Many who seemed sincere in following Jesus will fall away under this pressure and even betray and hate their former friends. Liars will arise and lead many self-identified Christians away from the faith. Rejection of morality and law will expand. The influence of godly love will fade from the world. Those who survive these events, however, will see the gospel will be preached throughout the world, right as the end comes (Matthew 24:9–14).
One vivid sign of these end days will fulfill a prophecy mentioned extensively by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). This "abomination of desolation" involves some undefined, depraved defilement of the temple. Those who see this happen should run for their lives, not even hesitating to gather supplies. Those days will be terrible beyond imagining. Jesus describes them as a great tribulation, worse than anything else in history. In fact, those events will be so terrible as to threaten all human life (Matthew 24:15–22).
While many terrible things happen in AD 70, they don't rise to the levels depicted in these descriptions. Most likely, all that Jesus describes in these passages is set to happen in what is—at the time of this writing—still the future. When Christ's second coming finally occurs, it won't be secret in any way, shape, or form. Those who claim they need to tell others that Christ has returned will be liars, without exception. The second coming will be obvious to everyone in the world, including apparent signs in nature and around the world. An otherwise-unexplained "sign of the Son of Man" will appear. As Jesus sends angels to gather His chosen ones, the rest of the world will mourn (Matthew 24:23–31).
Jesus next says that when people see these signs, they will know that His return is truly, immediately upon the world. Just as budding leaves on a fig tree signal the imminent arrival of summer, those events will indicate the return of Christ. The generation of Jesus' own time will not be the ones to see this (Matthew 21:43). Rather, those who observe the catastrophic signs will be the ones to see the end (Matthew 24:35).
At the same time, the time of Jesus' coming cannot be known or predicted by any person. The signs will be obvious—but only when they happen. Prior to then, there will be absolutely no truth behind claims to know the date of Jesus' return. That's why His followers must live in a constant state of readiness. Jesus begins to deliver parables to show how Christians should live out this attitude of preparation. The servant found faithfully doing what the master instructed will be blessed. The one wickedly serving himself will be subjected to a gruesome, miserable fate.