Recall that Jesus has forsaken the temple, having been driven from it by those who would have it for themselves and who would have their spirit fill it rather than the Holy Spirit of God. And just as in Ezekiel’s vision the glory of God went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain to the east, which none but Ezekiel saw and which foreshadowed the destruction of Solomon’s temple, so too has Jesus and the hidden glory of God within Him now also repaired to the Mount of Olives. In His discourse in the temple Jesus had concluded His woes upon the scribes and the Pharisees with a lament over Jerusalem, stating that their house was being left to them desolate, and while leaving He noted to His disciples the utter destruction of the temple that His rejection by the Jewish leaders portended. Now on His return to Bethany (cf. Mar 11:12,19, 14:3) after the steep ascent from the Kidron valley Jesus is resting on the Mount of Olives from where all of Jerusalem and the temple could be seen. And it is here that Peter, James, John and Andrew (Mar 13:3) come to Him privately to inquire further about the judgment to come. What specifically do they ask Him? See Mat 24:3. Are they asking three things, or two? Cf. Mar 13:4 and Luk 21:7 for how Mark and Luke describe their inquiry. In what way are the questions they ask related? I.e., what is the central point of their inquiry and for what purpose? Cf. Deut 16:16 and consider what the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple would mean to the entire nation of the Jews, including the disciples themselves: They were well aware of the suffering and deprivation that would accompany such a destruction, for they were already in bondage to the Romans and the previous destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple that resulted in the nation’s Babylonian captivity was forever seared upon its collective conscience.
Consider the two questions posed to Jesus regarding the future destruction of Jerusalem and the temple: “When therefore will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luk 21:7). How does Matthew pose the second question in Mat 24:3? With what then does Matthew seem to clearly associate Jesus’ coming, or Parousia, and the end of the age? What does this also indicate about his understanding of the nature of Jesus’ coming and the end of the age? Notice that “end” is from the Greek word sunteleia that is translated very frequently in the LXX as end in the sense of a complete and total destruction; see 2Ki 13:17,19, Ezr 9:14, Neh 9:31, Psa 59:13, Jer 4:27, 5:10,18, 46:28, Eze 11:13, Nah 1:8-9, Zep 1:18. Cf. also Mat 13:39-40,49, 28:20 for Matthew’s other usage of “the end of the age” and note that in spite of its previous destruction, many Jews believed that the destruction of the temple would mark the end of the world. In what sense was the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 a.d. in fact the end of an age? Cf. Heb 7:11-12,18-19, 8:13, 9:8-10. Shall we then necessarily equate the end of the age with the absolute end of the world? See also Heb 9:26 where the same Greek words are used for the “consummation of the ages” in reference to Christ’s first coming. Notice also that in Mark’s rendering of the same account he uses the verbal form of the same Greek word that Matthew uses for “end”, but in the sense of completed: “What will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled (sunteleo)?” (Mar 13:4). What do such subtle nuances in the meaning of words, especially words in another language that we aren’t as familiar with, teach us about the importance of exercising great care in our interpretation of those words, especially in contexts such as prophecy or poetry where those nuances are exploited to communicate deeper truths? What is the significance then that this prophetic discourse is right at the very end of Jesus’ ministry, just as the prophets are found at the end of the Old Testament writings, and Revelation at the end of the New Testament? See note.
Summarizing then, in light of the immediate context, what should we understand the disciples’ questions to be primarily in reference to, and what should we understand to be the primary fulfillment of Jesus’ answer? See again Mat 23:38, 24:2. In light of the nature of prophecy and its use of subtle nuances in meaning to communicate deeper spiritual truths, shall we suppose that Jesus’ words have no further application or meaning beyond this primary fulfillment? Or rather, because that primary fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple did in fact have in the minds of the disciples a sense of finality about it as a cataclysmic consummation or end of the Jewish nation, shall we also understand Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question as prophetic about even greater events for which its primary fulfillment was but a type? Cf. Isa 7:14 which had a primary fulfillment in the time of Isaiah (cf. Isa 7:15-16, 8:3-4), but was also prophetic about the much greater coming of the Messiah. Considering then the sense in which Jesus came in 70 a.d. and that the end of that age was marked by the frightful carnage that accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, what are we to understand about the even greater events for which those were but a type? Cf. Mat 24:21-22,37.
1. The fears that prompted the disciples’ questions were prescient: the Roman siege of Jerusalem that resulted in its destruction commenced in April of 70 a.d. following the Passover celebration so that those Jews in attendance from all over the world were trapped (cf. Act 2:5-11). As a result Josephus writes that over 1.1 million Jews were slaughtered, which would have been a significant proportion of the entire nation. “The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination.”(Wikipedia, Siege of Jerusalem).↩
2. “If that house be laid waste, the world cannot stand; for the Rabbin used to say that the house of the sanctuary was one of the seven things for the sake of which the world was made; and they think, if so, the world will not survive the temple.” Matthew Henry↩
3. Christ preached this prophetical sermon in the close of his ministry, as the Apocalypse is the last book of the New Testament, and the prophetical books of the Old Testament are placed last, to intimate to us, that we must be well grounded in plain truths and duties, and those must first be well digested, before we dive into those things that are dark and difficult; many run themselves into confusion by beginning their Bible at the wrong end. Matthew Henry.↩