Bible chapters such as this one and some in Ezekiel and Revelation are a happy hunting ground for religious error. If you don’t understand it, make it say what you want it to say, right? Not acceptable. We must accurately handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Difficult chapters are found to be always in agreement with simpler, plainer teaching elsewhere in Scripture.
Apocalyptic language was familiar to the Jewish people. It is filled with figures, symbols, and types to illustrate truth to God’s people and to keep the message safe from enemies. Such language was used in times of grave danger, amid serious threats from unbelieving governments and religious factions opposed to God’s truth. Upheaval in nature represents upheaval among the governments and peoples of the world. Falling or darkened heavenly bodies represent leaders losing their influence. Etc. etc.
In this chapter, Jesus has much to say about the fall of Jerusalem, which took place in 70 A.D. After a series of rebellions by the Jews, the Romans flattened the city and destroyed the temple, hoping to quell the fervor of the Jews. Jesus foretells this temporal judgment around 30-33 A.D. To his disciples, such a time sounded like the coming end of the world. This was not the case, but there are parallels. Jesus carefully warns his disciples to watch the approach of the Roman armies and to seek safety in the mountains. People use the expression, “Head for the hills” for good reason.
Regarding the fall of Jerusalem, the disciples were told to NOT be alarmed too soon. Wars and rumors of wars have happened in every area. This did not point to the end. Famines and earthquakes are common; they did not signify the end. When they observed increasing numbers of false prophets offering to protect them, they should beware. The key thing to watch for was the “abomination that causes desolation,” mentioned by Daniel and clarified by Luke (Dan. 9:27, 11:31, 12:11; Luke 21:20). This referred to the approach of the heathen Roman army that would profane and destroy the temple. By the time this occurred, the temple would be only their house, not God’s house any longer. This destruction occurred 40 years after the beginning of the New Testament kingdom, the church. When this happened, Christians heeded the warning given by Jesus and fled to the Transjordan mountains. Those who foolishly listened to false Christs and tried to barricade themselves in the city would perish. Excellent reading is available on the fall of Jerusalem. Do not fall prey to those who use most of this chapter to keep people frightened every time the earth rumbles or one nation fires at another.
There is a clear shift of subject in verse 36. Regarding the end of time, the greatest Day of the Lord, no one knows the time, and no one can know. People will be carrying on ordinary life right up to the time when Jesus comes. Numerous signs pointed to the fall of Jerusalem. There will be no signs of the end of the world. Hear Jesus: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt. 24:44). Are you ready for that great day?
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of Matthew’s gospel. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.