Yesterday, we took a quick look at Matthew 24:1-35, in which, I believe, Jesus prophesies, not the end of the world, but the destruction of Jerusalem, which found its unfortunate fulfillment in 70 AD.
Today, I want to return to Matthew 24 to look at the last half of the chapter, verses 36-51. We’ll walk through bit by bit, as we did yesterday.
36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son but the Father only.”
Remember, Jesus is speaking about a coming judgment against wayward Jews, who desire to revolt against Rome and find their salvation and restoration in that manner. When this day might come, says Jesus, even he could not pinpoint.
37 “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Remember, again, that “the coming of the Son of Man” likely refers not to Christ’s coming back to earth, but his coming into God’s presence in heaven to receive the everlasting kingdom over the whole earth (compare this with the imagery in Dan 7).
38 “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
When Jesus does enter the presence of Yahweh to receive dominion over the world, it will be a day much like any other. There will be no indication leading up to it, that anything is really much different. Nevertheless, those proceeding in a manner that opposes the way of God will find themselves in an awful position.
40 “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.”
According to NT Wright, “taken” here should not be thought in terms of rapture, but in terms of judgment. Two Israelites will suffer different fates. Their status as descendants of Abraham will not guarantee their salvation. Rather, they will be separated along different lines, namely, whether they are aligned with the way of Christ himself (Jesus and the Victory of God, 366). I’ll admit, if you’re in the rapture mindset, this seems a stretch. But if you’re thinking of Romans pouring into the city and executing those who oppose them but leaving others alone, it begins to fit the pattern. Again, we’ve got to see this within the context of Jesus warning the disciples against Jews who desire to achieve “salvation” by overthrowing the Roman presence.
42 “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Once again, where is the Son of Man coming to? He’s coming into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive power and authority, an everlasting kingdom.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”
At this stage we start to bleed into a theme that Jesus will continue with the parables that follow in chapter 25. It’s a similar theme to that brought up earlier in Matthew’s gospel, the parable of the wicked tenants in chapter 21. The servants ought to be regarded, generally, as the people of Israel. The master is God. While God had set His servants over this particular plot of land, the land of Canaan, they often turn out to be wicked servants, taking little or no care of the place. They are poor representatives of their Master. But of course, there is one faithful and wise servant, at least. And this one, Jesus, does precisely what his Master would want. And will his Master not set him over all His possessions very soon, at his ascension?
48 “But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Now we get to it. We’ve mentioned previously the Jewish hope in the first century that God Himself would return to the nation. But, says Jesus, many of the Jews will find that when Yahweh does return to His temple, they will find it a very unpleasant day indeed. Far from being the people of God, many of the Jews (not just in Jesus’ day, but throughout their history) turn out to be His enemies, for they treat one another with malice.
The sum total of Matthew 24 is intriguing. Ultimately, what Jesus is outlining is the course of events that will mark the very return of Yahweh to His people, indeed to the whole world. Jesus is telling his disciples those signs that will indicate that God has in fact returned as promised. And the signs, it seems, are two.
First, there will be a terrible sign: the destruction of the temple, wars and rumors of wars, famine, despair. In short, the sign that God has returned to His people will be the destruction of Jerusalem itself. The disciples witness this in 70 AD, within a generation of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Second, there will be a subtle sign. Jesus has been giving sideways hints, I believe, at his own ascension. He repeatedly mentions the Son of Man’s “coming,” which I believe would have been understood to mean his coming into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive an everlasting kingdom (Dan 7:13-14).
Of course, these two signs stand, chronologically, a generation apart. Jesus ascended into God’s presence around 30 or 31 AD. Jerusalem is destroyed in 70 AD. Nevertheless, these two events signal the fulfillment of the hope of Israel. There is salvation and judgment wrapped up in these two, for in these two events, God has returned to His people.