Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:31-39

Continuing our close look at the amazing account of Jesus answering the questions of His disciples.

 31. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

  • Angelic sending and gathering: there is no time reference given here and it does not have to follow that this gathering of the elect applies only at the time of the events described in v.30. Such angelic activity can continue as God gathers His elect from all places worldwide.
  • Trumpet: See Isa 24:12b-13: ‘you, O Israelites, will be gathered one by one. In that day the great trumpet will sound . . .’
  • Angels gather: a spiritual gathering; Jesus foretold a new ‘nation’ (Mat 21:43, 1 Pet 2:9)

reflected in the heavenly Jerusalem of Heb 12:22ff and Eph 1:20, 2:6 which continues today.

  • Alternatively, the Greek word ‘angelloi’ messengers, could instead mean the apostles and witnesses who spread the gospel everywhere, so gathering the elect—foretold in Isa 11:12.
  • Note John 11:48-52 where high priest Caiaphas prophesied four things: ‘that one man die for the people, that the whole nation not perish, that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and that ‘Jesus would gather together into one (nation) the children of God.’ Extraordinary!

32-33. “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, know that He is near, right at the door. 

  • Fig tree parable: Just as tender branches and the appearance of leaves are two signs that summer is near, so you (these hearers) know (Greek ginoskete usually translates ‘know’), thus to ‘see’ with understanding. He has foretold of several things—all these things.
  • when you see: (Grk ideti) does not necessarily mean ‘see’ with eyesight but ‘know.’ You see?
  • all these things: some say there could be centuries between earlier events and his coming—but the text uses the phrase all these things (Greek, panta tauta) following one after another as we saw; the discourse is a unity as Jesus answers the disciples’ ‘when’ question.
  • Jesus explicitly told them ‘you too, when you will see all these things’. How can that be possible unless they or some of these hearers are still alive when he comes?
  • near, right at the door: The word near, Greek ‘eggus’ and the phrase ‘right at the doors’ strongly implies imminence. It is beyond absurdity to insist on a 2000 plus years gap. An event cannot be near for 2,000 years, nor it can it be near 2,000 years ago and “at hand” today. Let us put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes! It cannot be sincerely held that God’s avenging judgments on the Jews of that generation would be delayed for 2000 years. See Hebrews 8:13:  ‘When He said [Jeremiah 31], “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready [Grk eggus = near, imminent] to disappear’. So when does it totally disappear if when this was written it was still somewhat present? Did not our author think ‘very soon’?

34. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass awayuntil all these things take place.

  • Truly: Jesus again uses the word amen, assuredly, as if to say ‘you just won’t believe this’.
  • This generation: To attempt to put the parousia in the future some scholars say Jesus meant ‘that generation’, i.e., an unknown future generation which is meaningless. As we saw above (v.25), Jesus warned the disciples of his generation beforehand so they would be prepared.
  • all these things: There will be some still alive who will ‘see’ (know) what He described take place; this includes His coming and indicated how soon He would come.
  • This phrase all these things (panta tauta) is identical to that in the previous verse.  
  • Many commentators and writers have been unable to accept these words of Jesus and plead many different and fanciful explanations, e.g., “generation” means Jewish race, not contemporaries. This dishonours Jesus’ integrity and causes many to stumble and doubt the veracity of the scriptures. Many people from atheists to Moslems have claimed Jesus was a false prophet because they take his words literally, while many brainwashed Christian teachers today find ways around His plain speech because of set, preconceived doctrine. Some modern scholars, thought Jesus made a mistake. Even C S Lewis misunderstood Jesus’ words, assuming He spoke of the end of the world. See his book of essays, “The World’s Last Night”. Harvest Books; (Nov 4, 2002).  
  • What hermeneutical keys can be validly used to show Jesus’ meant a future “final state”?
  • What meaning naturally, logically, arises from our Lord’s prophetic statement? These disciples took His words literally; they knew he meant what he said and said what he meant.
  • Those who cannot take this literally, also stumble over Matthew 10:23b and Matthew 16:28.
  • Millions who can’t believe Jesus came unseen to the human eye, yet believe in the sure and current presence of the Lord Jesus in their spiritual lives—they ‘see’ his presence by faith!

35. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

  • This sovereign, emphatic declaration emphasises the importance, plainness and certainty of all His words including v.34, where the phrase “pass away” is used and repeated by Jesus here. One day heaven and earth as we know it will pass away but Jesus’ words remain forever and ever just as Psalm 119:160 says of God.
  • The Bible has an eternal perspective—past, present and future. And those who trust and follow Him will find themselves part of the future ages with the Lord forever, incorruptible, not a mere 1000 years on a corruptible, earthly, fleshly, Jewish world as taught by many.

36.But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven nor the Son but the Father alone. 

  • That day and hour: Jesus could not give the disciples, who had asked ‘when?’ (v.3), the day or hour, but only its certainty. He did not use the plural ‘days’ as if it could be serialised, split up. Nor did he say ‘of that century and year’ as if it was far in the distant future.
  • This is the dramatic climax of ‘all these things’ Heinrich Meyer wrote in his 1832 critical commentary: “That the second advent itself is intended to be included is likewise evident from Mat 24:36, in which the subject of the day and hour of the advent is introduced”.

37-39. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 

  • They did not understand until it was too late and they were the ones taken away in the Noah account—those not believing and watching were taken while just eight were saved.
  • The coming: Greek is ‘parousia’: a better translation is ‘presence’ or ‘visitation’, a period, not an action (verb). This parousia will be a devastating judgment on fleshly Israel and importantly, the confirmation of the New Covenant, a new creation.
  • Jesus likens what is coming on the unbelieving Jews with the enormous wrath upon people of Noah’s day: Heb 10:28-30 makes it clear that for anyone to regard as unclean the blood of the new covenant has insulted the Spirit of grace will bring ‘much severe punishment’ about to come on this evil and unbelieving generation who rejected and killed their Messiah.
  • His coming will be just like the Noah visitation—there was no visible physical presence of God then, nor at any of the other judgment events recorded in the Old Testament.

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