Tag Archives: Olivet Discourse

The Sheep and the Goats: Matthew 25:31-46


The content of Matthew 25 maintains the strong theme already introduced at Matthew 24:36: the disciples must be alert and occupied in the work Jesus had set before them. This theme continues into chapter 25 ending at Matthew 26:1.

First, please consider some very important things here in the sheep and goats parable:

-In context, Jesus is speaking to his disciples continuing his discourse he began as recorded in Mat 24.

-This passage is also part of the encouragement Jesus gave to the disciples to not give up.

-Like the two previous parables in Mat 25, this text must be interpreted as a parable not literally.

– Like the two previous parables we have two groups of people, one blessed and the other condemned.

-These people gathered before Him, it is clear, have claimed to follow Jesus, both ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’. They had been in the ‘sheepfold’ of the ekklesia, and when the chief shepherd would appear, who knows his own sheep and calls them by name (John 10:27), he will easily separate the one from the other.

-All people who ever have been or shall be whole world will be judged—“we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”. But what is described here in this parable, only concerns the judgment of those who had made some profession of faith, those who had opportunity to receive Jesus. That’s important.

Next, a fundamental and important question is: who are ‘these brothers of mine’?

Consistently throughout the Gospel of Matthew, these are those who do His Father’s will (e.g., Mat 12:49-50). It refers to those who carry the good news of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ disciples, His representatives, from the greatest to the least. So, in sending the disciples (Mat 10:1-42), He told them not to take provisions with them but to rely on the hospitality of those who would receive them in His name. He ends declaring, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Not just the ‘least’, but ‘anyone’!

Jesus spoke these words on the Mt of Olives to encourage the disciples, reminding them of the sufferings and persecutions they would endure (Mat 10, 24:9-13). Many would come to their aid when they are imprisoned, thirsty, homeless, naked, etc. Acts and the apostles’ letters record many instances of this.

See also Hebrews 2:11,17 “He is not ashamed to call His own, ‘His brothers”. Note also Acts 9:4-5 where Jesus identified with the persecuted believers saying to Saul “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Of course, Jesus’ people must render help to anyone in need. Paul put it well “So then, while we have opportunity, let’s do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” But it is an error of interpretation to teach that Jesus in this parable meant the poor and disadvantaged.

Many scholars say this as a reference to “the last judgment” at the end of history. Does scripture ever say this? Or does the Bible even call it “The Last judgment”? Not really. This judgment parable is contextually set at the return of Jesus. It follows as a third parable in Matthew 25 and these three follow the parable in Mat 24:45-51. Thus there are four similar parables in the Olivet Discourse.

As you know, the original Greek has no chapters and the text must be read without any break. Thus it is certainly part of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus answers to the disciples’ questions (Mat 24:3).

Like other parables of Jesus, and indeed the whole of the Olivet Discourse , this passage is set in the context of Israel and addressed to Jews. So the scene is entirely Jewish and not worldwide.


V31. “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.

-when the Son of Man comes:  Clearly, this is the same coming as we have already seen in Mat 24:30 with the motifs of glory and angels. Also see Mat 16:27-28. The NT only speaks of one coming of the Son of Man, never ‘a second coming’. In Hebrews 9:28 we read ‘will appear a second time”. This phrase is a strong allusion to Daniel 7:13-14.

-sit on his throne: that is in judgment—which will occur when Jesus has ascended and sits at God’s right hand. The book of Revelation pictures Him seated in judgment. And Jesus told the high priest “. . But I tell you from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mat 26:64).  Again, note the Daniel 7:13-14 text relevance.

V32-33.  And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.

-all:  here doesn’t necessarily mean ‘every single one’, like many other texts using Greek word ‘pas’ e.g., Mat 2:3 “When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

-nations (Grk ethne) is better translated ‘peoples’–so translated in Acts 8:9. Strong’s definitions include: a race, a tribe. ‘Peoples’ or ‘tribes’ makes more sense. Today’s usage of ‘nations’ just doesn’t fit. Sometimes ‘nations’ can be kinship groups—such as Judea, Samaria and Galilee as ‘nations’ of Israel. The scene, the context, is Jewish.

-separate them: sheep and goats typicallygrazed together but were separated at night because sheep needed different sleep conditions compared with goats. This is a very striking and suggestive comparison, as there will be two groups and two eternal destinations.

V34-36.  Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’

-then: the strikingly repetitive use of the word ‘then’ suggests a narrator telling a story.

– the King will . . . on His right: clearly, those gathered ‘sheep’ were addressed as having died. They are the elect of God, true believers, having the grace of God truly within them. They are Christ’s sheep for whom he, the good shepherd, had laid down his life.

-for I was hungry . . . to me: remarkable—these ‘sheep’ actually ministered to Jesus personally

V37-39.  Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? And when did we see you as a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? And when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

– the righteous: they are now called ‘the righteous’

-when did we see you . . they are surprised and ask when did they ever respond so charitably? The righteous who know the Lord do not keep track of their good seeds. Love does not keep account. Such people know of no good works to claim to their credit.

they are portrayed as having died, yet are able to think, recall memory, be surprised and speak, asking the King “when did we . . . ?” Were they raised from death? Remember this is a parable.

V40. And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’

-the King will answer: the King explains how they are the blessed ones. The King answers their question explaining His identification with even the least of his siblings!

-to the extent: each loving occasion has been recorded! There are so many times they did, yet they can’t recall—helping Jesus’ disciples had become their lifestyle.

-least of these brothers of mine: Who are these? Consistently throughout the Gospel of Matthew, His brothers are those who do His Father’s will (e.g., Mat 12:49-50). It refers to those who carry the good news of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ disciples, His representatives. For example, in sending the disciples (Mat 10:1-42), He told them not to take provisions with them but to rely on the hospitality of those who would receive them in His name. He ends declaring, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. (Mat 10:42)” Not just the ‘least’ but ‘anyone’!

See also Hebrews ch 2—“He is not ashamed to call His own, ‘His brothers” (Heb 2:11,17).

And also Acts 9:4-5 where Jesus identified with the persecuted believers “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Of course, Jesus’ taught many times that his people must render help to anyone in need. But it is an error of interpretation to teach that Jesus here meant the poor and disadvantaged.

-encouragement for the disciples: Jesus spoke these words on the Mt of Olives that day, to encourage the disciples, reminding them of the sufferings and persecutions they would endure (Mat 10, 24:9-13). In days to come, many would come to their aid when they are imprisoned, thirsty, homeless, naked, etc. Acts and the apostles’ letters record numerous instances of this.

V41-43.  “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you accursed people, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’

-you accursed people: they are aligned with the devil and his angels and destined for eternal fire, the worst of all outcomes, because they failed to acknowledge Jesus in his followers. Chilling.

V44-46.  Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or as a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for Me, either.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

-Lord, when? They also are stunned—why they are the accursed? What wrong did we do?

-the King will answer: The King answers: because they did not support his agents, even the least of them! See Matthew 10:40-42 where Jesus commissioned the twelve and expected them to be supported by others in several ways—even with giving them a cup of cold water.

-to the extent: it was their lifestyle to despise his servants instead of receiving them (Mat 10:40-42) 

-the least of these: Who are the ‘least’? As we have seen, they are those who do his Father’s will who are called His brothers and sisters (Mat 12:49-50).

-eternal punishment . .  into eternal life: There are only two destinies. The same Greek word is used—eternal punishment or eternal life. If there is eternal life, there must be eternal punishment.

“Their excuses will not be regarded, their pleas will be of no avail, their pretensions to interest in Christ, and love to him, will be set aside; the sentence will remain irrevocable, and there will be no appeal from it, for there is no higher tribunal to bring the cause before.” (John Gill, Commentary on Matthew)

-compare Jesus’ words, Mat 7:22-23: Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonderful works in Your name?’ But then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice evil.’


Teresa of Calcutta said

“Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you have anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is all between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.”

There are many lessons for us today in this passage, even if we are not the ones addressed directly. I will leave this up to you dear reader and ask the Lord to speak to you and direct your paths, your heart.

The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:40—51

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

Verses 40-41. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. 

  • Here these pairs of people at work with one of each pair taken and the other left, are claimed by some to support a secret rapture, ‘snatched up to heaven’. There is no reason at all to link this scene with a ‘rapture’ and there are many uses of the word taken (Grk. paralambano) in the NT, none of which have the usage suggested by ‘rapture’ teachers.
  • It is unclear for the casual reader who is ‘taken’ and who is ‘left’, but when we look at the whole discourse e.g., v.39, it is much more likely that those ‘taken’ means the wicked.
  • This is confirmed by Jesus’ parable Matthew 13:49: “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous . . . .”  
  • The context here –as we saw in verses 16 and 19–clearly shows this is a Judean agricultural scene that cannot fit with modern times. This proves that dispensational teaching is error.

42-44. Therefore be on alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.For this reason, you also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. 

  • The parousia of the Son of Man means judgment. Jesus does not use the phrase ‘I will return’ which suggests a visible, physical coming like his first. Rather he consistently declares to the disciples ‘I will come!’—see his warnings of his coming to four of the seven congregations in Rev 2:5,13; 3:3,8.
  • These sentences stress the suddenness of his coming, so alertness is constantly needed.
  • Luke’s parallel account adds that the believers will escape all that is about to happen by watching and praying (Luke 21:36) —and not through any ‘secret rapture’!

45-51. “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect himand at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

  • ‘Note ‘not coming for a long time’—even the servant in the story would not be expecting the timing of this advent to be 2000+ years in the future but certainly within his lifetime! This urgent warning confirms the true intent of Jesus’ prophetic word that ‘this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (24:34)—it will not be ‘a long time’.
  • To stress further, Jesus again hints that he will come on a day when he does not expect himand at an hour which he does not know, repeating what he said already (in verse 36).
  • The Lord expected His disciples to be active and ‘put in charge’—He had given them authority and urgent work to do amongst the Jews—see Matthew 10:23: ‘But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes’.
  • After He comes at the end of the age, that is the current Mosaic age, His servants who have acted sensibly and faithfully will be blessed and given extra responsibilities (Eph 4:11ff, Rom 12:6ff) in the proclamation of the risen Christ and his kingdom. Life will continue beyond the end of ‘this’ Mosaic age and into the New Covenant age, and is not the end of the world.


It is absurd to think that what was ‘near’ for these disciples can be ‘near’ for us today.

The end which the Jews expected was not the end of the world but the end of an age—they understood that there was ‘this age’ and the ‘age to come’—see Matthew 12:32.

Many believers today vainly suppose that the “last days” refers to the end of the gospel era. Such a belief leads to expecting a future of defeat with many people falling away and an apostate church while Satan’s kingdom triumphs, then leading to a powerless army of God and the disappearance of authentic Christianity as time goes on. Such a view promotes despair and an escape mentality.

Instead, we are called to bear witness to Jesus and his matchless character and power and authority at the right hand of the majesty on high. He is present with us, his new creation, his holy nation, within our lives, at home in our hearts, in a new covenant! We can be glad we do not face what they call ‘the great tribulation’ and that we will not be ‘left behind’. We rejoice at the way that all Jesus’ predictions, all of them, that we read here in the Olivet discourse have come true in amazing detail. Glory to God and to the Lamb forever for He shall reign forever, His kingdom an everlasting kingdom.

Of course, there will be still an ultimate ‘last day’ when Jesus will exercise His royal judgment overall. For Christians, a significant portion of that future judgment will concern what we have done in the meantime, during the messianic age. Instead of wasting our time, waiting for Jesus to ‘return’ and longing for a rapture, we are to be busy about His business, expectant of the Holy Spirit at work in the world through us.

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.

Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:20-30

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

20-21. But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath . For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.  

  • The warning is for the people of the generation he is addressing—it is ‘your flight’. Jesus was not warning people two millennia hence, but to people who observe the Sabbath, Jews.
  • To imagine that Jesus was referring to an event in the distant future is to question the truth of his prophecy which forsaw “yourflight” and observers of the Jewish Sabbath.
  • Jesus does not know the timing of this (see v.36) so he warns these disciples accordingly. The warning applied only to his disciples of his own generation.
  • There will be utter devastation and terrible suffering then. The eyewitness historian Josephus confirmed the terrible depth of horror of the incomparable events of 68-70 AD, having no restraint describing the chaotic, dreadful events in his famous ‘Wars of the Jews’.
  • Jesus’ term nor ever will shows this will not be the end of the world—again, no fleeing then!
  • Luke 23:27-31 shows us that Jesus, on the way to the cross, said to the weeping crowds and women “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.For behold, days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are those who cannot bear, and the wombs that have not given birth, and the breasts that have not nursed.” They must be very concerned for terrible events would happen in their own generation.

22.  Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.  

  • Those days are days of great trouble; they are limited, cut short, and the elect, the obedient believers, who are still living, will escape it in their flight.
  • Again, human life will continue after the days are cut short—it’s not the world’s end!
  • History records several temporary cessations of the assaults by the Roman army when the elect, those who follow Jesus, would have had the opportunity to escape from Judea.
  • Jesus was not prophesying about some event far in the future but much sooner events.
  • This escape has little to do with a ‘rapture’ of 1 Thes 4:17 where Paul there gives absolutely no hint of anyone fleeing anything, but being united with Jesus forever.

23-25.  Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if it were possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you in advance.

  • You: Jesus warns these disciples about misreading the timing and nature of His coming. He warns them, his generation, to have such an expectation—not future millions of believers.
  • False prophets’ signs will be so powerful misleading many, but as Albert Barnes commented (1870) “His real friends would be too firmly established in the belief that he was the Christ.”
  • Many rabbis then practised sorcery, e.g., flames seemed to come out of Barcochab’s mouth (John Gill’s Commentary). We read of Simon Magus & Elymas in Acts 8:9-11,13:6. Magic arts practice was widespread.

26. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.

  • He continues to warn them to ignore reported sightings of him; such places like ‘wilderness’ and ‘the inner rooms’ can’t possibly fit any description of a future end of the entire world.
  • His coming will not be observable. Jesus had told the Pharisees, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed . . .  “(Luke 17:20) which reminds us that His coming will not be seen by physical eyes though it will be experienced and understood.

27. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

  • There is no break in Jesus’ warning—when he comes in judgment it will be understood by all and swift like lightning, and be ‘seen’ as widespread (‘from the east to the west’)—not in any inner room or special place. Lightning is sudden, unpredictable, lasts only for milliseconds.
  •  It is limited geographically to a region—as the region of Judea—not the entire planet. The Roman historian Tacitus reported, “sudden lightning from the clouds lit up the Temple.” Histories ch. 5 sect. 13 AD 109 and “In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour.”
  • Lightning often shows God’s power in the OT, e.g. Job 37:3 ‘He sends it (his voice) out under the whole sky, and his lightning to the ends of the earth.’ Also Job 26:13, Pss 97:4, 77:18.
  • Coming: The Greek word here is parousia, a noun meaning visitation.
  • Son of Man: When Jesus answered the disciples’ questions he kept referring to himself in the 3rd person and not the 1st, as “the Son of Man” (Mat 24:30, 36, 39; cf. Mat 16:27-28).

28. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 

  • The corpse: the carcass of the Jewish nation, especially Jerusalem.
  • vultures: Josephus described multitudes of corpses piled up in Jerusalem during the Roman invasion—graphic evidence of God’s judgment everywhere. Vultures gather after battles.
  • Birds eating human flesh is a judgment motif in O.T. e.g. Ezek 32:3-4, 39:1-5, Rev 19:21.
  • In Luke’s account, Jesus answers the disciples’ question of those left behind in Judea and killed ‘where to Lord?’ answering ‘where the body is there also will the eagles be gathered’ (Luke 17:36). Again, this is a Judean, Roman conquest context, not the world’s end.

29. “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

  • Immediately: Another time stamp—there is no delay after the tribulation ends and is then closely followed by the ‘appearance’ in v.30, no gap. Cf Mark 13:24 ‘but in those days’.   
  • Stars falling: Collapsing of cosmic entities is a common motif in judgment prophecy, e.g. Isa 13:10, 19:1,24:18-20, 34;8-15, Ezek 32:7–8; Joel 2:28; Nah 1:3; Pss 18, 104:3) and this would be understood by informed Jews familiar with the prophets.

30. And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  

  • And then. Another timestamp—the remarkable number of these shows an unbroken sequence of all the things Jesus foretold, one after another, not split up over millennia.
  • The sign of the Son of Man: It is the sign that appears in heaven, not the Son of Man.
  • Cf.Daniel 7:13: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.”
  • The Son of Man is not seen in the sky but ‘seen’ seated in the heavenlies (Grk. oranaos)! Stephen said to the Sanhedrin, at his trial,I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
  • tribes of the land (Greek, epi tes ges) that is tribes of Israel. These Jews mourn because of the realisation of judgment—a Judean context, so there is no worldwide mourning. For Jews there is only one ‘land’—the land of Israel promised by God to Abraham.
  • Note the change to the 3rd person—‘they’; those who will ’see’ includes the high priest and those who have rejected the Messiah, cf Rev 1:7, Zech 12:10. Second Century Historian Hegesippus wrote that James (Jesus’ brother) proclaimed Jesus to the Pharisees saying: “He himself sits in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.” The Pharisees then killed him.
  • they will see: This cannot be forced to mean to ‘see’ with physical eyes as a visible event but they will understand the staggering, horrifying truth of God’s judgment. Jesus’ second coming could never be seen optically, as He sits at the right hand of power and “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16).
  • Daniel Moraiswrote: Christ was invisible as the brightness of His presence was masked by the Glory Cloud, thick dark storm clouds, as was the case during the coming of the Lord in 2 Sam 22:8-15, Isa 66:15-16, Psalms 18:6-16, 50:3, 97:1-5, 144:5. Also judgment on cities in the past according to the Hebrew prophets—the brightness of his presence seemingly being masked by the thick, dark clouds of the Glory Cloud.
  • The visible destruction of Jerusalem and its temple will be the sign that the Son of Man reigns in heaven having ascended to the Father. His throne and reign is taught by the whole New Testament as heavenly, spiritual, not earthly or fleshly. Natural, fleshly Israel, with its temple worship, sacrificial system, priesthood, all will disappear.
  • Jesus told the high priest at his mock trial: “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mat 26:64). Jesus expected the high priest would be alive and recognise the coming of the Son of Man!
  • Jesus’ coming would be marked not by his visibility, but by much visible phenomenon, e.g. storm clouds hiding his glory, Psalm 18:6-16.  Remarkably, Josephus, Eusebius, Tacitus and the Talmud variously recorded that trumpets and angelic voices were heard and supernatural activity observed around the time of the end of Jerusalem and its temple. See Albert Barnes’ commentary. These are historical facts, taking place 2000 years ago.

The Olivet Discourse

In coming posts I aim to show that Jesus, in answering the disciples’ questions on the Mount of Olives, predicted the end of the age and his coming (Parousia) within his own generation. They were left in no doubt that He would come in their generation.

Matthew, Mark and Luke were not mistaken either, writing down what would happen and which history confirms. Paul, Peter, John and James in their writings of the New Testament show they believed His coming was imminent. Soon.

The “last days” in the New Testament refers to the end of an era, an age and not the end of time. The end of the long Mosaic age. The end of one age and the beginning of a new age. A New Covenant.

Futurist commentators say that our Lord’s ‘second’ coming is yet to happen and many of them teach that event is soon. If that is true, it follows from the texts that we face a time of great falling away, a most terrible ‘great tribulation’ while Satan’s kingdom triumphs.

But good news! We do not face what Jesus referred to as ‘the great tribulation’. We will not be ‘left behind’. Such erroneous views promote despair and an escape mentality. Many people want to opt out, some with the wish to be raptured, to escape the spectre of dying. To get out of this terrifying world.

Yet Jesus prayed for his disciples “ I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

We are called to bear witness to Jesus, his death and resurrection and his matchless character, power and authority at the right hand of the majesty on high. He is present with us, his new creation, his holy nation, within our lives, at home in our hearts, in a new covenant of the Holy Spirit.

All Jesus’ predictions, all of them, that we read here in the Olivet discourse came true together in amazing detail. Glory to God and to the Lamb forever for ‘He shall reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet, and then the end shall come’!

We are using as a basis here the Matthew, chapter 24, NASB version —plus some references to parallel texts in Luke and Mark.

Jesus answered two questions put to him by the disciples—a ‘when’ question and a ‘what’ question.

The coming of the Son of Man, the end of the age, is about judgment on apostate Israel, the rejecters of Jesus Messiah, a judgment which will use earthly means, the Roman armies. It is not about the end of the world.

Before we begin, let us understand some important principles which must guide our interpretation.

First, context. This discourse must really be seen in the wider context of the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This is especially so in Matthew. The reader should understand the narrative leading up to chapter 24, at least from chapter 21 and understand Jesus’ caustic and condemning words to the scribes and Pharisees and in the parables in chapters 21-23 of Matthew.

Reading of Chapter 23 is critical—for example, the ‘eight woes’ (vs.13-33) followed by the charge that their leaders will persecute those he will send and the terrifying prediction that “upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (vs.34-36). This is the same generation mentioned in Mat 24:34.

As you know, there are no chapter divisions in the original texts. It is a continuous narrative.

Second, this discourse was addressed to four of the twelve apostles at a particular point in time and place. It was not addressed to disciples beyond that generation, let alone to today’s readers. Of course, these four hearers imparted what they learned to other disciples in their lifetime.

We must resist the all too common habit of applying Jesus’ words to us, as if he was speaking to 21st-century readers about our future. Of course, this applies to all the texts in the New Testament, although we are edified by seeing how the truth of the gospel applies to us. There are many words recorded as spoken by Jesus to his disciples which cannot apply to us today. God gave us scriptures for us but they were not written to us!

Matthew 24 is often dubbed “the Little Apocalypse” because of the symbolic nature of verses 29-31. Jesus used cosmic collapse language, understood by Jews, Hebrew thinkers, and was frequently used by the prophets speaking from God about judgment.

It is very important to realise, as scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “Jerusalem remained the focal point of everything that the Jews were and did. Jewish identity was bound up with, and focused upon, a single city, and within that city a single shrine.” Jerusalem Past and Present in the Purposes of God.1994.

What does ‘This Generation’ mean?

Jesus said: Assuredly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Jesus prophesied these unforgettable words to four of his disciples on the Mountt of Olives as recorded in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:30.

It is critical to understand which generation Jesus meant. Taking the plain meaning without any bias, Jesus was referring to his generation.

But some scholars say Jesus must have meant a future generation. 

Some insist Jesus meant the word “race”,  i.e., the Hebrew race. They reason that because the Hebrew race remains today, the coming of Jesus has not taken place, putting his coming far into the unknown future.

These scholars avoid the obvious meaning in the context of the gospel, dogmatically committed to a future return of Jesus, instead of simply accepting that Jesus spoke of the closeness of His coming.

Jesus prophesied to those disciples on the Mount of Olives, that He would return before His hearers’ generation had passed away. Yet the same people accept that Jesus spoke literally about the coming fall of the Jerusalem temple among other events. So then there is no logical reason to exclude the coming of Jesus.

There is no doubt the disciples took Jesus’ words “this generation” to mean soon, at the door, at hand. They knew His coming was imminent, perhaps even in their lifetime. We see it in their writings.

Their letters in the N.T. frequently reflect their expectancy of a soon coming, though the hour and day were unknown. We read of their warnings, their urgency to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God and their urgings to live righteously.

They knew Jesus warned them to get the Kingdom of God proclaimed in the towns of Judea before His coming (Matthew 10:23).

Check these references out for yourself: Rom 13:11-13, 1 Cor 10:11, Phil 1:6,10, 1 Thes 1:10, 4:17; 2 Thes 1:7; 2 Tim 3:1; Heb 1:2, 9:28, 10:29; Jas 5:3; 1 Pet 1:5, 7-9, 13, 17, 20; 2 Pet 3:3; Jude 19).

Now let’s look at some instances of Jesus’ phrase this generation in the gospels, paying close attention to the context of each. You will see they consistently refer to the people alive then as Jesus spoke (and this list is not exhaustive):

Mat 12:45. . . the last of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Mat 12:41-42. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented. . . The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment. . .

Mark 8:12. Why does this generation seek . . sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.

Mark 8:38 : “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels”.

Here Jesus warned people in that crowd that some of them, this generation, will be alive ‘when He comes in glory!

Luke 17:25. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Mat 17:17. O faithless generation, how long shall I bear with you . .  the crowd who had no faith to heal

Mat 23:35-36. Assuredly, I say unto you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Jesus’ phrase all these things is repeated in Mat 24:34, Mark 31:30, and Luke 21:30.

Mat 24:34f, Mk 13:30f, Lu 21:30f. NKJV. Assuredly, I say to you,this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

All three synoptic gospels! And all three carry the word assuredly! (Grk amen) and the affirmation that though heaven and earth could pass away, his words stand forever!

So who would dare to change his plain words?

In Mat 23 we read Jesus’ savage attacks on the Jewish ruling elites of that current generation: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Then after the 7 woes, we read verses 31-36:

Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Further, this particular generation was condemned to such a great extent, that Jesus warned those weeping women as He was led to the cross saying: Weep not for me but for yourselves and your children . . . as he knew what terrible times they would face (Luke 23:28).


In the Olivet discourse of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the generation named by Jesus can only mean the generation of people Jesus was addressing.

We can see that this is consistent with the other numerous references of his using the phrase this generation.

There is no logical or hermeneutical reason why we should not believe and accept that Jesus spoke literally about “all these things will come upon this generation.” (Mat 24:34).

What Really Happened around 70 AD?

Many things.

In A.D. 70 when the Roman armies destroyed the ‘holy’ city of Jerusalem Including the magnificent Jewish temple, a wonder of the ancient world, they utterly wiped these from the surface of the land of Israel as Jesus predicted.

That momentous event, which was so devastating to the Jews, must have seemed like the end of the world to them. It was the single most climactic thing to have taken place in that period. Right?

A number of the Jews who witnessed this were followers of Jesus and had escaped out of Jerusalem and Israel when those terrible things took place.

Some of these believers then wrote down the words, actions and sufferings of Jesus in writings which we know and read today as the four gospels. Three of these authors, Matthew, Mark and Luke, recorded the many things Jesus told the disciples would take place and while some of them would be still alive.

And yet why is that event never once mentioned as having happened anywhere in the New Testament? Not even in the book Revelation.

That leads us to believe that these 27 documents were penned before this awesome historical event took place–all penned around 68 AD.

It is also a fact that 40 years previously, Jesus accurately foretold his sufferings and death at the hands of the Roman occupying forces and the collaboration of the Jewish leadership of the day which took place about 30 A D.

Not only did he predict his death and how and where it would take place, but also he would be raised up from the sealed tomb within three days.

These historical events changed everything. The shockwaves are still rebounding right around the world and even more today in 2020 (AD).

How does it affect you?

Isn’t it time you turned back to God, to acknowledge and confess Jesus as Lord?

To dig? To research? To do your own thinking? To cease following the crowd?