What prompted this line of questioning was the disciples admiration of the seemingly indestructible grandeur of Herod's temple. They had witnessed The Master enter into Jerusalem days before in Matthew 21, presenting Himself as Israel's King. By His parable about the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22, it was clear that the nation had rejected their invitation to come and be the Messiah's bride. Further actions from Jesus led to the denouncement of the Pharisees and temple system in Matthew 23, with the journey from the temple to the Mount of Olives in Matthew 24. Undoubtedly the disciples were thinking that their Master had come to overthrow Rome and to deliver both they and the nation from its tyranny. Furthermore, looking at the grandeur of the temple overwhelmed them.
As Jesus would deliver his "last words on last things", it is important to realize that this message, called "The Olivet Discourse", provides the cornerstone for understanding what Bible teachers call "eschatology" or "study of last things" (i.e Bible prophecy). What Jesus was going to do was to bring together the major themes of eschatology from the Old Testament and show how all history and prophetic fulfillment is culminated in Himself.
For today at least, I want the reader to consider the three questions raised by the disciples in Matthew 24:3 as an outline of this majestic sermon by Jesus here in Matthew 24-25.
Understanding the flow and outline of Matthew 24-25
The "these things" refer to Jesus' comments in Matthew 24:2 of not one stone of Herod's temple being left upon another. What Jesus aimed to do in Matthew 24:1-41 was to answer when and how that was going to happen. To the disciples, Herod's temple seemed indestructible, since it had taken over 40 years to build. Yet Jesus predicts in Matthew 24:4-14 what would be the historic destruction of that very temple in 70 A.D. Then with a seamless transition, Jesus uses the prediction of the temple's destruction as a template to point his disciples and us to the farther future in Matthew 24:15-20. By the time you reach Matthew 24:21-31, you realize you are no longer in the first century times following Jesus' ascension and the Temple's destruction, but now you are witnessing the yet to come tribulation period. As Jesus finishes out answering this first question, He uses the parable of the fig tree in Matthew 24:32-41 to summarize both His near prediction of Herod's Temple's destruction in 70 A.D and the future Great Tribulation.
2. "And what will be the sign of your coming" Matt 24:42-25:30
The answer to this second question has Jesus the Master preacher moving onto his second point concerning His second coming. Matthew 24:1-41 is the warm-up and first point to what is the central theme of Jesus' final sermon: Readiness for His Second Coming. As you read Matthew 24:42-25:30, you see statements about "readiness":
a. Matthew 24:42 - "Therefore be on the alert"
b. Matthew 24:44 - "be ready"
c. Matthew 25:10 - "who were ready"
d. Matthew 25:13 "Be on the alert then"
To reinforce the readiness necessary for His Second coming, Jesus uses several parables:
a. Wedding attendants of a Jewish bride (called virgins, comparable to bridemaids) who were awaiting for the arrival of the Bridegroom coming for the bride. Five were ready and five were not, revealing that truly saved people will be eager for Christ's return, whereas those who are pretenders and not saved will think they have plenty of time. (Matthew 25:1-13)
b. Another parable about a group of three servants given a certain responsibility over oversight to the Master's money. Two of the servants made their master's money gain interest, since they were anticipating His immediate and imminent return. The last servant was not expecting His master, and thus demonstrated his lost condition. (Matthew 25:14-30)
c. It is worth mentioning that Jesus also tells the parable of the fig tree in Matthew 24:32-41 with this same general sense of "being ready". Though those verses occur in a different part of his sermon, yet as only Jesus the Master Preacher can do, all parts of His final message has a unity and purpose. Be ready!
With the first two questions answered with some necessary overlap in the points, Jesus moves onto answer the disciples third question from Matthew 24:3. By this point in His message, Jesus is in the far future, near the end of time and history itself. I won't get into too many details on this final part, however we can make a couple of quick observations:
a. There are two groups of people gathered before Jesus: the Sheep and the Goats. The Sheep are believers and the Goats are unbelievers.
b. Because God progressively reveals His truth in greater and greater detail as time goes on, what we must understand is that Jesus is summarizing the theme of judgment. No mention is made for example of His 1,000 year reign - a period of time that is more specifically dealt with in Revelation 20. For Jesus' purposes in His sermon, the Millenial reign is not the focus, in so much is His answering of the final question: "and the end of the age"? As the master preacher, Jesus kept zeroed in on His main points, and did not deivate.
c. What amazes me about this final section is how personal Jesus is going to be in the judgment of believers and in the judgment of unbelievers. Every word, deed and action will be reviewed. When you consider the billions of people who have ever lived, you would think that such a judgment would take almost an eternity. Yet Christ is demonstrating the fact He is truly omniscient, being able to handle such information with ease, effort and accuracy.
Tomorrow we will take a closer look at this sermon of Jesus in understanding how it enables us to understand other scriptures that deal with end times (eschatology).