Signs of the End of the Age (13:1-13)
(Matthew 10:17-22; 24:1-14; Luke 21:5-19)
1 The Jewish temple in Jerusalem was one of the biggest and most magnificent buildings in the ancient world. Around it were many colonnades and courtyards and smaller buildings. The temple area filled one sixth of the city of Jerusalem. Its front was covered with gold. Some of its stones were thirty feet long and twelve feet wide.
Therefore, it was not surprising that one of Jesus’ disciples exclaimed: “What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2 It surely seemed as if the temple could never be destroyed. Yet Jesus told His disciples that every one of those stones would be thrown down (see Luke 19:41-44 and comment). And forty years later, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., they destroyed the temple, too. And since that time, the temple has never been rebuilt.
3-4 Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Mark 1:16-20) were amazed at Jesus’ statement that the temple would be destroyed. “Tell us, when will these things happen?” they asked. According to Matthew 24:3, the disciples also asked, “… and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The disciples asked both of these questions together, because they supposed that the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world would come at the same time. But Jesus answered their question in two parts. To understand this chapter, we must not confuse the two parts of Jesus’ answer. In verses 5-23,28-31 (Matthew 24:4-28,3235; Luke 21:8-24,29-33), Jesus answers the disciples’ question about the destruction of Jerusalem. In verses 24-27,32-37 (Matthew 24:29-31,36-44; Luke 21:25-28,34-36), Jesus answers their question about the end of the world and His second coming. We must also keep in mind that although Jesus knew when the destruction of Jerusalem would come (verse 30), He did not know when the end of the world would come (verse 32). Only God Himself knows that.
But we can understand from this chapter that the signs that preceded the destruction of Jerusalem are similar to the signs that will precede the end of the world. In other words, the destruction of Jerusalem is a foretaste of the events that will occur at the end of the world. Therefore, even those parts of this chapter that refer to the destruction of Jerusalem can also serve as a warning to us about what will happen at the end of the world.88
5 The disciples wanted to know when these things would happen. But Jesus tells them something more important: “Watch” (verses 5,37). “Be on guard” (verses 9,33). If the disciples remained always ready and on guard, then it would not be so necessary for them to know the exact time at which these events would take place. This is Jesus’ word for us today also. Let us not always be asking, “When?” “Where?” Rather, let us remain always ready and watchful.
“Watch out that no one deceives you,” Jesus said. Deceivers are much more dangerous to the church than persecutors. Satan’s main weapon against Christians is not persecution but deception (see verse 22 and comment). “Many will come in my name … and will deceive many” (verse 6). Many have been seduced into following new Christs and new Gospels, and have thereby lost their faith in the true Christ.
6-8 In these verses, Jesus prophesied that three kinds of events would occur before the fall of Jerusalem. First, many would appear saying, “I am he; I am the Christ” (Matthew 24:4). The disciples must not believe these false Christs (verses 21-22). Many of these false Christs did appear before the fall of Jerusalem (see Acts 5:36-37).
Second, Jesus said that there would be wars and rumors of wars between nations. Indeed, in 62-66 A.D., only a few years before Jerusalem was destroyed, there were many wars throughout the Roman Empire and many rumors of revolts against the emperor.
Third, Jesus said that there would be earthquakes in various places, and famines. Indeed, there were famines in various parts of the Roman Empire before the destruction of Jerusalem (Acts 11:28). According to Roman historians, there were also several earthquakes in different parts of the Empire during that time.
According to Luke 21:11, Jesus also said that there would be great signs from heaven before the destruction of Jerusalem. According to both Roman and Jewish historians, these signs did take place. For example, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, a comet appeared over Jerusalem for many nights with a tail shaped like a sword.
Yet all these things were only the beginning of birth pains (verse 8). These events that occurred before the destruction of Jerusalem were only the beginning of the events that will ultimately lead to the end of the world. We know that in the past 1900 years, even greater wars have occurred, and even greater earthquakes and famines. False Christs even today are rising up in different parts of the world. Jesus’ prophecy not only was fulfilled before the fall of Jerusalem, but it is also continuing to be fulfilled right up to this present time, as we await His coming again at the end of the world.
9 The prophecies mentioned in this verse were fulfilled in the lives of Jesus’ twelve disciples and in the life of Paul. The persecution of Jesus’ followers is described in detail in the book of Acts.
10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. According to the corresponding verse in Matthew, the Gospel must be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14)—that is, the end of the world. Many Christians believe that as soon as all nations89 have heard the Gospel, Christ will come again and the world will end.
According to Revelation 14:6-7, just before the end an angel will proclaim the Gospel one last time to every nation, tribe, language and people. Regardless of how we understand this verse, the duty of every Christian is clear. Jesus’ last command to His disciples was this: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus’ disciples suffered because they preached the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14)—that is, the Gospel of the kingdom of God. The preachers of this Gospel must always be prepared to suffer.
11 As we preach and make disciples of all nations, Jesus is with us. That is, His Holy Spirit is with us and in us. When difficult situations arise, His Holy Spirit will give us the words we are to speak. The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say (Luke 12:12). Many Christians who have been arrested because of their witness for Christ can testify that the Holy Spirit has indeed given them the words to speak (see Matthew 10:19-20; Luke 21:14-15).
12 In the last days, families will be split apart because of Christ. Those in a family who do not believe in Christ will oppose those who do (Matthew 10:35-36). Fathers will disown their sons. Members of the same family will have each other put to death. Because of persecution, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. … Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:10-12). All these things came to pass before the destruction of Jerusalem. And these same things will happen again before the end of the world. Indeed, these things are happening even today in many parts of the world.
13 All men will hate you because of me. We either belong to this world or we belong to the kingdom of God. If we belong to the kingdom of God, the world will hate us (see John 15:18-19). We cannot follow the world and Christ at the same time.
But he who stands firm until the end will be saved. Here the words until the end do not mean “to the end of the world.” They mean to “stand firm unto death,” to stand firm completely, to stand firm no matter what persecution comes upon us. To “stand firm” means to stand firm in faith. Those who stand firm in the faith will be saved. Those who do not stand firm will not be saved.
Many Christians interpret this verse to mean that if we deliberately abandon our faith we will lose our salvation. Others believe that if a person abandons his faith, he was never a true Christian to begin with.90 But, whatever we think about the above question, the clear teaching of the Bible to every Christian is this: Stand firm. Stand firm to the end (see 1 Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 5:1; Ephesians 6:14-15; Philippains 4:1; Colossians 1:22-23; Hebrews 10:35-36; James 5:8; 1 Peter 5:9). Let us not be like the seed planted on rocky soil that withered and died as soon as the sun came out. Those that endure for a while and then fall away have believed in vain (see Mark 4:16-17 and comment).
According to Luke 21:18, on this same occasion Jesus said to His disciples, “… not a hair of your head will perish.” Jesus did not mean that His followers would not die. In fact, all of Jesus’ disciples except John were violently put to death, and countless other Christians have been put to death since. Jesus meant that in the next life in heaven, our resurrected bodies will be perfect, without even a hair missing. Men may kill our bodies in this world, but God will preserve our spiritual bodies in the next (see Matthew 10:28-31).
The Abomination that Causes Desolation (13:14-23)
(Matthew 24:15-28; Luke 21:20-24)
14 The abomination that causes desolation91 mentioned by Jesus in this verse was the desecration of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 A.D. (see Luke 21:20). According to some historians, the Jewish Zealots fighting against Rome also occupied the temple for a short time and committed acts of sacrilege inside it.
The main warning, however, that Jesus wanted to give His followers was that when they saw the army of Rome approaching, they should flee from Jerusalem. Let those in Judea92 flee to the mountains. Sometimes God calls us to stand and face danger. But at other times He tells us to flee. In each circumstance Christians must seek God’s will. It is all right to flee from danger, but not from duty.
15-16 These Christians were to flee from Jerusalem without delay. If they were on the top of their house, they were to run down the outside stairs and flee to the hills. There would be no time to gather together their possessions.
17-18 Those times would be especially difficult for pregnant women and mothers with young children. They could not flee quickly, and the Romans would catch them and kill them (Luke 23:28-29).
Let the Christians also pray that this terrible time would not occur in winter. In winter it rains in Israel, and the rivers swell. Thus people’s flight would be blocked. (Indeed, many people fleeing from the Romans were blocked by the swollen Jordan River.) According to Matthew 24:20, they should also pray that the day of flight would not fall on the Sabbath. The many Sabbath laws would make flight difficult. For example, according to the Jewish law one could only travel three miles on the Sabbath! (Acts 1:12).
19 The destruction of Jerusalem was a time of distress more severe than any in the history of the world. The slaughter of the Jews by the Romans is fully described by the Jewish historian, Josephus. The Romans committed unbelievable atrocities, and those Jews that escaped the sword died of famine and pestilence, or were made slaves (Luke 21:24). Over a million Jews were killed. Not a single Jew remained alive in the city. Jesus said in Luke 21:24, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”93 This was God’s judgment on the unbelieving Jewish nation which had rejected and put to death His own Son Jesus (see Luke 21:22-24).
20 Most of the Christians in Jerusalem fled in 68 A.D., two years before the Romans came. But others fled just before the Roman army arrived. Some of these almost starved in the countryside, because the Roman soldiers destroyed crops and fields and took all available food for themselves. But God cut short those days, so that all the elect—that is, all believers—were able to survive.
21-23 Again Jesus repeated His warning about false Christs. Before and during the invasion of Jerusalem by the Roman army, certain Jews rose up claiming to be the Messiah and calling on people to fight the Romans. Here Jesus warns that the fleeing Christians must not follow such false Christs. They should continue their flight (see verses 5-6).
Although the context of these verses relates to the destruction of Jerusalem, we can understand that false Christs will continue to rise up until the end of the world. Especially as the end of the world draws near, powerful men and evil forces sent by Satan will rise up and oppose Christ and His followers (see 2 Thessalonians 2:110; 1 John 2:18; 4:1-3; Revelation 13:18,11-17 and comments). These false Christs will even perform signs and miracles.94 But we must not be deceived. We will be able to recognize the false Christs because they will not bring glory to Jesus; they will deny that He is the true Son of God (see 1 John 4:1-3 and comment).
Jesus said that false Christs and false prophets will try to deceive the elect—if that were possible. It is not possible to deceive those who are elect. In fact, the elect are the very people who will remain undeceived to the end. Only God knows who the “elect” are and who are not. Those who heed the warning to remain on guard (verses 9,23) and who remain faithful to the end (verse 13) will prove to be the elect. Therefore, Jesus says to all: “… be on your guard.”
According to Matthew 24:26-27, Jesus also added here that if a person claiming to be the Messiah appeared in one special place, such as in the desert or in the inner rooms, then it would be certain that he was a false Messiah. Because the true Messiah, Jesus, will appear to all men at once like lightning flashing across the sky.
Then Jesus said, “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures95 will gather” (Matthew 24:28). The carcass was the Jewish nation, and the vultures (or eagles) were the Romans.96 Such was the destruction of Jerusalem and Judea.
The End of the World (13:24-27)
(Matthew 24:29-31; Luke 21:25-28)
24-25 After talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus then began to describe the end of the world, which would occur in the days following that distress. According to Matthew 24:29, Jesus said that the end of the world would occur immediately after the distress of those days, that is, immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. This is difficult to understand. Over 1900 years have passed since the fall of Jerusalem, and the end of the world has not yet come. But in God’s eyes, 1900 years is like a moment (2 Peter 3:8). We must also remember that Jesus Himself said that He did not know when the end of the world would come (verse 32).
To describe what the end of the world would be like, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4. According to Luke 21:2526, Jesus at this point also said: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (see 2 Peter 3:10).
26-27 At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. The Old Testament prophet Daniel saw a vision of this event and wrote about it: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13).
In all of history since the creation of the world, there are only two events whose significance will last forever. These two events are greater and more important than all the other events in history put together. Every other event, every king, every war, every empire will be forgotten. Only two things will be remembered. First, the coming of Jesus Christ into the world the first time. Second, the coming again of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). At the time of His second coming, Jesus will gather his elect—that is, those who have believed—from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens (verse 27). He will gather us into His eternal kingdom where we shall live together with Him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
When Christ comes again, all other men will faint from terror (Luke 21:26). At that time … all the nations of the earth will mourn (Matthew 24:30). Those who have rejected Christ as Savior will have to face Him as their judge (John 5:22). But those who have believed in Jesus will have no fear. For Jesus said, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your REDEMPTION is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
The Destruction of Jerusalem (13:28-31)
(Matthew 24:32-35; Luke 21:29-33)
28-29 In verses 5-23, Jesus described many events that would occur just before the destruction of Jerusalem. These were like signs that the end was near. Just as the new leaves on a fig tree are a sign that summer has come, so the events described in verses 5-23 were signs that Jerusalem was about to be destroyed.
30 Jesus prophesied that all these things—that is, the above mentioned signs together with the destruction of Jerusalem—would occur within the lifetime of His own generation. This prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D.
31 My words will never pass away. Jesus’ words, His prophecies, His teachings are absolutely certain. They are more certain and permanent than the earth and sky. When we see great trees and great mountains, we think: “These things are certain; they will last.” When we look at the sun and moon and stars, we think: “These things will last forever.” But they will one day pass away. The only things that will last are Jesus and His words. Remember, Jesus Himself is the Word of God, who in the beginning was with God, and … was God (John 1:1), and whose kingdom will never end.
The Day and Hour Unknown (13:32-37)
32 No one knows about that day or hour; that is, no one except the Father knows when Christ will come again. Not even Christ Himself knows. Therefore we must be always ready. Jesus could come today, tomorrow. Will He find us sleeping? (verse 36). Will He find us faithful?
Many Christians spend time trying to predict when Christ will come again. This is folly. They’d be better off spending their time doing the work Christ has given them to do instead of wondering when He is going to come again.
33-37 Christ is like a man going away (verse 34). Christ went away into heaven and left his house, that is, His church, in our hands. He has given each of us a special assigned task. But not only that, He has also given all of us the task of praying, watching, and witnessing. He will come back to earth like a thief, that is, when no one expects Him (see Matthew 24:42-44; Luke 12:35-38; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). What will He find us doing? Let us not say to ourselves: “He will not come soon. I have time to get ready. I’ll sleep a little longer. I’ll witness to that person another time. I’ll do that good deed some other day. I’ll give up that sin tomorrow.” Let us not make such a terrible mistake. Jesus can come any time, and if He does not find us ready and doing His will, He will throw us out (see Matthew 24:45-51; Luke 21:34-36).
To keep watch (verse 35) means to remain in Christ’s will at all times. We need to live each day as if Christ was going to return tomorrow. We need to test ourselves by asking ourselves this question: If an angel from heaven were to tell us today that Christ was going to come next week, or next month, would we live our lives any differently? If the answer is “Yes,” then we are not watching, we are not ready. “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”