XII. The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:1–25:46)
XII. The Olivet Discourse (24:1–25:46)
24:1-2 Chapters 24–25 are often referred to as the Olivet Discourse because they include a lengthy section of Jesus’s teaching to his disciples while on the Mount of Olives (24:3).
As Jesus departed the temple, the disciples observed the splendor of its buildings constructed by Herod the Great (24:1). Knowing what was to happen in the future, Jesus shocked them by revealing that the temple they so admired would be completely destroyed. Not one stone will be left here on another, he said (24:2). This would be the result of Israel’s rejection of her Messiah.
24:3 When [would] these things happen? The disciples wanted to know the timing of the temple’s destruction, which they connected to Jesus’s return and the end of the age. While the Romans would overrun Jerusalem and decimate the temple in AD 70 under the Roman general Titus, the messianic age was yet future. So in chapter 24 Jesus described the tribulation period that will precede his millennial kingdom. The tribulation will begin with the seventieth of Daniel’s “seventy weeks” (see commentary on Dan 9:24-27).
24:4-8 Here Jesus speaks of the first half of the seven-year tribulation period. He used the imagery of the beginning of labor pains to describe the events of this time, which would be characterized by worldwide grief and agony (24:8). The first half of the tribulation will be characterized by wars and rumors of wars (24:6). Messianic pretenders will arise to deceive (24:5). Nation will rise up against nation, and famines and earthquakes will be common (24:7). But the end is not yet (24:6). The tribulation will be a time of sorrow and unexpected pain, which will eventually lead to the end of the age, the return of Christ, and the birth of the messianic kingdom.
24:9-14 More severe trials will characterize the second half of the tribulation. Those who come to faith in Christ during this period will be persecuted (24:9). Betrayal and deception will be rampant (24:10-11). Nevertheless, the one who endures to the end will be saved (24:13)—which is not a reference to salvation but physical deliverance. So, in other words, believers who endure to the end of the tribulation will be spared physical death and enter the millennium. In spite of the horror on earth during the tribulation, the good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed (24:14). Many will be saved when they believe the good news of Jesus’s coming kingdom rule.
24:15 The second half of the great tribulation will commence with what Jesus called the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel. According to Daniel, the Antichrist “will make a firm covenant with many for one week” (Dan 9:27)—that is, for the seven-year tribulation period. He will be a world leader who will bring peace to the Middle East.
The Jews will be permitted to rebuild their temple and once again offer sacrifices. However, “in the middle of the week” (at the midpoint of the tribulation), the Antichrist “will put a stop to sacrifice and offering” and set up “the abomination of desolation” in the temple (Dan 9:27; see commentary on Dan 9:24-27). He will finally be revealed for the evil beast that he is (see Rev 13:4-8). This “abomination” will be an image of the Antichrist as he profanes the temple, sets himself up as God, and demands worship.
24:16-22 Those who will not bow down to the Antichrist will have to flee, leaving their property and possessions behind if they are to escape death (24:16-20; cf. Rev 13:15). It will be a time of great distress unlike any the world has ever seen (24:21). If not for the fact that God will limit those days so that the time is cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect—those who will be saved during the tribulation—those days will be cut short (24:22).
24:23-28 Jesus warned that many false messiahs and false prophets will arise to lead people astray (24:24). Even today there are those who claim to speak for God but whose words stray from Scripture: Do not believe it (24:26). There will be no uncertainty when Christ returns at the end of the tribulation. No one can miss a bolt of lightning when it flashes. Neither will they miss the coming of the Son of Man (24:27).
24:29-31 After the distress, spectacular signs will appear in the heavens as predicted in the Old Testament (24:29; see Isa 13:10; 34:4; Joel 2:31). The glory of Christ’s return will be revealed to all. The peoples of the earth who have not turned to Christ in repentance and faith will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming in power and great glory (24:30). But the Lord will send out his angels to gather his elect from throughout the earth—to gather those saved during the tribulation as well as the Old Testament saints who will be raised from the dead (24:31).
24:32-35 Following this revelation of the future to his disciples, Jesus applied the principles of the tribulation and his second coming. When a fig tree . . . sprouts leaves, any Israelite knows that summer is on the horizon (24:32). It’s an obvious sign that’s not difficult to interpret. In the same way, when those living during the great tribulation witness the signs taking place (24:29-30), they can be certain that the Messiah is quickly returning (24:33). These are the people Jesus spoke of when he referred to this generation (24:34). They will see everything take place exactly as Jesus foretold. Though heaven and earth will pass away, the words of Jesus will never pass away (24:35).
24:36-41 Apart from these signs, it will not be known exactly when Christ will return. Only the Father knows the timing. From the perspective of his humanity, not even the Son knows (24:36). As in the days of Noah before the judgment of the flood came, so it will be before the Son of Man returns (24:37). Before Noah boarded the ark, people were enjoying the normal pursuits of life (24:38). Then the flood came and swept them all away. This is what it will be like prior to Christ’s second coming (24:39). Some will be taken in judgment, and others will be left to enter into Christ’s millennial kingdom (24:40-41).
24:42-44 In the meantime, Jesus wanted his followers to be watchful so they would be ready for the rapture. This is the event at which believers will be caught up in the air to be taken by Jesus to be with him (see commentary on 1 Thess 4:13-18). I believe Scripture teaches that the rapture will take place prior to the events of the tribulation.
Be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming (24:42) is reminder that Christians must always be watching—like a homeowner on alert for a thief to break in—because the timing of the rapture is unknown. We must be ready (24:43-44).
24:45-51 As believers waiting with anticipation for our Lord, we must be wise and trustworthy until he returns. Jesus told a story of servants who were put in charge of their master’s household while he was away (24:45). Those whom the master found diligently working when he returned were rewarded (24:46-47), but the servant who was lazy and unfaithful because the master was delayed was judged with the hypocrites when he returned (24:48-51).
When he comes for his church, Jesus will expect to find you busy serving him so he can reward you for faithfulness. As I noted earlier (see commentary on 22:13), I think the language of weeping and gnashing of teeth (24:51) is a description not of eternal judgment but of the grief experienced by believers who will lose out on rewards in the millennial kingdom. Since they didn’t take the return of Christ seriously by serving faithfully, they will face profound regret and loss of rewards before their Lord. So as we await the rapture, let us serve God with gladness and devotion, knowing his promises are certain.
25:1 In chapter 25, Matthew recounts several parables that Jesus told related to his discussion of the future events foretold in chapter 24. First is the parable of the ten virgins (25:1-13). As was the custom of the day for wedding ceremonies, the groom would go to the bride’s home and take her to the marriage feast. A great procession would accompany them, and then all would enter into the feast. The “ten virgins” were bridesmaids waiting for the groom to arrive.
25:2-5 According to Jesus, five of them were foolish and five were wise (25:2). This was demonstrated by their preparation (or lack of it). The foolish had no oil for their lamps, while the wise had oil (25:3-4). When the groom’s arrival was delayed, all of them fell asleep (25:5).
25:6-13 Every person in the procession would have been expected to have his or her own lamp, but when the groom’s appearance was announced in the middle of the night, the foolish virgins begged the wise to give them some oil because their lamps were going out (25:6-8). The wise, however, had only enough oil for themselves (25:9). So when the foolish virgins went to buy oil, they missed the groom and were locked out of the wedding banquet no matter how they cried to be let in (25:10-12). Therefore, Jesus said, be alert (25:13).
Jesus’s parable is a description of Jewish believers during the great tribulation. The wise will be spiritually prepared so that when “the abomination of desolation” takes place (24:15), they will be ready and sustained by the Lord until his kingdom reign begins. However, the foolish will make no such spiritual preparations. As a result, they won’t enter into the blessedness of the kingdom and its rewards. Though the parable speaks of those during the tribulation, it serves as a warning to all. Don’t wait until the last minute to be spiritually prepared, because then it will be too late.
25:14 Then Jesus told a parable about the kingdom principle of stewardship. To be a steward is to protect and expand the assets of another on his behalf. When you put your money in the bank, you’re asking the bank to act as a steward. You want it to protect your funds and to expand them by paying you interest.
In this parable, a man gave his possessions to each of his three servants before he went away on a journey so that they might manage them for him in his absence. This is a picture of what Jesus has done. Though he has gone away, he will return. In the meantime, he has given us his possessions to steward. Importantly, a steward is not an owner but one who manages the owner’s possessions. We are stewards of what God has given us—not owners. The Bible makes clear that God owns “everything” (Ps 24:1; 50:10-12). And he expects us to protect and expand his possessions for the advancement of his kingdom in history.
25:15-18 To each of his servants, the man gave talents. A talent was a unit of currency. Notice the servants didn’t receive the same amounts. The first received five talents, the second received two, and the third received one—depending on each one’s ability (25:15). In other words, the servants received based on their capacity. The master didn’t give any of them more than they could handle.
When their master departed, the servants with five and two talents went out and doubled what they’d been given (25:16-17). But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money (25:18).
If you’re a Christian, God has given you three things to steward. First, until Jesus returns, you have time, the day-to-day context in which kingdom opportunities arise. Second, every believer has talents (abilities or skills) that are gifts from God to develop and use for his kingdom purposes. Third, you have treasures (financial resources). Your money isn’t merely for your enjoyment but for kingdom advancement.
Much like the servants in the parable, no two of us have the exact same time, abilities, or treasures. The Lord has distributed what we have to us based on his perfect will and knowledge of our capacities. The question is not what or how much you have. The question is, What will you do with what you’ve been given?
25:19 After a long time the master . . . came and settled accounts with his servants. Similarly, one day all Christians will stand before God to give an account. Scripture calls this the “tribunal [or “judgment seat”] of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10; cf. 1 Cor 3:12-15). Unbelievers will experience judgment too—the white throne judgment after the millennial kingdom (see Rev 20:11-15). But if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, your Lord is going to have a separate conversation with you about your stewardship of all that he put at your disposal. What will he say?
25:20-23 When his master returned, the man with five talents and the man with two explained how they had doubled what he had given them (25:20, 22). To both of them, the master said, Well done . . . You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy (25:21, 23). Notice that even though the one with five had more than the one with two, both received the same blessing. The master gave to each according to his abilities; they were faithful with what they’d been given and were rewarded.
25:24-27 The man with one talent told his master that he was a harsh man who had high expectations (25:24). Since he was afraid of him, the servant hid [his] talent in the ground so he wouldn’t risk losing it (25:25). Thus, he returned what he had been given. But the master had no praise for this man. Instead he called him evil and lazy (25:26). The least he could’ve done, he pointed out, was to deposit the money with the bankers and earn some interest (25:27).
While the first two servants were concerned with their master’s affairs, this man was solely concerned with himself. He didn’t want to be bothered with caring for his master’s resources, and putting the talent in the bank involved records and management. So he hid it in the ground. If his master didn’t come back, he could keep it for himself. And if his master returned, he could just return it to him. But the master didn’t merely want his money back. That wasn’t the stewardship he demanded.
Jesus is your King, and he expects you to live faithfully with a kingdom agenda. Live today with a future orientation, knowing that one day he will call you by name to settle accounts.
25:28-30 In the end, the master gave his talent to the one who [had] ten (25:28). To those who are faithful, more will be given. To those who do nothing with their time, talents, or treasure for the sake of the kingdom of God, what they have will be taken away (25:29). Finally, the master had this good-for-nothing servant cast out where he would experience weeping and gnashing of teeth (25:30).
As with the earlier passages (22:13; 24:51), this text uses graphic language to speak—not of eternal judgment (as some interpreters argue)—but of the profound regret that many believers will experience when they receive no rewards because of their unfaithfulness in stewarding God’s resources. Those who were saved but whose earthly lives were useless to the King will lose out on full participation in and the benefits of Christ’s millennial kingdom. Don’t let this be you—making time for your personal priorities but giving no time for the kingdom. Don’t live for decades as a believer on earth and have nothing eternal to show for it.
25:31-40 Finally, Jesus explained what would happen when the Son of Man comes in his glory (25:31). This is a picture of Christ’s second coming at the end of the great tribulation when he judges the nations who will be gathered before him. He will separate them—the sheep from the goats (25:32). The sheep will be on his right, the place of honor, and will be ushered into his millennial kingdom (25:34). The basis for their division from the goats will be the practical love and service they rendered during the tribulation to Jesus’s brothers and sisters, the Jewish people, as an expression of their faith (25:35-40). Jesus will consider service rendered to his Jewish siblings as service rendered to him and as a demonstration of faith in him (25:40; see Joel 3:1-14).
25:41-46 Jesus will tell the goats to depart into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (25:41). For they refused to minister to the Jewish people during the tribulation period (25:42-45). Thus, Jesus will indict them for their indifference. This will be in keeping with the Abrahamic covenant in which God promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you,” and “I will curse those who treat you with contempt” (Gen 12:3). Thus, the unrighteous of the nations will be sent away into eternal punishment (25:46).