In Matthew 24:3 the disciples came to Jesus and asked him three questions. First, when would all the terrible things he mentioned take place? Secondly, what would be the sign of his coming, and, finally, what sign would there be to show the end of the age? Did you ever wonder why the disciples asked these three particular questions at this particular time? Well, we need to understand what had occurred just prior to their questioning Jesus, if we are ever going to understand Jesus’ reply.
Our answer would be found in Matthew 23! Jesus had been speaking to the multitudes, warning them of the example of the scribes and Pharisees, and he pronounced a number of woes upon the leaders of the people for particular attitudes and works on their part. Then in verse-34 Christ says he will send to them (i.e. to all—the leaders and the people) prophets, wise men and scribes. The Jewish leaders would kill, crucify, scourge in the synagogues and persecute from city to city those who were sent by Christ. Why? So that, upon this generation, (i.e. the leaders and the people who put their trust in them – verse-36) …upon **that generation** may come judgment for all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the beginning of time.
Christ clearly stated that all these things would come upon that generation – the one to whom he preached and sent the Apostles etc. (see This Generation). Then, as he was leaving the multitudes, he lamented over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37, and in verse-38 he said “Behold, your house (i.e. the Temple) is left unto you desolate.” This statement in the Greek is emphatic. In John 2:16 when Jesus suddenly came to the Temple (cf. Malachi 3:1), he called it, “My Father’s House.” Now it is “your house!” To get the full impact of what his words conveyed, we must read Leviticus 14:33-42.
Leprosy is a type of sin, and in Leviticus the high priest had the responsibility of judging the livability of a house in Israel suspected of having leprosy in its stones and mortar. Here in Matthew 23 Jesus, the High Priest, was pronouncing his judgment. The house (Temple) is desolate, and its stones would be thrown down as though they were leprous. The similarity was unmistakable, considering the shock of the disciples, as they pointed out how great the stones were (Matthew 24:1). Jesus simply reiterated the judgment:
“…there shall not be one stone left upon another that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2)
Before leaving the Temple, Jesus said: “You shall not see me henceforth, until you say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:39). The Apostles questions in Matthew 24:3 are addressed to Jesus’ statement concerning the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 23:38), which would occur when he would come (Matthew 23:29). The destruction of the Temple would be a sign of the end of the Old Covenant. Therefore, such an event pointed to the end of the age, when Jesus would judge the Jews for all the righteous blood shed from the time of the death of Able to the death of Zacharias, and all this would occur before the end of the generation in which the Apostles lived (Matthew 23:35-36).
Whether one is speaking of ‘the end of the age’ or ‘the end of that generation,’ both culminated cir. 70 AD. Moreover, the same sign is used for Jesus coming and the end of the age, because the Apostles requested only one sign for both (Matthew 24:3). Jesus went on in the Olivet Prophecy to describe the events which characterized that evil generation or, if you prefer, the final decades of the age before the Old Covenant ended.
Therefore, Jesus’ response in Matthew 24 is an answer to the questions the disciples asked that pertained to what he said in Matthew 23. An understanding of this will put the Olivet Prophecy in perspective. It also places boundaries around it, so one would not get carried away with vague imaginations. Matthew 23 is the skeleton upon which the meat or flesh of Matthew 24 is placed! So, Matthew 24 cannot be about ‘the end of time’ or about events 2000 years away.
May our Lord and Savior open up our hearts and minds to see the truth of his holy word and keep us from teachings that have not come from him (2John 1:9).