As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”
And Jesus answered them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.
And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.Matthew 24:3-8 RSV
The question had been propounded by the four fishermen, Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Mark 13:3); and only these four were present to hear the remarkable discourse which begins with the fourth verse of this chapter.
Note that there are three questions raised by the disciples:
- When shall these things be?
- What shall be the sign of thy coming?
- What shall be the sign of the end of the world?
Naturally, the disciples considered these three events to be simultaneous occurrences, but in this they were mistaken.
Nevertheless, Jesus answered all three questions, giving the sign of his coming, outlining the salient features of the destruction of Jerusalem, making that event a type of his second coming, and setting forth a number of details applicable to both events.
Just as the rainbow is not one bow but actually two, a primary and a secondary, so many of the prophecies of the word of God have a primary and a secondary fulfillment.
“Rachel weeping for her children” (Jeremiah 31:15) and “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Hosea 11:1) are two examples (see Matthew 2:13,18).
Our Lord referred in it not to one event but to two, and the first was typical of the second.
Often prophetic language has a double significance. Jehovah told Adam that he would die in the day that he ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:17); yet Adam lived 930 years.
There was a primary fulfillment of this when Adam was separated from the garden of Eden, and a secondary fulfillment of it in his death (Romans 5:12).
Isaiah foretold the birth of a son by a virgin, yet added a prophecy which confined it to his own generation (Isaiah 7:14-17). The prophet combined type and anti-type in the same words.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man lead you astray.
This admonition was especially appropriate in view of the amazing answer Christ was about to give to a complex question, the complexity of which was unknown to the apostles and would not be revealed to them except through their experience of unfolding future events.
The wisdom of God is seen in the fact that the inadvertent confusion on the part of the disciples with reference to the two events, actually to be separated by thousands of years but appearing to them as scheduled simultaneously, has preserved incontrovertible proof of the authenticity of Matthew’s gospel, placing it BEFORE the destruction of Jerusalem.
No writer after that event could possibly have arranged this material as does Matthew (see Introduction).
Historians have pointed out that all of the phenomena above did occur in profusion before the destruction of Jerusalem.
There were earthquakes in at least eight parts of the Mediterranean world.
Such things as famines, wars, and earthquakes seem to have been multiplied during that period, but hardly any period of world history failed to exhibit the same things.
Thus it may be concluded that Jesus’ lesson here is that all such basic phenomena may be ignored except as characteristics of human wretchedness and misfortune upon which the more imposing signs were not signs of the end.