When will these things be?

What do the predictions mean in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21?

“Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’ Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 24:1-3 // Mark 13:1-4; Luke 21:5-7).

Herod’s temple had been under construction for forty-six years (John 2:20). The Jews were proud of its grandeur. It was made of white limestone and large sections were overlaid with gold.

When Jesus said the temple would be destroyed, His disciples wondered when that would happen.

Much confusion has been caused by strange interpretations of Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Let us carefully examine these predictions in the light of other passages on the same topics.

First we must notice that the disciples ask two separate questions. (1) When will the temple be destroyed? (2) What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?

To avoid misunderstanding we must notice which question is being discussed in different parts of the passage. Sometimes there is confusion and people think, for example, that something about Jerusalem applies to the second coming.

When will the temple be destroyed?

Jesus warns His followers: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations” (Luke 21:20-24 // Matthew 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20).

In 66 AD, Cestius surrounded Jerusalem to put down a rebellion, but suddenly he discontinued the siege and left (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 19, Section 7). When that occurred, the Christians left Jerusalem because of the warning of Jesus. In 70 AD Jerusalem was surrounded by Titus. After a long siege in which many people died of starvation, the city was taken and the temple was set on fire by the soldiers, although Titus had instructed them to spare the temple. After the fire, the temple was torn apart stone by stone to get the gold that had melted and run between the cracks. It is estimated that there were 50 tons of gold on the temple walls. During the siege, the dead bodies of those who died of starvation were thrown over the walls, and when the city was taken, blood flowed like rainwater in the streets.

Eusebius, who wrote his church history about 300 AD, states that all Christians had left Jerusalem before the siege (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Chapter 5, Section 3).

When will heaven and earth pass away?

Although Jesus gave clear signs about the destruction of the temple, He did not know when the end of the age would be: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:29-32 // Matthew 24:34-36).

The temple would be destroyed in that generation, but only the Father knows when the earth will pass away.

When Christ returns, heaven and earth will be destroyed.

Jesus continues: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:35-39).

Thus, at “the coming of the Son of Man” “heaven and earth will pass away”.

Only the Father knows when the end will be. He has put this “in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). It will be “in His own time” (1 Timothy 6:15).

Thus Christ’s followers must always be ready. “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming -- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning -- lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:33-37). “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:40-44).

Many false teachers claim to know when Christ is coming. But Jesus says His followers do not know the time of His coming.

There are also false teachers who want to separate the coming of Christ from the destruction of the world. But the two will occur at the same time according to this passage.

Peter also writes that heaven and earth will be destroyed when Christ returns. “Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:3-7).

Peter relates the “promise of His coming” to the destruction of the heavens and the earth. Since we do not know when Christ will come, the time might be short or long. In the meantime, sinners have an opportunity to repent: “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8, 9).

But whether the time be short or long, the end will come: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13).

Jesus says certain things are not signs of His coming.

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:6, 7). Amazingly, some false teachers even claim that the various things Jesus says are not signs of his coming, are signs of His coming! I once heard a radio speaker quote this verse to that effect, but as he read, he skipped over the part: “but the end is not yet”! Beware of false teachers! They twist the Scriptures.

Someone who claims to know when Jesus is coming, is a false teacher.

Jesus warns: “Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them” (Luke 21:8). In every generation there are people who claim to know that the time has drawn near. And, as Jesus predicted, they deceive many. Why? Because many do not listen to what Jesus says: “Do not follow them.”

With John we can say: “It is the last hour” (1 John 2:18) and with Peter: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7) because since Pentecost we are in “the last days” (Acts 2:17) and Jesus can come at any moment. But anyone who claims to know more than that by saying: “The time has drawn near” (Luke 21:8) is a false teacher.

Only the Father knows when the end will be. We must always be ready.

Everyone will see Jesus when He comes.

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:23-27).

“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him” (Revelation 1:7).

Thus someone who claims that Jesus came in 70 AD is a false teacher, as are Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim that He came invisibly in 1914.

When Jesus comes, everyone will see Him. Do not be deceived.

The signs of Jesus’ return occur as He is coming.

When those signs appear, it will be too late. The time for repentance is passed. “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:30, 31).

“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:25-28).

Thus, when the sign of the Son of Man appears, the lost will tremble and the saved will rejoice. Jesus will come as a thief in the night. We must be ready. Once the sign of the Son of Man appears, it will be too late.

What then is the reply to the two questions? (1) The temple would be destroyed in that generation. His followers recognized the signs and left Jerusalem. (2) No one knows when Jesus will return, thus we must be ready at all times. Maybe there will still be thousands of years, or He may come right now! The end of all things is at hand. Are we ready?

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive