Scripture: Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down. 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 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus, having prophecied of Jerusalem’s demise, understandably laments over this historic city of religious significance. With words that reveal deep sadness, Jesus recounts its dubious reputation as the city that kills God’s messengers. He then expresses his heartfelt desire to gather and comfort its people like a hen with its chicks. But Jerusalem’s unwilling citizens will find their house (temple) desolate. And they will not see him again until they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” quoting Psalm 118:26.
Today’s short reading introduces a lengthy discourse on the end of the age when Jesus will return (remainder of chapter 24 and chapter 25). Seeing no purpose in continuing the dialogue with the religious leaders, Jesus leaves the temple and heads toward the Mount of Olives (still the Tuesday of Passion Week). Once his disciples catch up to him, they point out the marvelous exterior of the temple that stands so proudly in the Jerusalem skyline. But Jesus pours cold water on their enthusiasm and predicts its destruction. That’s a lot to process. Undoubtedly the disciples’ minds whirled as they continued down through the Kidron Valley and upward to their favorite place to rest and reflect while visiting Jerusalem: the Mount of Olives.
Upon arrival, Jesus sits to recoup after an intense day in the temple (where he had interacted with those who were fact-finding to ensure his conviction of a capital crime). Having heard Jesus lament Jerusalem’s future desolation earlier, the disciples are eager to learn more. So they ask their Master when these things will happen, particularly the signs of his coming and the end of the age (v.4). Jesus will answer their questions directly and through parables (which we will cover over the next several days’ devotions).
Takeaway: With these and the subsequent discourses about Jerusalem’s destruction and the turmoil and suffering preceding Christ’s return (the Parousia), these apocalyptic passages (as well as the parallel versions in Mark and Luke) can be confusing. Theologian George Ladd explains that these later historical events and end-times elements are a “prophetic foreshortening,” where the near event, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, symbolizes the far event, the end of the age. So rather than focus solely on what some of his disciples and their loved ones may face in several decades, Jesus points them to the culmination of our biblical narrative when he will return in power and glory and redeem all creation.
Our takeaway? As with all of Christ’s teachings found in our Gospels and expounded on in our epistles and John’s revelation, it is a unified message of redeemed suffering over desolation and of renewed life over decay and death. And it points us to our means of hope: the crucified, resurrected, ascended Christ. Indeed, he is our strength for all that awaits us in this life (confer Philippians 4:13) and our source of joy now and for all eternity (see John 15:11; John 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; James 1:2; 1 John 1:4). So no matter what awaits us, our Father has a plan for us, of welfare over evil and hope for our future (Jeremiah 29:11), and his name is Jesus Christ!
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who, through his faithful obedience to you, has fulfilled the role of Isaiah’s prophecied suffering servant so that we might find strength and joy to navigate this sin-marred world by faith through grace in him. So with that in mind, would you please help us to stay focused on your Son through prosperity and suffering, not succumbing to fear but embracing our hope in our Lord and Savior? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling