Our study of the first part of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:1–35), has endeavored to keep in mind Jesus’ warning to the leaders of Jerusalem that judgment would fall upon them for rejecting the Son of God (23:29–39). This prediction sets the stage for Christ’s words about the overthrow of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem, indicating that God’s wrath caused the ruin of the Holy City in AD 70 (24:1–31). Jesus Himself is the Almighty’s instrument of judgment, according to verse 30. God’s coming on the clouds is a metaphor for God’s judgment in the Old Testament (Isa. 19:1; Ezek. 30:1–4); therefore, Jesus is saying that He will execute the Creator’s perfect justice upon that generation of unbelieving Israelites when He promises to come on the clouds.
We argue for this approach to Matthew 24:1–35 because it makes the best sense out of the passage, not to mention that our Lord’s credibility is called into question if these verses are about things yet to come, not Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70. Jesus told His listeners that their generation would not pass away until 24:1–35 was fulfilled (v. 34), but that generation died without seeing His final return. Realizing this problem, many who believe 24:1–35 is yet to be fulfilled try to make “this generation” mean something other than the people who first heard the Olivet Discourse. However, the Greek for “this generation” is used throughout Matthew’s gospel to refer to the people who lived at the time of Jesus. This view raises no such difficulties, showing that the events of 24:1–35 did take place within the generation of those who first heard Jesus, vindicating Him as a true prophet from God.
Dr. R.C. Sproul says there is “redemptive-historical importance [to] Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70” (The Last Days According to Jesus p. 26). Though Jesus’ final return lies ahead (Acts 1:6–11), there was a coming of the Son of Man in judgment a few decades after His resurrection, a coming vital for understanding God’s salvation. The old temple was demolished shortly after Christ ascended to heaven, visibly confirming Him as its replacement and the only mediator between us and the Father (John 2:13–22; 14:6; Heb. 10:1–18).
We still wait for Jesus to return and usher in the new heaven and the new earth. Still, we should not underestimate the significance of His judgment of Jerusalem through Rome in AD 70. No longer is there one place in only one country where we may gather for worship, and this confirms God’s intent to save people from all over the world. Let us be grateful that we may worship Him wherever we are and strive to make the praise of our Creator a part of our daily lives.
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