In much of Matthew 24, Jesus is warning followers who, like Peter, want an optimistic promise of the future (16:21-23) that realism is more important. His followers must prepare themselves to die for his honor before the coming of the end (compare 16:24-28). The introduction to this part of the discourse makes some crucial points.Jesus Is Not Impressed with Splendid Monuments (24:1-2) The temple was renowned for its beauty (ARN 28A; 48, Section 132B), even throughout the Roman world (2 Macc 2:22; Ep. Arist. 84-91; CIJ 1:378, Section 515); Israel had traditionally viewed the temple as invincible (Jer 7:4; Ep. Arist. 100-101; Philo Spec. Leg. 1.76). Jesus, however, is not impressed.Swift Judgment to Come Against the Temple Establishment (24:2) The temple, as the ultimate symbol of the Judean religious establishment, which the people took to be the symbol of God's glory (compare Jer 7:4), would be utterly destroyed.
It is difficult to deny that Jesus accurately predicted the temple's destruction. Even on minimal historical grounds, we have good reason to agree with Matthew that Jesus did so (see, for example, Hill 1979:62-63; Aune 1983:174-75; E. Sanders 1993:257). First, although the later church may have forgotten the significance of some of Jesus' words and deeds against the temple, they preserved them. Thus we learn of a symbolic act of judgment there (Mt 21:12), testimony of witnesses the Christians believed to be false (26:61; compare Mk 15:29; Jn 2:19; Acts 6:14), and a tradition about its destruction that must come from before it was destroyed (Q tradition in Mt 23:38 par. Lk 13:35). Jewish Christians who continued to worship in the temple (Acts 2:46; 21:26-27) nevertheless remained faithful to a saying of Jesus which they would surely not have created (compare Hare 1967:6). Finally, someone making up Jesus' prediction after the event would have fitted it more literally to its fulfillment, whereas Jesus' saying retains its prophetic hyperbole (such as not one stone . . . on another).The End of Both the Temple and the Age (24:3) This chapter will address two issues: (1) the time of the temple's destruction and (2) the sign indicating his coming and the close of this age. Although biblical prophecy often linked events according to the kind of event rather than their sequence (for example, a near plague of locusts coalesces with eschatological armies in Joel), clarity was essential for Matthew (probably writing after 70) in a way that it was not for Mark (Mk 13:2, probably before 70; compare F. Bruce 1972a:71; S. Brown 1979). Modern prophecy teachers who require a restored temple and another abomination of desolation to precede Christ's return may be missing the point of Matthew's careful division of questions in 24:3. The final prerequisite for Jesus' coming is the evangelization of all nations (v. 14); the most specific prerequisite is the temple's desecration (v. 15), but the only sign of his immediate coming mentioned in the passage appears in the heavens when or just before Jesus appears (v. 30; compare J. Wenham 1977:72; pace Walvoord 1971b).
Jesus pronounces woes against religious leaders of his day (23:13-32) and then hints about judgment against the temple, the ultimate symbol of the religious establishment's power (23:38; compare 21:13). As in many Old Testament prophets, nearer judgments foreshadow the final judgment; Matthew recognizes in the temple's destruction in A.D. 70 a vindication of Jesus' prophecy and an assurance that his other prophecies will also come to pass.