Note: This blog is the eleventh in a series of posts on teaching the Gospel of Matthew. You can find the first blog on teaching Matthew HERE.
The final section in Matthew as Jesus arrives in Jerusalem focuses on Jesus’ teaching about the end of the world. In the narrative, the discussion is precipitated by the disciples’ questions about the temple and the end of the world. Matthew is also answering an important question for his readers about the relationship between the kingdom of God and the eschaton—the end of the world. The outline for the section looks like this:
VI. Section 6 – The Kingdom and the End (19:1-25:46)
A. The Fifth Set of Narratives (19:1-23:39)
B. The Fifth Discourse – The Olivet Discourse (24:1-25:46)
The narrative portion of Section 6 includes Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God, several parables about the kingdom, and the events that happen after Jesus arrives in Jerusalem (e.g. the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, and the “woes” he pronounces upon the religious leaders). The final major discourse in Matthew is the Olivet Discourse, in which Jesus teaches specifically about the gospel, the kingdom of God, and how they relate to the end of the world. Below is what I included in my handout as I taught this material in my church. Note: some of the language below is adapted from the study notes on Matthew that I wrote for the Worldview Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 2018).
Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem (19:1-23:39):
There are some notoriously controversial passages in this section, most notably: Jesus’ teaching on divorce, his teaching about “eunuchs,” and his teaching about money related to the “rich young ruler.” Here are a few notes that might help you read those passages:
In Matthew 19:3 we read the second time Jesus comments on divorce in Matthew. Here Jesus expands on his earlier comments. God never intended for anyone to divorce—what God has joined together, man must not separate. But because the world is filled with sinners who are prone to victimize the weak, in cases of sexual immorality, God allows for divorce and requires those seeking a divorce to conform to certain legal requirements (see Dt 24:1-4).
In Matthew 19:12 Jesus uses the term eunuch to describe someone who does not engage in normal marital sexual relations. Just as there are some people who cannot have normal sexual relations because of congenital bodily defects and some who cannot because their genitals have been intentionally or accidentally mutilated (e.g. castration), there are some who voluntarily abstain from marriage and sex in order to focus on serving the kingdom of heaven.
In Matthew 21 Jesus rides into Jerusalem as an intentional and public fulfillment of the messianic prophecy in Zechariah 9. This sparks an outbreak of messianic fervor in Jerusalem. The crowds line the streets and shout, “Hosannah to the Son of David!” As Matthew has repeatedly made clear, they misunderstand the nature of Jesus’ kingdom and are expecting the Messiah to deliver them from Roman oppression (much like the disciples misunderstood back in Matthew 20:20). When Jesus does not live up to their expectations, they very quickly turn on him (e.g. Matthew 27:20-23). It is likely, in fact, that they were expecting Jesus to ride into Jerusalem and go straight to Herod’s palace or to a Roman garrison to start the revolution, but instead he rides to the temple and throws all the religious leaders out. This marks a dramatic turning point in public perception of Jesus.
1. What do the parables in this section (20:1, 21:28, 21:33, and 22:1) have in common? Toward what point do these parables progress? Three of these parables have violent ends. What is Jesus trying to teach us?
2. What behaviors of the religious leaders does Jesus condemn in Matthew 23? How should we read this? Of what is Jesus warning us?
The Olivet Discourse (24:1-25:46):
Christians throughout the centuries have understood Jesus’ words about the eschaton in Matthew 24 and 25 in many different ways. These notes here represent my take (which is a fairly mainstream evangelical understanding).
The temple in Jerusalem had suffered a long history of desecrations and violence against it (e.g. Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC and Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BC). Within a decade of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Roman Emperor Caligula tried to set up an image of himself in the Jerusalem temple (ca. AD 40). Jesus quotes from the prophet Daniel in order to warn his disciples to be watchful for the desecration Daniel prophesied about (Dn 9:27), desecrations like the kinds they had seen in their history only much worse. This would be among the signs that marked the end of the age.
Jesus’ listeners would have closely associated the destruction of Jerusalem and the desecration of the temple with the end of the world, but Jesus appears to be using the impending disaster—the razing of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in AD 70—to help them understand what the last days will be like. By Mt 24:29 Jesus appears to be no longer talking about historical events near to his own time but is speaking eschatologically about the end of the age and the second coming of the Messiah.
Because Jesus spoke prophetically of historical events near to his own time and of future eschatological events together, the word “generation” in 24:34 must be understood in that context. The near future events of horror and upheaval the followers of Jesus were going to face (Mt 24:1-28—persecution, war, destruction at the hands of the Romans, etc.) were but signs of the coming tribulation of those days (Mt 24:29). Jesus’ contemporary generation would see all of these signs come to pass just as Jesus said and be assured that the words that Jesus had spoken were true.
All sorts of horrible things happen in the world all the time. Those are not signs that the end is near (Matthew 24:6), but they can teach us what the end will be like. The end will come when God’s kingdom plan for the salvation of the nations is complete and not before (Matthew 24:14).
1. If Jesus is correct that 1) no one knows when the end will come and 2) you can’t look to current events to tell if the end is near, how does that change how we think and talk about the end of the world? How does it change the way we live?
2. How do the parables in Matthew 25 illustrate Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24? What do they add to that teaching?