This chapter (also recorded Mark 13 and Luke 21) documents a discussion between Jesus and his disciples. Upon leaving the temple, Jesus comments on its destruction (vs 2). Subsequently, they wanted to know about three things from Jesus: 1) the timing of the temple’s destruction, 2) the sign of His coming, and 3) the end of the age (vs 3).
Jesus begins His answer, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray.” (vs 4-5) He continues foretelling terrible natural events (e.g. wars, famine, etc.) but also a spiritual “tribulation” (persecution) where many saints will “fall away” (vs 10). Despite this, He warns again that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (vs 13) and the “gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” after which “the end will come” (vs 14).
The preceding seems to be an overview before beginning to speak about a specific “great tribulation” (vs 21) that they would experience. He refers to this as “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (vs 15) and prays that their “flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath” (vs 20).
As is typical with prophecy, which this chapter is, sequencing is difficult as events and their timing (near-term/long-term) are very fluid. Remember, the disciples had asked about both the timing of the destruction of the temple and His return. Jesus shares events (vss 15-28) that will take place in their generation (vs 34) regarding the destruction of the temple (in fact, taking place about forty years later in 70AD). He then speaks about what will happen “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (vs 29), namely His return (vss 29-44), but it too is a mixed timeline.
Summary of sequence:
- vss 4-14 – A broad review of events during the ‘end times’ (both near-term and long-term) when “lawlessness is increased”.
- vss 15-28 – A near-term description of events that they would experience relating to the destruction of Jerusalem. Something that in fact, would happen about forty years later (70AD). Also indicative of this period is a time when some would claim the Christ has returned, but Jesus says don’t believe them (vs 23). Also recorded in Mark 13:14-23 and Luke 21:20-24.
- vss 29-31 – A long-term description of the events of the second coming, the final judgment. Also recorded in Mark 13:24-27 and Luke 21:25-28.
- vss 32-34 – The near-term timing that He relates and explains with a parable about the fig tree for how they would identify the occurrence of “these things” (vs 33) and says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (vs 34).
- vss 35-44 The long-term timing, transitioned by contrasting things that will and won’t pass away (vs 34-35) and with “But…” (vs 36). This timing “no one knows” – not even Himself (vs 36).