Matthew 24 is one composite prophetical passage, spoken to the apostles on the mount of Olives during the Lord’s last week on earth before His cross. Good truth is always worth repeating in different places to different people, so parts of this discourse are found repeated in distinct chapters of Luke. We do not believe that Matthew conveniently arranged three discourses into one composite account, nor that Luke broke one discourse up into three parts owing to his ignorance of where the material should appear in the record. Very approximately, Luke 21. 5-33 (the last of the three discourses in Luke) corresponds to the first part of Matthew 24, namely, events preceding the Lord’s return in glory. Luke 17. 22-37 (the middle of the three discourses in Luke) corresponds to the central part of Matthew 24, namely, the Lord’s return in glory. Luke 12. 39-48 (the first discourse in Luke) corresponds to the last part of Matthew 24, namely, the responsibility of those who wait. (Arrange all these verse numbers in Luke down a long column in order, and the verse numbers in Matthew 24 in a long parallel column, and join up the corresponding verses in each column. The resulting pattern is interesting to contemplate, and clearly shows the reversal of subject matter in the two Gospels.)
The question by the Pharisees about when the kingdom of God would come, Luke 17. 20, was perhaps a trick question. If the Lord were King, then the kingdom of God must come, when He would actively take the throne. Strictly, they would like the Romans to go, but they were not keen on Christ replacing them in authority. See also Luke 19. 11, 38. Today, men want a better situation internationally, and strive for it, but they do not want the best in Christ. However, right up to the final battle of Armageddon, Rev. 16. 14-16, there will be subjugation of nations by other nations. Luke is the writer who often stresses this political aspiration of the people, but the Lord would not engage in politics, nor would He instruct unbelievers about the future—only the present. Thus the Pharisees would not see the kingdom of God in open display, as they hoped to. Every eye will see Him in His coming kingdom, Rev. 1. 7, but this could not be applicable to the Pharisees, since it would not occur in their lifetime.
In their days, because of the domination by the Romans, no one could possibly say that the kingdom had come, v. 21. (In the future they will say this in a spirit of deceit, v. 23.) Rather, the Lord would first stress the moral state of the kingdom as “within you” or “in the midst”. Namely, the disciples would own the authority of the Lord; see Acts 1. 6-8; Rom. 14. 17-19.
However, the Lord then instructed His “disciples” regarding the future events at His coming. In verse 22, “the days of the Son of man” would appear to refer to the days of His kingdom in open display, His millennial reign. His title “Son of man” refers essentially to His rule and authority in the world, but it is hardly a title that the Lord adopts relative to the church now, (though this title is used in Acts 7. 56; Rev. 1. 13). Men would desire to taste the relief of those days during the persecution of the early church, and during the future great tribulation, but those who are martyred will not have seen His kingdom during their lifetime on earth.
Immediately preceding His coming, there will be deception by religious persecutors and false Christs. Anti-Christ will seek to show that he is God, 2 Thess. 2. 4; Rev. 13. 14. (Believers today may be led away by false apostles and false teachers, but hardly by anti-Christs always abroad in the world.) Men will “see” by false signs, Luke 17. 23—the eyes and mind are captivated (as very often today). Pharaoh’s magicians deceived with open display, and so did Simon of Samaria, 2 Tim. 3. 8; Acts 8. 9; in the future, the beast out of the earth will do “great wonders”, Rev. 13. 13. How unlike the Lord Jesus, approved of God by miracles, wonders and signs, Acts 2. 22; these three words (in Greek) by way of contrast also describe the work of anti-Christ, 2 Thess. 2. 9.
The Lord dwelt immediately upon His actual return in glory, Luke 17. 24, The shining of the lightning speaks of the suddenness of the event, and the outshining of all-pervading glory. (Compare this with the suddenness of our resurrection at the Lord’s parousia, 1 Cor. 15. 52.) Matthew 24. 27 describes the universality of the event as “out of the east … even unto the west”. This return of the Lord in glory will be a dramatic display of divine power, for such power is the only means whereby His kingdom will be established openly in a world where men and Satan dominate. His kingdom morally is set up today through grace not judgment. His power in overcoming all authority on earth is seen in Revelation 17. 14, “the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings”. Yet such supreme glory would only follow after His sufferings, Luke 17. 25. According to the Old Testament, the Messiah of glory was to follow the Messiah of suffering. For us, we know that the church-age comes in between, and even the disciples did not link these two features of the Messiah together. The idea of a suffering Messiah was repugnant to Peter, Matt. 1 6. 22, so he failed shortly afterwards when he saw the Lord in glory, 17. 4. These sufferings would occur when He was “rejected of this generation”; see Luke 18. 31-33.
In our passage, there are several references to “days” and “day”. In verse 26, the “days of Noe (Noah)” and the “days of the Son of man” refer to the period prior to His return in glory. We may summarize as follows:
The Lord then taught lessons of judgment from the Old Testament, v. 26. The reference to eating, drinking, marrying, is to the beginning of Genesis 6 before the flood—all this had idolatrous implications, Exod. 32. 6; 1 Cor. 10. 7. This was the repetitive activity over the years, as if there would be no divine intervention. The fear of things “not seen as yet”, Heb. 11. 7, was in Noah only, not in men generally. This was a period of long-suffering on God’s part, 1 Pet. 3. 20, and likewise will it be when the “everlasting gospel” is presented, Rev. 14. 6.
Verse 27 gives the first hint of separation produced by judgment. The Lord had taught this before in Matthew 13: the wheat and the tares, the good fish and the bad—the subject of men being treated differently is disliked by mere religious men, Luke 4. 28, and sometimes by Christians, but is a subject that pervades Scripture. In 17. 28 we read of idolatrous activity in Sodom. Alas, Lot was not separated; he dwelt there knowing that men were “wicked and sinners”, Gen. 13. 13. He also knew of forthcoming judgment, 19. 13-14, but he appeared as “one that mocked” since he had lost his testimony. Judgment fell only when Lot was taken out by the angels who hastened him to leave. He lingered and had to be brought out, for the Lord had mercy on him, 19. 16, 19. It is remarkable that 2 Peter 2. 7-8 states: “just Lot”, a “righteous man dwelling among them”.
The lesson is “Even thus”, namely that the future judgment and separation at the ultimate heading up of evil is the subject of the Lord’s discourse. But more: in the Old Testament account of Sodom, God was not openly revealed; He used “brimstone and fire … out of heaven”, Gen. 19. 24. Yet here the Son of man shall be “revealed”, namely His glory shall be uncovered, 2 Thess. 1. 7-9. Unlike the physical agents of fire and brimstone, there will be a personal divine intervention with a sharp sword out of His mouth, Rev. 19. 15.
So terrible will be that occasion, that God’s people on earth at that time must not look back even to legitimate things of life, v. 31 (where the “housetop … field” contrast with the planting and building in verse 28, the former nouns in verse 31 belonging to His people, while the latter verbs in verse 28 being the occupations of godless men). See also 21. 21 where men have to flee. When the children of Israel left Egypt, they were not to look back with any longing. Lot’s wife had to be recalled, as one not delivered but taken for judgment, Gen. 19. 26. This is an example of regret at separation, of curiosity as to how God would judge. Rather, affections should be centred on the Lord, for a new start in His kingdom.
Seeking to save a life and losing it, and vice versa, v. 33, is perhaps difficult to interpret, but must be taken in conjunction with the previous verses. As a general principle, it occurs also in Matthew 10. 39 and Luke 9. 24. It is suggested that “life” here refers more particularly to one’s means of living and one’s possessions—-to save one’s home and belongings would lead to their loss. If these are lost by deliberate choice, there will be further abundant provision from the Lord. Ananias and Sapphira sought to save their living, and lost both it and their lives, Acts 5. 1-11.
In verses 34-36, we have distinctions between night and day, male and female. But the time of day, and one’s work and status, will be irrelevant. Those taken for judgment are those without faith, being followers of the beasts, Rev. 13. Those left enter into blessing on the millennial earth. (Verse 36 is not found in the best Greek texts; it appears correctly, however, in Matthew 24. 40.)
Finally, the disciples interrupted and asked, “Where (astaken for judgment), Lord”. The eagles being gathered correspond to Matthew 24. 28; the useless flesh of the dead bodies of those judged will be devoured to cleanse the earth see Rev. 19. 17, 21. It is a physical disposal, with hades receiving their souls until the judgment of the great white throne. This conclusion is unlike the passage in Luke 21, where we have “your redemption draweth nigh”, v. 28; “summer is now nigh at hand”, v. 30; “the kingdom of God is nigh at hand”, v. 31 “to stand before the Son of man”, v. 36.
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