A Bible Lesson on Matthew 24:29-51

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jesus has done His last public teaching and is speaking to the disciples alone about the end times. (See verse 3 of the chapter.) We live in a linear history that is moving in the timing and plan of God to the fully revealed and complete and eternal rule and reign of Christ. We’ve been told all that we really need to know about the timing of what is coming, and Matthew 24 is a major part of that. This lesson begins part way through what Jesus has to say to the disciples (and us) about it.

Matthew 24:29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Of course this is cataclysmic stuff. It will be out in the open and obvious to all. Jesus came once in obscurity and humility. He will come again, this time for all living to see, in great power and glory. Throughout history there have been groups that claimed they were in on a secret second coming. But there is no such thing.

30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

While Christians look forward to the physical return of the true King of the universe, humanity at large hates God, is busily ignoring His rule, and will mourn Christ’s public return. We’re rebels by birth and choice, and except He saves us, there will be no joy in the end of human history. As always, the “Son of Man” language here is consistent with Daniel 7, clearly refers to Jesus, and simultaneously affirms both His humanity and His deity.

31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The Son of Man commands the angels and the elect are His. From one end of existence to the other, He is King. He will speak and all will converge to earth. This is an amazing breath-taking thing. The Psalmist asks who man is that God is mindful of him. We know the earth is but a speck in the vastness of creation. But all that is is focused here on the actions of God concerning eternal redemption, and the stage on which this is played out is planet earth.

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.

33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

Jesus has been speaking of more general woes and warnings in history of a coming final judgment. These particular things will be unmistakable and beyond anything that humans have ever before witnessed. They will uniquely mark the second coming of Messiah.

34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

What the disciples heard when Jesus spoke these words, might have been “the group of people presently living will not die off until …” They certainly lived expecting His return. But John’s comment about how people had interpreted Peter’s inquiry as to whether John would die makes it pretty clear that John didn’t count it certain that he’d live to see the second coming. And it is no stretch of the meaning of “generation” for Jesus to be speaking of His redeemed people, and that is the most obvious reading of the text from the perspective of church history. The promise is that this people of Christ is a permanent people.

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

His people is a permanent people and His words are permanent words. That is in contrast to the present created order. If anything, verses 34 and 35 offer instruction to Christians to not lose heart as physical generations pass before the second coming. Seeking for an interpretation of verse 34 that makes “generation” refer to people alive in 33 AD bends the most obvious intentions of this passage all out of shape. Timing is not clear. But what believing people really need to know is clear.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

It’s astonishing how repeatedly in history professing Christians have ignored this plain statement to their own harm, the harm of others, and the embarrassment of the church. If Christ says that only the Father knows, we cannot know, even with the most arcane systems of numerology or coding of words of the Scriptures. Ignoring this, making predictions, having them fail, then needing to invent some bizarre cover story has repeatedly led to mocking of the church, disillusionment of those buying the predictions, and heretical beliefs in line with the cover stories. No one knows. Period.

And by the way, God does all things well. It is for good that only the Father knows. Consider life in a world where people did know the date. In no way would that make for more holiness, more love for Christ, more devotion to God.

37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,

39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Peter (2Peter 2:5) calls Noah a preacher/herald of righteousness. He built on an ark for 100 years. There was a very long wait and not much of a congregation of the believing saying “Amen!” But he persevered in obedience to God, and when the time came without warning, there was physical salvation for him and his family. The example of Noah and the flood teaches the suddenness of the second coming. But it also teaches preparation through obedience and perseverance and is consistent with the long range understanding of verses 34 and 35.

40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.

41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.

These are, in one view, wonderful pictures: ordinary people going about life in Christ, engaged in ordinary day-to-day stuff, ready when the moment comes. In another view, they are horrifying. Some engaged in the same day-to-day business are completely unprepared and are separated permanently and without additional warning from the ones taken. The coming will be plain to all, sudden and without opportunity to change status, and absolutely decisive. There is no middle ground here. Some are taken/gathered as part of Christ’s people. Others are left.

42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Again, “you do not know.” So, stay awake. It’s clear that wakefulness is not some super-spiritual withdrawal from the ordinary. It is instead ordinary life lived in consistent humble dependence upon, obedience to, and in gratitude and love for God.

43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Housebreakers don’t advertise when they are coming. The second coming of Christ will be no better advertised. People take measures to protect something as trivial as their physical property. How much more important is it that people take measures for the well-being of their souls? Readiness/preparedness matters in the care of stuff. It surely matters in the care of one’s soul. What does that readiness look like? What sets apart the one who is taken from the one who is left?

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?

46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.

47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.

This readiness for the return of Christ consists in understanding to Whom we belong, and in humility and gratitude consistently/constantly being about His business. This is stewardship of what ultimately belongs to God. Jesus is going to go on to tell the parable of the 10 maidens and the parable of the talents. These parables amplify on these verses.

48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’

49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards,

50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know

51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Lack of readiness for Christ’s return is a selfish life lived without real concern for the Master or for the well-being of others. It’s a heart that says “I’ll live as I please until His presence is inescapably obvious. I’ll call the shots and live for the moment. I’ll ignore the King as long as I can, simply putting out of mind that He has promised to return. The end of that is sure and horrible eternal destruction. Hell will be full of both those who flagrantly flout the will of God and those who play act at keeping it, believing that their rule keeping justifies them.

This appears to be a different sort of person than the Pharisees who were addressed in Chapter 23, but the end of them is the same. And ultimately there is no real difference between hypocritically presuming to establish a false righteousness on the basis of rule keeping while ignoring the real heart of God and just blatantly saying “I don’t care about God or people.” That is the stuff of eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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