The Passion Mid-Week
The Passion Mid-Week
Prophecies Of His Crucifixion And Return
14.01.00.A. JUDAS BETRAYS CHRIST by Giotto (c. 1267-1337). Judas, who surrendered himself to the devil, betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders.
Jesus told His disciples of the events that would occur in the near future, but they could not comprehend His words. They could not understand how a Messiah who healed the sick, raised the dead, and fed multitudes would die.
14.01.01 Mt. 23:37-39
JESUS LAMENTS OVER JERUSALEM
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! She who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say,
‘He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One’!” (Ps. 118:26).
Throughout the long history of Jerusalem, God has often warned His people, and they have often rejected His messengers and killed them. Many times God desired to protect His people, but they refused to listen. Protection offered as a bird protects its young is a common Jewish image in ancient writings. So at this point, Jesus looked into the future saw the coming destruction of the temple and city that He loved, and He applied the common figure of speech that was familiar to everyone.
Jesus saw souls lost in eternity and the persecutions future generations would endure. He not only envisioned all the suffering they would face, but also the false messiahs they would pursue, only to be disappointed. For example, Rabbi Akiba (or “Akiva) was the religious leader of the second major revolt (132-135) and declared Simon bar Kokhba as the messiah. It is an irony that Bar Kokhba means “Son of the Star.” This alludes to the Old Testament prophecies (Num. 24:17, Isa. 60:3) concerning “star.” By this time though, the Romans had enough of Jewish nationalism, and Emperor Hadrian destroyed Jerusalem, decreeing that it was illegal for any Christians or Jews to live in the city. He then placed a curse upon the Jewish land by renaming it Philistinia, in honor of the enemies of the ancient Jews, the Philistines. This is the popularization of the name which today is known as Palestine. The Jews were so greatly disillusioned with messianic dreams that any discussion of a messiah was suppressed for the next twelve hundred years. Most scholars believe the time of the Gentiles began with the temple destruction and First Revolt. However, complete dispersion of the Jews from Jerusalem occurred in A.D. 135 as the result of Simon bar Kokhba. They wandered aimlessly without a country for centuries until 1948 when the state of Israel was re-established.
“As a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” Jesus’ desire to be protective of His people again demonstrated that His love for them remained unchanged. That refutes the theory that the church eventually replaced Israel in God’s plan for humanity, and He does not care for them as a nation. His emotions were extreme. On one hand, He was dealing with anger concerning the corrupt religious leaders while on the other hand He had the deepest compassion for the common people. He wept for them with an understanding that eventually future judgment would meet them.
Decades later, near the end of the first century, a righteous Jew lamented over the city of Jerusalem in the wake of the Roman destruction. The imagery of his words is quite similar to those of Jesus, which underscores the use of colloquialism among the common people. Since the author was not a messianic Jew, it is highly unlikely that he quoted or paraphrased Jesus, but rather, simply expressed his heavy heart.
Thus says the Lord Almighty: “Have I not entreated you as a father entreats his sons or a mother her daughters or a nurse her children, that you should be my people and I should be your God, and that you should be my sons and I should be your father? I gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. But now, what shall I do to you? I will cast you out from my presence. When you offer oblations to me, I will turn my face from you; for I have rejected your feast days, and new moons, and circumcisions of the flesh. I sent to you my servants the prophets, but you have taken and slain them and torn their bodies in pieces; their blood I will require of you,” says the Lord.
Some scholars have argued that this passage was not written by a Jew, but is the creation of a Christian who inserted this passage into the apocryphal book. That might be true, but since other Jewish writers reported similar sentiments, the objective here is not to authenticate the origin, but simply to illustrate the similarity of ideas.
. Deut. 28-32; Hosea and Ezekiel 16.
. Deut. 32:11; Ps. 17:8; Isa. 31:5; 2 Baruch 41:3-4.
. See also Richard Horsley. “Popular Messianic Movements around the Time of Jesus.” Catholic Bible Quarterly. Vol. 46. 1984. 471-495.
. Pasachoff and Littman, Jewish History in 100 Nutshells. 95-97.
. The name originated centuries earlier, possibly by the Greeks, as a mockery or degrading name for the Jewish land. However, it was never popular until Hadrian made it the “official” name of the country.
. Pasachoff and Littman, Jewish History in 100 Nutshells. 95-98.
. Scholars debate on the classification of 3rd Ezra (a/k/a 1 Esdras) and 4th Ezra (a/k/a 2nd Esdras). Sometimes these are listed in the Apocrypha (see 02.02.03) and other times they are listed in the Pseudepigrapha (see 02.02.24). The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.
14.01.02 Mk. 12:41-44 (See also Lk. 21:1-4)
THE RIGHTEOUS WIDOW
41 Sitting across from the temple treasury, He watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. 43 Summoning His disciples, He said to them, “I assure you: This poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. 44 For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed — all she had to live on.”
“Temple treasury.” The treasury chamber was located by the Court of the Women that was surrounded by beautiful colonnades. It was there where people gave their sin and peace offerings. They placed them in one or more of the thirteen designated trumpet-shaped treasury boxes (shopharoth) and two chambers into which charitable contributions were placed. These funds were used for charity, temple repairs, and other necessary temple functions. Each box had a dedicated purpose, as follows:
A poor woman came and gave everything she had. According to the Talmud, it was into one of these containers the poor woman had placed her “two peruths” (or “mites”), the least amount even a poor person was required to give. By giving everything, she placed her entire faith in God for her well-being. Jesus and His disciples watched her carefully. He did not speak to her any words of encouragement or a prosperity sermon, for He was abundantly aware that this righteous Jewess lived by faith and He knew what treasures awaited her in heaven. Conversely, the wealthy man had no need of faith with the large reserve of wealth that he retained. Jesus is not so much concerned with what one gives as He is with what one retains.
“Two tiny coins worth very little.” The proverbial “widow’s mite,” as in the King James Bible, was the smallest denomination minted in Roman currency. It was known as the lepta. Two lepta equaled a quadrams. Sixty-four leptas equaled a denarius, which was a typical day’s wage for a working man needed to support a small family. Hence, the two coins the widow gave were, in fact, a very small sum of money, yet Jesus was impressed with her gift.
. Josephus recorded an account when King Agrippa, who was given a golden chain by Gaius, offered it to the Temple by hanging it over the treasury. It was hung there for all worshipers to see, rather than being placed secretly inside. Antiquities 20.6.1.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 741.
. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:220-25.
. Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 10b.
. Tobit 5:14-15; Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 236.
14.01.03 Mk. 13:1-2 (See also Mt. 24:1-2; Lk. 21:5-6) Leaving the Temple, Tuesday
JESUS PREDICTS THAT THE TEMPLE WILL BE DESTROYED
1 As He was going out of the temple complex, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, look! What massive stones! What impressive buildings!”
2 Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down!”
14.01.03.A. HERODIAN ASHLARS OF THE WESTERN WALL. Herod the Great created his own unique face edging design on the large stones he used in his buildings. Known as Herodian ashlars, the Western Wall and the southeast corner of the Old City Wall have some of the largest stones ever used in ancient world construction. These were not part of the temple building, but part of the retaining wall that supported the temple court yard. Photograph by the author.
The disciples were stunned when Jesus told them that the temple would be destroyed to the point that not a single stone would remain upon another. Yet Jesus was hardly the first to predict its destruction – others questioned how long God would permit His corrupted temple to stand. The massive cretaceous limestone blocks required thousands of men and heavy construction equipment to move and place into position to build walls. Shown above (14.01.03.A) are some of the smaller ashlars of the retaining wall commonly known as the Western Wall, which part of the complex Josephus described as the most prodigious work that was ever heard of by man. To destroy the temple would be a formidable task, yet that is precisely what happened in A.D.70.
“What massive stones!” Beginning in 20 or 19 B.C. Herod the Great intended to build one of the wonders of the world, and his dream was completed decades after his death, in A.D. 63, only seven years before its destruction. The magnificent temple truly was an ancient wonder, with its massive limestone blocks, nine gates overlaid with silver and gold, and the tenth gate was of solid Corinthian brass. Carved in the walls by the gates were grape clusters, with each cluster being the size of a man. Inside were two towering 25-meter gilded menorahs, stately pillars, and surrounding porches that invoked a sense of awe in anyone. The plates of gold reflected the rays of the morning sun with a dazzling brightness that overpowered the eyes. This incredible beauty was carved in white limestone, but not in the hearts of men. Josephus said that when approaching Jerusalem the temple appeared like a snow-capped mountain.
The foundation stones uncovered at the temple site are the largest building stones found anywhere in the world. These massive stones were laid by Herod the Great in the first three years of the reconstruction and remodeling of the temple. After his death, no one built with such huge stones (known as ashlars) anymore. Unfortunately, the temple, like these leaders, had become a symbol of extreme hypocrisy.
“What magnificent buildings!” The temple complex was the pinnacle of architectural achievements built by Herod the Great. At least two ancient writers described this magnificent building: Josephus and Philo. First are the words of Josephus, who had visited the temple many times.
Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes, for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for, as to those parts of it that were not gilded, they were exceeding white. On its top, it had spikes with sharp points to prevent any pollution of it by birds sitting upon it. Of its stones, some of them were forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth. Before the temple stood the altar, fifteen cubits high and equal both in length and breadth each with of which dimensions was fifty cubits. The figure it was built in was a square and it had corners like horns, and the passage up to it by an insensible acclivity. It was formed without any iron tools, nor did any such iron tool so much as touch it at any time.
Josephus, Wars 5.5.6 (222-225)
The Jewish philosopher Philo described the glory and magnificence of the temple to the Roman Emperor Caligula in his work, On the Embassy to Gaius (37).
But why need I invoke the assistance of foreign witnesses, when I have plenty with whom I can furnish you from among your own countrymen and friends? Marcus Agrippa, your own grandfather on the mother’s side, the moment he arrived in Judea, when Herod, my grandfather was king of the country, thought fit to go up from the seacoast to the metropolis (Jerusalem), which was inland. And when he had beheld the temple, and the decorations of the priests, and the piety and holiness of the people of the country, he marveled looking upon the whole matter as one of great solemnity and entitled to great respect, and thinking that he had beheld what was too magnificent to be described. And he could talk of nothing else to his companions but the magnificence of the temple and everything connected with it.
Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 37
Therefore, every day that he remained in the city, by reason of his friendship for Herod, he went to that sacred place, being delighted with the spectacle of the building, and of the sacrifices, and all the ceremonies connected with the worship of God and the regularity which was observed, and the dignity and honor paid to the high priest and his grandeur when arrayed in his sacred vestments and went about to begin the sacrifices.
What again did your other grandfather, Tiberius Caesar do? Does not he appear to have adopted an exactly similar line of conduct? At all events during the three and twenty years that he was emperor he preserved the form of worship in the temple as it had been handed down from the earliest times, without abrogating or altering the slightest particular of it.
Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 294-296, 298
The Greeks and Romans always mocked the Jews for what was deemed to be a superstitious religion. The Gentiles could not imagine worshiping a god they could not see. However, as Herod’s remodeling progressed and the reputation of the beautiful structure spread, Gentiles gave Judaism a greater level of respectability. Among ancient buildings, the Jewish temple was equal to what today would be called a “skyscraper.” But whatever honors the Jewish people enjoyed from their temple and neighbors, was short lived.
“Not one stone will be left here on another.” The words of Jesus most certainly were not shocking to all rabbis who eventually heard them. There were a number of righteous rabbis who recognized the deteriorating condition of the Jewish leadership in the temple, and concluded that divine judgment was at hand. Note the following comments which were written before the destruction:
Therefore, the sanctuary which the Lord chose shall become desolate through your uncleanness, and you will be captives in all the nations.
Testament of Levi 15.1
After his death there will come into their land a powerful king of the West who will subdue them, and he will take away captives, and a part of their temple he will burn with fire. He will crucify some of them around their city.
Testament of Moses 6.8-9
The unknown Essene writer wrote prophetically in his description of the Sadducees and the temple elitists. He said that they would accumulate riches and plunder the people. However,
…In the last days their riches and their loot will fall into the hands of the army of the Kittim. (Blank) For they are Hab. 2:8a “the greatest of the peoples,” Hab 2:8b for the human blood [spilt] and violence done to the country, the city and all its occupants.
Dead Sea Scroll, Habakkuk Pesher 1QpHab 9.6-7
Extra-biblical comments as these present the very real possibility that God was also moving in the hearts and minds of righteous rabbis of the time. Clearly they recognized the proverbial “writing on the wall.” 
Jesus did not curse the temple, but gave a prophecy of its future. This is a striking contrast between the Old Testament Covenant, which can never be broken (Jn. 10:35), and the temple which will be destroyed. The rejection of Jesus by national Israel, that is, the official Jewish leadership, would be the cause of the temple’s destruction. These words, “Not one stone…” were spoken as He left the temple for the last time.
Decades later, when General Titus and the Tenth Roman Legion came to Jerusalem, Titus asked his commanders if the temple should be destroyed, for he too appreciated the beauty of the architectural wonder and considered its destruction as shameful. The commanders, however, encouraged the destruction for it was rumored that gold was hidden in the walls. Whatever gold found would become booty for those who uncovered it. Therefore, the destruction came with great anticipation and excitement although no gold was ever found within the sacred walls. The rumor was not without merit, since there was an abundance of gold throughout the massive building. Centuries later the Talmud recorded that:
It used to be said: He who has not seen the temple of Herod has never seen a beautiful building…. He originally intended to cover it with gold, but the Rabbis advised him not to, since it was more beautiful as it was, [the stones] looking like the waves of the sea.
Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 4a
Of the ten measures of beauty that came down to the world, Jerusalem took nine.
Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 49b
Later, in A.D. 135, Jerusalem was destroyed again by the Romans and this time all the Jews were expelled from the Holy City. With these two destructions, they realized that their proverbial “fence around the Torah”  had failed. Yet the early church did not consider these two destructions of Jerusalem (AD 70 and 135) as being the prophetic fulfillment of judgment known as the “Day of the Lord.” 
After Jesus gave the warning of the pending destruction (Mt. 24), He led His disciples across the Kidron Valley and they rested upon the Mount of Olives. Ironically, a prophecy concerning the destruction was essentially a threat to Rome, as that would obviously entail a huge riot and massive social unrest. To threaten a destruction of the temple was a capital crime, but evidently, those words never went beyond the inner circle of disciples.
Obviously, by this time the disciples realized some changes were about to occur, so they asked Him about the future. His response in Matthew 24 is often referred to as either the “Olivet Discourse,” “the Synoptic Apocalypse,” or “the Little Apocalypse,” in which He discussed the signs that would occur prior to His return. While He mentioned these events, He never indicated precisely when He will return. His advice was to be aware, be watchful, and be faithful. The focus of prophecy, as this is, has always been on Jesus and how to respond to Him. Prophetic words were also a source of comfort as they confirm the knowledge that God alone knows what the future holds.
The Olivet Discourse (below) has parallels with the book of Revelation. For example, Matthew 24:4-8 has a parallel theme in Revelation 6. Since the Revelation of Jesus, as recorded by John is clearly an apocalyptic event, this suggests to critics that the words of Matthew represent futuristic occurrences that are far more intense or severe than those of the past. Matthew 24:9-14 describes the second half of the Tribulation. In essence, it will be a time of widespread deception, persecution, and death. The “Beast” will be the persecutor of those who fail to worship him (Rev. 13:7). Yet those who faithfully withstand the cruelty of the times will be saved (Mt. 24:13). While the Antichrist (or Beast) attempts to blot out the Christian faith, the gospel will be preached throughout the world (Mt. 24:14).
Four disciples, James and his brother John, and Peter and his brother Andrew, asked Jesus a question in response to the Jewish request for the Messiah to come. Jesus was seated, as a teaching rabbi would teach his students, and responded with the following discourse.
. Righteous Jewish writers who believed the temple leadership was unfaithful, and therefore, placed the nation at risk predicted the temple destruction in Testament of Levi 15:1; Testament of Moses 6:8-9; Dead Sea Scroll 1QpHab 9:6-7; and even Josephus wrote of it later in Wars 6.5.3. (301).
. Josephus, Antiquities 15.11.3.
. According to Leen Ritmeyer, an architectural archaeologist, some of these massive stones, known as “ashlars,” are up to 35 feet long and weigh over 70 tons. One door lintel was nearly 27 feet long and 7 feet high. See Kathleen and Leen Ritmeyer. “Reconstructing Herod’s Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” Biblical Archaeology Review 15:6. (Nov/Dec, 1989). 23-45.
. Farrar, Life of Christ. 358-61.
. Josephus, Against Apion 2.8; Wars 5.5.6.
. Forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth is equal to approximately sixty-seven feet in length, seven and a half feet in height, and nine feet in breadth. Some foundational stones that are still in their original position, have a weight in excess of three hundred tons, in comparison, the largest stone in the Egyptian pyramids is only fifteen tons.
. Fifteen cubits high is equal to approximately twenty-two and a half feet. The altar was fifty cubits square, or seventy-five feet by seventy-five feet.
. Iron was the symbol of war, death, and punishment, whereas the altar was where sacrificial offerings were made to God; hence it was to be a holy place of divine love, mercy, and grace.
. Josephus wrote an incredible description of Jerusalem in Wars 5.4.1-4 and of the temple in Wars 5.5.1-8.
. Elwell and Yarbrough, Readings from the First-Century World. 83.
. Cited by Bock and Herrick, Jesus in Context. 148. See also http://www.angelfire.com/md/mdmorrison/nt/1qphab.html and https://books.google.com/books?id=ZR57AwAAQBAJ&pg=PA436&lpg=PA436&dq=1QpHab+9&source=bl&ots=auBR0BGkKN&sig=pAdIG9xlijTgU2pN78EnasaNAl8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=-_uJVKL3C8iVNvLSgNAJ&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=1QpHab%209&f=false. Retrieved December 11, 2914.
. Righteous Jewish writers who believed the temple leadership was unfaithful, and therefore, placed the nation at risk predicted the temple destruction in Testament of Levi 15:1; Testament of Moses 6:8-9; Dead Sea Scroll 1QpHab 9:6-7; and even Josephus wrote of it in Wars 6.5.3. (301).
. See also Babylonian Talmud, Succah 51b.
. See video 02.02.16.V by Messianic Rabbi John Fischer who discusses the term “fence around the Torah” from a first century Jewish perspective.
. For example, see Zech. 14; Acts 2:20; Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 24, page 12.
. Wenham, “Olivet Discourse.” 2:1116.
. See Appendix 26.
14.01.04 Mk. 13:3-7a; Lk. 21:11b; Mk. 13:7b-12; Mt. 24:12; Mk. 13:13; Mt. 24:14-15; Lk. 21:20-24; Mt. 24:20-31; Lk. 21:25-28; Mt. 24:32-35 The Olivet Discourse
DISCIPLES ASK ABOUT HIS RETURN
Mk. 3 While He was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple complex, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign when all these things are about to take place?”
5 Then Jesus began by telling them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and they will deceive many. 7a When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed;
Lk.11b … and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven.
Mk.7b [And]…these things must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “But you, be on your guard! They will hand you over to sanhedrins, and you will be flogged in the synagogues. You will stand before governors and kings because of Me, as a witness to them. 10 And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 So when they arrest you and hand you over, don’t worry beforehand what you will say. On the contrary, whatever is given to you in that hour — say it. For it isn’t you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Then brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise up against parents and put them to death.
Mt. 12 Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold.
Mk. 13 And you will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.
Mt. 14 This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come. 15 “So when you see the abomination that causes desolation (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11), spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand),
Lk. 20 “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near.
21 Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains! Those inside the city must leave it, and those who are in the country must not enter it,
22 because these are days of vengeance
to fulfill all the things that are written.
23 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for there will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Mt. 20 Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great tribulation, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again! 22 Unless those days were limited, no one would survive. But those days will be limited because of the elect.
23 “If anyone tells you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Over here!’ do not believe it! 24 False messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note: I have told you in advance.
26 So if they tell you, ‘Look, He’s in the wilderness!’ don’t go out; ‘Look, He’s in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days:
The sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not shed its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the celestial powers will be shaken (Isa. 13:10; 34:4).
30 “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
Lk. 25 “Then there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars; and there will be anguish on the earth among nations bewildered by the roaring sea and waves. 26 People will faint from fear and expectation of the things that are coming on the world, because the celestial powers will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near!”
Mt. 32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near — at the door! 34 I assure you: This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.
The Olivet Discourse describes future events that will be horrific upon all humanity. Matthew 24:4-14 indicates that the tribulation will arise and many will be led astray from faithfully following Jesus. Verses 15-31 provides additional insight in two areas:
This discourse is a brief form of what John would later write in his book of Revelation. After Jesus gave His disciples the apocalyptic news of a coming destruction, they asked Him when it would happen, and what would be a sign of His return. It would have been easy to give a simple formula, as there would be no responsibility of life and ministry. Rather, what Jesus told them would have to be understood in a context of totality and lived out by faith. What is meant by “totality” is that all the prophecies of Jesus would have to be fulfilled, as many of them have been fulfilled repeatedly since these were spoken. Jesus wanted His disciples to spread the gospel throughout the world, and did not want them to become dormant, nor fail to do their assigned task. Jesus told them there would be signs, among the most significant of which would be the cosmic signs, as opposed to those of the Roman-Jewish politics and conflicts.
Those who heard Jesus preach these words probably believed they would see all these events happen in their lifetime. Below is a brief listing of some of the events they either experienced or heard about in the forty years between the time the prophecy was given and when the temple was destroyed. However, many scholars also believe that current global events suggest that many prophecies relative to the second return of Jesus are now in the process of fulfillment. See Appendix 22 for more details. Events reflective of the prophecy that occurred in the first century after Jesus are as follows:
Wars, Revolts, and Rumors of Wars
There is an interesting observation to be made at this point: The fact that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; then He discussed wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, etc.; then He said “watch out,” and the coming of false messiahs before His return, all this suggests that another temple would not be built until the era of His return. The term conveys the meaning of alertness and observation as well as caution and is reflective of the temple guards. The priests guarded three gates while the Levites guarded 21 other gates. If a guard was found sleeping while on duty, he was either beaten or his clothes were set on fire (a horrible way to wake up). That is the background to the words of John in Revelation that reads,
“Look, I am coming like a thief. The one who is alert and remains clothed so that he may not go around naked and people see his shame is blessed.”
It has always been an essential part of a prophet’s calling to warn people not to go astray. It is a subject mentioned by the prophet Zechariah (13:1-2) concerning the last days of Jerusalem as well as the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonian church (2:3-42). Here Jesus repeated the warning.
“Many will come in My name.” This warning was repeated in Matthew 24:24 because it was a major concern for Jesus. The first “sign” of His return in the Olivet Discourse is deception among the believers. While there have been false teachers (Jude 3; 1 Jn. 2:18-23), there were also those who considered themselves to be the political messiahs who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression. A partial listing is found in the writings of Luke and Josephus of those who lived during or shortly after the time of Christ. In fact, in the two first centuries (B.C. and A.D.), there were more than sixty claimants of the title arose to persuade would-be followers.
No other people group within the Roman Empire had so many leaders who fought for freedom. These multiple insurrectionists were one of several reasons the Romans destroyed the temple and most of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Yet in A.D. 132, Simon bar Kokhba was declared by Rabbi Akiva to be “the messiah.” His birth name was Shimon ben-Kosiba, but he was renamed as Simon bar Kokhba, meaning “son of a star” (Num. 24:17) by the rabbi. This declaration led to a revolt which led to the destruction of Jerusalem three years later. The Romans were so incited by the rabbi, that they slaughtered him and sold his flesh in the market. The Jews later gave Simon bar Kokhba a new name, “bar Kozeba,” meaning “son of disappointment.”
“But the end is not yet.” After giving these predictions of the end time events, Jesus clearly stated that the end is still to come. He continued to give additional predictions of horrific events. Finally, He said that after the budding of the fig tree (Mt. 24:32) His disciples will know the end is near. Nearly all of them believed He would return shortly after His ascension. Had they listened to Him carefully, they would have realized that there had to be a greater time span than a few decades.
“These are the beginning of birth pains.” In Hebraic literature, birth pangs and birth stools are often connected with eschatological events. Note the following examples:
Distress has surrounded me, like a woman who sits on the birth stool and has no strength to give birth and so is in danger of death; a band of abusive men has terrified me.
Targum Psalms 18.5
On the day of judgment all the kings, governors, the high officials, and the landlords shall see and recognize him – how he sits on the throne of his glory and righteousness is judged before him, and that no nonsensical talk shall be uttered in his presence. Then pain shall come upon them as on a woman in travail with birth pangs – when she is giving birth (the child) enters the mouth of the womb and she suffers from childbearing.
1 Enoch 62:3-4
The phrase “birth pains” referred to a future event that is beyond human comprehension; when the Son of Man will personally rule and reign upon this earth. Again there is evidence to suggest that the Spirit of God spoke to some rabbis during the Inter-Testamental period. Those to whom Jesus was speaking knew exactly what He meant – persecution was promised to them.
14.01.04.Q1 What is the Jerusalem Syndrome?
The Jerusalem syndrome is the distorted state of mind acquired by a few individuals, who, when in Israel, believe they are a reincarnation of a biblical figure such as Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, or the Virgin Mary. Several of them came to Jerusalem, especially in the late 1990s, thinking they would usher in the new millennium. Psychologists have labeled their mental illness as the “Jerusalem Syndrome.” These super-spiritual and deceived people are generally harmless, although a few have attempted to destroy the Dome of the Rock so the new temple can be constructed. However, the label applies only to individuals when they are in Israel, and not elsewhere.
14.01.04.Q2 What was the difference between Jewish and Roman scourges?
The Jewish scourging consisted of thirty-nine stripes such as those that Paul received. The scourging whip the Jews used consisted of three long, thin, leather strips that had knots and the victim received thirteen lashes with it. When Jesus said, “they will hand you over to sanhedrins, and you will be flogged,” He probably had this in mind, which correlates with Revelation 6:9-11. However, it was not the same flogging instrument used by the Romans who cared little for Jewish laws and did not consider any limitations. The leather strips of Roman scourges had wooden splinters, lead balls, and metal hooks that tore the flesh of prisoners who would be crucified. Jewish law forbade such torture. Many early Gentile Christians and Messianic Jews endured various forms of Roman persecution, including the scourge and crucifixion.
The Romans had two levels of scourging.
“Good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.” Before Jesus returns, the entire world will have had the opportunity to hear and receive the good news of salvation. While Revelation 7:1-8 refers to a time when 144,000 Jewish men will preach on a global scale, it has also become evident that within the past century the gospel has been broadcasted worldwide by various forms of electronic media. At no time in the history of the church have so many heard the good news of Jesus as they have today.
“Because lawlessness will multiply.” The exponential increase of sin and violence is further mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7. Many scholars believe that this cultural decline appears not only during the Tribulation, but also in the time leading up to it.
“The abomination that causes desolation. This phrase is somewhat mysterious in that it is difficult to define, yet it clearly forecasts a horrific event. The term abomination (Gk. bdelugma, 946) denotes an image of disgust that will be set up by the anti-Christ. It was a prophecy given by the prophet Daniel in 9:27; 11:31; and 12:11 during his captivity in Babylon (early 500s B.C.) and is also defined as the profanation that appalls. It denotes the highest level of moral and religious disgrace, is equal to idol worship, and is in sharp contrast to the real character of God Almighty.
In the second century B.C., a Syrian-Greek dictator, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, appeared to fulfill that definition. He conquered Jerusalem in 167 B.C., erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus Olympus, and sacrificed a pig on the Jewish altar (see 03.04.17). Evidently the Jews of the time believed that the sacrifice was the abomination predicted by the prophet Daniel. Therefore, the phrase appears in the second century (B.C.) book of 1 Maccabees (1:54 and 6:7). It reads like an ancient newspaper account. This moral sense of the term appears also in the New Testament. But there was more to come.
However, Jesus is pointing to an additional fulfillment in the future. Most scholars interpret the words of Jesus to mean that the Anti-Christ (2 Thess. 2) will desecrate the temple in a manner similar to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. They have a number of theological opinions concerning the term “abomination.” They are,
Regardless of the answer, it appears that it will be in a time of severe civil unrest and turmoil; worse than has ever been experienced in Israel’s history. The fact that Jesus spoke of it as a future event is demanding proof that the prophecies of Daniel were not fulfilled by the horrors of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. With His statement, “Spoken of by the prophet Daniel,” Jesus clearly reflected upon the prophet Daniel who foresaw the desecration of the temple when Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacrificed a pig on the holy altar in 167 B.C. Clearly, the horrors of that time will be repeated, if not worse, when the desecration predicted by Jesus will be fulfilled (2 Thess. 2:3-4). The fact that an emphasis was placed on Daniel 9:27, the “seventieth week” will occur after the covenant the Antichrist makes with Israel is broken. Premillennial Christians call Daniel’s seventieth week the “Great Tribulation Period,” which is a time of incredible persecution against believers.
“Let the reader understand.” Both gospel writers (Mt. 24:15; Mk. 13:14) refer to the “reader.” This was the person who stood before the congregation and read the Scripture (cf 1 Tim. 4:13). This phrase was used by Jesus and Paul for two reasons:
Written words in biblical times were not divided by spaces nor were there punctuation marks. Therefore, only an educated person could read smoothly and passionately. While most men and a few women had basic reading skills, only a few had the proficiency required to read the text in public. Likewise, the Apostle Paul expected his letters to be read before the congregation. Finally, John, in his last work, wrote, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Rev. 1:3).
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies.” This prophecy was a warning that led to the survival of thousands of Jewish believers in the early months of the siege on Jerusalem. When they saw that the Romans were forced to retreat for a short time, they fled east to the mountains of the Decapolis cities.
The history of the Jews is filled with ironies that boggle the imagination. Nearly three decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, there was another Jesus who warned of the coming destruction to the Holy City. The passage below by Josephus is all that is known of him. He went around the city of Jerusalem crying a warning of impending destruction for four years before the Roman attack in A.D. 66. Once the siege began, he continued for nearly three and a half years until a stone missile killed him. During that time he was beaten, ridiculed, and severely punished for his eccentric announcements. Yet his words came true as if he was a divine prophet.
But what is still more terrible there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus (Ananas), a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for everyone to make tabernacles to God in the temple. He began on a sudden cry aloud,
“A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and brides, and a voice against this whole people!”
This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all lanes of the city. However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did he not either say anything for himself, or anything peculiar to those that chastised him, but still he went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator; where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare. Yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was,
“Woe, woe to Jerusalem!”
And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him who he was, and whence he came, and why he uttered these words, he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy diddy, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him.
Now during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words as if it were his premeditated vow,
“Woe, woe to Jerusalem!”
Nor did he give ill words to any of those who beat him every day; but this was his reply to all men and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come.
This cry of his was the loudest at festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege when it ceased. For as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force,
“Woe, woe to the city again and to the people, and to the holy house!”
And just as he added to the last, – “Woe, woe, to myself also!” There came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages, he gave up the ghost.
Josephus, Wars 6.5.3 (300b-309)
The unknown Jesus made frequent use of the term woe, which is a dirge, a lament for the dead. It suggests a plea for repentance, as judgment is about to fall. The words of Jesus, the son of Ananus – not related to the priesthood family – gave warning to the Jewish believers of the pending destruction for seven years. Josephus did not say whether he was a Christian, although his warnings are nearly identical to those given by Jesus prior to His crucifixion in Matthew 23 and 24. How did he know what was to happen? How influential was he in encouraging the Jewish believers to flee the city when news arrived of the coming Roman army? There is no record of his influence, but obviously thousands of people escaped the horrible destruction and slaughter.
There are four interesting points to consider in this account:
14.01.04.A. A RECONSTRUCTED ROMAN CATAPULT. This reconstructed catapult is believed to be similar to the ones used in the destruction of Jerusalem and Masada in the First Revolt (A.D. 66-73). The one pictured was used in the 1980 film Masada. Photograph by the author.
“Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” The context of this phrase is that the Jews will flee to the mountains during the time of Jacob’s Troubles, also known as the Tribulation. More specifically, some scholars believe they will hide in the Jordanian mountains of the ancient city of Petra. However, these words were taken seriously by first century Jewish Christians when they saw the Roman army encircle the Holy City in A.D. 66-67. Two years later they they had a brief moment to flee to the eastern side of the Jordan River to the city of Pella. In doing so, they escaped the starvation and torture that fell upon those who remained behind. The observant words of Eusebius, who also endorsed the historian Josephus, reported that,
The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem having been commanded by a divine revelation given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city and lived at a certain town beyond the Jordan called Pella. Here, those who believed in Christ removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself and the whole land of Judea.
The divine justice for their crimes against Christ and his apostles finally overtook the Jews, totally destroying the whole generation of these evildoers from the earth. But the number of calamities then overwhelmed the whole nation; the extreme misery to which particularly the inhabitants of Judea were reduced; the vast numbers of men, women, and children who fell by the sword, famine, and innumerable other forms of death; the numerous and great cities of Judea that were besieged; the great and incredible distresses that those experienced who took refuge at Jerusalem as to a place of perfect security; these facts, as well as the whole tenor of the war and each particular of its progress when finally, the abomination of desolation according to the prophetic declaration, stood in the very temple of God, so declared of old but which now was approaching its total downfall and final destruction by fire; all this, I say, anyone who wishes may see accurately stated in the history written by Josephus.
Eusebius, Church History 3.5.3-4
A similar account was also preserved by Epiphanius and the Ascension of Isaiah that not only mentions the Jewish believers fleeing to Pella, but they were going from place to place in the region of Gilead and Bashon with the hope that Jesus would return soon. The early Christians expected Jesus to return at any moment. However, after the destruction they realized that they needed to return and rebuild the city. In the meantime, the thousands of traditional Jews who remained in the city suffered horribly under the iron hand of the Romans.
14.01.04.B. CHURCH RUINS IN PELLA. Pella was a Decapolis city located in modern Jordan. Thousands of Christians fled Jerusalem in A.D. 68-70 to escape the Roman slaughter and destruction of the city. These believers felt certain that they witnessed the fulfillment of prophecies described in Matthew 24, and hence, believed they would see the return of Jesus. However, some stayed and, as the Christian faith spread, built churches such as this one. Photograph by the author.
The highly feared Legio X Fretensis, a/k/a the Tenth Roman Legion, surrounded Jerusalem and prevented food and other supplies from entering. It was an attempt to force surrender by starvation. The resulting famine caused great violence in the city, exposing the depraved nature and desperation of its citizens. Josephus, who was an eyewitness, recorded the human horrors. His words not only verify the prophetic accuracy of the words of Jesus, but also those of Moses. After the ancient prophet gave God’s promise of reward for obedience (Lev. 26:1-13), he then gave these words concerning disobedience which appear to have been partly fulfilled at this time.
27 “And if in spite of this you do not obey Me but act with hostility toward Me, 28 I will act with furious hostility toward you; I will also discipline you seven times for your sins. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons; you will eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and heap your dead bodies on the lifeless bodies of your idols; I will reject you. 31 I will reduce your cities to ruins and devastate your sanctuaries. I will not smell the pleasing aroma of your sacrifices. 32 I also will devastate the land, so that your enemies who come to live there will be appalled by it. 33 But I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw a sword to chase after you. So your land will become desolate, and your cities will become ruins.
Leviticus 26:27-33 (see entire passage of 26:14-46)
It was an attempt to force surrender by starvation. But many Jews believed the messiah would come to save them in the heat of battle. A similar opinion was shared by the Essenes, which is why they had no weaponry.
Once the city was captured and the temple burned, the soldiers dismantled the entire building stone by stone in an attempt to search for hidden gold that was said to have been hidden inside the walls. Archaeologists identified a few remaining stones, but the vast majority of them were reused for later construction projects. The retaining wall that supported the courtyard of the temple, known today as the Western Wall, has remained undisturbed.
14.01.04.C. STONES OF THE RUINED TEMPLE. A large pile of stones from the temple lay on the pavement beside the retaining wall of the former temple complex. These stones represent the literal fulfillment of the prophetic words of Jesus. Notice the large Herodian ashlars that comprise the wall. Photograph by the author.
“Fulfill all the things that are written.” What things? The difficulty of this phrase is that there is no passage in the Old Testament that specifically refers to this subject. It is one of several generalizations that Jesus made. Yet the audience understood what was meant, especially since so many Jewish prophetic and apocalyptic writings are full of horrifying themes of a future “end time.”
There are numerous interpretations as to when “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” The first issue is the debate over the beginning point of the “times of the Gentiles.” There are two points to consider:
While this subject (“times of the Gentiles,” “end times” etc.) is beyond the scope of this study, the following worth consideration. According to this theory, a common interpretation of the apocalyptic words of Jesus is that Matthew 24:4-8 is the first half of the Tribulation and Matthew 24:9-14 is the second half. The entire seven year period is the seventieth “week” of Daniel, and is what Jeremiah called “the time of trouble for Jacob” (Jer. 30:7). Jesus referred to it as “birth pains” (Mt. 24:8). Among the signs that will appear are false messiahs (Mt. 24:5), reports of wars (Mt. 24:6-7), and natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes, famines, and celestial events (Mt. 24:7). All these were previously discussed, especially since so many occurred in the first century. When the gospel writer John wrote his Revelation on the Island of Patmos, he said that Jesus described judgments that would fall during this time (Rev. 6), meaning, at the end of the age. Signs were given to Israel to warn them of the pending judgment.
Jesus also gave signs to the second half of the Tribulation Period. There will be global persecution and death for believers (Mt. 24:9). To avoid such a horrific event, many will leave the faith and worship the supreme dictatorial false messiah. John referred to him as “the beast” (Rev. 13:1-10) and the Apostle Paul referred to this dictator as the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:1-4). During this time, many false prophets and teachers will appear and convince many to leave their Christian faith for another doctrine. Some will have incredible mystical power and will deceive many true believers. While the prophet is enticing people to his perverted religion, the “beast” will obtain global dictatorship. During this time there will be 144,000 Jewish evangelists who will preach the good news of the Kingdom of God throughout the entire world (Rev. 7:1-8). At the end of this period, Jesus shall return to the earth with His army (the raptured church), end the fighting, and reign for a thousand years.
“In winter or on a Sabbath.” The times of the end will be horribly violent and many will feel trapped and under great duress. Winter is the rainy season when the normally dry riverbeds become dangerously flooded making nearby roads incredibly muddy and impassable. The Jordan River will frequently be flooded over farmland and travel will be extremely difficult.
Orthodox Jews who observe the Oral Laws are limited to activities and can only go as far as a “Sabbath’s day journey” on the day of rest. The phrase, “in those days” refers specifically to the violent times that will be the hallmark of the end of the age, when violence and terrorism will bring massive social and civil unrest, terrorism, wars, destruction and death.
“False messiahs and false prophets will arise.” The deep concern Jesus had for His church was repeated in Mark 13:6. Throughout the Old Testament era there were numerous false prophets and teachers whose messages appealed to their listeners. Ancient literary works, many of which are borderline heresies, prove that false Christs (pseudochrists 5580), prophets and teachers had left their mark wherever Judaism and Christianity spread. Josephus mentioned one of them who promised a supernatural divine deliverance as the temple was about to be destroyed. His message was proclaimed as the Roman soldiers were slaughtering Jews throughout the city, buildings were on fire, chaos and destruction was falling upon the Jewish state.
A false prophet was the reason for these people’s destruction. He made a public proclamation in the city that same day that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and there would receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. There were also a great number of other false prophets seduced by the tyrant [the first false prophet] to impose upon the people….Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers…and did not give credit to the signs that were so evident and so plainly foretold their future destruction.
Josephus, Wars 6.5.2-3 (287b-288a)
The historian continued to say that as Jerusalem burned, the false prophets, messianic pretenders,  and their followers were either killed by the sword or committed suicide by jumping headfirst into the blazing fires below them. They preferred to believe in a lie. However, those who obeyed the words of Jesus (Lk. 21:20), when they saw the Roman armies surround Jerusalem and heard the warnings of Jesus, son of Ananus, they escaped to Pella east of the Jordan River and were saved from the horrors of Roman destruction.
As stated elsewhere in this study, during the six decades after the destruction of Jerusalem, the city was rebuilt. Then came the most famous false prophet, Simon bar Kokhba. His revolt led to another destruction of the Holy City in A.D. 135, after which Emperor Hadrian renamed the land Palestinia. For the next several centuries any talk of a messiah was quickly subdued by the rabbis. Nonetheless, many have appeared in various Jewish communities, but possibly the most famous “messiah” in the modern era was Rabbi Menachem Schneerson (1902-1994). While he never claimed to be the messiah, he never denied it either. His Hasidic followers pray faithfully that their beloved “Lubavitcher Rebbe,” as they affectionately call him, will resurrect from the grave and usher in world peace.
14.01.04.D. A MODERN JEWISH FALSE MESSIAH. While some Jews today are expecting their Messiah to come, others believe he has already arrived. One such group of Hasidic Jews believes that their deceased rabbi, Menachem Schneerson was, or is, the messiah. They believe he will return to life and, therefore, his picture is often seen on billboards throughout Israel, especially in Jerusalem, welcoming his return. Photograph of a wall poster by the author.
This writer once had the fortunate opportunity to talk with and photograph the prophet Elijah – or at least someone who seriously believed he was Elijah. He said that repentance was needed because Jesus was going to return at the end of 1999. Obviously, his eschatological calendar was slightly off. So many people with either spiritual or mental delusions have come to Jerusalem with the belief that they were the messiah, Jesus, John the Baptist, or other significant prophet, that the Israelis have a name for this condition: “Jerusalem Syndrome.”
14.01.04.E. THE GENTILE “ELIJAH.” This former California building contractor informed this author that he was Elijah and that his calling was to tell the world to repent for the coming of the Messiah. He was encouraged to leave Israel in December 1999 by the Israeli government. There seems to be no shortage of prophets or messiahs from either Jewish or Christian sources. Photograph by the author.
Concerning the teachings of the early church, pastors called the false prophets “antichrists,” since they were neither the true Christ nor did they give true teachings of Jesus. One example is the words of church father Cyril of Jerusalem.
This Jesus Christ who is gone up shall come again, not from earth but from heaven: and I say, “Not from earth,” because there are many antichrists to come at this time from earth.
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures
“The coming of the Son of Man.” This phrase is commonly known as the parousia, which can mean arrival or presence. It has a technical meaning of the second coming or return of Jesus. This phrase is hardly mentioned in the gospels with the exception of Matthew 24, verses 3, 27, 27, and 39, but is found more frequently throughout the New Testament (i.e., 1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4). There are several considerations to notice concerning this phrase.
“Wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.” The language Jesus used was one of absolute certainty. These “vultures” are more accurately known as griffon vultures, that are much larger than eagles and when they fly in a circular pattern it is a sure sign that a carcass is somewhere below. Likewise, Jesus said that certain signs would appear before His return.
“The sign of the Son of Man.” The term sign refers to an ensign or standard used by the military to indicate a point where soldiers gathered to reorganize and to receive additional commands. Matthew used the phrase to indicate that the Kingdom of God was complete and a gathering point for the people of God.
There is an interesting paradox concerning the sign of the return of Jesus. He tells of the events that will occur before His return, but not of anything that will occur before the rapture. Furthermore, prior to His return, there will be a dramatic increase of earthquakes, wars and rumors of wars, and an apostasy from the faith, etc. Men will be able to estimate His coming by the signs, but these are all without any specific dates. Verses 36-41 specifically state that no one will know the specific hour or day of His return and, therefore, all are to be ready, working for the Kingdom, and watching.
“Your redemption is near.” At this point the disciples did not understand that the coming death of Jesus would be payment for their sins – the death would pay the price of the penalty of their sin. In the everyday life of a first century citizen, an example of redemption was to purchase a slave at the slave market and let him go free. Jesus applied the same meaning to the matter of sin and its consequences. Redemption for the believer is in these areas:
“Learn this Parable from the fig tree.” The fig tree that was cursed by Jesus quickly died; symbolic of what was about to happen to national Israel. But Jesus went on to say the tree would blossom again (ref. to Isa. 66:8), which most scholars believe was the day of Israeli Independence on May 14, 1948. There is no question that the Jews of the first and second centuries understood the symbolic meaning of the fig tree to be their country. Evidence of this is found in the writings of a Jewish Christian, dated to about A.D. 110, previously mentioned and titled The Apocalypse of Peter chapter 2.
Critics have long theorized that since Jesus said that He would return imminently, His audience expected Him to return within their lifetime. The Apostle Paul believed that Jesus would return at any moment according to 1 Thessalonians 4. However, since Jesus failed to come, critics say that the first century church leaders had to modify their theology or they would have lost power. From this point on, skeptics and many Reconstructionists have presented alternative interpretations, many of which conclude that the gospels are in error. One of the primary issues is the phrase, “this generation will certainly not pass away.” There is no question that it has been the fuel for various interpretations and debates.
However, there is a point that can be easily missed. This narrative cannot be isolated from the parables that follow, because Jesus did not say this as a stand-alone statement as has been interpreted. Those who say that the historical events in the gospels were created to establish a religious theology have difficulty with this passage, because anyone rewriting history would not make a statement that would be so controversial. Some have gone so far as to claim that the passage (Mk. 13:5-27) is a “Jewish apocalypse with a Christian ending.” Nearly two thousand years have passed since these words were spoken, so obviously, there must be another explanation other than a first century return. In fact, there are three possible explanations:
35 This is what the Lord says:
The One who gives the sun for light by day,
the fixed order of moon and stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea and makes its waves roar —
Yahweh of Hosts is His name:
36 If this fixed order departs from My presence —
this is the Lord’s declaration —
then also Israel’s descendants will cease
to be a nation before Me forever.
37 This is what the Lord says:
If the heavens above can be measured
and the foundations of the earth below explored,
I will reject all of Israel’s descendants
because of all they have done —
this is the Lord’s declaration.
Simply stated, even though the Church Age has witnessed horrific events in the past, these were nothing when compared to what is to come (or may now be coming). The fact that the believer can read and see Scripture being fulfilled is a powerful witness to the reality of God and the close of the Church Age. Prophecy was given so the future can impact the lives of those in the present. Just as God’s Word is true to every “jot” and “tittle,” so every prophetic word spoken by Jesus will come true and He will return. Those who see the coming of this apocalypse will see the Son of God. Galatians 4:4 states that in the fullness of time Jesus came; and in Matthew 24 Jesus essentially said that in the fullness of time He will come again.
. Wenham, “Olivet Discourse.” 2:1116-17.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:222-23.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 144-47.
. See 13.01.05, Lk. 19:41-44 for details to the Roman siege.
. See http://israel-tourguide.info/2011/01/10/earthquakes-history-archaeology/ Retrieved August 25, 2014. The Jordan valley is one of the most active earthquake zones in the world. There have been hundreds of minor earthquakes and major ones have dammed the Jordan River repeatedly, sometimes for days, in 1160, 1267, 1534, 1834, 1906 and 1927. At such times, the river often redirects itself as a new riverbed is formed. See Reuven, “Wooden Beams from Herod’s Temple Mount: Do They still Exist?” 42.
. Pompeii was destroyed in A.D. 79 when the nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted. The city and surrounding area was buried in 4 to 6 meters (13 to 20 ft.) of volcanic ash and pumice.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 129.
. Josephus, Antiquities 20.2.5 (51). It should be noted that during the famine of 25-24 B.C., Herod the Great, at a huge personal expense, also imported grain to feed the starving masses; Josephus, Antiquities 15.9.2 (305-07).
. Tacitus, Annals 16:10-13; Josephus, Antiquities 14.2.2 (28).
. Some scholars place this famine in the years 47-49; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 123.
. It may be of interest to the reader to know that the Temple Institute in Jerusalem has reproduced all the vessels needed in the next temple. The Temple Mount Faithful, founded by Gershon Solomon, has the architectural plans completed and the significant cornerstone for the next temple. At no time in history since the temple was destroyed has so much time, effort, and money been spent for the future third temple.
. The names of the gates were Beth Abtines, Beth Nitsots, and Beth Mokad.
. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:200.
. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:200-01.
. An interesting side note must be added at this point. Both Christianity and Judaism have been plagued with false prophets and teachers throughout history. In the late 1800s, when Theodore Herzl and the World Jewish Congress were making plans to establish a Jewish state, the most hostile words they received came from rabbis. The reason was that so many false prophets and teachers had presented false hopes and dreams in the past that the rabbis did not want to have their people to be deceived again. Clearly history of the past two centuries confirms the words of Jesus. See The Jewish Encyclopedia Vol. 12, pages 673-74, and Mills and Michael, Messiah and His Hebrew Alphabet. 83-86.
. See Appendix 25 for a listing of false prophets who had messianic expectations and for a partial listing of revolts and social disturbances from 63 B.C. to A.D. 70.
. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 2:114.
. Josephus, Wars 6.54.
. After the destruction of the temple, Rabbi Akiva ( A.D. 50-135) was the founder of a great learning center in Jaffa and today is considered to be the father of rabbinic Judaism. He was killed by the Romans for supporting the messianic figure Simon bak Kokhba.
. For further study, see Yigael Yigael, Bar-Kokhba. New York: Random House. 1971.
. Parenthesis by Charlesworth.
. 1 Enoch 62:7
. Gorenberg, “Warning! Millennium Ahead!” 14.
. For the scourging Paul received, see 2 Cor. 11:23-24. For the Jewish tradition, see Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.21.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:277.
. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. 27-28, 40.
. It should be noted that Peter and Paul were punished by beatings by the Sanhedrin in Acts 41-21 and 5:17-40, and then released. As stated previously, while the Jews had beatings and scourgings, these were not as severe as what was practiced by the Romans. However, there is a case where the daughter of a priest was accused of adultery and therefore, burned to death after a trial before a Jewish tribunal. It is believed this occurred shortly before A.D. 70. See Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. 40-41.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 387.
. Vine, “Abominable, Abomination.”Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:4.
. Barclay, “Mark.” 309.
. See 2 Chron. 15:8; Jer. 13:27; Ezek. 11:21; Dan. 9:27 and 11:31.
. See Deut. 7:26; 1 Kings 11:17 and 2 Kings. 23:13.
. Lk. 16:15; Rev. 17:4-5 and 21:27.
. See 05.05.04 and 13.02.02 concerning the two cleansings.
. Josphus, Antiquities 17.6.2 (151)
. Josphus, Antiquities 18.3.1 (55)
. Josphus, Antiquities 18.8.2 (261)
. Josphus, Wars 6.6.1 (316)
. Wenham, “Olivet Discourse.” 2:1116.
. Beasley-Murray, “Abomination of Desolation.” 1:74-75.
. See 03.04.17, “176-164 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of Syria Controls Jerusalem.”
. See Appendix 26.
. For further study, see Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 342-44.
. However, critics have questioned the dating of the book of Daniel, which has historically been attributed to the prophet Daniel in the early 6th century B.C. They have said that Daniel 11:5-39 is too detailed concerning third and second centuries B.C. events. Therefore, they say, it is a historical book written by a ghostwriter in the second century B.C. who made it appear prophetic. The major problem with this opinion is that Jesus referred to a real prophet named Daniel, not to an imaginary historical figure. Furthermore, if the book of Daniel was truly written in the second century (B.C.) as critics have claimed, why did other second century writers have difficulty understanding it? For example, the unknown author of the Sibylline Oracles (3:391-400) written about 140 B.C., quoted and obviously failed to understand Daniel. Another of the same era was the author of 1 Enoch (14:18-22), who also had difficulty interpreting the prophetic text. Such misunderstandings would not have existed had the prophetic book been written when critics claim. Jesus affirmed the accuracy of Daniel’s prophecy, knowing that one day it would be challenged.
. Martin, Worship in the Early Church. 68-71.
. Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; Phil. 2.
. Insert mine because both spellings are common.
. The phrase “a stone came out of one of the engines,” is a reference to a stone thrown by a catapult. On February 5, 2004, National Geographic News (NGN) reported that ancient engineers designed and built catapults (or “belopoietics” as the Greeks and Romans called them) that could accurately throw a 60 pound rock a distance of 500 yards – that is more than a quarter mile! The NGN report was reprinted in Artifax “Catapults were Ingenious.” 19:2 (Spring, 2004) 12.
. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 157, 274.
. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 377-78.
. Hab. 3:3; Isa. 34:1-7; 63:1-6.
. Pella continued to be a thriving city until it was destroyed on January 18, 749, by a massive earthquake that destroyed Capernaum and many other villages and cities throughout the Jordan Valley.
. Epiphanius, Panarion 29.7.7; 30.2,7; See also Pixner, “Mount Zion, Jesus, and Archaeology.” 316.
. Flusser. “The Jewish-Christian Schism (Part II).” 30-32.
. Ascension of Isaiah 3.21 – 4.13; Pixner, “Mount Zion, Jesus, and Archaeology.” 317.
. Geldenhuys, 141; Gilbrant, “Luke.” 613.
. Some scholars have argued against the accepted opinion that the Jewish believers lived in Pella because no archaeological evidence was uncovered to prove their existence there. However, since they stayed there only for a brief period – a couple of decades at most – no archaeological evidence would have been created or left behind.
. The complete fulfillment occurred in A.D. 135 at Emperor Hadrian’s destruction of Jerusalem.
. A partial list of other problematic passages is listed in Appendix 13.
. For example, see Isa. 13:9-10; 24:18-20; 34:4; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15; Hag. 2:6, 21. 1 Enoch 80; Testament of Moses 10:5; 2 Baruch 70; 72:2.
. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 399-401.
. Theologians have three views of when the rapture will occur.
. Mishnah, Taanith 1.3
. An excellent resource for further Sabbath study is Hagner, “Jesus and the Synoptic Sabbath Controversies.” 270-88.
. Jer. 3:16, 18; 31:29; 33:15-16; Joel 3:1; Zech. 8:23.
. Some have suggested that the spread of radical Islamic militants could be those who will bring forth the predicted massive social and civil unrest, terrorism, wars, destruction and death.
. See 02.02.10 as well as 10.01.06 for the warning by Jesus in Matthew 10:16-33 concerning the “whispers” and “secrets,” that were common teachings by Gnostic, Cynic and Stoic philosophers.
. Vine, “Christ.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:101. See also “Antichrist” in Appendix 26.
. See Appendix 24; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 37-39.
. See also Richard Horsley. “Popular Messianic Movements around the Time of Jesus.” Catholic Bible Quarterly. Vol. 46. (1984). 471-495.
. For a partial listing of false prophets and false messiahs, see Appendix 25: “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, And Rebellions That Impacted The First Century Jewish World.”
. Josephus, Wars 6.5.3 (300-301); Farrar, The Life of Christ. 377-78.
. It is from the Latin name “Palestinia,” from which the modern English word Palestine is derived. The name is not in any biblical passage although it often appears on Bible maps so readers can associate biblical places with modern political land divisions.
. Staff, “Moshiach (Messiah) is Coming.” The Chosen People Newsletter. 2-3.
. See “Jerusalem Syndrome” in Appendix 26.
. See “Antichrist” in Appendix 26.
. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 252.
. Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 90-91.
. Wijngaards, Handbook to the Gospels. 44.
. Jn. 3:13; 5:27; 6:27; cf. Mt.26:63-64; Tenney, The Gospel of John. 105.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:130.
. Carson, “Matthew.” 8:505.
. These events are described in more detail in 14.01.04.
. See 13.02.01.
. Among the most influential scholars to promote the so-called errors of the gospels, was the German theologian Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965). In 1908 he published Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, translated in English as History of Life of Jesus Research, but better known as the Quest for the Historical Jesus.
. Other German theologians, besides Albert Schweitzer, who promoted errors in Scripture were Wilhelm Bousset (1865-1920), P. W. Schmidt (1868-1954), Heinrich Weinel (1874-1936). While they examined the literature and social culture of the first century, they failed to prioritize their sources.
. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition. 125.
. Carson, “Matthew.” 8:507; Wenham, “Olivet Discourse.” 2:116-17.
14.01.05 Mt. 24:36-44; Lk. 21:36 (See also Mk. 13:32-33)
EXACT TIMES OF HIS RETURN UNKNOWN
Mt. 36 “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows — neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only. 37 As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 38 For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark. 39 They didn’t know until the flood came and swept them all away. So this is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be:
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.
42 Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this: If the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed alert and not let his house be broken into. 44 This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Lk. 36 But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”
In this parable, Jesus said that when He returns, the people of this earth will be like those in the days of Noah, doing all the daily activities and people normally do. Then suddenly, there is a day of reckoning: the saved will be delivered and the unsaved will be judged. The two men in the field, the two women at the grinding stone, the sheep and the goat, etc., are all common metaphors found in Jewish literature.
Jesus presented four different parables to emphasize the differences between those who are faithfully obedient and believed and those who do not. This is not a contrast between those inside and those outside the church, but of those within. Bible prophecy is not to scare believers, but to prepare them for the uncertain future.
“Now concerning that day and hour no one knows.” Again Jesus reflected upon the typical Jewish wedding tradition when only the fathers of the bridegroom and bride knew when the young man could “capture” his bride.
A previously stated, this phrase clearly demonstrates that no one will know the exact time of His return. Jesus did, however, go to great lengths to describe the season of His return. When “all hell breaks loose” it is time to rest in the comfort of His words. He predicted the future and, obviously, knows what will happen prior to the end of the age.
An interesting interpretation was originated by messianic scholars. They have studied the meanings of the seven God-ordained feasts, and believe there is a strong prophetic significance relative to the Feast of Tabernacles, which includes the Feast of Trumpets, concerning His return. Since all seven feasts in some manner point towards Jesus, they have concluded that the Feast of Trumpets could be the time of the rapture of the church. This interpretation is not set in the proverbial concrete, but is considered to be a strong possibility.
Prophetically the Feast represents the ingathering of all saints at the close of the age. The celebration of the Feast came after grain crops were ripe. The farmers took their sickles to the field, cut their wheat and barley, and brought the harvest home. John used this identical imagery in his Revelation in which an angel said to him who was sitting on a cloud,
“Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
John used the imagery of the farm harvest to explain the gathering of the saints by Christ Jesus. That is parallel with the imagery of the feasts that reveal the prophetic plan of God the Father through His Son Jesus, so it may be possible that Jesus will gather His saints at the time of the Feast. This is underscored by the fact that the feasts were not Jewish feasts, but belonged to God for He said, “These are My appointed feasts” (Lev. 23:2). The church and all the saints of the old era will be with Him during the marriage feast of the Lamb, after which time He will return with the heavenly hosts to reign upon the earth for a thousand years. During the millennium reign, the Feast of Tabernacles will be observed in Jerusalem with excitement and dedication by both Jews and Gentiles. The Feast of Tabernacles was designed by God for both Jews and Gentiles (Zech. 14:16) and in the 1980s it was reinstituted in Israel by a Christian ministry known as the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. Jesus urged His disciples to be careful of future events. He gave several parables that emphasized watchfulness, readiness, and encouraged labor for the Kingdom of God.
. Joel 2:9; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15.
. See the following: 1) the Parable to encourage Watchfulness (14.01.05; Mk. 13:33-37); 2) the Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servant (14.01.05; Mt. 24:45-51); 3) the Parable of the Ten Virgins (14.01.07; Mt. 25:1-13), 4) and the Parable of the Talents (14.01.08; Mt. 25:14-30).
. The significance of the messianic banquet was very important to Jesus (Heb. Yeshua). The wedding imagery between Himself and His church as it was reflected in a first century Jewish wedding is discussed by Dr. John Fischer, a messianic scholar and rabbi at 09.03.04.V1 and Professor John Metzger in video 14.02.05.V2. See the following as well: Wedding garments needed at the wedding in Mt. 22:1-14 (13.03.07); discussion of the “best place” in Lk. 14:7-14 (12.02.05); the great messianic banquet in Lk. 14:15-24 (12.02.06); the wise and foolish virgins in Mt. 25:1-13 (14.01.07); the preparation of a new home in Jn. 14:1-4 (14.02.14).
. See Appendix 5.
. Mt. 13:39, 24:31; Jn. 14:3; 1 Thess 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:52; Rev. 14:14.
. Some believe that the rapture will occur at the Feast of Trumpets, when the trumpets will be blow and the church of Jesus will rise to meet Him in the air. This is a plan of God the Father and Jesus does not know when it will happen.
. Garr, Restoring Our Lost Legacy. 150-52.
14.01.06 Lk. 21:34-36; Mk. 13:34; Mt. 24:45-51; Mk. 13:35-37
JESUS URGES WATCHFULNESS
Lk. 34 “Be on your guard, so that your minds are not dulled from carousing, drunkenness, and worries of life, or that day will come on you unexpectedly 35 like a trap. For it will come on all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Mk. 34 It is like a man on a journey, who left his house, gave authority to his slaves, gave each one his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to be alert.
Mt. 45 “Who then is a faithful and sensible slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the proper time? 46 That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded. 47 I assure you: He will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and starts to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Mk. 35 Therefore be alert, since you don’t know when the master of the house is coming — whether in the evening or at midnight or at the crowing of the rooster or early in the morning. 36 Otherwise, he might come suddenly and find you sleeping. 37 And what I say to you, I say to everyone: Be alert!”
Jesus said there will be a time when tremendous suffering will come across the entire earth to all humanity. This is now understood to be the time of the great Tribulation. However, there are considerable differences of opinion as to whether Christians will go through the Tribulation, or if they will be raptured prior to it. What is agreed upon is that even prior to the Tribulation and rapture, persecution will become global. In today’s world, persecution of believers is not only at an all-time high, but is nearly global. It has often been said that more Christians were martyred in the 20th century, than were killed in all the 19 previous centuries combined. And the trend is only escalating.
“He will cut him to pieces.” This phrase reflects a time of violent history, when a Roman slave owner could legally and literally cut a slave into pieces for being disobedient. This phrase was a figure of speech since the practice was illegal in Judaism, but was common in neighboring cultures as still is among some radical Islamic groups today.
A few scholars believe the context of this passage is that Jesus addressed those who will follow Him, but will continue to live like the pagans. His words clearly are of rejection imagery, and those who waste their lives will be cast out into utter darkness (hell). Just like the five foolish virgins, they will have no part of eternal life or the messianic Banquet.
“In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This expression is a specific reference to a real and painful eternal hell, the lake of fire for those who reject Christ. Again Jesus warns for the consequences of living an ungodly life.
. 1 Sam. 15:33; Heb. 11:37; Sus 55; cf SBK 4:698-744.
. See the discussion of rejection imagery at the end of 12.01.02.
. For further study, see Pagenkemper, “Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables.” 179-198.
14.01.07 Mt. 25:1-13
THE WISE AND FOOLISH VIRGINS
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take olive oil with them. 4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’
7 “Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 “The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’
10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.
11 “Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’
13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.
Jesus, the Master Teacher, followed the rabbinic pattern of teaching which often left the listener wondering how a story ended. The primary difference is that He added God’s perspective to the stories. The same is true in this parable which raises the following question:
14.01.07.Q1 Who or what do the five foolish virgins of Matthew 25:1-13 represent?
One of the best known symbols of the Bible is a woman who represents a religious entity. Two righteous “woman” symbols are
Two demonic “woman” symbols are
Throughout church history, the imagery of the wise and foolish virgins has been problematic since virgins are considered synonymous with the pure unspotted bride of Christ. Consequently, there are multiple interpretations of this parable. At issue, the foolish virgins have a most unhappy ending; a stark contrast to the bright eternal future the bride of Christ is to enjoy.
The primary problem is that five virgins lacked sufficient oil. But the focus is not the lamp, torch, or even the bride since she is not mentioned. In first century, oil was such a frequently used commodity that no one would ever forget it, much less five young bridesmaids. This was a matter of willful neglect. The primary message is, as with the parable of the talents preceding it, that the believer should always to be ready for the return of Christ (v. 44). People are held responsible for their actions. The foolish virgins (bridesmaids) allowed their lamps to run out of oil, but believers ought not to be lacking in their responsibilities to the faith. Those who had sufficient oil symbolize believers with a pure heart and righteous standing with our Lord. They will be admitted into Christ’s millennial kingdom. Those who had insufficient oil symbolize the unprepared or unsaved individuals who desired to enter, but were excluded. It is a parable of separation. All the virgins are believers, but some are prepared to meet their Lord, and others are ill prepared because of having interests and pleasures in the world more than in Christ. The essential point is that Jesus will return for a bride who is faithful, obedient, and watching for His return.
The parable of the virgins has a parallel in rabbinic literature. From the Talmud is this story of those who are wise and others who are foolish.
Rabbi Yochanan, the son of Zakkai, told a parable: “It is like a king who invited his servants to a feast and did not set a time for them to arrive. The wise adorned themselves and waited by the door of the palace, for they said, ‘Is there anything lacking in the palace?’ The foolish continued working, for they said, ‘Is a feast ever given without preparation?’ Suddenly the king summoned his servants. The wise entered the palace adorned as they were, but the foolish entered in their working clothes, and the king said, ‘Those who adorned themselves for the feast shall sit down and eat and drink; but those who did not adorn themselves for the feast shall stand and look on!’”
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 153a
In this Talmudic parable, as with the parable told by Jesus, the servants, or attendants, had to be prepared to meet their king. Jesus again used a story motif that everyone knew. In the phrase, “Virgins who took their lamps,” the word “lamp” is not the small clay vessel that fits snugly in the palm of the hand. Rather, it was probably a wooden stem with a cloth at one end, soaked in olive oil, and was essentially a torch. The typical household clay lamp would blow out at the slightest breeze and, therefore, would not have been used outside. However, the focus is not on the lamp, which is a Western perspective, but on the light it produced, which is a Jewish perspective. Jesus is the light of the world – and that is the key point.
However, an explanation of the first century Jewish wedding is necessary, especially since the imagery of a wedding was used several times in the teachings of Jesus. Weddings and the feasts that followed were major social events. It was at a wedding where Jesus performed His first miracle, turning water into wine. It is through wedding imagery that He spoke of the future. Therefore, to understand the messianic prophecies, it is important to understand the cultural setting of a first century Jewish wedding. In this case, there can be little question that the wedding banquet narrative gives a hint of the coming messianic banquet in which Jesus will be the central figure and His saints will be the guests.
In the first century, marriages were frequently, but not always, arranged by the fathers. It was common for a girl to be betrothed as early as twelve and a boy at age thirteen. However, a young man had the option of selecting any bride of his own choosing. The formality began when he came to her home and presented a formal, legally binding contract known as a katuvah. This covenant stated the marriage proposal and the sum of money the groom would pay to the bride’s parents to have her as his wife. The purpose was to insure the understanding that she was not free but was precious and costly to him. If the terms of the contract were accepted by both families, it was signed at the synagogue and the couple celebrated by sharing a cup of wine together. Only then was the covenant sealed and they were considered betrothed.
The couple was considered husband and wife, although the marriage was not consummated until after the wedding. If either one died prior to the wedding, the surviving partner while still a virgin, would be known as a widow or widower. If the betrothal was broken other than by death, the bride would receive a divorce decree. If she were found to be unfaithful, technically, she could be put to death, but the practice was seldom instituted. During this time she would wear a veil whenever in public to affirm to any other possible suitors that she had made a commitment. When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, his consideration of a quiet divorce reflected his sense of mercy and kindness, when, in fact, he could have legally demanded her death, as well as a refund of his money paid at the signing of the marriage contract.
The wedding was generally held in the following year. During this time, the bride prepared herself for her new home, whereas the bridegroom would build the house itself. Frequently, this structure was simply another room added onto the existing home of the father of the bridegroom. The young bridegroom constructed it, no doubt with the help of family and friends. His father then declared its completion. It was during the one-year period of Mary’s betrothal that Jesus was born.
As the house was being finished, the preparation of the wedding feast was in process. The feast would last between three and seven days, depending on the financial resources of the families. Weddings always required a large quantity of food and wine. Middle Eastern hospitality in ancient times, as today, demanded that only the best be presented to guests. When everything was completed in detail, the father gave permission to his son to “capture” or “kidnap” his bride. It was a game and, to add to the suspense of the event, the “capture” usually occurred at night.
“All became drowsy and fell asleep.” The word sleep often suggests death, but not in this case. In this parable the terms drowsy and sleep simply emphasize that the delay would be for a long period of time.
“The door was shut.” At this point Jesus takes the cultural norm and adds a profound twist. When there was a wedding, the door was never shut. The late comer was always invited to join the festivities. But when Jesus said “the door was shut,” He captured everyone’s attention. For those in the church who are “left behind,” repentance is not possible after His coming.
This is clearly a statement of rejection imagery, and the foolish virgins will have no part of the Messianic Banquet. The wedding feast of this parable depicts the future messianic wedding banquet in heaven that, some say, will occur during the same period while the earth is experiencing the Great Tribulation. The point of the parable is that every believer has to be fully prepared; fully obedient and committed to Jesus; fully at work for the Kingdom of God. This is not a statement of legalism, but of a lifestyle of dedication to His honor and glory.
As stated previously, there is a constant danger for modern Bible students to read a meaning into a parable that was not intended by the gospel writer. In this case, there is no indication whether the foolish virgins were able to obtain oil and, if they did, whether they returned. In this culture, the world rested at sundown and it was impossible to purchase anything at night. In the context of telling a story, however, there is nothing wrong in saying that the foolish virgins went out to buy more oil even if the stores were closed. That is not the theme, but only a minor point that adds color to the narrative. Simply stated, these women had not prepared themselves diligently for the feast. The message of the parable is that one is to be watchful and prepared for the return of Jesus. The concept of the Messiah as being the bridegroom also appears in 2 Corinthians 11:2. This is a new concept that is not found in any rabbinic literature and, most certainly originated with Jesus. The focus of the narrative is not their marital status, but rather that there were ten of them and their use of oil. The number ten was often used as a convenient round number in illustrations.
There are several similarities between first century weddings and the imagery Jesus used to describe His relationship with those who believed in Him; those whom He called His “bride.” Just as in ancient times, a young man left his home and went to the home of a young woman where he offered her and her father a contract of marriage (katuvah), Jesus left His home in heaven, came to earth, the home of humanity, and offered humanity a contract of marriage – the New Testament.
When the young man was seated at the dinner table with the parents of a young woman, he would offer the young woman a cup of wine. He never asked the question, “Will you marry me?” If she accepted the proposal, she would indicate so by accepting the cup and drinking the wine. Likewise, Jesus poured the cup at Passover and told His disciples to drink the wine (communion). The young man paid a price to the bride’s father because her family was losing a worker and the young man had to show that his bride was not cheap, but valuable to him. Jesus paid the ultimate price for His bride; it cost him His life.
When the young woman accepted the invitation of marriage, her bridegroom had to leave and build a home for himself and his bride. However, it was his father who determined when it was completed, to insure a quality home and that the eager young man would not build a flimsy shack. Likewise, Jesus went to prepare a place for His bride and God the Father will determine when it is completed. Neither the bride nor her groom would know when the father would say it’s time to “steal” her. He worked hard to build the wedding chamber and she prepared herself for that special day.
When the bridegroom’s work was approved by his father, the young man would gather his friends to “steal” the bride from her home. This was always a festive time and the parents played along with the game. The group would sneak up to the bride’s home in the middle of the night. The parents of the bride and her brothers ignored the game of thievery while sharing in her excitement. But he most certainly could not rush into her bedroom, as that would have been considered so rude that it would be a shame he could never outlive. Rather, he would give a shout outside the home and then enter, giving her only a few minutes to make herself presentable and light her lamp.
A steward was in charge of the feast and it was his responsibility to insure there was sufficient food. He also metered out the wine. He ascertained that only those who wore the special wedding garments would enter the house of the bridegroom’s father and join the celebration. Thereafter the bride removed her veil and was considered a married woman. Likewise, when Jesus comes for His bride, she needs to be ready. There will be a shout and the church will be “captured” by Him.
The wedding tradition of “stealing” the bride continues to this day. For instance, late one evening in Haifa, Israel, this author was reviewing his sermon notes when he heard a strange commotion outside. He opened the door to see fifty to sixty young men cheering, singing, and clapping hands to bongo drums as they marched past his apartment. In the front of this procession was one very happy young man who was being carried on the shoulders of his friends. Immediately behind them followed an equal number of young women, also cheering, singing, and clapping hands. The procession passed by and went around the corner and this author returned to his studies.
After fifteen minutes, he could again hear the bongo drums, clapping, and singing faintly in the distance. The noise of the crowd grew louder as the young people were returning, and once again, the author stepped to his door and noticed that this time the female delegation was somewhat larger. The young men were still carrying a certain young chap on their shoulders, filled with the joy of his life, and beside him was an equally delighted young woman. There was obviously a wedding for a bridegroom and his friends had “stolen” his bride and her attendants. Soon they disappeared down the dark street and the bongos, singing, and clapping faded into silence. This author immediately reflected upon this passage, which had just sprung into blazing life, and thanked God for bringing this experience into his life. The modern Middle East is still a treasure of biblical traditions. God demonstrated a live performance of His Word, a very unexpected gift of divine graciousness.
Finally, the parable of the ten virgins is not unlike the history of Israel. Throughout Israel’s history, the greater portion of people chose not to believe or follow God’s commandments while the smaller portion did. The majority were the idolaters and often practiced the occult rituals of neighboring communities. In essence, the minority were the true “remnant” of God’s people. Ethnically, they are the same but, spiritually they are not identical. The classic example is found in 1 Kings 19 where only seven thousand were faithful to God. While all the Israelites were God’s Chosen People, only those who were faithful to Him were defined as being His “remnant.”  Likewise with the parable of the ten virgins – five were foolish and five were His remnant. Since this parable can be applied to the church, obviously not all who hold church membership are true followers of Jesus. The essence of the message is that one day Jesus Himself will judge His church and separate the true believers from those who claim to be His followers and have not lived by faith and obedience.
The Church fathers who authored the Didache made a similar comment concerning the spiritual condition of the believer at the return of Jesus:
Keep vigil over your life. Let your lamps not go out and let your loins not be weak but be ready, for you do not know the hour at which our Lord is coming. You shall assemble frequently, seeking what pertains to your souls, for the whole time of your belief will be of no profit to you unless you are perfected at the final hour.
. See video 09.03.04.V1 by Messianic Rabbi John Fischer who discusses first century wedding imagery, and video 14.02.05.V2 by Professor John Metzger who discusses the Passover, the Last Supper and its implications to the Messianic Banquet.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 789; Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 2:450-51.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:131; Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 349-50.
. The marital contract is further described in 04.03.03.A and 08.02.01.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 349-50.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 350.
. See the discussion of rejection imagery at the end of 12.01.02.
. For further study, see Pagenkemper, “Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables.” 179-198.
. See Isa. 25:6-8; Mt. 8:11; 22:1-14; Lk. 12:37; 14:15-24; 15:23-24; 22:36; Acts 10:41.
. Cf. Hosea 13:3; Amos 3:2; Nahum 1:7; Jn. 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:19.
. Ruth 4:2; Lk. 19:13; Josephus, Wars 6.9.3; Carson, “Matthew.” 8:512-13.
. See video 09.03.04.V1 by Messianic Rabbi John Fischer who discusses first century wedding imagery, and video 14.02.05.V2 by Professor John Metzger who discusses the Passover, the Last Supper and its implications to the Messianic Banquet.
. Adapted from Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 5, page 8, 10.
14.01.08 Mt. 25:14-30
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (EMPHASIZING LABORING)
14 “For it is just like a man going on a journey. He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one — to each according to his own ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. 17 In the same way the man with two earned two more. 18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’
21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’
22 “Then the man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’
23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’
24 “Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’
26 “But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.
28 “‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This parable is similar to Luke 19:11-27, which is a different discussion with the same theme. In Luke, the servant who kept the master’s money in a cloth (19:20) viewed his master as being less than honorable – so much so, that when an account was required, the master was very angry. It was a matter of self-fulfilling prophecy. Had he invested successfully, he would have received a similar blessing as the others.
In Matthew 25:14-30 is a similar parable with the same theme; one where an individual chose to bury his investment money rather than invest it. The Mishnah states that this method of keeping money safe was a common practice. Again the servant is described as being wicked, not only because he failed to invest the funds, but he also saw his trusting master in a negative light.
In various cultures throughout the ancient Middle East, it was common to have slaves/servants hold highly responsible positions. In modern thinking, slaves are often seen as those deprived of all dignity and human rights and required to perform demeaning and labor-intensive tasks. Failure to perform as required would result in imprisonment, scourging, or fighting the professional gladiators, who would surely kill them. Another example is of those condemned to be oarsmen in the bottom of a Roman galley ship, who were thrown overboard to the sharks when they failed to perform. While this was true for many and makes for dramatic Hollywood movies, this was hardly the case for all slaves. Many were entrusted with important responsibilities such as accountants, scribes, teachers, doctors, and business managers.
In this parable, Jesus again used a real life situation to give a teaching to which His listeners could relate. The servant in the parable was a slave who held the position of a business manager. His owner not only trusted him with his money, but did not even worry that he might run away. Why? Trusted slaves who had a professional education frequently lived very comfortably but running away could lead to poverty or have deadly consequences. The story is unique in that the master gave every slave a certain amount of money to invest – as much as he believed each slave could manage. The point is that God has given each person certain abilities, as He deemed he or she could handle, to be used in a lifelong service for Him.
“Five talents.” This was a huge sum of money entrusted to the slaves, yet not unusual for the extremely wealthy of the first century. The meaning, therefore, of the five talents is that the slave invested his entire life’s work for the benefit of his master.
“Well done, good and faithful slave!” These words ought to be the end goal for every believer. There will come a day when every person will kneel before Almighty God to be judged for a life of deeds – both good and bad. It is a great comfort to know one’s sins have been washed away by the sacrificial blood of Jesus. It behooves people then to commit their lives to His service. That commitment will lead the Blessed Savior to say these words. The purpose of the parable is not that the disciples are watchful; that was assumed, but rather, that watchfulness is to lead to working for the Kingdom of God and not become passive idleness. Furthermore, men may not be equal in talent/skill, but they are called to be equal in effort. God expects His people to apply their best efforts to whatever talent (not to be confused with the monetary term “talent”) they have. The condemnation of the man who buried his talent was based on the fact that he failed to do anything with his investment; he didn’t lose it – he didn’t even try. The essential point is that Jesus will return for a bride who is faithful, obedient, and watching for His return.
“Deposited my money with the bankers” With this statement Jesus provided clear proof that a banking system of some kind was functioning at this time. See 05.05.04 for further details.
As to the interest rate on investments, that varied throughout the empire in relation to the economic health. It appears to have been in the single digits at this time, but examples of twelve and twenty-four percent have been found. Josephus recorded that Herod Agrippa borrowed 20,000 drachmas from the Jewish aristocrat named Alabarch in Alexandria at a rate of 8 percent or 2,500 drachmas.
. Mishnah, Baba Mesi’a 3.11.
. Gilbrant, “Matthew.” 547.
. One denarius was the approximate wage for a common laborer for one day of work. One talent, on the other hand, represented about fifteen years of work and five talents was more than a lifetime of employment. See Appendix 20 for more details.
. A talent was not a coin, but a weight. It’s value was dependent upon the metal, but obviously represented a huge value. See Barclay, “Matthew.” 2:322; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 227; See Appendix 20 for more details. Today the word “talent” is incorrectly interpreted as one’s ability or strength. While those natural attributes should be dedicated to our Lord, the original passage did not refer to those human attributes.
. Gilbrant, “Matthew.” 547.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 792-94.
. Josephus, Antiquities 18.6.3. Alabarch was a Jewish leader who held Roman citizenship and had social ties with the Sadducees of Jerusalem.