Last year we examined the three separate questions the disciples asked Jesus, and His three separate answers. We err when we assume that this entire chapter is speaking of the same event in historic or prophetic time.
It has troubled me, though, that Jesus did not answer the disciples’ questions in the order that they asked them. Why should that trouble me? Because God is a God of order (1 Cor 14:26-40). He does things for a reason. He is logical and methodical. So if something is out of order, there is a reason for it — He is trying to teach us something.
The disciples three questions, in Mat 24:3, were:
1) When will these things be?
2) What will be the sign of Your coming?
3) What will be the sign of the end of the age?
And Jesus’ three answers are:
But then I realized, the disciples, at this time, perhaps shared the common misconception with all the Jews, that there would be one coming of Messiah, and at that time, He would take up His authority and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords from Jerusalem, the Son of David on the throne of Israel. In fact, I believe they shared this misconception past His death and resurrection:
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” Act 1:6-7
Jesus had spent the last forty days with them, following His resurrection, and this was part of His final conversation with them, before He was taken up to heaven. His disciples did not know at this point that there were two comings of Messiah which would be separated by a span of time. We can see that Jesus told them it would be this way, by studying His parables — but it had not sunk in yet. Everything concerning Messiah and His ministry was not revealed all at once. God told the end from the beginning, but in such a way that certain assumptions kept people off track. Why? He also was keeping the rulers of this age off track, who, if they had known what they were doing, would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. And He still had 2000 years to go to finish His great plan which would usher in His kingdom, so He was not revealing all His cards at once to the enemy.
So my theory is that the disciples had an expectation that the destruction of the Temple, the coming of the Lord’s kingdom, and the end of the age were all going to happen at the same time in historic time. The Lord knew better. So, He answered their questions:
First, what will be the sign of the end of the age (Mat 24:4-14), in order to correct their thinking that the end of the age was eminent or was associated with the answers to the other two questions. Notice the repeating phrase, “the end is not yet.”
Second, when will the destruction of the Temple be (Mat 24:15-22), because this was the next event that was going to happen on the stage of world history.
Third, what will be the sign of Your coming (Mat 24:23-51), because this event would come after the destruction of the Temple on the stage of world history.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, given to John, fills in many more details for us about these things. The destruction of the Temple was already past at the time John received the vision, so it is not addressed in Revelation. But, we find from that vision, that the end of the age comes after the Messiah’s coming, and is separated from it by the space of 1000 years, or His millennial reign (my study notes on Revelation are posted here).
Now the order of Jesus’ answers makes sense and I am once more happy!