Was Jesus ever questioned about the “end of the world” and the sign that would point to His return?
Well, yes and no. The Greek word translated “world” in the KJV in Matthew 24:3 is ‘aion’, more accurately translated in other versions meaning “age” – not the physical planet on which we live. He wasn’t talking about the physical “end of the world” and He wasn’t talking about His final coming.
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said,” when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” – Matthew 24:1-3
Jesus was answering the disciples question about when the temple was to be destroyed and the end of the Jewish age – the strict obedience to the Mosaic Law. Christ had introduced a new covenant where He will forgive sin and restore fellowship with those whose hearts are turned toward Him. The Old Testament redemption plan of the Jewish sacrificial system was no longer needed. The destruction of the temple signified the end of an era in Jewish history and religion. It meant the end of the sacrificial system and priesthood. The system of atonement established by Moses ended with the destruction of the Temple.
As Jesus predicted, the Jewish Covenant age ended with the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and no longer exists. That old covenant was nailed to the cross and we now live in a new age.
When you look at the parallel accounts in Mark 13:4 and Luke 21:7, neither of those writers say anything about the end of the age. Instead, they speak of when are these things Christ mentioned to be fulfilled or to take place. Why would Matthew speak of an end of the age and Mark and Luke do not? Scholars believe Matthew was writing to fellow Jews who had converted to Christianity while Mark and Luke were writing to Gentile converts. If so, it makes sense Gentile believers wouldn’t be familiar with the Jewish Covenant age that would be of importance to Matthew’s Jewish audience. Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ teaching in this discourse is in reference to Israel and not the Church. Christ was speaking of God’s future program for Israel.
Jesus answered:” Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming,` I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. – Matthew 24:4-13
Jesus was warning those people living at the time of the impending destruction of the temple and the calamitous events leading up to that event. He wanted His church to be prepared and secure in His promises with the encouragement to remain faithful and hopeful. We know these things happened from historical accounts of the period of time between the crucifixion of Christ and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. There were many false Christs, wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, famines, earthquakes, horrendous persecution, apostasy, and wickedness.
Preterism – Chapter 3: End of the World?
Futurists interpret these verses as events taking place sometime in the future, associated with the Tribulation period followed by the Millennium. I would argue, however, that reading these verses in the context they were given and understanding history, Jesus was talking about the early church and the end of the Jewish sacrificial age.
A New Covenant
This New Covenant had been predicted by Old Testament prophets. For example, Moses, through whom God established the Old Covenant, anticipated the New Covenant. Moses predicted that Israel would fail in keeping the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 29:22–28), but he then sees a time of restoration (Deuteronomy 30:1–5). At that time, Moses says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deut. 30:6).
The prophet Jeremiah also predicted the New Covenant.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. – Jeremiah 31:31-33
Jeremiah did not say there would be a separate plan of redemption of Israel and another for Christians. Jeremiah prophesied the days are coming (extending from Christ’s ministry to the destruction of the temple) when He would make a new covenant unlike the Mosaic Covenant which they had broke. Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17) and to establish this New Covenant between God and His people – Jew and Gentile alike. The Old Covenant was written in stone and exercised in a sacrificial temple system, but the New Covenant is written on our hearts and entered into only by faith in Christ, who shed His blood to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
The prophet Ezekiel also mentions this New Covenant.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”- Ezekiel 36:26-27
Ezekiel lists several aspects of the New Covenant here: a new heart, a new spirit, the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:17), and true holiness. The Mosaic Law could provide none of these things (see Romans 3:19-26). Today, there is no Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and the animal sacrifices have ceased. The Old Covenant has served its purpose, and it has been replaced by “a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22). “But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6). The believer in Christ has become the inner sanctum of God the Holy Spirit, as the believer has been sanctified and forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7-10). The believer in Christ becomes the habitation of the Holy Spirit of God.
After the resurrection of Christ, Gentiles were brought into the blessing of the New Covenant (Acts 10). Peter attests to the fact the New Covenant is for all people – Jew and Gentile alike – God does not show favoritism.
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. – Acts 10:34-35
All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. – Acts 10:43
The apostle Paul affirms that Jew and Gentile have been brought together into one body.
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. – Ephesians 2:11-18
Praise God we have a New Covenant sealed by the blood of Christ. We are no longer under the Law but under grace (Romans 6:14). Today, we share in the promises God made to Israel as grafted in (Romans 11) and we are given the opportunity to receive salvation as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8–9). Our responsibility is to exercise faith in Christ, the One who fulfilled the Law on our behalf and brought an end to the Law’s sacrifices through His own sacrificial death.
Now, that’s Good News!