This chapter contains the famous Olivet discourse (1) about the destruction of the temple which Jesus said would happen in this (his) generation, and it did in A.D. 70; (2) and then the discourse is about the close out or wrap up of the entire age. Jesus refers to the flood of Noah to illustrate unprepared people. Also, two men are in a field, and one taken, the other left. Two women grind grain at a millstone; one taken, the other left. He also tells the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servant.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. A pronunciation guide is also offered. But I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I do not offer it in competition with the excellent published ones or because I think mine is better or necessary. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Begins His Prophetic Discourse (Matt. 24:1-2)
1 And Jesus, leaving the temple, was departing, and his disciples came up to him, to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But in reply, he said to them, “You see all these things, don’t you? I tell you the truth: a stone will in no way be left here on another stone which shall not be thrown down!”
For the big picture, please see this post:
Using two verbs, Matthew really emphasizes Jesus leaving and departing from the temple. He is making a break from it, for he is about to predict its destruction (vv. 4-35). Then he will talk about his Second Coming (24:36-25:46). Jesus is actually following his denunciation discourse from 23:1 to right now. The disciples are not taking Jesus on a guided tour, for they had seen the temple before.
Their real question seems to be: Why would you condemn such a religious structure like this when it embodies in a glorious way everything Moses could only dream of in his temple laws in Exodus and Leviticus? However, his answer is firm. The Old Regime its religious center—the temple—has to be toppled and make room for a new one: the Messiah’s kingship and the global church. Jewish Christians in Matthew’s community have to join it and leave behind the old system.
“I tell you the truth”: Matthew uses this expression thirty times in his Gospel. “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement, but Jesus’ “introductory uses of amēn to confirm his own words is unique” (France at his comment on 5:18). The authoritative formula emphasizes pronouncements which are noteworthy and will be surprising or uncomfortable to the listener.
The clause may serve as the first part of an inclusio or the first bookend to the other time it is found all the way in 34, when Jesus says that this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place, between v. 2 and v. 35, all of which are about the destruction of the temple.
“shall in no way be left”: it is a double negative in Greek, so it is emphatic. It could be translated as “shall certainly not be left” “shall not—not!—be left.”
GrowApp for Matt. 24:1-2
A.. Is it time for God to demolish the things you cling to instead of him?
Jesus Predicts the Destruction of the Temple (Matt. 24:3-35)
3 As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came up to him privately, saying, “Tell us. When will these things be? And what will be the sign of your visitation [parousia] and the close [synteleia] of the age?”
4 And in reply, Jesus said to them, “See to it that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the Christ!’ and will lead many astray. 6 You will hear of wars and reports of wars. Watch that you do not be alarmed, for this must happen. However, this is not yet the end. 7 For nations will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 But all these things are the beginning of birth pangs.
9 Then they will hand you over to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will be caused to stumble and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and deceive many. 12 Because lawlessness multiplies, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end—this one will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world as a witness to every nation, and then the end will come.
15 Then, when you see the abomination of desolation spoken through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place”—let the reader understand!— 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, 17 and let the one on the roof not go down and take things from his house, 18 and let the one in the field not turn back to get his cloak. 19 Woe to those who are pregnant and are nursing in those days! 20 Pray that your flight might not happen in the winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great tribulation which has never happened from the beginning of the world until now, and nor will surely ever happen again. 22 And unless those days were shortened, nobody would be saved. But because of the elect, those days will be shortened.
23 At that time if someone says to you, ‘Look!’ Here is the Christ!’ or ‘Here he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and produce great signs and wonders in order to deceive many, and if possible, even the elect. 25 See! I have told you in advance.
26 If therefore they tell you, ‘Look, he is in the desert!’ do not go out. ‘Look! He is in the storeroom!’ do not believe it. 27 For just as the lightning comes out from the east and shines to the west, in this way will the visitation [parousia] of the Son of Man be. 28 For where the carcass is, the vultures also gather.
29 But immediately after the tribulation of those days,
The sun shall darken
And the moon shall not give off its light [Is. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15]
And the stars shall fall from the heaven,
And the powers of the heaven shall be shaken. [Is. 34:4; Haggai 2:6; 21]
30 And at that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heaven, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn and ‘see the Son of Man coming on clouds of heaven’ [Dan. 7:13] 31 And he will send out his angels with a great trumpet and gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
32 From the fig tree, learn the parable: when its branch becomes already tender and produces leaves, you recognize that summer is near. 33 In this way, you also, when you see all these things, recognize that it is near, at the doors. 34 I tell you the truth: this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.”
For my exegesis of this passage, please go to this post:
For a fuller picture of the Olivet Discourse and the parallel passages and an explanation as to why vv. 26-28 is a temporary interlude about the Second Coming, which will be much greater in scope, than the coming-in-judgment on the temple, see this post:
And scroll down to Unit 12.
It may be difficult to believe because of the dominance of dispensationalism for the past 100-150 years, but the signs in vv. 4-35 are not for us. They were about Jesus’ coming or ascension to the Father and then the coming-in-judgment over the temple. The disciples of Jesus’s generation could see and experience them and did. In contrast, what is the sign of the Second Coming (parousia)? There is none—unless it is the spiritual and moral climate of our times, just as it was before the flood in the time of Noah (see the next major section). But let’s not see a “climate” as an observable and experienced sign in the same way as the ones predicted in vv. 4-35. No one can flee a moral decline, but the disciples could flee the coming Roman army.
However, I would like to point out that the micro-judgment on the temple in his coming-in-judgment on it (24:4-35) prefigures the macro-judgment on the world at the closing synteleia (close) (25:31-46). The first and smaller judgment is a paradigm or pattern of the second and global one. But the two are not identical. The micro-judgment happened two thousand years ago; the truly global one has not yet happened for the past two thousand years (and counting).
GrowApp for Matt. 24:4-35
A.. To be a a good and effective disciple, you do not have to figure out the details of eschatology (study of the end times). Instead, just have to be ready for tough times. How do you toughen up for trials and hardships?
B.. Jesus ends this part of his discourse with the reliability of his words. How have you depended on his word for salvation in your life?
The Unknown Time of the Parousia (Matt. 24:36-44)
36 But concerning that Day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, except the Father alone. 37 For just as the days of Noah were, in this way the visitation [parousia] of the Son of Man will be. 38 For as just as they were in the days before the flood, munching and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 they also did not know until the flood came and took everyone away, and in this way shall the visitation [parousia] of the Son of Man be.
40 Then two men will be in the field, and one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding grain at the mill, and one will be taken and one left. 42 Watch therefore because you do not know which day your Lord comes. 43 But this you do know: that if the head of household knew at which watch the thief was coming, he would have watched and not permitted his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason, you also be prepared because at the hour you do not expect, the Son of Man is coming.
Matthew reintroduces the noun parousia (vv. 37 and 39). So what is it? It means, basically, “to be there” or “to arrive.” The best imagery of it says that an emperor arrives in a capital or province and the dignitaries go out to meet him and escort him back into their city. They don’t board his ship and sail away. Instead, he has arrived. He is present with them and reached his goal—their capital city.
The Parousia = the Second Coming.
For an exegesis of this passage, please see this post:
Why did Jesus say that not even the Son knows the day or the hour?
To answer the question, please see this post:
“Son of Man”: it both means the powerful, divine Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.
So, what will the hearts and behavior of the people be like, just before his Second Coming? They will live like they were in the days of Noah (Gen. 6-9). They conducted regular business. These transactions were not sinful, but the implication, based on Jesus’s audience’s knowledge of the story, is that they were living riotously. But the text is silent probably because Jesus assumed their knowledge of the original story. He was talking to his disciples, after all. In any case, the people’s obliviousness did them in. They were not ready. The flood came, which in Greek is the noun kataklusmos (pronounced kah-tah-kloos-moss), and yes, we get our word cataclysm from it. But in the NT the noun simply means “flood” or “deluge.”
The main point is clear: the Second Coming will take the oblivious by surprise. The next parables will expand on their lack of expectation and being caught off guard and their misconduct while they are waiting. The Son of Man can come at any time.
“took”: it is the verb airō (pronounced eye-roh), and it means in this context: “take away, remove” (BDAG). I believe it is a virtual synonym to the next main verb in vv. 40-41 (paralambanō). They were removed or taken away by the flood.
“visitation”: it is my translation of the Greek noun parousia, which means Second Coming. See the comments just above v. 36.
Two men and one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain at the millstone, and one will be taken and the other left. When does this happen? It happens at the parousia, that is, the Second Coming. We must not confuse the Second Coming / parousia with a separate rapture. They happen at the same time and are the same event.
Luke 17:22-37: Taken Away = Rapture? (it also looks at Matthew’s Gospel)
“taken”: I believe it is a virtual synonym of the verb airō (vv. 37-39). It is the verb paralambanō (pronounced pah-rah-lahm-bah-noh), and BDAG says it means, depending on the context: (1) “to take into close association, take (to oneself), take with / along”; (2) “to gain control of or receive jurisdiction over, take over, receive … someone a prisoner” (John 19:16b); (3) “sometimes the emphasis lies not so much on receiving or taking over, as on the fact that the word implies agreement or approval, accept.” In other words, the verb has a “negative” connotation (take over) or a positive one (accept). So the context determines the definition or best translation. It looks like the first or second one fits best, but see the verb in its larger context, below.
The parables and the scene of final judgment from here to 25:46 may help clarify what this taking means.
In the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servant (vv. 45-51), the bad servant was behaving foolishly and abusively, and the master put him with the hypocrites in punishment. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1-13), when the bridegroom arrived, five of them were unprepared and were shut outside, while the five wise girls were prepared and enjoyed the wedding feast, and a feast often symbolizes the final Messianic victory and era. In the Parable of the Talents (25:14-30), the master returns and sends away into outer darkness the servant who did nothing with his master’s talent. In 25:31-46, the majestic passage about final judgment, some people will be the goats and sent away in a negative judgment, while others will be the sheep and remain with the Son of Man and enter with him into the kingdom prepared for them before the foundation of the world.
In these four passages, the ones sent way or taken away or shut out were the unwatchful and unproductive and abusive, not the watchful and productive and obedient. Therefore, the natural inference here in vv. 41-42 is that the ones taken away were sent away to judgment.
Whatever the case, there is no separate rapture here because it supposedly will happen before the Second Coming, and Jesus is now talking about expecting his parousia (Second Coming) and its aftermath.
See Luke’s version, where it is fuller and clearly indicates being taken away in judgment:
Once again: Luke 17:22-37: Taken Away = Rapture?
In modern terms, “taken away” carries the imagery of being handcuffed and taken away in a police car and put in jail, waiting to stand trial before the judge.
Remember that the taking happens after the Second Coming, not before. So these verses are really about the build-up to the final judgment, after the Second Coming, all the way to Matt. 25:46. It is not about a “pretribulation,” “separate” rapture, distinct from the Second Coming.
If the master of the house or head of household knew when the thief planned to burgle, then the head or master of the household would not have allowed his house to be broken into. He would have been on guard. Lesson: People must be prepared.
“be prepared”: some interpreters take this idea too far. They become preparationists and stockpile all sorts of supplies and hide away in the mountains. That is their choice, of course, but the idea here is spiritual and moral preparedness.
“Son of Man”: see v. 37-39 for more comments.
Verse 44 about being prepared will be repeated in the next three parables (24:50; 25:13, 19). So Jesus does not offer the disciples the sign of his parousia and the close of the age, for no one knows when it will happen.
So in this pericope we find this sequence:
Parousia → Judgment → Kingdom Age (implied)
Recall that the parousia means the Second Coming or the Return.
The illustration about Noah, above, and the next three parables clearly teach the parousia / Second Coming could happen at any time. Be ready!
GrowApp for Matt. 24:36-44
A.. The Son of Man (Jesus) will come when you least expect him. Are you ready? How do you get ready?
Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants (Matt. 24:45-51)
45 “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant whom the master appointed over his household servants, and he gives food at the right time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom, when the master comes, he shall find him acting in that way. 47 I tell you the truth: he will appoint him over all his possessions. 48 But if that bad servant were to say in his heart, ‘My master delays,’ 49 and he began to beat his fellow servants, and he ate and drank with alcoholics, 50 then the master of that servant will come on a day which he did not expect and at an hour which he did not realize; 51 and he will cut him in two and will place his share with the hypocrites. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This is the first of three parables illustrating readiness before the parousia. Jesus is still answering the disciples’ second question. What will be the sign of Jesus’s parousia and close out of the age?
The basic meaning of this parable is that the good servant is blessed because the master finds him giving food or taking care of business at the right time. But the bad servant abused his authority, and the master came and found him misbehaving. The master came when the bad servant did not expect it, so he got punished severely.
One final point: what is a parable?
Literally, the word parable (parabolē in Greek) combines para– (pronounced pah-rah and means “alongside”) and bolē (pronounced boh-lay and means “put” or even “throw”). Therefore, a parable puts two or more images or ideas alongside each other to produce a clear truth. It is a story or narrative or short comparison that reveals the kingdom of God and the right way to live in it and the Father’s ways of dealing with humanity and his divine plan expressed in his kingdom and life generally. The Shorter Lexicon says that the Greek word parabolē can sometimes be translated as “symbol,” “type,” “figure,” and “illustration,” the latter term being virtually synonymous with parable. Here you must see yourself in the parable.
One must get promoted from the ground up. Do you want to be a leader who gives food—spiritual food, the bread of life (John 6:30-40)—to people in accordance to how much they can take? An allotment of bread for the mature in their faith and the immature in their faith? Then know how to feed his sheep. Then that is a sign of a faithful and wise servant. Food allowance also speaks of the Word of God. Feed his sheep with it.
“faithful”: it is the adjective pistos (pronounced peace-toss or piss-toss) and it means: “trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust or faith”; or in other context it means “trusting, cherishing faith or trust, also believing, faithful.” So you have to be consistent in your service. Are you willing to stack chairs, to set up before the service, to rehearse with the worship team, to go to choir practice? Or do you show up intermittently, when you feel like it?
“wise”: it comes from the adjective phronimos (pronounced fraw-nee-moss), and it means: “sensible, thoughtful, prudent, wise.” A wise and prudent manager of God’s household or portion of his kingdom can figure things out by the Spirit. He knows how to plan and surrender his plan to God. He is in constant communication with God through prayer. God gives him heavenly wisdom to apply God’s kingdom principles to everyday life. It is God-given know-how. It may even include shrewdness (Luke 16:8). He is smart or wise enough to run a household faithfully and with business savvy.
“servants”: The word servants here is doulos (pronounced doo-loss) and could be translated as slaves, but I chose servants (the Greek is plural douloi, pronounced doo-loi) because in Jewish culture a Hebrew man who sold himself into servitude to his fellow Jew was like an indentured servant whose term of service had a limit; he was freed in the seventh year. But then the indentured servant could stay with his family, if he liked his owner (Exod. 21:2-6; Lev. 25:38-46; Deut. 15:12-18). So there was a lot of liberty even in servitude, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
It is a sure thing, however, that Matthew’s Greek-speaking audience, knowledgeable about Greek culture, would have heard “slave” in the word doulos. So if you wish to interpret it like that, then that’s your decision. But culturally at that time slavery had nothing to do with colonial or modern slavery.
“master”: it is the noun kurios (pronounced koo-ree-oss), and it typically means Lord, as in the Lord Jesus Christ or lord or master or even sir in some contexts. Here it means both: Jesus is the master who returns, and he is the Lord. When Jesus appears on the scene at his return, he changes the title manager to servant. All of us in leadership are manager-servants. We are not the boss. He alone is the boss.
“right time”: the noun here is kairos (pronounced kye-ross and is used 85 times), which speaks more of a quality time than quantity. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the noun as follows: (1) a point of time or period of time, time, period, frequently with the implication of being especially fit for something and without emphasis on precise chronology. (a) Generally a welcome time or difficult time … fruitful times; (b) a moment or period as especially appropriate the right, proper, favorable time … at the right time; (2) a defined period for an event, definite, fixed time (e.g. period of fasting or mourning in accord with the changes in season), in due time (Gal. 6:9); (3) a period characterized by some aspect of special crisis, time; (a) generally the present time (Rom. 13:11; 12:11); (b) One of the chief terms relating to the endtime … the time of crisis, the last times.
All of this stand in a mild contrast—not a sharp contrast—from chronos. Greek has another word for time: chronos (pronounced khro-noss), which measures one day, one week or one month after another.
In this context, the prudent servant follows the first definition and (b).
Jesus call this household servant blessed. Why? When the master returns and find his lead servant feeding his servants or taking care of the household business, then that servant is blessed.
Do you want promotion in God’s kingdom? Then do the small things, like feeding the little lambs their food allowance at the proper time in Sunday School. Feed the elderly lambs in the convalescent or rest home with their food allowance at the proper time. Go out to the highways and hedges to draw—compel—people into the banquet, to give them their food allowance at the proper time (Matt. 22:9-10). God promotes faithful and wise servants. He will put you in charge over all his possessions.
“blessed”: it is an adjective or descriptor of who we are in Christ. Luke begins this verse with the word “blessed” for emphasis. The more common adjective, which appears here and in vv. 38 and 43, is makarios (pronounced mah-kah-ree-oss) and is used 50 times. It has an extensive meaning: “happy” or “fortunate” or “privileged” (Mounce, pp. 67-71).
Let’s look more deeply at “blessed.”
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and a little Aramaic), and the main word for blessing is the verb barak, used 327 times throughout the Hebrew Bible: Genesis 76 times, Deuteronomy 40 times, and Psalms 76 times. Each time it is people-related. The noun is beraka, used 71 times, and “denotes the pronouncement of good things on the recipient or the collection of good things” (Mounce, p. 70).
The New Testament was written in Greek, and the verb for bless is eulogeō (pronounced yew-loh-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard as in “get”), which is used 41 times and means to “bless, thank, or praise.” The adjective eulogētos (pronounced yew-loh-gay-toss, and the “g” is hard, as in our “get”), which is used 8 times, means “blessed, praised.” The noun is eulogia (pronounced yew-lo-gee-ah, the “g” is hard as in our “get”), and we get our word eulogy from it), and is used 16 times. It means to “speak well.” It is mostly translated as “praise.” The log– stem is rich in Greek, and it can include speaking a word.
“I tell you the truth”: see v. 2 for further comments.
Note that the master appoints the faithful and wise servant over all his possessions. This indicates that when the parousia happens, we will not be sitting around and playing harps for eternity. We will have things to do.
Now Jesus introduces a different kind of servant who stands in contrast to the blessed one. This one, appointed to leadership, becomes arrogant, which comes from self-deception. He is being pulled away from his duties by the lust of his flesh. He sees that his authority has been God-given and people respect him, and this respect and admiration opens the door just a crack, so that self-deception and arrogance creeps in. This is similar (some say) to the pride of Lucifer or Satan, who had been given God’s authority, but pride filled his heart when the heavenly beings admired him and worshiped under his leadership (see. Is. 14:12-20 for a possible reference to this). One thing is certain: novices or recent converts should not be appointed to be leaders in the church, or else they will fall into the punishment of the devil (1 Tim. 3:6). But are these leaders necessarily novices? No, but something is going wrong. One of the wrong things is the seeming delay of the Lord. This manager-servant misinterpret the long time of his return as a license to escape judgment and therefore do as they please.
“delays”: it is the verb chronizō (pronounced khro-nee-zoh), and it means, depending on the context: (1) “take time, linger, fail to come (or stay away), for a long time … (2) delay, take a long time in doing something; (3) stay (somewhere for a long time)” (Shorter Lexicon). The best definition here is the second one. It appears in 25:5, the Parable of the Ten Maidens, so the two parables are connected by the same themes and wording. The main point is to be alert because you don’t know the day or the hour of the parousia.
These verses speak of scoffers who sneer at the delay:
4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. (2 Pet. 3:4-10, NIV).
The scoffers need to be careful! They will be shocked when the Lord returns in his parousia. (Incidentally, those verses do not teach a separate rapture; they teach the Second Coming and judgment and new creation, following the same sequence of events, just as Jesus also taught [see below]..
What actions does the manager-servant do? He “eats and drinks” and hangs out with drunkards (a possible translation of the term). This is more than just eating and drinking for daily sustenance. It refers to Is. 22:13, which says that some people say they should eat and drink, for tomorrow they will die (see 1 Cor. 15:32). More precisely it refers to Is. 56:12 which shows some people getting strong, intoxicating wine, because tomorrow will be just like any other day. And that’s why Jesus finished his three-fold description of a deficient manager-servant as getting drunk. Not every day will be like the last day. One day will be unlike any other—the return of the Lord. The added wrongdoing is that this misguided leader used the resources of the kingdom for their own selfish benefit. Worst of all, they have lost the ability to provide the allowance or allotment of food for the various citizens of the kingdom at the proper time.
Verse 50, along with 46, is the main point of the clear parable. The bad servant did not expect or recognize when his master was coming back, so he was caught flatfooted—worse than that—he was misbehaving and acting unrighteously. In contrast, the good servant was rewarded with more oversight of all the master’s possessions.
“cut … in two”: the phrase is not to be taken literally but shows the severity of judgment. It seems that when Jesus ends his parables with a severe punishment, he is stating this principle, from the Torah: the severer the punishment, the severer the crime; the severer the punishment the more seriously we must take the story.
The severe verb is dichotomeō (pronounced dee-kho-toh-moh-eh-oh and our word dichotomy is related to it). It literally means “cut in two.” Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon suggests “punish severely.” On the other hand, BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, says it should be taken literally, indicating a gruesome execution. However, this is clearly hyperbole (pronounced hy-PER-boh-lee), designed to shock the reader. Remember that hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration to startle the listener. Example: “Wow! The ice cream man is super-generous! He piled on the ice cream a mile high on my cone!” So no, I don’t believe God will literally cut some in two at final judgment. Jesus is simply adding another rhetorical effect to startle the listener. He once again uses a startling image, which he has done throughout the Gospel of Matthew. In 22:13, the outcast was bound hand and foot and thrown into darkness. In 25:30 a useless servant is thrown into outer darkness.
What is interesting is that the punishment is severe and the manager-servant is to be assigned to the place of the hypocrites.
“hypocrites”: originally it comes from the Greek play actor on the stage. They wore masks and played roles. There were stock characters, such as the buffoon, the bombastic soldier, or the old miser. The Septuagint (pronounced sep-too-ah-gent and abbreviated LXX for the “seventy” scholars who worked on it) is a third to first century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. It uses the term hypocrite to mean the godless. However, in Matthew’s Gospel (it is used only once in Mark 7:6 and three times in Luke 6:42; 12:56; 13:15), it is more nuanced. Hypocrites appeared one way, but in reality they were different. They appeared outwardly religious, but inwardly they were full of dead men’s bones (Matt. 23:27). They wore religious masks. They actually did many things that the law required, but they failed to understand God’s view of righteousness. They were more self-deceived than deceivers, though in Matt. 23, Jesus denounced the Pharisees and experts in the law for teaching one thing but living another. They are religious show-offs who act out their righteousness to impress others but are out of touch with God’s mercy and love. Eccl. 7:16 says not to be overly righteous, but that is what they were and displayed it publicly.
Jesus now used the hypocrites as the type of person who is worthy of severe punishment. He has no respect for them, nor should he.
“realize”: the verb is ginōskō (pronounced gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). The verb is so common that it is used 222 times in the NT. (Its cognate epiginōskō, pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh is used 44 times). BDAG has numerous definitions of the verb, depending on the context: (1) “to arrive at a knowledge of someone or something, know, know about, make acquaintance of”; (2) “to acquire information through some means, learn (of), ascertain, find out”; (3) “grasp the significance or meaning of something, understand, comprehend”; (4) “to be aware of something, perceive, notice, realize”; (5) to have sexual intercourse with, sex / marital relations with”; (6) “to have come to the knowledge of, have come to know, know.” (7) “to indicate that one does know, acknowledge, recognize.” So we can know a person, a thing, a fact, an abstract thing like pure math. We can even know God personally or know about him from a distance, like a theological truth. It is best to know him personally. We can know all these things deeply or shallowly. Probably the fourth definition works best here.
“in that place”: the Greek says ekei (pronounced eh-kay), which means “there” or “that place.” Unfortunately most translation don’t pick up on the ambiguity of their translations: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here it is more awkwardly but accurate: “The weeping and the gnashing will be there.” The standard translation (“there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth)” makes “there” into the wrong kind of adverb, or at least it is not clear in English. The clearer translation is as I have it.
“weeping and gnashing”: In their comments at 8:12, Keener says that weeping means mourning over damnation, and gnashing of teeth may indicate anger or a strong emotion similar to it. Carson says weeping may indicate suffering, and gnashing indicates despair, and Osborne agrees. In any case, existence in punishment is unhappy and produces despair and even anger. Perhaps the gnashing can also mean cursing in anger. (See these verses for gnashing: Acts 7:54; Job 16:9; Pss. 34:16; 36:12; 112:10; Lam. 2:16). Since weeping indicates remorse, it is not quite accurate to claim that hell is locked from the inside as if people want to be there, though maybe only the enraged do want this.
Now for even more theology: punishment in the afterlife at judgment. There are three main theories.
First, eternal conscious torment, which says unredeemed people burn forever in the fires of hell, even Hitler and your kind and generous but unredeemed grandmother, bobbing up and down, next to each other. This is the traditional or standard view.
Second, terminalism or conditionalism, which says the eternality of the soul depends only on God or is conditional only on God. The soul is not automatically eternal by virtue of being a soul. Unredeemed people are punished in hell for a time suitable to their good or bad deeds, but then they pass out of existence or their soul is destroyed. The ending may not be a happy one, but this theory eliminates the eternal torment.
Third, universal reconciliation or restoration, which says that each unredeemed person is punished in hell for a duration suitable to their good or bad deeds; then they are brought into God’s presence and restored and reconciled to him.
Please read a three-part series, which have plenty of Scriptural support:
Whichever theory you choose, please don’t call the other two heretical or make this doctrine a test for orthodoxy. All three have Scriptural support. Personally, I believe that the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying:
In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories.
One last word about punishment in the afterlife.
Charismatic and Presbyterian theologian J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:
These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.
One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).
For the record, Williams did not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism).
Yet in all these theories of punishment in the afterlife, you decide. I suggest that God has not made the details as clear as some in the eternal conscious torment camp have led us to believe because he wants us to focus on kingdom living right now and reach as many people as possible.
Finally, in the above pericope, we find this sequence:
Parousia → Judgment → Kingdom Age (reward for good servant)
Recall that the parousia means the Second Coming or the Return. The good servant was rewarded, which speaks of a positive judgment and entry into the Kingdom Age.
GrowApp for Matt. 24:45-51
A.. Jesus told this parable to spur us on to faithful service. What are the ways that you can serve him faithfully in your own life?
Summary and Conclusion
An interpretation that accounts for the most elements in a long text and coheres them together indicates that the interpretation is on the right track.
As I noted in the two posts that exegete these passages …
… The disciples asked two questions:
(1). “When will these things be?” The context indicates that this question pertains to the destruction of the temple, which they had just admired. But he predicts its destruction.
(2). “And what will be the sign of your visitation [parousia] and the close [synteleia] of the age?”
He answered the first question in vv. 4-35 and his second answer will go all the way from 24:36 to 25:46, when the age will be closed out or wrapped up.
Here’s a short diagram to illustrate the first question and answer:
First Coming ⸻→ Resurrection ⸻→ Coming to His Throne and then Judgment ⸻→Telos [End] of the Old Temple
The Greek word which I translate “close” is the noun sunteleia (pronounced soon-teh-lay-ah) or synteleia (pronounced sin-teh-lay-ah), and it is used in Matthew’s Gospel five times (13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20 and once in Heb. 9:26). It has taken on a specialized sense of a brand new age that closes out one age and begins the Messianic Age. This word plays a key role in my interpretation of the Olivet Discourse in Matt. 24. In the above flow chart, Matthew used the word telos for the end of the temple.
Here’s a diagram of the second question and answer.
________________← This Age ——–→| Synteleia (Closing) of
First Coming ———————————→ Parousia → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / Age to Come
In the above diagram, This Age began with the Fall in Gen. 2-3. The first coming begins the movement towards the parousia (pronounced pah-roo-SEE-ah or pah-ROO-see-ah) or Second Coming. At the parousia (Second Coming) the synteleia (closing) of This Age occurs, and subsequently the New Messianic Age or Kingdom Age or The Age to Come (all three describe the same thing) begins in full manifestation. In Matt. 28:20b, Jesus promises the synteleia, the closing out of the age, which is a fitting capstone on Matthew’s Gospel. “And remember this: I am with you every day, until the end [synteleia] of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).
In short: Messianic Age = Kingdom Age = The Age to Come. Just because different terms are used does not mean they are different things. All three terms refer to the same (wonderful) reality. The Messianic Age or Kingdom Age or The Age to Come begins and will last forever.
Next, now let’s add in one element: the inaugurated kingdom. When Jesus came the first time and was in the process of inaugurating the kingdom of God, the kingdom came subtly and mysteriously. When he comes a second time, his inaugurated kingdom will be fully accomplished or realized.
Here it is in a flow chart:
________________← This Age –—–→| Synteleia (Closing) of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom → Parousia → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come
In the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds (particularly 13:39-43); and in the Parable of the Net (particularly 13:49-50); just before the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1 and his prediction that the Son of Man will come (Matt. 16:27); and in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus clearly teaches that the end of This Age and before the new Messianic Age (or Kingdom Age or the Age to Come) is ushered in right after the Second Coming and the judgment of the righteous and the wicked happen at the same time.
We can depict things in this flow chart:
___________← This Age ——⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom → Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / Age to Come
For simplicity, I have taken out the Greek noun synteleia (close-out of This Age) and put in “End.” And I have inserted the Second Coming instead of the Greek noun parousia, because the Second Coming is the same thing. The Second Coming (parousia) stops This Age. Then there is one big judgment, in which the righteous and wicked are judged together. One can even say that the final judgment happens during the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come. Finally, the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated at his first coming will have been fully realized and accomplished at his Second Coming (parousia), after judgment. And so after God sweeps aside the wicked and Satan and demons, the New Messianic or Kingdom Age can begin in true and pure rulership.
Bottom line: All of the New Testament (outside of a few contested verses in the Revelation) fully and clearly and consistently teach this flow chart:
___________← This Age ———⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom —→ Second Coming → Judgment → Fully Realized Kingdom Age
We will learn that the above sequence is taught throughout the four Gospels. For right now, please see how Jesus’s teaching in Matthew follows that basic, streamlined sequence, in these posts.
To see how consistent Jesus’s teaching is in the above, bottom-line flow chart, please see these posts:
Matthew 13 (scroll down to vv. 42-43)
Matthew 16 (scroll down to vv. 27-28)
Matthew 19 (scroll down to vv. 28-29)
Matthew 22 (scroll down to vv. 29-33)
Matthew 25 (scroll down to Summary and Conclusion)
What about the Church? The Father and the resurrected and ascended Son and the outpoured Spirit, by means of the inaugurated kingdom, created the church at Pentecost (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:1-4). It exists in This Age and preaches the gospel of the kingdom. It will be snatched up or raptured at the Second Coming, meet Jesus in the air, descend with him, go through judgment, and then finally will last forever in the Fully Realized Kingdom Age.
Until and before the Second Coming, we now live in the conflict and battle between This Age and the Inaugurated Kingdom, proclaimed by Jesus during his ministry. (They are not the same things but are at war with each other!) We are in the process of binding Satan and his demonic hordes, by expelling demons from people’s lives but mainly by preaching the gospel, so people surrender to the Son’s Lordship, and then Satan is pushed back and people experience victory in their lives. The gospel and life in the Spirit, coming after Jesus’s ascension in This Age, though happening during the inaugurated Kingdom, are so powerful that saved and redeemed kingdom citizens can experience victory over the power of sin in their lives in This Age. The presence of sin in their lives is not removed until they get their new resurrected and transformed bodies and minds in The Age to Come. The Second Coming stops This Age, which is replaced and displaced with the fully realized Messianic or Kingdom Age or The Age to Come.
There is no word on a literal thousand-year reign with two comings and “several first” resurrections. And there is no separate rapture that makes the church disappear, before the Second Coming. If Jesus believed in a separate rapture, he would have taught it here; he missed his chance. However, he did not miss his chance and he did not teach it. Therefore, he did not believe in a separate rapture. All of it is too convoluted. Instead, the Gospels (and Epistles) present a streamlined picture of salvation history and God’s dealing with his human creation and the return of Christ.
An amillennialist believes that the millennium begins with the Inaugurated Kingdom, but apparently it is quiet and behind the scenes (note, for example, the Parable of the Mustard Seed and its slow growth in Matt. 13:31-32); Satan is not literally bound with chains (as if a spirit being could be), even though Jesus did teach that he bound the strongman (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-22). So what this binding means is that Satan cannot now fully stop the advance of the kingdom (as Satan did to the ancient Israelites, except a remnant). Before Jesus came, every nation was bound by satanic deception. However, after Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, the gospel has a way of infiltrating societies, even under Islamic and communist regimes, even if underground. Satan can no longer deceive the nations as he did before Jesus came. Instead, kingdom citizens, surrendered to the Kingship of the King and following him, are plundering Satan’s domain of This Age and rescuing people out of it and transferring them to the inaugurated kingdom of God. The final victory over Satan will be fully manifested at his Second Coming.
In contrast, based on his interpretation of a few verses in Rev. 20, one chapter in the most symbolic book of the Bible, a premillennialist believes that a literal thousand years of Christ (not shown in flow charts) is ushered in at the Second Coming, where there will be peace and harmony. And Satan is literally bound in chains until the end of the thousand years. He will not deceive the nations. During the literal millennium, people will still die, so the last enemy (death) is not defeated after all, at the Second Coming (even though Paul said death would be defeated at the Second Coming with the last trumpet, in 1 Cor. 15:23-26, 51-56). However, the theory of a literal thousand years says that death and Satan are defeated at the end of the millennium, when another resurrection and another judgment will take place.
Never mind, however, that in John 5:28-29 and Matt. 13:41-43 and 25:31-46, Jesus teaches that the wicked and righteous are judged together at the end of This Age, as indicated in the above flow charts. Interpreting literally a deliberately and intentionally symbolic book (Revelation) runs aground quickly. Things soon become convoluted and complicated, in comparison with the nonsymbolic, streamlined Gospel and Epistles.
So then where does the rapture fit in? When all peoples are called out of their tombs and those who are alive also see Christ descending from heaven at the Second Coming, they will be “caught up” (the rapture) and meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Then they will descend with Jesus to a new heaven and new earth, which will have been recreated, renewed, renovated or reconstituted (or the heaven and earth will be recreated after judgment). They will be judged, and the wicked will be sent away to punishment, and the righteous will be welcomed into the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come (as distinct from This Age). In other words, the rapture and the Second Coming happen at the same time and are the same event.
Please see my post:
There is no reason, biblically, to overthink and complicate these verses and insert a separate rapture that happens before the Second Coming. Just because a teaching is popular does not make it right.
Personally, in my study of the Gospels and Epistles, I have now accepted amillennialism because it is streamlined, and I don’t believe the NT teaches convoluted theories. The entire NT fits together if we adopt amillennialism, from Matt. 1 to Rev. 22. I cannot allow, in my own Bible interpretation, a few contested verses in Rev. 20 to confuse the clear teaching of Jesus in the Gospels and the apostolic teaching in the Epistles. That is, I don’t believe we should allow Rev. 20 (the only few verses where one thousand years are mentioned) or the entire book of the Revelation, the most symbolic book of the Bible (after Chapter 3), to guide our interpretation of these clear teachings in the Gospels and the Epistles. Instead, we should allow the clear, straightforward, nonsymbolic teachings in the Gospels and Epistles to guide our interpretations of the most symbolic book in the Bible, in which even the numbers may be symbolic and probably are. To see everything fit together, all we have to do is turn the kaleidoscope one notch or click and adopt amillennialism. I am willing to do that. And I have now done that.
This guidance in interpreting Scripture is called the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. Clarity guides the unclear portions. My main point: keep the plain thing the main thing in hermeneutics (science of interpretation), and let the clear verses guide the unclear ones.
This interpretation enjoys the beauty of simplicity by eliminating all the complications that popular end-time Bible prophecy teachers have been imposing on the Gospels and Epistles for decades—over a century. Since this tradition has deep roots—not to say entrenched—in the conservative sectors of American Evangelicalism (broadly defined to incorporate the Renewal Movements), these teachers won’t give up their interpretation easily. So I hope to reach and teach the younger generations and all other openminded people of all generations. They need to prepare for tough times ahead. I’m not a pastor, but I can still have a teacher’s pastoral heart.
But in these eschatological (end-time) discussions:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
We should not lose fellowship with those with whom we differ in eschatological matters.
Now we move on to Jesus’s one long discourse about being ready for the Second Coming (parousia) the synteleia (close) of the age in Matt. 25, as he continues to answer the disciples’ second question.
I refer to a community of Bible scholars. Their commentaries are truly impressive. I learn a lot from them. But they are also technical. I trust I have reduced Matt. 24 to a simpler form. I also write from a Renewal perspective.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 15-28: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).