In following the divine purpose of dispensational transition in Matthew’s gospel, the Holy Spirit forms four major sections in which He groups together teachings from the Lord which likely weren’t presented together in one setting. The Spirit is not concerned with giving an exact portrayal of the chronological record of the Lord’s life or verbal discourses. As the true author of this gospel, He is at liberty to present things in such a way that would serve His divine purpose. These four sections in Matthew’s gospel are quite unique:
- The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5, 6, 7) – Christian Discipleship
- The full prophetic history of the Messianic/Jewish mission (Matt. 10)
- The seven parables of Matthew 13 – the Christian Dispensation
- The Lord’s prophecies found in Matthew 24 and 25
It is the fourth point we will address in this chapter. Matthew 24 and 25 are prophetic teachings. Jesus is the Prophet that Moses promised would eventually come to Israel, the one whom they were to listen to (Deut. 18:15, 18). These two chapters form the most extensive continuous prophetic discourse given by Jesus in the gospels. And it is all set up by what immediately precedes it.
Matthew 23:37–39 (NKJV)
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one 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, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Whether the words “your house” refer to the Jews themselves or their temple, it doesn’t matter. Both are set aside by God and made desolate. And things remain in this state as long as their true Messiah is absent from them. But we should be able to perceive the dispensational nature of this passage – during the entire time of the intervening Christian dispensation, Israel must remain desolate and set aside by God. Then when His disciples marvel at the beauty of the temple buildings, Jesus predicts the absolute devastation under which the Jewish dispensation will physically end (Matt. 24:1–2).
The subject of Bible prophecy has a three-fold character: Directly or indirectly, it is about Israel (the Jews), it is about the earth, or it refers to God’s government of the earth (including reward and judgment). When speaking about the nation of Israel, prophecy is, for the most part, very direct and literal; when referencing the Gentiles, types and shadows are often employed. This will be found to be generally true with few exceptions.
Bible prophecy never deals directly with the Christian dispensation, because it is part of the mystery of God hidden from the prophets, hidden before the foundations of the world. Prophecy likes to jump from the Jewish dispensation to the future millennium, completely skipping over the Christian dispensation. As we previously noted, the first and the last dispensations are the two which involve God’s dealings with Israel. God is not involved with the Jews during the present dispensation, except to preserve them in the world as He chooses. For that matter, during the Christian dispensation God is not dealing with the earth or government of the earth (the church has a heavenly calling).
These characteristics are maintained in these two chapters of Matthew. The Lord’s prophesies pertain to the Jews and Judea and are given by Him in a direct and straightforward manner (Matt. 24:1–44). When He does use a parable in reference to Israel, the interpretation is immediately given so there is no mystery (Matt. 24:32–34).244 However, the Christian dispensation is an obscure mystery to any proper prophetic passage. In the discourse of these two chapters, it is referenced by three distinct parables forming a parenthesis in its middle (Matt. 24:45–51, 25:1–13, 25:14–30).245 The mystery and obscurity of Christianity in the Lord’s prophetic teaching is maintained by the absence of any interpretation and the puzzling over who it is Jesus is suddenly speaking of. After this parenthesis, the remainder of the prophecy concerns God’s government of the world – the Son of Man judging all the nations (Matt. 25:31–46).
244 [It is noteworthy that the interpretation of this short parable speaks of seeing certain signs and acting accordingly – walking by sight. This is characteristic of Judaism and the Jews, and should serve to separate this portion of the prophecy from being applied to Christianity and Christians. Throughout this section, Jesus is giving instruction to His elect – the sealed Jewish remnant during the time of the future tribulation (Rev. 7:1–8)]
245 [By considering the association between Matt. 24:30–31, 44 and Matt. 25:31, one can see that what is said in reference to Christians and the Christian dispensation is an intervening parenthesis in this prophecy. The verses just mentioned are connected by the Son of Man returning and again being present on the earth in power and glory. However, the three parables referencing the Christian dispensation are all dependent on the Lord being absent]
The two chapters show God’s dealings with three distinct groups:
- The Jews (Matt. 24:1–44)
- Christians (Matt. 24:45–25:30)
- Gentiles (Matt. 25:31–46)
Or the chapters can be divided into four distinct times:
- When the Romans destroy the present temple and bring a physical end to the Jewish dispensation (Matt. 24:1–2).
- The time immediately before and including the future tribulation. The Lord’s instructions for His elect Jewish remnant (Matt. 24:3–44).
- The Christian dispensation (Matt. 24:45–25:30), which comes between the first two periods above. Only parables are used in dealing with the Christian dispensation for instruction.
- The beginning of the future millennium; judgment of the living (Matt. 25:31–46).
Some interpreters treat the content of the prophecy as either completely Jewish or completely Christian. As it turns out neither is correct. We see that the prophecy touches on all three dispensations. Below we give a simple outline of the two chapters according to the divisions above dealing with the three separate groups.
- 24:1–44 – this section is all Jewish and deals with the judgment of the Jews. This portion is also historical in its context. The Lord’s elect is the end-time Jewish remnant (Matt. 24:22, 24, and 31. See also Luke 18:1–8). This section is the Jewish testimony until Christ returns, so it includes such things as false Messiahs (vs. 4–5 and 24–26), Sabbath days (v. 20), enduring to the end to be saved (vs. 9–13), and the gospel of the kingdom (v. 14). This last is not the Christian gospel, but testimony of the approaching kingdom of God on the earth. It will be similar to John the Baptist’s preaching (vs. 30–31). The “abomination of desolation” refers to Daniel, whose book specifically has prophetic content about the future of Israel (v. 15). The Jewish temple is referenced by the term “holy place” in the same verse.
A little further explanation of some parts of this section would be helpful. Matt. 24:2 is the Lord’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans in 70 AD. The details associated with this event, Jewish things really, are given by Jesus in Luke 21:20–24. The passage that precedes this (Luke 21:12–19), describes the period after the Lord had gone back to heaven, until the time of the Roman destruction of the temple. It specifically refers to those apostles listening to Him at that time, their testimony and mission among the Jews and in/around Judea. However, the Lord’s testimony starting with Matt. 24:4 is about the Jews during the future tribulation. This period is divided in half by the event found described in Matt. 24:15 – “the abomination of desolation.” What follows (Matt. 24:16–44) is the last 3 ½ years known as Jacobs trouble (Jer. 30:7, Rev. 11:1–4, 12:6, 14), the return of the Son of Man (v. 29–30), and the gathering of the Jewish remnant back to the land (v. 31). Matt. 24:6–8 describes the first four seal judgments in the first half of the tribulation – providential judgments issuing forth upon the earth from God’s governmental throne in heaven (Rev. 6:1–8). The historical narration ends in Matt. 24:44, but picks back up again in Matt. 25:31. It is specifically Matt. 24:30–31 which connects to Matt. 25:31.
- 24:45–25:30 – this section is about Christendom in the world while Jesus is away in heaven. This portion is not historical, for there is no counting of time concerning the church; there is no counting time in heaven or with heavenly things, and the church is the gathering of a heavenly body with a heavenly calling. Therefore, this section only involves parables, which will need interpretation by the Spirit of God, and are a contrast with the literal teachings found in the two historical sections involving the Jews. Parables are inherently more obscure than other forms of instruction. We must remember that the church is the mystery of God hidden from prophecy and the prophets (Eph. 3:1–11). Logically, those things associated with the church – Christendom, and the Christian dispensation – would be hidden. In this section, the Holy Spirit arranges parabolic teachings, providing exhortation to Christian disciples concerning their responsibilities while the Lord is away.
This section is about the Christian dispensation. Just as there are wheat and tares occupying Christendom while it grows up in the world (Matt. 13:24–30), so are there good and bad in each of the three parables given in this section: faithful and evil servants in the first (Matt. 24:45–51), wise and foolish virgins in the second (Matt. 25:1–13), industrious verses wicked, evil, unprofitable servants in the third (Matt. 25:14–30). Imminence is plainly taught in the parable of the ten virgins, which is a biblical principle that can only refer to the church.246 The faithful servants in the other two parables are expecting the return of their Lord as well.
- 25:31–46 – this section deals with the judgment of the Gentiles, and like the first section, is historical. Matt. 24:30–31 links to Matt. 25:31 and connects the two sections of the prophetic history. When you put the first and third section together, we have what Scripture speaks of as the judgment of the quick or living (2 Tim. 4:1 and 1 Pet. 4:5) – the Jews and Gentiles on the earth at the physical return of Jesus Christ. The judgment of the dead is at the end of the millennium and is not referred to in these chapters (Rev. 20:11–15).
246 [Imminence refers to the Lord’s coming at any moment to gather up the church to take her to the heavens and the Father’s house. This is the proper hope of all true Christians. It is imminent because there is no prophetic event which must take place before the Lord comes for the church. This Christian hope severs to encourage believers to live separated from the world and to constantly expect the Lord’s coming. This is the wisdom of God, for it is the same hope and expectation of believers today as it was for those in the first century]
Further, I add this comment about the meaning of the term “this generation” which is used in reference to the Jews in the first section (Matt.24:34). The term is descriptive of the character of a class of people, rather than being a reference to any period of years (i.e. 40 years). For the Jews, it describes them as being evil, wicked, adulterous, and unbelieving. It is descriptive of their continuing moral condition in unbelief. It is used as such in other passages (Deut. 32:5, 20, and Matt. 12:45). It is the unbelieving state of Israel until the Jewish remnant is sealed in the last days of the present age. This state or generation continues from the rejection of Christ in His first coming until He returns (Matt. 23:37–39); it includes all the time Israel is set aside by God, their house remaining desolate, and the kingdom of God taken away from them (Matt. 21:33–44).
Hopefully this short outline of Matthew twenty-four and twenty-five will greatly assist the reader in your study of prophecy and also provide you with a few fundamental principles associated with dispensationalism.