1. A Study of Matthew 24:35
2. A Study of Luke 21:34-36
This post is a continuation of the 4-part Olivet Discourse series posted between April and August 2011 (here, here, here, and here). That series featured a parallel study of Matthew 24:1-34, Mark 13:1-30, and Luke 21:5-32. At this point in the Olivet Discourse, Matthew gives us an extended version of this discourse, 63 more verses actually, in Matt. 24:35-51 and Matt. 25:1-46. Mark and Luke, on the other hand, wrap up Jesus’ message in just a few verses. In Mark’s case, there are seven (7) more verses (Mark 13:31-37), and in Luke’s case there are only four (4) more verses (Luke 21:33-36).
These next two posts will cover the last 17 verses of Matthew 24 (verses 35-51), the text of which is below. The first two verses in this text are also found as direct parallels in the gospel accounts of Mark and Luke (highlighted in red), and several other verses seem to allude to similar statements in Mark and Luke (these are highlighted in blue):
Parallels and Similarities in Mark 13 and Luke 21
|35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 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, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.||
1. Direct Parallels
Verse 35 –> Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33
Verse 36 –> Mark 13:32
Verses 42-44, 48-50 –> Mark 13:33-37, Luke 21:36
Verse 35: In the last portion of the Olivet Discourse (covering Matthew 24:29-34/Mark 13:24-30/Luke 21:25-32), we examined Jesus’ declaration that “all these things” (the fall of the temple, and all that would precede that event) must take place before His own generation would pass away. Following that statement, He immediately adds that “heaven and earth” would also pass away. This was in contrast to “His Word,” which would never pass away. This statement also appears in Mark’s and Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33).
Are there grounds for believing that Jesus was saying that heaven and earth would pass away along with His own generation? I believe there are. Certainly, there is no clear indication that Jesus suddenly goes here from speaking about first century events (verses 1-34) to speaking (in verse 35 and beyond) of events that are future to us 2000 years later. This idea has been proposed by some, but the weight of the gospel accounts in their entirety do not allow for this. If we examine, for example, Luke 17:22-37, we will see that four portions of this passage are directly parallel to content found within Matthew 24:1-34, and two separate portions are directly parallel to content found within Matthew 24:35-51.
Portions of Luke 17:20-37 parallel to content in Matthew 24:1-34
Portions of Luke 17:20-37 parallel to content in Matthew 24:35-51
Parallel to Matthew 24:23
Luke 17:23 – And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them.
Parallel to Matthew 24:27
Luke 17:24 – For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.
Parallel to Matthew 24:17-18
Luke 17:31 – On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back.
Parallel to Matthew 24:28
Luke 17:37 – And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
Parallel to Matthew 24:37-39
Luke 17:26 – Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man.27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
Parallel to Matthew 24:41
Luke 17:35 – There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.
So we see that in Luke 17:22-37, Jesus blends these six references (four of which are present in Matthew 24:1-34, and two of which are present in Matthew 24:35-51) together, without any distinctions related to time. Therefore, the one who acknowledges that everything Jesus said in Matthew 24:1-34 is tied to His own first century generation, but insists that what He said in Matthew 24:35 and beyond is not yet fulfilled, is very much inconsistent. Otherwise, in Luke 17:22-37, Jesus arbitrarily switched back and forth between speaking of first century events and events in the 21st century (or beyond).
What would Jesus have meant then by saying that heaven and earth would pass away in His own generation? We have repeatedly seen in our study of the Olivet Discourse that the prophetic language of the Old Testament provides quite a backdrop to what Jesus says in this discourse. The same is true for the expression “heaven and earth.” It’s covenant language. This is perhaps most evident in the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah was given a vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the very first verse (1:1). The very first words he uttered were these: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 1:2). This is not unique to Isaiah, for heaven and earth were repeatedly called as witnesses against Israel (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:26, 30:18-19, 31:28, 32:1; Jeremiah 2:12, 6:19; Micah 6:2). In Isaiah 51, speaking to the people of Israel, God says:
I, I am He who comforts you; who are you that you…have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth…? …And I have put My words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of My hand, establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, ‘You are My people’ (verses 12-16).
The establishment of the heavens and the earth is thus linked directly to the establishment of Israel as God’s people at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:5-6). Psalm 68:7-8 reiterates that the earth and the heavens were greatly affected when “God, the One of Sinai” marched through the wilderness before His people, as does Judges 5:4-5. Jeremiah also spoke of Jerusalem’s pending destruction (in 586 BC) in a way that might seem as if he was talking about planet earth and the galaxies, if it weren’t for the context:
“My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war… I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light… For thus says the Lord, ‘The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark…’” (Jeremiah 4:19, 23, 27).
On a more pleasant note, Isaiah also prophesied of “new heavens and a new earth,” and the creation of Jerusalem as a joy (Isaiah 65:17-19). That this is covenantal language, and not language referring to the material/physical heavens and earth, can be seen in the fact that the new heavens and new earth were to be marked by sin and death (verse 20), building and planting (verses 21-22), and the reproduction of children (verse 23). When I was younger, I was taught that the new heavens and earth would be set up following a future Second Coming of Christ and a 1000 year “millennial reign” based out of Jerusalem, at which time sin and death would completely cease to exist.
Isaiah’s description of the new heavens and earth, however, does not allow for this. Instead, his description speaks of present realities, the earthly existence being experienced by anyone reading this. It also mirrors what we see in the New Testament. Paul told the Ephesians that God’s people are called to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). He likewise told the Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17). In Christ, a new temple/tabernacle had come (e.g. I Corinthians 3:16-17, I Cor. 6:19, II Cor. 6:16, Ephesians 2:21, Revelation 3:12), and the old temple/tabernacle had to go. During the one generation following the cross, all of the rituals attached to the temple in Jerusalem were worthless. By the end of that generation, that temple and those worthless rituals were gone.
We would also do well to remember that Jesus had already made a very significant statement about the disappearance of (the old) heaven and earth in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will be any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
Is the Law 100% intact even now in the year 2012, and are we thus still under the old heavens and earth? Or did Jesus accomplish everything and fulfill the Law, so that we are now under the covenantal framework of the new heavens and earth? Matthew 5:17-18 is an all-or-nothing statement. If “heaven and earth” have not yet disappeared, neither then has even one trace of the Law of Moses.
The “heaven and earth” spoken of by Jesus here are certainly connected to the temple worship and law keeping of the Jewish world. We know that Jerusalem, the temple, and the Old Covenant system attached to it passed away in a fiery blaze in 70 AD. Jesus, of course, predicted this (in Matthew 22:7; Revelation 17:16-17; Rev. 18:8-9, 17-18).
II Peter 3:7-13 also speaks of the heavens and earth of that time being “stored up for fire” (verse 7) and ready to “pass away with a roar” and be “burned up and dissolved” (verse 10), giving way to “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (verse 13). As Bishop John Lightfoot (1601-1675) wrote in his Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 3, p. 452),
“Compare this with Deut. 32:22, Heb. 12:26, Gal. 4:9, Coloss. 2:20: and observe that by elements are understood the Mosaic elements: and you will not doubt that St. Peter speaks only of the conflagration of Jerusalem, the destruction of the nation, and the abolishing of the dispensation of Moses.”
Indeed, Galatians 4:9 and Colossians 2:20 make use of the same word translated as “elements” in II Peter 3:10. It’s clear that Paul spoke there, not of the cosmos, but of what was contained in the Law:
 “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!” (Galatians 4:9-10).
 “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?” (Colossians 2:20-22).
In a 1721 sermon, the Puritan preacher John Owen said,
I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state… [A]nd then the heavens and earth that God Himself planted, -the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church, – the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinancy against the Lord Christ, shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed: this we know shall be the end of these things, and that shortly.”
Jonathan Edwards (in 1739) said this in his work, “The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath, Vol. 2”:
The Scriptures further teach us to call the gospel-restoration and redemption, a creation of a new heaven and a new earth… The gospel state is everywhere spoken of as a renewed state of things, wherein old things are passed away, and all things become new… And the dissolution of the Jewish state was often spoken of in the Old Testament as the end of the world. But we who belong to the gospel-church, belong to the new creation; and therefore there seems to be at least as much reason, that we should commemorate the work of this creation, as that the members of the ancient Jewish church should commemorate the work of the old creation.
C.H. (Charles) Spurgeon also had the same understanding. In a sermon delivered in 1865 (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vo. XXXVII, p. 354), he said:
Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away and we now live under a new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it.
Here also is a very intriguing quote from the church father, Eusebius (265-340 AD), from one of his writings known as “the Theophania”:
All authorities concur in the declaration that “when all these things should have been done”, ‘The End’ should come: that “the mystery of God should be finished as he had declared to His servants the prophets“: it should be completed: time should now be no more: the End of all things (so foretold) should be at hand, and be fully brought to pass: in these days should be fulfilled all that had been spoken of Christ (and of His church) by the prophets: or, in other words, when the gospel should have been preached in all the world for a testimony to all nations, and the power of the Holy People be scattered (abroad), then should the End come, then should all these things be finished. I need now only say, all these things have been done: the old and elementary system passed away with a great noise; all these predicted empires have actually fallen, and the new kingdom, the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem–all of which were to descend from God, to be formed by His power, have been realised on earth; all these things have been done in the sight of all the nations; God’s holy arm has been made bare in their sight: His judgments have prevailed, and they remain for an everlasting testimony to the whole world. His kingdom has come, as it was foretold it should, and His will has, so far, been done; His purposes have been finished; and, from that day to the extreme end of time, it will be the duty, as indeed it will be the great privilege of the Church, to gather into its bosom the Jew, the Greek, the Scythian, the Barbarian, bond and free; and to do this as the Apostles did in their days–in obedience, faith and hope.
A LOOK AT LUKE 21:34-36
Before going on to the rest of Matthew 24, some details from Luke 21:34-36 are also very much worth noting. This passage follows His two-fold declaration in verses 32-33 that  His own generation and  heaven and earth would pass away. He then says,
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake 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” (Luke 21:34-36).
In verse 34, Jesus refers to “that day.” Taking this reference in context, what day would He be referring to? It should be clear that He was referring  to the passing of His generation after all that He had prophesied would take place and  to the passing away of heaven and earth. This command to “watch yourselves” was given to His followers living in the first century.
In verse 35, Jesus says “that day” will come “upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” On the Biblos Online Parallel Bible website (www.bible.cc), there are 18 parallel translations listed for this verse. All of them render the final phrase of this verse as “the whole earth,” except for Young’s Literal Translation, which renders it as “all the land.” Indeed, the Greek word used here, “ge,” can be rendered as “land” in many cases where it is used, and can refer specifically to the Promised Land (i.e. Israel). In various commentaries on Luke 21:35, Albert Barnes (1834) and Adam Clarke (1831) agreed that these troubles were to come upon Judea, and John Gill (1746-1763) said that Jerusalem, Galilee, and Judea suffered the calamities that Jesus predicted.
This certainly makes sense here, as we have already seen in Luke 21:23 that Jesus says those days would be full of great distress for “this people” and for “the earth” (or “the land”), and this is very clearly equated with “those who are in Judea” (Luke 21:21). The same Greek word, “ge,” is also used in verse 23, and there it is rendered as “land” instead of as “earth” 17 out of 18 times in the Biblos entry for that verse.
The expression “those who dwell on the earth” (or similar forms of this expression) can also be seen often in the book of Revelation, and a solid case can be made that it refers, not to the globe, but to 1st century apostate Israel. See the 3-part series I have written on this phenomenon: here, here, and here.
Lastly, in Luke 21:36, we see that Jesus makes reference to “all these things that are going to take place.” In verses 34-36 He does not detail any number of things that are going to take place. We must conclude, then, that He is referring to what He has already described in verses 5-32 (see verses 7, 9, 12, 22, 26, 31, and 32 for similar references). This is further evidence that Jesus does not, as some have suggested, speak of 1st century events in certain parts of this chapter and speak of yet unfulfilled events in other parts. For He declares in verse 32 that all these things must take place before His own generation passes away. Furthermore, in verses 8 and following He details the signs which must take place before the temple was to be completely destroyed (see verses 6-7), an event that we know took place in 70 AD.
In the following post, we will conclude our study of Matthew 24 by examining the remaining 16 verses (Matthew 24:36-51).