Vol. 7, No. 12
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Many years ago, while teaching at a college operated by Christians, we attended a lectureship in which there was a question and answer period each afternoon. One afternoon discussions arose involving the question of the placement and meaning of Matthew 24:40-42 in which Jesus said, "Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming." The question that gave these brethren so much trouble was why did Jesus place these statements after Matthew 24:36, in which he said, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." They pointed out that since the 36th verse obviously referred to the "end of time," why would Jesus put a scenario into the paragraph that did not fit? All sorts of answers were advanced such as, verses 40-42 were an ellipsis, copyists had put the passage in the wrong place and other such ideas. We remember thinking, what is the problem in the portion of Matthew 24 if the Lord was not making reference to his coming in judgment on the world in verse 36, but to the fact that no one knew the exact time when he would destroy the city of Jerusalem? Did anyone to whom Jesus spoke on that occasion know the day and the hour in which the armies of Titus would descend on Jerusalem for the last time? Who in that time knew that Jerusalem would fall on September 9, 70? Who knew the wall would be breached at 3:00 PM two days before? Who knew these facts? No one except the Father in heaven who always knows all things. Someone will say that Jesus gave signs of the coming fall of Jerusalem, and indeed he did, but none of the signs told of that day and hour. If so, where is that information?
Even with the Romans surrounding the city of Jerusalem the Jews were going about their regular business, observing the Passover, etc., fighting among themselves, robbing one another, committing all kinds of evil, even in the very precincts of the Temple itself. Hence, their activities were just as the activities of the people in the days of Noah. Every evil person was doing his thing, the poor were suffering more than usual and there was hatred and death on every hand, even during the great famine that Titus inflicted on this city.
When Titus marched from Caesarea up to Jerusalem, people were going about their business as usual. Men were working in the fields, one was caught and destroyed by the Romans another escaped. Two women would be doing their daily grinding of grain for bread, one was horrendously murdered and the other escaped. If all were going to escape even temporarily the terrible slaughter of the Romans, they were going to have to remain alert to what was going on around them. But the Jews did not do this! They were utterly amazed to awaken one morning, though they knew the Romans had moved from Caesarea, to find them surrounding the city of Jerusalem. As late as the day in which the walls were breached, John of Gischala was telling the people that the city would never fall because the Temple of the Lord was there! So blinded were these people to their own prophets, that they never saw it coming.
When Jesus sits to judge all the acts of this universe, none will escape whether they are grinding, tilling the fields or what they are doing. All will appear before the Judgment seat of Christ. The world will be judged in righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:10; Acts 17:30-31). None will escape! Hence, Jesus was not speaking of the end of time in this passage, but of the end of Jerusalem. The signs were given to the disciples of Christ, so they would know when to flee from the doomed city, but even they did not know the precise day of the fall, even when they had fled to Pella and Alexandria.