Matthew Chapter 24:1-14

This is a very long chapter, but the worst part is that it has no really logical break-points. This is the prediction of the tribulations “to come”. By this point, my readers are probably aware that I  (strongly) believe that these predictions–not just here, but in Mark as well–were written sometime after the destruction of the Temple n 69/70. This chapter in Matthew is based on Mark 13, and that reads a lot like the blurb on the back of my Penguin edition of Josephus’ The Jewish War. It was a horrible time; in some ways, it was the end of the age, if your world was focused on the Second Temple and the way of life that the temple created. Much of this material was in Mark; a comparison to see was was added or subtracted may provide some insights into the development of the tradition.


1 Καὶ ἐξελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐπορεύετο, καὶ προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπιδεῖξαι αὐτῷ τὰς οἰκοδομὰς τοῦ ἱεροῦ:

2 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐ βλέπετε ταῦτα πάντα; ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ ἀφεθῇ ὧδε λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον ὃς οὐ καταλυθήσεται.

And going out, Jesus left the Temple, and coming towards him his disciples pointed out the structure of the Temple. (2) He answering, said to them, “Do you not see all of this? Amen I say to you, not a stone will be left upon stone which is not destroyed.”

This is more or less right out of Mark: not a stone left upon stone. There are those who would date Mark to 65, which is before the destruction of the Temple; offhand, I do not know how they explain this passage. How is this not a hindsight prophecy? Naturally I say that writing from the perspective of history; of course it’s entirely possible if writing from the perspective of theology. But, since I’m writing history, I cannot treat this as a legitimate prediction based on divine foreknowledge. If you believe that, I simply cannot argue with you because we really don’t share enough common ground for a legitimate discussion. That’s neither bad nor good.

The part that seems to clinch the hindsight aspect is the specificity of this: he’s talking about the Temple, which was indeed razed to the ground. Jerusalem in its totality was not obliterated, the way Carthage and Corinth had been, but the Temple was. 

One thing that has occurred to me is a novel way to look at the puzzle of when Mark wrote. I would listen to an argument that has the bulk of Mark written in 65 (give or take), but then posits that his Chapter 13 was written after 70, and inserted as an addendum, just as Chapter 16 was added later. Except there is no reason why Chapter 13 could not have been written by Mark (or the original author of that gospel whom we conveniently call “Mark”). After all, it was a span of less than ten years; the original author could conceivably still been alive to witness the destruction. But this is all off-the-cuff speculation; I have not begun to do the hard work of looking into what such a suggestion would entail, or if it’s remotely possible from stylistic or other terms.

As for alterations, Matthew has changed things, but they are pretty minimal. The disciples don’t get a line as they did in Mark, but the mood has been altered a bit. Here, Jesus puts the question into the negative: do you not see? From this I get the idea that Matthew is trying to get across that Jesus is literally seeing the future state, the time when the Temple is not there.

1 Et egressus Iesus de templo ibat, et accesserunt discipuli eius, ut ostenderent ei aedificationes templi;

2 ipse autem respondens dixit eis: “Non videtis haec omnia? Amen dico vobis: Non relinquetur hic lapis super lapidem, qui non destruetur”.

3 Καθημένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ Ὄρους τῶν Ἐλαιῶν προσῆλθον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ κατ’ ἰδίαν λέγοντες, Εἰπὲ ἡμῖν πότε ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον τῆς σῆς παρουσίας καὶ συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

He having seated himself on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him in private, saying, “Tell us when these things will be, and its signs coming and the end of the age.”

Again, no significant changes, except that here it’s all the disciples while in Mark it’s the holy trinity of Peter, James, and John who come to Jesus. That makes a bit more sense if they came “in private”. But this might be more telling than it appears at first sight. Recall that I do not believe Jesus had an inner circle of Twelve Apostles, as we are used to thinking of them. Rather, Jesus had an inner circle of Peter and James, who was probably his brother. John is not mentioned at all by Paul, so I have some serious suspicions about him, too. By having “all the disciples” come to him, this increases the activities of the Twelve, solidifying their place a bit more in the tradition; this, however, is a bit of a stretch on my part. Perhaps “the disciples” was just easier than writing out the three names. Or, maybe Matthew didn’t have his copy of Mark at hand, and didn’t remember which disciples asked the question.

On this question of apostles, it’s worth noting that Mark and Matthew use the noun form of the word exactly once each. Strong’s Words is a very handy tool for checking things like this. Paul uses the word as a noun several-to-numerous times.  Paul calls himself an apostle, but the absence of the word in Mark and Matthew should give us pause. It has caught on by the time Luke wrote; apparently, the idea of Jesus have a group of Twelve apostles had lodged itself into the tradition by then, where it hadn’t when M&M wrote. I would suggest this group of Twelve–to which Paul refers specifically–was an innovation of James.

Actually, there is another important change. Note how they ask for the sign(s), which is also in Mark. But Mark does not use the expression “the end of the age”. That Matthew adds this is, I believe, very significant. What that significance is, or entails, is wholly another question. I suggested that, in some ways, the destruction of the Temple and the sack of Jerusalem did mark the end of an age. One has to realise that the end of an “age” is not at all the same thing as the end of the world. The Apocalypse of John has conditioned us to thinking in terms that more or less equate the two, but that is not in the least necessary. “Ages” all the time; the Stone Age (both old and new) ended, as did the Bronze Age. Golden Ages by the dozen have come and gone with tiresome regularity. This is all to say that the “age” in this sense, is more abstract than we tend to think of such things, and altogether less final. Assuming that the Temple destroyed in 69/70 was indeed built around, or just after, the time of Cyrus of Persia, then the Age of the Second Temple (which assumes a first) had lasted for half a millennium. That is a long stretch of time by any standards. The same stretch of time in our world would take us back to the 1500s, and there are very few institutions still around that existed back then, at least in the Western world. The English monarchy is one, albeit in a form perhaps unrecognizable to those alive when QEI sat on the throne. So an institution of comparable antiquity that perhaps played a larger role in the lives of ordinary Jews than the monarchy did just vanished. So yes, absolutely an age had ended. And I don’t know that we need to go any further with that word than that. I don’t think we need to look for eschatology or end-times. Perhaps this may put a different sort of spin on the way we read things?

3 Sedente autem eo super montem Oliveti, accesserunt ad eum discipuli secreto dicentes: “Dic nobis: Quando haec erunt, et quod signum adventus tui et consummationis saeculi?”.

4 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς πλανήσῃ:

5 πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Χριστός, καὶ πολλοὺς πλανήσουσιν.

6 μελλήσετε δὲ ἀκούειν πολέμους καὶ ἀκοὰς πολέμων: ὁρᾶτε, μὴ θροεῖσθε: δεῖ γὰρ γενέσθαι, ἀλλ’ οὔπω ἐστὶν τὸ τέλος.

And answering, Jesus said to them, “Look, lest you wander off in error. (5) For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the messiah’, and many will wander off in error. (6) You will hear wars and rumours of wars; look, do not be disturbed. For this must happen, but it is not yet the end.

The words << πλανήσῃ >>, and << πλανήσουσιν >> have been rendered here as “wander off in error”. The root of the word, transliterated as “plan-” is the basis for our word “planet”. In Greek, it means “to wander”, the Greeks called the visible planets in the sky “wanderers” because they did not follow an invariable track across the heavens the way stars do. From the idea of wandering, came the idea of wandering off the course of correctness, so it came to mean “to err”. So, to capture both senses of the original, I’ve rendered it “to wander in error”.

Upon consideration, we should find the bit about being the messiah/christ a bit odd when used in this gospel. If Jesus is the Christ, as Matthew has told us countless times right from the start, how can someone come in Jesus’ name and still be the Christ, since Jesus is the Christ? And this is not truly affected by the fact that those who will come will only claim to be the Anointed. The answer is he can’t; if Jesus has come as the Christ, then subsequent claimants will obviously be lying, and the disciples, at least, will know this full well. The sticking point is the “in my name”. If Jesus had not been accepted as the messiah, then it stands to reason that others who did not know Jesus could be fooled; on the other hand, if Jesus had not been fully or universally accepted as the Christ, even by his followers, then someone could come later and and those followers could believe a pseudo-christ. 

Here it is important to note that this passage is straight out of Mark. As such, this is yet another indication that Jesus was not considered the Christ in at least one of Mark’s sources. I would suggest that this line of the tradition would lead to the Didache. Remember in Galatians, how Paul excoriates the stupid Galatians for falling victim to another gospel. One wonders if this was the other gospel? The core message of that gospel, possibly, was that Jesus was not the messiah, and it was the mysterious Son of Man who would come as the Messiah. Paul of course, is having none of this. According to the message revealed directly to him by God, through Jesus (as per Galatians), Jesus was the Messiah, and his being raised from the dead had proven this. It is so, so tempting to see James as the author of this other gospel, but that is, alas, thinking wishfully. Paul and James had their disagreements, which appears to be based on the degree to which pagans have to follow Jewish customs (circumcision, dietary restrictions, etc). They were able to reach a mutually agreed-upon deal. It seems very unlikely that they would have been able to work out such a modus vivendi had the issue been something so basic as whether Jesus had been the Christ. Hence, we have the parallel tradition that, eventually, produced the Didache, in which Jesus’ divinity is questionable at best.

The other thing to note here is Jesus saying, even after the things described had transpired, it is not “the end”. The first question is, is this in Mark? The second question is, the end of what? The answer to #1 is “sort of”. Mark gets around to talking about “before the end, the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations”; we’ll see if that turns up later here in Matthew. The answer to #2 is a bit less certain. Peeking ahead, it appears to mean “the end of the disturbances”.

4 Et respondens Iesus dixit eis: “ Videte, ne quis vos seducat.

5 Multi enim venient in nomine meo dicentes: “Ego sum Christus”, et multos seducent.

6 Audituri enim estis proelia et opiniones proeliorum. Videte, ne turbemini; oportet enim fieri, sed nondum est finis.

7 ἐγερθήσεται γὰρ ἔθνος ἐπὶ ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν, καὶ ἔσονται λιμοὶ καὶ σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους:

8 πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων.

9 τότε παραδώσουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς θλῖψιν καὶ ἀποκτενοῦσιν ὑμᾶς, καὶ ἔσεσθε μισούμενοι ὑπὸ πάντων τῶν ἐθνῶν διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου.

“For people will be raised against people, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in places. (8) All of these things begin the sorrows of childbirth. (9) Then they will give you over to the trials, and they will kill you, and you will be hated by all the peoples because of my name. 

First, the word << ἔθνος >>, “ethnos” is often rendered as “nation will rise against nation”. Even the KJV uses that translation. However, “nation” is wildly anachronistic for this period; it could be argued that it should not be applied before the 15th Century, at the very earliest, and only then to England and France (I would consider Spain and Portugal, too). And, as should be obvious, it’s the root of “ethnic”, so “people” really captures the term better. The idea is a linguistic group, or perhaps a cultural group. “The Greeks” would be an ethnos, or The Hebrews; and The Greeks were divided into three subdivisions based on language variations (Ionian, Dorian, Aeolian), but they considered themselves to be a single unity based on the combination of both language and culture. From there, the different groups were subdivided into tribes, so an ethnos is a bigger aggregate than a tribe. Despite considering themselves to being a single ethnos, the invasion of Persia showed that defending Greek-dom against the foreign invader was not a priority for a lot of the Greek city-states (poleis); but Panhellenism certainly existed as a theoretical concept, even if there was never a serious attempt to put it into practice.

Hence, here we have “people vs. people”.

Two minor points: people will be raised against people. This is a passive construction. It’s very similar to “Jesus was raised from the dead”. Based on this, I need to take another look at my contention that “raised from the dead” may not have the implications I have been saying it does. Second, the text says “famines and earthquakes”. My modern translation has “famines and earthquakes”. The KJV has “famines and pestilence and earthquakes”. Not sure where the extra woe has come from. Doesn’t appear to be due to a variant ms tradition, so I honestly don’t know.

The final point comes with the word <<  θλῖψιν >>. It transliterates to “thlipsis”, but that’s irrelevant because there’s no connexion to anything in English. We’ve run across the word a few times, or more than a few times. Paul used the word in Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and 1 Corinthians. Mark used it. The problem is, it’s another of those words that we really don’t know what it means. In Classical Greek, it means “pressure”, or even “castration”. The Great Scott tells us that, metaphorically, it means “oppression” or “affliction”. The problem with this latter is that all the cites are from the Bible, whether the NT or the LXX. This is very important because it brings up the issue of just how seriously the followers of Jesus were…bothered, or harassed, and if the word “persecute” is at all legitimate and, if so, to what degree. The Roman sources for this sort of thing are very scanty, while the Christian sources are plentiful and lurid and worse than anything Edgar Allen Poe wrote. People being flayed, people being roasted between two grills, disemboweled, etc. And for centuries, this latter account was accepted as factual. Now, to be honest, the Romans did not necessarily record all the heinous things they did, largely because they did so many of them.

The crimes of Caligula and Nero and (possibly) Tiberius are well enough documented, but how accurate are they? Nero is said to have falsely blamed the followers of Chrestus for the fire in Rome, and used this as a pretext to arrest and torture them. However, the descriptions of these atrocities do not sound like sustained persecution. People were tortured to implicate others, they were executed in heinous and creative ways. The problem is, Tacitus was prone to exaggerating the crimes committed by all emperors; he was a staunch Republican, and believed that the Emperor was a blight and a cancer on the Roman body politic, so he was willing to pass on the most awful stuff about even the Divine Augustus. Second, this does not sound like official Imperial policy, nor something that lasted very long. It was entirely sufficient to set all sorts of stories in motion, which have come down to us and which have been taught as completely accurate.

One problem arises in a letter of Pliny the Younger. As a provincial governor Pliny wrote to Trajan in about 112, asking for guidance on how to handle Christians. Given this, we can infer with great certainty that there was no policy in place. Nero may have tortured and killed dozens, but after a bit he was on to something else. He got bored easily. Given this, it’s hard to see persecution to any great degree by the Romans. This is another reason I find it difficult to believe that Jesus was any kind of zealot or revolutionary. Nero knows about followers of Christus, but he doesn’t know much about them. Had Jesus been executed for sedition, Jesus would not have been so completely unknown in the Roman world. Tacitus says they were generally hated for the heinous rites (unspecified) these followers practiced. The thing is, the followers met in secret, they did not tell their practices to any that were not part of the group, and so outsiders were left to imagine all sorts of things. The really ironic, or peculiar, or even wryly amusing thing is that the same set of charges that were leveled against Christians during the Empire were, in turn, leveled by Christians against Jews, witches, heretics…any group whose practices were not generally known. And I mean the very same charges, and they were leveled at the hordes of suburban devil worshipers who were running rampant in the 1980s.

So, what did Paul, and what did Mark and Matthew mean by this word? If you take it in conjunction with the warning that the disciples will be handed over and killed, it’s really hard not to see the setting of the 60s here, the revolt against Rome, which to some, no small extent was a Jewish civil war, with collaborators like Josephus assisting the Romans. Again, there was plenty of betrayal, plenty of handing over, plenty of executions. The problem is, that is not, not really, what the Greek word means. Interestingly, the Latin, <<tribulationem>>, obviously the root of “tribulation”, is a very uncommon word in Classical Latin. My portable Cassell’s Latin dictionary doesn’t have the word at all. The Lewis & Short (the Latin equivalent of Liddel & Scott), presents it as ecclesiastical Latin, that is, Latin used by the Church, and the first cite is Tertullian, one of the Christian fathers who lived in the 2nd/3rd century. St Jerome didn’t create the Vulgate until the turn of the 5th Century. IOW, we have no real clue what this word meant as any of the writers of the NT used it.

Anyway, this is a topic too big for the current forum. I will attempt to deal with it in a more satisfactory manner in the Summary.

7 Consurget enim gens in gentem, et regnum in regnum, et erunt fames et terrae motus per loca;

8 haec autem omnia initia sunt dolorum.

9 Tunc tradent vos in tribulationem et occident vos, et eritis odio omnibus gentibus propter nomen meum.

10 καὶ τότε σκανδαλισθήσονται πολλοὶ καὶ ἀλλήλους παραδώσουσιν καὶ μισήσουσιν ἀλλήλους:

11 καὶ πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐγερθήσονται καὶ πλανήσουσιν πολλούς:

12 καὶ διὰ τὸ πληθυνθῆναι τὴν ἀνομίαν ψυγήσεται ἡ ἀγάπη τῶν πολλῶν.

13 ὁ δὲ ὑπομείνας εἰς τέλος οὗτος σωθήσεται.

14 καὶ κηρυχθήσεται τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ εἰς μαρτύριον πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, καὶ τότε ἥξει τὸ τέλος.

“Then many will be made to stumble, and they will hand over others and hate others. (11) and many false-prophets will raise themselves and they will (make) many (people) wander off in error. (12) And because the they will increase the lawlessness, the love of many will be made cold. (13) The last one standing, he will be saved. (14) And they will preach the good news of the kingdom in the whole community as witness to all the peoples, and then will come the end”.

It’s interesting that I just read Tacitus’ description of the persecutions of Nero. It sure sounds a lot like this. Arrest a few, torture them, get them to give you names (guilty or not; who cares?), arrest them, lather, rinse, repeat. Those being tortured are those who stumble and the names given are those new ones who will be hated. The false prophets part is where I wish my knowledge of Josephus was a little more current. I have the sense that this was a problem during the Revolt, but I’m not sure enough of my facts to state this with any certainty. Which is a shame, because it would certainly bolster my case that this was written by Mark after the sack of Jerusalem. And the part about the increased lawlessness leading to a brutalizing of people so that their capacity to love is crippled, this is sure true about what happens to people under dire stress. They do things, and become things that they never could have imagined.

Here’s a thought. Was this written, originally, by someone who had read Tacitus? The problem with that is the Annales was not written until the beginning of the 2nd Century. Did Tacitus read Mark? Or Luke? Doubtful. 

So far, all of this was in Mark, with only minimal changes. So too is the “last one standing”. Yes, that’s a bit more free than I usually provide, but it gets the point across. This sentence raises a horde of problems: remaining (the literal translation rather than standing) where?; “saved” in what way?; preach to everyone? I honestly don’t even have any sort of speculation about the last one remaining. Was this conceived as a war of attrition between the followers and the persecutors, so that it literally means “remaining alive”? That would work with the idea of this survivor then venturing out to preach the good news to the rest of the peoples. And it would also shed light on “being saved”. Here, I think it means “the survivor’s physical life” will be saved, in the way a lifeguard saves the life of someone drowning. IOW, this is not terribly metaphorical, but meant to be taken fairly literally. And it echoes Mark in stating that the gospel has to reach all peoples before the end will/can come. And here, “end” probably means “end”, as in final. But it must be noted that ‘end times’ and ‘end of an age’ are not at all necessarily the same thing. 

There is probably more here, but it eludes me at the moment. And trying to do a line-by-line with Mark on this probably isn’t fruitful at this point. More on that as we develop.

10 Et tunc scandalizabuntur multi et invicem tradent et odio habebunt invicem;

11 et multi pseudoprophetae surgent et seducent multos.

12 Et, quoniam abundavit iniquitas, refrigescet caritas multorum;

13 qui autem permanserit usque in finem, hic salvus erit.

14 Et praedicabitur hoc evangelium regni in universo orbe in testimonium omnibus gentibus; et tunc veniet consummatio.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on June 12, 2016, in Chapter 24, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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