The word "world" is a mistranslation of the Greek word aeon, which should be properly rendered "age." The entire discussion between Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 24 revolves around when the Jewish age (i.e. "the Old Covenant") would come to an end. Jesus had just told his disciples that the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and that not one stone of the Temple would be left standing upon another (Matthew 24:1-2). The disciples then asked Jesus "when shall these things be (the tearing down of the stones of the Temple)" and "what shall be the sign of thy coming" (to judge the Temple which Jesus called a 'den of thieves') and "of the end of the age" (the Jewish age). Matthew 24 is NOT a discussion about the end of the world, but of the end of the Jewish age.
When God chose the Jews among all the peoples of the earth He described his choice to enter into covenant with them in very vivid terms. God "stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth" when He chose the Jews as His people (Isaiah 51:13, 16). When God warned Israel of coming invasions because His people have been unfaithful to His covenant, He says "Hear, 0 heavens, and give ear, 0 earth: for the LORD hath spoken, and I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me" (Isaiah 1:2). The Lord likens His covenant with the Jews as "heaven and earth" (see Isaiah 13:13; Haggai 2:6). When God came in judgment upon Israel during Old Testament times through the Assyrians He speaks of "shaking the heavens and the earth" (Isaiah 24:1, 19-20).
After many times of "shaking" the 'heavens and earth' (the Jews) Jesus told His disciples in 30 AD that the Jews covenant with God would come to an end. He says ""Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." (Matthew 24:35). The Jewish age, the Old Covenant, would come to an end, but His words would endure. By the way, Jesus had already said that the Old Covenant ("heaven and earth") would NOT "pass away" until "every jot and tittle of the law is fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). Jesus Himself fulfilled the rituals, the ceremonies, the types, the shadows and the law of the Old Covenant. All things in the Old Covenant pointed to Him! After Christ's resurrection, God waited 40 years and then abolished the Jewish age (the Temple, the rituals, the sacrifices, etc...). Why wait 40 years? In the Bible, the number 40 is the number God uses when making a transition on the earth such as the flood (40 days of rain), the Jews' wandering in the desert before Canaan (40 years of wandering), and the transition into Jesus' the Messiah's public ministry (40 days of testing in the wilderness) The language Jesus used in predicting the end of the Jewish age is the passing away of "heavens and earth," the very language used by the prophets in describing the selection of the Jews as God's covenant people (the establishment of the "heavens and the earth").
The disciples wished to know "When?" the Jewish age would end (i.e. "the heavens and the earth" would end). Jesus answers their question of "when" by giving signs of His coming in judgment upon Israel (Matthew 24:4-33) and then Jesus makes an astounding statement in Matthew 24:34:
"This generation shall not die until all these things be fulfilled."
A Jewish generation is forty years, and just as Jesus prophesied, the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in 70 AD--precisely a generation after Jesus prophesied the end of the Jewish age. The historian Josephus records for us that the Romans tore down the Jewish Temple by tearing down the stones until not one was left standing upon another. The Jewish Age had come to an end. It was over.
Modern evangelicals would do well to let Scripture interpret Scripture and see the end of "the heavens and the earth" as the end of the Jewish age. Frankly, we look really silly when we get caught up in the fanciful teachings that try to make Matthew 24 be a prophesy about the end of the earth. The Bible is quite clear that the earth will never end. Jesus said "The meek will inherit the earth" during His sermon on the mountain and Solomon declared that "the earth shall endure forever" (Ecclesiastes 1:4).
Heaven is simply the earth where the curse is reversed. When Christ ends this age of grace (the New Covenant) and "folds it up like a garment" (Hebrews 1:10), He will unite our eternal home which he has been preparing for us (John 14:1-5) with the earth--the earth that has been "groaning, waiting for the day of redemption." God redeems all of creation, not just His people.
We don't know when God will end the church age, but we would do well to realize that many of the passages that modern evangelicals interpret as the "end of the earth" are in reality very specific prophecies about the "end of the Jewish age"--the abolishment of the Old Covenant and the installation of the New Covenant. Christ came in 70 AD in judgment upon the nation of Israel and ended the Jewish system of religion.
The great John Brown wrote: "A person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures, knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian economy, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens." (John Brown, vol. 1, p. 170.
Charles Spurgeon said "Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or 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 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." (Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).
May God deliver us from basing our interpretations of the end of the world on a misunderstanding of Matthew 24.
Posted by wadeburleson.org at Thursday, February 17, 2011