Description
In this chapter, Jesus describes signs that will be fulfilled during the end-time generation that will see his coming. He tells us that when we all these signs, we can know that his coming is right at the door. This passage is known as the Olivet discourse.
Commentary
Having prophesied Jerusalem's coming destruction at the end of the previous chapter, Jesus is now pictured walking away from the temple. His disciples draw his attention to the temple buildings, because they are so impressive (v1). Jesus responds by prophesying that not one stone will be left upon another. All will be torn down (v2). This destruction of the temple was fulfilled in 70 AD when Roman legions under the command of General Titus crushed the Jewish rebellion that began in 66 AD, and destroyed the city. This tragedy foreshadows the siege and fall of Jerusalem at the end of the age (Ezekiel 38:1-17, Zechariah 14:2), its occupation by the Antichrist (Daniel 9:27, 2 Thessalonians 2:4), and its subsequent siege and deliverance by Jesus (Ezekiel 38:18-39:8, Zephaniah 3:8, Zechariah 12, Joel 3:2, 12, Revelation 19:11-21).


The Olivet Discourse
Having left the temple, the Mount of Olives was a short walk away on the east side of Jerusalem. Sitting there, the disciples are still thinking about what Jesus said about the temple. They ask him, "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (v3). Being a private discussion with just his disciples, Jesus gives a long and detailed response. This response is known as the Olivet Discourse. It is also recorded in less detail in Mark 13, and in Luke 17 and 21. Putting these accounts together, Jesus gives 35 signs to look out for in relation to his second coming. Matthew includes 26 of these. Jesus doesn't actually answer their first question about the timing of the temple's destruction. But their second question implies they already have some understanding that the destruction of the temple is related to Jesus going away, and that he will then need to come back again in order to usher in the end of the age. Referring to Luke's account of Jesus' prophecy about the destruction of the temple, we see that Jesus had given additional information which Matthew omitted. Luke 19:44 says, "They will demolish you – you and your children within your walls – and they will not leave within you one stone on top of another, because you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God". In other words, it would take place because the Jews would reject Jesus. Earlier on during his ministry, Luke 9:22 records Jesus teaching his disciples, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised".

Combining Matthew 24, and Luke 21, the 35 signs of the second coming in the Olivet discourse are:

Pre-Tribulation signs
1) False Messiahs deceiving people (vs 4-5)
2) Wars and rumours of war (vs 6-7)
3) Famines (v8)
4) Earthquakes (v8)
5) Fig tree sprouts leaves, a metaphor for Israel being restored as a nation (v32)
6) Hatred, persecution and martyrdom of Christians (v9)
7) Many Christians falling away from faith, and people betraying and hating each other (v10)
8) False prophets deceiving people (11)
9) Increased lawlessness and the love of many growing cold (v12)
10) Plagues (Luke 21:11)
11) Terrifying sights (Luke 21:11)
12) Great signs in the sky (Luke 21:11)
13) Tsunamis (Luke 21:25)
14) Man gains the ability to destroy all life on earth (implied by v22)
15) Temple rebuilt and sacrificial system restored (implied by v15)
16) World-wide proclamation of the Gospel to every ethnic group (v14)

In verse 8, Jesus describes signs 1-4 as 'the beginning of birth pains'. I will explain below why Jesus describes these as birth pains. In verse 6, after speaking of 'wars and rumours of wars', Jesus says, "Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come". In other words, the second coming is still some way off after the wars and rumours of war. Similarly in Luke's account, Jesus says about wars and rebellions, "these things must happen first, but the end will not come at once" (Luke 21:9).

All of events 1-16 seem to precede the Great Tribulation that begins with 'the abomination of desolation' in verse 15, so I have labelled these signs as 'Pre-Tribulation signs'.

The beginning of birth pains
In verse 8, Jesus describes the first four Pre-Tribulation signs as 'the beginning of birth pains'. Today, these are referred to medically as 'Braxton Hicks Contractions', or 'practice contractions'. Not all pregnant women experience these, but if so they usually start in the second half of the pregnancy. Jesus' use of this metaphor alludes back to Micah 4 and 5. Micah 5:2 prophesies Jesus' literal birth in Bethlehem. But the prophecy is cloaked within the context of end-time Jerusalem falling to enemy armies and subsequently being delivered by Israel's Messiah. When she falls in Micah 4:9-10, Jerusalem is pictured metaphorically as a woman screaming in the agonies of labour. In Micah 5:3, the end-time arrival of Messiah is portrayed as Jerusalem giving birth and being delivered of her agonies. In other words, in Micah 5 Jesus has a literal birth (v2), but also a metaphorical rebirth when he returns to deliver Jerusalem (v3). Jerusalem, or Israel, metaphorically giving birth to Jesus at the second coming is also portrayed in Revelation 12:5. According to this 'birth metaphor', Jerusalem is in full-blown labour at the beginning of the Great Tribulation when she falls to Antichrist's armies and the Antichrist sets up the abomination of desolation. The birth is when Jesus arrives on the Mount of Olives in fulfilment of Zechariah 14:4. So the Pre-Tribulation signs are like practice contractions, indicating that labour and the birth are drawing near.


Great-Tribulation signs
17) The 'abomination of desolation' (v15)
18) Residents of Judea must flee to the mountains without delaying to collect possessions (vs 16-18)
19) Suffering (KJV: tribulation) greater than anything in history or that will occur again in the future (v21)
20) Mankind in danger of total destruction (v22)
21) False Messiahs and false prophets deceive people with great signs and miracles (vs 23-26)
Luke 21 adds also adds:
22) Jerusalem surrounded by armies (v20)
23) Jews killed or led away as captives among all nations (v24)
24) Great Tribulation will affect everyone on the face of the whole earth (v35)

Note that much additional information is given in the rest of the bible, especially in Revelation, about events that occur during the Great Tribulation. The Jews' flight to the mountains is described in Zechariah 14:3-5. Jesus stands on the Mount of Olives and divides it, creating a mountain valley through which they can escape. This is at the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Revelation 12:6 adds that they escape to a place in the wilderness where they will be taken take care of for 1,260 days (the rest of the Great Tribulation). However, Luke 21:24 indicates that some Jews will be killed, and some will be taken as captives to all the nations (as also prophesied in Ezekiel 39:27-28). According to Revelation 14:1, it seems that Jesus may also reveal himself to the 144,000 at this stage. But according to Revelation 12:5, his appearance on Earth at this stage is brief. He is then caught back up to heaven until the end of the Great Tribulation.

In verses 27 to 32, Jesus describes signs which occur 'immediately after the suffering of those days' (v29). So these are 'post-tribulation' signs.


Post-Tribulation signs.
25) the sun will be darkened (v29)
26) the moon will not give its light (v29)
27) the stars will fall from the sky (v29)
28) the powers of heaven will be shaken (v29)
29) His coming is visible from east to west like lightning (v27)
30) Vultures gather over the corpses - a post-battlefield picture (v28)
31) The sign of the Son of Man in the sky (v30)
32) The nations mourn (v30)
33) The nations see Jesus coming on the clouds with power and great glory (v30)
34) Angels blowing a trumpet (v31)
35) The elect are gathered from around the world (v31)


The 'suffering of those days', known as the Great Tribulation, is a clearly defined time-period in scripture. It begins with the 'abomination of desolation' (Matthew 24:15-21 and Daniel 12:11) and lasts for three and a half years (Daniel 7:25, 12:7, Revelation 12:14), or 42 months (Revelation 11:2, 13:5) or 1,260 days (Revelation 11:3 and 12:6). Taking a Jewish year as 360 days, and a month as 30 days, all three of these lengths are equivalent. In Revelation 12:6, the Jewish refugees from Jerusalem remain in their desert safe-place for 1,260 days. In Micah 2:12, this safe-place is called 'Bozrah'. Bozrah literally means a 'sheepfold', but historically it was also the name of Edom's capital. So it points figuratively to a location in Edom (Arabia). When Jesus says 'after the suffering of those days', he is referring to the time immediately after their liberation, at the end of the 1,260 days. Their liberation is portrayed in Micah 2:13 with their divine Messiah-king breaking them out and then leading them. The liberation of occupied-Jerusalem occurs later. Daniel 12:11-12 says, "From the time that the daily sacrifice is removed and the abomination that causes desolation is set in place, there are 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits and attains to the 1,335 days". His first statement implies that the abomination of desolation remains in place up to day 1,290, meaning there is a gap of about 30 days between the battle of Bozrah and the liberation of Jerusalem, which follows the battle of Armageddon. After Armageddon it seems there are then 45 days until the end of the age when the Millennium begins.


Vultures gather (v28)
In verse 28, vultures gathering over the corpses (sign 30 above), is a post-battlefield picture. So numerous will be the slain, and over such a wide area, that the vultures will be visible from east to west, just like lightning is visible from one horizon to the other. This scene is associated with Jesus' coming at the end of the Great Tribulation in verse 27. According to my understanding, there are three main stages to Christ's second coming, each of which is associated with a battle scene:

1) His appearance on the Mount of Olives at the beginning of the Great Tribulation when he battles the invading armies and provides an escape route for Jerusalem's refugees by dividing the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:3-4). He is then caught up to heaven again, while the Jews flee to their place of safety in the wilderness where they will be taken care of for 1,260 days (Revelation 12:5-6).
2) His coming on the clouds at the last of the seven trumpets (Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 26:64, Revelation 11:15, 14:14), when he delivers the Jews from 'Bozrah' (Micah 2:12-13), battles his enemies in Edom (Isaiah 63:1-6), raptures the Church (Psalm 50:4, Matthew 24:31, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, Revelation 14:15-16), and is visibly presented as king (Daniel 7:13-14).
3) His arrival in Jerusalem with armies of holy ones to fight the Battle of Armageddon and to liberate Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:5b-8, Revelation 19:11-21).

His prophecy of vultures in verse 28 is in context to his coming at the end of the Great Tribulation (v22-28). It is likely this will be fulfilled at both the battle of Bozrah and at the battle of Armageddon. It is possible it will also be fulfilled when he arrives on the Mount of Olives at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, although scripture does not make clear whether he slays his enemies at that first stage of his coming.


Sun and Moon darkened (v29)
The sun and moon being darkened (signs 25-26 above), and God coming with his holy ones to liberate Jerusalem, are described in Zechariah 14:6-7 and are all said to happen in one single day. Zechariah calls this 'a day known to the Lord'. Revelation 16:14 describes the battle of Armageddon as "the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful". Jesus says of it, "But as for that day and hour no one knows it – not even the angels in heaven – except the Father alone" (v36). It is on that day that Jesus launches his final assault against the Antichrist and his armies. It is therefore not surprising that the exact day and hour are known only to the Father, for they are closely guarded military secrets. But it is likely to be close to day 1,290 after the abomination of desolation is set up (Daniel 12:11). The darkening of the sun, and the moon turning blood red, are also described in Joel 2:30-31 along with 'blood, fire, and columns of smoke'. It is likely that the sunlight is darkened by the columns of smoke, and that the smoke comes from burning oilfields in Arabia, referred to as Edom in the Old Testament. Isaiah 34:9 says, "Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch and her soil into brimstone; her land will become burning pitch". The setting alight of the oilfields may be caused directly by Jesus' Edom campaign (Isaiah 63:1-6), or be associated with the destruction of Mystery Babylon that precedes his coming on the clouds (Revelation 14:8-14 and 17-18). My understanding is that Mystery Babylon is also in Arabia. On the day when the battle of Armageddon takes place, I guess the wind direction will be just right for the smoke to cloak Israel in darkness. The sun being darkened is likely to be a localised phenomenon, not a global one, just as it was before the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 10:22-23). Zechariah 14:7 tells us the light will return in the evening.


Sign of the Son of Man and the nations mourn (v30a)
In verse 30a, the sign of the Son of Man in the sky causes all the tribes of the nations to mourn. Jesus does not tell us what this sign will look like, but Isaiah 18:3 says, "All you who live in the world, who reside on the earth, you will see a signal flag raised on the mountains; you will hear a trumpet being blown". It seems this sign will confirm Jesus as the true Messiah, and in the process expose Antichrist and the False Prophet (Revelation 13) as frauds. It will occur some time before everyone sees Jesus visibly upon the clouds with their own eyes (Revelation 1:7). It is the end-time equivalent of the 'writing on the wall' that announced the impending fall of ancient Babylon and caused King Belshazzar to suffer a panic attack (Daniel 5). The sign of the Son of Man announces the impending fall of Antichrist and his empire, causing worldwide panic and mourning. Antichrist will have drawn fighters from all nations of the world (Joel 3:2, Revelation 16:14), so the announcement of his impending defeat will cause all nations to mourn the imminent loss of their loved ones in battle. Even before the battle of Armageddon, at least half the world's population will have perished in the seal and trumpet judgments (Revelation 6:8 and 8:18), and an additional unknown number will have perished in the bowl judgments (Revelation 16). When the survivors see the sign and realise that Jesus is the true Messiah and Son of God, they will realise that they have supported the wrong side and will be gripped by grief and anguish. I imagine this being similar to the sort of grief that the Germans felt at the end of both world wars as they contemplated both their losses and their defeat.


Son of Man arriving on the clouds (v30b)
Verse 30b says that all these tribes of the earth will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Similarly, Revelation 1:7 tells us that every eye will see him. Because Jesus comes back as a human being, it is not possible for every eye to see him simultaneously, so his coming on the clouds must be a process. I believe it begins at the last of the seven trumpets (Revelation 11:15, 14:14), when Jesus delivers the Jews from 'Bozrah' (Micah 2:12-13), battles his enemies in Edom (Isaiah 63:1-6), raptures the Church (Psalm 50:4, Matthew 24:31, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, Revelation 14:15-16), is visibly presented as king (Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 26:64) and an angel announces the beginning of his reign over the kingdoms of the world (Revelation 11:15). This occurs at about day 1,260 of the Great Tribulation, and causes a worldwide reaction of rage (Psalm 2, 110, Revelation 11:18). This reaction is met with the seven bowl judgments (Revelation 15-16). After they are completed, Jesus defeats Antichrist at the battle of Armageddon at about day 1,290 (Daniel 12:11, Revelation 19:11-21). My assumption is that he then embarks on a worldwide victory procession, circumnavigating the world multiple times, so that every eye can literally see him coming upon the clouds in glory. This is the time when Jesus is fully revealed to the whole world as Jehovah God, to whom every knee must bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). The end of the age and beginning of the Millennium then begin at about day 1,335 (Daniel 12:12).


Trumpet Blast and the Elect Gathered (v31)
In verse 31, Jesus says, "And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other". The four winds denote the whole world, north, east, south and west, so this gathering is from all nations of the world. Comparison of this verse with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, Revelation 11:15, 14:14-16, and 1 Corinthians 15:51-55, confirms that Jesus is describing the rapture here. Jesus comes, there is a trumpet blast, angels are involved, and true believers (the elect) are gathered in a kind of end-time harvest.

The apparent order of events in verses 29 to 31 may initially seem confusing. Verse 29 describes signs associated with the battle of Armageddon that takes place at about day 1,290. Then verse 30 describes his coming on the clouds that begins at about day 1,260. But if we understand that his coming upon the clouds is a process and that most of the world will not see it until after the battle of Armageddon, then it makes sense that Jesus describes events in this order. It is also probably a mistake to assume that Jesus describes events in strict chronological order in the Olivet discourse. Chronology was probably not his major concern. In verse 31 his description of the rapture follows his coming upon the clouds, but I believe this occurs when he first comes upon the clouds, at the last of the seven trumpets. It does not mean that the rapture occurs after the battle of Armageddon.


The Fig Tree metaphor (v32)
In verse 32, Jesus tells us to learn from the fig tree, that when its branches become tender and it puts out leaves, we know that summer is near. Fig trees produce two crops of figs, an early crop in about May that grows from the previous year's growth, and a late-summer crop that grows off the current year's growth. As such, when the fig tree first puts out leaves it is one of the early indicators that summer is near. Similarly, Jesus is saying that we should recognise the pre-tribulation signs as early indicators that the season of his coming is near. In Paul's day, believers did not know the season of his coming because it was too far away and the pre-tribulation signs had not yet been fulfilled (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2).

The fig tree and its figs are also symbols of Israel in the bible. Fig trees are native to Israel, and in several scriptures, such as Micah 4:4, are used as a picture of prosperity and security, "Each will sit under his own grapevine or under his own fig tree without any fear". In Jeremiah 24, some time after the deportation of Jews to Babylon in 597 BC, Jeremiah likened the Jews to good figs and bad figs. To understand his comparison, it is helpful to know that the figs from the early crop are the sweetest and tastiest ones. The figs from the late summer crop tend to be more bitter and if they are not good enough to eat they are thrown out or used as animal feed. Jeremiah likened those Jews who were part of the early deportation to good figs. Those who remained until the later deportation of 586 BC, he likened to bad figs. In Hosea 9:10 God says, "When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the wilderness. I viewed your ancestors like an early fig on a fig tree in its first season". In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus told another parable of a fig tree, in which the fig tree represented Israel, and Jesus warned the Jews that they had only one more year to produce the fruit of repentance, or they would be 'cut down'.

Given this background and symbolism, it is reasonable to understand that here in verse 32, Jesus is also pointing to the restoration of the nation of Israel as an early end-time sign. In this context of end-time signs, he makes no mention of the fig tree bearing fruit, which would symbolise Israel repenting. Rather he simply describes the branches becoming tender and it putting out leaves. This suggests a process, rather than distinct points in time. The modern return of Jews to Israel began slowly in the late 19th century with the founding of the modern Zionist movement. This return accelerated after World War I, during which Britain defeated the Ottoman Empire, and took control of the Holy Land, which it called British-Mandate Palestine. Britain had made the Balfour declaration in 1917, declaring its support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. After World War II, the Jews declared the new State of Israel on 14 May 1948. The Six-Day War of 1967 resulted in Israel retaking Jerusalem, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 resulted in Israel expanding its territory further. The return of Jews to Israel continues to this day. This process of the restoration of Israel as a nation is surely a key sign that the season of Christ's coming is near.


Right at the Door (v33)
In verse 33, Jesus then says, "So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door". What does he mean by 'all these things'? Presumably he means the fulfilment also of the Great-Tribulation signs, but not of the post-tribulation signs which coincide with his coming. Revelation gives more details about Great-Tribulation signs. In addition to those listed here in Matthew, when we witness the fulfilment of the seal judgments, followed by the first six trumpet judgments, believers should know that his coming for them at the seventh trumpet is right at the door.


The Generation Timeline (v34-35)
In verses 34 to 35, Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away". In saying this, Jesus gives us what I call the generation timeline. He is telling us that all these signs will occur within the space of a single generation. That raises several questions:

1) Which generation is he referring to?
There are three popular answers to the first question. The most obvious answer is that Jesus was referring to the generation he lived amongst in AD 33. Some Christians use this verse to support what is known as the 'preterist' view of the Great Tribulation. Preterist comes from the grammatical word 'preterite' which is a kind of past tense of a verb. 'Preterists' believe that the Great Tribulation was completed in the past, between AD66 and AD 70. This was the time when the Jews rebelled against Rome, and Jerusalem was placed under siege by Vespasian and Titus. The city eventually fell to the tenth Roman legion under the command of General Titus in AD 70. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and about a million Jews died in the process. You can read about 'The Siege of Jerusalem' on Wikipedia. Certainly some of the above signs were fulfilled during this period, with the city being surrounded by armies, and there being a time of great suffering. But not all were fulfilled. Jesus did not come back in glory in the first century AD. So if by 'this generation' Jesus was pointing to his own, history has shown him to be a false prophet, and it is pointless studying the New Testament at all! Another problem with the preterist view is that in Matthew 12:38-41, when Jesus was asked by the Jews for a sign, Jesus answered, "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them – and now, something greater than Jonah is here!". In saying this, Jesus implied that his death, burial and resurrection would be the only sign that his own generation would receive. So even if some of the signs in the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled, or at least partially fulfilled in 66-70 AD, none of them was the ultimate fulfilment of what he was pointing to.

Another popular explanation of this verse is to interpret the Greek word 'genea' not as generation (its normal meaning), but as 'race'. According to this theory, Jesus was prophesying the survival of the Jewish race up until the time of his return. But as the NET bible notes point out, it is very questionable that the word 'genea' can have this meaning.

My preferred answer to the first question is that he was prophesying about a future end-time generation that would see all the Olivet signs in a single generation. So if we see all the pre-tribulation signs being fulfilled, we should expect the rest to follow within the same generation. I refer only to the pre-tribulation signs on this point. We know from Daniel 9:24-27 and 12:7-12 that when the Great Tribulation begins with the abomination of desolation, there are only three and a half years (or 1,335 days to be more precise) until the end of the age. So the Great Tribulation timeline has already been defined very precisely. The generation timeline gives us a longer, less precise timeline, so that when we see the fulfilment of the pre-tribulation signs, we can know that we are living in the end-time generation.

2) How long is a generation?
It is important to read what Jesus says exactly, "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place". This suggests that a generation that sees all the pre-tribulation signs will not completely die before his coming. In that case, the length of a generation is how long it takes for a whole generation to die out. It is not referring to the typical age difference between parents and their children. According to Wikipedia, the oldest women alive today are about 115 years old, and the oldest living men are about 113 years old. In that case, a generation could be as much as 115 years.

Similarly, in Genesis 12:12-16, God told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign country for 400 years, but in the fourth generation he would restore them to Canaan. So a generation was seen to be about 100 years, the longest time a person could normally live in those days. In actual fact, the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years (Exodus 12:40), so each of those four generations averaged 107.5 years.

3) Are we in the end-time generation, and if so, when did it begin?
To answer this question, we need to examine each of the pre-tribulation signs:

1) False Messiahs deceiving people (vs 4-5)
2) Wars and rumours of war (vs 6-7)
3) Famines (v8)
4) Earthquakes (v8)
5) Fig tree sprouts leaves, a metaphor for Israel being restored as a nation (v32)
6) Hatred, persecution and martyrdom of Christians (v9)
7) Many Christians falling away from faith, and people betraying and hating each other (v10)
8) False prophets deceiving people (11)
9) Increased lawlessness and the love of many growing cold (v12)
10) Plagues (Luke 21:11)
11) Terrifying sights (Luke 21:11)
12) Great signs in the sky (Luke 21:11)
13) Tsunamis (Luke 21:25)
14) Man gains the ability to destroy all life on earth (implied by v22)
15) Temple rebuilt and sacrificial system restored (implied by v15)
16) World-wide proclamation of the Gospel to every ethnic group (v14)

I analyse each of these in some detail on my Main Timeline on my home page. Have these 16 signs all happened to at least some degree in the last 115 years or so? I believe the answer is 'yes' for signs 1-14. Sign 15 may be closer to fulfilment than most people think. Plans by the Temple Institute to rebuild the temple and reinstitute sacrificial worship are at an advanced stage. Furthermore, recent archeological discoveries suggest the possibility that the first and second temples were actually located in the City of David, close to the Gihon Spring, and that the so-called Temple Mount may actually be the site of the Roman fort of Antonia. If that is true, the Dome of the Rock is not necessarily the obstacle people think it is to the building of the third temple. Sign 16 looks like it is just a few years away from fulfilment. Christian mission organisations estimate that every ethnic group will have been reached with the Gospel to at least some degree by about 2025. According to Jesus in Matthew 24:14, this seems to be the final pre-tribulation sign, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come". So my belief is that we are not only in the end-time generation, but we are close to the end of it!

In that case, when did it begin? Although these signs are not necessarily in strict chronological order, Jesus describes signs 1-4 as 'the beginning of birth pains' (v8), suggesting these occur first. If a generation could be as long as 115 years, we are still within a generation of both world wars. These were wars of unprecedented magnitude, and brought about changes of great end-time significance. During World War I, Britain made the Balfour Declaration that ultimately laid the foundations for the restoration of Israel as a nation. World War I also resulted in the fall of the Ottoman Islamic Empire. I equate this with the fatal head wound suffered by the end-time beast empire, from which it will one day be healed when the Islamic Empire is restored under the rule of the Antichrist (Revelation 13:3). During World War I, the Ottoman Empire massacred 1.5 million Christians in the Armenian Genocide. World War I also left Britain in control of the Holy Land, which they called British-Mandate Palestine. As World War I was ending, Spanish Flu struck, killing 75 million people worldwide, many times more than those killed in the war. This was the largest 'plague' since the Black Death. During World War I, famine killed about half a million Germans, and about 2 million Persians. About 5 million Russians died of famine in 1921 (see Wikipedia's List of Famines). During World War I, large earthquakes hit Eritrea, Samoa and the Philippines. Many great earthquakes have happened since then (see Wikipedia's Lists of Earthquakes). All of the signs that Jesus called 'the beginning of birth pains', and more, happened during World War I.

During World War II, the Holocaust took place, and further paved the way for the restoration of the State of Israel. World War II was then followed by cold wars, which I equate with 'rumours of war'. The America-Russia cold war is now past its peak, but it still has a significant bearing on Middle East politics. The Saudi Arabia-Iran cold war arose after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and tensions are still increasing. It also greatly influences Middle East politics.

The horrors of the two world wars happened after the emergence of a new deception, the Theory of Evolution. Although there are elements of truth to this theory in that it explains how species adapt and change, and why there are so many variations within species, when it is extrapolated to explain the origins of life and how we got here, it is a great deception. It teaches people that they no longer need to believe in a God who created us. The first pre-tribulation sign that Jesus describes is false messiahs deceiving people. Charles Darwin qualifies as a false messiah in that he gave us a new ideology with great religious implications. Psalm 14:1 says, "Fools say to themselves, "There is no God"". Darwin's theory turned atheism from a foolish idea into an apparently proven scientific fact. At least, it is often taught that way. Because of it, many people now think it is the fool who says, "There is a God". Although Darwin died in 1882, more than a generation ago, his theory lives on and has massively affected attitudes to religion in educated western societies. With the backdrop of his theory, and the horrors of two world wars, Christians in western countries have fallen away from faith in massive numbers, fulfilling sign 6 above.

So personally, I think the end-time generation began with World War I. If that is correct, and if a generation could last as long as 115 years from 1918, the second coming will happen by about 2033 at the latest. According to Daniel 9:27, the Antichrist will confirm an international peace treaty seven years before the end, and the Great Tribulation will start three and half years later when he breaks his treaty and sets up the abomination of desolation. In that case, we should expect him to sign his treaty by about 2026 at the latest, and the Great Tribulation to begin by 2029.

That is assuming the end-time generation will last as long as 115 years. In reality, I imagine 115 years is stretching things a bit. If so, we should expect the Antichrist to sign his treaty imminently.

Of course, I might be wrong. It could be that the fig tree sprouting leaves, symbolic of Israel's restoration as a nation, marks the beginning of the end-time generation. In that case, we should expect the second coming within a lifetime of 1948, or possibly of 1967 when Israel retook Jerusalem. But the fig tree is not one of the signs that Jesus calls the beginning of birth pains, and it seems to me that Jesus is pointing to them as the beginning signs of the end-time generation. Time will tell which is the correct interpretation.


Only the Father Knows the Day and the Hour (v36)
In verse 36, when Jesus says that only the Father knows the day or the hour, I believe he is primarily referring to the day and hour in which the battle of Armageddon will begin. This is described as 'a day known to the Lord' in Zechariah 14:7. See my comments above about this verse in relation to the sun and moon being darkened in verse 29.


Like the days of Noah (v37-41)
In verses 37 to 41 of Matthew 24, Jesus likens the days before his coming to the days before the flood. By this, he seems to be referring to a longer time period, not just to the days at the end of the Tribulation that immediately precede his coming, but also to the days before the Great Tribulation. Before the flood, people were carrying on their lives as normal (v38), totally oblivious to the judgment and disaster that was about to befall them (v39). Such a comparison raises a significant question. At the end of the age, will God honour the Noahic covenant, as expressed in Genesis 8:21-9:17? God promised never again to wipe out all living things with a flood. The flood was an indiscriminate act of judgment that destroyed all life on earth, except eight human beings and two of each kind of animal that entered the ark. Here in verses 40 to 41, Jesus describes end-time judgements that will target specific individuals and spare others, "Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left. There will be two women grinding grain with a mill; one will be taken and one left". These individuals are not enemy combatants at the battle of Armageddon, but are pictured as people engaged in civilian workplaces. 'Being taken' in these verses is a euphemism for being killed. 'Being left' describes those who are spared. This is not a description of the rapture in which being taken would be a good thing. This is possibly a description of people who are killed during the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments. A quarter of the world's population die during the seal judgments (Revelation 6:8), another third during the trumpet judgments (Revelation 9:15), and an unspecified number die during the bowl judgments (Revelation 16). It is also possible that after the battle of Armageddon, when every eye sees Jesus coming upon the clouds (Revelation 1:7), he judges and kills any survivors who fail to bow the knee and accept him as Lord.


Like a Thief in the Night (v42-44)
In verses 42 to 44, Jesus likens his coming to a thief in the night. He says that if the house owner knew what time the thief was coming, he would stay alert and not let his house be broken into. The 'thief in the night' metaphor has four implications:
1) His coming will be a surprise to most
2) Those who are taken by surprise will suffer loss
3) There are things we can do to prevent ourselves suffering loss
4) We must stay alert (to the signs of the times) and be ready 'because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him' (v44)

But who does the 'you' refer to in verse 44? Is this analogy directed at believers, unbelievers, or everyone? The Apostle Paul gives us additional insight in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Paul identifies the 'thief in the night' metaphor not just with the specific 24-hour day in which Jesus defeats Antichrist at the battle of Armageddon, but more generally with the 'day of the Lord'. The day of the Lord is 'the day of vengeance of our God' in Isaiah 61:2b. It is not a literal 24-hour day, but describes the relatively short end-time period when God releases judgments. It follows 'the year of the Lord's favour' in Isaiah 62:1a which Jesus announced at his first coming (Luke 4:19). The 'year' represents a much longer time period which we are still in today. The 'day of the Lord' seems to roughly correspond to the Great Tribulation as a whole. Consequently, in verse 3, Paul describes the situation at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, when people are proclaiming peace and safety, but destruction comes on them like labor pains on a pregnant woman. The labour metaphor relates to the fall of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Great Tribulation (Micah 4:9-10). In verses 1 to 2, Paul implies that the time and season of the day of the Lord was unknown to believers in his day. But in verse 4, he says that we are not in the darkness for the day to overtake us like a thief. In verse 9, he says that God has not destined us to suffer wrath, but to gain salvation. So although there is still an element of surprise even for believers, the implications of loss are directed at unbelievers. The most intense outpouring of God's wrath occurs during the bowl judgments (Revelation 16) which take place after the rapture of believers at the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:15-19). As Christians, we are those who should be alert (watching the signs of the times) and who should make ourselves ready for his coming for us at the rapture. We make ourselves ready by living righteous lives in true relationship with God, and in doing so we will prevent our houses being broken into, figuratively speaking. We should especially be alert after the sixth trumpet, knowing that the rapture occurs at the next one.

After the rapture at the seventh trumpet, while the bowl judgments are taking place, it is likely that many people left on earth will repent and believe in Jesus. At the sixth bowl judgment, after describing the gathering of the nations' armies for the battle of Armageddon, Jesus says, "Look! I will come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays alert and does not lose his clothes so that he will not have to walk around naked and his shameful condition be seen" (Revelation 16:15). Being properly clothed is another euphemism for living righteously. In Isaiah 64:6, sinners are pictured as people wearing filthy rags. So these new believers should be alert after the sixth bowl, just as pre-rapture believers should be alert after the sixth trumpet.


Parable of the Wise and Wicked Slaves (v45-51)
This parable further illustrates the point Jesus made in verse 43, that people who are taken by surprise when Jesus comes may suffer loss, like when a thief breaks into their house. In this parable, the master represents Jesus. The slave who is left in charge of his master's household represents not just a Christian, but one who is a leader in the Church. He is aware of Jesus and knows that he is due to come back at some point. In verses 45 to 47, Jesus envisages the slave being wise. When the master returns, he finds this slave working hard and fulfilling his duties in an honest and worthy manner. When Jesus returns, he will reward this person with a promotion of responsibility for the age to come. In verses 48 to 51, Jesus then envisages the slave being wicked. He represents a church leader who is not a true believer. When Jesus returns, he finds this person to have failed in his responsibilities and to have acted dishonourably. This church leader is assigned a place with the hypocrites and sent to hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. A hypocrite is someone who acts the part, but is not genuine. So this is another parable about the state of the end-time Church. Like the parables in Matthew 13, it paints a picture of the Church as a mixed bag that Jesus must sort out at his coming. Jesus' point is this - Christian leaders should not be complacent about the second coming, thinking it will all work out fine for the Church. The second coming will reveal shocking realities for many in the Church. And if this is what Jesus has to say about church leaders, what about those in the pews? And what about those outside the Church? As Peter says in 1 Peter 4:18, "And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners?"

Additional Pre-Tribulation Signs from other Scriptures
Having listed the 35 end-time signs revealed in the Olivet discourse, this seems an appropriate place to include a list of additional end-time signs from other passages of scripture. Many of those listed in the Olivet discourse have a basis in Old Testament passages, but I will just list signs that are in addition to those already mentioned. I would categorise the first ten of these as Pre-Tribulation signs, in addition to the 16 listed as such above. The eleventh onward may be fulfilled before the Great Tribulation, or possibly during it:

1) Interest in archaeological research of Zion's ruins (Psalm 102:14)
2) Increased travel and knowledge (Daniel 12:4)
3) Heretical teachers will cause many to reject the Gospel and follow a demonically inspired gospel instead (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
4) Scoffers will blatantly deny the core doctrines of Christianity (2 Peter 3:3-7)
5) Society will suffer a moral decline. 2 Timothy 3:2-4 says, "For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God".
6) Many will follow Christianity outwardly, but deny the power of the Gospel (2 Timothy 3:5)
7) Church leaders will be exposed for sexually abusing people (2 Timothy 3:6-9)
8) A ten-nation coalition of Arab states will be created, led by Mystery Babylon (Daniel 7:24, Revelation 17:3)
9) Antichrist will rise to power in Turkey (Ezekiel 38:1)
10) Antichrist will sign a seven-year international peace treaty (Daniel 9:27)
11) Antichrist will deceive people with all kinds of false miracles, signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
12) Antichrist will depose three rulers from the Arab coalition and take over its leadership (Daniel 7:24)
13) Antichrist will attempt to impose Sharia Law and the Islamic Hijra Calendar (Daniel 7:25)
Tags
Places: Jerusalem
Symbols: Birth pains, Jerusalem in labour, Labour pains, Fig tree, Thief in the night, Vultures, Weeping and gnashing of teeth
Tags: Rapture, War and Rapture, End-time signs, Earthquake, Famines, Wars and rumours of war, Abomination that causes desolation, Restoration of Israel, Last trumpet, Fall of Jerusalem, Persecution of Christians, Great falling away, Deception, False messiahs, Sun and moon darkened, Second coming, Nations mourn, End-time Church, Thief in the night, Angels at the second coming, Jesus comes on the clouds, Second coming appearance, Vultures over the battlefield, Days of Noah
The Destruction of the Temple
24 Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away, his disciples came to show him the temple buildings.
2 And he said to them, “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!”

Signs of the End of the Age
3 As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4 Jesus answered them, “Watch out that no one misleads you.
5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many.
6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come.
7 For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
8 All these things are the beginning of birth pains.

Persecution of Disciples
9 “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.
10 Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another.
11 And many false prophets will appear and deceive many,
12 and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold.
13 But the person who endures to the end will be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

The Abomination of Desolation
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation – spoken about by Daniel the prophet – standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand),
16 “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.
17 The one on the roof must not come down to take anything out of his house,
18 and the one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.
19 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days!
20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.
21 For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen.
22 And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe him.
24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
25 Remember, I have told you ahead of time.
26 So then, if someone says to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe him.
27 For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.
28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

The Arrival of the Son of Man
29 “Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The Parable of the Fig Tree
32 “Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.
33 So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door.
34 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Be Ready!
36 “But as for that day and hour no one knows it – not even the angels in heaven – except the Father alone.
37 For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.
38 For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark.
39 And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man.
40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left.
41 There will be two women grinding grain with a mill; one will be taken and one left.
42 “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into.
44 Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

The Faithful and Wise Slave
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time?
46 Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes.
47 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions.
48 But if that evil slave should say to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’
49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards,
50 then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee,
51 and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
(NET)