“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be famines, plagues, and earthquakes in various places.” There it is: Matt. 24:7! “Plagues.” Some versions say “pestilences,” others “epidemics.” Because the word is missing in many Greek manuscripts, most versions have none of the three words. However, the same Greek word is unquestioned in the parallel text of Luke 21:11: “There will be great earthquakes, famines, and plagues in various places.”
Where to Look for Fulfillment of Bible Prophecy
COVID-19 is by no means the first plague in history, nor anywhere near the deadliest. Jesus predicted plagues almost 2,000 years ago. Why would anyone ignore 2,000 years of history and start looking for fulfillment in today’s news? It makes far more sense to start looking at events shortly after the prediction.
We also must consider the context of the prophecy. Inasmuch as wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues have taken place all throughout history, we must check the setting of Jesus’ prediction.
Abuse of Matthew 24
I recently heard two preachers preaching about Matthew 24. They both began reading at verse 3: “As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?'” The disciples asked three questions. But both preachers totally ignored the first question. (Some Bibles insert headings in Matthew 24 which also are misleading.)
The first question of the disciples was “when will these things be?” An alert and honest Bible student would ask, “These things? What things?” All you have to do is back up two verses: “His disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, ‘You see all of these things, don’t you? Most certainly I tell you, there will not be left here one stone on another, that will not be thrown down.’ As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?'” It doesn’t require a doctorate in theology to see that “these things” refers to the obliteration of the first-century temple.
Yes, the disciples also asked about Jesus’ coming and the end of the age. We can only speculate why they asked those questions. But there is no room for speculation that “these things” refers to the destruction of the temple then standing in Jerusalem.
Getting a Grasp on Matthew 24:1-21
It is true that Matthew 24 has difficulties. Jesus does discuss the end of the world later in the chapter. And there are difficulties in determining just where and how the transition is made from one topic to the other. There is no need to get into all of that now. Rather, let’s just examine the first 21 verses of the chapter.
Verses 1-3: Jesus and the apostles are at God’s temple in Jerusalem when Jesus predicts its total destruction. Then on the Mount of Olives, which overlooks the Temple Mount, the disciples ask about “these things.” In the context, “these things” must refer to the destruction of the temple standing across the valley.
Verse 4: Jesus begins by saying, “Be careful that no one leads you astray.” That applies to both them and us.
Verses 5-8: Jesus predicts false Christs, wars, and plagues among other things, but says those things are only the beginning, not the end.
Verses 9-14: Jesus predicts persecution, false prophets, iniquity abounding, and that “this Good News of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world.” A person can investigate wars, plagues, false Christs, etc. in the first century; but what about the gospel being preached in the entire world? About 60 A.D., the apostle Paul wrote that “the Good News which you heard, which is being proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23). This spread of the gospel was fulfilled in the first century.
Verse 14: After mentioning everything in verses 5-14, Jesus said, “Then the end will come.” What end? Keep reading.
Verses 15-21: Notice: “the abomination of desolation… spoken of through Daniel [in chapter 9]… standing in the holy place… let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” What end? The end of the temple (“the holy place”) that Daniel had predicted. The temple was in Jerusalem, which was in Judea. And when was all this fulfilled? In 70 A.D.! It is clearer in the parallel text in Luke 21:20-21: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is at hand. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” In 70 A.D., the Romans not only threw down all the stones of the temple but nearly all the walls of Jerusalem. That was “the end” of “these things.”
Importance of “the End” in 70 A.D.
Obliteration of the OLD
Jesus predicted the absolute end of that temple: “There will not be left here one stone on another.” Jesus previously told a Samaritan woman, “Believe me, the hour comes, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). Jerusalem ceased to be the place for the true worship of God, and instead, as Jesus predicted in Luke 21:24: “Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles.”
God was done with that building. He directly proved that when Jesus died: “The veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom” (Matt. 27:51). God destroyed the separation between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Then God allowed 40 years for the gospel to gain a firm foothold before He used the Romans to remove that House from the earth once and for all.
The book of Hebrews deals with contrasts between the Old and the New. Have you ever pondered the meaning of Hebrews 8:13? “In that he says, ‘A new covenant,’ he has made the first old. But that which is becoming old and grows aged is near to vanishing away.” The only way I know to interpret that verse is to consider that Hebrews was written while the priests were still offering animal sacrifices in the temple. But it was “becoming old” and was “near to vanishing away.” In 70 A.D., as Jesus had predicted, the old form of worship vanished from off the face of the earth.
Confirmation of the NEW
The First Temple was destroyed near 600 B.C. It was still in ruins seventy years later, when Gabriel uttered the famous 70-weeks prophecy (Dan. 9:24-27). In that prophecy, Gabriel predicted the temple (sanctuary) would be destroyed. That clearly implies that a Second Temple would built. Ezra gives us the history of that rebuilding. In Matthew 24, Jesus confirmed the destruction of that Second Temple. The 70-weeks prophecy also predicted the coming of the Messiah. And a careful reading of Daniel shows that the Messiah would arrive before that second destruction. And come He did! Since 70 A.D., neither Jew nor Gentile has any excuse for continuing to look for the Messiah. The fact that Jesus came before the destruction of the Second Temple can be considered as the final proof that He was and is the Messiah.
The Good News began on the Day of Pentecost, 30 A.D.. The events of 70 A.D. are an amazing confirmation of that beginning. Daniel predicted “he shall cause the [old] sacrifice and the offering to cease,” and instead bring in “an end of sins” by means of “the Anointed One shall be cut off [crucified].” Jesus’ life and death help us connect the dots in Daniel’s amazing predictions. The eternal Gospel was ushered in by Jesus. If there is any doubt, the destruction of the old system in 70 A.D. puts God’s final seal of approval on the New Testament of Jesus Christ.
God is no longer working with just one nation. Jerusalem is no longer His holy city. A temple of stone is no longer His dwelling place. Christianity is not just another Jewish sect. It is a new universal message of salvation. The plagues Jesus predicted have nothing to do with today’s news. Rather, they were the beginning of events leading up to God’s destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D., thus placing a final stamp of approval upon the New Covenant of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Christ.