WHAT SIGN will signal your return and the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3, NLT)
Seems like a simple enough question the disciples asked Jesus. But given his convoluted answer, you’d think a five-year-old had just asked Daddy where babies come from.
Shining stars of Bible scholarship who have studied Jesus’ answer are left scratching their heads and arguing with each other over what on earth he was talking about.
Some say Jesus got it wrong. After all, he did give his disciples a truckload of signs about when the world would end—and then he said, “This generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place” (Mark 13:30).
That was about 50 generations ago, measuring 40 years to a generation.
C. S. Lewis, a widely respected Christian writer of the 1900s, describes that single sentence as “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.” Other Bible experts, however, offer theories that don’t make it look embarrassing at all.
Scholars don’t see eye to eye on much of anything about the answer Jesus offered his disciples. But they do agree on a name for it: the Olivet Discourse. It’s a speech, or discourse. And Jesus did his talking on the Mount of Olives.
Had Jesus made this speech at a modern-day press conference, reporters would have pummeled him with follow-up questions. Instead, as far as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke report, all Jesus got was the equivalent of a five-year-old’s dumbfounded “Huh?”
There’s a reason the disciples asked the question in the first place.
Jesus had already told them he would be leaving and coming back later. And he told them humanity was headed to the end of the world as they knew it, followed by Judgment Day. Now, walking out of Jerusalem’s majestic Temple complex—the only Jewish temple in the world—Jesus announced that it would be leveled.
“When will all this happen?” the disciples asked.
Jesus answered with vague clues that Bible experts say could fit timelines in Jesus’ century, or millenniums afterward.
Worse, after offering all these clues, Jesus admitted, “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Mark 13:32).
We’re left hanging with follow-up questions like this:
“So if you can’t give us a day, a decade, a century, or a millennium, what’s the point of the signs?”
As with most Bible prophecies, the point of Jesus’ speech is clear: Be ready. But the point of the signs and exactly what they’re pointing to are a matter of speculation. Fortunately for us, Bible scholars love to speculate. They figure one day they might strike gold.
Excerpt from Steve’s new release: Understanding Jesus: A Guide to His Life and Times. This short snippet introduces the End Times chapter.