Perhaps one of the most misapplied passages of our time is Matthew 24, in which Jesus answers the disciples’ questions concerning the destruction of the Temple. Another greatly-abused scripture is the entire book of Revelation! Throw in a number of other Old and New Testament apocalyptic passages and you have an excellent recipe for outlandish and obscure results.
Ironically, Jesus warns several times in Matthew 24 against false Christs and false prophets who claim to know when the Lord is coming! Don’t listen to them, Jesus instructs. We ought to pay close attention to what Jesus articulates and block out the massive volume of junk interpretations of what He meant.
One helpful interpretive device is the time markers the speaker or author reveals. For instance, if you wonder exactly when the events of Matthew 24.1-35 (and possibly extending through verse 44 or beyond) take place, examine the context for time markers from the Lord. In the greater context, Jesus warns in the previous chapter of the fall of Jerusalem: “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23.36). When? Within a generation from the time Jesus spoke the words. In the immediate context, we find 24.34: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” What things will take place? Return to the beginning of the chapter in which Jesus boldly proclaimed that the great temple would be torn down, “not one stone shall be left here upon another,” and include all He said with reference to that event up through verse 34.
Those terrible judgments would happen in their generation. Jesus was not speaking of something 2000+ years in the future, so we should not be looking for these signs today.
Also, John reveals time markers in Revelation to which we should pay heed. In the very first verse John marks for us, “things which must shortly take place.” How misleading if what he meant by “shortly” was “in a couple of thousand years.”
Revelation is addressed to the seven churches of Asia (1.4, 11), which collectively probably symbolize the overall Christian church in the first century; nevertheless, they were actual, historical churches, and Jesus targeted His seven letters of Revelation 2-3 to those specific churches. John then records all the wild visions Jesus gives him and ends the book with several statements of Jesus, “Behold, I am coming quickly!” (22.7, 12) and “Surely I am coming quickly” (22.20). The time marker at the end of the book reflects the first chapter: “And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place” (22.6).
While I don’t believe Matthew 24 and Revelation deal with the same judgment, they both use similar language, sometimes quoting the exact same Old Testament passages or using the same judgment symbols. Both speak of Jesus coming in judgment and Him coming quickly. Both indicate a time frame within about a generation. If we interpret those scriptures in the time frames they themselves present, we will find ourselves on a firmer foundation than if we attempt to apply those things to our period of history thousands of years later!
Take care to interpret Scripture using Scriptural time frames.