Why do some people take Matthew 24:37-51 in the context of verse 34, instead of verse 36?
The context of Matthew 24:37-51 fits verse 36 better than verse 34. In fact, most Bibles put verse 36 as the beginning of the paragraph. The paragraph before, Matthew 24:31-35 has to do with a different matter.
Matthew 24:36 has a separating conjunction that starts a new section of thought. So everything that follows should be with that section and that main idea started by this verse. Indeed, the subject matter fits with verse 36 more than verse 34.
Verse 34 is part of the paragraph of conclusion from what Jesus has said to that point. So everything for verse 34 should be taken before that verse, not after it. Many people misunderstand what Jesus is saying when he tells the disciples that the people of this generation will not pass away until all these things happen.
It is my contention that Jesus is not referring to the generation of the disciples that are listening to his words at that moment. In other words, he is not talking about the generation of Peter and the apostles. He is not saying, as they may have misunderstood him themselves, that the end will come in their generation.
Let me give some context. Beginning in Matthew 24, Jesus prophesies that the Temple will no longer be standing (Matthew 24:1-2). This may or may not be part of the end times events he is about to go into. Some believe that this prophecy is fulfilled in 70 AD when Jerusalem is sacked by the Roman Emperor Tiberius.
Then the disciples began to ask him about the end times, the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). Jesus outlines some of the end times events from false Christs, wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:4-6), national intrigue, earthquakes and famines (Matthew 24:7). But he makes a point to say that these are only the beginning, not the end times (Matthew 24:6b, 8).
Next is the deterioration of the saints and the church under the pressure of persecution (Matthew 24:9-14). The nations will hate Christians, persecute them, and kill them. Christians will fall away from Christ and turn on one another. False prophets will lead people astray.
These will be dark days, but Jesus says that those who endure to the end will be saved. Then he proclaims that his gospel must be preached throughout the whole world, and then the end will come. Some teach that Jesus can’t return because the gospel has not been preached in the whole world.
But this is not accurate to what Jesus is teaching. After looking closely at the original language, the whole world here refers to the inhabited world at the time of Jesus, not the whole world as we know it today. The inhabited world means anybody who is in charge of a nation.
What I mean by this, and you see it in the book of Acts, is that when the father of the household turns to Christ, the household converts. So also, nations and empires in the same way. When Paul reached the Roman Emperor and preached the gospel to him, he heard by proxy for the entire Roman Empire, most of the known world at that time.
And several times throughout human history, this is been accomplished by missionaries and Christians throughout the world. Especially today with the amount of technology and other means we have at our disposal to evangelize the world, there are very few places that have not heard the gospel. And those ones that have not heard, missionaries are being sent to them now.
But the point of this is that the first time this was accomplished, Christ was able to return. The condition has already been met and he can return at any time. As the whole New Testament teaches, Christ’s return is imminent. We should expect him at any time.
Then Jesus talks about the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15-27). This is from the prophecies found in Daniel about a person who would desecrate the Temple in Jerusalem. This has actually been partially fulfilled throughout history as well.
One example is Antiochus Epiphanies IV who marched into Jerusalem, took the city, and then proceeded to go into the Temple and put a statue of Zeus inside. It took the Maccabees to get rid of him and purify the Temple.
The Antichrist will be the one to do this in the end times. Paul also speaks of this in 2 Thessalonians 2, the man of lawlessness. All of these things must take place, and not necessarily in this exact order. Wars and rumors of wars will be ongoing, famines and earthquakes as well.
That is when Jesus begins to talk about the abomination of desolation and the coming of the Son of cat man. That is when the end times begin to be fulfilled. He says that the Son of Man will come in the clouds (Matthew 24:29-31).
Now we get to Matthew 24:34 where Jesus says that this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. The generation he refers to is the generation that sees the rumors of wars and wars, earthquakes and famines, the devastation of the church in those days, the abomination of desolation, and the Son of Man coming on the clouds.
So the generation that begins to see these things happen will see all of them happen at the end. This will be the final generation. And Jesus tells us all of these things so that generation will be prepared when it begins to see the fulfillment.
So verse 34 fits better with the previous sections than the next. Matthew 24:36 begins a new section, a new thought, in talking about trying to predict that day. Jesus has just said that we can see the seasons as we see a fig tree grow. But he wants to dispel the idea that we can tell exactly what will happen when.
In this section Jesus talks about not being able to know the exact day. He says that no one knows that day except the Father. And then he goes on to detail those days like the days of Noah where everyone ignored the preaching of Noah and continued on with life as though nothing would happen.
Exegetically, Matthew 24:34 goes with the beginning of the chapter in Matthew 24:36 goes with the next part of the chapter after it. To be sure, the generation that sees these events unfolding in the last days coming quickly will also notice around it that the days of Noah where no one pays attention to the end that is happening around it.
But Jesus mentions this generation to show what it will see before the end comes, so that the people can judge the seasons and be prepared for the end in a world that is ignoring the ever speedy demise that the end times brings. Knowing the seasons but not the day makes this final generation ready and not surprised for the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds.