Q. In Matthew 24, do you think the disciples knew that Jesus was talking to a future group of Jews and not to them? I know it is an end time prophecy, but if I had been one of those disciples I might have thought he was talking to me and my generation.
A. When Jesus gave this prophecy, 69 weeks of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) had just been completed. Daniel had said that after the 69 weeks the Messiah would be executed and the people of a coming ruler would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. A few days before, Jesus had told them He was going to be arrested and crucified, and then on the third day He would be raised to life (Matt. 20:17-19). And just a few minutes earlier, in Matt. 24:1-2, He said the temple and all its related buildings would be torn down with not one stone remaining on another. It was a repeat of a warning He had given the people of Jerusalem three days previously (Luke 19:41-44).
In spite of all this, the disciples seemed surprised by what He was saying. According to Mark 13:3 Peter, James, John and Andrew took Him aside and asked Him to explain when and how all this would happen. I think they understood Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy, but didn’t know there would be a gap of time between the 69th and 70th Weeks, and Jesus didn’t mention one. We know this because after the resurrection the disciples asked if He was now going to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). (It all became clear to them 38 years later when the city and the sanctuary were destroyed without the Abomination of Desolation having taken place.)
Jesus had waited 40 days for the leaders of Israel to recognize that He had fulfilled the unmistakable sign of the prophet Jonah (Matt. 12:39-40) proving that He was their Messiah. Had they done so, the 70th Week of Daniel would have begun, and everything the Lord told the disciples would have happened in their generation. But because they still didn’t believe in Him, Israel was set aside and the clock has been stopped from that day to this one while the Lord takes a people for Himself from among the Gentiles. Once He has taken us, Israel will be restored and the 70th week will finally begin (Acts 15:13-18).
Of course, God the Father knew how everything would unfold, but according to Matt. 24:36 He was the only one. Even the Son, having been limited to human abilities, didn’t know how Israel would respond until after He returned to Heaven. This is why He gave such an ambiguous answer to their question of Acts 1:6. “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority” (Acts 1:7).