Troublesome Topic: What Kind of Signs Did Jesus Give Them?

Matthew 24:3


Now while He was sitting on the Mount of Olives His disciples came to him privately saying, “Tell us, when will these things be?

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And what will be the sign

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of your coming as a king, and of the completion

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of the age?

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[A short time later] as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, His disciples came to him privately and said, “Explain this to us. When will the things happen that you told us about outside the temple? What will be the confirming sign that you are revealing yourself physically to be the king, and that you are causing this age to reach its complete fulfillment and ushering in the new age?

A sign could be used in the following ways: 1) to say, “heads up/pay attention,” 2) as a predictive marker indicating that an event is about to begin, or 3) as a confirmation proving the spiritual significance of something that had just happened. It is possible that the disciples were using the word “sign” in more than one way. They basically had three questions, which they thought would be fulfilled all at one time. Let’s look at their three questions independently:

1) They asked, “When will these things be?” Were they asking for a predictive sign to tell them when the destruction of the temple was about to happen? Yes, the sign they sought here was a predictive one.

2) They wanted a sign of the “coming” of Jesus, i.e. His arrival on the scene to remedy a problem only He could solve, thus demonstrating His great power and glory. For this one they could have been referring to either a predictive sign or a confirmation sign. But think about it this way, they had been with Jesus long enough to know He was not likely to tell them ahead of time what He was going to do; He would just do it. Jesus was completely unpredictable. They were hoping He would someday do something about what they considered their biggest problem– the Romans, and when He took care of them it would be a sign confirming who He was. While they wanted to ask “When are you going to deal with Rome?” they knew He was not likely to answer the “when” question. Instead they had to ask their other questions: “Are you ever going to pull out all the stops and do something about the Romans? When you do, we will know it because it will be obvious, right? Or will you do something we won’t understand? Please tell us how you will demonstrate and confirm the extent of your power.” 3) They also wanted a sign of “the end of the age.” This one could also go either way, but a confirming sign fits better than a predictive sign here. Let

me put words in their mouths again: “Will it be obvious to us when you bring one era to completion and you usher us into a new, glorious era? How will we know?” That was a legitimate question because Jesus was unpredictable and sometimes hard to understand.

            In my opinion, the question about the destruction of Jerusalem was a “how soon” question, the other two were seeking confirmation.   

It appears that Jesus gave them two types of signs, some signs that were predictive of the destruction of the temple, and some that served as a confirmation of the completion of His redemptive work. The destruction of the temple was definitely portrayed by Jesus as a confirmation that the new era had indeed arrived.



They asked Jesus questions about three things, but they thought all of them would be fulfilled in one major event. The first question, “When will these things be?” refers to what Jesus had just said about the temple being destroyed so completely that no stone would be left on another. He did not tell them precisely when this would happen; His emphasis was that it would happen, and what that meant. However, he did end up giving them one hint – it would happen during the natural lifespan of people in their generation (Mt 24:34).


(See the comment at the end of this verse.)


This word is often translated “end,” but it is better understood as the “completion or fulfillment” of something, its “consummation, or climax.” The simple “end” of an age could mean the simple passage of a time marker from one era to another. However, the way they used the word indicated that there was a purpose to be fulfilled, and that fulfillment had to be realized before the next “step” could be taken.

4: “The age”

The explanation of this phrase is also in the major comment below instead of in the footnotes. This phrase holds the key to understanding this entire discourse. The key is to understand the question – Which age are they asking about? Their own age, or a future age?