What does it mean in Matthew 13 when Jesus says to his disciples “I will be with you until the end of the age.” Jesus promises to be with them until the end of the age. The end of the age in Matthew is not the end of the whole world. Most American evangelicals quickly interpret this phrase and might I dare say read into this phrase; images of a Left Behind type destruction and the rapture of Christians out of this world during some type of apocalypse fantasy where God wages war on the earth, the devil and its ungodly inhabitants.
Instead let’s look at this phrase “end of the age” in context to what the present disciples and Jews were experiencing and would inevitably face in their actual life time, not our life time.
The end of the age was the end of an era, temple worship (John 4:20-) and ethnic status. The end of the age is the last judgment on God’s chosen people Israel. When was this you might ask?
During the last days of his earthly life Jesus had assembled his disciples together on the Mt. of Olives overlooking the Temple. The disciples were uncertain and anxious about the future especially in light of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple and stopping the sacrifices, and his astonishing statements delivered in holy anger denouncing the Pharisees. The disciples opened the conversation by talking about the beauty of the temple and its courts. Jesus responded with his amazing and detailed reply by predicting the soon-coming destruction of that magnificent building:“You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matt. 24:1-3) “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matt. 24:34)
Both the Temple and the City of Jerusalem were indeed about to be destroyed. With four Legions, Titus the Roman General, later to become Caesar, began the siege of Jerusalem in April, A.D. 70. He took the city and put it to the torch and burned it. He entered the temple and desecrated it. Every trace of beauty his army blotted out with fire, violence, rape and plunder. The eye witness historian Josephus records it this way, “no other city has ever endured such horrors, and no generation in history has fathered such wickedness. In the end they brought the whole Hebrew race into contempt in order to make their own purity a mockery in foreign eyes, they were forced to confess the painful truth that they were slaves, the dregs of humanity, and outcasts of their nation.”
When Jesus speaks of coming destruction and the end of the age, he spoke prophetically as the final prophet sent by God to declare “the weeds will be gathered out of the kingdom and destroyed (13:40-42), when the good fish are separated from the bad (13:49-50), and when the stones of the temple will be thrown down by an invading army (13:2-3), you will see in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation (13:15), and many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many” (13:5).
Jesus’ assurance at this particular point in the narrative is a firm one: he will be with his disciples every moment, no matter what they face. The only way out for them personally is for them to abandoned Second Temple Judaism and follow the Son of Man. As the Zealots were preparing to stay and fight for their national status and loyalty to the temple, Jesus was challenging them to turn their back on what they knew and to embrace the creation of a new body made up of Jew, Gentile, rich, poor, male and female. They needed to follow Jesus and let go of their “choseness” and build for a new Kingdom. Jesus is eventually vindicated for his radical departure from their current worship tradition, his resurrection and his fulfilled prophecy.
Jesus epic language about the judgment and final fall of Israel from its elected perch is declared when Jesus says “Heaven and earth will pass away” (Matt 24:35a). But what will survive and thrive in the midst of this tribulation in 70 A.D? Jesus makes it clear “my words will never pass away” (Matt 24:35b). This is the real end of the age and it has already occurred according to the context of scripture. Out of it has come the birth of a new Kingdom without borders.