Disclaimer–these are my opinions when trying to make some sense of what Jesus is saying. I’m only trying to explain in the context of the rest of the book, that is, Jesus speaking directly to Israel. I believe these scriptures do have relevance to us today but also think we have to first consider them in context of who Jesus was speaking directly to.
Jesus tells the disciples that the temple will be torn down (v1&2). In response, the disciples ask two questions (v3) which tie to the rest of the chapter. I believe these questions are important to keep in mind when reading these prophecies:
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”–Matthew 24:3
First, I would like to present my view of the time table Jesus was speaking about. Verse 34 states that it would be within that generation. While I’ve heard generation refer to Israel as a whole, Jesus’ overall reference of the entire book refers to a much shorter time table more closely resembling generation as a period of around 40 years. Matthew 16:27-28 states this more implicitly. Jesus says that some of those standing there would in no way taste of death until they saw him coming in his Kingdom in the glory of the Father with his angels; that is, fully vindicated as King when the old system, the Temple, is destroyed. When taken as a far future event, these verses make a lot less sense as we know that everyone who was there has tasted of death. This scripture seems to refer directly to Matthew 24:3 (above). In this respect, it seems that the disciples were asking these two questions:
When will the Temple be destroyed (when will these things be)?
What sign will there be that you are vindicated as King and the end of the (Temple) age has come (What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age)?
What Jesus states in the rest of the chapter all ties back to these two questions. The Jewish religion was centuries old and Jesus mentions all throughout Matthew the end of that age and that his new Kingdom was rapidly approaching.
Once I was able to understand the time table Jesus was speaking of, the rest of the often confusing passages in Matthew started to clear up. I’ll start delving into the rest of Chapter 24 in the next post and how it fits into this same time frame, at least from the limited amount we know of historical events that weren’t specifically recorded in the Bible.