Matthew 24 begins with a proclamation by Jesus against the temple in Jerusalem, that not one stone would be left upon another. The rest of the chapter expounds on this judgment.
Jesus says that these wars and famines and earthquakes are the beginning of birth pains, but then goes on to say that tribulation and apostasy and false prophets are a sign of the end. What is being born and what is coming to an end? The forty years between the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost in 30AD and the destruction of the temple in 70AD was a transitional period. This relates to the transitional period of Israel’s wandering in the desert for forty years under Moses between leaving Egypt and entering the promised land.
The birth is the birth of the new creation, the kingdom of God that, as in Daniel’s vision, is the stone cut without hands that smashes the empires to dust and then grows to become a mountain that fills the earth.
The end is the end of the old creation. He gives warning to those in Judea and tells the Jews to pray that their flight might not be on a Sabbath. It is the destruction of the temple and the whole system of worship and sacrifices and the Aaronic priesthood that went with it. More on this in a minute.
He goes on to say that the sun will be darkened, that the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven. Surely this horrible cosmic catastrophe must be the end of all things. But in Genesis 1, God created the lights in the heavens on day 4 – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. He set them in the heavens to rule over the day and night. Very often throughout scripture, especially in prophetic passages, the sun, moon, and stars stand as rulers and authorities. The eclipse of the sun or moon is the overthrow of the king or ruler. These ruling lights are then replaced by the ascended Christ sitting in heaven on the throne of God.
Unlike Daniel’s vision in which he was told, “seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now,” Jesus tells His disciples, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” This again is the 40 years that Jesus gives as a final opportunity for Jerusalem to repent of her idolatry and her rejection of her King. They refuse.
He emphasizes, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This again is the end of the old creation. In the days of Noah, the flood came and swept away the world, baptizing the world with water. This was the death of the world and a resurrection under Noah, a new head, a new gardener, a new Adam. When John was baptizing in the wilderness he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The baptism of fire came on the world at Pentecost and sparked the end of the old creation and the beginning of the new creation in Christ, the last Adam and the head of all things.