A Warning to the Jews (Matt. 23)

By Richard D. Draper

Tuesday, the second day after his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus left the temple again, this time going out onto the Mount of Olives, where he sat and spoke privately with his disciples, overlooking the temple (Matthew 24:3). Revelation flowed on that occasion, most of it startling, some of it frightening. In only two more days (Matthew 26:2), the Savior would face his enemies and eventually death . . . and he knew it. Further, he knew what the result would be—the Jewish nation would be destroyed. What was the social setting on that day? What were Jesus’s concerns, the reasons behind the Pharisees’ persecution of him, and the disciples’ repeated questions? Knowing the questions and problems Jesus was addressing shows what issues Matthew 24 was addressing.

With urgency, knowing that his time was short, Jesus had gone to the temple to continue his effort to save all who would listen to him. A multitude gathered, including not only disciples and interested persons, but also his enemies. The leaders of the Jewish sects, desiring to discredit him before the people, continually interrupted his attempts to teach. None were as bothersome as the Pharisees. Pushed to the limit, Jesus issued a scathing series of rebukes against them. Addressing his disciples, he commanded, “Do not ye after their works” (Matthew 23:3). After continuing pronounce wo after wo upon the scribes and Pharisees, he finally turned directly to these hypocrites and warned them, saying, “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

It was at this point that he began to prophesy. “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city” (Matthew 23:34). This prediction would have brought no joy to the hearts of his disciples, for in these few words the Lord revealed that the Jews would persecute the disciples unmercifully. Further, it gave no hope that the kingdom would take root among the Jews.

Destruction awaited that nation because their leaders refused to hear the Lord and gather to him, thus not coming under his protecting wings. The Lord disclosed the result, lamenting, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).1 What house? Actually, two: one symbolic, the other literal. The first was the house of Israel, which would now be desolate of the Spirit of God and his priesthood; the second was the temple, which would also be bereft of the Spirit and left to destruction.

With these revelations fresh in their minds, his disciples must have hungered to find out more. Driven by this desire, the disciples approached him as he was leaving the temple, “to show him the buildings of the temple” (Matthew 24:1). The force of the Greek words chosen by Matthew suggests that they were pointing out to the Lord the strength of the temple with its strong walls and fortifications, as if Jesus was unaware of the massive Herodian foundation stones supporting the temple mount.2 They may have been wondering if such a mighty edifice could really be damaged and wanted the Lord to clarify. There is little wonder why they were perplexed, but because the temple’s privileges and powers had been abused, it would fall.

Sitting on the Mount of Olives with him that later that day, they asked him again “concerning the destruction of the temple, and the Jews” (JS—M 1:4). Their heartfelt query led to the sermon found in Matthew 24 and Joseph Smith—Matthew, in parallel passages in Mark and Luke, as well as in Doctrine and Covenants 45. That prophecy that detailed not only historical events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 but also the reassuring knowledge that the Lord would come again at his Second Coming. That prophetic counsel to the disciples concluded with a warning to “watch and be ready,” a wise warning that is good for all the followers of Jesus, whether members of his nascent organization or in his restored latter-day church.




  1. This is paraphrasing 1 Kings 9:7 and Jeremiah 22:5.
  2. The Greek word is epideíknymi, which means to show or to point out. The idea behind the word is to draw someone’s attention to something they may have missed. See Frederick William Danker, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000), 370.