Matthew 24: Jesus’ Prophetic Timeline from Tribulation to Triumph

Steve Behlke   -  



In the Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew 24, Jesus provides a prophetic timeline of the end times from the tribulation following the rapture to His triumphant return.

It’s important to realize that Jesus speaks specifically to His Jewish disciples about Israel’s future during the tribulation period, whereas Paul’s teachings on the rapture are directed to the Gentile churches. The following takes place after the rapture of the church.

Jesus speaks specifically to His Jewish disciples about Israel’s future during the tribulation period, whereas Paul’s teachings on the rapture are directed to the Gentile churches.

This context is crucial for properly understanding the sequence of events.

The First Half of the Tribulation (Matthew 24:4-8)

In Matthew 24:4-8, Jesus describes the initial signs that will mark the start of the tribulation period:

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars… For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (v. 6-8)

These opening events, global conflicts, and natural disasters represent the first half of the tribulation.

The Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:9-26)

Jesus then foretells an even more catastrophic second half of the tribulation, which He referred to as the “great tribulation” (v. 21). This period will be initiated by the “abomination of desolation” (v. 15), when the Antichrist desecrates the temple in Jerusalem.

In the verses that follow (v. 9-26), Jesus paints a harrowing picture of the unparalleled persecution, deception, and suffering that will characterize this time:

Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name…For then, there will be a great tribulation, such as that which has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. (v. 9, 21)

The Second Coming of Christ (Matthew 24:27-31)

But the tribulation will not last forever. Jesus declares that “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29), cosmic disturbances will signal His dramatic return to earth:

And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (v. 30-31)

This description of Christ’s glorious second coming stands in stark contrast to the rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Jesus focuses here on Israel’s future, not the church’s.

Warnings for Israel (Matthew 24:32-51)

In the following verses, Jesus issues a series of warnings to Israel (v. 32-51). He emphasizes the need for watchfulness and endurance, assuring that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (v. 34).

The rapture of the church, which Paul describes to the Gentile churches, precedes the tribulation that Jesus outlines for Israel. This highlights a crucial distinction: while the church will be delivered from God’s wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10), Israel will endure the tribulation until the return of their Messiah.

The Establishment of Christ’s Kingdom

Ultimately, Jesus points to the triumphant establishment of His eternal kingdom on earth. As the Old Testament prophets foretold, His second coming will crush all earthly kingdoms and inaugurate His righteous reign:

In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. (Daniel 2:44)

The tribulation judgments will crush all earthly kingdoms, paving the way for Christ to return and establish His righteous, unshakable kingdom that will endure forever, as Zechariah prophesied:

And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day, the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one. (Zechariah 14:9).

Awesome. And amen.