We have been discussing Jesus’ indictment and sentence of the religious leaders and His subsequent lament over them, the city, and the Temple (Matthew 23:37-39). Those were stunning words spoken by our Lord, words which those leaders either totally misunderstood or ignored, to their own destruction, for the wrath of God was eventually poured out on them.
Those words by Jesus were uttered just before He left the Temple and walked over to the Mount of Olives where He would give His famous Olivet Discourse (chapters 24 and 25). Many people believe that that discourse is about the end of the world. There are a number of reasons for that, some of which we will explore.
If the King James Version (KJV) is your Bible of choice (as it was for me when I got saved), you are not alone. In fact, since it came to the market in 1611 it has been the primary Bible of the English-speaking world until the 20th century when many other versions became available. That means that for more than three hundred years the KJV was it. That has had major implications regarding eschatology, as we will see.
In Matthew 24:1-3, after Jesus left the Temple His disciples pointed out the beauty of it, how it had been “adorned,” for it had become a symbol of idolatry (see also Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5). Jesus’ reply was extraordinary – that not one stone would be left upon another which would not be thrown down! That led to a very infamous question by the disciples about when those things would happen, the sign of His coming, and the end of the age.
Now, a very curious phenomenon has occurred regarding the last word of that question. The Greek text of Matthew 24:3 uses the word αἰών, which translates to aion, which is where we get the word eon or age; therefore the end of the age is the correct rendering. The KJV’s translation of that Greek word, however, was most unfortunate, for it was rendered “world.” The word does not mean “world.” If Jesus meant “world,” the correct word would have been κόσμος, which translates to kosmos, where we get cosmos, which means the universe or world. Another appropriate word would have been οικονομία, which translates to oikonomia, where we get economy, which would have meant the entire Roman economy or empire, which was considered, at that time, the entire inhabited world. But the last word of that verse is αἰών, not κόσμος or οικονομία. Jesus was talking about the end of the age, not the end of the world.
Here is an interesting bit of information – the only place the word for “economy” is used in Matthew’s Gospel is 24:14 where it can be said that the Roman Empire was referred to, for it states that the gospel of the kingdom would be preached in the whole world. The word οικονομία does not mean the entire planet Earth. For those of first-century Judea, the world was the Roman Empire.
Furthermore, it can be stated that that was accomplished by the apostles, most notably Paul, whose missionary journeys took them essentially throughout the empire and him, eventually to the crown of the empire itself, the belly of the beast, so to speak – the head of the snake – Rome! where he would preach the gospel for a number of years before he was executed by the beast himself, Nero. The fact of the matter is that a study of Paul’s travels as recorded in Acts will show that the known world was effectively evangelized.
Another point to be made is that in Matthew 12:32; 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; and 28:20 the KJV consistently and incorrectly translated the word αἰών, or a variant thereof, as world instead of age, as other translations correctly do. This has altered the interpretation of what Jesus said and meant. And, to repeat, this error was carried exclusively for more than 300 years.
Matthew’s Gospel is the only one that records the dialogue of 24:1-3 in this manner. If one is reading the KJV it is inconceivable that those words can be read and the reader not come away with the idea that Jesus was talking about the literal end of the world! In fact, that is why so many people read what follows in that Gospel and look at current events and determine that what is happening are signs of the “end,” or the beginning of birth pangs. Keep in mind that every generation since the first century has had that idea and they have all been wrong.