To whom is Jesus referring when He speaks of sheep? It is those to whom the Son of Man, the King, speaks and says “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I was naked and you gave Me clothing, I was sick and you took care of Me, I was in prison and you visited Me” (Matthew 25:35-36). He, as the Son of Man, the King, goes on to add: “I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for Me” (25:40). If a believer is looking for an answer as to what sort of person he or she is required to be, this is as good as any, especially when the goats are described as those that did not do these things.
Tying off Jesus’ Temple-fall-and-coming-of-the-Son-of-Man related speech, and continuing a clearly pronounced connective theme, Matthew writes “When Jesus had finished saying all these things” (26:1a). Based on what has been seen with the synoptic use of “these things,” and the fact that it appears in a related passage in Peter’s second letter, its usage here simply cannot escape attention or be at all considered as a random placement. Matthew wants to draw attention to the fact that all that has just been heard from Jesus, from the fourth verse of the twenty-fourth chapter through the final verse of the twenty-fifth chapter, was presented in relation to the fall of the Temple and the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days for the purpose of receiving His kingdom.
This, of course, includes Jesus’ insistence that “as for that day and hour no one knows it---not even the angels in heaven---except the Father alone” (24:36). What Jesus is saying here could not be any more obvious. In fact, by this point, it would take a willful refusal to acknowledge the point that is being made or to hear Jesus talking about anything but the fall of the Temple when He makes this statement. This probably does not even need to be said, but to somehow connect this to some kind of rapture or to the return of Jesus to earth, considering the incredibly obvious context that is on offer, is not only absurd but also strains credulity to the point of breaking.
Throughout the whole of Matthew twenty-four, Jesus has never once wavered from answering the question that was posed by His disciples and which was prompted by His statement about the Temple. By way of one final review, Matthew writes “Now as Jesus was going out of the Temple courts and walking away, His disciples came to show Him the Temple buildings” (24:1). In response to what He sees, Jesus says “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” (24:2) His disciples, who did not imagine that He was talking about anything but the Temple being torn down with not one stone being left on another, which would have been catastrophic and unimaginable to their way of thinking (the end of their world), say “Tell us, when will these things happen?” (24:3b)
To that Matthew adds “And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3c) That question is based upon the quite popular seventh chapter of Daniel. According to what would have been the popular understanding of that passage, the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, together with the concordant receipt of His kingdom, will mark the end of one age and the beginning of another. Apart from that, one must remember that Mark and Luke simply have the disciples adding “And what will the sign that all these things are about to take place?” Yes, the disciples know that Jesus is speaking about the fall of the Temple and want to know how they will know when it is that this singularly cataclysmic event will occur.