Wondering if you have any thoughts on the OT roots of the question “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the age?” Specifically the “sign of thy coming” part. What did they mean by this, since 1) He was already there with them, and 2) the mystery of the 2nd coming is still a hidden mystery?
Old Testament roots for this question would be the basic beliefs and range of associations and interpretations that we know were common among the Jews of the first century. We have many non-canonical writings from the period of the second temple that give us a pretty good window into what was expected and how many of the Jews of that time were interpreting the prophecies.
It was common belief that the present age would end with an international conflict over Jerusalem, with the temple desecrated by a final invader. Whatever role some imagined the Messiah to have in the final war, one thing was certain: His rod iron rule over the nations begins only after the final tribulation, with the destruction of the last oppressor.
Messiah was indeed coming, but the One who was coming at the day of the Lord in final judgment was usually understood to be, not Messiah, or at least not ONLY Messiah, but God Himself. It was only with the NT’s revelation of the mystery of Christ’s twofold advent that the day of the Lord would now be always understood as the coming / return of Jesus.
When something so momentous as the utter destruction of the temple (a wonder of the ancient world) was announced, it would have naturally evoked associations with the end of this age, which the Jews rightly understood as the beginning of Messiah’s rule from a restored Jerusalem.
They did not understand where Jesus was going, only that He was going away, as announced at the end of Mt chapter 23. Some would wonder if He was going to teach the Gentiles. It is important to remember that the prophecy of Mt 24 came on the same day of the Lord’s rebuke of the Pharisees in ch 23. It is that dialogue that sets up the disciple’s question.
Jesus has just announced that He is leaving and so remain in some other place “until” He is acknowledged by the nation as “He who cometh …” (Mt. 23:39; Ps 118:26; a familiar allusion to the Messiah, see also Mt 11:3; Lk 7:19).
After raising the question of His Messiahship in ch 16 (a title that Jesus refrains from using until His reply at the judgment seat of Caiaphas, the high priest; Mk 14:61-62), the question was definitively settled among His disciples: Not only is Jesus Messiah; He is the exalted Son of God.
Now consider: He has just announced His imminent departure in ch 23. This must have greatly troubled the disciples. Then, with the disciples’ attentions turned to the magnificence of the temple, the time is perfect for the Lord to astonish them even further by declaring its complete and utter destruction. Can you imagine their thoughts?
In such a context, this could only mean the end of the age, which every Jew understood as the beginning of Messiah’s rule over the nation’s from Zion’s contested hill (Ps 2). For this, a departed Messiah would certainly have to return. But it must be remembered that they did not yet know the mystery that the Son of Man coming in clouds of glory, as anticipated in Daniel’s prophecy, would be the Suffering Servant and ‘cut off anointed prince,’ risen, ascended, and returning in glory.
Though He had occasionally alluded to His death and resurrection, the secret was safe, because Jesus well knew that not only would His own disciples NOT understand, the wisdom of the cross would remain hidden even from the demon princes of this age until after its purpose was accomplished. This was the divine strategy (1Cor 2:7-8).
That’s how removed the cross was from anyone’s imagination (Mt. 16:22; Acts 8:34; 1Cor 2:7-8). Only Jesus knew the secret (Isa 53:11). No person, however righteous, and no angel could know the mystery of the gospel of Christ’s twofold appearing to Israel until the time appointed (Ro 16:25-26; 1Pet 1:11-12). As foretold by Isaiah, it was purposefully held under divine lock and key (Isa 8:14-17).
The disciples did not therefore imagine that His going away would be by death, nor His return in the clouds of heaven after resurrection and ascension to the throne of glory, as envisioned in Daniel ch 7. But they understood very clearly that the temple’s destruction implied the end of the age, and since there was now complete consensus that Jesus was the Messiah who would rule from David’s throne, the announcement of such a seismic event would quite naturally evoke the very reasonable question, “what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”