An Essay and Exegesis of Matthew 24 (Revised)
by Mark Mountjoy
In the course of our expedition through the Gospel According to Matthew, we have noticed many themes and continuities that place Jesus' message consistently within the Second Jewish Commonwealth and not the twentieth or twenty-first century. Nowhere will the disparity between the real truth of Matthew's eye-witness testimony show a more stark contrast to the traditional rhetoric of futurism than in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. This chapter is an organic nexus; this chapter is, importantly, a natural zenith or culmination. This chapter (with its interpretation so often in isolation) severely deprives the Bible student of its depth, character and meaning and verity.
Because the Olivet Discourse is not only the lynch-pin in the true apocalyptic but of every erroneous view of prophecy today as well, I will be calling attention to the teachings of Charles T.Russell, E.W. Bullinger, C.I. Scofield, and Hal Lindsey.1 Why do we need to bring the ideas of these people up? Not for jest or for ridicule but because underneath their superficial claims there is an abundance of fascinating research that points to a serious and substantive treasure-trove of "mysteries of the kingdom of God." What lies beneath can spark in any serious Christian an insatiable desire to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. One can discover through the strangest coincidences and Acts of God that Jesus ensured that Christianity survived through perils and dangers and astonishing odds.2
Finally, because the Olivet Discourse is a "square one" starting point for so many contrasting views, it is the repository of vast quantities of insupportable interpolations. These interpolations are not "valid interpretations." And faithful and true exegesis of these texts gives the context the time of day. Superficial interpretations unwittingly mislead millions of Christians to believe in a fearful possibility of a one-world government.3
Additionally, a text describing the destruction of Jerusalem, in the hands of amateurs, is made to predict a fallacious meaning of European political unity. Out of these texts, others jump to wrong conclusions about the founding of the present-day Israeli State. There is also trepidation and dismay over the possibility of a unified world Christian unity and attitudes which are adverse to having a genuine concern for the Palestinian people and their problems.4
Part IV of this series ended with the Lord leveling grave charges against the Second Temple establishment, and he did so within the framework of seven woes.
Matthew 24 KJV - And Jesus leaves the Temple - Matthew 24 opens with the Jesus and the Apostles departing from the Temple with Peter, James and John, and Andrew. Walking over a causeway leading to the Mount of Olives, when they arrived on the other side of the bridge they stood opposite to the Temple, facing it, and this is where the setting of this chapter (and Matthew 25) takes place.
"And his disciples came up to shew him the buildings of the Temple." Mark and Luke disclose what Matthew omits, they said, "Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! (Mark 13:1). And Luke writes, "And some spake of the Temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts" (Luke 21:5). Why is this an important piece of information? It is important because it shows us, from the very beginning of the discourse, Jesus' attention focused on a Temple that already existed, not a so-called "third temple" in a far-off future.
Thus, in light of this single fact alone, any claim the meaning of Matthew 24 that ignores this paramount fact is a view founded upon a highly dubious and unsupportable premise.
Jesus' Astonishing Announcement
Matthew 24:2 KJV - "And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.- "Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." In light of the first two verses of this chapter (with the background of chapter 23), the next forty-nine verses of this will bring us to the destruction of Herod's Temple and, along with it, the Jerusalem of Jesus' day. This is the same "end" we saw in Matthew 3:12; 8:12; 10:22; 13:30; 13:42; 16:27-28; 19:28; 21:43-44; 22:7 and 23:39.
Matthew 24:3 KJV - "And as he sat upon the mount of - And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Matthew 24:3). The three questions posed to the Savior spring, not from issues never addressed before, but from what they have already been repeatedly told: (1) the Lord's coming,(2) the consummation of the world, and (3)the Destruction of the Temple.
Some ask, Where were the Apostles ever told of the destruction of the Temple? From the Gospel records, Jesus NEVER said anything about the destruction of the Second Temple--until here, three days before his crucifixion. And so, for number one and two he has already told them of these: He mentions his Parousia in Matthew 10:23 and 16:27-28 and 19:28, and the end of the world in Matthew 10:22; 13:30, etc., etc. The question they want to know is when will these three events happen?5
Matthew 24:4 "And Jesus answered and said unto THEM, "Take heed that no man deceive YOU" The Apostles are the subject and, throughout the entire discourse Jesus will be speaking to them in a manner that is consistent with these warnings being relevant to events overshadowing their lives.
Matthew 24:5 KJV - "For many shall come in my name, saying, "I am Christ;" and shall deceive many" In this first sign Jesus cautions the Apostles of the rise of many who would falsely lay claim to being the promised Messiah.
Matthew 24:6 "And YE shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that YE be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, BUT THE END IS NOT YET." In this verse, Jesus gives the second sign and assumes that the end of the age is related to these wars and yet that end is not to be expected to happen right away.
Matthew 24:7 KJV - "For nation shall rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences and earthquakes, in various places."
Jesus gives four signs here: Greek municipalities surrounded the Jewish people in Scythopia and Decapolis, Damascus, and Idumea, Accrabatene, and Perea. Civil strife between the Judeans and these residents became frequent in the lead-up to the first Great Revolt. Not only was there violence and bloodshed to contend with, but food shortages led to famines and famines, in turn, bred diseases. Horrific earthquakes are reported to have rocked both Judaea and the islands of the Mediterranean.6
Matthew 24:8-9 KJV - 8"All these are the beginnings of sorrows. 9 Then shall they deliver YOU up to be afflicted, (sixth sign) and shall kill YOU, (seventh sign) and YE shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake." This eighth sign shows, once again, that these events are within the lifetime of the Apostles, they manifestly have nothing to do with the establishment of the Israeli State in 1948.
Matthew 24:10-14 KJV - "And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another." Here, Jesus gives his Apostle a ninth sign in the lead-up to the end of the era. In this debacle, many who were once friends and comrades turned enemies and became dangerous informants. This phenomenon of extreme social turmoil and senseless hatred is duly noted in Rabbinic literature about this unfortunate time.7
"There were besides these disorders and civil wars in every city; and all those that were at quiet with the Romans turned their hands one against another. There was also a bitter contest between those that were fond of war, and those that were desirous of peace. At the first this quarrelsome temper caught hold of private families, who could not agree among themselves; after which those people that were the dearest to one another, brake through all restraints with regard to each other, and everyone associated with those of his own opinion, and began already to stand in opposition to one another; so that seditions arose everywhere, while those that were for innovations, and were desirous of war, by their youth and boldness, were too hard for the aged and the prudent man; and, in the first place, all the people of every place betook themselves to rapine; after which they got together in bodies, in order to rob the people of the country, insomuch that for the barbarity and iniquity those of the same nation did no way differ from the Romans; nay, it seemed to be a much lighter thing to be ruined by the Romans than by themselves."8
11 "And many false prophets shall arise and shall deceive many." (a tenth sign). Besides false Christs (of verse 5), Jesus foretells false prophets. It is noteworthy that in Jewish Messianism the Messiah and the expected Prophet were believed to be (not one person) but two figures-both working together.
12 "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."It is a mistake to claim that the entire Roman world was in a state of anarchy when Josephus makes it very clear that the Jews alone were in turmoil with themselves and with their neighbors. He writes,
"The next year, which was employed in a civil war [at home], so far as the Jews were concerned, passed over in peace. When Italy was pacified, the care of foreign parts was revived. The Jews were the only people that stood out; which increased the rage [of the Romans]. It was also thought most proper that Titus should stay with the army, to prevent any accident or misfortune which the new government might be liable to."9
When discussing specifics of the situation in Judæa, Josephus points to the role played by the notorious Zealots who,
". . .looked upon the doing of mischief to strangers only as a work beneath their courage, but thought their barbarity towards their nearest relations would be a glorious demonstration thereof. [They]. . .cut the throats of the high priests, that so no part of a religious regard to God might be preserved; they thence proceeded to destroy utterly the least remains of a political government, and introduced the most complete scene of iniquity in all instances that were practicable; under which scene that sort of people that were called Zealots grew up. . ."10
Thus the "abounding iniquity" that the Apostles and Jewish Christians had to face and endure caused many Jewish believers to give up and throw in the towel.
13 "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." This end is obviously something that was near and obviously within reach. And it has everything to do with the questions that were posed in verse 3 at the beginning of this great discourse. But it has absolutely nothing to do with any terminus beyond the lifetime of the Apostles. In other words, not only does Premillennialism find no basis of support in the Olivet Discourse, none of the "Four Views" do either.
14 "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." A great handicap in interpreting this verse comes in the form of assumptions about what the word "world" (Greek, οἰκουμένῃ) means as an English term. The standard lexicons (I believe) are unhelpful too. They define this word variously as meaning the "Roman Empire," "the whole habitable earth," or "the whole Greek world," etc. These definitions are unhelpful because they do not comport to the meaning of the word as it is used in the New Testament or as it is similarly used in the Christian world today.
Conventionally it has long been construed to denote the planet or history as we know it. However, the Greek word behind this verse is "ecumene" which is used today by Christian authorities to describe, not the planet, nor history as we know it, but the global community of Christian churches, regardless of denomination. This usage comes much closer to the truth of its meaning than James Strong gives.
In the context of the Olivet Discourse the true meaning of ecumene is the worldwide household of Biblical Judaism. In other words, Jesus was telling the Apostles that once the Gospel was preached to the entire nation of the Jews (that is Jews and proselytes in countries and cities and villages beyond the borders of Judæa), the end of the era would arrive. And this interpretation is buttressed by the very next verse.
Matthew 24:15 KJV - When ye therefore shall see the - 15 "When YE therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand,)" What is this "abomination of desolation"? Many answers are offered and many are of the opinion that the Abomination of Desolation was committed by the Romans. Most Futurists and many Full Preterists and a good many Partial Preterists fall in line with this explanation. It is believed that this injustice against the Jewish people was achieved in the summer of A.D.70 when Titus and his troops brought the Roman standards into the Temple area. Yet the Romans were cast out of Jerusalem in the Summer of A.D.66 and in the retreat that followed the Roman commander Cestius lost just below 6,000 troops at a passage at the famed Beit Horon where the Maccabees staged their first great victory against the Greeks 230 years prior.12
However, from the Summer of 66 to Spring of A.D.70 the Romans were not present in the city, let alone the Temple. So since the Abomination of Desolation happens at the beginning and the victorious Romans brought their standards AFTER ALL THE DAMAGE HAD BEEN DONE around August of A.D. 70, it seems fair to ask if this is really it? We need to ask some important questions in order to find out. We need to know exactly what history can tell us about Roman attitudes about the Jewish Temple: According to Josephus the Romans revered God's House.13
But what does the historian tell us about the Roman's objectives about the future of the Temple? He tells us the Romans hoped to save the Temple.14 It was the rebel Jews who wanted total destruction, and, "instead of concord, had chosen sedition; instead of peace, war; and before satiety and abundance, a famine. That they had begun with their own hands to burn down that Temple, which we [Romans] have preserved hitherto; and that therefore they deserved to eat such as this was."15
There are many serious and complicated problems to be overcome if we avert that incidents only arising and culminating in the year A.D.70 fulfill the Abomination of Desolation:
(1) It ignores what the Jews did in A.D. 66 (i.e., all Romans were either killed or routed out of Jerusalem on November 15, A.D.66).
(2) It disregards the fact that the Church fled Jerusalem at the very beginning of the war (in 66).
(3) It would mean the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem all the way till the summer of 70 to even see this, which they, obeying our Lord, DID NOT STAY. If the Jews committed sacrilege in the Temple in A.D.66, and if the Christians abandoned the city that same year, and if none of the Apostles stayed on to see what the Romans would do, then there is but one answer: the Abomination of Desolation has to do with JEWISH trespasses against the sanctity of the Temple commencing at the very beginning of the Great Revolt.
Now let us turn our attention to interpretations of Matthew 24 that are even more far afield: medieval and twentieth-century applications.
The Papacy. The idea that Matthew 24 dove-tails into a future end of the world and that the Book of Revelation is an expansion of these themes and is connected to the ultimate fate of Roman Catholicism is a sacrosanct interpretation in many Protestant and Restoration movement religious traditions. This interpretation is far more pervasive than even the Watchtower tale. Protestants, for almost five hundred years, have viewed the Pontifical office of the Roman Catholic Church as an affront to the Bishopric of Jesus Christ as the true head of the Christian people. Those who believe this way connect this verse with 2 Thessalonians 2 and the Sea Beast and the Great Whore of the Revelation of John. Without knowing what Jesus said about Jerusalem being requited for all the righteous blood shed upon the earth in Matthew 23, this rhetoric may sound extremely convincing. In addition, anyone not familiar with the history of the Jewish people or the concept of audience relevance would be susceptible to think a Catholic connection makes sense within the parameters of Matthew 24. But the entire contextual flow of Matthew's testimony of the message and ministry of Christ make it highly improbable and even impossible that Jesus had in mind a Church apostasy that would not come to fruition for so many hundreds of years outside of the Apostles' lifetime.
Twentieth Century Interpretations
In the twentieth century, some have said the Abomination of Desolation was the League of Nations. This fanciful Watchtower ruse was kept up till the time that organization ceased and the United Nations came into existence. Without batting an eye the Watchtower, from that time forward, has insisted to its vast army of Witnesses that this world-wide governmental organization is exactly what Jesus intended for the Apostles to look for. Absurd! In Watchtower eschatology the U.N. is excoriated as being such a "detestable thing" because it supposedly usurps the place of God as the Lord of the universe. And yet the Governing Body of the Jehovah's Witnesses do not really believe the United Nations is as wicked as they pretend in their publications.
The European Union
"Revived Roman Empire"? Another interpretation of the Abomination of Desolation is that it has to do with a "revival" of the Roman Empire in the guise of the European Economic Community states. According to this interpretation the Abomination of Desolation will be committed by a so-called "future Fuehrer." In this scenario a one-world government (or "New World Order") is said to be forming to finally fulfill what was foretold in Daniel and in Matthew 24 and Revelation. But this theory ignores entirely too much to be taken seriously!
First, It totally ignores Jewish salvation history. Had it had Biblical redemptive history in consideration, the first question that would have been asked is: Did the Romans take kingdom power away from the Greeks as the Greeks did from the Persians and the Persians did from the Babylonians--and if so, when? If the Romans did not take kingdom power from the Greeks and some other people did, that would mean that all this talk about a "revived Roman Empire" cloaked as anything European or American, is of little real consequence. In fact it is meaningless since neither the European Common Market nor the U.S. government took kingdom power away from the Greeks at the time of the Maccabee rebellion. Again, bringing these entities in as serious possibilities in this discussion is a moot point to begin with. But we have shown in The Book of Daniel and the Absolute Course of Jewish History that none other than the Hasmoneans took kingdom power from the Greeks in the twenty-five years of war between 164-141 B.C.
Well, someone will assert that the Romans turned around and took kingdom power away from the Hasmoneans when they made the Judæa a tributary and client state in the Roman Republic in 63 B.C. So, (it might be countered) the Romans had kingdom power in the days of our Lord. But this objection can be overcome by simply pointing to the Parable of the Vineyard where Jesus clearly indicated that the Judaean State was STILL in possession of the kingdom of God even under Herodean and Roman auspices (Matthew 21:43).
So what does this all mean? What does this add up to? This simply means that the feet of iron and earthenware and the condition of being "partly strong and partly broken" was a reality of Jewish civilization from the time of the usurpation of Herod down to the end of the Temple at which time the rule, authority and power would be transferred to the people of the saints of the Most High God. This is in direct accordance to the prophecies disclosed in Daniel's Night Vision.
Daniel 9:24-27 and the True Meaning of the Abomination of Desolation
Since there is so much confusion and misinformation about what the Abomination of Desolation is and when it was supposed to happen, it is a good idea to take a look at some important verses and ask and answer some key questions. If the Abomination of Desolation is not a current events or a impending reality, (the Pope, the United Nations, the European Economic Union, etc, etc), what is it? We read in Daniel 9:27,
"And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."
In this passage we learn that (1) a prince shall confirm a covenant with many (2) for one week, (3) in the midst of the week he will cause sacrifice and oblation to cease" (4) for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate (5) even until the consummation (6) and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
One, A prince shall come. . . after the death of the true Messiah (vs. 26)
Two, He will confirm a covenant . . for one week, or seven years (27a).
Three, He will cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease. . .sacrifice and oblation relates to the system of priestly administration founded by Moses.
Four, And for the overspreading of abominations. "The spread of unspeakable trespasses." The New English Translation of the Septuagint reads,
"and in the Temple there will be an abomination of desolations until the consummation of a season, and a consummation will be given for the desolation"
Theodotion's translation of the LXX reads the same way, but Brenton's Septuagint reads this way,
"and on the Temple shall be the abomination of desolation; and at the end of the time and end shall be put to the desolation."
From these various readings of the text we can see that the MT translation reads quite differently from the three other LXX based translations. The LXX translations may be preferred because they each appear to support the idea that the abomination of desolation is not a single act, but a process that lasts "for a season." To understand this season Daniel 7:25; Matthew 24:22, Mark 13:20 and Revelation 11:2; 12:6 and 14 and 13:5 sheds significant light and insight. They each tell of the length of this abominable and desolating process as consisting of "a time, and times, and half a time" or, in other words, the half of a seven, or three and a half years or forty-two months (Revelation 13:5). In other words a presence in the Temple (which ought not be there) is defending the city in a war, that causes the sanctity of the Holiest Place to cease and the sacred routines of the Holy Place to come to a sorry end. The LXX readings make it clear that that season of abomination will come to its consummation "at the end of the time." What brings the abomination to its end? We shall see shortly that it was the successful entrance of the Romans in A.D.70. Their arrival heralded the close of this harrowing and unforgettable chapter of Jewish history.
We will document this with several important quotes from the eye-witness accounts of Josephus.
Josephus is very specific about who the characters are who caused the Holy City to be doomed to destruction. This was very serious stuff! It is quite a bit different from the message read into the Olivet Discourse by the Interpolators! And it is interesting to note that the founding of the Israeli State did not also re-establish a priesthood or any of the circumstances Matthew 24 speaks of or leads up to. In other words, the present existence of the Israeli State does not also reinstate the conditions our Lord described about the lead-up to the destruction of Jerusalem twenty centuries ago.
Now, let's go on. . . Verses 16-22 zero in on actions which make it positively clear that our Lord's discourse is not on far away events in either time or location. Since the events from verses 3-15 manifestly have to do with the sacred Jewish rites and Jerusalem's establishment coming into disrepute by detestable actions, twentieth or twenty-first century Manhattan, New York, Rome, or Brussels, Belgium or anywhere else simply evaporate into thin air as viable interpretive options. The Lord says these happenings at the Temple signal that those in Judaea should make haste into the mountains. Therefore the preceding twelve verses are about the lead-up to the Destruction of Jerusalem and the consummation of the Mosaic Epoch.
17 "Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house:. . ." Here Christ stresses the imperative that at the time of the occupation of the Temple by those who do not belong there, haste must be made to vacate the city. But how can we conceive of Christians throughout Jerusalem even being aware of events happening at the Temple? It could only occur if what was to happen was a very large public event. The next question we need to know is if such an event ever happened? The answer is, Yes! Josephus first describes how Cestius fled away from Jerusalem and forfeited a victory that could have been his for no reason at all and how he then lost close to six thousand of his troops to the Jews at a narrow pass in Beit Horon. That, as we noted above, was where the Greeks lost many thousands under the righteous and courageous leadership of Judas the Maccabee.
Here's what happened next:
"But those who had pursued after Cestius, when they were returned back to Jerusalem, they overbore some of those that favored the Romans by violence, and some they persuaded by entreaties to join them, and got together IN GREAT NUMBERS in the Temple, and appointed a great many generals for the war."
This is the Abomination of Desolation that Jesus told the Apostles to watch for. This is what happens at the beginning of the hostilities; these things unfold when Christians and their Apostles are still able to make haste from the city. And it happens when Roman power in the holy city (which had had a firm hold on it from the time of Gnaus Pompey the Great in 63 B.C. till this present time of A.D.66) was now broken, disabled and routed. The Jews now had COMPLETE, UNILATERAL AND UNEQUIVOCAL political control over their own capital for the first time in 129 years and it was not going to be nice because terrible acts of impious sacrilege and destruction are now about to EXPLODE in living but gruesome colors.
18 "Neither let him which is in the field return to take his clothes." Such haste is to be made and so dangerous the development that under no circumstances are the Christians to attempt to take anything with them. They are as Lot, his wife and two daughters and must flee from the condemned city at once without looking back in forbidden inquiry or a final fading glance.
19 "And woe unto them that are with child, and them that give suck in those days!" The difficulties of escape with the clothes on one's back are one thing, the extra burden and hardship of escaping with children and infants quite another. It is not a picture of the righteous suddenly caught up to the clouds and away from the cares of the world that we see, but Christians fleeing as refugees and inconvenienced in their journey by anything other than their own personal survival.
20 "But pray YE that YOUR flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day."It is fair to say that at the time of this speech, Jesus did not know either what season of the year or day of the week these events might take place. This inability to know the precise time is again voiced in verse 36. We will deal with it shortly.
21 "For THEN shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time no, nor ever shall be." Daniel 12:1-2 comes into view here. It reads,
"And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince that standeth for the children of thy people. And there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, everyone that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
That a resurrection of the dead is wed to this time of trouble is not a new or false idea. Jesus himself alludes to the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked in many of his sayings in Matthew 12 and 13. He does so again in 24:31 and the New Testament consistentlys conceive of this one event (the Destruction of Jerusalem) as ALSO containing the resurrection of the dead (See 2 Corinthians 5:1-4; Revelation 6:9-19; 11:1-18 cf. Wars 6.5.3:299-300). The Great Tribulation (sometimes called "Jacob's Trouble") and the resurrection of the dead are pictured by the Lord in Matthew 24:20-21 as happening in tandem with the Church's flight from Jerusalem and Judaea after the Abomination of Desolation was initiated in Matthew 24:15.
And now we need to speak about the difficulty of that tribulation and who made it so. Josephus writes,
". . .the Zealots and the multitude of the Idumeans fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats; and, for the ordinary sort, they were destroyed in what place soever they caught them. But for the noblemen and the youth, they first caught them and bound them, and shut them up in prison, and put off their slaughter, in hopes that some of them would turn over to their own party; but not one of them would comply with their desires, but all of them preferred death before being enrolled among such wicked wretches as acted against their own country. But this refusal of theirs brought upon them terrible torments; for they were so scourged and tortured, that their bodies were not able to sustain their torments, till at length, and with difficulty, they had the favor to be slain. Those whom they caught in the daytime, were slain in the night, and then their bodies were carried out and thrown away, that there might be room for other prisoners; and the terror that was upon the people was so great that no one had courage enough either to weep openly for the dead man that was related to him, or bury him: but those that were shut up in their houses, could only shed tears in secret, and durst not even groan without great caution, lest any of their enemies should hear them; for if they did, those that mourned for others soon underwent the same death that those whom they mourned for. Only in the night time would they take up a little dust and throw it upon their bodies; and even some that were the most ready to expose themselves to danger, would do it in the daytime; and there were twelve thousand of the better sort who perished in this manner."
Josephus is not here describing a Roman scene of sinister slaughter and sadistic acts against the Jewish people, but an internecine "free-for-all" where large baser elements of the Second Jewish Commonwealth CITIZENRY (the Zealots, the Idumeans) came to Jerusalem to inflict punishments upon the people who did not have the good sense and wherewithal to get out of doomed capitol as fast as their feet could carry them.
22 "And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." The Greek word for "shortened" here means to "dock" or divide in half. Contrary to the claims of Dispensational Premillennialists, the Tribulation foreseen by our Lord was to be of only a three year and six month duration, not seven straight years (See Revelation 11:2; 12:6 and 13:5). No full scale seven year war in Jerusalem was allowable because of the danger that the Roman reprisal against it would spread and wipe out even the Christians. Therefore, ONLY a half of seven was allotted for the war (and DULY came to pass in the years A.D.66-70) and the remainder was set off to be fulfilled in another time and in another day (See Revelation 20:3, 7-15).
23 "Then if any man shall say unto YOU, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not." This verse brings again the focus of these events as relevant to the Apostles and the first believers. Jesus has not strayed into events afar off. Nor has he forgotten their initial questions to him.
24 "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." The false christs and the false prophets are noted in Josephus for their sinister plot to entice the Jerusalemites and the pilgrims of the Diaspora to STAY in the city.
"A false prophet was the occasion of these people's destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God: AND THIS IN ORDER TO KEEP THEM FROM DESERTING, AND THAT THEY MIGHT BE BUOYED UP ABOVE FEAR AND CARE BY SUCH HOPES. Now, a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes for such deliverance"(My emphasis added).
We do not necessarily know what the function of the false christs and false prophets are until we read of the actual historical events in Josephus. It is with that added layer of information that we soon realize what the foes of Christ were telling the people to do and believe the EXACT OPPOSITE of what Christ has both foretold and instructed: to know that the city WOULD certainly be destroyed (contrary to Rabbinic Messianic hopes) and that all who hoped to be saved MUST (for the sake of their salvation, their safety, and their lives) flee the city as fast and they can.
25 And Jesus confirms this when he tells his men, "Behold, I have told YOU before."
26 "Wherefore if they shall say unto YOU, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not." Jesus sternly warns the Apostles (and by extension the first Christians) that the religious deceivers and the revolutionary messiahs were not to be believed or given credense on any account.
27 "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." The coming of the Son of man" here is the same as that foretold by our Lord in Matthew 10:23 and borrows its motif from Daniel 7:7-27. There it means a PUBLIC demonstration and TRANSACTION by the people of the saints of the Most High God being brought to the Ancient of Days to receive the kingdom, glory and power and dominion from the fourth sea beast (the seditious Jewish State). Here Jesus is crystal clear that this will be an event all will see. So they should not believe that it will be done in a corner or in some secret chamber.
28 "For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles will be gathered together." The popular vision of the coming of the Son of man in the eyes of many today resembles a "sunny day in the park" event. But this is not the view of our Lord. This august transaction was to produce war, bloodshed and carnage. It was to be a judgment against a rebellious people and a sinful capital. It was to be a Divine Visitation against a wicked and perverse civilization. It was to bring the holy warriors who esteemed themselves "the sons of light" but were indeed "the sons of darkness" to dis-incarnation and to the holy tribunal of God where they would be judged according to their works and for their forsaking the commandments of their Lawgiver, Moses. And at this time God would recon with them for their brazen willful denial, crucifixion and slandering their Savior and God, Jesus Christ.
29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:" The word "immediately" in the Greek is "eutheos." It is translated immediately and straightway in our Authorized Version. Of the former see Matthew 4:22; 8:3; 14:31; 26:74; Mark 2:8, 12; 4:5, 16, 17 and 29; Acts 9:34 and 16:10; Galatians 1:16 and Revelation 4:2. Of the latter see Matthew 4:20; 14:22 and 27; 21:2 and 3; 25:15; 27:48; Luke 5:39 and Acts 22:29. Both the words "immediately" and "straightway" support the idea that Jesus intended the Apostles to believe his personal Second Coming would be in tandem with the Destruction of Jerusalem and not dissociated from it as conventional interpolations and eisegesis of this chapter falsely insist. In other matters related to just this one verse, what are we to think about the sun, the moon and the stars?
Now, if the sun was to really go out and the moon was to really refuse to shine and the stars were to really drop from their places in the sky, certainly this would mean the collapse of the physical universe, right? Many do believe this is how this verse should be understood. In fact, it is their chief defense that the Olivet Discourse is really about a coming future event and not fulfilled circumstances. However, there are antecedent traditions and figures of speech relating to the violent overthrow of governments in ancient Semitic history. Isaiah chapter 13 (the fall of Babylon) and 34 (the fall of Edom) and Jeremiah 4:23-27 (the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.), are just three of the many places in the Old Testament which attest that Jesus is by no means introducing the idea that the destruction of Jerusalem is somehow contingent upon the disappearance of the physical universe.
On the contrary, the destruction of the holy city entails the disturbance of the non-human and human powers of the Second Temple civilization and these are figuratively likened to the sun, the moon and the stars.
30a "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn. . ." What is the "sign of the Son of man in heaven"? The sign of the Son of man in heaven could very well have been the introduction by the Romans of the one hundred pound rocks shot by a bullustae that the Seventh Bowl judgment heralded. In Matthew 21:43 and 44 Jesus had announced to the chief priests and Pharisees,
"The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."
Yet when we turn over to Revelation the sixteenth chapter, when it nears the discussion of the Destruction of Jerusalem, notice what Jesus says,
"Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." And they gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, "It is done." And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountain were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great"(Revelation 16:15-21).
Now, there are two items in this prophecy that I want to direct your attention to: Jesus' announcement in the Parable of the Vineyard that the disobedient husbandmen will be ground to powder by the stone and Jesus' herald in Revelation 16 that he is coming as a thief. These two items come together in connection to the Seventh Vial which is a deluge of one hundred pound stones upon Jerusalem and this curious prodigy is recorded in the Wars of the Jews for all to see. Note what is said,
"The engines, that all the legions had already prepared for them, were admirably contrived; bill still more extraordinary ones belonged to the tenth legion: those that threw darts and those that threw stones, were more forcible and larger than the rest, by which they not only repelled the excursion of the Jews, but drove those away that were on the walls also. Now the stones that were cast were the of the weight of a talent, and carried two furlongs and farther. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those who stood first in the way, but by those that were beyond them by a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness; accordingly the watchman that sat upon the towers gave them notice when the engine was let go, and the stone came from it, and cried out aloud in their own country language, 'THE SON COMETH!" so those that were in its way stood off, and threw themselves down upon the ground; by which means, and by their thus guarding themselves, the stone fell down and did them no harm. But the Romans contrived how to prevent that by blackening the stones, who then could aim at them with success, when the stone was not discerned beforehand, as it had been till the; and so they destroyed many of them at one blow."
In the course of our examination of the Gospel According to Matthew we have noticed many themes and continuities. We noted what details and circumstances placed Jesus' message consistently within the Second Jewish Commonwealth and not the twentieth or twenty-first century, and nowhere will the disparity between the real truth of Matthew's eye-witness testimony show a more stark contrast to the traditional rhetoric of futurism than in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. The chapter is an organic nexus; and, importantly, a natural zenith or culmination. Its interpretation, in isolation, would certainly deprive the Bible student of its depth, character and meaning and verity. What follows is the continuation of where we left off in Part I . . .
30b ". . . and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Verse 30b is the classic unequivocal promise of Christ that he would be seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory in connection with the Abomination of Desolation of the Second Jewish State Temple. This mysterious event has not come to us in any surviving historical report. However, it is not less true, serious or fundamental to our faith as Christians, nor do we have in the New Testament witness any alternative scenarios. For our present purposes a proper discussion and inquiry must focus around eight points that will help us frame this topic and set it before us for a proper analysis and evaluation.
First, We have Promises. These promises of the Lord's glorious and sudden return can be found in two categories: Old Testament and New Testament. In the Old Testament we have Isaiah 66:5; Daniel 7:21-22 and Malachi 3:1-4. It is clear in these promises that Christ was to appear in connection with persecution and in the days of the existence of the Jewish State Temple. Those days are now long behind us. In the New Testament such promises follow a similar pattern.
In Matthew 3:7-12 John the Baptist evoked images reminiscent of motifs in Malachi 3 of the Lord purging the Pharisees and the Sadducees at his Second Coming.
In Matthew 10:22-23 both the end and the coming of the Son of man are linked to the lifetime and oppressions and persecutions directed against the Holy Apostles.
In Matthew 16:27-28 the Second Coming is tied to the lifetime of some of those who stood there in audience with Christ at Caesarea Philippi.
In Matthew 23:39 the appearance of Christ is linked with a Jewish confession welcoming Jesus' Visitation and, in Matthew 26:63-64 Jesus ties it to his public manifestation to the judgment of the Jewish world.
None of these particulars can survive the brutal assault or injury of being moved around in history and set in contexts which are foreign and completely unrelated to the Jewish salvation history timeline.
Second, we have the circumstances. According to this very chapter the visible appearance of Jesus is attached to the Abomination of Desolation. The Apostle Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 also envisages Christ's Second Coming as happening just when Jewish wickedness has invaded the innermost sanctums of their own holy estate. This is reliably but not exhaustively reported in the writings of Josephus the Hasmonean.
Third, we have to consider Jesus' oaths and statements of certitude by him and his Apostles. For example, Matthew 10:23,
"Verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have fled to all the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come."
Fourth, we have Matthew 24:34 (explained below) and 1 Thessalonians 4:15,
"For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout. . ."
And finally Revelation 1:1, "The revelation (apocalypse) of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass. . ."
We could continue on and cite many many more examples (e.g., Revelation 22:6, 7, 10, 12 and 20), but you get the idea.
Fifth, we have audience relevance. Audience relevance harks back to what was intended and understood by the original audience. This is a dominant consideration because in it we are looking at the lifetime of the Apostles and the first Christians. This ingredient is important to this subject because of its intrinsic connection with their plight in the final years of Moses' epoch and how the coming of the Lord is described in the Word of God as bringing their adversaries to justice and eternity. In this regard passages like Matthew 10:14-23; 24:9-13; Luke 21:12-19 and John 16:1-4 describe gloomy days that were hard to bear and the relief that would surely come.
Sixth, we have antecedent traditions of figures of speech. A proper understanding and familiarity with Jewish traditions surrounding figures of speech helps Bible students easily understand and grasp the intent and implications of certain expressions which, in light of ancient Semitic usage. Figures of speech do not hold the same significance as they do in our modern Western civilization. For example, when Jeremiah described the havoc that was brought upon the First Commonwealth as a result of King Nebuchadnezzar's successful campaigns he said it like this:
"I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heaven were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down AT THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD, and by his fierce anger. For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; YET WILL I NOT MAKE A FULL END" (Jeremiah 4:23-27).
When Jeremiah penned those words, what did he have in mind? What is interesting about this disaster (which happened in 587 B.C.) is that Jeremiah describes the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah in ultimate terms and yet the Lord says "I will not make a full end." In other words, the language was not meant to represent complete and total destruction, in any case.
Seventh, we must consider the setting: All of the above and a Jewish civil war. Civil strife is foretold by the Lord in Matthew 10:21, 34-36; 24:10. This setting of civil disturbances along with the combination of other factors weave into a single multifaceted event and there is absolutely no warrant to believe Jesus could just show up out of the blue today or tonight or next week or next year without any of these "ingredients" existing.
Eighth, we must take into account and take seriously the language of immincence. The language I refer to contains words like "immediately" (Matthew 24:29), "watch" (Mark 13:35-37), "wait" (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10), "appearing" (2 Timothy 4:1), "seeing" and "looking", "hasting" (2 Peter 3:11-14), and "apocalypti" (unveiling) (in Revelation 1:1). These terms, in English, convey the idea that something could be seen and was looming within the then foreseeable future. However, this language of imminence is in direct conflict with the interpretive so-called Amillennial position of Christian officialdom which insists that the language of New Testament eschatology is not so much that of imminence as it is of immanence.
The language of immanence is not unique to Amillennialism, but is also conveyed in Premillennialism in the rhetoric of abeyance, delay and postponement. Furthermore, in Amillennialism and in Postmillennialism it is expressed in terms of subtle equivocations that seek, in the end, to extract the Second Coming from its indigenous environment and place it on a blank canvas of the end of the world history/ and or time as we now know it.
The language of imminence is true by him who is True, and the latter is a product of desperation and sophistication made necessary by the ignorance and fears and denials and defiance of men.
Ninth, observations of friends and foes of Christ are another tool that can be used to reach a definite conclusion that something highly unusual most likely took place during the civil war and remains mysterious and elusive because it has not come down to us as an independent report. Now, this exercise takes us back to points One and Two but this time through the eyes of those who admit the premise but deny the conclusion. A number of dignities who have made comments on this subject include the great British commentator, William Barclay (a Christian) and Bertrand Russell, (an Atheist), Paula Fredricksen, a Jewish professor, Samuel Levine, a Jewish polemicist, and C.S. Lewis, a Christian philosopher.
We will examine Barclay's comments below and note how they re-confirm to us what we see with our own eyes. What we see, he sees too, but he admits it and squirms as he desperately tries to explain it without actually agreeing to what it manifestly says.
Barclay has the following comments on Matthew 10:23, under the heading, "THE COMING OF THE KING" Matt. 10:23 (continued),
"This passage contains one strange saying which we cannot honestly neglect. Matthew depicts Jesus as sending out his men, and, as he does so, saying to them,
"You will not complete your tour of the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man shall come." On the face of it that seems to mean that before his men had completed their preaching tour, his day of glory and his return to power would have taken place. The difficulty is just this-that did not in fact happen, and, if at that moment. Jesus had that expectation, he was mistaken. If he said this in this way, he foretold something which actually did not happen. But there is a perfectly good and sufficient explanation of this apparent difficulty.
The people of the early Church believed intensely in the second coming of Jesus, and they believed it would happen soon, certainly within their own lifetime. There could be nothing more natural than that, because they were living in days of savage persecution, and they were longing for the day of their release and their glory. The result was that they fastened on every possible saying of Jesus which could be interpreted as foretelling his triumphant and glorious return, and sometimes they quite naturally used things which Jesus said, and read into them something more definite than was originally there.
We can see this process happening within the pages of the New Testament itself. There are three versions of the one saying of Jesus. Let us set them down one after another:
Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom (Matt. 16:28). Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power (Mk.9:1). But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God (Lk.9:27).
Now it is clear that these are three versions of the same saying. Mark is the earliest gospel, and therefore Mark's version is most likely to be strictly accurate. Mark says that there were some listening to Jesus who would not die until they saw the Kingdom of God coming with power. That was gloriously true, for within thirty years of the Cross the message of Crucified and Risen Christ had swept across the world and had reached Rome, the capital of the world. Indeed men were being swept into the Kingdom; indeed the Kingdom was coming with power. Luke transmits the saying in the same way as Mark.
Now look at Matthew. His version is slightly different; he says that there are some who will not die until they see the Son of Man coming in power. That, in fact, did not happen. The explanation is that Matthew was writing between A.D. 80 and 90, in days when terrible persecution was raging. Men were clutching at everything which promised release from agony; and he took a saying which foretold the spread of the Kingdom and turned it into a saying which foretold the return of Christ within a lifetime—and who shall blame him?
That is what Matthew has done here. Take this saying in our passage and write it as Mark or Luke would have written it: "You will not complete your tour of the cities of Israel, into the Kingdom of God shall come." That was blessedly true, for as the tour went on, men's hearts opened to Jesus Christ, and they took him as Master and Lord.
In a passage like this we must not think of Jesus as mistaken; we must rather think that Matthew read into a promise of the coming of the Kingdom a promise of the second coming of Jesus Christ. And he did so because, in days of terror, men clutched at the hope of Christ; and Christ did come to them in the Spirit, for no man ever suffered alone for Christ."
Barclay's comments try to address the issue, but fail by swerving into a number of directions. In the end his final comments hit a sour note and basically "flat-line." It is not an exegesis he offers, but an excuse that instead raises the question of the basic inspiration and trustworthiness of the Scriptures and to what degree fear and desperation have shaped the texts we rely on for our salvation and standing with God. Indeed, if Barclay is right, then our expectation of eternal salvation through belief in the message, ministry and death, burial and resurrection of God's Son has been seriously compromised by "tampering" at a very early time in the development of the New Testament canon. If he's right we actually do not know anything about the Second Coming because all of the places where those promises appear place them close at hand to the lifetime of the first Christians (e.g., Acts 6:14; Romans 13:11-12; 16:20; 1 Corinthians 1:5-9; 7:29; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18-19; 3:2-3; Jude 12-16; Revelation 1:1; 2:24-25; 3:3 and 3:9-11; 16:15; 22:6, 7, 10, 17 and 20). If he is correct, we would have to "play the devil" and say none of the core texts really mean what they say because they "really should say" the event was a very, very long way off.
The Critical Skeptic
Bertrand Russell, a famous British philosopher, comes next with comments which verify that he could objectively see that Jesus made certain definite assertions about the vicinity of his Second Coming. In Why I Am Not a Christian, a work of Russell's written in 1927, we read the following comments, under Defects In Christ's Teaching. There he reasons:
"Having granted the excellence of these maxims, I come to certain points in which I do not believe that one can grant either the superlative wisdom or the superlative goodness of Christ as depicted in the Gospels; and here I may say that one is not concerned with the historical question. Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one. I am concerned with Christ as He appears in the Gospels, taking the Gospel narrative as it stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, he certainly thought his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time.
There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance: "Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come." Then He says: "There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom"; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of his earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching. When He said, "Take no thought for the morrow," and things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought the second coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs did not count.
I have, as a matter of fact, known some Christians who did believe the second coming was imminent. I knew a person who frightened his congregation terribly by telling them that the second coming was very imminent indeed, but they were much consoled when they found that he was planting trees in his garden. The early Christians really did believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent. In this respect clearly He was not so wise as some other people have been, and he certainly was not superlatively wise."  (All emphasis mine).
Russell was perfectly capable of opening his Bible and seeing what Jesus plainly said and he had no reason to apologize for it; many Christians do, however, and are embarrassed and ashamed in what they see as slips of Christ's tongue and tardy events that they want to ignore because they know not how to justify them as the truth, nor do they want to frankly confess that they believe their Master was grossly wrong. He was not wrong; it only appears that way.
Award Winning Jewish Scholar
Our next witness to the fact of the belief of imminence in early Christian thought is William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture at Boston University, Paula Fredriksen. A historian of early Christianity, she holds degrees from Wellesley College (1973), Oxford University (1974), and Princeton University (1979). In 1988 Fredriksen was awarded the Yale University Press Governor's Award for Best Book, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus.
In 1999 she won the National Jewish Book Award for her work Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews. It is from this celebrated treatise that we will be taking note of Ms. Fredriksen's observations. Referring to 2 Peter 3:8 Fredriksen says,
'"Peter" repudiated the obvious meaning of the Gospel proclamation of the Second Coming by arguing for a vastly expanded view of time: Each of God's days is equal to 365,000 of ours. This is why, he could then explain, the End was late: It only seemed late. His Christian contemporary John of Patmos, on the contrary, stimulated perhaps by the outbreak of local persecutions, inferred from current events that the ancient prophecies were falling due. Creating a pastiche of images from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and various Christian traditions, he insisted that the End was indeed at hand: "The time is near." "Behold" says the revealing angel, speaking on behalf of the Lord God and the Lamb (that is, of Christ), "behold, I am coming soon" (Rv 1:3, 22:7). Christian apocalyptic would go on to have a long, continuous and tumultuous career. As our own era moves to the year 2000, we hear its noisy enthusiasts still.
But in the ancient canon we can trace its "official" diminution as the tradition itself perdures and changes. Within the New Testament, along the anti apocalyptic gradient, we see a rough inverse correspondence: The later the writing, the lower its level of commitment to an imminent Apocalypse; the earlier the writing (i.e., Mark and, before him, Paul) the higher.
Can we ride this trajectory backward into the documentary void that surrounds the historical Jesus? I think so. But we need more evidence, first, before making the case."
Fredriksen's observations of a commitment to the early Second Coming dropping off in the later parts of the New Testament are not correct. And what she says about 2 Peter 3:8 is definitely OUT OF THE QUESTION! We will address what the Apostle Peter taught in his epistle in our comments on Matthew 24:34 and verse 46 below.
The Anti-Christian Missionary
Our next witness is Jewish polemicist, Samuel Levine. In his book with the provocative title, You Take Jesus, I'll Take God and subtitled How to Refute Christian Missionaries, he writes these stunning remarks,
"The success of the Christian claim or its failure rests to a very large extent on the theory of the second coming. First of all, the explanation above that verses 31, 32 and 33 [of Jeremiah 31] refer to the time around 29 AD., and verse 34 applies to 2,000 or more years later seems very forced, if not absurd. There is no indication whatsoever that this interpretation was intended.It is clearly an answer born of desperation. In addition, there is a major historical dilemma whichseems to explain why the doctrine of the second coming was invented. H.M. Waddams, who was the Residentiary Canon of the Canterbury Cathedral in 1968, wrote a book explaining why it took so many years for the Church to get organized into a formal organized group. His answer is that even though verses such as Matthew 24:34 may mean that Jesus is referring to a future generation (i.e., substitute that" for "this," which of course is very forced) nonetheless most of the early Christians thought the simple interpretation was correct. It corroborated the impressions they had of the message of Jesus and so they thought that Jesus would return in their lifetime. After all, Jesus did say, in Matthew 16:28, "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the son of man coming in his kingdom."
However, after many years went by, and the generation that lived in Jesus' generation had all died, it became rather apparent that Jesus would not reappear in the near future. The doctrine was therefore changed so that his reappearance was not necessarily going to be in the near future. . .[t]hus there is an excellent chance that the doctrine of the second coming arose out of a historical dilemma, and not because of the Christian claim that there is a theological dilemma which justified it."
In Levine's notes he goes even further . . .
"Matthew 24 discusses the end of the world, and then, in verse 34, after describing all sorts of unusual prophecies, Jesus says, "Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." The natural reading of the sentence is that the generation to whom Jesus is talking to would not pass. That is what "this generation" seems to mean--this very generation that I live among. However, the events did not occur during that generation. Later Christians therefore claimed that Jesus meant that when the prophecies begin, then the generation that begins to see those events shall not pass away until they are all fulfilled. Thus the sentence really should read, "that generation shall not pass away," which is why the Christian interpretation is forced, and was not really accepted at first."
We can agree with Levine's observations, but not his conclusions. We believe, of course, that he is right in describing the present Christian interpretation of Matthew 24:34 as forced and awkward.
The renowned C.S.Lewis, another British great, known for his wit and depth of thought, writes in an essay called The World's Last Night some ideas that might prove truly disturbing to the devout believer who has never really considered the implications both of what the New Testament teaches about the Second Coming and how the Church represents it in her confessions. Lewis is very frank on the importance of the Second Coming to Christian doctrine and says,
"Yet it seems to me impossible to retain in any recognisable form our belief in the Divinity of Christ and the truth of Christian revelation while abandoning, or even persistently neglecting, the promised, and threatened, Return. "He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead," says the Apostles' Creed. "This same Jesus," said the angels in Acts, "shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." "Hereafter," said our Lord himself (by those words inviting crucifixion), "shall ye see the Son of Man. . . coming in the clouds of heaven." If this is not an integral part of the faith once given to the saints, I do not know what is. In the following pages I shall endeavor to deal with some of the thoughts that may deter modern men from a firm belief in, or a due attention to, the return or Second Coming of the Saviour. I have no claim to speak as an expert in any of the studies involved, and merely put forward the reflections which have arisen in my own mind and have seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to be helpful. They are all submitted to the correction of wiser heads.
The grounds for modern embarrassment about this doctrine fall into two groups, which may be called the theoretical and the practical. I will deal with the theoretical first.
Many are shy of this doctrine because they are reacting (in my opinion very properly reacting) against a school of thought which is associated with the great name of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. According to that school, Christ's teaching about his own return and the end of the world—what theologians call his “apocalyptic”—was the very essence of his message. All his other doctrines radiated from it; his moral teaching everywhere presupposed a speedy end of the world. If pressed to an extreme, this view, as I think Chesterton said, amounts to seeing in Christ little more than an earlier William Miller, who created a local “scare.” I am not saying that Dr. Schweitzer pressed it to that conclusion: but it has seemed to some that his thought invites us in that direction. Hence, from fear of that extreme, arises a tendency to soft-pedal what Schweitzer's school has overemphasized. For my own part I hate and distrust reactions not only in religion but in everything. Luther surely spoke very good sense when he compared humanity to a drunkard who, after falling off his horse on the right, falls off it next time on the left. I am convinced that those who find in Christ's apocalyptic the whole of his message are mistaken.
But a thing does not vanish—it is not even discredited—because someone has spoken of it with exaggeration. It remains exactly where it was. The only difference is that if it has recently been exaggerated, we must now take special care not to overlook it; for that is the side on which the drunk man is now most likely to fall off. The very name “apocalyptic” assigns our Lord’s predictions of the Second Coming to a class. There are other specimens of it: the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Book of Enoch, or the Ascension of Isaiah. Christians are far from regarding such texts as Holy Scripture, and to most modern tastes the genre appears tedious and unedifying. Hence there arises a feeling that our Lord’s predictions, being “much the same sort of thing,” are discredited. The charge against them might be put either in a harsher or a gentler form. The harsher form would run, in the mouth of an atheist, something like this: “You see that, after all, your vaunted Jesus was really the same sort of crank or charlatan as all the other writers of apocalyptic.”
The gentler form, used more probably by a modernist, would be like this: “Every great man is partly of his own age and partly for all time. What matters in his work is always that which transcends his age, not that which he shared with a thousand forgotten contemporaries. We value Shakespeare for the glory of his language and his knowledge of the human heart, which were his own; not for his belief in witches or the divine right of kings, or his failure to take a daily bath. So with Jesus. His belief in a speedy and catastrophic end to history belongs to him not as a great teacher but as a first-century Palestinian peasant. It was one of his inevitable limitations, best forgotten. We must concentrate on what distinguished him from other first-century Palestinian peasants, on his moral and social teaching.”
As an argument against the reality of the Second Coming this seems to me to beg the question at issue. When we propose to ignore in a great man’s teaching those doctrines which it has in common with the thought of his age, we seem to be assuming that the thought of his age was erroneous. When we select for serious consideration those doctrines which “transcend” the thought of his own age and are “for all time,” we are assuming that the thought of our age is correct: for of course by thoughts which transcend the great man’s age we really mean thoughts that agree with ours. Thus I value Shakespeare’s picture of the transformation in old Lear more than I value his views about the divine right of kings, because I agree with Shakespeare that a man can be purified by suffering like Lear, but do not believe that kings (or any other rulers) have divine right in the sense required. When the great man’s views do not seem to us erroneous we do not value them the less for having been shared with his contemporaries. Shakespeare’s disdain for treachery and Christ’s blessing on the poor were not alien to the outlook of their respective periods; but no one wishes to discredit them on that account.
No one would reject Christ’s apocalyptic on the ground that apocalyptic was common in first-century Palestine unless he had already decided that the thought of first-century Palestine was in that respect mistaken. But to have so decided is surely to have begged the question; for the question is whether the expectation of a catastrophic and Divinely ordered end of the present universe is true or false.
If we have an open mind on that point, the whole problem is altered. If such an end is really going to occur, and if (as is the case) the Jews had been trained by their religion to expect it, then it is very natural that they should produce apocalyptic literature. On that view, our Lord’s production of something like the other apocalyptic documents would not necessarily result from his supposed bondage to the errors of his period, but would be the Divine exploitation of a sound element in contemporary Judaism: nay, the time and place in which it pleased him to be incarnate would, presumably, have been chosen because, there and then, that element existed, and had, by his eternal providence, been developed for that very purpose. For if we once accept the doctrine of the Incarnation, we must surely be very cautious in suggesting that any circumstance in the culture of first-century Palestine was a hampering or distorting influence upon his teaching. Do we suppose that the scene of God’s earthly life was selected at random?—that some other scene would have served better? But there is worse to come. “Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.” It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of it should come the statement “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side. That they stood thus in the mouth of Jesus himself, and were not merely placed thus by the reporter, we surely need not doubt. Unless the reporter were perfectly honest he would never have recorded the confession of ignorance at all; he could have had no motive for doing so except a desire to tell the whole truth. And unless later copyists were equally honest they would never have preserved the (apparently) mistaken prediction about “this generation” after the passage of time had shown the (apparent) mistake. This passage (Mark 13:30-32) and the cry “Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) together make up the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable. The evangelists have the first great characteristic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention.
The facts, then, are these: that Jesus professed himself (in some sense) ignorant, and within a moment showed that he really was so. To believe in the Incarnation, to believe that he is God, makes it hard to understand how he could be ignorant; but also makes it certain that, if he said he could be ignorant, then ignorant he could really be. For a God who can be ignorant is less baffling than a God who falsely professes ignorance. The answer of theologians is that the God-Man was omniscient as God, and ignorant as Man. This, no doubt, is true, though it cannot be imagined. Nor indeed can the unconsciousness of Christ in sleep be imagined, nor the twilight of reason in his infancy; still less his merely organic life in his mother's womb. But the physical sciences, no less than theology, propose for our belief much that cannot be imagined"
The thoughts of these five contributors helps us get a "reality check" on whether or not the New Testament really presents a problem to be faced--as some are able to read it in such a way as to not see what is evidently being claimed by way of an early and speedy Parousia in the very lifetime of the Apostles. From the musings of these different writers it is clear to me (and I hope to you as well) that definite claims are being presented in Matthew 24 and are not merely being imagined by me or anyone else. The bottom line for us is this: Jesus promised to appear in the clouds of heaven at a specific time and this is not reported but the silence does not prove he did not make good on his word and any penalties enacted against Christians of our kind are merely admissions that the administrators have faith that Jesus did not make good on his word, his written revelation to the contrary, notwithstanding. (Please note that this section is subject to expansion and clarification).
A Resumption of Our Exegesis of the Chapter
The above material, along with what we have already noted about the Olivet Discourse, before, adds tremendous weight to the validity of our perceptions from various quarters. These things are not imaginative and fanciful: they are real. So now we want to notice how Jesus continues to explain the situation that the Apostles were to expect and bear in mind that, at the time these things would be happening, future generations could hardly be expected to participate in them.
32 The Parable of the Fig Tree. "Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise YE, when YE shall see all these things, know that it is NEAR, even at the doors." When Jesus said, "so likewise YE, when YE shall see all these things, know that it is near. . ."
in the foregoing texts it is clear that "all these things" has to do with the signs which unfolded near the close of the Apostles' ministries in the first century and not the establishment of Israel as a nation or some other phenomenon twenty or more centuries later. But Premillennialists, who pride themselves in accepting Bible prophecy at face value, have to do a lot of work to get the Olivet Discourse to speak directly to the phenomenon of a new Jewish State in 1948--otherwise the prophecies, if let alone, would merely speak of the Second Coming in conjunction with the demise of the Jewish State Temple in the first century, and they can't have that! Thus, author David Paauw surmises,
"What does Jesus mean by the fig tree? The answer can be found in several places in the Old Testament." He then quotes Hosea 9:10 and Joel 1:5-7 in the New International Version. He states, ". . .the fig tree is symbolic for Israel as a nation."
After nearly 1900 years Israel once again became a nation on May 14, 1948. Jesus was saying that from the time Israel became a nation until "all these things have happened," including the Tribulation, "this generation will certainly not pass away." In even simpler terms: May 14, 1948 until the end of the Tribulation will be one generation. We are definitely living in the final generation before Jesus returns." (My emphasis added].
Two things have happened here: In the context of the text the fig tree represents the development of those signs we numbered that Jesus described as leading up to the ultimate sacrilege of Herod's Temple. Nevertheless, in Paauw's thinking this simple truth is simply snuffed out. Instead, the idea is introduced that the fig tree does not represent the signs but instead stands for the rebirth of the Jewish nation in May of 1948. This "shell game" effectively "manages" and "sabotages" the meaning of the entire chapter for selfish and ulterior purposes. Hear John F.Walvoord, another Premillennialist, in his own words. Under Signs of the Coming Destruction of Jerusalem where he writes,
"Jesus told his disciples, "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city" (Luke 21:20-21). In A.D.70 the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem at the time of the feasts and did precisely what this passage predicts. Those who were able to flee from the city were in some cases saved. Others who remained in the city were slaughtered as the Roman armies breached the walls and destroyed the temple as well as the city. This is the sad fulfillment of what Jesus had predicted concerning the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:2). At the end of the age preceding the second coming of Christ, Jerusalem will be in a similar situation (Zechariah 14:1-2)"
However, in the next breath Walvoord goes on to talk about the Jews being slain with the sword and being taken prisoners to all nations, but he does NOT suppose that that will happen in a yet future scenario when (according to his theory) the thousand years reign of Christ will directly abut [i.e., be side by side with or adjacent with] this world-wide dispersion. It is fact that all Premillennialists believe the thousand years reign will be a period of unparalleled peace. And it is also a fact that they do not believe the Jews will be in any kind of captivity then. However, in view of the Olivet Discourse the destruction of the city and Temple are certain, and so is the captivity. So what we are seeing upon scrutiny is the subtle differences between what Jesus actually said and what people have read into it. The second thing that is done to mar this discourse can be seen in what is said next,
"Though all agree that Luke 21:20-24 was fulfilled in A.D.70 with the destruction of Jerusalem, a wide difference of opinion exists concerning the fulfillment of other prophecies in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. The theological perspective of the interpretor to some extent determines the interpretation. Amillenarians tend to avoid detailed exegesis of these passages in favor of a more general approach that many of these prophecies were fulfilled in A.D.70. Careful attention to the text, however, would reveal that this is an impossibility as the things that were predicted did not come to pass. Though the temple was destroyed, it was not desecrated in the manner indicated, and in A.D.70 the Great Tribulation, the predicted three and a half years leading up to the second coming of Christ, did not occur. Finally, and most conclusive, the second coming of Christ, which is closely linked to the prophecies of all three Gospels, DID NOT OCCUR. Though there are similarities between the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the time preceding the second coming of Christ, THE OUTCOME IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, and the prophecies Matthew recorded have NOT been specifically fulfilled as they relate to the end of the age."(all my emphasis).
The above observations make up what can be called popular religious idealism surrounding the subject of the New Testament, Second Coming and end of the world. Too much of it automatically assumes that the Olivet Discourse and cognate passages all over the Old and New Testaments have everything to say about the end of mundane history as we now know it and not about the approaching end of the fourteen hundred year-old Mosaic civilization known in early Roman history as the Second Jewish Commonwealth. Below we will see how ignorance of and denial of the reality of that important era causes people to easily go astray by clinging to opinions that cannot be sustained by any real evidence at the end of the day.
Denying Jesus Christ Thrice!
What this late author said and what Matthew and Mark and Luke record as Jesus' words about his personal Second Coming in connection with the desolation of the Jewish State Temple and the subsequent termination of the Mosaic era defies the imagination! In classic double-talk he says "everything happened" and "nothing happened"! He says the prophecy was precisely fulfilled in A.D.70 then turns right around and says there will be a "different" outcome when it happens in our future! How can that be? How can the same Olivet Discourse produce a fulfillment in the first century that will be completely different in outcome when it happens again? The problem really boils down to this: divide, denial, and delay. In the matter of Bible eschatology one literally has to "deny" what Jesus plainly says by the mouth of three witnesses "three times."
In order to maintain that the personal Second Coming of Christ is still ahead of us each of the conventional "Four Views" has a strategy. Their methods and approach, however, relies very little upon the continuity of the testimony of Christ's ministry as recorded by Matthew, but heavily on preconceived ideas and presumption. The approach of the Four Views is also very light on a deep historical acquaintance that a reading of Josephus' Wars of the Jews would instantly afford.
34 "Verily I say unto YOU, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." It is plain for anyone to see that Jesus intended for Peter, James, John and Andrew to understand that Second Temple Jerusalem was headed for big trouble and Jesus confirms this certainty with what amounts to an oath. As at other times, when the Lord said, "Verily," he means "Amen" or "So be it." (See Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28; 23:36 and 26:64). These are Jesus' affirmations which say, in essence, "Yes, I will do this; I vow this will happen." This expression does not mean "maybe it will or maybe it won't." And yet the Second Temple period ended and lots of Christians have a real big problem when it comes to these prophecies and the resurrection of the dead related to its demise. They don't see the connection between these prophecies and what has already happened. Why? The first reason could be that all too frequently many start their study of Matthew 24's events within Matthew 24 and not as part of the scope of events described in the entirety of Matthew and elsewhere in the New Testament. There is also, in many cases, a dearth of knowledge about the connection of the Olivet Discourse with the Angel Gabriel's Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks found in Daniel chapter 9.
Moreover, they may read the Bible as talking about "world-wide" history and do not see the Olivet Discourse as talking about events within the scope and parameters of Jewish salvation history. The next reason is that many are not familiar with the spectacular signs that attended the First Jewish Revolt, including battalions of soldiers in armor flying up and down Judaea, spooky events happening in and around the Temple: strange lights, voices of multitudes and doors opening on their own. Nor do they realize that the Olivet Discourse deals with events that start much earlier than A.D.70 and the fact that the Abomination of Desolation was carried out long before the Romans could re-occupy the city in the summer of 70.
Many also assume the return of Christ is a "moving target prophecy" (not fixed and for sure to happen at any certain time). Therefore many do not believe or feel that, if the Second Coming did not happen as and when it was predicted, the entire Christian enterprise, which is based squarely upon Jesus being "the Truth" would automatically come crashing down upon us like a ton of bricks. They say things like, "Of course it did not happen yet, so what? It will. Wait and see!" However, there is no teaching in the entire New Testament about a Second Coming of God's Son outside of the context of the late Second Jewish Commonwealth. The Second Coming fostered in the beliefs of conventional Christian churches is completely un-Biblical in its nature, purpose and timing and is expected to happen in what amounts to a historical vacuum two thousand years after the fact.
35 "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." These words of certainty, I believe, are meant to convey both Jesus' authority and Divinity. And, it is with both that I know and believe that it is simply and utterly unthinkable that Jesus could predict something for the lifetime of his Apostles (as he most assuredly did) and then we can blithely say we have "no problem" with it not coming to pass as and when it was supposed to happen--every one of us who call ourselves "Christians" should have a real problem with that and ought not feel confortable being a part of a group of people who think that is "alright."
36 "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." Jesus said no man knows the day or the hour, right? However, the story does not end there. Matthew 24 does not close the New Testament. It must be understood that Jesus also said this in his Incarnation and it is not the last word on the "when" of these events. First of all, it cannot be denied that he certainly knew which generation it would be in, as he stated in verse 32. But there's more to the story in the Pauline epistle of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 and Revelation 1:1,3 and 7 and 18:8,10, 17 and 19. The facts of "revelatory progress" will not allow the "no man knows" to be a "no man will ever know." Such an alibi cannot stand up in a fair court. In other words, what was not known in Jesus' ministry became known by the Spirit afterward and we have the Divine authority (especially based on the Revelation texts addressed above) to now say that the Destruction of Jerusalem encompasses the day and the hour when our Lord fulfilled his Second Coming.
37 "But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Verses 37 and 42 work together and re-affirm that the Apostles were to watch and be ready for an event which was to come in their very lifetime. And they could really do neither if the Lord did not intend for them to believe if was possible or probable that it would happen within a very reasonable span of time. If, on the other hand, he wanted the message to be for us it is nowhere clear or inherant in the text that this was his intent.
38 "For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark," As Noah got in the ark and the destruction started immediately, the Christians were instructed to leave the city and that Destruction was to begin well before our day and time, tabloid prophecies notwithstanding.
39 "And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." The "flood" of the Second Coming is predicted in Daniel 9:27 where it says that "the end thereof shall be with a flood." How was the end of first century Jerusalem like a flood when there was no deluge of water in the A.D.66-70 imbroglio? It was a flood because the false teachers of that age had spent forty years teaching the people that Jerusalem was the place to be at the time of the end; it was like a flood because great multitudes of the deceived were coming from all the countries and flooding into the city in time to be shut up "as by fate " in a prison.
40 "Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left." According to the "Rapture" doctrine this verse speaks about Christians disappearing into thin air and the non-Christian standing there in the field alone. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is a piece of science fiction and I as well as many of you have been raised with these interpolations clouding what the Word of God teaches to the detriment of our discerning what is right. It is unprofitable and even futile to believe superstitiously that the Olivet Discourse has some intrinsic connection to the modern Israeli State or current events; it does not.
However, this conviction that its plain and true sense involves the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Mosaic era carries grave consequences for those of us who can see clearly past the deception of conventionalism.
For, as you can see, the Olivet Discourse is in every way at the center of the dispute about the meaning, significance and timing of the Second Coming of our Lord. And I will tell you this: for those who have no intention of seeing the truth from a more authentic perspective--one that is more free of pretense and wishful thinking--this Atavistic view will strike a deadly blow to some very cherished aspirations and evoke some true animus and emnity. Only those who are eager and ready to grow can face the truth and re-appraise these life-long dogmatic "Shibboleths."
43 "But know this, that if the goodman of the house had know in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up." This verse and the next work together. Again, it is emphasized, "Be ready."
44 "Therefore be YE also ready: for in such an hour as YE think not the Son of man cometh." "So be ready." Yet the Apostles could not "Be ye also ready" outside of their lifetime, could they? Nor was the lead-up events to the Destruction of Jerusalem a reality for anyone's lifetime outside of the A.D.66-70 Jewish revolt. Clearly, then, the concluding verses keep stressing the fact that Jesus understood that his Second Coming was in connection with the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, as we continue to see.
45 "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over all his household, to give them meat in due season? The faithful and wise servant must, in the context of these events, be a leader (or leaders) in the first century pre-destruction of Jerusalem Christian congregation. This passage cannot be logically be exploited to mean, as Charles T. Russell and Judge Rutherford of the International Bible Students Association averted it to mean that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York and Pennsylvania are somehow and in some way God's appointed organization to "feed" mankind the truth. For anyone who is interested in the facts, all they have to do is research the Watchtower's own past literature and continuous changes of doctrine and religious policy and they will discover that its claim to be the "faithful and wise servant" of Matthew 24 is just not true!
46 "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming." 49 And shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken."There is a predictable fondness among friends and foes of Christ alike to allege that the New Testament writers lay claim to two opposite propositions. According to many commentators and critics of the Gospel, it was first represented that Christ would come back quite soon (e.g., Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28; John 21:20-23; Acts 3:19-21), however, later on, when that did not work out, the later writings began to back-peddle and say Christ probably would come back at a time known only to God (e.g., 2 Peter 3:4-9). But is this true? If it was true 2 Peter 3:8 is the one and only verse that supports such a view of things. However, the entirety of even 1 and 2 Peter do not lend their support to interpreting 2 Peter 3:8 as an admission of the possibility that Christ would not come back in the first century. (1) 1 Peter 1:7-9 is committed to the idea that Christ's return was then soon. (2) 1 Peter 1:13 is too. (3) 1 Peter 4:7 and 17 are declarations affirming imminence. (4) 1 Peter 5:1 and 4 are too. In 2 Peter this same pattern of commitment can be seen: (1) in 2 Peter 1:11, (2) 2 Peter 2:1, (3) 2 Peter 3:11, 13, 14 and 16. How do we explain 2 Peter 3:8 as denying imminence when verses all around it speak otherwise? It can easily be explained as a denial of the momentary expectation the scoffers demanded as proof, as if they said, "If he's coming back, let him do so at this very second!" The verses surrounding vs 8, however, do continue to indicate that the Christians were to remain in a expectant posture: "seeing" (in verse 11), "looking and hasting" (in verse 12), "we, according to his promise look" (in verse 13), and again, "seeing that ye look" (in verse 14). In the bigger picture, therefore, the notion of a delay is an imaginary scheme that does not really exist in 1 or 2 Peter or anywhere else in the New Testament, as Hebrews 10:25 and 37; James 5:1-9; 1 John 2:18-19 and 3:2; Jude 14 and Revelation 1:1,3 and 7 demonstrate.
50 "The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, 51 and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The final verse of Matthew 24 explains the punishment of those who, in the end, turned out to be more concerned with earthly cares than in obedience to their Saviour, holding to their salvation and keeping their heavenly hope. When we look into the situation reported by Josephus, this too is recorded as one of the many "coincidental" occurrences that happened at that time. In Josephus' works we read the following harrowing account:
"Hereupon some of the deserters, having no other way, leaped down from the wall immediately, while others of them went out of the city with stones, as if they would fight them; but thereupon they fled away to the Romans. But here a worse fate accompanied these than what they had found within the city; and they met with a quicker dispatch from the too great abundance they had among the Romans, than they could have done from the famine among the Jews; for when they came first to the Romans, they were puffed up by the famine, and swelled like men in a dropsy; after which they all on the sudden overfilled those bodies that were before empty, and so burst asunder, excepting such only as were skillful enough to restrain their appetites, and by degrees took in their food into bodies unaccustomed thereto. Yet did another plague seize upon those that were thus preserved; for there was found among the Syrian deserters a certain person who was caught gathering pieces of gold out of the excrements of the Jews' bellies; for the deserters used to swallow such pieces of gold, as we told you before, when they came out, and for these did the seditious search them all; for there was a great quantity of gold in the city, insomuch that as much was now sold [in the Roman camp] for twelve Attic [drams], as was sold before for twenty-five. But when this contrivance was discovered in one instance, the fame of it filled their several camps, that the deserters came to them full of gold. So the multitude of the Arabians, with the Syrians, cut up those that came as supplicants, and searched their bellies. Nor does it seem to me that any misery befell the Jews that was more terrible than this, since in one night's time about two thousand of these deserters were thus dissected.
5. When Titus came to the knowledge of this wicked practice, he had like to have surrounded those that had been guilty of it with his horse, and have shot them dead; and he had done it, had not their number been so very great, and those that were liable to this punishment would have been manifold more than those whom they had slain. However, he called together the commanders of the auxiliary troops he had with him, as well as the commanders of the Roman legions, (for some of his own soldiers had been also guilty herein, as he had been informed,) and had great indignation against both sorts of them, and said to them, "What! have any of my own soldiers done such things as this out of the uncertain hope of gain, without regarding their own weapons, which are made of silver and gold? Moreover, do the Arabians and Syrians now first of all begin to govern themselves as they please, and to indulge their appetites in a foreign war, and then, out of their barbarity in murdering men, and out of their hatred to the Jews, get it ascribed to the Romans?" for this infamous practice was said to be spread among some of his own soldiers also. Titus then threatened that he would put such men to death, if any of them were discovered to be so insolent as to do so again; moreover, he gave it in charge to the legions, that they should make a search after such as were suspected, and should bring them to him. But it appeared that the love of money was too hard for all their dread of punishment, and a vehement desire of gain is natural to men, and no passion is so venturesome as covetousness; otherwise such passions have certain bounds, and are subordinate to fear. But in reality it was God who condemned the whole nation, and turned every course that was taken for their preservation to their destruction."
In the above thoughts and explanations we see that the Destruction of the Second Temple via the Abomination of Desolation, the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the Jewish State Temple era are at the very heart of Jesus' message and is second only to his mission to die as a ransom for mankind's sins. It was spoken a mere three days before he was arrested, tried and crucified. In it the Destruction of the State Temple, signs of his Second Coming and end of the Levitical system of things ("the world") are placed squarely within the parameters of the Apostles immediate concerns and lifetime. They were to watch for numerous signs. The Gospel given them was to be preached to entire Jewish world, The desecration of State Temple, their most holy heritage, by forces within the Jewish State would signal the count-down to the end of their era. These events literally initiated the war between the Jews and the Romans and must be understood as something that opened the war rather than led to its close, and, as we noted, historically, the Romans would not be in the city again until thirty seven months later, when they were finally able to breach the walls and sack the city in a mere five month campaign. Therefore the Abomination of Desolation cannot be a crime committed by the Romans. Instead it was an extended series of outrages and sacrilegious acts that were committed within the Temple precincts by the Zealots and their compatriots the Idumeans.
Conclusion and Notes continued in Part Three
This is the message of our Lord in the Olivet Discourse as seen from the Atavist standpoint. That standpoint takes into account antecedent considerations, not just of Old Testament parallels (e.g., Daniel 9:26-27) but of precedents in Matthew itself (e.g., Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28 and 23:29-39). These precedents speak of and to the same issues addressed or touched upon in Matthew 24 and its Synoptic parallels (e.g., Mark 13, Luke 17:22-37 and Luke 21:5-36). In the light of what we have seen, each us of has to seriously contemplate what a Second Coming (rescued from a never-ending futurity) now means in terms of a Judaeo-centric past and our present standing in churches blissfully unaware of these historic realities. Jesus' saying in John 8:12 ought to have a major bearing on how we treat the subject of Biblical eschatology.
We sure don't want to be accused of playing fast and loose with the words of our Lord. We want to handle his sayings with care and skill and teach them to others in the spirit of meekness, integrity and truth. None of the Four Views or any of the virulent cults (like the Watchtower) hold to the integrity of the Second Jewish Commonwealth context or teach the truth about the specifics of the Olivet Discourse. Preterists come very close but the details of their account of things conflicts with the Jewish reality of the Abomination of Desolation being committed by revolutionaries and nationalists who occupied the Temple and demeaned and destroyed it with their satyr, atrocities and murders. It must be remembered that beliefs and teachings like this cost Jesus his life. For us it could easily cost us the love, esteem and fellowship we rightfully deserve among people who profess to believe Jesus and call themselves Bible believing Christians.
1 Charles T. Russell, who was from a Presbyterian background, E.W. Bullinger, who was from a Church of England background, and C.I.Scofield, who penned the famous reference Bible in his own name, was instrumental in influencing untold millions to accept unwarranted conjectures, interpolations and assumptions about the nature and fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Because of their current events emphasis, they centered upon transient notions and myths about the supposed end of history as we know it rather than accurate knowledge about either the history or milestone events in Jewish antiquity. Such information is readily available in Josephus, other Jewish writings, (the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud) in Roman histories (Tacitus, Cassius Dio) and in the writings of the Church Fathers (St. Barnabas, Eusebius, Jerome).
2 Christianity survived against astonishing odds mainly because of the counter-intuitive commands of Jesus which defied both the logic and the outlook of the general religious consensus of the Jewish world of his day and time. For example, the command to turn the other check was an excellent way for Christians suffering unjustly at the hands of either Jews or Romans to escape a mundane fisticuff and lose a fight in order to winning a bigger issue concerned with approbation and rewards from God and life everlasting.
3 Fears of a conspiracy of a one world government may not be entirely untrue, however, that does not change the fact that Matthew 24 and Bible eschatology may (in all likelihood) not address those concerns or be relevant to the subject of redemptive history at all.
4 The European Economic Market and the prospect of nations banding together to form any unity is irrelevant to the flow of history as outlined in either Daniel 2 or 7. Hasmonean Judaea, which was a kingdom, power and dominion, follows the reign of the Greeks in the Bible time-line, no emerging political entity now or in the future can erase those past facts or make them of no consequence. Yet Christian Zionism is strengthened by these blatant fallacies, as are the troubles of the Palestinian people.
5 "When shall these things be?' and "What shall be the sign of thy coming" and "the end of the world" are three succinct questions which boil down to one question: when. Yet some of the most ancient churches of Christianity consider it a mark of spirituality to only to address "what" and to studiously avoid addressing "when" not realizing these distinctions they make are imaginary differences. In my many years among Orthodox and Catholic believers it was always believed that the time of the Lord's coming is one of the "mysterious unknowns" that the Bible can never answer when, in fact, all over the New Testament the what and the when are firmly entrenched around the Destruction of Jerusalem.
6 J. Marcellus Kik notes, "There were earthquakes in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse, Campania, Rome and Judea. It is interesting to note that the city of Pompeii was much damaged by an earthquake on February 5, 63, A.D. From the above evidence one may conclude that the prophecy of Jesus was literally fulfilled as to wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes." An Eschatology of Victory, 93.
7 Tish B'Av, III, The Source of Senseless Hatred, 29 "When the Ignorant Despise the Wise," "When the Disciples Disregard Their Masters", 30, "Self Hatred Leads to Exile." Tishah B'Av--Texts, Readings and Insights/ A Presentation Based on Talmudic and Traditional Sources, 32.
8 Josephus states more than once that the beleagured Jews were treated in such a way that they rathered to be ruined by the Romans because it was a lighter punishment than being harmed by their own Jewish countrymen. Wars, 4.3.2:134.
9 Roman world was at peace, but the Jews were the only people in the empire acting up, which, says Josephus, increased the rage of the Romans. Josephus' Dissertation 3, Book 5, Chapter 10, Appendix.
10 In this environment those who called themselves "Zealots" grew up. Wars, 915.
11 An extensive examination in Acts where it is said the Apostles "turned the world upside down," speaks for itself. If they did this, the did so long before the Christian phenomenon came to the attention of the Roman authorities as any kind of "threat." If (as it is said) the Romans did not know the difference between the Jews and the Christians until A.D.133, then it is not possible that Christians turned the Roman world "upside down" in the A.D.40s! On the other hand, Luke speaks of the Holy See of Jerusalem in all encompassing terms such as "every nation under heaven" attending Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11). And the Apostle Paul repeatedly claims that the Gospel was preached to every creature under heaven (Colossians 3:23 cf. Romans 16:26). The only solution to these expressions and claims is that this is a legitimate way of talking about the entirety of the Jewish world only. J. Marcellus Kik also understood the ecumene as being the Jewish world on page 99 of his Postmillennial treatise, An Eschatology of Victory.
12 The Beit Huron defeat of Cestius' army got the Jews the trophy of close to six thousand Romans killed in one blow. This was much more dramatic than what had happened in the glorious days of Judas the Maccabee where only eight hundred Greeks were killed in the battle that gained him his fame. (Antiquities of the Jews 12.7.2:289-292)
13 The Romans looked upon Herod's Temple with sacred horror, whilst the Jews despised and defiled their own Holy Place, Wars, 6.2.3:123.
14 The Romans wanted to preserve the Temple for futurity, Wars, p. 880.
15 The rebel Jews wanted total destruction, Wars 6.3.5:215-216.
16 The Abomination of Desolation was supposed by the Watchtower to be the League of Nations (See sources).
17 But the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society was a member of the United Nations for close to ten years. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/…/Jehovah's_Witnesses_and_the_Unite….
18 Economic community states and a "future Fuehrer"--what about them? What real significance could they have if in fact they do not fall within the timeline of Jewish history twenty-five hundred years ago? It is important to be realistic when using the Bible as so-called proof of the existence of God and the verity of Christianity. Using prophecy the wrong way and utilizing history irresponsibly may generate excitement and interest in the short-run, but in the long-run it only tends toward disconfirmation of the reality of God and casts a lasting shadow over the credibility of the Church.
19 In order for Jesus to be able to say this to the chief priests and scribes that had to have still been in possession of the kingdom of God won for them by the Maccabees, otherwise it makes no sense for the Lord to threaten to take from them what, in reality, was in the hands of the Romans.
20 Daniel 9:27 from an Atavist point of view requires no Full Preterist gymnastics of believing God somehow judged and condemned the Romans and their empire in A.D.70 when such is historically incorrect. The Danielic Night Vision (Daniel 7:7-27) supports the idea the Christians would obtain the kingdom of God directly from the Jewish people's failed sedition against the Divine counsel of Almighty God.
21 There was destruction of eminent people in broad daylight and there were men masquerading as women and the sin of Sodomy was committed within the Temple on a vast scale. There were unjust tribunals and the sentence of death by beating was carried out on the sacred floors of God's house with utter brutality. There was the mass murder of over 7,000 pilgrims and wicked jesting in the Temple. These appalling actions effectively brought on the dissolution of the high priesthood by the Jews themselves.Wars of the Jews, 804, "They also set the principal men at variance one with another, by several sorts of contrivances and tricks, and gained the opportunity of doing what they pleased, by the mutual quarrels of those who might have obstructed their measures; till at length, when they were satiated with the unjust actions they had done towards men, THEY TRANSFERRED THEIR CONTUMELIOUS BEHAVIOR TO GOD HIMSELF, AND CAME INTO THE SANCTUARY WITH POLLUTED FEET."
22 Jerusalem was doomed by John Gischala who came to the city with his Zealots and their 'big talk' and tens of thousands of refugees. . .John went about among all the people, and persuaded them to go to war . . " Wars, 4.3.2:128-129.
23 However the war in which Judas the Maccabee was involved was entirely different in that it was a truly righteous cause. The First Great Revolt, on the other hand, was conceived in the deepest iniquity and brought forth terrible results, all in accordance with the ancient prophecies foretold about the concluding years of the national life of the Jewish people in relation to their State Temple.
24 The convening of thousands in the Temple courtyard led to the election of ten generals and the division of the Jewish State into seven regions. However, it was not very long before this new provisional government fell to more extreme elements in the Jewish world who, in turn, formed a meaning and more tyrannical government that fell when the Romans came in over three years later.
25 The many fruits of unrighteousness that came to the fore during this unusual war were the result of trends that began very early in the history of the Hebrew people. And it was the introduction of Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Hellenistic ways that combined to make the popular consciousness of the masses particularly adverse to the Gospel of salvation and the kingdom of God.
26 Perished in this manner.
27 "For notwithstanding these men were mad with all sorts of impiety, yet did they still admit those that desired to offer their sacrifices, although they took care to search the people of their own country beforehand, and both suspected and watched them; while they were not so much afraid of strangers, who, although they had gotten leave of them, how cruel soever they were, to come into that court, were yet often destroyed by this sedition; for those darts that were thrown by the engines came with that force, that they went over all the buildings, and reached as far as the altar, and the temple itself, and fell upon the priests, and those (2) that were about the sacred offices; insomuch that many persons who came thither with great zeal from the ends of the earth, to offer sacrifices at this celebrated place, which was esteemed holy by all mankind, fell down before their own sacrifices themselves, and sprinkled that altar which was venerable among all men, both Greeks and Barbarians, with their own blood; till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of the priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcasses stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves." (Wars 5.1.3:15-18) Why did these unfortunate things happen to these people and why were they there? According to 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 the people destined to perish with the Temple did so because "they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved" and took "pleasure in unrighteousness."
28 I believe it is entirely reasonable to believe that the Jews who saw these great stones flying into their capital (cf. Wars 851-852) recalled the words of Jesus or else the teachings of the Apostles which had foretold these things for close to forty years.
29 THE DAILY STUDY BIBLE SERIES REVISED EDITION, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW Volume I, (Chapters 1 to 10). REVISED EDITION Translated with an Introduction and Interpretation. Copyright (c) 1975 William Barclay First published by The Saint Andrew Press. Edinburgh, Scotland First Edition, September, 1956 Second Edition, May, 1958. Published by The Westminster Press (R) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).
30 Russell, Bertrand, Why I Am Not a Christian, pp. 16-17.
31 Fredriksen, Paula, Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews, p. 89.
32 Levine, Samuel, You Take Jesus, I'll Take God, p. 15-16.
33 C.S.Lewis, The World's Last Night, 383-385.
34 David L. Paauw, Jesus is Coming Back Soon. . .p. 6.
35 Major Bible Prophecies, 294. Although John Walvoord insists that the so-called future fulfillment of Matthew 24 will be a "similar situation" such a view is hard to conceive if the Abomination of Desolation did not take place in Herod's Temple, that Temple was not the one which was to be completely destroyed. According to him the world in question never even ended and the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead failed to transpire.
36 bid. 96-297. The fact is, the "end of the age" of Premillennialism and the other conventional views is not the same the end of the age described and envisaged in the Word of God. Yet those errors are, ultimately, a litmus test of fellowship for as many of us who are aware of the real historicity and fundamental nature of the Biblical eschaton.
37 Josephus' Wars of the Jews 6.9.4:428.
38 For a fuller discussion on this expression see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibboleth
39 The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society's own former claims disprove their boast that they are "God's approved channel of communication" and "the only means of mankind's salvation at this present time." Their prophecies of 1879, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1925 and 1925 are glaring examples and notorious proof of the deceptive and seductive leadership tactics of this movement.
40 Wars 5.13.4:548-559.
41 Atavist eschatology rejects the concept that there is any warrant to believe there is any intrinsic virtue in believing the Second Coming belongs to a category of "perennial futurity" for the sake of motivating Christians to "watch." The false interpretations of a two thousand year-long waiting exercise drive the actions and policies of believers who are sincere and do not know any better, are incurious or simply to not care. Either way, God has put each one of us here to fulfill a purpose and any hindrance to whatever that might be must be side-stepped in favor of a more perfect knowledge of the truth.
Images and Illustrations
1 Michael Avi-Yonah's model of Herod's Temple in the Holy Land Hotel in Jerusalem, Israel.
2 Relief from the Arch of Titus in Rome, Italy. "In AD 79 Titus became emperor of the Roman empire. He died just two years later, in September AD 81. The popular emperor was soon deified by the Roman Senate. Emperor Domitian, Titus's brother and successor, built the Arch of Titus that same year both to honor his brother and to commemorate the victory in the Jewish War. The arch was dedicated in AD 85 with large festivities." Source: http://www.aviewoncities.com/rome/archoftitus.htm
3 A Protestant illustration depicting the Papacy. Millions of Christians believe the Roman Catholic Church and the Papacy are at the center of New Testament eschatology.
4 The Flag of the United Nations of which the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Jehovah's Witnesses was a member for close to ten years.
5 The European Union flag.
6 A vulture. The prophecies of the end of the Second Commonwealth foretold that it would end in war, fire, bloodshed and carnage and these realities are behind us, not ahead of us. (Matthew 24:28 cf. Acts 2:40; 13:40-41; Philippians 3:18-19; Jude 8-16; 2 Peter 3:3-12; Revelation 19:11-18.
7 Flag of the modern Israeli State. Today's Israel is not the same entity as the ancient Jewish State and it is a major mistake to pin hopes of a future Second Coming on a country that is not even the subject of anything Jesus said in Matthew or Mark, Luke or John or the Book of Revelation. Israel's right to exist is a complex issue, but whatever the reasons may be, the Cause of Christ must be completely exonerated from any inkling of falsification or deceit by any wrongful entanglement of prophecies surrounding the demise of Biblical Judaism and those addressing the initial years of the Church on this earth. Christianity, not any nationalistic state, fulfills the will of God for the preaching and salvation of mankind, both now and forevermore, world without end (Matthew 16:18-19; Ephesians 3:20-21; Hebrews 13:20-21).
8 A rooster, the symbol of the Apostle Peter's thrice denial of knowing his Lord. So what does a proper evaluation and interpretation of eschatology, the testimony of Matthew and the implications of the Olivet Discourse have to do with you and with me? It has to do with acknowledging the truth which is according to godliness. And it has to do with confessing the personal Second Coming of Christ as it is penned in the New Testament. We know from God's word that it was among those core beliefs of the first Christians a thing "which was most assuredly believed among them." Even though the entire twentieth century was wasted and the currency of credibility was squandered proclaiming that Jesus Christ was coming back in our lifetime, such an expectation was founded upon faulty premises and was nowhere near the truth to begin with. The New Testament never once said that he would do such a thing apart from the civilization of the Second Jewish Commonwealth and this position can easily be defended in the fair court of Honesty, Reason and Logic.
Today we are encouraged by sincere but misguided individuals to deny the tenet of a first century Second Coming in hopes that we might conform to the conciliar status quo which is far different than the claims of the Mother Church and all the first Christians—that Jesus was coming back soon. We took what the New Testament says for granted (with reasons) and after we did so and made it known we were promptly excluded, rebuked, derided or pitied, however the Scriptures tell us, "It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: if we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:11-13). James 3:1; 4:17 and Luke 12:47 speaks directly to us about responsibility and complicity and make the stakes of what we are dealing with in our representation of Jesus Christ very high. And in light of the responsibilities I have assumed for it I am asking Christians all over the world to consider seriously what the implications of the New Testament Second Coming are in your own eyes. And after you do that I am asking you (if you think it is important) to join hearts and hands with us to make a world-wide family of Atavist churches. This mutual effort will produce a work by the combined efforts of fellow-workers where believing Christians can worship and serve God in one accord in light of our awareness of what the Word of God plainly says.