Get a stripped-down copy of this page.
Matt. 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. (Mark 9:1)
Matt. 24:30 At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
2 Peter 3:4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
We have been taught time and time again by popular works, ranging from The Late Great Planet Earth to the Left Behind series, and now also in books like John MacArthur's The Second Coming, that the quotes from Matthew and parallels concern a Temple yet built, a coming yet made, and a tribulation yet suffered.
But is it? And is preterist eschatology just an "excuse" to cover up an error by Jesus?
The charge implies that the interpretation is somehow "new," a construction invented by modern believers who are resisting the past. Actually, dispensationalism and it's own idea of a Rapture are the new kids on the block; preterism, and the idea that the Olivet Discourse and other passages refer to 70 AD events, has a much longer pedigree. Commentators such as Lightfoot (1859), Newton (1754), and Gill (1809) predated dispensationlism and agreed that 70 AD was in view in these passages. [Dem.LDM, 59]
To be sure, some in the early church held a view that what was recounted in places like the Olivet Discourse was a reference to a far-flung future event (though their views didn't match exactly with dispensationlism); but others held views akin to preterism as well, so the preterist view is not a new view, but an older one revived.
Research has confirmed to me that the preterist standpoint of eschatology -- the idea that much of the prophecy of the Bible was fulfilled in 70 AD -- is the correct one, although I am still looking into finer details. (I am distinguishing this view from a view Seraiah calls pantelism -- and others, "full preterism" -- the idea that all Bible prophecy is now fulfilled, including prophecies of the resurrection; this in particular I do not agree with, for example.)
A critical text in these matters is Matthew 24, and we'll use it as our basis, providing parallels in Mark and Luke where they differ significantly. If the differences are minimal, we will simply note them after the cite.
And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the temple. 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.
Our first verses of Matthew 24 set the stage and establish context. There is no controversy of interpretation here; most agree, regardless of stance, that Jesus predicts here a destruction of the Jerusalem temple standing in his own time, and will agree that this was literally fulfilled, to the point that critics use this as evidence that the Gospels were written after 70 AD. This merely sets the stage for the question of the disciples:
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?
Mark 13:4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?
Luke 21:7 And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?
All of what is recorded here is inarguably related to the statement of Jesus in the previous verse concerning the Temple's destruction -- with the exception of one argument. Mark and Luke provide no distraction, but Matthew, so it seems from the KJV, records Jesus as referring to the "thy coming" and to the "end of the world." Isn't this clear evidence of the dispensational view?
No, it isn't. These considerations, first, about "the end of the world":
- The coming and the close of the age are grammatically linked. [Keener, commentary on Matthew 563n] These are meant to be taken as simultaneous events.
- The word for "world" is not a reference to the physical world, but is the Greek aion, or "age." The question is about the end of the age, a time period, not the end of the world. Had that been the intent, the Greek word kosmos would have been used.
- That leads to point 2: What "age" is referred to here? The answer is found in knowing that the Jews divided time into two great ages: the age of law, and the age of the Messiah. This belief is commonly reflected in the Jewish apocalyptic era [Harrington, Matthew commentary, 352]. As Wright puts it [New Testament and the People of God, 299-300]:
The present age was a time when the creator god seemed to be hiding his face; the age to come would see the renewal of the created world. The present age was the time of Israel's misery; in the age to come she would be restored. In the present age wicked men seemed to be flourishing; in the age to come they would receive their just reward. In the present age even Israel was not really keeping the Torah perfectly, was not really being YHWH's true humanity; in the age to come all Israel would keep Torah from the heart.
There were various views about what this age would constitute; not all views involved a Messianic figure, and the disciples themselves show some confusion when they ask if the kingdom will be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6). They are in line with certain Messianic expectations when they ask this; they are expecting that now that the Age of the Messiah has dawned, Israel will be restored properly again.
It boils down to this: the "end of the age" refers back to the destruction of the Temple and the end of the covenant, and the beginning of the new covenant 40 years prior. "The age to come, the end of Israel's exile, [was seen] as the inauguration of a new covenant between Israel and her god." [NTPG, 301] (Cf. Matt. 12:32, "And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." "World" in both cases is aion.)
- One counter to this idea has been that in other places Matthew uses the phrase "end of the world/age" to indicate a time of final judgment (Matt. 13:39, 49). The latter example reads:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The verse 39 example has the same theme, only it uses the analogy of a harvest. (One other use, Matt. 28:20, offers no contextual clues.) This would sensibly fit in with Matt. 24:31, a later part of the discourse ("And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.")
How could this refer to the "end of the age" in 70 AD? I think rather easily. Dispensational commentators see here a reference perhaps to the "Rapture" and/or final judgment. But neither a harvest nor a fishing expedition is such a quick event. Harvests took days to process in the age before tractors. Fishermen stayed out fishing for extended periods (as Peter and co. stayed out all night, until Jesus lent a hand).
No commentator would disagree that upon death the wicked, and the justified in Christ, are encountering their final judgment (Heb. 9:27) -- and the "field" here is the "world" (kosmos), the entire world. The seed sown by Jesus is sown over the entire kosmos. We'll note the significance of this when we get to verse 12.
What it comes down to is this: With the "end of the age" in 70, the "angels" -- there is a special issue with this word as well -- were sent out to harvest, based on reaction to the Gospel. The harvest (and the fishing expedition) is still going, and people are still being separated based on their reaction to the good news. We'll discuss this more when we get to a later part of the discourse.
But what, then, of Jesus answering regarding his "coming"? The word Matthew uses is parousia, and Matthew alone among the Gospels uses this word. The word means presence or arrival. Here is how it is used in an "everyday" sense:
2 Cor. 10:10 For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.
1 Cor. 16:17 I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied.
Some observations on this word:
- Prior to the NT and into the second century, the word was used "for the arrival of a ruler, king or emperor." It is used for example of a special visit by Nero to Corinth, when coins were cast in honor of his visit.
- However, the term was also used in Hellenistic contexts to refer to a theophany, or a manifestation of deity. In the Greek form of several Jewish apocryphal works (Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Judah, Testament of Levi) it is "used to refer to the final coming of God." Josephus uses the term to refer to OT theophanies (Ant. 3.80, 202-3; 9:55).
In our examination of the Pauline use of this word, we will be tying together some issues and Paul's own use of parousia to refer to the time of the resurrection. For now, it should be remembered that parousia has several shades of meaning (including an "everyday" meaning whose "everyday" use by Paul suggests that it is not a technical term referring to one event), and is also clearly a word choice of Matthew. I believe that these word choices were made independently and may have caused the confusion referred to by Paul in the Thessalonian church.
But we will reserve that commentary for the other article, and will return to the word parousia in Matthew 24:27 and following, where it is next used, and discuss in that context what it means and how Jesus' "coming" could have occurred in 70 AD. It is enough for now to observe that the disciples are asking about Jesus' parousia in terms of expecting Jesus to take the throne of David as the Messiah.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.(cf. Mark 13:5-6)
Luke 21:8 And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.
In order to show that the Olivet Discourse found fulfillment in 70 AD, it has to be shown or suggested that these events came to pass in that time. Did we see many coming and claiming to be Christ?
I have noted in other contexts that until the time of Bar Kochba, there is no evidence of any person actually coming forth and saying, "I am Messiah" or any person being identified as such, and I have argued that to make such a clear identification of one's "Messianic self" was likely not permitted socially. We do of course have people who took some putative military action against Rome, and failed miserably; one suggests that they might well have made a claim had their little schemes succeeded -- Theudas and Judas are two examples (Acts 5:36-37), as perhaps was the Egyptian Paul was mistaken for; Simon Magus has been cited as one who claimed to be God, in a non-Jewish Messianic context; a Samaritan named Dositheus claimed to be the lawgiver prophesied of by Moses [Dem.LDM, 73-4].
That's five for sure (enough to qualify for "many" in the context of pretenders), and there may have been more who were spectacular failures not worthy of the record. Josephus in his Antiquities 20.8.5 says, "Now, as for the affairs of the Jews, they grew worse and worse continually; for the country was again filled with robbers and impostors, who deluded the multitude." Pretenders of various types undoubtedly abounded -- yet does this contradict that we have no evidence of these claimants saying, "I am Messiah"?
Not at all -- here is an important point: Only in Matthew is the word "Christ" actually used in the text -- Mark and Luke leave it implied, and the KJV and other versions add it in for clarity in Mark and Luke. Matthew's addition of "Christ" is redactional, his own addition for clarity; the claimants, in line with the restraint of Messianic self-identification, will mirror the claim to divine power by saying, "I AM" (ego eimi, as in John's Gospel, as from Exodus; "name" here is used in the sense of authority) and leaving the rest to be worked out.
There were indeed false prophets claiming to represent God in plenty [Josephus War 6.5.2 refers to a "great number of false prophets" who gave false hope to the people]; these tried to initiate various signs to "activate God's eschatological salvation" [Keener, 567-8], and they did indeed deceive many. Though there do continue to be pretenders around, this word was fulfilled between 30-70 AD.
(And of course there is more to this: While some may have made "messianic" overtures, you won't find anyone other than Jesus who claimed to be God's Wisdom, a much stronger and clearer claim to divinity in context than "I am Messiah" would have been at any rate.)
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.(Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9)
Wars and rumors of wars have always been part of human history, and the time between 30-70 AD was no exception. The Jews suffered tumult under a series of incompetent and insensitive Roman leaders, who did not hesitate to kill people.
Skeptics have often said, in this light, "What's the big deal about these predictions, then?" In a sense they are right -- the key here is not Jesus' predictions of such things, but his admonition, "the end is not yet" -- in other words, he is in a sense giving the same advice, "Don't read too much into the times." But of course we need to show that such events did happen in the time specific, and here is a list of such events in this period [DeM.LDM, 78-9; Keener, 569]:
- Caligula tried to erect his statue in the Jewish temple; the Jews resisted.
- In Caesarea, Jews and Syrians went at each others' throats for mastery of the city; 20,000 Jews were put to death. Similar bloodshed occurred in Alexandria and Damascus.
- The Jewish rebellion itself took place in 66 AD.
- Tacitus in the Annals refers to disturbances, insurrections, war, and commotions in as diverse places as Germany, Africa, Gaul, Parthia, Britain, and Armenia.
- Josephus says that Roman civil wars in this era were so common that he didn't see a need to write about them in detail. The Roman civil wars were especially pronounced between 68-70 when three emperors held the top spot in short order and their rival troops fought it out.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.(Mark 13:8)
Luke 21:11 And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.
As in our previous verse, these are things that (except for signs) have continued to happen, but again, we should provide evidence of such between 30-70 [DeM.LDM, 79ff]. Acts 11:27-9 alludes to the famine in the time of Claudius. Tacitus speaks of signs in the form of "repeated earthquakes," a shortage of grain resulting in famine (at one point Rome had only 15 days' worth of food); Josephus reports of famine during the siege of Jerusalem; the earthquake in Philippi (Acts 16); Pompeii suffered quakes as a preliminary to the eruption of Vesuvius; Josephus reports a severe earthquake in Judea, and quakes were reported by secular historians as occurring throughout the Greco-Roman world.
Again, none of this is surprising; much of the Roman Empire was subject to quakes (see map here), and famine was extremely common in the ancient world. Pestilence was also common; indeed, it was more normal to be sick than healthy! The point again, though, is that these are not signs to look for as signs of the end (as is often supposed in dispensational treatments); rather, Jesus is warning his disciples to not give them undue significance.
What about Luke's signs from heaven? Tacitus reports a comet during the reign of Nero in 60 AD, and Halley's Comet came for a visit in 66. Josephus also records a third astronomical phenomena, a "star resembling a sword" which stood over Jerusalem, and a comet that "continued a whole year."
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
Mark 13:9 But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.
Luke 21:12-19 But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. But there shall not an hair of your head perish. In your patience possess ye your souls.
There can be little doubt that such events as alluded to here took place between 30 and 70, and of course, such things do continue even today. Paul was himself a persecutor, and took the stripes from the synagogue himself (2 Cor. 11:24); we may doubt that it had anything uniquely to do with him or his preaching.
Peter and John were flogged; Peter was thrown in jail; James the brother of Jesus was martyred -- Acts reports regular harassment and persecution at intervals. Tacitus and Josephus confirm persecution of Christians, and the social background data provided by Meeks' The First Urban Christians tells us enough about why. Such events of course lay enough of a background for enmity between and betrayal by family.
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
Little needs be said here, again -- we have already referred to false prophets; iniquity is a commonality, though Caligula and Nero between 30 and 70 took pains to exemplify poor morals. Paul and John also refer to false prophets within the church (Acts 13:16, 2 Tim. 2:16-17, 1 John 4:1). In context of course the "end" here must refer to the end of the age alluded to earlier.
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.
Mark 13:10 And the gospel must first be published among all nations.(no Lucan parallel)
Most everything so far, few would dispute happened between 30 and 70, but what about this one? Surely, the critics and dispensationalists say, the gospel wasn't preached to the entire world by 70; it hasn't even reached some people now!
But we need to look behind a key word: world -- this time, it isn't aion, and it also isn't kosmos, the word which indicates the broadest possible connotations, as we noted earlier -- this time, it is oikoumene, a word used to express only the Roman Empire (cf. Acts 11:28, Luke 2:1).
It is significant that this is the only place Matthew uses this word; he has selected it carefully as a geographical delimitation; it is also significant that he has used this word rather than kosmos as he did with reference to the spreading of the Gospel correspondent with the separation of the justified and the wicked. The gospel had to be preached to the Roman Empire as a whole before the end of the age.
Was this fulfilled? According to the NT, it was (Rom. 10:18, 16:25-7; cf. 2 Tim. 4:17; see also Rom. 1:8 and Col. 1:6, which uses kosmos hyperbolically). Secular history would agree that there were churches as far away from Judea as Italy; evidence of evangelism in places like Britain and Germany are based only on tradition. Nevertheless, with a church in Rome by the 50s, it could hardly be argued that evangelism in Britain, the farthest-flung part of Rome's Empire with respect to Judea, was not likely by 70.
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:)
Mark 13:14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,)
Dispensationlists tell us that this refers to a yet future Temple, and to the actions of one called Antichrist with a capital A. But here for the first time, Luke offers a very interesting divergence:
Luke 21:20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.
Luke as a Gentile writer has a propensity to explain peculiar Jewish twists to his Gentile readership; "faced with a cryptic allusion to Daniel, they would not be in a position to obey the command" to read and understand [Wr.JVG, 359]. It seems clear -- especially since the Greek word for "desolation" is the same in all three Gospels -- that he thinks that the "abomination of desolation" has to do with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies.
A few observations, now that we have looked at Daniel and its own fulfillment in 70 AD.
First, it is worth noting that Josephus, not at all having the Olivet Discourse in mind, saw the Daniel prophecy as fulfilled with the destruction of the Temple in 70 and regarded the shedding of priestly blood in the sanctuary as the desecration or abomination that caused the 70 desolation [Keener, Matthew commentary, 576]. Josephus called the Temple "no longer a place fit for God" [War 5.1.19] and said that God was the author of its destruction.
Second, Luke's indication is that the coming of the armies signifies that the "abomination" is soon to take place, and that the desolation will occur soon thereafter. So do we have a pre-70 event that fits the bill?
We do indeed -- it happened when the Jewish Zealots, those ancient terrorists, occupied the Temple and committed various acts of sacrilege, including using sacred materials for war and crowning a "high priest" in a farcical ceremony. The retired priest Ananus himself used the word "abominations" to describe what happened. They committed bloodshed in the temple sanctuary, thereby profaning it by killing the innocent [Keener, ibid. -- and it was exactly three and a half years after this "desecration" that the Temple was destroyed; for the relevance of this, see our Daniel article].
As an added note, some have brought this verse against Daniel 11:31, which is interpreted as fulfilled by Antiochus. The argument is that Jesus clearly regarded 11:31 as yet unfulfilled. This argument fails on two counts: First, the abomination alluded to in Daniel would be that of 9:24-7, not 11:31. Second, commentatators overwhelmingly agree that the details match the career of Antichous, other than some controversy over 11:44-45.
Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: (Mark 13:14-18; Luke 21:21-23)
This passage is transitional and offers us some clues of a 70 AD intention. The coming down from the housetop is in line with the Ancient Near Eastern practice of living and working on a flat roof. Other aspects here are more flexible and may refer to any given time; though as N. T. Wright notes, quoting Caird, the advice here is "more useful to a refugee from military invasion than to a man caught unawares by the last trumpet." [Wr.JVG, 359] The passage also alludes to Ezekiel's warning to flee from the destruction by Babylon (7:12-16) and to 1 Maccabees 2:28 and the warning to "flee to the hills."
The latter allusion is especially interesting. Wright [Wr.JVG, 511] notes that the Maccabees reference describes the flight of Matthias and his sons to the hills, "as the necessary prelude to their eventual victory...and the establishment of their royal house." We will argue that a "royal house" has already been established with the events and 70. We will see the relevance of this later in the discourse with our analysis of the "kingdom of heaven" phrase (Matt. 25:1).
As an added note, we might ask how one could flee from a city surrounded by armies. One might surrender to the Romans, of course -- Josephus records examples of people doing this (War 5.10.1); but of more relevance, he records that early in the war the Roman commander Cestius withdrew his troops from around Jerusalem, "without any reason in the world." (War 2.19.7) The Jews took this chance to harry the Roman troops; alert Christians would use the time to flee the city.
[A reader also passed me this note: In A.D. 68 generals Vespasian and Titus "had fortified all the places round about Jerusalem ... encompassing the city round about on all sides" (Josephus, Wars 4.9.1). But when Vespasian and Titus are "informed that Nero
was dead" (4.9.2), they "did not go on with their expedition against the
Jews" (4.9.2; cf. 4.10.2) until after Vespasian became emperor in 69. Then
"Vespasian turned his thoughts to what remained unsubdued in Judea" (4.10.5)]
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.(Mark 13:19)
Dispensationalists identify this as a tribulation with a capital T -- associated with a seven-year period headed by an Antichrist figure. According to one leading proponent of this idea, this cannot have been a 70 AD fulfillment, because there have been greater tribulations; the 70 AD tribulation, while bad, "has been superseded by scores of far-worse calamities and holocausts" [Mac.SC, 78] such as the extermination of Jews in World War II.
Certainly no one would minimize those later tribulations -- but a couple of clues work against such an argument. First of all, note Luke's "translation" of this verse:
Luke 21:24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
Our proponent offers no comment at all on this verse, which clearly shows that Luke anticipated a fulfillment in terms of Jerusalem only -- the final Diaspora, and the trodding down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles.
Added July 2012: I was pointed to a rather strained explanation recently which claimed that Matthew 24 and Luke 21 "are clearly not the same teaching by Jesus." The manifest idiocy of this argument is made plain by a simple comparison of the two passages in terms of the content: Luke 21:7/Matthew 24:3; 21:8/24:5; 21:9/24:6; 21:10-1/24:7; etc, as well as by their respective timing during Passion Week. It is also claimed that the teachings are in different locations, but even if true -- Luke is far from clear on the precise location -- this is entirely irrelevant: even if they were, the content is so clearly matching that is is obviously the same "lecture".
Finally, the incoherence of making Matt 24 and Luke 21 two different discourses is made clear by these contexts:
- In Mark 12:41-4 and Luke 21:1-4, we have the parallel accounts of the poor widow and the treasury, which occurred within view of the treasury.
- Both Mark (13:1-2) and Luke (21:5-6) follow this up immediately with a scenario in which Jesus has the stones of the Temple brought to his attention, and replies by noting that one stone will not be left on another. Mark says it is "one of his disciples" speaking, while Luke merely refers to a person speaking, without specifically saying it is a disciple.
- Then, Mark and Luke immediately relate what is clearly, by content, the Olivet Discourse. Mark places it on the Mount of Olives, and says it is Peter, James, John and Andrew who query about the signs of the times; Luke does not specify the location, and the query is made by unnamed and unspecified persons.
Now here is the clincher. Those who try to divorce Luke 21 from Matt 24 will also say that Mark 13 is the same as Matthew 24. So in essence, they must hold to the following idiotic chronology:
- Jesus had the encounter with the widow and the treasury;
- Then he had the stones of the Temple brought to his attention, and gave the answer about its destruction.
- He was then asked by some unspecified person the specific questions about when these things would happen, and answered with the words of Luke 21.
- And then, after that, he went up to the Mount of Olives where his four apostles asked the very same question with reference to the overturning of the stones, using essentially the same words, as the unnamed and unspecified person in Luke 21; and Jesus then replied with an answer that was in most fundamental respects the same, but which, according to those separating Luke 21 and Matt 24, was actually an entirely different answer!
Frankly, it takes a great deal of obscurantism to believe such nonsense. It requires us to believe that Luke was unaware of, or refused to use, the teaching of Matthew 24; it requires us to believe that Jesus gave different answers to the same question, related to the same issue of the Temple stones, to two different people (one a disciple, one an unknown person) who had brought these same stones to his attention, and did so in the hearing of the same disciples (Peter and Co.) who then went ahead and asked about the very same thing (apparently they weren't paying attention!) when they got to the Mount of Olives. It also requires us to believe that there was no dramatic orientation to the speech of the Biblical world (or that Jesus just happened to be an exception, in communicating to his contemporaries who all did have one -- and I should add that such things were not limited to apocalyptic discourse, but were part of everyday speech); that there is no connection to the images used in the three listed OT passages, and that Matthew and Luke are conveniently ignoring each others' versions from the historical record which was clearly available to both of them.
The simpler answer -- one in line with the social, literary, and cultural practices of the NT world -- is that these are the same discourse; that Luke has simply not specified the persons or place of the discourse (which are irrelevant to his reader), and has "translated" the discourse at points so that his reader (chiefly Theophilus, who was certainly a Gentile) may better understand what it means in his own terms.
This leads to the second clue -- the warnings in Matthew and Mark hearken back to an OT precursor:
Ezekiel 5:9 And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations.
Joel 2:2 A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.
Daniel 12:1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which 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, every one that shall be found written in the book.
What's Ezekiel talking about here? This is a warning about the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. It is less clear who Joel is talking to, since he identifies no enemy, but he was speaking to people of his day, and that meant the enemy was either Assyria or Babylon. Daniel speaks in light of the crisis of Antiochus (Dan. 11). DeMar correctly recognizes that the language in both cases is "proverbial and hyperbolic" [Dem.LDM, 120] and clearly alludes to the former passages.
(Keener adds that the reference to there being no similar tribulations after this one works against this being identified as a "final" tribulation, as is preferred by dispensationalists; and, Josephus used similar verbiage to describe the period from 66-73 AD [interestingly also, a seven year period -- 580; see again our essay on Daniel].)
Moreover, note Matt. 24:32-4 and its parallels. In the three Olivet parallels – Matt 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 -- Jesus seals his message with the same chronological warning. The dispensationalist claim is that Luke 21 is a warning only to first century Christians about events in their time, while Matthew 24 is a warning of the far future. Yet for this to be so, the same “this generation” warning recorded by Matthew and Luke must be read to mean two different times! In other words, it must be held that Matthew’s Jesus is warning of a “generation” in the far future, while Luke’s Jesus is warning of one within 40 years. Clearly, the disassociation of Matt 24 and Luke 21 is a ridiculous one, which is why the scholarly consensus is that they refer to the same essential teaching made at the same time.
The literalist is left with the desperate option of thoroughly ignoring both the OT precursors to Matt. 24:21 (or forcibly reinterpreting those as well), and the dramatic orientation of the social world of the Bible, and asserting that Jesus was speaking like a modern fundamentalist preacher who used wooden literalism. The tragic consequences of this are not apparent to the literalist dispensationalist, who will be either forced to read every use of extreme language by Jesus this way, or, more likely, to resort to the convenience of picking and choosing when hyperbolic language is being used, in accord with their predetermined preferences.
Matthew 24:22-26 repeats earlier warnings and does not need to be analyzed in depth here. (See also Mark 13:20-23.) The only extra point is a misinterpretation offered by some Bible versions, which takes the statement of "no flesh" being saved to mean the entire human race. But this phrase hearkens to Jer. 12:12, "The spoilers are come upon all high places through the wilderness: for the sword of the LORD shall devour from the one end of the land even to the other end of the land: no flesh shall have peace." It is used within the context of the limited area of Judah in Jeremiah; thus in Olivet it is likewise restricted.
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.
With this verse we return to the use of the key word parousia (coming). The comparison to lightning works under any scenario; it is a symbolic way of saying that the parousia will be quick and unexpected. Lightning also signified the presence of the Lord (Ex. 20:18, Deut. 33:2, etc.).
But now is the time to talk a bit further about this word parousia. As we have noted, this word is used in the Synoptics only by Matthew. Where Matthew uses parousia, Mark and Luke use a different Greek word, erchomai. Matthew does use this word in other contexts, including one which refers to Christ's "return" (Matthew 24:48).
What is the difference in nuance here? Erchomai is used over 600 times in the NT, and has a broader connotation of arrival or movement (Matt. 2:2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.) It lacks the "advent" aspect of parousia, and can mean either "coming" or "going" [Wr.JVG, 361 -- for example, John 8:59, "Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by,"; "going through" is dierchomai.].
The point here: The words themselves say nothing about the means or process of "arrival" or of the direction, the destination, or whether from the sky or however -- only parousia hints that it involves an accession of power; but the nature of the "coming" is to be determined by further context -- which we will get to shortly.
The Acts 1:11 Conundrum
One verse that often is seen as causing a problem for preterism, and which is of relevance here, is Acts 1:11: "Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." This is connected to the "Son of Man in the clouds" passages because it is said of Jesus, "a cloud received him out of their sight." (1:9) Thus the argument is, Jesus will return quite literally on a cloud, as he left on one.
But once again, "come" is erchomai, a word that can mean "coming" or "going." The angelic messengers therefore refer to the "going" of Jesus to the throne of God as the ascended Son of Man in Daniel 7.
Of relevant interest is the Lukan parallel to this verse (not found at all in Mark), which is outside of Luke's version of the Olivet teaching:
Luke 17:24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.
Luke here apparently equates the "day" of the Son of Man with Matthew's "coming" of the Son of Man. The relevance of this may be seen in our essay on the phrase "the day of the Lord". This phrase was associated with final judgment, but more often, by far with an immediate judgment upon one nation at one point in time, or any time that God acted decisively. This would suggest that Luke did not understand the "day" of the Son of Man as a final judgment of necessity.
For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.(Luke 17:37)
Jesus here alludes to Jer. 7:33, "And the carcases of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away." -- a warning to Judah of the coming destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. This verse too fits both a dispensational and a preterist scenario.
Most commentators regardless of orientation would render "eagles" as vultures, though the word, aetos, seems to refer to any big bird and elsewhere would suggest an eagle (Rev. 4:7, 12:14). Perhaps both are in mind -- with the Roman eagle (it's national symbol, like ours) doing double duty as a scavenger over the dead.
With the next verses we enter into a divergence in opinion once more:
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...(Mark 13:24-5)
Luke 21:25-6 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
There's no way you can say that this took place in 70 AD, it may be said. Sure, Josephus reports some signs in the skies, but nothing like this, correct?
So say the skeptics; so likewise the dispensationalists. But if this hasn't happened, what about these things?
Is. 13:10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
Is. 34:3-5 Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
Ezek. 32:6-8 I will also water with thy blood the land wherein thou swimmest, even to the mountains; and the rivers shall be full of thee. And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD.
Amos 8:9 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day:
These are not descriptions of final judgment. They are oracles against Babylon (Is. 13) and against Edom (Is. 34) and Egypt (Ezek. 32) and the northern kingdom of Israel (Amos). Point at issue: We are not dealing with literal events here, but apocalyptic imagery -- material like that found in Ezekiel, in which God sits on a physical throne, and angels are amalgamated zoos, and eating a scroll is not only possible but gives you heartburn. None of these things literally happened to Babylon, Edom, etc. -- and Isaiah, et al. did not think that they would. "These passages all tell a story with the same set of motifs: YHWH's victory over the great pagan city; the rescue and vindication of his true people who had been suffering under it; and YHWH's acclamation as king." [Wr.JVG. 356-7]
Matthew 24:29 is symbolic for judgment, for the vindication of the new covenant over the old covenant, and their respective members, and Christ's new reign -- and thus fits within the paradigm of a 70 fulfillment. Some points as proof [Dem.LDM, 143; Wr.JVG, 354ff] :
- Stellar symbols are used in the Bible to represent nations, entities, angels or people (Gen. 22;17, 26:4, 37:9; Deut. 1:10; Is. 14:4ff; Job 38:7; Neh. 9:23; Mal. 4:2; Jude 1:13; Rev. 1:20) as they are used today on many national flags, including Old Glory herself. [Dem.LDM, 143]
- The sun and moon are connected intimately with governing functions in Genesis (ruling over the day and night; the same word "rule" is used in 1 Kings 9:19: "And all the cities of store that Solomon had, and cities for his chariots, and cities for his horsemen, and that which Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, and in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion.")
- Stellar imagery is used in "reverse" as well, not just as judgment signals, but as signs of blessing (Is. 30:26).
The combined imagery of sun, moon and stars reflects complete political entities. Jesus' prediction refers to nothing more or less than the judgment upon the nation of Israel. As Witherington writes, "That something cataclysmic is being described is sure, but bear in mind that this same sort of language is used when describing the fall of Babylon, and we may be sure that all the stars did not fall from the sky on that occasion, nor is it likely that God only acts when there are eclipses!" [commentary on Mark, 347]
I would like to close this section with a respectful observation concerning a major proponent of the dispensational theory, whose work in other arenas I have high respect for [Mac.SC, 120ff]. This writer observes, as even skeptics do, that "[n]o great cosmic signs like this ever occurred in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70." He then accuses preterists of "imposing an interpretive grid" of allegory to force events into 70 events.
I think it is telling that this writer's answer to the parallels in the OT, in particular Is. 13, is to first admit that, yes, there is some symbolism in Matthew 24 -- "Almost no one expects the stars to fall to earth literally" -- and then goes on to suggest that Is. 13 is also a scene of worldwide judgment!
Dispensationalism must offer in turn it's own "interpretive grid" which sees in OT passages like these an oracle telling of "both near and far events." There is some room within the conception of typology for such an idea in this context; Is. 7:14 predicts events both in the day of Isaiah and in the day of Jesus. Yet even under this paradigm, the problem of Jesus specifying "this generation" indicates a complete fulfillment in 70 A. D. one way or the other.
It cannot be gotten around so easily. The dispensationalists, as Wright notes, are engaged in "the folly of trying to fit the hurricane of first-century Jewish theology into the bottle of late-modern western categories..." [Wr.JVG, 513] We should no more expect blood on the moon or falling stars than we should expect, from Daniel, four literal monsters literally dripping and slathering their way out of the Mediterranean like Godzilla: "We must never forget that first-century Jews, reading a passage like Daniel 7, would think of being oppressed, not by mythical monsters, but by real Romans."
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mark 13:26)
Luke 21:27-8 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
We can't say that Jesus came in the sky on a cloud in 70 AD, can we? We'll refer the reader again to our corresponding study on Daniel with specific reference to the Son of Man imagery therein. For convenience, we will reproduce the most relevant paragraphs here:
We know that the Son of Man envisioned here is Christ. What should be especially noted for our purposes is the Son of Man's mode of transportation, and the direction he is going in. The Son of Man is riding with "the clouds of heaven" (the LXX has the Son of Man actually "on" the clouds) and heading towards the Ancient of Days to be enthroned.
Miller  believes that the Son of Man rides from heaven to earth in this picture, but this is quite unlikely in view of the setting of God's heavenly court (7:10). Goldingay  acknowledges that the scene of God on a throne of fire, surrounded by attendants, "locate the scene in heaven"; but counters that where "it is specifically a matter of God judging...the scene is normally on earth."
The verses he uses in support of this, however, could be said to fall to circular reasoning; for example, Jer. 49:38: "And I will set my throne in Elam, and will destroy from thence the king and the princes, saith the LORD." Did God literally set his throne in Elam? (Other passages, like Ps. 96:10-13, say God will come to judge the earth, but how does this equate with God being physically present on earth?) Bottom line: The scene fits the placement of heaven better than it fits a placement on earth. Nor does it do to object that the scene must be on earth because of the earth and the sea seen by Daniel (7:3-4). Again, if we are thinking literal geography and envisioning here, then the Mormons must be right about God having a human body!
How then does this relate to the Olivet Discourse? The scene of Daniel 7, as Caird says [Wr.JVG, 341], involves not "a primitive form of space travel" but "a symbol for a mighty reversal of fortunes within history and at the national level..." The scene is one of a victorious enthronement and vindication over enemies. To emphasize this, we will also need to pull in a verse from another part of the Gospels:
Matthew 26:64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.(Mark 14:62)
Luke 22:69 Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.
Jesus' retort to Caiaphas, in light of the primary charge that Jesus threatened the Temple, is of great significance in this context. "As a prophet, Jesus staked his reputation on his prediction of the Temple's fall within a generation; if and when it fell, he would thereby be vindicated." Jesus also promoted himself as the new Temple which would replace the old one, with his predictions that he would raise a new one -- his body -- in three days.
If the Temple did NOT fall, he would be proven a charlatan. But if the Temple did indeed fall, he would be vindicated -- just like Daniel's "Son of Man" which he claimed to be. In saying he will ride the clouds, Jesus is not saying, as Wright wryly notes, that Caiaphas would one day walk by a window, look outside, and see Jesus popping a wheelie on a cumulus. Rather Jesus is saying, "You will see me vindicated; you will see my predictions come true."
The "coming" -- as noted, using the word erchomai, which specifies neither destination nor direction -- alludes to the "going" of the Daniel 7 Son of Man from earth to heaven to be enthroned. Caipahas (or more likely, the collective assembled for the trial; as well as the "tribes of the earth" -- Matthew uses "tribes" elsewhere only of Israel [19:18], and the word is used in the Septuagint to refer to them; and "earth" is ge, or land, can mean a limited area or the entire globe; in context, and in the light of the use of "tribes," as well as the allusion to Zech 12:10 ["And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him"] it most likely means Jerusalem or Judaea only) will see the rise of the Christian movement ("from now on" or "hereafter" in the KJV), followed by the destruction of Jerusalem just as Jesus predicted -- thus proving that he was and is the true Messiah, "the one in and through whom the covenant god is acting to set up his kingdom."
Jesus also speaks, in all three versions, of being at the right hand of power -- alluding throughout again to Daniel 7 and the enthronement of the Son of Man. Hearken now back to the disciples' original question. They want to know, in essence, when Jesus will assume the kingship. Jesus replies by indicating that "the Temple's destruction would constitute his own vindication." [Wr.JVG, 342] His parousia, his enthronement as king, would be "consequent upon the dethronement of the present powers that were occupying the holy city." 
In the Jewish mindset, the establishment of a Temple was intertwined with kingship. Solomon built the first temple; Herod rebuilt the temple as a sign of his kingship; Bar Kochba showed intentions to rebuild the temple in the 130s AD as part of his pseudo-messianic program. In the new era, the temple of God is now the individual believer (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19) and the body of believers (Eph. 2:21). The Spirit indwells in the believer, where the Shekinah once dwelt in the Jewish temple. Christ now sits at the right hand of the father (Heb. 12:22, Eph. 1:20, Acts 2:33, etc.) and rules his kingdom. Paul sees Christ reigning now, though all is not yet accomplished in that reign (1 Cor. 15:25).
This is NOT to say that, as pantelists maintain, the resurrection has occurred already and Christ is through with the world. That can't be read from the Scriptures. But it is clear that with the events of 70, the reign of Christ is confirmed in a very unique way.
This leaves a couple of loose ends to tie up. Matthew does say as well that a "sign" shall be seen, seemingly in heaven; what of that? DeMar  explains that it is not the sign which is in heaven, but the Son of Man; thus what is seen is a sign which is not given any location. The word here is semeion, used by John often to refer to Jesus' miracles; the word itself denotes a token of identification or verification. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple itself fits this bill.
Finally, Luke relates this event to "redemption" -- this word is used elsewhere in the NT to refer to salvation in a spiritual sense, but it could hardly mean this in any context, whether preterist or dispensational. What does it mean? Stein (commentary on Luke, 525) sees in the term an idea of consummation of hopes; one might relate this, then, to the tangible evidence of the enthronement of Christ that the destruction of Jerusalem and the "old order" provided.
Temple and Redemption
I have been asked how the destruction of Jerusalem, considering that it resulted in increased tensions between the Jews and Christians [who were then expelled from the synagogue and lost any claim to the Romans that they fell under the protected umbrella of Judaism] would have been understood by Christians as their "redemption". The answer lies in the difference of ancient personality. Such tensions upon individuals would have been placed, in the ancient mindset, secondarily to that which was better for the group and its efforts as a whole.
Believe it or not, they would have taken the expulsion and persecution, not happily of course, but would have considered the redemptive sign worth the price. For more on this matter of ancient psychology, see Malina and Neyrey's Portraits of Paul.)
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.(Mark 13:27)
Dispensational paradigms have taught us that in this passage we have a picture of a "rapture" of believers, of divine beings picking us up by the ears and taking us home. But we should take some caution before jumping into this interpretation. All agree that "four winds" and "one end of heaven to the other" indicates a worldwide gathering, and the "elect" are believers, but the rest is open to examination.
First: "Angels" is aggelos, and while it is used of supernatural beings (Matt. 1:20, 13:40, 16:27, 28:2, Luke 1) it is also used of humans like John the Baptist (Matt. 12:10, Mark 1:2, Luke 7:27) and Jesus' disciples (Luke 9:52) in the NT and in the Septuagint [DeM.LDM, 175]. The word does not denote a divine being per se, but a function, that of a messenger.
Second: the "trumpet" sounding admits to several options. Keener  notes that the trumpet was usually in the OT a call to war, and that this is found in pagan contexts as well, but this obviously won't bear on this context. A trumpet is also used at the resurrection of the righteous (1 Cor. 15:52), which has often been cited in favor of a "rapture" interpretation. But there are other uses as well. A trumpet was used for various proclamations, for kingship, a celebration of triumph, for a call to worship, and for the assembly of God's people.
Third: to "gather" means to collect in one place. This word (episunago) is used sparingly in the NT, and seems often to refer to a physical gathering, but not always: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" Jesus' intent here was not to physically gather together all the Israelites; the protective umbrella was the Messianic kingdom. The Greek word is also related to the word "synagogue" (sunagoge).
To tie it all together: We noted earlier that it is predicted that the end will come when the gospel is preached to the Roman Empire. Now Jesus tells us that following the destruction of Jerusalem, the messengers or "angels" or the gospel will take that gospel worldwide, to gather his elect, the body of Christ, the "people of God" (1 Peter 2:9-10).
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. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
(Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33)
Of course we now come to the central point of contention that got this started. Jesus speaks of these things happening within "this generation." The dispensational paradigm is required to understand "this generation" in other ways (i.e., the race of Jews, for example) but we have seen that there is no need for this. The generation Jesus spoke to saw these things fulfilled.
At this point the discourses diverge substantially. Mark 13 continues the discourse to verse 37 with admonitions to be watchful. Luke 21:34-6 does the same; Luke however, does place the "Noah" warning at 17:25 and adds a comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah. The warnings are good to go under any paradigm, and with that we leave Mark's version of the discourse behind. We pick up with Matt. 24:40 and parallel:
Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Luke 18:35-6 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Another "rapture" passage? "Taken" into the air, perhaps? Maybe not, and maybe the "taken" one is not the good guy at all:
Jer 6:11 Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together: for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days.
Furthermore, note the parallel in the previous passage in which the wicked are the ones "taken" by the Flood [Keener, 592; Gundry, commentary on Matthew, 494]. Those taken, are taken in judgment by the impending judgment on Jerusalem and Judaea, which would be no respecter of persons. That this is not a "rapture" verse is clear in that this is where Luke places the Matthew 24:28 remark about carcasses.
We now leave also Luke's unique material. Matthew 24:42-51 continues with more warnings of watchfulness that work under any paradigm. We now close out with some items unique to Matthew, in chapter 25.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
The parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13), followed by the parable of the talents (25:14-30), are both parables of general warning that fit under any paradigm. References to the bridegroom "tarrying" (25:5) do not necessarily comport with a substantial wait -- as DeMar rightly notes, the bridegroom and the master return to the same people the story starts with.
A "tarrying" within the generational period is more than sufficient to account for this, and if 2 Peter is to be reckoned, the doctrine of generation return was known to mockers and was being jeered at as early as the 50s and 60s, as we would expect.
But what of the apparent pictures of final judgment? They are, as Wright observes, actually threats to the "present nation of Israel" [JVG, 185] warning them to repent. "In the sad, noble, and utterly Jewish tradition of Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the coming judgment of Israel's covenant god on his people, a judgment consisting of a great national, social and cultural disaster, ultimately comprehensible only in theological terms." Like other signs in the Discourse, these are eschatological word-pictures -- to be taken seriously enough as they stand.
This leaves the enormous account of Matthew 25:31-46, the sheep and the goats. We'll offer enough to make the point clear:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels...And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
But surely this has not happened? Actually it has, and still does. All agree that the Bible teaches that judgment is entered upon death (Heb. 9:27). We cannot assume that what we are being offered here is a literal picture of events -- no more so than people are actually sheep or goats, or that the millions of blessed and wicked will respond with exactly the same words at once as though they were some sort of Greek tragedy chorus. As DeMar rightly says, this depicts a "judgment over time" [DeM.LDM, 200].
Jesus is now exalted to his throne and is passing this sort of judgment as more and more pass on. His remarks to the sheep and goats, and their responses, are typified and stereotyped; this should also be obvious since they cannot be a complete catalog of virtuous and wicked acts. Matthew 25:31-46 is taking place even now -- it is not a future judgment (exclusively), but it is a final one.
In conclusion: The impetus for this analysis, as noted at the beginning, was skeptical claims that the Bible wrongly taught a "soon" coming of Jesus. Dispensationalists try to solve this problem by redefining "soon". Our solution is that all along they and others have mis-defined "coming".
I have expected, and still expect, certain reactions to this argument. Skeptics I believe will continue to do as one critic has, merely giving a brief description as though the arguments are refuted by exposure. Fellow believers may react "violently" (as one letter writer has, though providing no more refutation than the skeptic has), but I hope readers will explore this view, and allow scholarship rather than popular fiction and literature to govern their eschatology.
John MacArthur is right at least in saying that eschatology is a central doctrine, inseparable from others and particularly the authority and divinity of Christ. We cannot afford to be satisfied with easy solutions.
- Dem.LDM DeMar, Gary. Last Days Madness. American Vision, 1999.
- Mac.SC MacArthur, John. The Second Coming. Crossway Books, 1999.
- With.JPEW Witherington, Ben. Jesus, Paul and the End of the World. IVP, 1992.
- Wr.JVG Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Fortress, 1996.