Which aspects of the teaching of Jesus on the Mt of Olives refer to the Second Coming? Summary
- What is the duration of the Great Distress in Matthew 24:15-22?
- Some scholarly opinions about Matthew 24
- We have noted that Jesus spoke on the Mt of Olives in Matthew 24 about both the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 and about the End of the age and his return. We need therefore to be clear which aspects of his teaching refer to the Second Coming.
- Some scholars say all the prophecies were fulfilled by AD70 (when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple). They say:
“The Son of man coming
on the clouds of heaven” refers to Dan 7:13-14 where the Son of man comes to
God not to earth, i.e. the Ascension.
- “All the peoples of the earth will mourn” is really “All the tribes of the land will mourn” and refers only to the Jewish people mourning in AD70.
- · The angels gathering the elect refers to the worldwide growth of the church after AD70.
- · The gospel being preached to the whole world refers to the preaching of the gospel throughout the then known world between AD30 and AD70.
- I believe Jesus refers to both AD70 and to the Second Coming because:
- a. The disciples asked about both.
- b. Jewish people expected “the End” to be when the Messiah physically came to earth.
- c. The signs of Matt 24:4-13 (false messiahs, wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, false prophets) continued to happen both before and after AD70. They are repeated Reminders that Jesus will return.
- d. The language of Matt 24:9-29 does not fit what happened from AD30-AD70:
- · “You will be hated by all nations ... many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other ... Many false prophets will appear and deceive many ... The love of most will grow cold.” This is describing a far worse situation than happened from AD30-70.
- · “This gospel ... will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” This goes beyond what happened in AD30-70. There were many more nations in the whole world than were evangelised in that period. “The End” more likely refers to the return of Christ than AD70.
- · “There will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again. ‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive.” This language goes way beyond the suffering of AD70. What about the Holocaust or the massive persecution of Christians?
- · Matt 24:29 says “immediately” after the great distress there are signs in the heavens and Jesus returns – an event visible to all, not hidden away in heaven. This is not AD70.
- Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
- He says: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” This seems to say that all that Jesus had foretold would happen in the first generation – between AD30 and AD70.
- Some people have translated the word “generation” as “race” meaning this “race” – the Jewish people – will not pass away until all is fulfilled. But the word normally refers to the literal present generation and is often described as an evil generation.
- However, Luke probably wrote some 30 years after Jesus died when the ‘present generation’ would have been ‘passing away’ so it is unlikely he would have understood the current generation to be meant by the term ‘this generation.’
- Is Jesus therefore referring to the generation that experiences the beginning of the late (non-recurring) signs of the Return of Christ and saying all the great events including the Return itself will happen within one generation?
- One thing is clear, in view of all I have written, I don’t believe Jesus was referring to his own (AD30-70) generation. It raises far greater difficulties to say he did.
- Five suggestions have been made:
- 1. Jesus passes from one period of great distress (AD70) to another (still future).
- 2. Jesus means the whole period from AD70 until his Return is a time of distress (this does not seem to fit the facts of history).
- 3. Jesus follows the ‘telescoping’ or ‘foreshortening’ which is typical of the prophets. Think of climbing a mountain. What looks like a single slope to the top often turns out to hide valleys which have to be crossed. In fact the mountain is a series of lesser peaks separated by valleys, but from the bottom it looks like a single slope to the highest peak. The prophets often see a series of events as a ‘single slope’ but they turn out to be events separated by ‘valleys’ of time. So Jesus may have been viewing the two periods of distress in that way, apparently as one event but actually two, separated by a (very long) ‘valley’ of time.
- 4. Jesus means the tribulation starts in AD 66/70 but the main part of it is long postponed – to the still future End Times.
- 5. Jesus is only talking about AD30-70 and is not referring to his visible return to earth (I have already concluded this is not the case).
- In my view, taking everything I have said into account, suggestions 1 and 3 seem most likely.
- Professors W D Davies and D C Allison in the “International Critical Commentary on Matthew” write that they are “unpersuaded” by another scholar, Dick France, that Matthew 24 is only about the events around AD70. They believe the chapter covers the whole period leading up to the Second Coming.
- Professor Leon Morris says the chapter refers to both the destruction of Jerusalem and the lead-up to the Second Coming. Professor Douglas Hare says the same and adds that the “the abomination that causes desolation” refers to a supernatural Antichrist. Professor C E B Cranfield agrees.
- Professor F D Bruner writes that the emphasis is on the end of the world, foreshadowed by the destruction of Jerusalem. Professor Robert Mounce says that biblical prophecy is capable of more than one fulfilment and so Matthew moves from one fulfilment (AD70) to another (still future).
- Professor C E B Cranfield, (writing on Mark 13) says the passage is about the signs of the End. He comments: “The recognition that the events of history are signs of the End and pointers to the coming Lord rescues eschatology from the realm of merely academic discussion and makes it relevant for faith and obedience. As our faith recognizes the signs as they occur, we are again and again put in remembrance of our Hope, and our gaze, that is so easily distracted from the Lord who is coming to us, is again and again directed back to him. The events of the present become for us reasons for lifting up our heads (Lk. xxi. 28) and so many summonses to renewed penitence, obedience and joy.”
- Scholars also comment on the difficult verse: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30). Did he mean all the signs of the End, including the Second Coming, would happen before the generation of people alive when he said this died?
- Professor Robert Gundry points out that in the previous chapter Matthew 23:29-36 Jesus accuses “this generation” (the people alive when he spoke) of murdering a prophet who lived hundreds of years before. Clearly this is not literal. He means they share the responsibility for his death because they have the same attitude – of rejecting the prophets. So if “this generation” is clearly not limited to the literal present generation in chapter 23:35-36 surely there is no problem in saying “this generation” in chapter 24:34 is not limited to the literal present generation either.
- Professors Robert Mounce and Leon Morris say Matthew 24:34 doesn’t mean all these things must end in this generation but only that they must have begun to happen in this generation.
- Robert Mounce also says: “One thing we do know is that by the time Matthew wrote, the mission of the Twelve was history and the parousia [Second Coming] had not taken place.” It is not likely therefore that Matthew was referring to the AD30-70 generation.
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