Posted by: stpowen | March 5, 2012

The Fogotten Doctrine- Loving the Return of Christ (3)

1 Thessalonians 5:4.  ‘But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this day should overtake you as a thief.’

In this article, I am continuing my critique of Hyper-preterism and I want to investigate the meaning of Matthew 24:34.  “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”  Does this verse really mean that the whole of Matt 24 took place in AD 70?  I intend to show that it certainly does not.

The Greek word translated ‘generation’ in this verse is genea.  Its literal meaning is ‘begetting’ so while it certainly can mean ‘generation,’ it might equally well mean ‘race’ (A.V. margin) or perhaps ‘people’ or ‘nation.’  Genea also appears in Matt 23:36 and could also mean ‘race’ there.  Certainly the race of the Jews, despite the most terrible calamities which have afflicted it, has not yet passed away.

If however we follow the universal view of the translations that genea is most likely to mean ‘generation,’ what are the things that must have taken place before that generation disappeared?  The Hyper-preterist position is that all the events predicted in Matthew 24 occurred around AD 70.  Since the Jews viewed a generation as being about forty years, and our Lord was speaking in around AD 30, the timescale works exactly.  However, can it really be said that the events described in verses 29-31 happened in AD 70? Was the sun darkened?  Did all the tribes of the earth mourn?  Did anyone at all see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven?  If they did happen, no one thought them worth mentioning.

It will be helpful if we look briefly at Matthew 24.  It begins (vs 1-2) with our Lord’s dire prediction of the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem.  Afterwards, His disciples came up to Him and asked Him three questions.  They themselves might have supposed that they were really all the same question;  they might not have been able to conceive of the Temple being destroyed and life still continuing.  Nonetheless, they asked three questions so we should expect the Lord Jesus to give more than one answer.  The questions are:

“When shall these things be?”  ‘These things’ are surely the destruction of the Temple.

“What will be the sign of Your coming?”  Will there be a sign predicting Christ’s return?

“What will be the sign of the end of the age?”  Will we be able to predict the end of the world before it happens?

We can see that the second and third questions are essentially the same, but perhaps the disciples didn’t realise that.

It is my firm belief that in verses 4-14, the Lord Jesus  is not looking at merely the next forty years to the destruction of Jerusalem (though He certainly does that), but at the whole period of the ‘last days’ right up until His return.   When we look at verse 6 and its warning of ‘wars and rumours of wars’ we need to remind ourselves that the period from BC 30 –AD 180 is called by historians the Pax Romana because, notwithstanding some terrible wars, it was actually a time of unparalleled peace compared with the years preceding and following.  The one great convulsion of violence during that era was the rebellion that disposed of the Emperor Nero in AD 68 and the so-called ‘Year of the Four Emperors’ that followed in 69.  But the Lord Jesus said, ‘The end is not yet.’  Well in AD 69, the end of Jerusalem was, to say the least, imminent.

In verses 7 and 8, we are told of wars between nations and kingdoms as well as natural disasters.  Beyond a doubt these things were going on somewhere in the world previous to AD 70 just as they had been going on before, but I see no indication that there was any unusual increase in their frequency in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Moreover, we are told that these are ‘The beginning of sorrow,’ not the climax of them.  What are Lord is saying is that all the time between His ascension to heaven and His return will be a time of worldly sorrow (John 16:33; Rom 8:18-23; Rev 6:1-11).  Is this not exactly what we see today?  Is there even the slightest indication that wars and violence and natural disasters have ended or slackened in any way since AD 70?  Our consolation is not that Christ has already returned to put everything right- if that were the case, then we would have to say that He has failed abysmally- but that He will most certainly return, and that, ‘We, according to His promise, look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells’ (2 Peter 3:13).

Verses 9-13 deal with persecution, false teaching and apostasy.  The same comments apply  as in the previous paragraph.  These things have not ended since AD 70, but rather increased.  The section ends (v 14) which the promise that the Gospel will be preached all over the world before the end.  Even if we interpret ‘world’ to mean only the Roman world, which we have no right to do, we saw above that this had not happened by AD 70.  There is no indication that the Gospel had reached the Roman provinces of Gaul or Carthage by that date.  Verse 14 speaks of an event that is still to come.  To be sure the Gospel has reached many parts of the world in the last century or so, but there are still countries where the word has scarcely penetrated as yet.  We may feel that the time cannot be too far away, but we must leave the judgement of such matters to God.  He alone knows when the time will be.

It is in verses 15-28 that the Lord Jesus turns to the destruction of Jerusalem.  The ‘Abomination of desolation’ is a reference to Dan 11:31, where it refers to the desecration of the Temple by King Antiochus Epiphanes in BC 167.  The parallel passage in Luke 21:20 supplies the context for our Lord’s words:  “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.”  A desecration even greater than the one committed by Antiochus is being prophesied.  Up to verse 20, the Christians living in Judea are warned that as the siege commences there will be very limited opportunity for them to escape the terrible suffering that occurred at that time (1).   But notice that the instructions are only for those living in Judea (v16).  If this is the end of the world and the start of the New Heavens and New Earth as Hyper-preterists claim, then what about all the other Christians living at the time.  Take, for example, the Philippian jailor of Acts 16, if he was still living in AD 70.  He would have been told that our Lord was crucified at Jerusalem, but he would probably never have visited (4), nor have known anyone who lived there, and have had only the vaguest idea where it was.  The news of its destruction would not have reached Philippi for some weeks or even months.  The end of the world happened and no one told him!  When he did finally hear the news, or read about it in the Philippian Times (5), what would he have done about it?  I think he might have thought to himself, “Well, I guess they had it coming,” have said a little prayer and then have turned to the chariot racing results on the back page.  After the great convulsion in the Empire of the year before, a siege in an out-of-the-way place like Jerusalem would have seemed very small beer.

In verses 21-28, Our Lord continues to speak of the fall of Jerusalem, but there is also a parallel reference to another, greater event.  The siege and destruction of Jerusalem was a most terrible event, but I think it would be hard to argue that it was more dreadful than, say, the siege of Leningrad during World War Two.  The New Testament speaks of a short period just before Christ’s return with is often termed Satan’s Little Season.  If one takes an Amillennial view of Revelation 20, then we can see that at the end of the Gospel Age, Satan is released from his prison and goes out to draw all the Nations against Christ and His people.  We can see this figured in Rev 11, where the two witnesses, representing Christian evangelism are protected from their enemies until ‘They finish their testimony’ (v7).  Then, for a short period, Christian witness lies dead in the street and the unconverted world rejoices over it.  But this period is swiftly followed by the Return of Christ (v15) and the Day of Judgement.  In the same way, we read in Rev 13 of the beast from the sea, who represents worldly governments and power.  In verses 1-5, we see him having authority and speaking blasphemy, but in verses 6, things change.  For a period, he is able to persecute God’s people with impunity and have them killed and prevent them from earning their living.

These things, I believe, are what are being foretold by the Lord Jesus.  The idea that they concern only AD 70 does not fit.  ‘Then if anyone says to you, “Look here is the Christ!” or “There!” Do not believe them’ (Matt 24:23).  The reason that we are not to believe such things is because when the Lord comes it will be a sudden, dramatic event that everyone is going to know about without being told.  ‘For as the lightening comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be’ (v27).   When the Lord returns everyone is going to know (eg. Rev 1:7).

Verses 29-31 obviously refer to the end of time since nothing remotely similar to the events described, however liberally one interprets them, is reported as having happened in AD 70.  In verses 32-35, however, the Lord is speaking of Jerusalem.  We know this because He is saying that there will be clear signs that can be discerned before the time comes; and so there were.  The Jewish revolt against Rome began in AD 66, but after some initial successes the Jews were steadily forced back on Jerusalem until it was encircled by the Roman legions  (Luke 21:20).  The siege itself took several months and there was never any real doubt as to its outcome.  It is this event that our Lord is prophesying in verses 33-34 and giving a timescale for its completion.  But when the Lord returns it will be a sudden event, and nobody knows when it will be.  ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but My father only’ (v36).  ‘Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is’ (Mark 13:33). 

So there are two events being prophesied.  One has a date that can be seen approaching (vs 32-33) and would occur before the generation then living passed completely away.  This is the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem.  Of the other event, the coming of our Lord, neither the approximate time (‘day’) nor the exact date (‘hour’) can be known, but it will be like the flood in Noah’s time when people were going about their normal activities without a care in the world until the flood came and carried them away.  This is in line with other texts which tell us that end of the world will be like a thief breaking into a house (Matt 24:43; 1 Thes 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10 etc.), ‘For when they say “Peace” and “safety!” the sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman, and they shall not escape’ (1 Thes 5:3).

The destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple is long passed.  Its lessons for us today are historical; that we should note the certainty of prophesy being fulfilled and severity of the Lord in judgement.  The Return of Christ and the end of the world as we know it are future events  and they have a very different significance and application for us today.  That (DV) will be the topic of the next article.


(1) According to Church historian Eusebius, the Jerusalem Christian heeded our Lord’s words and fled the city for the town of Pella on the other side of the Jordan.

(2) Apparently many jailors in Roman times were retired soldiers, so it is just possible, though unlikely, that our Philippian jailor might have visited Judea during his service with the legions.

(3) This newspaper is a figment of my own imagination.  Before the invention of printing many hundreds of years later there would have been no newspapers as we know them.  News would have passed quickly enough to the ruling classes by letter or messenger, but the common people like our Philippian jailor might have been quite unaware for years of what was happening in other parts of the Empire unless it was deemed important enough for a public proclamation to be made.


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