• By:  
  • Date:  

Expecting What’s Already Happened

 to Happen Next

In v.21Jesus describes this event as “unequaled from the beginning of the world until now.”Many insist that this “great tribulation” cannot refer to the events of AD 70 because worse and more severe tribulations have since followed (ie., WW II and Holocaust, Stalin, etc.). Consider the following:

(1) Assuming Jesus is speaking in strictly literal terms, it is unlikely He is referring to a time of tribulation at the end of the world, because of the phrase “unequaled from the beginning.” In other words, this phrase envisions a time following this particular tribulation under Nero in which other, albeit less severe tribulations, occurred.

(2) The savagery, cruelty, and the monstrosities that occurred in AD 70 were beyond comparison with such a high percentage of one city’s population being emaciated.

(3) It may well be, however, that the statement in v.21 is deliberately hyperbolic, a stock saying for an indescribably horrendous time. In other words, it may be proverbial, designed to emphasize how truly horrible an event it was. “Such judgment is often framed in terms of prophetic hyperbole, a common apocalyptic device used by the writers of Scripture.”[1]

“In 2 Kings 18:5 it is written of Hezekiah that there would be no king after him who would show the same devotion to the Lord as he showed. When we get an assessment of Josiah’s reign, which followsHezekiah’s reign, we are informed that ‘there was no king like him who turned to the Lord.’ How can Hezekiah’s reign be the greatest (even considering the reign of a future king like Josiah) and Josiah’s reign be the greatest (even considering the reign of a past king like Hezekiah)? Is this a contradiction? There are no contradictions in the Bible. The phraseology is obviously hyperbolic, emphasizing complete devotion to the Lord and His law.”[2]

The days will be shortened, either to allow the Elect to survive or perhaps because the presence of the Elect in the world mitigates God’s divine wrath.

Don’t look for the second coming of Christ in the chaotic events surrounding Jerusalem’s fall. Such troublesome times would prove to be a golden opportunity for false prophets to lead people astray with false expectations of Christ’s appearance. But Jesus says, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (v.24).

Josephus actually records several instances of impostors who enticed people into the desert and elsewhere with promises of the Messiah’s appearance. Also, it should be noted that v.27 is not necessarily a reference to the parousia as Kenneth Gentry states this “coming” to be the judgment of Christ against Jerusalem. “The direction of this judgment coming of Christ in Matthew 24:27 apparently reflects the Roman armies marching toward Jerusalem from an easterly direction. Josephus’s record of the march of the Roman armies through Israel shows they wreak havoc on Jerusalem by approaching it from the east.”[3]

Matthew 24:28 may be taken three ways, depending on one’s interpretation of the term “coming” in v.27: (1) The parousia of Christ will be as obvious as the presence of a corpse as indicated by the presence of vultures, or (2) “it will be as impossible for humanity not to see the coming of the Son of Man as it is for vultures to miss seeing carrion.”[4]Or, if the term “coming” in v.27 means the judgment of Jerusalem in AD 70, (3) the vultures are the eagles found on Roman ensign at the head of each legion.

The problem is posed by vv.29-31 where Jesus says His coming will occur “Immediately after the distress of those days” as described in vv.15ff. Mark says in 13:24, “But in those days, following that distress.” So that the “distress (tribulation) of those days” (v.29)refers not only to the events of AD 70 but to the entire age between the first and second comings of Christ.

 

V The Parable of the Fig Tree

Matthew 24:32-36

(also Mark 13:28-32 and Luke 21:29-33)

 

So, what about the question the disciples asked Jesus in v.3 “When will this happen?” The disciples evidently understood that with the destruction of the temple there would follow the end of the world—all in a single event. But Jesus says, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Then to make His point later in v.32, He shares the parable of the fig tree. These words of our Savior are really a sticking point for just about anyone and everyone who’s ever taken on the challenge of His prophetic words in this passage. He plainly and without the adornment of metaphor or mystery of spiritual nuances, says that those in His generation will experience what He’s warned them about. There’s just no getting around this statement. The NIV Study Bible soothes its premillennialist readers by suggesting that possibly Jesus was referring here to “a future generation alive at the beginning of ‘these things.’” And so, it may “not mean that Jesus had a mistaken notion that he was going to return immediately.”[5]However, while such a concession may provide enough theological latitude to maintain an otherwise misleading viewpoint, it seems to also provide a disservice to those who would be better “discipled” with linguistic accuracy rather than theological generosity.

The Net Biblestates, “This is one of the hardest verses in the gospels to interpret. Various views exist for what generation means. (1) Some take it as meaning ‘race’ and thus as an assurance that the Jewish race (nation) will not pass away. But it is very questionable that the Greek term geneacan have this meaning. Two other options are possible. (2) Generation might mean ‘this type of generation’ and refer to the generation of wicked humanity. Then the point is that humanity will not perish, because God will redeem it. Or (3) generation may refer to ‘the generation that sees the signs of the end’ (v.30), who will also see the end itself. In other words, once the movement to the return of Christ starts, all the events connected with it happen very quickly, in rapid succession.”[6]Again, the tail of popular theology wags the dog of biblical truth by conceding some possibilities that simply don’t exist in the text. The fact of the matter is that Jesus knew what He was talking about and just as He predicted, all His prophecy would be fulfilled just as He has said.[7]

 

The Fig Tree

Israel’s fig trees were in abundance along the Mount of Olives, some reaching 25 feet in height. They leaf out in winter and blossom late in spring. Maybe Jesus had reached up and plucked a branch and pointed out to them its inner sap moving like blood into what would become sprouting leaves. His point being such was an indication that a change in season (summer) was close.

Jesus essentially says: “I want you to be aware of the approach of Jerusalem’s destruction and here’s how you can know when its close at hand. It will follow the Abomination of Desolation as summer follows winter. But when it comes not even I know when that exact day will occur.”

In v.35, Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.” Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis puts forth a compelling argument “that ‘by heaven and earth’ is meant the Jerusalem temple and the Torah constitution at the center of which the former stands… [Thus the phrase ‘heaven and earth shall pass away’ refers] to the imminent end to the social, religious and economic structure of Israel’s covenant relationship with God with the attendant destruction of the temple.”[8]While this may sound odd to us, his argument is compelling in its biblical and extra-biblical evidence that the temple was thought of “as the point at which the creation had taken place and around which it now revolved – the Navel of the Earth;[9]the meeting point of heaven and earth – the Gate of Heaven.” For the ancient Jews, the temple was thought to correspond to and represent “heaven and earth’ in its totality. The idea is readily grasped if its three-fold structure, the sanctuary (supremely the Holy of Holies), the inner and outer courts, are allowed to correspond to heaven, earth and sea respectively.”[10]If Fletcher-Louis is right then v.35 provides additional support for his view that finds the fulfillment of Jesus words in Mt. 24 in the destruction of temple and city in AD 70. Jesus’ answer, as to “that day,” is quite simply the parousiaand the end of all.

[1]K. Gentry, The Great Tribulation, 52 See (ie., Ex. 11:6; 9:18; Joel 2:2; Ezek. 5:9; Dan. 9:12; 12:1; 2 Kings 18:5; 23:25).

[2]Gary DeMar Last Days Madness, p.110

[3]K. Gentry, The Great Tribulation, 54

[4]Carson, Don (2005). An Introduction to the New Testament(2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. p.504

[5]Niv Study Bible: New International Version(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, ©2011).

[6]Matthew 24:34 NET Bible.

[7]See Dr. Ogan’s book Jesus Was Right!

[8]“The Destruction of the Temple and the Relativization of the Old Covenant: Mark 13:31 and Matthew 5:18,” in Eschatology in Bible & Theology: Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium, edited by KE Brower & MW Elliott [Downers Grove: IVP, 1997], 146

[9]See Jub.8:19; 1 Enoch26:1; cf. Ezk. 38:12.

[10]Ibid., p157. Cf., Ps. 78:69; Isa. 65:17-18.