This is now the eleventh post in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. All the previous posts can be found here, and it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this post:
In the previous post we began to examine the three New Testament accounts of the Olivet Discourse, delivered by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. We will now enter into a two-part discussion of Christ’s non-physical return in judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD.
I. Did Jesus Come in 70 AD? (Part 1)
At this point, a key concern alluded to earlier needs to be considered in more depth, i.e. the idea of Christ having already come in 70 AD. The Futurist position sees Matthew 24:29-31, Mark 13:24-27, and Luke 21:25-27 as a description of Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the world. Partial-Preterism, on the other hand, while affirming that Christ’s Second Coming is yet future, does not see these passages as a description of that event. Instead they refer to Christ’s coming in judgment. Daly comments:
Matthew records the disciples’ question in the prophetic language of the Old Testament, which was familiar to the Jewish audience for which his gospel was written. In this language, the execution of Divine judgment was commonly spoken of as a visitation of the LORD, as either His coming or His coming in the cloud.
“Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous around him” (Psalm 50:3).
“For behold, the LORD comes out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain” (Isaiah 26: 21. Cf. Mat 23:35-36 & Rev 18:24).
Most pertinent, in view of the disciples’ question, is Micah’s prophecy against the ‘high places’ – being localities of false worship,4 which the Temple in Jerusalem had now also become: “For behold, the LORD comes forth from his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be melted under him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place. For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel … What are the high places of Judah? Are they not Jerusalem?” (Micah 1:3-5).
Kenneth Gentry (1998) refers to the prophecy in Matthew 24:29-30 as a “Cloud-Coming” of Christ in judgment which, like Daly, he says can be understood in light of similar language from the Old Testament. He explains:
The Old Testament frequently uses clouds as indicators of divine judgment. God is said to be surrounded with thick, foreboding clouds as emblems of His unapproachable holiness and righteousness (Gen. 15:17; Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19-20; 19:9, 16-19; Deut. 4:11; Job 22:14; Psa. 18:8ff; 97:2; 104:3; Isa. 19:1; Eze. 32:7-8). He is poetically portrayed as coming in clouds in historical judgments upon men (Psa. 18:7-15; 104:3; Isa. 19:1; Joel 2:1, 2; Nah. 1:2ff; Zeph. 1:14, 15). Thus, the New Testament speaks of Christ’s coming in clouds of judgment in history at Matthew 24:30 and 26:64, [so that these passages in Matthew do not refer to] His Second Coming at the end of world history [as do Acts 1:11; I Thess. 4:13ff].
A look at several Old Testament passages announcing judgment upon other major nations indicates that it was already common for God to use the same type of language as that which appears in the Olivet Discourse:  Regarding Babylon: “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light” (Isaiah 13:10).  Regarding Edom: “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree…her land shall become burning pitch. Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever…” (Isaiah 34:4, 9-10).  Regarding Egypt: “When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 32:7-8; cf. Isaiah 5:30, 13:10; Jeremiah 4:14, 28; Jeremiah 13:16; Joel 2:10; Amos 8:9). When judgment came to those nations, there were no literal cosmic catastrophes affecting the entire planet. This was symbolic, apocryphal language used commonly in the Old Testament, and now appearing in the New Testament as well.
Furthermore, it’s quite possible that Jesus referred to the sun, the moon, and the stars so that His Jewish listeners would be reminded of Joseph’s dream in which “the sun, the moon, and eleven stars” bowed down to him (Genesis 37:9). Thus these would be symbols of Israel, in addition to speaking of the collapse of a political structure.
Another illustration of the Bible’s use of this type of language to denote political events can be found in Psalm 18, written by David “on the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” David writes of being entangled by “the cords of Sheol” (verse 5); the earth reeling and rocking and the mountains trembling (verse 7); devouring fire coming from God’s mouth (verse 8); God bowing the heavens, thick darkness, God riding on a cherub and coming to him (verses 9-10); hailstones and coals of fire coming to the earth through the clouds (verses 12-13); God sending arrows and lightning (verse 14); and the sea being divided and “the foundations of the world” being laid bare (verse 15). There is no record, Biblical or otherwise, of any such events literally taking place during David’s lifetime. This is apocalyptic language, common throughout the Bible.
Kenneth Gentry sees the Olivet Discourse prophecies of Christ’s “Cloud-Coming” as parallel to John’s words in Revelation 1:7, which many scholars believe is the theme verse of the book of Revelation: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.” According to Gentry, “His Cloud-Coming is a Judgment-Coming that brings mourning. But upon whom? And when? And how? Fortunately…time cues exist within the theme text, and can be found in the other New Testament allusions to this same passage.”
Gentry then makes the case that, although the Romans had a part in crucifying and piercing Jesus (and in the broadest sense, all of mankind did), the responsibility for these deeds belonged to the Jews of that generation who instigated and demanded that they be done (See Acts 2:22-23, 36; 3:13-15a; Acts 5:30; 7:52; I Thessalonians 2:14-15). He quotes from Adam Clarke who, in his 1823 commentary on this verse, remarked, “By this the Jewish people are most evidently intended, and therefore the whole verse may be understood as predicting the destruction of the Jews; and is a presumptive proof that the Apocalypse was written before the final overthrow of the Jewish state.”
Seeing that Revelation 1:7 uses the phrase “all tribes of the earth” to indicate who would wail upon seeing Christ coming with the clouds, Gentry notes that the Greek word for “tribe” refers to the Jewish tribes when used elsewhere in Scripture, almost without exception. With his conclusion, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia agrees (Cf. Revelation 5:5, 7:4, and 21:12). The strongest indication of this association, though, can be seen in the fact that Revelation 1:7 is clearly a reference to Zechariah 12:10, a passage leaving no doubt that Israel and Jerusalem are in view: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
Another consideration regarding the language of Matthew 24:30 (and the parallel passages in Mark, Luke, and Revelation 1:7) is that it is reminiscent of Daniel 7:13-14: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.” This passage is often interpreted to be the Second Coming immediately preceding a Millennium kingdom, but the picture is actually of Christ ascending to the Father, not descending to the earth.
Jesus’ ascension took place about 40 years prior to 70 AD, of course. Yet if Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:30 do recall Daniel 7:13-14 then it is not a Second Coming-type descent which is tied to “the sign of the Son of Man” appearing in heaven, but rather His ascension. Somehow, in context, this sign would be seen in the judgment of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD, i.e. this judgment would verify or point to the reality of Christ’s ascension with power and great glory. Matthew 24:31 then would be speaking of the ingathering of the harvest as God’s Kingdom is established through the Church, since the kingdom is in view in Daniel 7 (cf. John 11:51-52). Kevin Daly (2009) writes regarding these things:
The appearance of a sign (verse 30) would not be necessary if the Son of Man would come visibly at this time. The sign is necessary because his coming in the clouds of heaven, in power and vindication glory, alludes once more to Daniel, who spoke of ‘one like the son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven,’ to receive from the Ancient of Days ‘authority, glory and sovereign power’ so that ‘all peoples, nations and men of every language’ might worship him. The fall of Jerusalem was itself the sign (evidence) that Jesus was enthroned at the right hand of the Father in heaven, bringing judgment on the city.
Adam Clarke [1762-1832] comments on verse 30: “The plain meaning of this is, that the destruction of Jerusalem will be such a remarkable instance of Divine vengeance, such a signal manifestation of Christ’s power and glory, that all the Jewish tribes shall mourn, and many will, in consequence of this manifestation of God, be led to acknowledge Christ and his religion.” Since Deuteronomy 18:22 establishes the fulfillment of prophecy as the test for a true prophet, Jesus would be fully vindicated at the time that his Word was fulfilled. He is thus affirmed as the risen King, ruling from the right hand of the Father in heavenly glory, with power to execute judgment and bring salvation. The trumpet call that called back the exiles in Isaiah 27:13 would now call in the elect from the four corners of the earth. This harvest of souls to whom the gospel was sown, from far and wide for Messiah’s glory, is contrasted with the tribes of the land (Greek – της γης), who would mourn for the one they had pierced, in accordance with Zechariah 12:10.
Daniel’s prophecy was surely in view when Jesus uttered a similar statement to Caiaphas: “…I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Some Preterists believe that this passage also has in view the judgment of 70 AD as a sign of Christ’s ascension in power. Kenneth Gentry (2002), for example says, “The Daniel 7:13 context—upon which Matt. 24:30 and 26:64 are based—refers to the Ascension of Christ to take up his kingly rule. The dramatic, historical judgment-experience or witness to the fact of his having ascended is the destruction of the Temple, which event is in view in these and related passages (p.35). Hank Hanegraaff (Todd Dennis , 2009), also adds:
Jesus was the One who in the Olivet Discourse made the mother of all prophecies. He said ‘not one stone here will be left upon another; every one will be thrown down.’ And He based His deity on that just like He did on the resurrection. If that prophecy had not been fulfilled, Jesus would indeed have been a false prophet. In fact, when He was before Caiaphas the High Priest, He said to Caiaphas, ‘you will see the Son of Man coming on clouds and seated at the right hand of the Mighty One.’ In other words, He said to him, ‘you will see my vindication and exaltation. And, indeed, the very court that condemned Him to death saw His vindication and exaltation when Jerusalem was destroyed. The utter destruction of Jerusalem takes places and vindicates what Jesus Christ has said.
Todd Dennis, however, is one who does not connect this passage with 70 AD, with one reason being that Caiaphas likely died soon after 40 AD, and therefore wasn’t around to witness that judgment. He recognizes that some (like Hanegraaff, and also Kenneth Gentry) maintain this connection by holding to the idea that Christ’s vindication was seen, not by Caiaphas specifically, but by the court he presided over; yet he believes this explanation is too much of a stretch (Todd Dennis , 2008). R.C. Sproul also feels that this passage, with its open-ended time reference (“from now on”) does not demand a first-century fulfillment (Todd Dennis , 2009), but has a wider application to all who have lived since the time of Christ. R.C.H. Lenski, in his 1943 commentary on this passage, picked up on the phrase Jesus used, “from now on,” and gave this explanation:
[I]n the miracles recurring at the time of his death they shall begin to see, in his resurrection likewise, and thus onward in every manifestation of power, including especially the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish nation. But opsesthe [the Greek word for “see”] does not refer to physical or spiritual seeing but to experimental perception (Gentry, 2002, p. 35).
In the following post, this discussion will be continued…
 These scholars include Moses Stuart (1845), Justin A. Smith (1884), Friedrich Dusterdieck (1886), J. Stuart Russell (1887), Bernhard Weiss (1889), Milton S. Terry (1898), Donald W. Richardson (1964), and David Chilton (1987).
 Dispensationalists take this passage in Zechariah 12 to be yet unfulfilled. Lactantius (240-320 AD), though, is just one example of an early church writer who believed that it was fulfilled in 70 AD (Todd Dennis , 2009).
 Many Dispensationalists see this as anything but the Rapture, because it follows “the tribulation of those days” and most Dispensationalists hold to a Pre-Tribulational Rapture view. Tim Lahaye, John Walvoord, and Thomas Ice all teach that Matthew 24:31 refers to the salvation of national Israel, who are allegedly “God’s elect,” at the Second Coming.
 Todd Dennis is a pastor and the moderator of the comprehensive website, www.preteristarchive.com. He transitioned from Dispensational Futurism to Partial-Preterism to Hyper-Preterism (10 years), and is now what he calls a Moderate Preterist.