This is now the twelfth 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 entered into a two-part discussion of Christ’s non-physical return in judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD. That post is a definite prerequisite for this one. They are broken up for the sake of readability. This post continues that discussion, and will also address the words of Jesus declaring that His generation would not pass away until all that He had prophesied would take place.
Did Jesus Come in 70 AD? (Part 2)
Earlier Jesus had also said to His disciples: “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28). If this statement was fulfilled in His transfiguration six days later, as some contend, in what sense did Jesus “come with His angels” then and repay each person according to what he had done (a clear picture of judgment), and why would He have done so before their lives had come to an end? Also why did Jesus say that “some” (rather than all) would not taste death before they saw this happen? None of Jesus’ disciples died during the six days after Jesus made this statement, but some were indeed martyred before 70 AD.
In the common Preterist view, then, those who were still alive in 70 AD indeed saw “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” before they tasted death. John Wesley, clearly holding to this view, said of this passage, “For there is no way to escape the righteous judgment of God. And, as an emblem of this, there are some here who shall live to see the Messiah coming to set up his mediatorial kingdom with great power and glory, by the destruction of the temple, city, and polity of the Jews” (Todd Dennis , 2009). Dr. Thomas Newton (1704-1782) and Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) also held this view, as does R.C. Sproul (Todd Dennis , 2009). Some Preterists see Matthew 16:27-28 as being identical to the prophecy Jesus gave in Revelation 22:12, revealing the purpose for His soon coming: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.”
In some way, Jesus tied His coming to the lives of His listeners in Matthew 16:27-28 and 26:64, though it continues to be debated whether He spoke there of His coming in judgment in 70 AD. One instance, though, where He did clearly connect His judgment-coming in 70 AD to His audience was in Matthew 24:34. Here we read the following statement concerning all He had revealed in the Olivet Discourse up to that point, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
As already noted, this very clear time marker has been taken by Dispensationalists to mean that all the things Jesus prophesied would take place in one future generation which would see them begin. This is not the historical viewpoint, however. Indeed, the question can be asked why Jesus would have meant anything different by the phrase “this generation” here than He did in Matthew 11:16; 12:41, 42, 45; 17:17; 23:26; Mark 8:12; Luke 7:31; 11:29-32; 17:25 (all clearly referring to His immediate audience). Charles Spurgeon, in his 1868 commentary on this passage, remarked:
The King left his followers in no doubt as to when these things should happen: ‘Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.’ It was just about the ordinary limit of a generation when the Roman armies compassed Jerusalem, whose measure of iniquity was then full, and overflowed in misery, agony, distress, and bloodshed such as the world never saw before or since. Jesus was a true Prophet; everything that he foretold was literally fulfilled” (Joe Haynes, 2001).
The reformer John Calvin, in his commentary on this verse, said, “This prophecy does not relate to evils that are distant, and which posterity will see after the lapse of many centuries, but which are now hanging over you, and ready to fall in one mass, so that there is no part of it which the present generation [in Jesus’ time] will not experience” (Todd Dennis , 2009, emphasis added). John Wesley, in 1754, stated, “The expression implies that great part of that generation would be passed away, but not the whole. Just so it was; for the city and temple were destroyed thirty-nine or forty years after.”
These men were in good historical company. Clement (150-220 AD) said, “And in like manner He spoke in plain words the things that were straightway to happen, which we can now see with our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be among those to whom the word was spoken” (Puritan Lad, 2008, emphasis added). Eusebius (263-339 AD) also assigned the meaning of “this generation” to those alive when Jesus spoke these words (Todd Dennis , 2009):
And when those that believed in Christ had come thither [out] from Jerusalem [in obedience to Matthew 24:15-16], then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men (Proof of the Gospel, Book III, Ch. 5).
Eusebius, in fact, taught that Jesus came at that time in judgment. After detailing how the other signs given by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse had been fulfilled prior to 70 AD [see next section], Eusebius concluded that His predicted coming likewise had occurred (Todd Dennis , 2009):
[W]hen the lamentation and wailing that was predicted for the Jews, and the burning of the Temple and its utter desolation, can also be seen even now to have occurred according to the prediction, surely we must also agree that the King who was prophesied, the Christ of God, has come, since the signs of His coming have been shewn in each instance I have treated to have been clearly fulfilled” (Proof of the Gospel, Book VIII, emphasis added).
Henry Alford, an English scholar and theologian who was also Dean of Canterbury from 1857-1871, believed that Jesus’ 70 AD coming should also be apparent from His telling of the Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21:33-45. There He identified the tenants of the vineyard as the Jews, who consistently killed God’s servants whenever they were sent to collect fruit. They finally killed God’s own Son, begging the question (verse 40), “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will He do to those tenants?” Jesus affirmed the answer of the chief priests and the Pharisees (verse 41) by stating that they would be put to a miserable death, they would be crushed (verse 44), and the kingdom of God would be taken from them “and given to a people producing its fruits” (verse 43; cf. Daniel 7:18-27). Alford notes:
We may observe that our Lord makes ‘when the Lord cometh’ coincide with the destruction of Jerusalem, which is incontestably the overthrow of the wicked husbandmen. This passage therefore forms an important key to our Lord’s prophecies, and a decisive justification for those who, like myself, firmly hold that the coming of the Lord is, in many places, to be identified, primarily, with that overthrow (Todd Dennis , 2009, emphasis in original).
As already noted, we have the testimony of Jonathan Edwards a century earlier (1776), saying, “Tis evident that when Christ speaks of his coming; his being revealed; his coming in his Kingdom; or his Kingdom’s coming; He has respect to his appearing in those great works of his Power Justice and Grace, which should be in the Destruction of Jerusalem and other extraordinary Providences which should attend it.” John Owen (1721), commenting on Matthew 24, noted the similarities between Christ’s coming in judgment in the first century and His final future coming:
That the language is similar to that in which Christ’s final coming is described, cannot be denied. But that is not strange, when we consider, as has been remarked, that the one event is typical of the other; that his coming to destroy Jerusalem is a representation, faint indeed but real, of his glorious and awful coming to take vengeance upon the finally impenitent, and that language therefore is used of it, which seems appropriately to belong to the final judgment (Todd Dennis , 2009).
 Todd Dennis again, though, does not see in this passage a direct connection to 70 AD. Instead, he says, the immediate context for Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16 is the subject of self-denial, persecution, and potential martyrdom, “with the attendant rewards which follow” (Todd Dennis , 2008). It’s a suffering/vindication motif which finds frequent mention in the New Testament (e.g. Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 7:54-58, where Stephen sees Jesus revealed in power and glory just prior to tasting death; Hebrews 9:27-28, where judgment is said to follow death, and—in Todd’s view—there is a personal coming of Christ for each of His followers at the occasion of their deaths (in the manner of Christ saying, “I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” [John 14:3]). The “death of the individual is where the focus lies in [Matthew 16:28],” he adds, and only some would have the privilege of seeing Him come in His kingdom before tasting death because some (i.e. Judas) would reject Him.
 Or “a coming of His”; Even Dispensationalists generally believe that some of Jesus’ disciples saw Him come in His kingdom before they died, albeit only three of them six days later when He was transfigured. Holding to this belief, then, they should have no logical problem believing that Christ came within the lifetime of the generation that heard Him speak, in some sense other than His Second Coming.