The Olivet Discourse: This Generation or That Generation (Part 4 of 4)

In the first post (Part 1) of this series, we examined the first few verses of Jesus’ famous Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, and Luke 21:5-7. In the second post, we examined Jesus’ description of the signs which would take place before the temple’s destruction. We saw how those signs were fulfilled between the time of His ascension around 30 AD and the temple’s overthrow in 70 AD, about 40 years later. In the third post we examined Jesus’ warning to His followers about a soon-coming “abomination that causes desolation” (Matthew 24:15/Mark 13:14), or, as Luke puts it, “Jerusalem being surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20). We also considered what Jesus said about a time of great tribulation which was soon to come.

In this fourth and final part of this series on the Olivet Discourse, we will take a look at Jesus’ prophecy of the heavenly bodies being shaken, a depiction given numerous times in the Old Testament. We will also see that Jesus predicted His own coming “in a cloud”/”on clouds,” another expression borrowed from the OT. We will consider what Jesus meant when He spoke of the fig tree. Then we will conclude by taking stock of Christ’s very foundational statement that all of the above-mentioned prophecies must take place within “this generation.”

MATTHEW 24:29-34

MARK 13:24-30

LUKE 21:25-32

29“Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 24 “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from  the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.32Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Matt. 24:29/Mark 13:24-25/Luke 21:25-26 (Sun, moon, and stars darkened)

In the accounts of both Matthew and Mark, Jesus asserts that “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” This was to happen, they said, after the time of distress and tribulation. According to Luke’s account, it would also follow the times of the Gentiles and the trampling of the city of Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t specifically mention the darkening of the heavenly bodies, but simply says that “there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars.” He gives just as much attention to what would happen on the earth: “[N]ations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.”

A look at several Old Testament passages indicates that it was already common for God to use this same type of language when announcing impending judgments upon various nations. Consider these examples:

[1] 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). Babylon was to fall at the hands of the Medes (verse 17), and we know that this prophecy was fulfilled in 539 BC (see Daniel 5).

[2] 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). The capital of Edom was Petra. Assyria (under Sennacherib), Babylon (Jeremiah 27:3-6), and the Nabataeans attacked and plundered this region between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, as did Israel during the Maccabean period (in fulfillment of Ezekiel 25:14). It was made desolate as far as Teman (modern day Maan), as predicted in Ezekiel 25:13. Petra was conquered by Muslim nations, and then lost for more than 1000 years until it was rediscovered in 1812 (see Jeremiah 49:14-17). See this article for even more information.

[3] Regarding Egypt: “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within themWhen 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” (Isaiah 19:1; Ezekiel 32:7-8). Isaiah 20 makes it clear that Egypt’s defeat was to come at the hand of the Assyrians. Sargon, the king of Assyria, was even mentioned by name for his role in sending his chief commander (Tarton) to capture Ashdod (Isaiah 20:1). This took place in 711 BC. Assyria’s invasion of Egypt was also historically fulfilled during Sargon’s reign (722-705 BC) and, as prophesied, Cush (modern-day Ethiopia) was of no help to Egypt.

When judgment came to Babylon, Edom, and Egypt, there were no literal cosmic catastrophes affecting the entire planet, and the literal sun, moon, and stars continued to shine. This was symbolic, metaphorical language used commonly in the Old Testament, and now appearing in the New Testament as well. The OT even includes instances where God used this same language to speak of “putting out the lights,” so to speak, of Israel (e.g. Jeremiah 4:14, 28; Jeremiah 13:16; Joel 2:10, 31; Amos 8:9). In the case of Joel’s prophecy, this was to happen in Israel’s last days, which Peter acknowledged as having come to his own generation (Acts 2:16-21).

Furthermore, it’s quite possible that Jesus’ reference to the sun, moon, and stars would have reminded His Jewish listeners of Joseph’s dream in which “the sun, the moon, and eleven stars” bowed down to him (Genesis 37:9). Thus, in addition to speaking of the collapse of a political structure, the darkening of these heavenly bodies would have specifically pointed to the downfall of the nation of Israel.

Another vivid 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. Again, this is apocalyptic and metaphorical language, common throughout the Bible.

Matt. 24:30/Mark 13:26/Luke 21:27 (Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven)

All three gospel accounts then speak of the Son of Man coming with power and great glory. Matthew says He would come “on the clouds of heaven,” Mark says “in clouds,” and Luke says “in a cloud.” His coming was to be visible. Matthew alone precedes His description of Christ’s coming by saying that a sign would appear in heaven, and he alone remarks that the tribes of the earth would mourn when they saw His coming. Does that mean He was to physically appear? We will take up this question shortly. First, let us consider again the timing of His promised coming.

As we saw in part 1 of this series, prior to the Olivet Discourse Jesus had already told His disciples that His coming would take place [1] before they would be able to go through all the towns of Israel (Matthew 10:23) and [2] while some of them were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28). Furthermore, He said He would come [a] in His kingdom [b] with His angels [c] in the glory of His Father and [d] to repay each person for what they had done, i.e. in judgment. None of His disciples lived beyond the first century AD. Therefore, if He was telling the truth, His promised coming already took place. This is confirmed yet again at the end of the Olivet Discourse, as we will see later in this post.

The imminence of His coming, and of the end of the age, in the first century can be seen repeatedly elsewhere in the New Testament. Consider these examples by Paul, the author of Hebrews, James, Peter, and John:

Paul: “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12). “This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none…and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away” (I Corinthians 7:29-31). “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (I Cor. 10:11). “The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5).

Hebrews (author unknown): “…encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). “Yet a little while, and the coming One will come and will not delay…” (Heb. 10:37).

James: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you… You have laid up treasure in the last days” (James 5:1-3). “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand… behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:8-9).

Peter: “The end of all things is at hand” (I Peter 4:7).

John: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (I John 2:18).

So, with the timing of Christ’s coming established, what was to be the nature of it? We already saw that the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars was metaphorical language used to describe past judgments in history. What about His promise to come on clouds of glory? Surely this indicates a physical appearing, right? Although this idea is most popular today, we did already see two clearly fulfilled passages where God came with clouds to bring judgment as He saw fit:

[1] “He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under His feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; He came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness His covering, His canopy around Him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before Him hailstones and coals of fire broke through His clouds” (Psalm 18:9-12; fulfilled on the day when God rescued David from the hand of Saul and his other enemies).

[2] “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt…” (Isaiah 19:1; fulfilled around 700 BC).

Kenneth Gentry, in his book “Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation” (1998), notes how often this type of language is used in Scripture without referring to any type of history-ending events (p. 123):

“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…”

When Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse that He would come on the clouds of heaven, anyone in His audience who was familiar with the Old Testament knew that He was claiming to be one with His Father. Only God could ride on the clouds of heaven (e.g. Deuteronomy 33:26, Psalm 68:4, Psalm 104:3, Ezekiel 30:3, Nahum 1:3). That’s why the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy when He made this same claim just before His crucifixion, and the crowd declared Him worthy of death (Matthew 26:63-66).

As noted earlier, Jesus promised to come “in the glory of His Father” (Matt. 16:27). As Don Preston well points out, this can be understood to mean that just as the Father had come in the past, Jesus would also come in the same manner. Don gives as an example Isaiah 64:1-3, where the writer declares that God had “come down” numerous times in the past:

Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood, and the fire causes water to boil – to make Your name known to Your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things that we did not look for, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence.”

Consider also this prophecy by Micah, which was fulfilled in 586 BC when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian armies:

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).

Just as the Father’s comings in times past had not been bodily or physical in nature, there is also no promise here in the Olivet Discourse that Christ’s coming would be of this nature. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all used the same apocalyptic language that is typical in the Old Testament to speak of the final judgment which was about to come once again upon Jerusalem. Secular and church history tells us that it did come, from 67-70 AD. It was through this judgment, both predicted and fulfilled by Jesus, that “the tribes of the earth” saw Him coming with clouds.

This prophecy in the Olivet Discourse is 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.” Indeed, Matthew 24:30 also says that “all the tribes of the earth will mourn” when they see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven. Kenneth Gentry comments, “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 Revelation 1:7, 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 [the book of Revelation] was written before the final overthrow of the Jewish state [in 70 AD].”

Seeing that both Matthew 24:30 and Revelation 1:7 use 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 (see also 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.”

Source: Cindye Coates (Matthew 24 Fulfilled)

Furthermore, the phrase “the earth” used in both Matthew 24:30 and Revelation 1:7, can just as well be translated “the land,” i.e. the Promised Land of Israel. The same expression is used in Luke 21:23, an obvious reference to Jerusalem and Israel. Aside from the ESV, most Bible translations choose to speak of “the land” rather than “the earth” in Luke’s gospel, but in Matthew’s gospel they tend to speak of “the earth,” which many today take to be an indication of a world-wide, history-ending event. From the context of Zechariah 12:10, however, we can know that this is not the case.

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.” We can see that the vision shown to Daniel was 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 the picture of His ascension is tied to the judgment which came nearly a generation later. This judgment, then, would verify or point to the reality of Christ’s ascension with power and great glory. Kevin Daly of Messianic Good News (South Africa) 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] likewise 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.”

Matt. 24:31/Mark 13:27/Luke 21:28 (Gathering of the elect/redemption near)

This portion of the Olivet Discourse is, to me, perhaps the most difficult to interpret. Here is how the next verse reads in each of the three accounts:

Matthew 24:31

Mark 13:27

Luke 21:28

“And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” “And then He will send out His angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Luke’s choice of language here is noticeably different from what we see in the accounts of Matthew and Mark, but I believe we’re correct in seeing his words as being parallel. In all three accounts, these statements are nestled between Jesus’ declaration that He would come in clouds with power and great glory, and His analogy of the fig tree (the next portion we will examine).

In this portion we can observe the following: [1] God’s elect are gathered. [2] They are gathered by His angels. [3] The gathering is global. [4] Luke equates this gathering with redemption.

We know from the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) that God’s angels would be used at the end of the age to first “gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (13:33, 41-42) and then gather the righteous in His kingdom that they might shine like the sun (13:30, 43; cf. Daniel 12:3). In the Olivet Discourse Jesus is telling the disciples what would happen at the end of their own age (Matt. 24:3). We also know from Matthew 16:27-28 that Jesus’ coming within the lifetime of some of His disciples was to be “with His angels.” So the parallels are here: [1] angels [2] a gathering [3] the end of the age [4] Christ’s coming.

With these things in mind, I’m aware of three somewhat different interpretations for this gathering of the elect from the four winds of the earth. I’m not so sure that one of these options is the correct interpretation, and the other two are wrong. All three explanations may very well be viable. They are as follows:

[A] This refers to a great spiritual harvest of people from all ethnic backgrounds coming to Christ across the globe from that time forward.

Kevin Daly, quoted above, gives this opinion: “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.” The Judaizing movement was the greatest hindrance to the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles, as we can see in these words from Paul:

For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as [the Judean believers] did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved… But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!” (I Thessalonians 2:14-16)

The destruction and removal of the temple, the very life and center of Judaism, would be one of the catalysts for the greater spread of the gospel to all peoples.

 [B] This refers to the translation of God’s people out of the Old Covenant (age) into the New Covenant/eternal kingdom age.

This view is expressed by Duncan McKenzie, for example, in his book “The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination – Volume 1” (pp. 227-228). After quoting Matthew 24:30-34, he writes:

“This ingathering of God’s people was not a physical rapture to heaven but a spiritual gathering of believers into the fullness of the new covenant. Jesus ‘would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad’ (John 11:49-52; cf. Matt 3:5-12). This gathering happened at the fulfillment of the Feast of Ingathering in AD 70 (cf. Rev. 14:14-20). According to the prophecy of Daniel this blessed time was to be fulfilled forty-five days (Dan. 12:12) after the shattering of the power of Daniel’s people (Dan. 12:7). This was the end of the great tribulation and the beginning of the resurrection (Dan. 12:1-3; cf. Rev. 20:4-6). This was the time when God’s people fully possessed the kingdom (Dan. 7:17-27; cf. Rev. 11:15-18)

Jesus had said that much of physical Israel would be cast out at this time of the messianic banquet: ‘And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out…’ (Matt. 8:11-12; cf. Matt. 3:4-12; 22:1-10; Gal. 4:21-31). Those believers who die in the post-AD 70 kingdom age (which includes believers today) are those of whom it is written, “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’” (Rev. 14:13). Notice that the next two verses after this declaration of blessedness show the ingathering of the harvest (symbolizing Jesus’ gathering together his own at his Second Coming; Rev. 14:14-16).” [See the third comment under this post for this excerpt in its greater context.]

As Dr. Cindye Coates points out, when Jesus mourned over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37, He said, “Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together…but you were not willing.” Jerusalem and Israel, with the exception of a remnant, was not willing to embrace Jesus and His heavenly kingdom, but God’s plan was not derailed. He found and gathered a people from all over the world who would receive that kingdom and bear its fruit (Matthew 21:43).

Jerusalem not willing

[C] This refers to the general resurrection of Old Testament saints and those who had died in Christ prior to 70 AD (followed by the individual and immediate resurrection of all who would die in Christ from that time forward).

This view was expressed, for example, by Daniel Lamont, D.D., Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology at the University of Edinburgh. Writing in 1945, and holding to the viewpoint that the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the 1st century, he expressed these thoughts on Matthew 24:31

“[This was] the inauguration of the new age in which the sting of death is removed for the people of God and they pass at once when they die into the nearer Presence (Parousia) of their Lord… ‘The dead in Christ shall rise first,’ (1 Thess. 4:16) said Paul, writing before, but in expectation of, our Lord’s Parousia.  Here in these verses (1 Thess. 4:13-18) he uses apocalyptic language, but there is good reason to believe that he means exactly the same as John in his Gospel (14:1-3).  Christ will come for His own people as they pass one by one from the earthly scene, but this He cannot do till the age of His Parousia begins.  The fullness of His Presence will be available for His people from that time onwards.”

Matt. 24:32-33/Mark 13:28-29/Luke 21:29-31 (Leaves sprouting on the fig tree)

Jesus then uses the fig tree to illustrate how His listeners would know that His coming was near. A tender branch and the sprouting of leaves on a fig tree mean that summer is near. In the same way, when all the preceding signs would take place, they could know for certain that He was near. Those signs did take place within that same generation, as we saw in Part 2 and Part 3. Luke says, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Matthew and Mark use the expression, “you know that He is near, at the very gates,” once again showing that His coming and the arrival of His kingdom were to be synonymous. Do we see anything like this elsewhere in the New Testament? Yes! One of the clearest and most emphatic statements of this sort is made by James, the brother of Jesus: “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand… behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:8-9).

As is well known, many futurists (especially Dispensationalists) are fond of saying that the fig tree represents Israel. Therefore, they continue, when Israel became a nation in 1948, God’s prophetic time clock to the end (of world history) began to tick again, and the terminal generation has been revealed. There are numerous problems with this interpretation, among which are these:

[1] When Paul speaks of Israel in Romans (11:17, 24), he uses the illustration of an olive tree, not a fig tree.

[2] In Luke’s account, Jesus speaks of not only the fig tree, but “all the trees.”

[3] Jesus does speak of a fig tree elsewhere, but observe closely what He says about it: “In the morning, as He was returning to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He went to it and found nothing on it but leaves. And He said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’” (Matthew 21:18-19). If you agree with the Dispensationalist viewpoint regarding the fig tree in the Olivet Discourse, are you really sure you want the fig tree to represent Israel?

[4] This interpretation has led many to falsely name dates, change their own dates, and falsely predict the imminence of “end-times” events. As Gary DeMar writes,

[In] LaHaye’s 1991 revised edition of The Beginning of the End (1972), he wrote: “Carefully putting all this together, we now recognize this strategic generation. It is the generation that ‘sees’ the events of 1948…”

The 1948–1988 connection was all the rage in the early 1970s, especially with the publication of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (1970): “The most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel. Even the figure of speech ‘fig tree’ has been a historic symbol [note that Lindsey does not offer any biblical support] of national Israel. When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves. Jesus said that this would indicate that He was ‘at the door,’ ready to return. Then He said, ‘Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (Matthew 24:34, NASB). What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs—chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years…”

Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel and founder of the worldwide Calvary Chapel system of churches, went a step further than Lindsey: “That generation that was living in May 1948 shall not pass away until the second coming of Jesus Christ takes place and the kingdom of God established upon the earth. How long is a generation? Forty years on average in the Bible. . . . Where does that put us? It puts us right out at the end. We’re coming down to the wire.”[8] He wrote this in 1976.

[5] For a lengthier explanation of why neither the Olivet Discourse, nor Isaiah 66:5-10, speaks of the establishment of Israel in 1948 (and how Isaiah 54:1 and Galatians 4:21-31 deal a death blow to this idea), see the first comment under this post here.

Matt. 24:34/Mark 13:30/Luke 21:32 (This generation will not pass away)

We now come to a very pivotal verse, with which we will conclude this study. In this verse Jesus once again sets a tight parameter and establishes the timeline within which everything He has said up to this point much take place: Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” As the title of this series suggests, one’s interpretation of the Olivet Discourse often rises and falls on an understanding of Jesus’ phrase, “this generation.”

We must ask ourselves how Jesus’ original audience would have understood these words. In their minds, did He really mean “this” (i.e. their) generation, or did He mean “that” (i.e. a future) generation? Not only have we seen that every one of His predictions did take place in the first century, but we will also do well to remember that this entire discourse was in answer to His disciples’ question, “When will these things [the destruction of the temple; see Matt. 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-6] be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” History tells us that the temple fell, as Jesus predicted, in 70 AD. Accordingly, everything Jesus predicted here was to take place by that time.

Although the plain reading of this statement would then indicate that Jesus was speaking of His own generation, there are many who believe He was speaking of a future generation far beyond His own (i.e. our own generation). This usually works itself out in a couple of different ways:

[1] There are those who agree that the generation which begins to see these things take place is the one which would see them all take place, but they are adamant that only in our own day have we begun to see these signs. This crowd holds to a more literal definition of generation, that is, 40 years or sometimes 70 years.

[2] Others hold to a theory of dual fulfillment. That is, they will admit that some or most of these things took place in the first century AD (especially Luke 21:20-24a), but they say they must take place again, and/or they will point to a perceived delay in Christ’s predicted coming to show that all has not yet taken place. This being the case, they must then stretch the definition of “generation” to somehow mean a period of around 2000 years, since some of these signs already took place and others allegedly have yet to take place.

The reader may be surprised to know that the famous author, C.S. Lewis, held to a bizarre combination of some of these views, leading him to teach that Jesus meant for His own first century audience to believe that all these things would take place in their own time, but that He both deceived them and didn’t know what He was talking about:

“The apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. This is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.” (Essay: “The World’s Last Night” (1960), found in The Essential C.S. Lewis, p. 385.)

Clearly, C.S. Lewis, while understanding that Jesus spoke of His own generation, held the view that Jesus’ Second Coming was to be physical and bodily in nature, and because history doesn’t record any such coming, he was willing to impugn Jesus’ credibility. This is dangerous, of course, because if Jesus was wrong and lied about this, as Lewis said, what else might He have been wrong about? Salvation and eternal life through His work on the cross? Thank God we can know that Jesus wasn’t wrong about any of the above.

Furthermore, why would Jesus have meant anything different by the phrase “this generation” here than He did in Matthew 11:16; 12:41-42, 45; 17:17; 23:35-36; Mark 8:12; Luke 7:31; 11:29-32; 17:25 (all clearly referring to His immediate audience)? We also get a very good idea of how Matthew defined “generation” when we consider his account of the genealogy from Abraham to Jesus: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17). Matthew tells us that 14 generations passed from the Babylonian captivity until Christ. Babylon captured Israel in 586 BC, meaning that each generation was about 42 years (586/14 = 41.86).

Some contend that “generation” actually means “race.” However, as my friend, Jerry Bowers, points out, one would be hard-pressed to say that there were 42 races of people from Abraham to Christ. Saying that Jesus meant that “this [race] will not pass away until all these things take place” would imply that the Jewish race would cease to exist once the temple fell, famine and wars came, etc. This is an idea Dispensationalists would probably not want to own.

The idea that “this generation” meant a future generation beyond Jesus’ own time is not common in church history. The following is just a small sample of quotes from the 2nd century onward tying this expression to Jesus’ own day:

Clement (150-220 AD): “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.”

Eusebius (263-339 AD): “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)… [When] 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).

John Calvin (1509-1564): “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.”

John Wesley (1754): “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.”

Adam Clarke (1837): “It is literally true in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. John probably lived to see these things come to pass; compare Matthew 16:28, with John 21:22; and there were some rabbins alive at the time when Christ spoke these words who lived till the city was destroyed, viz. Rabban Simeon, who perished with the city; R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, who outlived it; R. Zadoch, R. Ismael, and others.”

Charles Spurgeon (1868): “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.”


Source: Cindye Coates (Matthew 24 Fulfilled)

Quotes To Note

1. Kevin Daly, of Messianic Good News (South Africa), states, “In much the same way as a person might unwittingly wait for a bus that has already departed, our ignorance of the history of the interval between Jesus’ ascension and the Roman siege of AD70 has contributed much to our expectation that events mentioned in Matthew 24 must still come to pass.”

2. St. Chrysostom [John Chrysostom of Antioch] (347 – 407 AD): “Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming…” (St. Chrysostom’s Liturgy)

23 thoughts on “The Olivet Discourse: This Generation or That Generation (Part 4 of 4)

  1. I no longer find Jesus’ statement about “this generation” to be problematic. The solution was staring me in the face all this time but I only realized it recently. Jesus speaks of two event-categories: (i) the series of events preceding his “coming,” and (ii) the “coming” itself, and all that goes with it.

    To illustrate these categories for his disciples, he used the analogy of “the fig tree and all the trees.” This analogy, likewise, contains two event-categories: (i) the budding of the tree branches, followed by (ii) the summer. The analogy turns on these categories and on the fact that the hypothetical observer in the analogy is able to see the leaves forming, and on the basis of that observation “knows that summer is near.”

    Relating this to Jesus’ prophecy, the analogical pairings are: (1) “leaves” = “all these things” / (2) “summer” = “he/it is near” (i.e., his “coming”). Therefore the answer to the riddle is ultimately quite simple (again, I’m shocked I didn’t see it earlier): when Jesus said “this generation” will see “all these things,” he was NOT saying they would see his “coming”–he was only saying they would see the pre-“coming” events he had delineated.

    Those events DO include the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem, for that event is what, in Luke’s account, launches “the times of the Gentiles.” This parallels the “great tribulation” in Matt. 24. That is an INDEFINITE period of time that takes us all the way to the Second Coming. Jesus was saying that when the first-century generation saw the commencement of “the times of the Gentiles,” that would mean that Jesus’ coming was imminent. That generation did, indeed, witness the beginning of “the times of the Gentiles.” Jesus’ coming has been imminent ever since–precisely consistent with the trees analogy.

    Preterists are quite mistaken to allegorize the Olivet language about Jesus’ “coming” and to equate that event with the 70 AD event. Why? Because Jesus had already described the 70 AD event as something that occurs BEFORE his “coming.” Therefore his coming and the 70 AD event are NOT the same thing.

    This view of the Olivet Discourse–i.e., construing the Great Tribulation as an indefinite period spanning the entire age between 70 AD and the Second Coming–consistently ties together all eschatological passages in Scripture, especially the NT but also including Daniel. I expect a future Antichrist (since if there are many “antichrists,” one of them has to be the last one!), but NOT a 7- or 3.5-year “Great Tribulation.” That figure, I believe, is a symbolic application of the original 7-/3.5-year tribulation of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes, 171-64 BC. Just as Antiochus himself prefigures a later “Antichrist,” and just as the “abomination of desolation” in 167 BC prefigured that which occurred in 70 AD (and could possibly have more fulfillments), there’s no reason not to think that the 171-64 BC timeframe itself couldn’t likewise figuratively represent the then-future (now-present) timeframe of the Great Tribulation.


    • I don’t think most people would call almost 2,000 years as near do you? Also if you are taking the 1,000 year reign to be literal as a future coming then you must almost take Deuteronomy 7:0 literal as well.


      • Re: Earthquakes…try reading that gassape in The Message. 🙂 That’s the first time it ever actually made sense to me, because obviously if you look back throughout history there have always been tons of wars and natural disasters. I don’t think Jesus meant to be quoted as hinting that when earthquakes and hurricanes increase, the end is near. Re: The gassape referring to one person being taken and one being left…RIGHT before this, there’s a description of what supposedly happened in the flood. One was taken, one was left. But it was the wicked who were literally taken away, and the righteous who were left on the Earth.Re: The pre-trib rapture…The rapture at all was only introduced into doctrine in the last couple of centuries, and it’s certainly not universally accepted, regardless of those who speak as though it is. When I threw away the hearsay about the rapture and the end times, which for the most part appear to spring straight from people’s imaginations, and started rereading these gassapes from a less biased perspective, I came to the conclusion that this is one of the biggest lies being propagated in Christianity today. I don’t believe the doctrines of the rapture/end of the world can be found in the text at all.


  2. Hi, Rob. In biblical-prophetic terms “near” doesn’t always mean chronologically near. That’s a common erroneous assumption. In a prophetic context such a term often means impending or looming—i.e., on God’s list of eschatological events it’s the next event or close to being the next event (e.g., Isa. 13:6; Joel 3:14; Ob. 15; Rom. 13:11-12; 1Cor. 7:29, 31; 10:11).

    As to Deut. 7:9, yes, that’s one of the verses scattered through the Bible that strongly indicate we should expect a figurative use of “a thousand” in Revelation. Another comparison is: “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Psa. 50:10)

    I’d love to send you a paper I wrote not long ago in reaction to a pastor’s sermon on Revelation 1, though it also addresses the timeframe of the Olivet Discourse. If you’re interested in a longer explanation of what I’ve said here, please let me know your email addy. Mine’s



  3. Andy and Rob, thanks for your comments and dialogue with each other.

    Andy, I didn’t mean to ignore your comment from about two months ago. I don’t see, however, what you believe you’ve seen in the text. When Jesus said “Truly I say to you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,” He had already spoken of His coming. So on what basis can it be said that the “ALL” in Jesus’ statement included everything but His coming? I don’t believe there is any such basis, not even in what Jesus said in His analogy of the fig tree. Furthermore, Jesus had already told His disciples that His coming would take place before they could pass through all the towns of Israel (Matthew 10:23), and while some of His disciples were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28). For His coming to remain imminent even now, it would mean that some of His disciples are still alive right now in the year 2011. We know that this is not the case, so it remains to believe that Jesus told the truth and did come as He promised before His own generation passed away.

    I also can’t agree that “the times of the Gentiles” is/was an indefinite time period, nor that this time period began in 70 AD. In fact, I believe it ENDED in 70 AD. Luke (in 21:24) records that Jerusalem would be trampled by the Gentiles UNTIL the times of the Gentiles would be fulfilled. Revelation 11:2 states that the duration of this trampling would be 42 months. So putting that together, there would be 42 months of trampling, and that would bring about the end of the times of the Gentiles. (I believe that “the times of the Gentiles” refers to the domination of Israel by Gentile nations/empires, namely Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.) In terms of historic fulfillment, 42 months passed from the time that Nero dispatched the Roman armies into Israel in early 67 AD until Rome destroyed Jerusalem in late summer 70 AD.


  4. Adam, you asked, “When Jesus said “Truly I say to you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,” He had already spoken of His coming. So on what basis can it be said that the “ALL” in Jesus’ statement included everything but His coming?”

    Rejoinder: When Jesus said, “he is near” (Matt. 24:33) and “the kingdom of God is near” (Lk. 21:31), to what event does that refer in his list of prophesied events?

    Moreover, Luke pretty much spells it out (“spells it out” makes it sound obvious, but again, I didn’t notice this till relatively recently) in 21:28: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” There are your 2 event-categories right there: “these things” and “your redemption,” which in context correspond to (a) everything leading up to Jesus’ return and (b) the return itself. The same correspondence is evident in Matt. 24:33.

    Thirdly, the phrase “these things” is repeatedly used in not only the Olivet Discourse, but in Jesus’ diatribe against the Jews in Matt. 23. I encourage you to trace the phrase through 23:36; 24:3, 33-34, as well as Lk. 21:6-7, 9, 28, 31, 36; the train of thought and the event-categories are very pronounced. Indeed, perceiving these categories is the only way to make sense of Jesus’ tree analogy.

    Regarding Matt. 10:23, Jesus repeated the same promise a few chapters later: “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.” (16:28) By this he meant his Transfiguration, which was a preview of the Second Coming; this is the interpretation of the Transfiguration given by Peter later on (2Pet. 1:16-18). Therefore, I lean toward construing Matt. 10:23 as likewise alluding to the Transfiguration–but am open to its possibly alluding to (a) the 70 AD event as another analogous event previewing the Second Coming, or (b) the Second Coming itself *if* Jesus means that the evangelization of Jews will still be going on throughout the age between his first and second comings.

    So while I wouldn’t be dogmatic about Matt. 10:23, the upshot is this: it needn’t be locked into 70 AD, nor does it dictate the meaning of the Olivet Discourse.

    And no offense, Adam, but I’m convinced you’re very mistaken to think “the times of the Gentiles” ended in 70 AD. Jesus is predicting the event in question, and appears to be telling us that it’s this event which will usher in (or at least dovetail with) the times of the Gentiles (Lk. 21:20-24). Moreover, if the 70 AD event is seen in Lk. 21:20-24, even if it includes the times of the Gentiles–then what is happening in vv. 25ff? Preterists view that as also being 70 AD, but that makes no sense because in the context of the prophecy Jesus has already passed 70 AD.

    But it occurs to me that even if you are bang-on re. “the times of the Gentiles,” that would still mesh with my interpretation of “this generation” and the tree analogy. For in your scenario “this generation” would indeed have witnessed “these things” up to and including the times of the Gentiles–after which point the Second Coming would be imminent. And this is the same bottom line in my interpretation of Olivet.



    • Andy,

      To answer your first question, I’d say that when Jesus said, “He is near” (Matt. 24:33) and “the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31), He was referring simply to His coming in His kingdom, which He had already said would take place within the lifetimes of some of His disciples (Matthew 16:27-28) and also within the lifetimes of some of the crowd (Mark 8:34-9:1).

      Regarding Luke 21:28, I agree with you that “these things” and “your redemption” correspond to (a) everything leading up to Jesus’ return and (b) the return itself. The difference, if I’m not mistaken, is that you believe His promised return has not yet taken place, but I believe He did return within that one generation as He promised.

      I can’t, in any way, see the Transfiguration as the fulfillment of the promise Jesus had made to His followers six days earlier:

      “For the Son of Man is going to come [1] with his angels [2] in the glory of his Father, and then [3] 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 [4] coming in his kingdom.”

      None of them had died yet, despite the fact that Jesus, in His words “SOME will not taste death,” strongly implied that some WOULD die before these events would take place, but some would still be alive. He also did not come in judgment during the Transfiguration. Nor was there any indication of angels being present at the Transfiguration. He also did not come that day in the same way that His Father had come in Old Testament times. There was also still an expectation beyond His resurrection and ascension that He was yet (but soon) to come in His kingdom, so this was also not accomplished at His Transfiguration. Even Jesus, in Luke 21:31, was still saying that His kingdom would later be near. He spoke those words beyond the time of His Transfiguration.

      No offense taken regarding my interpretation of “the times of the Gentiles.” You asked, though, “[If] the 70 AD event is seen in Lk. 21:20-24, even if it includes the times of the Gentiles–then what is happening in vv. 25ff?” What’s happening there is that Jesus is continuing to answer the disciples’ original question, “Teacher, when will these things be [i.e. the throwing down of the temple stones], and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” Everything in verse 25 and beyond is part of the sign that the temple was about to be destroyed. That event happened in late 70 AD, as historical records substantiate. All that Jesus predicted in verses 8-31 happened before, or by the time of, that event in 70 AD, including “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” As Jesus Himself said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” His words were true, and all came to pass in that generation as He said it would.

      Blessings to you as well.


  5. […] We learn from Matthew that 14 generations passed from the Babylonian captivity until the time of Jesus. We also know that Babylon took Judah captive in 586 BC. Putting these two pieces together, we can calculate that each of these 14 generations was about 42 years in length (586 divided by 14). [For more details on this, see my study on Matthew 24:29-34 / Mark 13:24-30 / Luke 21:25-32.] […]


  6. […] “When Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse that He would come on the clouds of heaven, anyone in His audience who was familiar with the Old Testament knew that He was claiming to be one with His Father. Only God could ride on the clouds of heaven (e.g. Deuteronomy 33:26, Psalm 68:4, Psalm 104:3, Ezekiel 30:3, Nahum 1:3). That’s why the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy when He made this same claim just before His crucifixion, and the crowd declared Him worthy of death (Matthew 26:63-66).” (Adam Maarschalk on  Matthew 24) […]


  7. Hi Adam. We read in
    Acts 1:9-11New International Version (NIV)
    9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
    10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
    Is this still going to happen or do you believe it happened in AD70


      • I think what you have said is pretty convincing. However, in this last response re Jesus’ ascension, I cannot agree. To me, the ascension was a literal physical event, witnessed by the first followers. There was clearly symbolism surrounding it, but symbolism can be attached to a literal event. I do not see how you can understand the angels’ words to mean anything other than a literal return in a similar fashion. Are you not trying to fit every reference of Jesus’ return into an AD70 ‘coming’?


  8. Also when Jesus returns to the Mount of olives it says that
    4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.
    I don’t think this happened in AD 70 did it?


  9. Hi Lex Hibburt,

    If Adam doesn’t mind my two cents being thrown in here, there is a very natural explanation for the Mount of Olives being affected this way in Zechariah 14:4. This prophecy was predicting a literal earthquake which would cause part of the Mount of Olives to break away and form a landslide, just as it had done in similar fashion in the days of King Uzziah of Juda. Zechariah 14:4-7 has already happened, and according to my eschatological studies, it occurred on Pentecost Day in AD 70 with Christ’s bodily return with His holy ones on the Mount of Olives.

    If you aren’t allergic to the Septuagint, the translation of this passage reads a bit differently, due to a disagreement on the translation of one verb which could be rendered in one of two ways, depending on the pronunciation. I stick with the LXX version, simply because there is archaeological evidence that proves it to be the right translation of this verse.

    In the KJV, Zechariah 14:5 reads this way: “And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.”

    Now, here is Zechariah 14:5 in the LXX: “And the valley of my mountains shall be closed up, and the valley of the mountains shall be joined onto Jasod, and shall be blocked up as it was blocked up in the days of the earthquake, in the days of Ozias king of Juda; and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Him.”

    Here is the first part of that verse again in the New Jerusalem Bible version: “The valley between the hills will be filled in, yes, it will be blocked up as far as Azal, it will be filled in as it was by the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah…”

    If you want to read a source that is devoted to this same Zechariah 14 passage, I would strongly encourage you to go to the following website (if Adam will permit me to refer to this on his site): This article, called “Deciphering Zechariah 14:5”, covers with fascinating detail some photographic evidence of the landslide rubble fields created by the earthquakes, archaeological findings, and comparison of the above versions of Zechariah 14:4-5 to show that Zechariah was predicting an actual earthquake with a landslide that filled in the valley up to Azal. If you ever wondered just where “Azal” was located around Jerusalem, this website will show you in no uncertain terms. It quotes Josephus (Ant. 9.10-4) who gave a description of Uzziah’s earthquake in ancient days, and the resulting landslide after that earthquake for which there is also archaeological proof.

    Jerusalem is sitting right beside the major Dead Sea Transform Fault Line, running underneath the Dead Sea, and up the Jordan River valley and beyond, which explains the numerous occasions of earthquakes mentioned in scripture for Israel. Seismic activity in this region is common, and would explain the earthquake in Jerusalem when the Idumeans attacked the city and killed the Two Witnesses, as found in Revelation 11. It would also explain how an earthquake naturally occurred when Christ actually did return bodily on the Mount of Olives in AD 70 at Pentecost to take His resurrected saints back with Him to heaven.

    Jerusalem’s EASTERN GATE was probably the portal through which the resurrected saints passed to join the Savior at that time. I can think of no other reason why God put such heavy emphasis on the direction of the East in the OT, and why He gave Ezekiel instructions for the children of Israel to worship at this EASTERN GATE in the SABBATHS and the NEW MOONS (Ez. 46:3), once Zerubbabel had built that temple in the post-exilic return. It was symbolic of the date and also the location of His return. Even Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 (YLT) admitted that the Sabbaths and new moon celebrations were “a shadow of the coming things” for his generation. The indication that this return of Christ was at the time of a new moon is found in Zechariah 14:6-7 in the LXX version. “And it shall come to pass in that day that there shall be NO LIGHT,” (because of the new moon) “and there shall be for one day cold and frost, and that day shall be known to the Lord,” (because no man would know the day and the hour but the Lord) “and it shall not be day nor night:” (in between day and night at sunset) “but towards evening it shall be light.”

    Christ’s return to the Mount of Olives in front of that Eastern Gate had to have been fulfilled just before the temple and that Eastern gate were torn down to the last stone (i.e. at Pentecost, just before the AD 70 September burning and destruction of the temple.) God has no intention of allowing another temple to be built (Rev. 18:21, Isaiah 25:2), so this eliminates the possibility of another Eastern gate of a temple being built in the future to fulfill any kind of prophecy. Another return of Christ and another resurrection is expected for us in our distant future to finish out the New Covenant Age, but we have no positive scripture evidence that the location of Jerusalem will be included on that occasion.


    • I don’t mind, Patricia. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Also I know I have several other comments from you in recent weeks that I need to catch up on. I haven’t meant to ignore them. They require a good amount of thought and I’ve been so busy that things like this keep getting away from me.


  10. Thanks Patricia for taking the time comment.
    That will take a bit of thought to sort out but just off the top of my head in Zec 14:2 it is all nations that will be gathered to fight against Jerusalem. In AD70 wasn’t it only the Romans?
    Also v2 half the people will be taken into exile and the other half would remain in the city. I thought that apart from a few people who escaped a small window of opportunity they were all killed.
    Also I thought that Jerusalem was under siege but you say the saints just walked out
    v8 What about the river flowing out of Jerusalem and flowing to the Dead and Mediterranean seas?
    v 9 The Lord being king over the whole earth?
    v 10 The plague that was on the attackers and their animals:
    v 16 The survivors of those who attacked Jerusalem going every year to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles?
    Again this is just off the top of my head and the answers to these questions may have been covered by Adam.
    sincerely Lex


  11. Hi Lex Hibburt,

    For whatever they’re worth, I’d be glad to give my comments to these points you have brought up. For some of them, as you mention, Adam has already devoted some posts on the subject. As for the other points of Zechariah 14, perhaps I have missed where Adam stands on them; so if what I write here disagrees with his position, I would welcome learning his alternative take on them, when he gets some time in his loaded schedule to respond. Meantime, I try to hold my interpretations with an open hand so that I can revise them if and when it is needed.

    I have grown to really love the book of Zechariah. Some of the enigmatic language has been cleared up for me by using the LXX version, which has become a regular study tool these days.

    For the first verse you pull up – Zechariah 14:2 – you ask how “all nations” gathered against Israel could be fulfilled if it was “only the Romans” coming against Israel in AD 70.

    This point is one Adam has covered at length in a post called “The Gentiles Trampled Jerusalem for 42 months (Revelation 11:1-2)”, from his Beast of Revelation series. From what I can tell from the context of Zechariah 14:2, “all nations” gathered against Jerusalem are the same “nations” in Zechariah 14:3: “Then shall the Lord go forth and FIGHT AGAINST THOSE NATIONS”. This CAN’T be the Romans He is fighting against, because the Romans are called “HIS ARMIES” that God uses to burn up the city of Jerusalem in the parable of the king and the marriage supper in Matthew 22:7. So, “all nations” that are gathered against Jerusalem DO NOT include the Romans, because they are called GOD’S ARMIES: the ones He used as a tool to accomplish His purpose against Jerusalem as He once used the Babylonians.

    We are left with the definition of “all nations” gathering against Jerusalem to be the Zealot forces as Adam’s post shows, plus those of Gog’s army. Remember the list of nations that had representative members showing up in Gog’s diverse collection of warriors? (Ezekiel 38:5-6 – those warriors who came from Persia, from Ethiopia, from Libya, from Gomer, the house of Togarmah, etc…) It isn’t necessary to the context of Ezekiel 38 that the ENTIRE NATION of Persia, Ethiopia, etc. show up to fight against Jerusalem: the LXX gives this list as PERSIANS, (some whose family origination came from Persia), Ethiopians (some with Ethiopian roots), Libyans (some whose family came from Libya), etc., “and MANY NATIONS WITH THEE” (Ezekiel 38:6).

    I have given a lengthy comment before, here on Adam’s site (“Revelation 13:3 and the Wounded Head of the Zealot Movement”) detailing my interpretation of who Gog’s identity was. I believe it was fulfilled by the Zealot leader called Simon bar Giora in the AD 70 era, as he gathered 20,000 warriors and 40,000 camp followers from many of the nations around Jerusalem (Wars 4.9.5 and 7), using them as his own army to get into Jerusalem and challenge John of Gischala and Eleazar for the leading role of Israel’s “Messiah”. God did “fight against” all of the nations represented by Simon bar Giora’s conglomerate army. By the close of September AD 70, Simon’s army and the Zealot forces had been decimated, and Simon himself captured by the Romans and reserved for the Roman triumph, after which he was executed as the chief leader of the rebellion. Civil war conditions in Jerusalem throughout the AD 66-70 era were actually the main cause for the death of its citizens, more so than the Romans themselves, it would seem.

    Lex, you also ask how 1/2 of the people taken into exile and the other 1/2 remaining in the city could match Jerusalem’s AD 70 scenario, where you say they were all killed except for a few who escaped. Well, in addition to the few who escaped at various points throughout the war, according to Josephus (Wars 6.9.3 – 420), there were 97,000 who were taken captive by the Romans by the time the city fell. This 1/2 “taken” compared to the other 1/2 “remaining” could well be the fulfillment of “one taken and the other left” that Christ predicted would happen (Luke 17:34-37) at His coming. NEITHER of these 2 categories (those “taken” and those “left”) was a preferred fate. Those “taken” captive by the Romans (the 97,000 at the end) became slaves or were killed in a Roman arena for entertainment. Those “left” in the city were those who remained there because they finally died there and were eaten by the birds (Rev. 19:17-18).

    As Revelation 11:18 (Interlinear) says, God would “bring to corruption (death) them which corrupt the EARTH” (ge – the land of Israel). This language of one being “taken” and the other “left” appeared once before in Isaiah 13:14-15 (LXX). NEITHER FATE was a desired outcome for the city of Babylon in the Day of the Lord’s judgment on the Chaldean empire. Just so with Jerusalem, the “great city Babylon” in her Day of judgment. Those of the families who “remained” in the city (Zechariah 12:11-14) would be left in deep mourning when Christ had come and gone after the resurrection at Pentecost in AD 70, as they watched their temple system, their city, and their nation disintegrating before their eyes – and themselves dying along with it.

    As an aside, the wives and husbands in the city would be mourning “apart” from each other because the uncleanness of dead bodies was EVERYWHERE within the city, and everyone had become defiled by contact with those dead bodies. Read the LXX version of Zechariah 13:1: “In that day, EVERY PLACE shall be opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem FOR REMOVAL (as the uncleanness of a “removed” woman) and for SEPARATION.” This shows that there wasn’t a single area in all of Jerusalem that could be considered a “clean” place – “EVERY PLACE” was considered defiled and set apart (separated) as an unclean thing. The massive pile-up of dead bodies became especially critical during those last few starving months of the Roman siege from April – September of AD 70.

    Your next question, Lex, was to ask how the saints “just walked out” of Jerusalem if the city was under siege. That’s the point. There was absolutely no way OUT of Jerusalem (especially once that wall of circumvallation around Jerusalem was built within 3 days’ time by Titus’ armies). BUT, there was a way UP and out of the city – if you were a RESURRECTED SAINT, that is. This was the “rapture” that I Thessalonians 4 predicted. ONLY RESURRECTED SAINTS took part in that “rapture” to heaven with a bodily-returning Christ. Those who were “alive and remained”, (as in I Thessalonians 4:15,17), were all those who had ALREADY been made alive by resurrection (like the Matthew 27:52-53 saints), and had remained on earth until the Pentecost AD 70 resurrection for their fellow-saints. This was the time when they all left this planet together, passing through the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, to gather and meet with Christ on the Mount of Olives and be taken to heaven from there – bodily.

    “What about the river flowing out of Jerusalem and flowing to the Dead and Mediterranean Seas?” Well, I think I remember Adam describing this before as the “rivers of living water” (as in John 7:38), representing the conversion of saints under the New Covenant, and the Spirit of God that would flow out of them, similar to rivers coming from the source of a natural spring. Once Jerusalem and the Old Covenant trappings had been utterly destroyed for all time, these “rivers” which had started flowing by Christ giving the Holy Spirit to His disciples on His resurrection day (John 20:22) would continue to flow, just as the Gihon Spring giving “living water” to Jerusalem’s physical temple had once provided the symbol for the “living water” of the Holy Spirit which Christ would give to believers later on.

    The symbolism behind the TWO RIVERS of living water going out of Jerusalem (to the East and to the West) was to show the superiority of this “living water” in comparison to Ezekiel 47’s SINGLE river that went in only ONE direction – to the Dead Sea. That single, literal river in Ezekiel 47, coming from the Gihon Spring, issued from under the Eastern threshold of Zerubbabel’s rebuilt, post-exilic temple (because that’s the exact location of the rebuilt temple near the Gihon Spring – NOT the presumed Temple Mount location we have today). It flowed into the Dead Sea – literally – bringing life with it – literally – because the blood and remnants of sacrifices being washed down-stream from a re-established, fully-operational, post-exilic temple would actually boost the fish population wherever it flowed. (Which is why you have fishermen spreading their nets “from Engeddi even unto Eneglaim” on the coast of the Dead Sea – Ezekiel 38:10). The trees on the banks of this literal river would bring forth fruit regularly in season – “according to his months” – as God blessed the post-exilic returning Israelites to flourish and prosper.

    Far SUPERIOR to this seasonal blessing of fruit in its proper months in Ezekiel 47, Zechariah’s TWO RIVERS of the New Jerusalem “temple” would have NO seasonal change in being able to sustain fruit bearing “trees”, since Zechariah 14:8 says that this river would continue flowing consistently in both Summer AND Winter. This has great symbolic significance if you are aware of the seasonal cycles of rain and the weather patterns for Israel. There really are only TWO main seasons for Israel – the winter rainy season from October into April – then just a few weeks of spring, followed by virtually NO RAINS whatever for the June – September months of Summer. Naturally, this affects the flow of Israel’s rivers and streams, and causes them to fluctuate widely.

    In direct contrast to this natural, wide variation in the flow and supply of Israel’s rivers, the TWO RIVERS in Zechariah 14:8, flowing with the never-ceasing supply of the Holy Spirit’s power, would never change seasonally from Summer to Winter. They would be as constant as the Gihon Spring, which supplied the physical temple’s need for ritual cleansing and purity. (Incidentally, this consistent flow of the Holy Spirit’s power from a living, unquenchable spring has a direct bearing on the “Once-saved-always-saved” controversy. It also offers encouragement to us today that the Holy Spirit’s progressive work of evangelism will never be quenched by man’s schemes or natural depravity at work in the world.)

    About “The Lord being king over the whole earth”. Very simple. A “king” is a HIGH PRIEST in Hebrew terms. (If you are interested in some proof on this point about “kings” being equal to “high priests” in scripture, you may want to check out a comment on this subject that I wrote on another website: Adam may not want to leave this link in place here, which I can understand if he needs to remove it.) Jesus is absolutely the only high priest / king available now over the whole earth for any person or nation currently existing. Before AD 70 and the fall of the temple along with its Levitical priesthood, there was a feeble competition to Christ’s role of our high priest being offered by Jerusalem’s high priesthood with its Zadok (Sadducee) family still trying to hang on to that position. That’s why this Zadok-led high priesthood HAD to be dissolved by the death of its last two living members – the Two Witnesses – Ananus and Joshua – who were both former high priests of the Sadducee (Zadok) party. This family of Zadok had formerly enjoyed God’s exclusive choice for the high priesthood position ever since God promised the role “forever” to Phinehas and his descendants in Numbers 25:11-13. However, once Christ had been set up as the ultimate fulfillment of the high priest of all high priests (the “King of Kings”), all those other Zadok-family priests had to step aside – or be put aside by their deaths, as happened to the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11.

    Next, a definition of “the plague that was on the attackers and their animals”. These “attackers” are those who “have fought against Jerusalem” in Zechariah 14:12. As they have been defined above, those who were called “all nations against Jerusalem” were the Zealot factions as well as Gog’s army (Simon bar Giora’s army fighting in civil war against their fellow Israelites). These men of Simon’s army, and all the warring Zealot factions in Jerusalem, were struck suddenly by a plague of starvation so intense that Zechariah 14:12 says that “their flesh consumed away while they stood on their feet, and their eyes consumed away in their holes, and their tongue consumed away in their mouth”.

    This most extreme level of starvation for the city started in April of AD 70 with Titus’ arrival at the gates of Jerusalem, and lasted for 5 months. Titus had planned the time of his siege to coincide with the arrival of the Passover celebrants, when the population of Jerusalem would have been at maximum levels. Of course, this created famine conditions in the city almost immediately. The number of inhabitants in Jerusalem at this time vary according to sources, but we know that Jerusalem hosted about 2 million and 700 thousand at Passover earlier in AD 66, according to Nero’s census recorded by Josephus (Wars 6.9.422-425). Even allowing for the reduced number of citizens under wartime conditions who could not make it to Jerusalem for the Passover, (plus those who heeded Christ’s warning to flee the city once the armies showed up), there were still a vast amount of people confined in the city who had no food supplies because the grain storage had been burned up by the Zealot warring factions. Any animals confined in the city would have starved equally, if they were not used as a food source.

    This period of torments for the inhabitants of Jerusalem is portrayed for us in the “rich man and Lazarus” parable in Luke 16. Instead of providing a picture of eternal torments for the wicked dead in the flames of a perpetual hell, this “parable” pictures the suffering for those inhabitants of Jerusalem in the “Lake of Fire / Second Death / furnace of fire” that took place in the city itself during those last years before Jerusalem and the nation was utterly burned up for a second and last time. This was similar to Jerusalem’s First Death at the hands of the Babylonians back in 586 BC. Across the “great gulf fixed” in the parable, (i.e., the Valley of Hinnom), the trapped citizens suffering in the city would see across that Hinnom Valley to the crest of the Mount of Olives, where a resurrected Lazarus was literally gathered with a literally resurrected Father Abraham – with Christ and all the saints as well. There was no way for anyone alive in the besieged city of Jerusalem to cross over the “great gulf” of the Valley of Hinnom to the Mount of Olives, (just as Father Abraham told the rich man), unless they were one of the RESURRECTED SAINTS – as Lazarus was. Christ had once said in Luke 13:28 that there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth for Israel’s citizens who had once had Jesus teach in their streets, and eat and drink with them personally. They would actually see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets (and Lazarus) across the Hinnom Valley on the Mount of Olives, with themselves thrust out of that kingdom of God – forbidden to participate in that resurrection to life and the transport to heaven with Christ.

    Your very last question about the Feast of Tabernacles has been addressed to some extent on one of Adam’s posts called “Zechariah 12 Fulfilled”. Rather than repeat everything I wrote in my comments to that post, I’ll sum it up generally by saying that the Feast of Tabernacles was never intended to be renewed as an actual performance of those Old Testament rites. As with all Old Covenant rituals, their purpose was to point the way to an anti-type fulfillment later on. As the last of the 3 required harvest feast celebrations that every adult male in Israel had to participate in, the Feast of Tabernacles was meant to symbolically represent the 3rd and last harvest of human bodies from the dust of the grave.

    The “First Resurrection” was that of the “First-fruits, First-born, First-begotten-from-the-dead” Christ, along with the First-fruits saints of Matthew 27:52-53, raised with Him that PASSOVER week in AD 33. Christ’s Second coming with another resurrection of all those under the Old Covenant Age came at the next required harvest feast time – at PENTECOST in AD 70. We today await the final, 3rd bodily resurrection, which will arrive at the time of year when the FEAST OF TABERNACLES would ordinarily have been observed. This 3rd resurrection will close out God’s dealings with all those who have lived and died in this New Covenant Age since AD 70. The reason this feast (and ONLY this one of the 3 required feasts) is emphasized in Zechariah 14:16-19 is #1), because after AD 70, the other two feast celebrations of Passover and Pentecost would have already become fulfilled resurrections by then, and #2), because God wants us today to remember the TIMING of this feast. It predicts what time of year we can expect the 3rd resurrection and judgment to occur in our future. And it will NOT be soon.

    And yet again, I have to apologize for hogging Adam’s comment section…


  12. Hi Lex Hibburt,

    Ooops, my bad. I just noticed I goofed when bringing up the Hinnom Valley when I was talking about the “rich man and Lazarus” parable. I meant the Kidron Valley. That’s what I get for trying to post a comment after midnight. Plus a very distracting cat was trying to walk on my keyboard to compete for attention.

    I don’t blame you for not swallowing what I wrote above. Caution is a good thing. It’s probably way too much to digest at once, anyway – a bad habit of mine. None of this is what I grew up with either, and was taught for the better part of 50 years or so from a pre-mil disp. position. I have had to put everything I ever learned under the microscope to see if it truly was the message God intended or not. Lots of study involved, but also, lots of joy to see answers to my questions that no pastor or Bible instructor was ever willing or able to address.

    Blessings on your own studies, too, Lex.


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