Matthew 24: Double Fulfillment Is Not Possible


In a previous post, I shared J. Stuart Russell’s argument against the idea of a dual fulfillment in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21). Russell argued (well, in my opinion) that neither in Jesus’ own words, nor in the words of any other New Testament author, does any teaching appear which supports “a twofold reference in the predictions of Jesus concerning the end.”

An article written in 2004 by Michael Fenemore goes into even more detail on why the idea of dual fulfillment does not work when it comes to Jesus’ famous words in Matthew 24:

Some prophecy teachers, while acknowledging a fulfillment of Matthew 24 in the first century, predict a future second fulfillment, but this time, with worldwide implications… We might wonder whether those who promote the double-fulfillment theory ever took the time to test it by reading over the text even once. How could this be fulfilled twice?

This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come (v. 14, NASB throughout unless otherwise noted).

Will the “great commission” be fulfilled twice? Does “the end” come twice? If it does, then, the first one wasn’t the end.

A modern second fulfillment is usually presented as a worldwide catastrophe, but notice verse 20: “…pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.” What relevance would this have today? Outside modern-day Israel, relatively few people in the world keep the Sabbath. And what if they do? In ancient times, the gates of Jerusalem were shut on the Sabbath preventing escape (Neh. 13:1922Jer. 17:2124). However, this is not a problem for anyone today. Most Christians probably live out their entire lives without ever praying their “flight” will not take place on the Sabbath. Mark’s account adds this: “…be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues” (Mark 13:9). How could this be fulfilled worldwide in our time? Today’s Sanhedrin has no jurisdiction outside Israel. There are likely very few Christians in the world, if any, who worry about being “flogged in the synagogues.”

Will there be two “great” tribulations?For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again” (Matt. 24:21, NLT). Since this anguish would “never be so great again,” how could it occur twice? Some might protest that such language is hyperbolic; it was not intended to be taken literally. Perhaps that is true. But then, the same people should be able to understand that the rest of Matthew 24 is replete with the same Old Testament-style hyperbole. They should not require a second fulfillment just because some events did not occur exactly as Jesus described them.

Will the “elect” be gathered twice?He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (v. 31). This is referring to the “last trumpet” of 1 Cor. 15:51-52: the resurrection and the moment when the living Christians would be “caught up” and “changed.” If Matthew 24 was to be fulfilled twice, then, clearly, the resurrection must have occurred during the first fulfillment within the lifetimes of Christ’s listeners. But if all God’s people in Hades were resurrected in the first century, and now Christians go straight to heaven at death, how could any saints be resurrected from Hades in the future?

Jesus never said Matthew 24 would be fulfilled twice, and there’s no rule anywhere in the Bible saying prophecy should be interpreted this way. The double-fulfillment concept is simply an untenable fabrication created in desperation, probably deemed necessary because its adherents expect literal fulfillments of the highly figurative, cosmic predictions in Matthew 24 and other places, which of course, have never occurred (and never will). In some cases we find types and antitypes in scripture. For instance, Israelite worship under the Old Covenant was a type or “shadow” of things to come under the New Covenant (Col. 2:16-17). However, the New Covenant does not create more shadows for greater fulfillments later. Here is another example of biblical typology:

Old Testament types:

Sodom, Egypt, Babylon

New Testament antitype:

Jerusalem

Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon were probably the three most detestable place names from Israel’s past. To this day, Sodom symbolizes sexual perversion (sodomy). Egypt and Babylon represented sin and captivity. However, by the first century, the sins of God’s own people, the Jews, had become so repugnant that in Revelation, he called Jerusalem by all three names: “…the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8); “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:5). See also Isa. 1:21. It’s possible, if not probable, Jesus intended to draw the Babylon parallel when he described Jerusalem’s destruction in Matthew 24:

the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light (v. 29)

The same pronouncement was made against Old Testament Babylon:

The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light. (Isa. 13:10)

Jerusalem had become the antitype of Babylon. Jerusalem’s destruction would be the antitype of Babylon’s destruction.

It’s all fulfilled. There is no third fulfillment. The destruction in Matthew 24 is not a type of something in the future; it’s the antitype of something from the past. The New Testament does not create new types requiring future antitypes. Types and antitypes might be considered double fulfillments by some, but if a double-fulfillment rule should be applied to all biblical predictions without exception, we should expect two Messiahs, two crucifixions, two judgments, two kingdoms, etc. It gets ridiculous.

Evidently, many influential Bible teachers spend little time testing the double-fulfillment idea before teaching it to trusting Christians. They routinely predict events which actually occurred long ago. For instance, some prophecies require a Roman Empire, but since it no longer exists — and hasn’t for over 1,500 years — they predict a “revived” one. However, if they would give up their literal-fulfillment requirements (stars falling from heaven, etc.) and fully accept the first and only fulfillments of New Testament prophecies, there would be no need for any such flimsy double-fulfillment theories, and credulous Christians could be spared a lot of useless speculation.

Objection

Objection: Pastor John Hagee says prophecy should be interpreted by the double-fulfillment model because of “the law of double reference” (John Hagee, From Daniel To Doomsday [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1999], 181).

Answer: Those who promote the law of double reference are unable to show where in the Bible this “law” is mentioned. It is a law only because they say it is, not because of any biblical directive.

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17 thoughts on “Matthew 24: Double Fulfillment Is Not Possible

  1. Jesus says the end of the AEON (age), meaning the Old Testament age of types and shadows. The idea of being gathered together doesn’t necessarily refer to the Last Day. His messengers (remember boys and girls, angels are not ALWAYS heavenly beings) DID gather together his elect (the Church) from one end of the LAND (Israel) to the other. The Gospel was preached and the prophesied Great Tribulation (called in Jeremiah the time of Jacob’s Trouble, a clear clue whom it was meant for) did come, ending in the destruction of Jerusalem by fire as warned in Daniel and Mt 22/23. These profiting prophets (pre-trib books sell a maddening portion of non-Biblical Christian books for big bucks) clearly ignore history in the light of Scripture and deceive many. The prophesy becomes simple when understood by comparing Scripture with Scripture and then learning history. You find out who the Beast is, the identity of 666 (Nero, for those too lazy to go look it up) and Mystery Babylon the Great Whore clearly identified in Ezekiel 16 and Jeremiah 51 and extrapolated into Revelation by John as JERUSALEM!

    I think the part I love/hate the most is when these fine fellows try to build an entire doctrine of a singular dictator “antichrist” around 5 mentions of the term in the ENTIRE New Testament, ignoring the fact that John (who wrote both the Johannine letters and Revelation) NEVER mentions the word antichrist outside of his letters and that the term was never used in Revelation, AND (most telling) the fact that John never mentions antichrist until after the events of Revelation had been fulfilled. (OF course, there IS that little thing about John being the ONLY one to use the term,but why confuse people with the facts, eh?

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    • That’s a great point about Jeremiah clearly showing for whom the tribulation was designed, i.e. Jacob (Israel). Concerning the warnings that Jerusalem would be burned with fire, I would add that Revelation 17-18 gives the same warning.

      I remember well how the light bulbs turned on when I came to realize that the word “antichrist” is only mentioned in I John and II John, and that John’s description fit the first century Judaizers more than anyone else.

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      • Actually, not the Judaizers, but the Gnostics. It was the Gnostics who said that Christ didn’t come in the flesh. There’re other problems with the whole singular antichrist thing too. Revelation was written just before the start of the Neronic persecution, about 64 AD, despite all ridiculous claims to the contrary. John’s letters weren’t written until 90 AD. So John didn’t even speak of antichrists before then. Gentry’s book on the identity of the beast confirms an early date for Revelation in my opinion.

        The Neronic persecution started in 64 AD and ended in the middle of 67 AD precisely because of the Jewish rebellion. 1260 days, or 3.5 years. Then, the time of Jacob’s trouble BEGAN in 67 AD and ended in 70 AD, a second 3.5 year period. Nero’s name adds up to 666 in gematria. Nero is Rome personified. Rome is Daniel’s fourth beast. Nero just gives it personification, like say Washington, Lincoln or Kennedy personified their eras. Nero was wounded fatally, the empire nearly came apart, but once the civil war was settled, the Beast (Rome) ‘rose from the dead’ so to speak. Vespasian became emperor and Titus (the prince of the one who was to come, from Daniel) his son carried out God’s wrath on the whore Jerusalem/apostate Israel. Too late to keep going now. Grace and peace.

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      • I fully agree, of course, that Revelation was written prior to 70 AD, and that Nero was the beast and Rome personified. I don’t think I can agree, however, that John wrote his epistles as late as 90 AD. There’s A.T. Robinson’s argument that if any New Testament book was written after 70 AD, surely it would have mentioned the collapse of the temple and Jerusalem as a past event. More importantly, though, to me is John’s statement that because of the appearance of many antichrists, “from this we know it is the last hour” (I John 2:18). If the end of the old covenant age had already come by 70 AD, why would John say 20 years later that they had come into the last hour?

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      • OK, let’s say that John’s letters were written contemporarily with the Revelation. Revelation is conspicuous by its absence of the term antichrist, indicating to me that it was irrelevant to the theme of the book. Further conspicuous is the fact that ONLY John ever uses the term. None of the other apostles use it, and MOST SIGNIFICANTLY, Jesus never uses it. Modern so-called prophecy teachers have built an entire doctrine around one man’s use of a particular term a mere five times. Most likely, John’s use of the term last hour indicates that the judgment of Jerusalem is imminent.

        A NT book written after AD 70 might not mention the fall of the temple if it weren’t germane to the teaching that particular book was trying to present however.

        Today’s Christian receives a poor teaching of eschatology from just about every angle in my opinion. The pre-millennialist teaches utter nonsense from a mere 180 years ago. The a-millennialist denies the existence of a millennial period which Scripture clearly states in Revelation WILL exist. The post-millennialist says that Christianity will usher in the millennial reign and win the world to Christ through human effort. ALL THREE ARE ABSURD, although post-millennialism does contain a certain amount of the truth incorrectly presented.

        After the judgment of apostate Judaism and its godless leadership in 70 AD, I believe that the thousand years began. The early Church pretty much considered any kind of ‘golden age millennium’ as a heresy from what I’ve read, especially one where in blood sacrifices would be reinstated, even as ‘memorials’ as the pre-mils teach. Rightly so, because Christ’s sacrifice is once for all. Isaiah tells us that a time would come when the mountain of the LORD’s house would be established at the TOP of the mountains. The word ‘top’ used there is ROSH, or chief. So then the LORD’s house would be exalted above all the other ‘mountains’ (which I believe is a reference to religions or belief systems or so-called gods). Christ’s Church would be SUPERIOR. People would flock to it.

        Oddly enough, Revelation 19 and 20 indicate the same thing, First, the victory parade of Rev 19. Undoubtedly, the Jews saw many a Roman victory parade during their captivity, with the victorious general leading his officers and army triumphantly in a march before the Empire’s subjects. At the end of the procession, the shambling prisoners (in this case, the beast and false prophet) who are summarily executed (Rev 19:20), and then, finally, the enemy leader, (in this case, Satan.) Notice in Ch 19, Christ is the one to rule the nations with a rod of iron. (the sword that comes out of His mouth…the Word of God). Satan is cast into prison (the bottomless pit) for the entire period of Christ’s rule. Satan is specifically bound to prevent him from deceiving the nations any longer, until the thousand years are fulfilled. This war is over, Christ has won, and dictated the terms of the surrender (whether Satan likes them or not…tough stuff). From that point, Christ begins to reign from the heavenly Jerusalem! The martyrs of the Neronian persecution rule with Him, as evidenced by the fact that they refused to take Rome’s mark and worship the Emperor. They are the firstfruits, these martyrs, they’ve proven themselves even to the very shedding of blood. Christianity slowly begins to assert rule, not physically, but spiritually. The Church brings the Good News of Christ to the world, and begins to become Daniel’s great mountain. (Yeah, the one Isaiah said would be the Chief over all the other mountains.) The Church brings superior teaching, and the whole world is blessed. Two thousand years ago, men were riding horses and donkeys, now we’re driving cars and flying airplanes and using electric light. We’ve visited the moon, AND IT WAS A CHRISTIAN NATION (at the time) THAT TOOK US THERE.

        Now, Christ will remain in heaven until the time of the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21). He isn’t going to come back to start the millennium: HE STARTED IT IN AD 70 WITH THE DEFEAT OF THE BEAST AND FALSE PROPHET! All down through the ages, Christ from heaven judged between the nations and rebuked many people, causing them to do what: Stop resisting Him and get with his program. That’s the jist of the swords to plowshares analogy.

        But Revelation also tells us that the thousand years have a fulfillment, or an end. There are two time periods mentioned in Rev 20. The first is the thousand years of the reign of Christ from his heavenly city. The second is the ‘mikros chronos’ or short time of Satan. Satan is released from his prison. Notice that. It’s very significant. HE IS RELEASED. He doesn’t escape. God is still in control, but Christ’s earth-reign is expired in the sense of ruling the nations.

        Satan becomes Gog, and he gathers the nations from the four corners of the earth as his Magog, and immediately starts up a spiritual war. Just because it’s a spiritual war doesn’t mean it doesn’t have physical and earthly implications. It is fought in the earth-realm. Just as the thousand years started off slow and built up to the blessings we now enjoy, so Satan-Gog’s rebellion does as well.

        Ezekiel 38 indicates that Satan sees the people of God dwelling safely in a land of unwalled villages. Furthermore, Satan knows this is so. He’s seen the Church spread over the whole earth with its message…AND GET FAT AND LAZY AND COMPLACENT. He thinks: “Easy prey.” And he goes out and surrounds the Holy City (God’s people) and tries to steal every thing they have and bring back The Lie. Man can be God. The same song and dance from Genesis.

        And God lets this fiasco occur for a little bit…AND THEN CRUSHES IT WITH FIRE OUT OF HEAVEN. Then, the Last Day resurrection occurs and the Final Judgment and the ushering in of the Bride.

        So where are we? The little season. Satan-Gog is leading Magog against us. Persecuting the Church, physically and spiritually. But soon, Christ will send His fire and Satan and all his cohorts will be dealt with.

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  2. Blowing away the misconception that the time of Jacob’s trouble is futuristic…..

    Understanding the context of prophesied events is foundational to understanding the future. In Matthew 24 the context of the chapter starts out by a discussion of Jesus and the disciples conversation concerning the beauty of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus informs them that the Temple would be destroyed and decimated to the extent that not one stone would be left upon another. Historically we know that this event happened in 70 AD by the Roman Titus who was sent to Jerusalem to end the uprising of the Jews. The Temple was burnt, and the gold melted between the stones. As a result not one stone was left upon another fulfilling the prophesy that Jesus spoke in Matt. 24: 1,2. This prophesy concerning the Temple sparked a question from the disciples which we see in verse 3, “When will these things be…?” The question doesn’t end there, but continues. However, it is very important to understand that the first question raised by the disciples is about the time in which the temple is destroyed. If we fail to recognize this fact we can be drawn into the many interpretations of this chapter that totally ignore the fact that this question about this era was indeed asked, and therefore part of the response. The following part of the question(s) concerns the end of the age, and His return. Many views of this chapter focus upon this second part of the question and totally ignore the first (as this post does) which is the original context of the discussion. It is important to know that the context of the original discussion was not ignored by Jesus in His response, and in fact it continues to be part of the focus of His response.
    So now that we’ve established that there is indeed a question that exists, we need to reference the response. Before I address it, let’s look at another scripture that most see as paralleling events in this chapter. It is an obscure prophesy in Jeremiah that entails two chapters 30,31. What makes this passage obscure is the reference to the time of “Jacob’s trouble.” This phrase, “Jacob’s trouble” is mentioned only once in Scripture. However, the events that are caused by this event are mentioned many times. There are two major characteristics of this event that set it apart from others. One is that it is a time unlike any other for the history of Jacob(Israel: Jacob’s name was later changed to Israel)(Jer. 30:7), and two, it causes the people to be scattered (Jer. 30:10,11) to the ends of the earth (Jer. 31:8). The time unlike any other indicates a ‘worst case scenario’ for Israel. This is not a worldwide event, but exclusive for Israel. This concept of a ‘worst case scenario’ is readily understood, however the scattering to the ends of the earth is ignored.
    Historically, if we look at Israel, we understand that she has had a history of being a nation with a government for a relatively short time. She has been in captivity in Babylon for 70 years and from the time she was released from captivity she had government for around 500 yrs. At which time she was scattered by the Romans beginning in 70 AD. Jerusalem was exterminated of Jews by 162 AD and was not gathered back into a nation again until 1948. Here she was gathered by God from the ends of the earth. Isaiah tells us that once she is gathered, she will never be scattered again.
    Zech. 12:4 tells us that Jerusalem will be occupied by Jews at the return of the Messiah. At this time some of the Jews will be in captivity.
    It is estimated that around 6 million Jews were killed by the Romans during the squelching of the rebellion and Roman Empire slave trade. This marks the beginning of the scattering of the Jews. It is estimated that this was about two thirds of the Jewish population. At the end of the scattering and the gathering began, it is also estimated that 6 million Jews were again exterminated by Hitler and the Germans. Because the Jews were indeed scattered at this time, it is impossible to know the population of the Jewish people at this time. However, it is not difficult to see and understand that how significant this period of time is concerning the extermination of Jews and the obvious placement of a ‘worst case scenario’ concerning history. The prophesied future for Israel is glorious compared to their past. The ‘worst case scenario’ doesn’t even come close to prophesy concerning the hang-ups in the future.
    Understanding this allows us to be informed concerning the passage of Matt. 24. Here again Jesus speaks of a ‘worst case scenario’ of Israel. In this passage (Matt. 24:15-23) He is responding to the disciples question of “When will these things be…?” concerning the destruction of the temple. He is telling them how to respond when the abomination of desolation comes and destroys the temple. If you do not see this as an answer to the disciples question, then what answers it in this chapter? This is the very context of the conversation that they were having.
    For decades this obscure passage in Jeremiah has dictated the direction of thinking of a largely excepted view called dispensationalism. This view was developed prior to Nazi Germany and the eradication of the Jews. This view attempts to place the passages that prophesy demise solely upon the Jewish people, and bring separation between the Jew and gentile. However, the Scriptures declare a graphing in and the walls of separation removed between Jew and gentile… (Eph. 2:11+).
    The separation between church and Israel is a conjured mess that is founded in misrepresentation of Matthew 24. The question of separation lies in the differences of the events asked about in verse 3. The differences are huge in timeframe and events and they are approaching nearly 2000 years. This obvious difference that should be shouting to be noticed, however people believe what they want to believe and it is easier to have someone else do the research for you than to think for yourself. Is this why Jesus states in the next verse (vs.4), be careful that no man deceive you? The context of the possible deception lies in understanding the answer the questions just asked. Yet, so few notice that there is actually a question pinpointing the 70 AD era, and thus it is left unnoticed.

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    • Hi boldncourageous,

      Thank you for commenting here. It looks like we agree on a number of things, but not so much on a couple of others. For a post that deals with what some say are three questions posed to Jesus in Matthew 24, please see this post:

      http://kloposmasm.com/2011/04/30/the-olivet-discourse-this-generation-or-that-generation-part-1-of-4/

      Jeremiah’s prophecy about Jacob’s Trouble is indeed significant, and it parallels Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse. (I believe that’s what you’re saying as well.)

      Where did you get the figure that 6 million Jews died in 70 AD? I’ve never seen a number that high. I know Josephus estimated that 1.1 million Jews died, at least in Jerusalem anyway.

      Regarding Israel becoming a nation in 1948, I don’t personally believe that any Bible prophecies point to that event.

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  3. Thank you for linking to this per our previous discussion over on my “out of the pit” post. I figured I might as well just respond here, because in some ways I think I understand your thought-processes a little better now, but at the same time, I would have to say that I still think there are some rather glaring problematic points which I don’t really find any direct answer to, either here or elsewhere.

    So, from what I can gather so far, you basically believe that the “second coming”, including Jesus’ physical return, and the Resurrection of the dead, etc, all already occurred in the first century? It’s hard to tell for sure, because you speak of the use of “hyperbole” and “highly figurative, cosmic predictions in Matthew 24 and other places”.

    There are so many specific questions I could choose to get into, but for the sake of time, I think it would probably be best to just stick to what I think is probably the most paramount one, the question of Jesus’ return itself. Do you regard the passages in Matthew 24 where Jesus says:

    “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.”

    and also:

    ““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. 31 And 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.”

    It’s easy to just scoot over these verses and label them as some kind of “cosmic figurative language”, but figurative language for what exactly? And how does that make any sense?

    He says that His coming will be as visible as lighting in the sky. He tells us not to go running after claims of the messiah returning and able to found in some “inner room”, or “out in the desert”, because no one will be able to miss it. How is it possible to construe these verses in any way that could explain as speaking of anything but a literal, physical, viewable return of the Resurrected Jesus?

    Do you really not believe in a literal return of Jesus, at any time…? There are SO many verses throughout the NT which are then subject to the same problems of interpretation. It throws a huge wrench in the entire works.

    Btw, I too grew up in an environment of pre-Trib dispensationalist eschatology, but have now come to a place where I guess I would have to be called a subscriber to “pre-wrath” covenant theology(?). I very much respect, and have learned from, your writings on things like the true Israel and other topics, and I know that you don’t come to any conclusion without putting a great deal of though and study into it, so I am very interested in trying to understand how you could reconcile these verses in Matt 24, and others, with a fully preterist view.

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    • You’re welcome, and thanks for your kind words. I’ve learned a number of things from your writings as well.

      Yes, I believe that Jesus came/returned in the first century, fulfilling His promise to come in His kingdom before His disciples could pass through all the cities and towns of Israel (Matthew 10:23); and His promise to come [1] in His kingdom [2] in judgment [3] with His holy angels [4] in the glory of His Father while some of His disciples were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28); and His promise to come “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (more on that momentarily) before His own generation would pass away (Matthew 24:34; see also Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32); and His promise to the Sanhedrin that they would “see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

      Yes, I believe that the general resurrection of the dead also took place in the first century, and that from that time forward everyone who dies in Christ immediately is with the Lord and does not wait in Sheol/Paradise (Revelation 14:13). To look at just one piece of evidence, Daniel 12:2 says that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This was to be at “a time of trouble” for Daniel’s people, “such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Daniel 12:1). Jesus promised that this incomparable time of trouble (Matthew 24:21, Mark 13:21, Luke 21:22-23) would take place before the temple would fall (Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, Luke 21:5-7) and before His generation would pass away. Daniel also was told that “at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book.” Josephus, a Jewish historian, records that the believers living in Judea fled when it was being surrounded by the Romans in 67 AD, in obedience to Jesus’ words (Matthew 24:15-20, Mark 13:14-18, Luke 21:20-23) and took refuge in Pella (modern Jordan), under the supervision of King Agrippa (the same one who Paul stood before in Acts 26). According to Josephus and a few early church fathers, not a single Christian from Judea perished because they obediently fled.

      Since you specifically asked about Matthew 24:27-31, in the next comment or two I’ll go ahead and quote from a study I put together on these very verses (along with their counterparts in the accounts of Mark and Luke)…

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    • Matt. 24:27-28 – Jesus compares His coming (which, again, He promised would take place while some of His disciples were still alive – Matt. 16:27-28) to lightning which comes from the east and is also visible in the west. This statement appears only in Matthew’s account, the only account to have specifically mentioned His coming up until this point (in verse 3). Adam Clarke, in his 1810 commentary on this verse, interpreted it this way:

      “It is worthy of remark that our Lord, in the most particular manner, points out the very march of the Roman army: they entered into Judea on the EAST, and carried on their conquest WESTWARD, as if not only the extensiveness of the ruin, but the very route which the army would take, were intended in the comparison of the lightning issuing from the east, and shining to the west.”

      Then Jesus adds, “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” Some translations say “eagles” instead of “vultures.” George Peter Holford (in 1805) noted that not only was Israel fit to be described as a carcass in 70 AD; being spiritually, politically, and judicially dead; but it was also a curious fact that the eagle was the principal figure on the Roman ensigns which were planted throughout the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD and finally in the temple itself. Albert Barnes, in his commentary on these two verses in 1832, agreed:

      “The words in this verse are proverbial. Vultures and eagles easily ascertain where dead bodies are, and come to devour them. So with the Roman army. Jerusalem is like a dead and putrid corpse. Its life is gone, and it is ready to be devoured. The Roman armies will find it out, as the vultures do a dead carcass, and will come around it, to devour it… This verse is connected with the preceding by the word “for,” implying that this is a reason for what is said there, that the Son of man would certainly come to destroy the city, and that he would come suddenly. The meaning is, he would come by means of the Roman armies, as certainly, as suddenly, and as unexpectedly, as whole flocks of vultures and eagles, though unseen before, suddenly find their prey, see it at a great distance, and gather in multitudes around it.”

      Source: http://kloposmasm.com/2011/05/09/the-olivet-discourse-this-generation-or-that-generation-part-3-of-4/

      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…

      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 them… When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord God” (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.”

      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.”

      Source: http://kloposmasm.com/2011/08/23/the-olivet-discourse-this-generation-or-that-generation-part-4-of-4/

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      • I see… So, basically EVERYTHING then has to be given some kind of figurative interpretation.

        However, there is still a great deal left to be explained, as obviously Matthew 24 is not the only prophetic section of the NT, and there is still massive amounts of material in places like Revelation which haven’t even been touched yet.

        Not that I would even necessarily even be able to give assent to the bulk of those figurative interpretations, since even though some of them like I said before could be seen to exist in a type of partial fulfillment, the majority of it is still a huge stretch! I personally am not the kind of person who is terribly impressed with those “Jewish people living at that time would’ve understood this to mean X….” kinds of arguments. I understand that cultural context has it’s place and everything, but at the same time, I’ve seen that one get used SO many times to basically “culturally contextualize” just about anything anyone wants a particular verse to mean. Whenever you’re reaching for figurative interpretation that it overpowers the actual logical interpretation of something, I’d say it’s going too far. “Clouds = judgment”? “Like lighting across the sky = the Roman legions marching from East to West? Sorry, this falls apart when you stop and look at the whole of what that particular paragraph is saying, where Jesus is telling his disciples “Don’t go looking for me in some particular place, because when I come NO ONE will be able to miss it!” To take each individual sentence, and divorce it from the rest of the discussion, and allegorize it to such a degree, just doesn’t work. You’re basically turning the whole thing into one big esoteric riddle, which no “regular person” could sit down and read for themselves and allegedly be able to understand without also having the works of Josephus on hand and whatever else…

        It just doesn’t work. You basically say Jesus already came back, but, He came back “metaphorically” then…?

        Where does all the figurative interpretation and metaphor end then, and the literal begin?

        Is “judgment” just a metaphor for something too perhaps? What if “heaven” is just a metaphor? It’s kind of a theological Pandora’s box if you ask me. I could make the Bible say almost anything by simply assigning figurative definitions to things when there’s no real good reason to do so…

        What I want to know is, where is Jesus now, in your understanding, and, do you see there ever being a “culmination” of history at all? Any final judgment? Any type of anti-Christ yet to arise before that happens? Does human history just keep going on and on from here in your understanding, or no?

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  4. I would like for the author to answer the last arguments as well. I find myself seeing many points made in the argument but just not completely seeing it.

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