When it comes to the study of “the last days” (eschatology), Matthew 24 might be the passage cited most often. Known as The Olivet Discourse, it foretells earthquakes and famine, wars and rumors of war, the great tribulation, etc. Parallel passages are in Mark 13 and Luke 21. While many look to newspapers and CNN for signs that these events are coming to pass, it’s instructive to know that church fathers, reformation leaders, and others in church history looked in the rear-view mirror at these events.
The following quotes are commentary from various leaders on Matthew 24:34, the summary verse where Jesus says to His disciples: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (See also Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32). These quotes are buried at the end of a previous post, but I wanted to draw attention to them separately here:
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.”
For a detailed study on how the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled by 70 AD, within Jesus’ own generation, see our Olivet Discourse page and this 4-part study (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) in particular.