Calamitous Famines Have Disappeared (Implications for Eschatology)


Recently I learned some very good news that should be welcomed by everyone, regardless of one’s viewpoint on world affairs or eschatology. This news is that famines have sharply declined over the last 100 years, to the point of almost disappearing. This post will provide details about this trend and will also discuss why and how Jesus’ well-known prediction about famines had everything to do with His own time period and not ours. Doom and gloom is not this world’s destiny, and we have every reason to rejoice when famines disappear and when the world improves in other ways.

An October 2015 article in The Huffington Post reported that “calamitous famines that cause more than 1 million deaths” have now been completely eliminated (source: the 2015 Global Hunger Index). There has also been a “reduction ‘almost to a vanishing point’ of great famines, which cause more than 100,000 deaths.” Between 1900-1909 around 27 million people died of famine; during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s that number was cut in half (14 million deaths per decade); that number was divided by 10 by the 1990s (1.4 million deaths by famine); and about 600,000 died of famine between 2000 – 2015. Based on the given data, the trend would look something like this*:

Deaths by Famine Since 1900

*Note that no data was given for the periods of 1920 – 1940 and 1970 – 1990 in the Huffington Post article cited here. Also note that the final period (in purple) covers 15 years rather than 10 years like the other periods.

“Wait a minute. This shouldn’t be happening,” some might say. “Aren’t we in the end times? Didn’t Jesus say there would be famines and earthquakes before the end? Then why are famines going away?” Yes, Jesus did say that there would be famines before the end:

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginnings of sorrows” (Matthew 24:6-8; see also Mark 13:7-8 and Luke 21:9-11).

What was “the end” He was speaking of? It was to be “the end of the age” (Matthew 24:3, 14), which would take place when every stone of the temple would be thrown down (Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, Luke 21:5-7). That age did come to an end when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. It was the age which revolved around the temple, that is, the old covenant age (Hebrews 8:13).

How was Jesus’ prediction about famines fulfilled between the time of His prophecy (around 30 AD) and the end of the old covenant age in 70 AD? A series of famines took place throughout the Roman Empire between 41 AD – 52 AD and another great famine took place in 70 AD. Two of these famines affected Judah and Jerusalem, and both were predicted in Scripture, in Acts 11 and Revelation 6, respectively.

Famines during the Reign of Claudius Caesar (41-54 AD)

A severe famine was predicted by Agabus in Acts 11:28-30.

“And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”

Claudius Caesar was the fifth Roman emperor, and he ruled from 41 – 54 AD, immediately before Nero. More than one significant famine took place during the reign of Claudius, but one in particular fulfilled the prophecy of Agabus. The Roman historian Dio Cassius recorded details about each of them, and Luther W. Martin wrote the following helpful summary in a 1955 edition of The Gospel Guardian:

“The first famine during this period was centered around the city of Rome in the years 41 and 42 A.D. The second famine known to have occurred during the reign of Claudius was in the fourth year of his office (45 A.D.), and was particularly centered in Judea. It is this famine to which Luke makes reference in Acts 11:28… The third famine during the time of Claudius was centered in Greece in about A.D. 50. The fourth famine took place in 52 A.D. and once again, plagued the city of Rome.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, supplies further information concerning the intensity of this famine, with its great distress and many deaths. In a footnote, it is indicated that it may have lasted for a three year period.”

In addition to Josephus, the Roman historians Suetonius (“Life of Claudius,” chapter 18) and Tacitus (Annals 11:4) also wrote about the great famine which fulfilled the prediction of Agabus. These remarks were made by Josephus in Antiquities 20.2.5:

“[The arrival of Queen Helena of Adiabene] was very advantageous to the people of Jerusalem; for a famine oppressed them at that time, and many people died for want of money to procure food. Queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of grain, and others of them to Cyprus to bring back a cargo of dried figs. They quickly returned with the provisions, which she immediately distributed to those that [had] need.  She has thus left a most excellent memorial by the beneficence which she bestowed upon our nation.”

In 1805 George Peter Holford wrote a book titled, “The Destruction of Jerusalem, An Absolute and Irresistible Proof of the Divine Origin of Christianity,” in which he showed that many of the events recorded by Josephus and other first century historians fulfilled Jesus’ predictions in the Olivet Discourse. Regarding this famine, Holford wrote that it “was of long continuance. It extended through Greece, and even into Italy, but was felt most severely in Judea, and especially at Jerusalem, where many perished for want of bread. This famine is recorded by Josephus also, who relates that ‘an assaron of corn was sold for five drachmae’ (i.e. about 3 1/2 pints for three shilling, three denarius).” One drachma was the daily wage for a soldier at that time, and five drachma were worth about $500 in today’s currency. So three pints of corn sold for about $500 during this terrible famine.

The Great Famine in Jerusalem in 70 AD

In 70 AD, when the old covenant age was coming to its final end, there was another great famine, but only in Jerusalem. This famine was made all the more severe because of the actions of a key leader in the civil war that had been raging in Jerusalem between the revolutionaries and those who wanted to maintain peace with Rome.

To give a little background, Jerusalem had been divided into three factions ever since late 67 AD. These factions were led by [1] Eleazar, who was over the Zealots [2] John of Gischala, who was over the Galileans, and [3] Simon, who was over the Idumeans. This was the civil war described in Revelation 6:3-4, also fulfilling Revelation 16:19 where it is said that “the great city” (Jerusalem – see Rev. 11:8) was divided into three parts. (This mirrors the 3-part division that also took place in Ezekiel’s day (Ezekiel 5:1-12) when Jerusalem was destroyed the first time by Babylon in 586 BC.) In December 69 AD John of Gischala foolishly set fire to the supply warehouses in Jerusalem, and nearly all the grain supplies were burned, which would have lasted the city for years (Josephus, Wars 5.1.4, 21-26).

On April 14, 70 AD the Roman General, Titus, laid a siege around Jerusalem. This took place just before Passover, after hundreds of thousands of Jews had already arrived from surrounding nations for the feast, and it lasted for five months until Jerusalem and the temple were burned. The famine brought about conditions fulfilling Revelation 6:6, where John was told that a quart of wheat would be sold for a denarius, the typical salary for one day’s work. It became so severe that there are records of parents roasting and eating their own children. Moses prophesied that this would happen to the people of Israel (Leviticus 26:29) in their latter days (Deut. 31:29) during a time of sevenfold judgment (Lev. 26:18, 21, 24, 28; note the seven seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments in the book of Revelation), the cutting off of their bread supply (Lev. 26:26), and the execution of the vengeance of His covenant (Lev. 26:25).

Others ate their belts, sandals, dried grass, and even oxen dung, according to Josephus. There were also violent home invasions where anyone who was suspected of hoarding food was tormented until they revealed where it was. Some escaped from Jerusalem to the Romans because they couldn’t bear the conditions in the city any longer. George Peter Holford wrote about the pestilential diseases (Leviticus 26:25; Deuteronomy 28:58-62, 32:24; Matthew 24:7) that accompanied this famine:

“After Jerusalem was surrounded by the army of Titus, pestilential diseases soon made their appearance there to aggravate the miseries, and deepen the horrors of the siege. They were partly occasioned by the immense multitudes which were crowded together in the city, partly by the putrid effluvia which arose from the unburied dead, and partly from spread of famine.”

There is No Prophecy of Famine for Today

Every Biblical prophecy about famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and great tribulation was fulfilled many centuries ago. We can rejoice that famines are disappearing at this time. It’s never been easier than right now for humanitarian workers and agencies to respond to difficult situations and events. Communication and transportation have been made easier and more efficient. Because of the internet and social media, the public is more easily made aware of needs, situations, and how to directly help or at least support humanitarian efforts.

Jesus reigns on the throne of David right now (Acts 2:29-36, Ephesians 1:20-23, Hebrews 1:3-13, Revelation 1:5). We can rejoice over anything else that His government is accomplishing for His glory and for the good of this planet. As Isaiah 9:7 says, “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

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Daniel 12, Matthew 13, and the Olivet Discourse – The Righteous Are Shining


Don K. Preston produced a short video yesterday comparing Matthew 13 (“The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares”) to Daniel 12:3, and made some interesting observations.  Here’s his introduction, followed by the 7-minute video:

“In Matthew 13:43 Jesus directly echoes Daniel 12:3. How does this impact our understanding of the end of the age and the resurrection? Well, “orthodoxy” says that Daniel and Matthew 13 refer to the “end of human history.” But, Daniel 12 totally refutes that, demonstrating again how badly church history and “orthodoxy” have missed the story of eschatology!”

I created a chart below showing the parallels between Daniel 12 and Matthew 13, as well as parallels between Daniel 12 and the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21).

  Daniel 12:1-7 Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Matthew 24 / Mark 13 / Luke 21 (Olivet Discourse)
Prophecies regarding the Jewish people “…who stands watch over the sons of your people… your people” (verse 1)   “…who are in Judea” (Matt. 24:16); “pray that your flight may not be…on the Sabbath” (Matt. 24:20); “…all the tribes of the earth” (Matt. 24:30); “…you will be beaten in the synagogues” (Mark 13:9, Luke 21:12); “For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:23); “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles…” (Luke 21:24).
Incomparable time of trouble “…there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” (verse 1)   “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21, Mark 13:19).
God’s people delivered “And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book” (verse 1).   “…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matt. 24:16, Mark 13:14, Luke 21:21).*
Resurrection “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (verse 2).   “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:31, Mark 13:27).
Righteous shining like stars “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (verse 3) “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (verse 43).  
Timing of these things “…it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished” (verse 7). “…the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels” (verse 39); “…as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age” (verse 40). [Jesus prophesies that the temple will be completely destroyed (Matt. 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-6).]

 

[a] Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3)

 

[b] “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4, Luke 21:7)

 

“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32).

 * Remigius (437-533 AD) tells us this:

“[F]or on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us, miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time.”

As Daniel 12 and Matthew 13 are related, and Daniel 12 and the Olivet Discourse are also clearly related, so also are Matthew 13 and the Olivet Discourse related. They are related in terms of their content, as well as the time period in which they were to be fulfilled. The “end of the age” referred to the old covenant age, which came to a fiery end when Jerusalem and the temple were burned as Jesus predicted. The power of Daniel’s people was completely shattered at this time, before Jesus’ own generation passed away. The righteous (in Christ) have been shining like the stars from that time, even since the cross.

A detailed study of “the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares” was posted here last year.

Chuck Crisco, pastor of His House Church in Nashville, also has a good article on Matthew 13 and the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: “Spiritual Myth Busters: Is God Separating the Wheat and the Tares?”

Benjamin L. Corey: Jesus Says Those “Left Behind” Are The Lucky Ones (the most ironic thing the movie won’t tell you)


This is an excellent article written by Benjamin L. Corey at Formerly Fundie (Patheos): 

In the lead up to the release of the remake of Left Behind hitting theaters in a few weeks, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about the most ironic thing the Left Behind movie (or rapture believers) won’t tell you about getting “left behind.”

The basic premise of the theology is this: the world is going to get progressively worse as “the end” draws near. Before the worst period of time in world history (a seven year period called the “tribulation,” though there’s no verse in the Bible that discusses a seven year tribulation) believers in Jesus are suddenly snatched away during the second coming of Christ (which rapture believers argue is done in secret and without explanation, instead of the public second coming described in scripture).

The entire premise of the theology and the Left Behind movie is based on a passage from Matthew that you’ll see in the official Left Behind image included to your left. The passage states:

“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left.”

And this is where we get the term “left behind”… Jesus said “one shall be taken and the other left.”

Pretty simple, no? It appears from this passage that Jesus is describing an event where some people actually do “get taken” and the others are “left behind.” It must be a rapture then.

Or maybe not.

As I have explained before, the chapter of Matthew 24 is a chapter where Jesus describes the events that will lead up to the destruction of the temple which occurred in AD 70. That’s not so much my scholarly opinion as it is what Jesus plainly states in the first few verses of Matthew 24; it is a context pretty difficult to explain away since Jesus says “this temple will be destroyed” and his disciples ask, “please, tell us when this will happen.” The rest of the discourse is Jesus prophesying the events that will lead up to the temple’s destruction, which we know historically unfolded as Jesus had predicted. (As I have alluded to in What Jesus Talked About When He Talked About Hell and Don’t Worry The Tribulation Is In The Past, if one does not understand the significance of the destruction of the temple to ancient Judaism, one will have a very hard time understanding what Jesus talks about when he talks about “the end.”)

Anyhow, during the end of this discourse in Matthew we hit the “rapture” verse: “one will be taken and one will be left.” Surely, this part must be about the future, and Jesus MUST be describing a rapture. Since that’s what my childhood pastor taught me, it’s probably a good idea to stick with that.

Just one problem: Matthew 24 isn’t the only place where Jesus talks about “some being taken and some being left behind.” Jesus also discusses this in Luke 17 when he says:

 “I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

Building a compelling case for the rapture yet? Not quite. Check this out: Jesus’ disciples in the Luke version of the discourse must have been interested in this left behind stuff, because they ask a critical followup question. However, they actually seem more concerned with those who were “taken” than those who were “left behind” and ask Jesus for a little more information on this whole getting taken away stuff.

“Where, Lord?” is the question of the disciples. Where did all of these people go??

If this were a passage about the “rapture” as depicted in the Left Behind movie, one would expect Jesus to answer something to the point of “they were taken to be with me to wait out the tribulation.” But, that’s not what Jesus says. Instead, Jesus gives them a blunt answer about those who were “taken”: “just look for the vultures, and you’ll find their bodies.” (v. 37)

That’s right. The ones who were “taken” were killed. Not exactly the blessed rapture.

The Roman occupation was brutal, and when they finally sacked the city and destroyed the temple in AD70, things got impressively bloody. To be “taken” as Jesus prophesied, was to be killed by the invading army. This is precisely why, in this passage and the Matthew version, Jesus gives all sorts of other advice that makes no sense if this is a verse about the rapture. Jesus warns that when this moment comes one should flee quickly– to not even go back into their house to gather their belongings– and laments that it will be an especially difficult event for pregnant and nursing mothers. He even goes on to warn them that if they respond to the army with resistance (the very thing that causes the mess in the lead-up to AD70), they’ll just get killed (“whoever seeks to save his life will lose it”). Jesus, it seems, wants his disciples to get it: when the Roman army comes, flee quickly or else you might not be left behind!

Surely, Jesus is not talking about a rapture. He’s not warning people to avoid missing the rapture because they went home to get their possessions… he’s talking about fleeing an advancing army and not doing anything stupid that will get them killed (v 30-34).

Very practical advice for his original audience and would have come in handy for those who wanted to avoid being “raptured” (slaughtered) by the Roman army.

And so my friends, this is the most ironic thing the Left Behind movie won’t tell you: in the original “left behind” story Jesus tells in the Gospels, the ones who are “left behind” are actually the lucky ones.

So the next time folks tell you that they don’t want to be “left behind,” you might want to tell them to be careful what they wish for.

In our study of Matthew 24:36-51, I also proposed that Jesus said it would be better to be “left behind” than to be “taken,” and noted that 2-3 centuries ago this was taught by John Gill (1746-1763) and Albert Barnes (1834). Benjamin Corey does an excellent job showing the revealing connection between what Jesus says in Luke 17 and what He says in the more frequently quoted Matthew 24:40. His article also comes at a good time, less than two weeks before the remake of the Left Behind movie hits the theaters on October 3rd. Hopefully the theology in this film will soon be left behind by many followers of Christ.

Are We In “the Last Days”? The Last Days of What?


1. When did the Biblical “last days” begin? Before Jesus began His 3.5 year ministry? On the Day of Pentecost? In 1948? In the late 20th century? 

2. What time period or age are we referring to when we speak of the last days? World history? The old covenant age? The new covenant age? Something else?

3. When were the first days? Billions or millions of years ago? 6000 years ago? Around 1200 BC? The 1950’s?

4. When were the middle days of this time period or age? Logically, we should expect this to be the longest period, with the greatest number of days.

Amidst all the rhetoric about “the last days” being here upon us now in 2014, it’s evident that many have done very little to analyze these types of questions. Consider the following two examples, before comparing their ideas to what the Bible says about “the last days.”

1. A poll was conducted in 2006 by McLaughlin & Associates, asking “1,000 randomly selected American adults” the following question: 

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘Events such as the rebirth of the State of Israel, wars and instability in the Middle East, recent earthquakes, and the tsunami in Asia are evidence that we are living in what the Bible calls the last days.'”

They found that 42% of Americans agreed with this statement, and 58% of evangelical/born-again Christians agreed. See here for the rest of the results. From this survey, a majority of evangelical Christians in the US believe that events in the last 65 years or so prove that the Biblical last days are here now. The suggestion is that the last days arrived in recent decades, not a couple thousand years ago.

2. In 1990 the Christian rock band, Petra, produced a song called “Last Daze” (a play on “last days”) – from their album “Beyond Belief.” I was a Petra fan during the 90’s (I still respect them), and this was one of my favorites. From the lyrics to this song, it’s clear that they believed “the last days” are here now, and that spiritual delusion will intensify until the time of “the blaze”:

…In the last daze, the final haze
There was strong delusion to believe a lie
In the last daze before the blaze
They couldn’t see beyond their misty trance
To grab the truth and have a fighting chance
In the last daze…

Some say it’s a certainty
A sign of the times I am told
But I weep for the souls of those
Who will never return to the fold…

What does the New Testament have to say about “the last days” (and other equivalent expressions) and their timing? Here are a few examples:

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

“He [Jesus] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (I Peter 1:20).

“He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Corinthians 10:11).

“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12).

“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (I Peter 4:7).

“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour” (I John 2:18).

According to these and other Scriptures, Jesus lived and ministered in the last days. Notice the distinction in Hebrews 1 between God speaking throughout the old covenant period by the prophets, and God speaking by His Son at the onset of the new covenant period. The last days were linked to the transition period from one covenant to the other. 

We also see that Peter, Paul, and John wrote to believers living at the end of the age(s). John even said it was “the last hour.” This dispels the idea that “the last days” began in the 20th century, and it also dispels the idea that “the last days” began about 2000 years ago and continue until today. How could “the last days” still be here if “the last hour” of the last days arrived almost 2000 years ago? Consider, however, the real possibility that John wrote his epistle around 65 AD. Then it would make sense for John to say it was “the last hour” (of the old covenant age) just a few short years before it came to a dramatic end in 70 AD.

The old covenant age began in roughly 1300 BC during the days of Moses. It was made obsolete by Jesus’ work on the cross (30 AD), but was still “becoming obsolete and growing old” and “ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). This was its state for one generation – about 40 years. In 70 AD it did vanish away when the Roman armies came and burned the city (Jerusalem) of those who rejected Jesus’ wedding invitation (Matthew 22:7; Revelation 17:16, 18:8-10, 17-20). I believe “the last days” covered this transition period. I agree with Model 3 in the chart below (models 1 and 2 represent other popular ideas about “the last days”:

Duration of old covenant Last Days Began Duration of Last Days
Model 1 1300 years Pentecost 1984 years (and counting)
Model 2 1300 years 1948 66 years (and counting)
Model 3 1300 years Time of Jesus’ ministry 27 – 70 AD (Ended)

The new covenant age has already outlasted the old covenant age by 700 years (i.e. 2000 years and counting, compared to 1300 years):

Last Days Timeline

To answer the four questions at the beginning of this post then, I believe Scripture reveals that [1] the Biblical last days began at (or before) the time of the 3.5 year ministry of Jesus (27-30 AD); [2] they were the last days of the old covenant age; [3] “the first days” were in the days of Moses, around 1300 BC, when the old covenant was established, and [4] “the middle days” were the next 1200 or so years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, covering the time of the judges, the kings, and the prophets. In light of what Scripture says about “the last days,” how would you answer these questions? 

Here is what the great preacher, John Owen (1616-1683), once said:

“Most expositors suppose that this expression [In Hebrews 1:2], ‘The last days,’ is a periphrasis [euphemism] for the times of the gospel. But it doth not appear that they are anywhere so called; nor were they ever known by that name among the Jews, upon whose principles the apostle proceeds… It is the last days of the Judaical church and state, which were then drawing to their period and abolition, that are here and elsewhere called ‘The last days,’ or ‘The latter days,’ or ‘The last hour,’ 2 Peter 3:31 John 2:18Jude 1:18… This phrase of speech is signally used in the Old Testament to denote the last days of the Judaical church” (The Works of John Owen, Volume 19, pp.12 – 13).

For a more extensive study of the topic of “this age and the age to come,” please see this post.

The Early Church Fathers and the Last Days of the Jewish Age


The following resource was compiled by Bishop George Kouri, an author and the pastor of The King’s Church in Jacksonville, Florida. He references the stated beliefs of Barnabas, Clement of Alexandrea, Origen, Tertullian, Athanasius, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus concerning “the last days”, “the end of the age,” and Daniel’s 70th Week (Daniel 9). This is not exhaustive, and there’s no doubt that leaders in church history have held quite a variety of views about these and related topics in the field of eschatology. When researching their beliefs, though, it’s easy to see that many did not view the Biblical “last days” as being about the (alleged) end of world history, but rather as the last days of the old covenant age. Here are just a few examples, as provided by George Kouri (all emphasis in the original):

BARNABAS:

Written anonymously around 100 AD, the “Epistle of Barnabas” is the earliest extra-Canonical source we have. Although not included in the Canon of the New Testament, it is an incredibly early documentation of the early Church’s beliefs about the last days. The Apostle John was probably alive when it was written. And although the authorship is disputed, we will refer to Barnabas as the author.

The Epistle of Barnabas sets forth the common view held by the early Church that the seventieth week of Daniel ended with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, as Messiah’s Day dawned and Christ’s Church was born. Barnabas writes, “For it is written, ‘And it shall come to pass, when the week is completed, the temple of God shall be built…in the name of the Lord.’ I find…that a temple does exist. Having received the forgiveness of sins…in our habitation God dwells in us….This is the spiritual temple built for the Lord.” (EOB, 16:6)

Barnabas uses the expression “the week,” but does not mention Daniel. Yet scholars agree from the context that this is definitely a reference to Daniel’s 70th week. And it is assumed by many scholars that the prophecy of Daniel’s seventy weeks was so well known and so widely expounded in the early Church that it needed no further explanation. The early Church did not avoid Daniel’s prophecy.

This early Christian writer connects Daniel’s vision of seventy weeks with the prophecy of Haggai 2:7-9 and the building of a “spiritual temple,” the Church. The author of the Epistle of Barnabas obviously believed that Daniel’s 70th week was fulfilled with Christ’s first advent. This was when the Old Temple was destroyed and the new “spiritual temple” was initially established. Writing in 100 AD he clearly believed the 70th week of Daniel was already completed.

It seems clear from this passage in the Epistle of Barnabas that less than a century after Christ’s passion (remember that according to Daniel the Messiah would be cut off in the middle of the 70th week), it was the widespread belief of the Church that the 70th week of Daniel was completed. It is certain that Barnabas placed the end of the 70th week no later than 70 AD. His mention of the building of the Church (which was able to grow largely unimpeded after 70AD) makes it probable that Barnabas saw 67 to 70 AD and the destruction of Herod’s Temple as the end of the Jewish or Old Covenant Age and the dawning of Messiah’s Day. As David B. Currie writes in his book, Rapture, The End-Times Error That Leaves The Bible Behind, “He (Barnabas) assumes his readers will agree that the events of ‘the week’ led to the building of the Church”  (Page 422).

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDREA

Within a century of Barnabas, Clement became bishop of Alexandria until his death in 215 AD. Clement taught that the blessings of the New Covenant required the end of biblical Judaism within the 70 weeks of Daniel. Clement writes of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD in the prophetic language of Daniel’s seventy weeks, “Vespasian rose to the supreme power (Emperor of Rome) and destroyed Jerusalem, and desolated the holy place”  (STO, XXI, 142-143).

Clement of Alexandrea believed the Jewish Age, the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel and the great tribulation were behind, not ahead of the Church.

ORIGEN (185-254 AD)

A student of Clement of Alexandrea, Origen agreed that the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD marked the end of the Jewish Age and the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy regarding the 70 weeks. Origen writes,“The weeks of years up to the time of Christ the leader that Daniel the prophet predicted were fulfilled” (TPR, IV:1:5).

Like Clement, Origen also believed the Jewish Age, the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel and the great tribulation were behind the Church, not ahead of it.

TERTULLIAN

In 203 AD Tertullian wrote his famous treatise Against The Jews. This early Church father also taught that Daniel’s 70th week had been fulfilled in 70 AD: “Vespasian vanquished the Jews…and so by the date of his storming Jerusalem, the Jews had completed the seventy weeks foretold by Daniel”  (AAJ, VII; CID).

Contrary to modern postponement preachers and teachers, Tertullian believed the Jewish age, the abomination of desolation, and the great tribulation was behind, not ahead of the Church.

ATHANASIUS

Athanasius was bishop of Alexandria from 326 to 373 AD. Like the early Church fathers before him, he also taught that the 70 weeks of Daniel culminated and the Jewish Age ended in 70 AD: “Jerusalem is to stand till His coming (Daniel’s reference to Messiah’s appearing in His First Advent), and thenceforth, prophet and vision cease in Israel (the end of the Old Covenant or Jewish Age). This is why Jerusalem stood till then…that they might be exercised in the types as a preparation for the reality…but from that time forth all prophecy is sealed and the city and Temple taken” (INC, XXXIX:3-XV:8).

Athanasius clearly reflects the view of the entire early Church: once the Messiah had come, the role of the Temple in Jerusalem would be ended. “Things to be done which belonged to Jerusalem beneath…were fulfilled, and those which belonged to the shadows had passed away” (FEL, IV:3-4).

This important early Church father clearly believed that the Jewish age ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

IRENAEUS AND HIPPOLYTUS

Irenaeus was a contemporary of Clement of Alexandrea whose widely held view we dealt with above. Irenaeus and his pupil Hippolytus are the only two writers from the early Church period who believed in a still-future fulfillment of Daniel’s 70th week. They both placed the 70th week at the end of the gospel age and so are the first interpreters to postulate a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks (AG, V). Both predicted a specific date for the second coming that has long since come and gone.

But their belief in a future 70th week was never widely accepted! St. Jerome specifically pointed out that the number of years in their system did not coincide with the historical events they purported to cover. He wrote, “If by any chance those of future generations should not see these predictions of his (Irenaeus) fulfilled at the time he (Irenaeus) set, then they will be forced to seek for some other solution and to convict the teacher himself (Irenaeus) of erroneous interpretation”  (CID).

David B. Currie points out in his scholarly work, “As a point of history, the views of Irenaeus did give seed to premillennialism. But the early fathers of the Church strongly and universally denounced this concept. The early Church understood the presumptuous-parenthesis theory that rapturists employ…but they resoundingly rejected it”  (David B. Currie, Rapture, page 425).

The prevailing view of the early Church fathers was that Daniel’s vision of the 70 weeks was fulfilled in 70 AD. The final or 70th week began with the baptism of Jesus and his presentation to Israel by John the Baptist. The Messiah was cut off in the middle of the 70th week when Jesus was crucified. The abomination of desolation and the great tribulation spoken of by Daniel were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.

These events marked the end of the Jewish age and the dawning of Messiah’s Day.

Dear Abby


‎[Dear Abby]

So, I opened up the newspaper this morning and read this letter by a guy named “John.” No other information was given about him but apparently he wrote about these dreams he had from God on an island about an impending change to the world and the end of this current age. He also had some great insight from God on how my church should change to live more rightly before God.

I was actually very excited and encouraged because it would seem that the tribulation we are enduring will be coming to an end, and the very first line of his letter said that all of this stuff would take place soon.

[Dear Reader]

Don’t get too excited. None of this was meant for you. All those things John was talking about won’t happen for at least another 2,000 years or more. “Soon” doesn’t mean “soon,” darling. It means at a minimum 2,000 years. Get your facts straight!

Those churches he was speaking about aren’t your churches. He was just using the same names, you silly goose. They were metaphorical language for “ages.” The tribulation you Christians are going through at the hands of the Roman authorities you think will end… forget about it. Why do you people think it’s always about YOU? Can’t you see this letter was not written for YOU?

One piece of advice I have for you: Get your time indicators straight. “Soon” doesn’t mean “soon”. It means it might actually happen quickly when it starts. “You” means “them”. “This” generation means “that” generation. “At hand” means…. well something that’s not soon. If you simply take the time indicators and make them the opposite of what they mean, things will make much more sense. So, don’t be encouraged by this [man]’s letters. They’re not for you.

This dialogue above was posted early this morning by Robert Woodrow in a Facebook forum devoted to the subject of eschatology. I felt it was quite creative. Robert said he wanted to imagine that “someone from one of the seven churches [of the first century] actually wrote into an advice column,” and received a response that reflects the way the book of Revelation is often viewed today.

This imagined dialogue is both humorous and thought-provoking. I know that I once gave very little (if any) thought to what the book of Revelation meant to those who first received it into their hands (i.e. God’s people living in the first century). As I was trained, I jumped straight to what it could mean to me and to my generation. In doing so, I got way off track.

No doubt this great book does speak to our generation, but, because that’s so often our first and only consideration, we miss out on what John (and Jesus, through John) wanted to communicate to God’s people at that time. On the other hand, if we will first take into account audience relevance, we are then far more likely to grasp the relevance of this book for our own time. And it does speak to us in a very powerful and hope-filled way.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

The Olivet Discourse: “This” Generation or “That” Generation (Part 2 of 4)


In the previous post (Part 1), we examined the first part of Jesus’ famous Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, and Luke 21:5-7. All three accounts show the disciples admiring the temple, Jesus telling them it would soon be destroyed, and the disciples asking Him when that would take place. In Matthew’s account alone they asked Him about His coming and the end of the age, which we identified as the Old Covenant age. We looked at how He had already told them (Matt. 10:23 and 16:27-28) that His coming was to be: [1] with His angels [2] in His kingdom [3] in the glory of His Father [4] to repay each person for their deeds, and [5] within the lifetime of some of His disciples.

In this post we will examine a roughly 10-verse segment in each account where Jesus describes some of the signs which would take place before the temple’s destruction. We will see how these signs were fulfilled between the time of His ascension around 30 AD and the temple’s overthrow in 70 AD, about 40 years later.

MATTHEW 24:4-14

MARK 13:5-13

LUKE 21:8-19

4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains.9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

John Wesley (1703-1791), in the introduction to his commentary on Matthew 24, wrote the following:

“Josephus’ History of the Jewish War is the best commentary on this chapter. It is a wonderful instance of God’s providence, that he, an eyewitness, and one who lived and died a Jew, should, especially in so extraordinary a manner, be preserved, to transmit to us a collection of important facts, which so exactly illustrate this glorious prophecy, in almost every circumstance.”

Clearly, Wesley believed that Matthew 24 was fulfilled by the time the Roman-Jewish War (66-73 AD) came to an end. Nearly 250 years after Wesley’s statement was made, statements like this one by Hal Lindsey in 2009 are far more typical when it comes to interpreting this passage:

“What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs – chief among them the rebirth of the State of Israel… I believe we are in the generation that will live to see the fulfillment of the ‘birth pangs’ that Jesus predicted would all come together in one time frame shortly before the Tribulations events that bring about His return.”

These interpretations couldn’t be more different. In this section of the Olivet Discourse, we will see that Wesley certainly had a point when he spoke of the relevance of Josephus’ historical records. We will be looking at one small portion at a time from the parallel Scripture texts above.

Matt. 24:4-5/Mark 13:5-6/Luke 21:8– Jesus warns the disciples about deceivers who would come claiming to be the Messiah and leading many astray. Matthew also speaks of “false prophets” again in verse 11 and verse 24, and Mark does so again in verse 22.

Luke here makes a remark that we don’t see in the other two accounts. He adds that these false prophets would claim that the time was “near” (or “at hand” in some translations), and that His disciples were not to go after them when they said that. We should give this some extra thought.

As we will see in Luke 21:28, Jesus later says “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus thus gives permission at that stage for His people to realize the very thing that earlier they were not to believe, that is, that the time was near. First they had to see “these things begin to take place,” and then they could know and proclaim that the end was near. The expression “these things” refers to what Jesus goes on to describe in verses 9-27.

Did any of the writers of the New Testament proclaim that the time was near? Consider these statements:

“…For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand…” (Romans 13:11-12).

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5).

Yet a little while, and the coming One will come and will not delay” (Hebrews 10:37).

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8).

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (I Peter 4:7).

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).

From these statements we see that Paul, James, Peter, and John all proclaimed that the time was near. Did they become the very false prophets Jesus had warned about in Luke 21:8, since they uttered the very statement that Jesus warned His followers not to believe? If the signs of the Olivet Discourse are still future and unfulfilled, as futurists insist, then they certainly did become those false prophets. We know, however, that this is not the case. This is actually one more indication that the events predicted by Jesus came to pass within His own generation. They witnessed the predicted signs coming to pass, and on this authority they announced that the end was near. Soon afterwards, that end came, the end of the Old Covenant world and age. Jesus kept His word and His promise.

George Peter Holford, in the year 1805, wrote a book entitled “The Destruction of Jerusalem, An Absolute and Irresistible Proof of the Divine Origin of Christianity” in which he outlined many of the events recorded by Josephus and other historians of that time. Concerning Matthew 24:4-5, he wrote:

[Jesus commenced] with a caution: “Take heed,’ says He, ‘that no man deceive you; for many shall come in My name, saying, ‘I am Christ,’ and shall deceive many.” The necessity of this friendly warning soon appeared; for within one year after our Lord’s ascension, rose Dositheus the Samaritan, who had the boldness to assert that he was the Messiah, of whom Moses prophesied; while his disciple Simon Magus deluded multitudes into a belief that he, himself, was the “GREAT POWER OF GOD.”

Holford went on to list a host of similar deceivers in that generation, some who literally called themselves “the Christ” or “Messiah,” and others who promised to take on His expected role in delivering the Jews from Roman bondage and bringing a physical, earthly kingdom to Jerusalem. This was a popular expectation, and one that Jesus didn’t live up to, so it was easily used to sway people their way.

Matt. 24:6-7a/Mark 13:7-8a/Luke 21:9-10 – Jesus’ next warning is about wars, rumors of wars, and nations and kingdoms rising against each other. Luke adds the word “uprisings.”

Regarding the Roman Empire in the decades following Jesus’ ascension, the Roman historian Tacitus had this to say,

“The history on which I am entering is that of a period rich in disasters, terrible with battles, torn by civil struggles, horrible even in peace. Four emperors fell by the sword; there were three civil wars, more foreign wars, and often both at the same time” (The Histories, 1:2).

As just one example, the Roman-Jewish War took place over a 6-7 year period, in which an incredible amount of blood was shed throughout Judea and Galilee, and women even ate their babies out of desperation. When Nero committed suicide in June 68 AD, even the Roman Empire nearly collapsed in on itself due to jostling for power and what Josephus called “civil wars of horrible ferocity and dramatic proportions.” Rome went through four emperors within one year, and Josephus remarked that “every part of the habitable earth under them [the Romans] was in an unsettled and tottering condition” (Wars 7.4.2).

In the fall/winter of 67 AD a brutal civil war also broke out in Jerusalem and Judea between the revolutionaries and those who wanted to maintain peace with Rome. Jerusalem was eventually divided into three factions led by [1] Eleazar, who was over the Zealots [2] John of Gischala, who was over the Galileans, and [3] Simon, who was over the Idumeans. It remained this way until the city was destroyed in September 70 AD. In one night 8500 people were killed, and their bodies were cast outside of Jerusalem without being buried. The outer temple was “overflowing with blood,” according to Josephus, and the inner court even had pools of blood in it.

Matt. 24:7b-8/Mark 13:8b/Luke 21:11 – Jesus next predicts famines and earthquakes. Once again, Luke adds other details: pestilences and “fearful events and great signs from heaven.”

   New Zealand

Haiti

 Japan

Was Jesus predicting the recent earthquakes we’ve seen in Pakistan, New Zealand, Haiti, and Japan, and others yet to come? Many prophecy teachers today would have us believe that He did. George Peter Holford (in 1805) also referred to a number of great earthquakes which took place during the generation to which Jesus and His disciples belonged.

In one instance in early 68 AD a terrible earthquake was accompanied by terrifying storms and violent winds, prompting Josephus to say, “These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming” (Wars 4.4.5). Seneca the Younger, a Roman philosopher, wrote the following in 58 AD:

“How often have cities of Asia and Achaea fallen with one fatal shock! Show many cities have been swallowed up in Syria, how many in Macedonia! How often has Cyprus been wasted by this calamity! How often has Paphos become a ruin! News has often been brought us of the demolition of whole cities at once.”

Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, n.d.), 163.

Large earthquakes took place in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse, Campania, Rome, Judea and Pompei (February 5, 63 AD). Other earthquakes are recorded in Scripture in Matthew 27:51-54, Matthew 28:2, and Acts 16:26.

Holford then notes that the great famine predicted by Agabus in Acts 11:27-30 began in the fourth year of the reign of Claudius (i.e. 45 AD) and “was of long continuance. It extended through Greece, and even into Italy, but was felt most severely in Judea and especially at Jerusalem, where many perished for want of bread.” This famine was recorded by Eusebius, Orosius, and Josephus, who related that “an assaron [about 3.5 pints] of corn was sold for five drachmae” (in the heyday of ancient Greece in the 4th century BC one drachmae was the daily wage for a skilled worker). Regarding Christ’s predictions of pestilences, Holford writes:

History…particularly distinguishes two instances of this calamity, which occurred before the commencement of the Jewish war. The first took place at Babylon about A. D. 40, and raged so alarmingly, that great multitudes of Jews fled from that city to Seleucia for safety, as hath been hinted already. The other happened at Rome A.D. 65, and carried off prodigious multitudes. Both Tacitus and Suetonius also record, that similar calamities prevailed, during this period, in various parts of the Roman Empire. After Jerusalem was surrounded by the army of Titus, pestilential diseases soon made their appearance there to aggravate the miseries, and deepen the horrors of the siege. They were partly occasioned by the immense multitudes which were crowded together in the city, partly by the putrid effluvia which arose from the unburied dead, and partly from spread of famine.

These calamities, along with mothers eating their own children, are reminiscent of what God said would happen to Israel if that nation became faithless and rebellious (e.g. Leviticus 26:25-29, Deuteronomy 28:58-62, Deut. 32). It was also said that they would be punished sevenfold, so it’s of great interest that “Babylon the great” (Revelation 17:5), also called “the great city” (Rev. 17:18), was to be the recipient of seven seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments. The “great city” in the book of Revelation was first identified as the place where Jesus was crucified (Rev. 11:8), i.e. Jerusalem. “Babylon the great” was responsible for the blood of the saints, prophets, and apostles (Rev. 16:4-7, 17:6, 18:20, 18:24), the same thing for which Jesus said the religious leaders of Israel in His own generation were responsible for (Matthew 23:29-36).

Interestingly, for those who believe that famines are increasing on our planet today, a recent report reveals that the opposite is true. The Huffington Post reports that, according to the 2015 Global Hunger Index, “calamitous famines that cause more than 1 million deaths” have been completely eliminated. Additionally, there has been a “reduction ‘almost to a vanishing point’ of great famines, which cause more than 100,000 deaths.” Around 27 million died of famine between 1900 – 1909; more than 14 million died of famine during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s; about 1.4 million died of famine in the 1990s; only about 600,000 died of famine between 2000 – 2015 (that’s still too many, but deaths from famine are mercifully becoming more rare).

Jesus also predicted that there would be “terrors and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11). In this regard, Holford pointed to a number of strange accounts recorded by Josephus:

[1] “A meteor, resembling a sword, hung over Jerusalem during one whole year.” This could not be a comet, for it was stationary, and was visible for twelve successive months.

[2] “On the eighth of the month of Zanthicus, (before the feast of unleavened bread) at the ninth hour of the night [3 AM], there shone round about the altar, and the circumjacent buildings of the temple, a light equal to the brightness of the day, which continued for the space of half an hour.” [Does this recall Zech. 14:7?]

[3] “As the High Priest was leading a heifer to the altar to be sacrificed, she brought forth a lamb, in the midst of the temple.” …[Some] may think that they discern in this prodigy a miraculous rebuke of Jewish infidelity and impiety, for rejecting the ANTITYPICAL Lamb, who had offered Up Himself as an atonement, “once for all,” and who, by thus completely fulfilling their design, had virtually abrogated the Levitical sacrifices… It did not occur in an obscure part of the city, but in the temple ; not at an ordinary time, but at the passover, the season of our LORD’S crucifixion in the presence…of the High Priests and their attendants, and when they were leading the sacrifice to the altar.

[4] “About the sixth hour of the night, the eastern gate of the temple was seen to open without human assistance.” When the guards informed the Curator of this event, he sent men to assist them in shutting it, who with great difficulty succeeded. — This gate, as hath been observed already, ‘Was of solid brass, and required twenty men to close it every evening. It could not have been opened by a “strong gust of wind,” or a slight earthquake;” for Josephus says, it was secured by iron bolts And bars, which were let down into a large threshold; consisting of one entire stone.”

[5] “Soon after the feast of the Passover, in various parts of the country, before the setting of the sun, chariots and armed men were seen in the air, passing round about Jerusalem.”

Except for the first omen above, says Holford, all the others were placed by Josephus during the final year leading up to the Jewish War (67-73 AD). Some of these accounts were also recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus.

Matt. 24:9-13/Mark 13:9-13/Luke 21:12-19 – Here Jesus tells His followers that they will experience persecution, arrests, death, and betrayal even by family members because of their faith in Him. Many would turn away from the faith, but those who would stand firm until the end would be saved. Matthew alone adds that wickedness would increase and that most would grow cold in their love. Mark and Luke speak of Christ’s followers needing to testify before kings and governors, at which time they were to depend on the Holy Spirit to give them the words to say.

On the early believers being brought before kings and governors, Albert Barnes remarked in 1834, “This prediction was completely and abundantly fulfilled, Acts 5:26Acts 12:1-4Acts 23:33Acts 26:1Acts 26:28Acts 26:30. Peter is said to have been brought before Nero, and John before Domitian, Roman emperors; and others before Parthian, Scythian, and Indian kings.” John Gill, in 1746, added: “Meaning Roman governors; so Paul was had before Gallio, Felix, and Festas; … and kings for my sake; as Herod, Agrippa, Nero, Domitian, and others, before whom one or other of the apostles were brought; not as thieves, or murderers, or traitors, and seditious persons, or for having done any wrong or injury to any man’s person or property; but purely for the sake of Christ.”

Mark and Luke also both speak of Jesus’ followers being handed over to the synagogues, and Mark adds that they would be flogged there. This clearly speaks of persecution at the hands of the Jews, just one strong indication that this was to take place in the first century. Jewish persecution is not a mark of our time, but it was a mark of that time (In fact, it only prevailed up until Israel’s destruction in 70 AD, for after that the surviving Jews were persecuted together with the Christians by the Roman Empire). For example, Paul said this to the Thessalonian believers (I Thess. 2:14-16):

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they 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 – so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!”

The city of Smyrna had the largest Jewish population of any Asian city, and Jesus commended the church there for their patient endurance in the face of Jewish persecution (Revelation 2:9): “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” A very similar statement was made to the church in Philadelphia in Rev. 3:9.

Concerning the love of many growing cold, even as we see in Acts and the epistles evidence that the gospel was greatly advanced, we also learn of a falling away taking place at the same time. The church in Ephesus had abandoned the love they had at first (Revelation 2:4), the church in Laodicea had become lukewarm and was in a miserable state (Rev. 3:15-17). The church in Galatia had turned aside to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-7).

Matt. 24:14/Mark 13:10 – Luke doesn’t mention this, but both Matthew and Mark state that the end wouldn’t come until the gospel was preached to “all nations” (Mark) and “in the whole world” (Matthew). “The end,” of course, was “the end of the age” spoken of in Matthew 24:3.

Here is where many might object that Matthew 24:14 couldn’t have possibly been fulfilled before 70 AD. However, we can’t overlook the testimonies of Scripture itself:

[1] “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven… And they were amazed and astonished, saying… ‘we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God’” (Acts 2:5-11).

[2] “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8).

[3] “Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations…” (Romans 16:25-26).

[4] “…the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing… (Colossians 1:5-6).

[5] “…if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1:23).

Do these statements not indicate that Matthew 24:14 had already been fulfilled by the time they were written? The phrase “the whole world” here then must mean what it meant in Luke 2:1 when we are told that “the entire world” was registered in the days of Caesar Augustus, i.e. the known world or the Roman Empire (cf. Acts 24:5). Eusebius (263-339), the early church father, said this when commenting on Matthew 24:

Thus, under the influence of heavenly power, and with the divine co-operation, the doctrine of the Saviour, like the rays of the sun, quickly illumined the whole world; [1] and straightway, in accordance with the divine Scriptures, [2] the voice of the inspired evangelists and apostles went forth through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world;  the Apostles preached the Gospel in all the world, and some of them passed beyond the bounds of the ocean, and visited the Britannic isles.

Bishop Newton of Brazil (ordained in 1949) says of the spread of the gospel:

It appears from the writers of the history of the church, that before the destruction of Jerusalem the Gospel was not only preached in the Lesser Asia, and Greece, and Italy, the great theatres of action then in the world, but was likewise propagated as fax northward as Scythia, as far southward as Ethiopia, as far eastward as Parthia and India, as far westward as Spain and Britain.

John Wesley believed Jesus didn’t mean in this verse that the gospel would be preached in all the world “universally” before the end came. He said, “[T]his is not done yet: but in general through the several parts of the world, and not only in Judea [this happened]. And this was done by St. Paul and the other apostles, before Jerusalem was destroyed. And then shall the end come—of the city and temple.” Today we don’t need to be motivated by an impending time of judgment, and certainly not a desire “to be raptured out of here,” in order to preach the gospel. Just as the early church succeeded in spreading the gospel throughout their known world, we should be about the business of doing the same. Paul’s motivation can be ours:

“I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of Him will see, and those who have never heard will understand’” (Romans 15:20-21).

In the next post (Part 3), one of the things we will look at is what Jesus said about the abomination of desolation, and the surrounding of Jerusalem by foreign armies, and how the early believers did flee as Jesus told them to when they saw those things.

Quotes to Note

F.W. Farrar (1831-1903): “The Fall of Jerusalem and all the events which accompanied and followed it in the Roman world and in the Christian world, had a significance which it is hardly possible to overestimate. They were the final end of the Old Dispensation. They were the full inauguration of the New Covenant. They were God’s own overwhelming judgment on that form of Judaic Christianity which threatened to crush the work of St. Paul, to lay on the Gentiles the yoke of abrogated Mosaism, to establish itself by threats and anathemas as the only orthodoxy… No event less awful than the desolation of Judea, the destruction of Judaism, the annihilation of all possibility of observing the precepts of Moses, could have opened the eyes of the Judaisers from their dream of imagined infallibility. Nothing but God’s own unmistakable interposition – nothing but the manifest coming of Christ – could have persuaded Jewish Christians that the Law of the Wilderness was annulled” (The Early Days of Christianity, 1882, pp. 489-490).

R.C. Sproul (1997-98): “The coming of Christ in A.D.70 was a coming in judgment on the Jewish nation, indicating the end of the Jewish age and the fulfillment of a day of the Lord. Jesus really did come in judgment at this time, fulfilling his prophecy in the Olivet Discourse” (The Last Days According to Jesus, p. 158, 1998). “The most significant, redemptive, historical action that takes place outside the New Testament, is the judgment that falls on Jerusalem, and by which judgment the Christian Church now [clearly] emerges as The Body of Christ” (R.C. Sproul, Dust to Glory video series, 1997).

The Olivet Discourse: “This” Generation or “That” Generation (Part 1 of 4)


Much attention is being given these days to what is known as The Olivet Discourse, found in three of the four gospel accounts: Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Jesus delivered this famous address from the Mount of Olives just days before His crucifixion. Many today are linking this narrative to current events, such as recent large earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, Haiti, New Zealand, and Indonesia. They believe these are sure signs pointing to the end of the world.

   

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Is this how Jesus intended for us to view this prophecy? When He said, “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32), was He speaking of a generation 2000 years into the future? Or was He speaking of His own generation, and events which were to take place in their time? When He said “this generation,” did He really mean “that generation” (one that was distant to His first century audience)? This is what we will be looking at in the four posts which will make up this series. We will examine all three accounts of this prophecy side-by-side, as I believe this will be helpful in seeing what Jesus was saying and how He intended to be understood.

In this first post, we will take a close look at the initial remarks made by Jesus’ disciples, His shocking response, and their resulting question(s) which led to His discourse. Here is that text, from the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

MATTHEW 24:1-3

MARK 13:1-4

LUKE 21:5-7

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?  1As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

 7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen, and what will be the sign that they are about to take place?

In all three accounts we see one or more of the disciples admiring the beautiful, massive stones which made up the Second Temple. According to some Jews who encountered Jesus early in His ministry (John 2:18-22), Herod’s massive expansion project had already been going on for 46 years. Indeed, history tells us that it began in 19 BC, and that the renovations continued until 65 AD, a mere five years before the temple was destroyed by the Romans. Tacitus (56-117 AD), the Roman historian and Senator, said that the temple “was famous beyond all other works of men.”

Jesus’ response to His disciples’ remarks must have been shocking, in light of the breathtaking sight before their eyes: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Of course, Jesus had said this before. His ominous prophecy, though, is what prompts their next question. Or is it questions (plural)? There is only one specific question asked in all three accounts. In the accounts of Mark and Luke, at least, there should be no doubt that it’s this question which Jesus spends the next 25 or 26 verses answering: “…when will these things happen, and what will be the sign that they are about to be fulfilled?” The only thing Jesus had said would happen at this point was that all the temple’s stones would be thrown down.

Model of the Second Temple; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jerus-n4i.jpg

Do we know from history that this temple, the same temple the disciples observed, was destroyed? Yes, we do. Josephus, the Jewish historian, for example, records in astounding detail how Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 AD after a horrendous 5-month siege (see here, here, and here to learn more about what happened). According to both Mark and Luke, the signs that Jesus gave in the next 25 verses (in Luke’s case) and the next 26 verses (in Mark’s case) were to precede the downfall of the temple. In the next couple of posts, we will look at those prophesied signs, which include earthquakes and other calamities. Many today are saying that these same prophesied signs are happening in our own day, and that this means we are only now about to see Jesus’ prophecies fulfilled. How can this be, though, if they were to happen before a prophesied event which we know took place 1,941 years ago?

Only in Matthew’s account do the disciples perhaps appear to ask two additional questions: [1] about Jesus’ coming and [2] about “the end of the age.” For those who believe that Matthew 24 has yet to be fulfilled, it’s often these questions which are said to indicate a required future fulfillment, despite the fact that they don’t even appear in Mark’s and Luke’s parallel accounts. It’s common these days to see a division of questions, as if the disciples asked about the near future as well as the very distant future, but as this study continues we’ll see that it wasn’t so common in earlier church history. Thomas Newton, a well-known English cleric, scholar, and author, said the following in 1754 about this passage:

‘The coming of Christ,’ and ‘the conclusion of the age,’ being therefore only different expressions to denote the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem, the purpose of the question plainly is, when shall the destruction of Jerusalem be, and what shall be the signs of it?

Background to Jesus’ Promised Coming: Matthew 10:23 and 16:27-28

What prompted the disciples to ask about Jesus’ coming, especially in the context of what He said about the temple’s impending destruction? Where had Jesus previously spoken of His coming, and what had He said about this event? Jesus had in fact spoken of His coming twice already in Matthew’s account. In Matthew 10:23, Jesus made this very interesting statement: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”[i] During the next couple of decades after Jesus said this, we can see numerous examples of Jesus and His followers doing this very thing (e.g. Matthew 12:14-15, Acts 8:1, Acts 9:23-25, Acts 9:29-30, Acts 14:5-6, Acts 17:4-10, Acts 17:13-14).

In Matthew 16:27-28, He was even more descriptive about what His coming would accomplish, and within what timeframe it would take place: “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person for what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

If this statement was fulfilled in His transfiguration six days later, as some contend, in what sense did Jesus “come with His angels” then and repay each person according to what he had done (a clear picture of judgment)? We know this didn’t happen on that occasion. We also know that none of His disciples died within those six days, but some were indeed martyred before 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. To believe that Jesus hasn’t yet (in the year 2011) come back as He promised in this passage is to believe either that [a] He lied or [b] there are 2000 year old men still walking around on this planet.[ii] Let’s look at four aspects of this promised coming, as this should help us to know what was in the minds of Jesus’ disciples when they asked Him about His coming in Matthew 24:3.

1. IN HIS KINGDOM: From this text, we know that one purpose for His coming, which He promised would take place before all of His disciples had died, was to establish His kingdom. This fits perfectly with the following prophecy given to Daniel: “And in the days of those kings* the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people” (Daniel 2:44). [*Biblical scholars hold a virtual consensus that the four kingdoms in Daniel’s vision were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Since Rome was destroyed in 476 AD, we know that, for this prophecy to be true, the kingdom was set up before that time.] A first century fulfillment fits; a 21st century fulfillment doesn’t. Furthermore, the kingdom was to be given to the saints (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in the Parable of the Tenants that the kingdom of God would soon be taken away from the Jewish leaders and their nation and given instead “to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:43) – a clear description of the body of Christ. This was to happen even as the stone was to crush those who would fall (verse 44) – 1.1 million Jews killed in August/September 70 AD by the Romans would seem to qualify as a fulfillment of this prediction.

2. TO REPAY EACH PERSON: The context of Jesus’ promise to come “to repay each person” for what they had done was His foretelling of His own death and suffering at the hands of the Jewish leaders (Matt. 16:21-23), and also of the suffering that His own disciples could expect (verses 24-26). In other words, it would be for vindication. This is similar in nature to what Paul promised to the Thessalonian believers when he told them that they could expect relief “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance” (II Thessalonians 1:7), with the purpose being “to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (verse 6). This was imminent in their day, for Paul said that the wrath of God had already come upon the Jewish persecutors (I Thess. 2:14-16). He knew this to be true because Jesus had declared in no uncertain terms (Matthew 23:35-36) that the blood of all the prophets would be required of His own (first century) generation in Israel.

3. WITH HIS ANGELS: Just like Paul’s prophecy to the Thessalonians, Jesus’ promise to come while some of His disciples were still alive (Matt. 16:28) was also to involve His angels (“The Son of Man is going to come with His angels…”). As my good friend, Mark Church, has pointed out, all throughout the book of Revelation we see His angels pouring out judgment upon “the great city” where the Lord was crucified (Revelation 11:8) – that is, Jerusalem, the same city which was marked as a harlot because of its shedding of the blood of the saints and martyrs (Rev. 17:1-6), apostles, and prophets (Rev. 18:20-24). [For those who believe that Revelation remains unfulfilled, is there any modern nation or entity which is responsible for the martyrdom of the apostles?]

4. IN THE GLORY OF HIS FATHER: Jesus also 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.”

Just as the Father’s comings in times past had not been bodily, visible, or physical in nature, neither would the coming of Jesus in judgment be bodily, visible, or physical. We will discuss this in more depth when we come to Jesus’ predicted coming in the clouds in Matt. 24:30/Mark 13:26/Luke 21:27. We will see that there are numerous examples in the Old Testament where God is said to have come in the clouds in judgment upon various nations and enemies of His people, even examples where the language is remarkably similar to the language used in The Olivet Discourse.

So we can see from these two passages (Matt. 10:23 and 16:27-28) why Jesus’ disciples expected Him to come again in their own lifetimes. We’re also beginning to see why, in Matthew 24:3, they linked this coming to His dark prediction about the temple’s future. Other strong clues also exist in the previous two chapters (Matthew 22-23).[iii] Kevin Daly, from the South African ministry “Messianic Good News,” has this to say:

It is Jesus’ confirmation that the Temple’s fate is sealed that leads to the disciples’ question: ‘When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’

Some argue this to be three separate questions – so that Jesus’ answer in the subsequent verses must be unraveled and applied to three different events, namely (i) the temple’s destruction, (ii) his coming and (iii) the end of the age. But this is not supported by the parallel accounts in Mark’s and Luke’s gospels. These render the disciples’ question as follows:

‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’ (Mark 13:4)

‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’ (Luke 21:7)

In Matthew’s wording of the disciples’ question, what Jesus prophesied against the Temple would, by implication, happen at our Lord’s coming in judgment and would also, by further implication, bring about the end of that age.

Matthew phrases the question in the prophetic language of the Old Testament, which was familiar to the Jewish audience for which his gospel was written. In this language, the execution of Divine judgment was commonly spoken of as a visitation of the LORD, as either His coming or His coming in the cloud. [Consider] Micah’s prophecy against the ‘high places’ of Judah – being localities of false worship, which the Temple in Jerusalem had now become:

‘For behold, the LORD comes forth from His place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be melted under Him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place. For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel  …  What are the high places of Judah? Are they not Jerusalem?’ (Micah 1:3-5).

Source: Kevin Daly, When Will These Things Happen – Matthew 24 and the Vindication of Messiah. 2009.

Micah’s prophecy was fulfilled in 586 BC when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian armies. We know that God didn’t physically and bodily come down at that time, but He did still “come down” in judgment in fulfillment of this prophecy. It’s this same apocalyptic language that Matthew uses to speak of another and more final judgment which was about to come once again upon Jerusalem. History tells us that it did come. Some readers may be surprised to know that Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who preached the famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” once made this statement in his work titled “Miscellany #1199”:

“Tis evident that when Christ speaks of his coming; his being revealed; his coming in his Kingdom; or his Kingdom’s coming; He has respect to his appearing in those great works of his Power Justice and Grace, which should be in the Destruction of Jerusalem and other extraordinary Providences which should attend it [So in Luke 17:20 – 18:8].”

The way that the Olivet Discourse is popularly approached today has Jesus effectively saying this to His disciples: “You guys have asked a very interesting question about when this temple will be destroyed, but let Me ignore your question and tell you instead about some events which will begin and end about 2000 years in the future.” Rather than being about us, and our generation, Jesus addressed the concerns of His disciples regarding their own generation.

THE END OF THE AGE

Having now given considerable space to the question of Christ’s coming, we’ll give only brief space here to the disciples’ question about the end of the age. The King James Version used the expression “the end of the world” in Matthew 24:3, but most newer translations use the expression “the end of the age.” Clearly, Jesus tied the end of the age that they were speaking of to the time of His coming, which we have seen was promised to occur in their own generation.

Therefore, the disciples weren’t asking about the final days of this planet. Their question was about the end of the Old Covenant age. That age came to an end along with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. This “end” was spoken of by Daniel and other Old Testament prophets. The book of Hebrews even speaks of the Old Covenant “becoming obsolete and growing old…ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). It vanished along with the temple. We are now in what the New Testament frequently called “the age to come.” A great transition took place a long time ago, and we are privileged to live in the New Covenant age. The heavenly Jerusalem is a present reality for God’s people (Hebrews 12:22-24). Regarding “the end” spoken of in both Matthew and Daniel, Kevin Daly provides this helpful chart:

you will hear of wars and rumours of wars … but the end is not yet

war will continue until the end

and there will be famines and pestilences and earthquakes in different places

and desolations have been decreed

 then the end will come

the end will come like a flood:

 Matthew 24:6,14

Dan 9:26b

“The end” spoken of in Daniel’s prophecy was clearly to be the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” (Daniel 9:26). We know as an indisputable fact of history that Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 AD. That brought about the end of an age, the Old Covenant age. It is popularly taught today that we are living in what the Bible calls “the last days,” and that these last days began on the Day of Pentecost because of Peter’s reference to Joel’s prophecy about an outpouring in “the last days.” However, this cannot be true, because Hebrews 1:1-3, Hebrews 9:26, and I Peter 1:18-20 tell us explicitly that Jesus’ incarnational ministry took place in the last days. Therefore, Jesus appeared and ministered in the last days of an age that had clearly begun quite some time before He appeared. That age still had not ended when Paul wrote his epistle to the Corinthian church, but it was drawing even closer to the end, for he told his readers that they were those “on whom the end of the ages has come” (I Corinthians 10:11).

Rather than open this up further, or to try to defend this premise in greater depth here, I’d like to point to an earlier post on this subject which I believe you’ll find to be a good explanation of these things (HERE). You’ll see that the New Testament placed Jesus’ ministry, death, etc. in “the last days” and at “the end of the age,” and that after Jesus’ ascension the apostles still spoke of their time in the same terms. Jerry William Bowers Jr. has also compiled a very informative article, based on David Green’s 101 Time Statements showing that John the Baptist, Jesus, and the early church were not only consistent, but also correct, when they repeatedly stated that certain events were near, at hand, about to take place, etc. That article can be seen (HERE).

In the next post, we will look at the beginning of Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ question about the signs which would lead to the destruction of the temple, His coming, and the end of the age. We will examine Matthew 24:4-14, Mark 13:5-13, and Luke 21:8-18 side-by-side.

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A THOUGHT: Do you find it interesting that John, in his gospel account, omits the Olivet Discourse entirely, even though he was no doubt present when Jesus spoke these things? One likely reason for this curious fact is that the book of Revelation, which he authored, actually functions as his exposition of the Olivet Discourse, though in much greater detail. Therefore, he felt no need to include the Olivet Discourse passage in his gospel account, especially if the book of John was written after the book of Revelation.

QUOTES TO NOTE

Eusebius (314 AD): “If any one compares the words of our Saviour with the other accounts of the historian (Josephus) concerning the whole war, how can one fail to wonder, and to admit that the foreknowledge and the prophecy of our Saviour were truly divine and marvelously strange” (Proof of the GospelBook III, Ch. VII).

John Wesley (1703-1791): “Josephus’ History of the Jewish War is the best commentary on this chapter (Matt. 24). It is a wonderful instance of God’s providence, that he, an eyewitness, and one who lived and died a Jew, should, especially in so extraordinary a manner, be preserved, to transmit to us a collection of important facts, which so exactly illustrate this glorious prophecy, in almost every circumstance” (Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, 1754).

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[i] John Wesley (1703-1791) is one of many in church history who taught that Jesus was referring in Matt. 10:23 to a judgment coming in 70 AD in which He would “destroy their temple and nation” (John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, 1754).

[ii] John Wesley, again, is one of many in church history who taught a 70 AD fulfillment of Matthew 16:27-28, saying, “For there is no way to escape the righteous judgment of God. And, as an emblem of this, there are some here who shall live to see the Messiah coming to set up His mediatorial kingdom with great power and glory, by the destruction of the temple, city, and polity of the Jews” (John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, 1754). Some believe this is also identical to the prophecy Jesus gave in Revelation 22:12, revealing why John’s 1st century audience was to understand that He was about to come: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what he has done.”

[iii] In Matthew 22:1-14 we read the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In this parable, speaking of the kingdom of heaven (vs. 2), a king (God) was to prepare a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), but those who were originally invited (the Jewish nation) refused to come (vss. 3-5) and even killed the king’s servants who had invited them (v. 6). Therefore, these murderers were destroyed (cf. Matthew 23:29-38; Rev. 16:4-7, 17:6, 18:20, 18:24), and their city was burned (cf. Rev. 18:8-10, 18; 19:3). This is precisely what we see having happened in Jerusalem’s destruction and burning in 70 AD. The invitation then goes out to others (Gentiles as well as Jews; vss. 9-10), but only those with proper wedding garments were allowed to remain (vss. 10-14; cf. Rev. 19:8). Those who lacked these garments remained in outer darkness and were not part of the chosen people of God (vss. 13-14; cf. Matt. 8:11-12).

In Matthew 23:29-38, we see that in the 7th woe pronounced upon the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus charges them with shedding the blood of all the prophets (vss. 29-31). He even says that they will kill, crucify, flog, and persecute others from town to town (verse 34). As a result, He says, they would be held responsible for all the shed blood from generations past up until their own generation. He concludes, “Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (verse 36). He then lifts up a lament for Jerusalem, whose house, He said, was left to them desolate. This would naturally remind His listeners of Daniel 9:26, where it was said that “the city and the sanctuary” would be destroyed, with desolations decreed. The expected timeframe for this judgment was “this generation” (Jesus’ first century audience).