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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Comparing Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 4-5


Today a Facebook friend, Chris Palios, shared a chart comparing Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 4-5. I’ve seen this comparison before, and his post was a good reminder that I’ve been meaning to post it here as well. As Chris said, the similarities between these two passages are fascinating.

While it’s still popular to view Matthew 24 as yet unfulfilled, there are plenty (and even more in church history) who recognize that Jesus was prophesying there concerning Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD and other events which would take place within His own generation. [A detailed study on the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) can be seen at the top of this page.] However, among those who view Matthew 24 as fulfilled, some believe that I Thessalonians 4-5 speak of future events. Here is the well-known passage that speaks of the resurrection of believers, which others take as being about a “rapture”: 

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:15-18).

As I’ve promised Steve (who posted a 3-part series here as a guest last year), a deeper study on the resurrection of believers is still in the works. For now, though, here is a chart showing the strong similarities between Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 4-5. The relationship is so close that I don’t believe it’s possible to view one passage as being fulfilled in the first century AD and the other as not yet fulfilled:

Statements Regarding Jesus’ Coming Reference in Matthew 24 Reference in I Thess. 4 or 5
1. Christ Himself returns Matthew 24:30 I Thess. 4:16
2. From heaven Matthew 24:30 I Thess. 4:16
3. With a shout Matthew 24:30 I Thess. 4:16
4. Accompanied by angels Matthew 24:31 I Thess. 4:16
5. With the trumpet of God Matthew 24:31 I Thess. 4:16
6. In clouds Matthew 24:30 I Thess. 4:17
7. Believers are gathered Matthew 24:31 I Thess. 4:17
8. At an unknown time Matthew 24:36 I Thess. 5:1-2
9. He will come as a thief Matthew 24:43 I Thess. 5:2, 4
10. People unaware of coming judgment Matthew 24:37-39 I Thess. 5:3
11. Judgment comes as travail upon an expectant mother Matthew 24:8 I Thess. 5:3
12. Believers are to watch Matthew 24:42 I Thess. 5:4
13. Warning against drunkenness Matthew 24:49 I Thess. 5:7

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.

Matthew 24 Fulfilled: Quotes From 200 AD – 1868 AD


When it comes to the study of “the last days” (eschatology), Matthew 24 might be the passage cited most often. Known as The Olivet Discourse, it foretells earthquakes and famine, wars and rumors of war, the great tribulation, etc. Parallel passages are in Mark 13 and Luke 21. While many look to newspapers and CNN for signs that these events are coming to pass, it’s instructive to know that church fathers, reformation leaders, and others in church history looked in the rear-view mirror at these events.

The following quotes are commentary from various leaders on Matthew 24:34, the summary verse where Jesus says to His disciples: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (See also Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32). These quotes are buried at the end of a previous post, but I wanted to draw attention to them separately here:

Clement (150-220 AD): “And in like manner He spoke in plain words the things that were straightway to happen, which we can now see with our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be among those to whom the word was spoken.”

Eusebius (263-339 AD): “And when those that believed in Christ had come thither [out] from Jerusalem [in obedience to Matthew 24:15-16], then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men (Proof of the Gospel, Book III, Ch. 5)… [When] the lamentation and wailing that was predicted for the Jews, and the burning of the Temple and its utter desolation, can also be seen even now to have occurred according to the prediction, surely we must also agree that the King who was prophesied, the Christ of God, has come, since the signs of His coming have been shewn in each instance I have treated to have been clearly fulfilled” (Proof of the Gospel, Book VIII).

John Calvin (1509-1564): “This prophecy does not relate to evils that are distant, and which posterity will see after the lapse of many centuries, but which are now hanging over you, and ready to fall in one mass, so that there is no part of it which the present generation [in Jesus’ time] will not experience.”

John Wesley (1754): “The expression implies that great part of that generation would be passed away, but not the whole. Just so it was; for the city and temple were destroyed thirty-nine or forty years after.”

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

Charles Spurgeon (1868): “The King left his followers in no doubt as to when these things should happen: ‘Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.’ It was just about the ordinary limit of a generation when the Roman armies compassed Jerusalem, whose measure of iniquity was then full, and overflowed in misery, agony, distress, and bloodshed such as the world never saw before or since. Jesus was a true Prophet; everything that he foretold was literally fulfilled.”

For a detailed study on how the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled by 70 AD, within Jesus’ own generation, see our Olivet Discourse page and this 4-part study (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) in particular.

Galatians 4 Shows That Isaiah 66 Is Not About Modern Israel


I grew up in a church where Christian Zionism and dispensationalist theology was (and still is) taught. In that setting, and in others, I was repeatedly taught that Bible prophecy was fulfilled when Israel became a nation in 1948. Furthermore, I was told, this event “restarted God’s prophetic time clock.” Two passages of Scripture allegedly foretold that event, Isaiah 66:7-9 and Matthew 24:32-33. In neither case does this ring true, and both passages carry an entirely different message.

Isaiah 66:5-13

Many believe that Isaiah was looking ahead about 2700 years to the political events of 1948 when he wrote the final portion of his book. They often point to verses 7-9 in particular, and insist that Isaiah foresaw the birth of national Israel “in one day.” Before looking at what this passage says, let’s consider Isaiah’s patterns and themes in the final eight chapters of his book:

  • Isaiah 59 concludes with a Messianic prophecy (“The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob…”). This prophecy, quoted in Romans 11:26-27, foretold Christ’s work on the cross as a sacrifice for sin.
  • Isaiah 60 is filled with prophetic decrees of the coming new covenant age (this present age), when the nations come to the light of the gospel.
  • Isaiah 61 contains a prophecy about the Lord’s anointed One and the good news, healing, and liberty He would bring; Jesus said this was fulfilled during His earthly ministry (see Luke 4:18-19).
  • Isaiah 65 speaks of new heavens and a new earth, in which sin, death, childbearing, and labor would continue (this makes sense if his prophecy is viewed as the establishment of the new covenant age rather than an overhaul of this planet and the galaxy). Our study on Matthew 24:35 discusses more fully the view that the Bible sometimes uses covenant language when speaking of “the heavens and the earth.”
  • From these and other examples in the final chapters of Isaiah, we see that Isaiah looks repeatedly to what we know were first century events. Let’s look now at Isaiah 66:5-13.

5 Hear the word of the Lord, You who tremble at His word: “Your brethren who hated you, who cast you out for My name’s sake, said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy.’ But they shall be ashamed.”  6 The sound of noise from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, who fully repays His enemies!  7 “Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came, she delivered a male child.  8 Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children.  9 Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?” says the Lord. “Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?” says your God.  10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her;  11 that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.”  12 For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; on her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees.  13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

Verse 5: This is clearly the Lord’s comfort for those who would be persecuted, hated, and cast out for His sake. Albert Barnes (1834), John Gill (1763), and Matthew Henry (1710) all taught that Isaiah was referring to the first century when Jesus, the apostles, and the early church preached the gospel and were opposed by the religious leaders of Israel.

Verse 6: Noise and a voice are heard from the city and the temple, and the voice is the Lord’s as He repays His enemies. Who are His enemies here? The text doesn’t say, at least not explicitly. However, if verse 5 is about the religious (temple) authorities persecuting the followers of Christ, then they are the enemies being repaid here at the time of the temple’s downfall; and Matthew 23 and I Thessalonians 1 also foretell this event:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! …you are sons of those who murdered the prophets… I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth… all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:29-36).

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (I Thessalonians 2:14-16).

Verses 7-8: Isaiah sees a woman, identified as Zion (verse 8), in labor. She delivers “a male child” (verse 7) and gives birth to “children” (verse 8). A nation is born “in one day” and “at once” (verse 8). Matthew Poole (1683) and John Gill (1763) are among those who taught that Isaiah foretold what would happen on the day of Pentecost, when 3000 Jews heard Peter preach the gospel and believed (Acts 2:41).

Verses 9-11: For those who love Jerusalem, this birthing is cause for rejoicing (verse 10). They are invited to “feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom” and to “drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory”  (verse 11).

Verses 12-13: This woman is given “peace like a river,” and she is filled with “the glory of the Gentiles” (verse 12). [Interestingly, those who insist that this is a prophecy of Israel becoming a nation in 1948 are often fixated on the goal of “a Jewish state,” and sound as if they would be happy to see each and every non-Jew exiled from Israel. The Jerusalem Isaiah saw would be marked by the glory of Gentiles – of Gentiles finding salvation in Christ.] Those who feed from this woman would be carried on her sides and dandled on her knees. God would comfort them in Jerusalem as one is comforted by his own mother.

Where else does Scripture depict Jerusalem as the mother of God’s people? And which Jerusalem is that, the earthly one or the heavenly one?

For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem ABOVE is free, which is THE MOTHER OF US ALL” (Galatians 4:24-26; see verses 21-31 for a fuller context).

In the next verse Paul quotes from Isaiah 54:1, a passage which is parallel to Isaiah 66:

For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband’ (Galatians 4:27).

Observe how Paul goes on to interpret Isaiah 54:1.

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman” (Galatians 4:27-31).

Isaiah 66:8 is parallel to Isaiah 54:1, and it ought to be seen in the same way that Paul made application of Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4. Isaiah foresaw the birthing and the breaking forth of the heavenly Jerusalem (66:8-10), even as earthly Jerusalem met her demise (66:6). Ironically, Isaiah 66 does not speak of the restoration of earthly Jerusalem into the hands of mostly unbelieving Jews in 1948. Rather, it mirrors the taking away of the earthly kingdom from unfaithful Israel (in 70 AD), and the giving of the heavenly kingdom to God’s holy nation, the Church, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 21:43-44; cf. Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). It speaks of the establishment of the new Jerusalem for the bride of Christ, and the dissolving of the old covenant in favor of the new covenant (which was established at the cross). This is the point of both Isaiah and Paul.

Matthew 24:32-33

Matthew 24:32-33 reads this way: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that He is near—at the doors!” In part 4 of our series on the Olivet Discourse, we noted that dispensationalists are fond of saying that the fig tree represents Israel, and that when Israel became a nation in 1948, the world’s final generation was unveiled. We also noted at least four problems with this view:

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

[2] In Luke’s account, Jesus speaks of not only the fig tree, but “all the trees” (See Luke 21:29-31).

[3] Jesus does speak of a fig tree elsewhere in Matthew, but observe closely what He says about it: “In the morning, as He was returning to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He went to it and found nothing on it but leaves. And He said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’” (Matthew 21:18-19). In light of what Jesus said to that fig tree, one ought to think twice about what it means if national Israel is represented by the fig tree.

[4] In Matthew 24:34 Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” This certainly included the branches of the fig tree, so to speak, bringing forth leaves. James saw the signs and declared, “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand… Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8-9; compare with Matt. 24:33).

Modern Israel is not in view in either of these passages which are so often cited as predicting the events of the mid-20th century. Some of those who thunder the loudest against what they call “replacement theology” have attempted to take Isaiah’s prophecy about the birth of the new covenant church, and make it about the (re-)birth of national Israel instead. Scripture interprets Scripture to demonstrate that, while God cast out earthly Jerusalem, He chose new Jerusalem to be the nurturing mother of the church. 

The Significance of the Word “Desolate” in the New Testament


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the book of Revelation”

The word “desolate” (or the related word “desolation”) only appears 12 times in the New Testament. Seven of these appearances are in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and five of them are references to Jerusalem’s condition in Jesus’ day and to what was about to happen to that city. This word does not appear in John’s gospel account, but its final two appearances in the New Testament demonstrate that John, in the book of Revelation, was showing Jerusalem to be every bit the desolate place that Jesus said it was.

Like the previous post, this one is also inspired by a recent discussion here. PJ Miller, of Sola Dei Gloria, observed the similarity between Matthew’s use of the word “desolate” in both chapters 23 and 24:

[1] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).

[2] “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16).

[1] In Matthew 23:38, Jesus summed up what had become of Jerusalem in His lament over that city. Although formerly God’s house, Jesus now spoke of Jerusalem (and/or the temple) as “your house,” for He had abandoned it and left it to them as “desolate.”  About 650 years earlierGod said the same to Jeremiah just before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC:

I have forsaken My house, I have left My heritageI have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies… ‘Many rulers have destroyed My vineyard, they have trodden My portion underfoot; They have made My pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it desolate; Desolate, it mourns to Me; The whole land is made desolate, because no one takes it to heart” (Jeremiah 12:7-11).

(In two recent posts, we discussed how first century Jerusalem became infested with demons, but how God chose new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, as His house and His dwelling place.)

Strong’s Concordance defines the word “desolate” (#2048), used in Matthew 23:38, as “lonesome, waste, desert, solitary, wilderness.”

[2] In Matthew 24:15, Jesus warned His followers living in Judea to flee to the mountains when they saw the “abomination of desolation.” Matthew’s Jewish audience was familiar with this phrase, and would understand the reference to Daniel, but Luke quotes Jesus differently for his mostly Gentile audience:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…” (Luke 21:20-21).

So the “abomination of desolation” was in the hands of foreign armies coming to complete Jerusalem’s desolation. The warnings of Matthew and Luke, stated differently, were to bring about the same response: immediate flight. In 314 AD, Eusebius, known as the father of church history, wrote the following about the obedience of Jesus’ followers to His words in Matthew 24:

“The people of the church at Jerusalem, in accordance with a certain oracle that was vouchsafed by way of revelation to the approved men there, had been commanded to depart from the city before the [Jewish-Roman war of 67-73 AD], and to inhabit a certain city of Peraea. They called it Pella [in modern-day Jordan]. And when those who believed in Christ had removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had utterly deserted both the royal metropolis of the Jews itself and the whole land of Judaea, the Justice of God then visited upon them all their acts of violence to Christ and his apostles, by destroying that generation of wicked persons root and branch from among men” (see here for more about this event).

The word “desolation” in Matthew 24:15 is #2049 in Strong’s Concordance, and the definition there is: “from 2048; to lay waste (lit. or fig.): -(bring to, make) desolate (-ion), come to nought.” The word “desolation” in Luke 21:20 is entry #2050, and Strong’s simply points back to #2049. So we can see that all three entries (#2048, #2049, and #2050) are essentially the same word, just as the words “desolate” and “desolation” are essentially the same in English.

“Desolate” and “desolation” appear in Mark 13:14 and Luke 13:35 as direct parallels to Matthew 24 and Matthew 23, respectively. Otherwise, these words only appear six other times in the New Testament.* We’ll look briefly at four of these instances, before looking at their two appearances in Revelation: 

The word “desolation” appears in Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17 (parallel passages), where Jesus responds to the Pharisees who question by what power He was casting out demons: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

The word “desolate” appears in Acts 1:20 regarding Judas Iscariot: “’For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it.”

It also shows up in Galatians 4:27, in Paul’s argument that God’s people belong to the Jerusalem above, and not the Jerusalem below. He quotes Isaiah 54: “For it is written: ‘Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.’”

The Strong’s entry for Acts 1:20 and Galatians 4:27 is #2048, and the entry for Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17 is #2049.

*A different Greek word for “desolate” appears in I Timothy 5:5, and refers to a widow’s grief.

The final two places where this word shows up in the New Testament are in Revelation 17:16 and Revelation 18:19 (Strong’s #2049), regarding the burning of the harlot and the great city:

And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.”

They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’”

As we discussed in a recent post (“Jerusalem, a Dwelling Place of Demons“), “the great city” was first identified as the place “where also our Lord was crucified (Rev. 11:8).” Of course, Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. This city was also aptly named “the harlot,” the same name given to it by Jeremiah (3:6-8), Ezekiel (16:15), and Hosea (6:10) because it was full of spiritual adultery at that time. Revelation 16-19 repeatedly holds “the great city”, “the harlot,” and “Babylon the great” (different names for the same entity) responsible for shedding the blood of God’s saints, prophets, and apostles. Jesus left no doubt who was responsible for shedding this blood, and when the resulting judgment would come: Israel, in His generation (Matthew 23:29-38).

Jesus declared Jerusalem in His day to be a desolate house, and He warned that “the abomination of desolation” would come and complete its desolation in His own generation. John, in his visions of “things which must shortly take place…for the time is near…at hand” (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10), saw the outcome of what Jesus prophesied, Jerusalem made desolate and burned to the ground.

Seeing how the word “desolate” is used here in Revelation 17 and 18, concerning the harlot and the great city, is good confirmation that John was showing Jerusalem to be every bit the desolate place that Jesus said it was in Matthew 23 and 24. This desolation was made complete in the year 70 AD. Gratefully, we can rejoice that we are children of the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26), the new Jerusalem aligned with the new covenant established by the blood of our Savior (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Luke 17 Shows That Matthew 24 Can’t Be Divided


Scripture passages for this study: Matthew 24:1-51 and Luke 17:20-37

This post was prompted by a discussion under a recent post, concerning what might be and what might not be fulfilled in Matthew 24 (the Olivet Discourse). There was a time when I didn’t believe that any of Matthew 24 has been fulfilled. Then I came to believe that most of Matthew 24:1-34 was fulfilled in Jesus’ generation, before acknowledging that verse 34 doesn’t allow for only some of it to be fulfilled (“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place“). At that point, I believed there must be a breaking point somewhere after verse 34, a dividing line after which the rest of the chapter would be fulfilled about 2000 years later (i.e. in our own future). I never could pinpoint that dividing line, though, and be at peace with it.

There are numerous reasons why I now believe all of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the first century AD, in Jesus’ own generation. This post highlights one of those reasons, which is that Luke 17:20-37 demonstrates the impossibility of any time division. Luke 17 scrambles and reorders various portions of Jesus’ predictions in Matthew 24, predictions which are located before and well after verse 34. What is ordered as “1, 2, 3, 4, 5” in Matthew 24:1-41 is ordered as “2, 4, 1, 5, 3” in Luke 17:23-37, as shown in this diagram by Ed Stevens in his book titled, “What Happened in 70 AD?”

Matthew 24 Undivided

Source: World Without End (December 5, 2013); Better design seen here

David Curtis, the pastor of Berean Bible Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has also produced a similar chart, in which he fully writes out the passages shown in the diagram above

Matthew 24

Luke 17

SECTION ONE Verses 1-35

1. Matthew 24:17-18 (NKJV)
Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 “And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.

2. Luke 17:23-24 (NKJV)
“And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them. 24 “For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day.
2. Matthew 24:26-27 (NKJV)
“Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
4. Luke 17:26-27 (NKJV)
“And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 “They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
3. Matthew 24:28 (NKJV)
“For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
1. Luke 17:31 (NKJV)
“In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back.

SECTION TWO Verses 36-51

4. Matthew 24:37-39 (NKJV)
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 “and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.

5. Luke 17:35-36 (NKJV)
“Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. 36 “Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.”
5. Matthew 24:40-41 (NKJV)
“Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 “Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
3. Luke 17:37 (NKJV)
And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?” So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
Those who attempt to divide Matthew 24 say that SECTION ONE refers to the events of AD 70. But they say SECTION TWO refers to events yet future to us. If the five prophetic events of Matthew 24 that are found in Luke 17 are numbered 1-2-3-4-5, Luke’s numbering of the same events would be 2-4-1-5-3. Luke has an event from section 1 followed by one from section 2, then another from section 1 followed by section 2, and finally one from section 1. This shows the impossibility of dividing Matthew 24 with a 2,000 year gap.

 What do you think? Is this a valid conclusion? Why or why not?

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Previous posts on the Olivet Discourse can be viewed at this page, including a 4-part series (titled “This Generation Or That Generation?”) examining the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke in a parallel fashion.

Matthew 24: Double Fulfillment Is Not Possible


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Testament types:

Sodom, Egypt, Babylon

New Testament antitype:

Jerusalem

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

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

The same pronouncement was made against Old Testament Babylon:

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

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

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

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

Objection

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

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

Leviticus Required the Temple in Jerusalem to be Torn Down


Today I learned something very interesting from a portion of Gary DeMar’s book, “Last Days Madness.” Gary demonstrates from the book of Leviticus why Jesus, as our great High Priest, was qualified to pronounce the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This is a fascinating connection, and brings added covenantal meaning to the words Jesus used in Matthew 23 and 24:

The Jews of Jesus’ day had turned the temple into a “house of merchandise” (John 2:16) and a “robbers’ den” (Matt. 21:13). When a priest inspected a house and found it leprous, the house was to be torn down (Lev. 14:33–47). Jesus, as the High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:6), inspected the temple twice, found it leprous, and issued His priestly evaluation: “And Jesus came out from the temple” (Matt. 24:1), as the priest “shall come out from the house” (Lev. 14:38), and declared it “desolate” (Matt. 23:38), as the priest declared a leprous house to be “unclean” (Lev. 14:44).

A leprous house could be cleansed in only one way: “He shall therefore tear down the house, its stones, and its timbers, and all the plaster of the house, and he shall take them outside the city to an unclean place” (Lev. 14:45). When Jesus’ disciples pointed to the temple buildings after hearing of its desolation, Jesus answered: “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:2).

-Gary Demar, Last Days Madness, 1999, page 108

Second Temple

SOURCE

The collapse of the temple was most devastating to the Jews of that day who didn’t believe in Jesus. The Jerusalem temple was not only considered one of the great wonders of the world, but it was seen to be God’s central dwelling place. For the people of God, thankfully, God’s temple was already established in His Son, Jesus, and those who belong to Him:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (I Corinthians 6:19)

For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'” (II Corinthians 6:16)

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Jesus’ Use of “This Generation” in the Olivet Discourse Is No Different Than Anywhere Else


There is plenty of disagreement on what Jesus meant when He said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32). He was making a reference, of course, to all that He had said prior to this statement. This included prophecies about war, earthquakes, famine, false prophets, persecution in the synagogues, the spreading of the gospel to all nations, the surrounding of Jerusalem and Judea by a foreign army, a time of unparalleled distress, His coming in the clouds with great power and glory, the arrival of His kingdom, and redemption for His people.

The careful reader will take note that Jesus was prompted to make these predictions in response to His disciples’ question about when the temple would be destroyed, and what signs would point forward to that event (Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, Luke 21:5-7). It was this question that led to His discourse, known as the Olivet Discourse.

Mark and Luke, in their accounts, only show the disciples asking this one question about the temple. Matthew shows them asking a three-part question or, some would say, three separate questions: [1] When will the temple fall? [2] What will be the sign of Your coming? [3] What will be the sign of the end of the age? Those who believe in fulfilled eschatology maintain that these events are synonymous, while those who regard this discourse as unfulfilled often say that the last two belong to our future.

When it comes, then, to the timing of this prophecy’s fulfillment, there is debate at both ends of the Olivet Discourse:

[1] Did Jesus set out to answer just one question? Or did He set out to answer three questions, and therefore He may have prophesied about two different time periods?

[2] When Jesus said “this generation,” did He mean His own generation? Or did He have in mind, as some are fond of saying, a future generation that would begin to see those signs take place all at once? Did He even perhaps imply a dual fulfillment, a partial fulfillment in His own generation, and an ultimate fulfillment in the far distant future?

We will set aside the first question for the rest of this article, and focus on the second question, for Jesus is shown to say precisely the same thing in all three accounts: “…this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

At the very beginning of the New Testament, we get a good idea of how Matthew defined the word “generation.” Consider his genealogy listing from Abraham to Jesus:

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17).

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

This being the case, let us ask if the temple was destroyed, as Jesus predicted, within one generation of that prediction, i.e. within approximately 42 years. It was! Jesus was crucified in or around 30 AD, and the temple was destroyed by the Roman armies in 70 AD, that is, 40 years later.

The Olivet Discourse was not the first time that Jesus had used the expression, “this generation.” In all His other uses of this phrase, it’s more than evident that He meant His own generation. Consider the following examples:

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the pipe for you,and you did not dance; we sang a dirge,and you did not mourn.’” (Matthew 11:16-17)

“The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:41-42; see also Luke 11:29-32)

“Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:45)

You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” (Matthew 17:17)

And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.” (Matthew 23:35-36)

He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” (Mark 8:12)

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?” (Luke 7:31)

“But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” (Luke 17:25)

Time and space limitations will not allow us to examine all the signs that Jesus predicted would take place before “this generation” would pass away, although I believe that [1] a study comparing Scripture with Scripture and [2] a study of 1st century history will show that they did take place before Jesus’ own generation passed away. As an example of the first point, Luke says that Jews “from every nation under heaven” heard the mighty works of God proclaimed in their own languages (Acts 2:5-11), and the apostle Paul was emphatic that the gospel was preached all over the (known) world in his lifetime (Romans 1:8, Romans 16:25-26, Colossians 1:5-6, and Colossians 1:23).

However, as helpful as these confirmations may be, they are not even necessary for our understanding of Jesus’ words, “…this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The generation that would pass away had to see, not some, but all of those things take place. There’s only one generation that witnessed the fall of the temple, and that was Jesus’ own generation. This will never happen again, and this point alone indicates that “all these things” could not possibly take place in our own generation or in the future. Remember also that the earthquakes, wars, the invasion of Judea and Jerusalem, the great distress, and all the other signs were to take place, not after the temple fell, but before the temple would fall (Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, Luke 21:5-7).

To the people of Jesus’ time, we who live in the 21st century would be regarded as “that generation.” To those of us living in the 21st century, the people of Jesus’ time would also be regarded as “that generation.” Jesus didn’t use that phrase, however. The people of Jesus’ time would have understood their own generation as “this generation,” just as they did when He uttered this phrase in Matthew 11:16-17; Matt. 12:41-42; Matt. 12:45; Matt. 17:17; Matt. 23:35-36; Mark 8:12; Luke 7:31; Luke 11:29-32; and Luke 17:25.

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All of our studies on the Olivet Discourse can be seen here, including a verse-by-verse parallel study of Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21.