I've been considering eschatology recently. I grew up in the "Left Behind" world where the biggest question people had was "Are you pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib?" Nearly everyone seemed to be pre-tribulation. If you have the choice of escaping before the horrors on Earth start, half way through the horrors, or after the worst of the horrors, your theology is likely going to favor escaping before the horrors start. This "Pre-Tribulation Rapture" belief is the theology of many, if not most Christians today; I grew up knowing of people such as Hal Lindsey and Jack Van Impe who worked weekly to decipher the current happenings of the world and how they played into end-times Bible prophecy. It was fascinating, and quite entertaining, but also rather confusing and difficult to support plainly with scripture. Who was to say this symbol or mysterious passage from the Bible really represented this literal thing or event in the world today? It always seemed very subjective and over the years there would always be certain passages that just didn't fit with me.
Pre-tribulation rapture theology seems to have had its origins in the late 1600s, and wasn't fully spelled out until the mid 1700s (by Morgan Edwards, a Baptist pastor from England and founder of Brown University in Pennsylvania). John Darby is often credited with crystallizing the pre-tribulation view in the 1800s. John Darby's studies also convinced him of clear eschatological differences between the Christian church and Israel. With John Darby, Dispensationalism* was born - and quickly spread across the globe.
*Dispensationalism is a hermeneutic system (method of studying the Bible) which considers biblical history as divided into various dispensations or periods or ages to which God has allotted distinctive administrative principles. Dispensationalism also states that the Church and the Israelites are separate; the first is all those who have found saving grace in Christ in this current dispensation, and the second is all ethnic Jews, from Abraham until today.
Of course there are likely a thousand variations and subtleties for all of the above, but this is the general understanding of many today. Discussing Pre-tribulation Rapture Dispensationalism isn't the purpose of this essay, but the above outline seemed necessary to the purpose.
It's an apt analogy that you don't begin your studies in mathematics by first taking an advanced calculous course. You start with the simpler things, such as "one plus one equals two." Similarly, it may not be wise to begin a study in eschatology with the complex symbolism found in Ezekiel, Daniel or Revelation. There are simpler passages, and there are some basics concepts (one plus one equals two) which need to be realized before considering the interpretations of Ezekiel, Daniel or John (advanced calculous). If an advanced math student suddenly needs one plus one to equal 47, he has messed up his calculous. Even in the advanced, the simple truths and basic teachings must hold fast. So it is wise to start with the simple concepts and basic truths that are too plain to miss. These will create barriers to our interpretations of the more complex passages.
What are some of these simple concepts and basic truths?
Certain aspects of dispensationalism theology requires that the Old Testament be interpreted independently of the New Testament. This is not the example that is given in scripture with the New Testament. The New Testament expands on, brings light to, and makes clear many things that are only shadows, types or metaphors in the Old Testament.
For example, consider Malachi 4:5 (All Bible quotes will be from the ESV unless otherwise stated):
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.
In this verse, we read that Elijah the prophet will be sent. If we take this verse literally, we must assume that God will send Elijah down from Heaven (where he had been taken up in Elisha's presence - 2 Kings 2:11-122 Kings 2:11-12 (ESV)
And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. ) before the day of the Lord. However, the New Testament informs us that this was not to be taken literally, but was instead a metaphor that is correctly interpreted in John the Baptist. We must be careful - if we take a biblical metaphor as literal, we will be incorrect in our interpretation. Matthew 11:13-14 makes the interpretation clear:
For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
The New Testament explains the metaphor of the Old Testament. John the Baptist was merely being portrayed as Elijah because John was one who was like Elijah. Also see Mark 9:11-13:
And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”
Without the New Testament, it would not be possible to correctly interpret the Old Testament verses regarding Elijah being sent; to interpret these Old Testament verses without considering the light of the New will lead to error.
In another example of using the New to better and more fully interpret the Old, consider the Ox. Deuteronomy 25:4:
You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.
In context of this chapter, this verse seems rather random. It is simply in a list of rules that are being given out. Solomon, in Proverbs 12:10 gives agreement to the law when he says "Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel." But the full realization of this verse only comes with the New Testament, when Paul states in I Corinthians 9:9-12:
For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
With the New Testament, we can further see that God was speaking to supporting our pastors and teachers. This greater interpretation would not be clear from the Old Testament verse alone.
Additionally, consider Colossians 1:26, which states concerning the Old Testament Word of God, that it was "the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints."
Also, see Hebrews 10:1Hebrews 10:1 (ESV)
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. and Galatians for examples of the Old Testament being shadows and allegories that are more fully revealed in the New Testament.
If an eschatology requires an interpretation of the Old Testament that denies the clarity given in the New, that eschatology is likely in error. I think Jesus was hinting to the idea that some would eschew this truth when he said to his disciples "and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come." (emphasis mine). Some seem unwilling to accept it.
Matthew 24:36-44 says the following:
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
I lived through the "88 Reasons Jesus will Return in 1988" proclamation and there have been many similar proclamations before and since then. In 1988, it was expected (and calculated) that Jesus would return during the three day period of September 11th through 13th. People were excited, and after there was no return, many were faith-shakenly disappointed. In direct contradiction to the Bible passage quoted above, for every hour of those three days, by multiple thousands of people, it was expected that Jesus would return. If I had better understood Matthew 24 back then, I would not have gotten caught up in the excitement that TBN preachers and others were pushing. I would have thought to myself "Every Christian being excited for a promised return during a three day period is not 'as were the days of Noah.'" The entire concept of this movement violated scripture, and with that, it should have been rejected, or simply ignored.
We are to be ready at all times, for we will not know when Jesus might return. We will not expect it. We will be doing our daily chores just as every other day, and suddenly! This was the point Jesus was trying to make with his disciples - BE READY, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Jesus told several parables to stress this truth.
I've heard some claim that only the "world" will not know when Christ is going to return, but the Church will be informed and will know, for the modern-day prophets will inform us. This too violates the Matthew passage above, for speaking directly to His disciples, Jesus said "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (emphasis mine).
The "Left Behind" theology says that there will be a second chance for those who are not raptured. Think to the movies and popular books on the subject - this is the driving point of their plots. The church is taken, and then some of those remaining will consider "Hey, they were right! Jesus is real! It's going to be hard being stuck in this tribulation, but I'm going to follow Jesus and persevere through it and will be saved."
Consider the parable of the ten virgins. Matthew 25:1-13 states the following:
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
In this parable, it appears that both the wise and unwise virgins would be considered "Christians" by today's standards, as both sets of virgins were waiting for the bridegroom. However, for those who were left behind due to their not being ready, there was no second chance. The door was shut, and even further, the bridegroom says "Truly, I say to you, I do not know you." We do not know the day nor the hour, and there is no second chance for those who are not ready.
This is further emphasized later in Matthew 25. Consider verses 31-46:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
When Jesus comes in his glory, he will come with his angels with him (note there is no mention of him returning with a pre-raptured church). At that time, all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the Christians from the non-Christians (sheep and goats). At that time, the Christians will be asked to come and inherit the kingdom prepared for them and the non-Christians will be sent to eternal punishment. This all happens at once when Jesus comes with his angels in glory. There are no second chances for those who have not already accepted Jesus as savior and have not been doing the work of Christ (to the least of these).
The Old Testament can fairly be called the first age, and when the fullness of that time had come, Jesus arrived on the scene (see Galatians 4:4Galatians 4:4 (ESV)
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, and Ephesians 1:10Ephesians 1:10 (ESV)
as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. ). We would then be in the second age, and the Bible makes it clear that there is only one more age to come. Consider Paul's words in Ephesians 1:15-23:
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (emphasis mine)
The above word "age" (rendered "world" in some translations) is from the Greek word αἰών (transliteration: aion; Strong's G165). This word means (Thayer Definition):
When referring to the Old Testament age in the New Testament, we often see things like "the world began" or "of old" (see John 9:32John 9:32 (ESV)
Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. , Luke 1:70Luke 1:70 (ESV)
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, , Acts 15:18Acts 15:18 (ESV)
known from of old.). The time of the New Testament writing itself is "this age" as seen in the passage above, and "one to come" refers to the age after this one, which as we will see, is the final, eternal age.
Note from the passage above that in this present age, Jesus is on the throne, seated far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named. The same will be true in the age to come.
Matthew 12:32 speaks of this age and the age to come when Jesus describes the unforgiveness of those who have spoken blasphemy against the Holy Spirit:
Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
The parallel passage in Mark 3:29 confirms that the next age is eternal, as the unforgiveness is reported to be eternal unforgiveness, as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is eternal sin:
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
This suggests to us that this age plus the age to come equals the future eternity. Jesus seems to confirm this in Mark 10:29-30:
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much – homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life.
See also Luke 20:34-36:
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
This passage confirms that everyone is in this age. Both Christians and non-Christians marry and are given in marriage. But for that coming age, only those who are worthy will enter, and once there, they cannot die anymore. Note that an additional detail of "that age" is that it contains the resurrection from the dead. The resurrection does not occur in this present age (or at least not before the very last day of it), but is the transition period from this current age to the next age, as confirmed in John 6:44:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
On the last day, the harvest will take place and the tares will be separated from the wheat (see Matthew 13:25-30), and as we discussed earlier, the goats will be separated from the sheep.
False Exception Note: αἰών is used 129 times in the New Testament. One use shows a confusing plural. Ephesians 2:4-7 says:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
At first, this plural may make it seem like there is more than one age to come, but a fuller consideration must be given. This verse says that even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together in Christ. The timing noted in this verse is not fully conceivable to our minds. Christ was crucified from the foundation of the world and our names were written in the book of life before the foundation of the world (see Revelation 13:8, 17:8Revelation 13:8 & 17:8 (ESV)
13:8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. ; Ephesians 1:4Ephesians 1:4 (ESV)
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love ). If in a sense we were made alive in Christ while we were still dead in our sins, and before Christ had even come in the flesh, and from the very foundation of the world, then the graces to be shown to us would be shown both in this age and the age to come, and in this sense, the plural is appropriate.
Many who follow the dispensationalism doctrines see the Church and Israel (whom they would define as all Jews for all of history) as two separate groups who live under two separate sets of rules or prophetic requirements. This opens the door for eschatological beliefs such as "Before the Lord comes for the Church, Israel must build a third temple and again begin sacrifices."
Those who don't hold this view postulate there is a fundamental misunderstanding among many as to who the true Israel and the Church are. Many see Israel as simply the Jewish people and the Church as Christians, but I believe this is a less than full understanding of scripture.
A better understanding might be that there has always been and always will be only one true Israel. That Israel is Jesus, and as Christians, we are grafted or adopted into Him. As for the Jewish ethnic people of the Old Testament, only those who followed the law (no one but Jesus did this) or those who were judged righteous by faith in the (then) future coming Christ were members of true Israel. This gives us a continuous single thread of God's people grafted into Christ's body with Jesus as the head from the beginning of creation until now. Consider the following passages:
Isaiah 42: 1-7:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I assume most would recognize that the servant mentioned in verse 1Isaiah 42:1 (ESV)
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. is Jesus as this Servant-Song of Isaiah is clearly a Messianic passage. Let us compare this passage to Isaiah 49:1-3
Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
Again, this is a Messianic passage, and in verse 3, it states, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." Here, Jesus is revealed to be the true Israel. He came to gather Jacob and Israel (ethnic Jews) back to him, just as he came to gather the Gentiles into him. All of us - the ethnic Jews from all time who have faith in Christ and the Gentiles from all time who have faith in Christ are in Him, and all of us together are the living stones that make up the current and everlasting temple of God. The old temple was a shadow and hope of what was to come, and once Jesus came, that temple was soon destroyed, and we are now part of the eternal temple - the living body of Christ.
I would postulate that any reference to a physical temple was merely a shadow of the living temple which was to come, and which now is. To suggest that a new shadow needs to come (as in a third temple) would speak to the ineffectiveness of the living temple (the Church in Christ) which has replaced the previous shadow (the second temple). This is an insult to Christ's work in building us as living stones. Once the shadow was demolished do we need to go back to shadow to complete Bible prophecy? I would say no. This would also seem to be the reason there is no Bible verse or passage which states there will be a second rebuilding to make a third temple. Now that the antitype has come, there will never again be a need for the type or shadow that once pointed to the now-arrived antitype.
Further evidence that the only true Israel is Jesus (and those who are joined in Him by faith)
On it's own, Hos 11:1 would seem to speak of Israel as being the Jewish ethnic people, especially as you continue in the chapter. but Matthew says this verse is a prophecy of Jesus. Hosea 11:1 says:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
But Matthew 1:13-15 says:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
In the New Testament, Paul makes clear in Romans 2 that the true Israel has always only been those who follow the law. He then proceeds to give example of man's eternal failure in being able to do this. In Romans 2:25 Paul drives it home:
For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. (emphasis mine)
Consider that - circumcision (the physical sign of being a Jew or Israelite) is of value only if you obey the law. But if you break the law - which every person ever born of both earthly father and mother has done - then your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. You could say your Jewishness becomes un-Jewishness, or that your being an Israelite becomes being a non-Israelite. The weight of Paul's words are great, but it was this way from the very beginning. In Exodus 19:4-5a, we read:
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
Only those who obeyed God's voice and kept his covenant (no one ever did) were truly his treasured possession, kingdom of priests and a holy nation. All others failed; even at the beginning of the law this was made clear. The True Israel has always only been Jesus and those grafted or gathered into him by faith. The rest - were but types and shadows of what Christ would ultimately do for those who accept him as Lord (or pre-accept, looking forward as Moses, Abraham and David did).
God again defines Israel in Psalm 73:1, where we read "Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart." Only Jesus, or those who are justified by him can be considered pure in heart, either by their nature (Jesus), or by their adoptive justification (everyone else).
In Genesis 12 we read of the Abrahamic covenant, and if we read without the light of the New Testament, it would seem that the promise was literally to Abraham and all of his physical offspring (children, grandchildren, and so on), but the New Testament makes it clear, the covenant was to Abraham and his single offspring - Jesus. Galatians 3:16 states:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
Over 400 years before the law and circumcision, the gospel of Jesus was preached to Abraham, who believed it by faith - Galatians 3:8:
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
If we just read the Abrahamic covenant on its own, isolated from the New Testament, it would be understood that the promise was to a physical group of people who proceeded from Abraham in lineage - a single family dynasty to rule the earth. But with the light of the New Testament, we see the mystery that had previously been hidden. As Paul says in Ephesians 3:4-6:
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
And not only is the promise to Gentiles, but it is to all who put their faith in Christ. To put one's faith in Christ is to become Abraham's seed (Galatians 3:29Galatians 3:29 (ESV)
And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. ).
There has only ever been one true Jew - Jesus Christ. All others are only Jews by faith, regardless of Jewish or Gentile ethnicity. There has only ever been one true Church - which is the living temple, of which Jesus is the chief cornerstone. The Church is, and at the same time is in, Israel, who is Christ.
In the Old Testament, the Jewish people are a type of the Church in Christ and the Nations (or Gentiles) are a type of non-Christians (those who have not put their faith in Jesus). The Old Testament speaks of the Nations bowing down to Israel. Consider the following: Isaiah 60 speaks to a time when the Nations will minister to Israel. Isaiah 60:14 says:
The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
And similarly, Isaiah 49:22-23 says:
Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”
But the light of the New Testament flips this on its head. Instead of the ethnic Jewish people vs. the nations (as is described in the two passages above), we have the Church vs. those who are not in Christ. John's words in Revelation make this clear. Writing to the church in Philadelphia, the Spirit in Revelation 3:9 says:
Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.
Jewish ethnicity doesn't matter to God any more than other ethnicities matter to God. Ethnicity is not his dividing standard. Faith in Christ is the dividing standard, and to simply be "Jewish" by ethnicity is meaningless without faith (or perfectly fulfilling the law, which no one but Jesus has done). Today, those who say they are Biblical Jews do not speak the truth, for they rejected Christ, who is the one true Israel, and those Jews are now considered as being of the synagogue of Satan.
This brings all of the Old and New Testaments together; they both tell one beautiful story. The old, in type where the ethnic Jewish people represented God's people and the nations or Gentiles represent all those who were not God's people. Mistaking the type or metaphor as literal, it's easy to see how people can become confused and still see the Jews as a separate group - separate from the Church and separate in prophetic requirements. But in light of the New Testament, we see the antitype. We see that Jesus has always been the only true Israel and the only true Jew. We see that all those outside of faith in Jesus are "the nations" whether they be of Gentile ethnicity or Jewish ethnicity. In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, but all are the same in Christ. There are only two groupings - those who are in Christ and those who are not in Christ, just as was foretold in type in the Old Testament with the descriptions of the ethnic Jews and the rest of the nations.
If I were to have written in the months after the First World War that a great evil in Europe would rise up to rule over and destroy millions of Jews throughout Europe, often using waterless showers in bathhouses; and if I were to have written that a sign of this ongoing destruction would be chimneys bellowing smoke day and night, month after month; and if it were the year 4000 and the world at that time knew nothing of Germany, Hitler or the world wars of the ancient past, then my writings might be especially difficult, and there would likely be some who follow my writings who might always be looking for the still coming fulfillment of my words (while wondering what a waterless shower was). But, if the people of the year 4000 had access to a history book from the second half of the 1900s, then my writings would be easily understood as predicting the long past Holocaust of Hitler and his armies.
We are fortunate that even though we are 2000 years removed from the time of Christ and the apostles' writings, we do have access to the writings of an important first century historian. Flavius Josephus (typically known simply as Josephus) was a first century Jewish, and later Roman historian who wrote of happenings in the Roman and Jewish world shortly after the writings of the apostles. Because of his detailed work, we know of the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD, a fulfillment of the words of Jesus.
I grew up in a religious climate that taught certain ideas as fact, despite a lack of strong biblical support. Because of this, if I hear the phrase "abomination of desolation," I immediately think of the anti-Christ or the beast. If I read about two in a field and one taken, I immediately think "rapture." The phrase "great tribulation" brings to mind a coming seven-year period. I then read these often taught ideas into the texts of the Bible, regardless of the context of the Biblical passage, and far too often without an openness to a better understanding. We need to be aware of this flawed way of thinking, as it is natural to most of us without our realization.
Many want to start their study of the end times with the books of Revelation, Daniel, or Ezekiel. These can be difficult texts. As I referenced at the beginning of this essay, there is wisdom in studying the simpler texts of scripture before moving to the complex. Those things which are easy to decipher lay boundaries around how more difficult passages can be interpreted. Because of this, we know that we are in an age, and there seems to be one more age to come. We know that we will not expect the moment of the Lord's return. We know that there will be no second chances for those who are caught unaware. We know that Jesus and those who trust in him by grace are the only true covenantal Jews (Romans 2:25Romans 2:25 (ESV)
For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. ). We know that Jesus is the true Israel.
In looking at eschatology in Matthew, it will be beneficial to start with an outline. This will help us to note the flow of events and the scene which has been set for the reader. Let's start with Jesus' triumphal entry in Matthew 21.
In Matthew 21:18-22 we have the cursing of the fig tree. I have so often heard this selection of scripture pulled out of context to promote the idea that whatever you pray for, you can have or do, if you only have enough faith. Preachers will go on and on about how we can "move the mountains out of our own lives - the mountain of poor finances... the mountain of sickness... the mountain of (fill in the blank with your desire)." Is that what this selection of scripture is about? We must consider the context. The passage reads as follows:
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 only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Going back to our outline, we note the flow of events. Jesus has entered the temple in a crowd of glory the day before and immediately cleanses the temple. He goes home for the night and returns the next day. On his way back, he curses the fig tree because it did not have fruit when it should have had fruit. After his return, the chief priests and elders demand to know where he gets his authority and Jesus proceeds to tell many parables against the leaders, speaking judgement to them, showing how they will be destroyed and the kingdom will be given to others. The demonstration at the fig tree is not merely an aside regarding how powerful we can be if we just have faith, but rather it is a visual example of Jesus' judgements on the Jewish elders and chief priests. Observing the cursing of the fig tree as part of the flow of events described in these chapters, it becomes clear that the fig tree represents the Jewish leaders. Jesus is going to the temple, and because he will find no fruit there he will curse these leaders in a series of judgements, and their position is going to wither away, and they will never again bear fruit for the people (for they have not been bearing fruit when they should - just like the fig tree). Picture the scene. Jesus and his disciples are walking back to the temple mount from Bethany, which is on the other side of the Mount of Olives. The text says he was returning to the city, so it was likely that the group was able to see the city as they approached. It is quite possible that Jesus gestured with his hands towards the temple mount when he said "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen." Jesus was showing the disciples, with the visual example of the fig tree, what was going to happen to the temple and the elders. Just as he curses the fig tree, Jesus then goes in to Jerusalem and curses the chief priests and elders in judgement, proclaiming a similar fate on them as he did to the fig tree. This flows right in with the rest of Matthew chapters 21-25. The lesson is still there for the disciples, yes... but that fig tree, those mountains, in the immediate context of the passage are the corrupt, fruitless religious systems of old that are to whither or be thrown into the sea. Luke expresses similar verbiage immediately before Jesus cleansed the temple in Luke 19:41-44Luke 19:41-44 (ESV)
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” . We will see this again with a similar reference to the then current temple at the beginning of Matthew 24.
Jesus sets the scene in verse 1. Jesus has just left the temple for the last time, lamenting "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37b). It is two days before the Passover and Jesus' going to the cross. The disciples point out to Jesus the temple buildings and Jesus responds "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." (Matthew 24:2). Remember in the journey earlier that same day when Jesus cursed the fig tree, similar words were used - "but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen." The earlier lesson of the fig tree would still be fresh in the disciples' minds. Having just heard all of Jesus's prophetic proclamations against the Jews, it would be clear that Jesus is once again referencing the then current temple - the one they have just left and are looking at. History proves to us the Jesus' words and warnings did come true. Less than 40 years later, the temple was utterly destroyed.
While sitting across from the temple on the mount of Olives, the disciples ask him about these things ("Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" - Matthew 24:3). We must remember the disciples' mindset. They did not believe Jesus was going to have to die, despite what Jesus had told them. They were looking for him to inaugurate his Kingdom. They were expecting him to take his (earthly) throne - soon - during that time in history. This is simply what Jewish people in general believed about the Messiah based on their incomplete interpretation of the scriptures.
The disciples likely had multiple stages of future events "lumped together" because they did not fully realize the suffering part of Jesus as the Servant. Jesus, knowing the separation of events, answers their question in two parts. The answer to Part 1 ("when will these things be") referencing the destruction of the temple may be found in Matthew 24:4-35Matthew 24:4-35 (ESV)
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place ( let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. . For this, there will be many signs. Jesus wraps up his answer about the destruction of the first temple, again confirming that "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." (Matthew 24:34). For Part 2 ("and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"), Jesus begins at verse 36 ("But concerning that day and hour no one knows..."). For this, there will be no sign or warning. We are simply to be ready.
Notice the transition. We go from "all these things" and "this generation" to "But concerning that day and hour no one knows" and "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking... and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."
It seems obvious in the text as written - the signs described for the destruction of the temple were for "this generation" which was not to pass away before the prophecy was fulfilled. By contrast, the signs for the return of the Son of Man are simply non-existent. Jesus will give parables in Matthew chapter 25 stressing this, and the fact that we simply must be ready because we will not know or even expect when Jesus will come. As Jesus says, "the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know" (Matthew 24:50Matthew 24:50 (ESV)
the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know ). From this, it would seem that if we expect him for any tangible reason, then we are likely in error regarding that reason.
Before we move on, we must consider, how do Jesus and the New Testament use the term "generation?" (Strong's G1074). We must do this because there is modern controversy involving attempts to justify certain eschatological positions by saying "generation" means all of time from Christ until the rapture. Here, we must let scripture inform us.
In Luke 17:25, Jesus said "But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation." It cannot be denied here that Jesus was referring to the current generation that would crucify him. In Matthew 23:36, after speaking several woes to the Pharisees, Jesus says "Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation." Again, it seems clear that Jesus is speaking to the soon coming destruction that will fall on that generation of Pharisees (and which did fall on them in 70 AD). When speaking to the people, Jesus regularly refers to the group of people he is speaking to as (this) "generation" (Matthew 11:16; 12:39, 41-42, 45; 16:4; 17:17Matthew 11:16; 12:39, 41-42, 45; 16:4 & 17:17 (ESV)
11:16 But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
12:39, 41-42, 45 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah... The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here... Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
16:4 "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
17:17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”
). In Acts 2:40Acts 2:40 (ESV)
And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” , Peter, preaching at Pentecost, exhorts, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." Acts 8:33Acts 8:33 (ESV)
In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” , referencing Isaiah, refers to the generation of Jesus. In Acts 13:36Acts 13:36 (ESV)
For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, , it says that David, after serving his generation, died. In Acts 14:16 and 15:21Acts 14:16 & 15:21 (ESV)
14:16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.
15:21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” , previous generations are referenced. The word appears less often in the epistles, but in Ephesians 3:5, 21Ephesians 3:5, 21 (ESV)
which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit... to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. and Philippians 2:15Philippians 2:15 (ESV)
that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, , the word again easily fits the common definition of generation we would think of when we say something like, "my generation" (as being different from my parents' or child's generation). Based on how this word is used everywhere else in the New Testament, it seems clear that when Jesus said "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place," he meant that very generation of people he was speaking to.
I believe it is best to start with consideration of the division. In Matthew 24:34-35, Jesus says:
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Here, Jesus references the entirety of the first half of his answer and stresses his words by affirming the surety of his words. He then continues with verse 36Matthew 24:36 (ESV)
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. , speaking to the latter part of the disciples' question.
In Matthew 24:4-14 we have the following:
Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
We must not disconnect this conversation from the scene. When Jesus speaks of "the end" he is likely speaking about the end of the temple, as that is what they have just been discussing. Jesus promised the destruction of temple and the disciples asked "when will these things be?" This is what prompted the very answer quoted above. It must also be noticed that nearly everything in these verses has been happening since the beginning of time. Wars, famines, earthquakes... these have always been with us. For the disciples, being afflicted and killed and hated... this was their soon coming lot, as proven by the rest of the New Testament. Betrayal and hatred, false prophets and deception... these were spoken of by Paul in his letters to the churches. Love growing cold... Paul speaks of those who have left the faith. John speaks of this as well in the letters to the churches.
Additionally, the historian Josephus speaks to these things in the middle first century.
Now this next one is interesting, and I think we must consider the original context and understanding that would have been perceived by the disciples. Matthew 24:14 says:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
For all my life, I have heard this verse described this way: "Once we preach the gospel to the very last lost tribe in Africa somewhere, Jesus will return." While the soundbite seems good, there is a logical flaw in this thinking. There have been generations of tribes who have come and gone who never had the gospel preached to them. There have been many nations over the history of the world who have not, and will now never have the gospel preached to them because they are now passed. If this verse means that the gospel must be preached everywhere, then it simply can't be done, because our world is in constant flux and regeneration, and what would have been considered a tribe and nation 1000 years ago is long gone in today's world, and there is now no way to reach them. For this verse, we must let scripture inform us.
Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians in approximately 60 AD. In that letter, Paul says the following in Colossians 1:23:
If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.
Rather than making Jesus' words applicable to a logical impossibility, we should consider the audience Jesus was speaking to. For those disciples, they saw the gospel spread out from Jerusalem into all the adjacent countries - all the Jewish known countries even - and the world was "turned upside down" accordingly. Any group of people who would have known of the temple in Jerusalem would have heard the gospel preached before that temple's destruction. We shouldn't stumble at these words looking for some greater fulfillment. If Paul didn't in Colossians 1:23Colossians 1:23 (ESV)
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. , then neither should we.
In Matthew 24:15-20 we find:
So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.
Again, for much of my life, I've only heard the "abomination of desolation standing in the holy place" as being the beast or antichrist sitting in the most holy place of the Jewish temple. This then necessitates A: an existing temple, and B: for that temple to actually be "the holy place." For this to be true, a third temple would have to be built and God would have to declare the third temple to be a holy place! This would negate all Christ has done for us which caused the temple veil to be torn from top to bottom. We would have to go from the fulfilled type - us being the holy, living temple with Christ being the chief cornerstone, back to the former shadow of a mere physical temple. Instead of God's presence resting in us, His Church, God's presence would have to go back to resting in the holy of holies in a temple made with hands. This all seems... unlikely, and insulting to God's finished work in Christ.
So, how should we interpret the abomination of desolation? Let's look at the parallel passage in Luke for some clarity. Luke 21:20-24 says:
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Comparing the two texts, we must ask, what happens before the people of Judah (a very specific people and place on earth) are to flee to the mountains? In Matthew we have "So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)" and in Luke we have "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near." Examining these two passages, it becomes clear that the abomination of desolation is the event that occurs when the Roman armies surround Jerusalem, and then proceed to level the temple, leaving no stone upon another. Prior to the leveling, history tells us that those who heeded Jesus' warning fled to the mountains, and were saved by abandoning the temple in doing so.
While the phrase "abomination of desolation" may sound impressive, and for the pre-tribulation rapture people, futuristic, we need to take the phrase at face value. An abomination can be anything that is repulsive to God. Desolation is simply destruction or devastation. Josephus gives detail regarding the destruction of Jerusalem:
And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns** to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.
**Additional note by Havercamp (translator) - "...the entire religion of the Roman camp almost consisted in worshipping the ensigns, in swearing by the ensigns, and in preferring the ensigns before all the (other) gods"
So, from the above we know that prior to the destruction of the temple, the Romans held abominable worship and sacrifice inside the temple of God. Knowing history, it is very logical to see that the "abomination of desolation" section of prophecy was fulfilled immediately prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
In Matthew 24:21, we continue with the words:
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
Strong words, and it is easy to see why people interpret this to only mean some future, great, never-before-seen severe tribulation. However, is it possible that a form of hyperbole is being used that would have been understood as such by the disciples? Is it possible that the disciples would have heard "this will be the worst thing that we will ever see in our lifetimes"? Let us consider. History confirms for us that the destruction of the temple took place over the Passover season. Estimates are that over one million Jews died during this time of tribulation. Due to the destruction, there was great famine, and Josephus reports of one lady, named Mary, who cooked and ate her own son! People were in Jerusalem from all over (due to Passover), so destruction would have fallen on people from a wide area, not just on people who were residents of Jerusalem. Considering the much smaller population of the world 2000 years ago, this was a significant event!
Again, we need to let scripture inform scripture, lest we get carried away with our 21st century applications to 1st century (and earlier) texts.
Consider the comparison of Exodus 10:14 and Joel 2:2:
The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again.
(speaking of a different swarm of Locust) ...a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.
Also consider the wording of Ezekiel 5:9, speaking about Jerusalem being destroyed:
And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again.
And in Daniel 9:12, we hear the words of Daniel describing in prayer what God has done:
He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem.
Similar phraseology is used in 2 Kings 18:5 regarding Hezekiah:
He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.
Yet after Hezekiah came Josiah, where it is recorded in 2 Kings 23:25:
Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.
Concerning hyperbole, we must also remember the words of Jesus in Luke 14:26:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Once we see how such hyperbole and phrasing is used in both the New and Old Testaments, it is easy to see that the straightforward nature of Jesus' prophecy against Jerusalem, to be fulfilled in that generation, was fulfilled in that generation. The disciples, knowing the method of communication demonstrated in the scriptures above, would have easily understood what Jesus was communicating. They knew from Jesus' words that the destruction was going to happen in their lifetimes and was to be bad. And indeed, it happened in their lifetimes, and it was terrible.
Matthew 24:22 states:
And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
This is a difficult one. I've heard some say, referring to the pre-tribulation or other rapture scenario, that they days will literally be "cut short" or "shortened," but this has never set right with me. Miraculously, God could do this, but it would just mean a day was shorter - we could just use more of them to fill the same amount of time. Most likely this speaks to God bringing short the totality of the destruction so that not everyone is consumed, for the sake of the elect. This could apply to a future end-times scenario, but it could just as easily refer to the Roman invasion of Jerusalem. We do know from history that while over one million died, a hundred thousand were permitted to live. It could well be that for the called elect among this group, they were allowed to live, so that ultimately they could accept Jesus as savior.
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
As with much that has been said, this could apply to nearly any time in history. History speaks to the numerous false christs that have come, both before and after the time of Jesus. 1 John 4:1 confirms: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." Also see 2 John 1:72 John 1:7 (ESV)
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. and 2 Peter 2:12 Peter 2:1 (ESV)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. . Regarding the last line "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather," I think there is sense in the words from Albert Barns' Notes on the Bible (Copyright 1884-1885):
The words in this verse are proverbial. Vultures and eagles easily ascertain where dead bodies are, and hasten to devour them. So with the Roman army. Jerusalem is like a dead and putrid corpse. Its life is gone, and it is ready to be devoured. The Roman armies will find it out, as the vultures do a dead carcass, and will come around it to devour it. This proverb also teaches a universal truth. Wherever wicked people are, there will be assembled the instruments of their chastisement. The providence of God will direct them there, as the vultures are directed to a dead carcass.
This verse is connected with the preceding by the word “for,” implying that this is a reason for what is said there that the Son of man would certainly come to destroy the city, and that he would come suddenly. The meaning is that he would come, by means of the Roman armies, as “certainly;” as “suddenly,” and as unexpectedly as whole flocks of vultures and eagles, though unseen before, see their prey at a great distance and suddenly gather in multitudes around it.
Matthew 24:29 continues with these words:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Of course, many say these are literal, future-coming cosmological signs, with the sun being darkened and the moon not giving (reflecting?) light and the stars falling from heaven and the powers of the heavens being shaken. Is this realistic? Once the first star fell, the entire earth would be burned up with it's approach. Or if the sun was truly darkened, it would take mere days for the surface of the earth to freeze solid. Could it be that these are not literal cosmological signs, but instead a metaphorical representation of a great calamity? Fortunately, scripture shows us by example that this is merely figurative language - language that has already been used of previous destructions. Consider the words of Isaiah in chapter 13, speaking of the now past destruction of Babylon:
Isaiah 13:4b-5 - The Lord of hosts is mustering a host for battle. They come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens, the Lord and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.
Isaiah 13:10 - For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.
Isaiah 13:12-13 - I will make people more rare than fine gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.
Also consider Isaiah 34:4, speaking to the destruction of Edom:
All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree. (I love how even in the Old Testament, withering leaves from a fig tree represent the destruction of a city)
Or speaking to the destruction of Pharaoh, in Ezekiel 32:6-8 we find:
I will drench the land even to the mountains with your flowing blood, and the ravines will be full of you. When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord God.
Also consider the texts of Joel 2:10, 3:15-16Joel 2:10 (ESV)
2:10 The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
3:15-16 The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. ; Isaiah 24:23Isaiah 24:23 (ESV)
Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders. ; and Amos 8:9Amos 8:9 (ESV)
“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight." . I think we must remember the original audience and intent of the message. This is no veiled mystery. These are all simply metaphorical representations of various horrors that were to come. To anyone living prior to the electronic age, a vision of all the lights of heaven going dark or falling to the earth would be terrifying indeed. It is logical that the disciples understood Jesus in this sense, as this was the verbiage of their scriptures.
Similar language was even used at Pentecost when the Spirit was given to the Church. Peter, quoting Joel, says that what the people were seeing was a fulfillment of prophecy which included the words "And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood..." (Acts 2:19). I enjoy knowing that cosmological metaphorical language can be used to describe both horrors of judgment and gifts from God to the Church.
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
First, we must consider the word "then" which begins this passage. Both Strong's and Thayer suggest that "at that time" is a fair translation of the thought. If Jesus had said "then later," or "at another time" or "in the future" or some other similar thing, then we could disconnect verse 30 from the previous, but as it is, we can not.
Most who read these words will instantly think of the coming of Jesus at the end times to rapture the church or to bring the end of things. They will see this as the time of the gathering of all the saints to meet up with God. This could be a correct interpretation, but I think in light of the rest of the chapter and Jesus' soon coming words that all these things (of which he has been speaking) will happen in "this generation," we need to consider better possibilities.
First, ask yourself, does this text say that Jesus is coming to earth, or does this text only say that he is coming on the clouds? Does this text say Jesus is coming to take us or to rapture his Church (or only his Church, leaving others behind)? Where else in scripture do we see Jesus coming on the clouds?
Consider Daniel 7:13-14:
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
We know that when Jesus was taken up to heaven in Acts 1, it was in a cloud (Acts 1:9Acts 1:9 (ESV)
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. ). We also know that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32Acts 2:32 (ESV)
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. ). Do we assume Jesus, having won the victory at the Cross and being now seated at the right hand of the Father in Glory does not yet have dominion and glory and a kingdom, and that we are all not under his sovereign control? Acts 2:36 says:
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
Does a Lord not have Lordship? Acts 5:31 adds:
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins
Does a Leader not have Leadership? In writing to the churches, John, in Revelation 1:5 says:
and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth." (emphasis mine).
John saw Jesus in his heavenly position as the ruler of kings on earth. We must also consider the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:20-23:
…that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
This has been Jesus' position since he was presented to the Ancient of Days at his being taken up in the clouds in the presence of his watching disciples. When we consider the whole of scripture, it seems quite possible that Matthew 24:30Matthew 24:30 (ESV)
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. represents the demonstration of Jesus' rule, authority, power and dominion in destroying the no longer needed temple. The sign of the son of man could well have been the gathering Roman armies (God's judgment on Israel for rejecting the Christ).
As I wrote the above, the timing was difficult for me. In my mind, I saw the "coming on the clouds of heaven" part as being a one-time event that needed to be correctly placed at Jesus' ascension, especially in light of Daniel 7:13-14Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. . The timing of the text of Matthew 24:30Matthew 24:30 (ESV)
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. , though, prefers Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven as being right before the judgement on the temple in 70 AD, or less likely, a one-time event at the return of Christ. However, as we read further in Matthew, we see that Jesus' "coming on the clouds of heaven" not as a single event at a point in history, but as a persistent event unfolding throughout New Testament history. Consider Jesus' own words to the high priest in Matthew 26:63-64:
But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (emphasis mine)
Jesus' timing is different than our own. In some sense that is outside of our limited understanding of time, Jesus "from now on" is seen both at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.
In all of this, we must also consider what Jesus says in Matthew 10:23. Starting in verse 22:
...and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 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.
Here, Jesus is speaking specifically to his disciples, telling them about the persecution they will endure. Many scholars believe that the "Son of Man comes" refers to the destruction of the temple, which would have occurred before those specific disciples had gone through all the towns of Israel. "That is, in fleeing from persecutors from one city to another, you shall not have gone to every city in Judea until the end of the Jewish economy shall occur." (from Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible).
This better line of thinking regarding phrases such as "coming on the clouds" or "coming in his kingdom" or "Son of Man comes" also assists with understanding of other points in the New Testament such as Matthew 16:28:
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.”
Some (including myself) have said this must refer to the transfiguration, which happened a few days later in Matthew 17. I know I have said this as I saw no better options. The parallels to the Matthew 16:28Matthew 16:28 (ESV)
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.” are in Mark 9:1Mark 9:1 (ESV)
And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” and Luke 9:27Luke 9:27 (ESV)
But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” . They are worded as "see the kingdom of God after it has come with power" and "see the kingdom of God" respectively. While in the past I may have believed the transfiguration as the best explanation of Jesus' words in Matthew 16:28Matthew 16:28 (ESV)
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.” , it was hard to declare this with confidence. To say seeing Jesus with face shining like the sun and clothes white as light while talking with Moses and Elijah is the same as seeing "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" or "the kingdom of God after it has come with power" is a weaker argument than I wanted it to be. The Mark wording is especially difficult because of the word "after." However, once we no longer are bound to seeing the Son of Man coming as being a single event in time, it becomes clear that there have been many people who have seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Consider John, who lived longer than any of the other apostles. John had seen Jesus' death vindicated in the destruction of Jerusalem. He saw the church grow from feeble beginnings hiding in an upper room to a world changing army that had spread in gospel preaching power to much of the then known world. This may very well be an appropriate example of seeing "the kingdom of God after it has come with power."
What we do know is that Jesus' words in Matthew 16:28 could not have been about his second coming, as the words "some standing here who will not taste death" negates that possibility. Because of this, we can't Biblically define the phrase "Son of Man coming in his kingdom" or similar phrases as (exclusively) referring to the second coming of Jesus or a rapture event. We must consider this truth wherever this type of phrase appears in scripture.
And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Those who follow the pre-tribulation rapture view would say this refers to God returning and gathering all the saints. This could well be referring to an end-time gathering. It could be that verses 30 and 31Matthew 24:30-31 (ESV)
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. both do, stated as an aside in the discourse of events that were to occur in the sight of the then "this generation." This is not a certainty, though, and it does break the flow of the discourse, so other options should be considered, as we have been doing in this essay.
If verse 30 is about the destruction of Jerusalem, it is possible that verse 31Matthew 24:31 (ESV)
And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. is about God's protection of all Christians in that destruction. Remember, it was Passover season and people "from the four winds" would have been present in Jerusalem. It is also said in history that "not a single Christian died in the destruction of Jerusalem." It could be that God's angels (or messengers) gathered his elect in protection during the siege.
Considering that the word for angels (Strongs G32, Transliteration: aggelos) can refer to angels, demons, or a person carrying a message from God and even an event which carries such a message, depending on context, we must consider that we might be the messengers in verse 31Matthew 24:31 (ESV)
And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. , and that we have been called to gather his elect from the four winds with the gospel message.
Overall, I am unsettled on Matthew 24:31Matthew 24:31 (ESV)
And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. , but there is no reason to say it requires a future view.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
In finishing this section of discourse, Jesus refers to everything he has said from verse 4Matthew 24:4 (ESV)
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray." . Just as with a fig tree, when you see all these things (he has just talked about), know that it (the destruction of Jerusalem) is near, at the very gates. This was all to happen to the disciples' generation, and if we take Jesus at his word when he says "this generation" then they did. I think the scripture in Matthew 24 fully allows for this. When the verbiage is compared to the rest of scripture, the message is actually quite plain. Only when one needs the text to speak to some still future event do we have to deny the patterns of cosmological speech and hyperbole used elsewhere in biblical texts.
After this, with the start of Matthew 24:36Matthew 24:36 (ESV)
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. , Jesus says "But," expressing contrast to what he has just said, and moves onto "that day and hour" (his second coming) and for that day and hour, there will be no sign, and no one will know, or even expect. We are simply to be ready. This was discussed earlier in this essay, but as a postscript, also consider Acts 1:7, and Jesus' final response to his disciples' asking when he would restore the Kingdom to Israel:
It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
In conclusion, I can't say I'm fully settled on things, but to the younger me that knew nothing but the pre-tribulation rapture view of eschatology, the above better interpretation of the Matthew texts tears apart so much of what I had been taught. Compared to what always seemed so very complex, the simplicity is overwhelming. I've looked ahead to the "seventy weeks" of Daniel 9 which is the very foundation of the seven-year tribulation doctrine, and it already seems clear that if I write an essay regarding that text, the pre-tribulation rapture view I once knew will likely be further decimated by a careful look at the chapter. But that's for another essay.