Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “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 24:1, ESV)
Matthew chapter 24 is an interesting chapter. Jesus says some remarkable things that different groups interpret in various ways -- I'll discuss four:
- All Jesus describes in Matthew 24 has not happened yet and happen sometime in the future.
- All Jesus describes in Matthew 24 happened in the past around 70 AD.
- Failed Preterist
- Jesus and the Gospel authors meant the words to fit within the disciples' generation, but one or more of the prophecy failed. This is popular in a growing segment of skeptical biblical scholars.
- Some of what Jesus said in Matthew 24 happened in 70 AD. Some of it continues to happen. Some if it has not happened yet. Jesus returning in glory with loud trumpets has not happened yet.
Each of these views have problems. I am assuming that Matthew was written prior to 70 AD, although it does not make that much difference if passage was written later. I will concentrate on what the original audience probably thought about the passage. Looking at the disciples reaction to Jesus' words provides clues how those hearing this in the first century would think about the passage. I they would understand it in the following way:
- The events are going to start within the normal life span of the disciples (v. 34).
- The gospel will be preached to the whole world before the end happens (v. 14).
- Events listed as birth pangs that will signal that the end is coming, but the end is not here yet (v. 6-7). These birth pangs include:
- False Christs.
- Events which will defile the temple and Jerusalem, called the abomination of desolation, will signal a great tribulation is imminent. People with Jewish heritage then would remember Antiochus Epiphanes and his desecration of the Second Temple. Those who are alert will be able to see the signs and flee (v. 15-20).
- The comming of Christ will be sudden and visible to all (v. 27). It will have the following properties:
- All nations and tribes will see (v. 30).
- It will be unmistakable, accompanied by loud trumpet, great glory (v. 31).
- All the elect is seperated from the non-elect and gathered at this time (v. 31).
- Accompanied by abrupt changes in the heavens (v. 29).
- No one knows the time of Christ's return (v. 36), and it seems this will be the case until just before Christ's return.
- The events seem to all take place in quick succession (v. 29).
- All that is described will absolutely occur (v. 35).
None of the various views (Futurist, Preterist, Failed Preterist, Eclectic) appear to fit the list of observations perfectly. People in each perspective will claim with correct analysis, their view will fit perfectly. So far, I have not seen any analysis that perfectly explains Matthew 24. I am not saying that there is no correct analysis or the correct way that Matthew 24 should be understood which would eliminate all the issues -- I'm sure there is. Perhaps its been in front of my nose all the time but in my stupidty and stubborness I do not see it.
- There are two types of Futurists: Historical Premillennialists and Dispensational Premillennialists. Dispensational by far is the most popular view today, although it is a a relatively young view. Historical Premillennialism had supporters for it dating almost all the way back to the "apostolic fathers". Historical does not have the concept of the rapture of the church.
Strengths -- Futurist's strengths are their concern for upholding the literal reading of the Bible. However, the futurist's blind spot is not recognizing how much they alagorize and symbolize the Bible. The strengths include:
- Recognizes the gospel goes to the entire world (2).
- Recognizes the birth pang aspects of many of the signs (3).
- Recognizes the terrible tribulation accompanying the abomination of desolation (4).
- Recognizes the coming of Christ will be visible to all (part of 5).
- Recognizes the events take place in quick succession, in the span of less than a decade.
- Commitment to these prophecies being true and will come to pass.
- The events happen in the distant future for the disciples, violating (1). None of that generation will be alive for these events. There has to be some creative exegesis to get around this issue.
- For Dispensational Premillennialists, there will be a seven year warning when Christ's second coming will occur, violating (6). When the secret rapture of Christ happens, there will be a seven year count down to when Christ will come again in visible glory. Historical Premillennialists do not have this problem, because there is no secret Rapture for them.
- Preterists' greatest strengths are their serious commitment to the prophecy being fulfilled within the same generation of the disciples. Preterist try to follow the literal sense of the Bible. Of anyone, Preterists are the one who understand the nearness of escatological language in the Bible.
Strengths -- The Preterists have a number of strengths:
- The events were going to complete by 70 AD, well within the normal life span of the disciples (1).
- The recognition of birth pangs (3). Preterists recognize that there would be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famine that would point to the future return of Christ, but would not mean it would happen immediately. That said, the birth pangs and relatively short, historically speaking, only lasting a few decades from when Christ made his prophetic statements.
- Recognizing the terrible tribulation accompanying the abomination of desolation (4).
- The coming of Christ is sudden -- but not visible to all (5).
- No one could predict when Christ return until the Roman army blockaded Jerusalem (6).
- The events take place in quick succession (7).
- The Preterist view asserts that all the Christ predicted did come true (8).
- The gospel was not close to being preached to the whole world in 70 AD (2). The gospel did not reach the northen european tribes, extend throught Africa, throughout Asia, the Americas, and Australia. Preterists claim that peoples from all the known world were present at Pentecost and so that was the intent of the preaching prophecy.
- The coming of Christ was not visible to all in the world in 70 AD (5). R.C. Sproul and Gary DeMar claim that Christ made the appearence that was talked about in Matthew 24. However, the appearance was not accompanied by great glory for all the world to see. It was not loud (with trumpet call). Sproul talks about how Josephus writes that there were signs in the clouds around Jerusalem at the destruction of the temple. Even if Josephus' signs in the sky are to be taken as the manifestation of Christ coming in the clouds, it was not visible outside the environs of Jerusalem. The rest of the world did not take note of it that day.
- Failed Preterist
- The major weakness of the Failed Preterist view is their low view of scripture. Usually this view is the position of radical skeptics to the Christian faith.
Strengths -- The primary strengths of this view is that it holds that Christ and the very early Christians believed in all that Christ is said to have predicted in Matthew 24.
Weaknesses -- The major weakness of this view is that while Jesus might have gotten the destruction of the temple right, he did not get his second coming correct. Thus people holding this view believe that Jesus failed in his prophecy.
- Eclecticism is almost a middle ground between Futurism and Preterism. It picks the strengths of Futurism and Preterism while trying to avoid the major weaknesses of either.
Strengths -- The strengths of this view include:
- This recognizes Matthew 24 predicts the destruction of the temple that happened in 70 AD. The destruction occurred well within the normal lifespan of the disciples (1).
- This recognizes that the gospel will be preached to the whole world before Christ returns (2).
- Recognizes there will be birth pangs that will signal that the end is coming (3). For the Eclectic view, the birth pangs are recognized as a long process, spanning millennia. They argue that these pangs remind us that we are to be ready at all times.
- Recognizes there will be a terrible tribulation accompanying the abomination of desolation (4). With the Preterist, the Eclectic view recognizes that Jesus was referring to destruction of the temple in Matthew 24.
- Recognizes that the coming of Christ will be sudden and visible to all (5).
- Recognizes that no one will know the time of Christ's return (6).
- Affirms that all that is described will absolutely occur (8).
- The biggest weakness of this view is that there is a very long interval from the start of the great tribulation to the time that Christ returns (violating 7).
As I evaluate the various perspectives, I immediately rule out Failed Preterism because I believe that all of Christ's words will happen. Secondly, I rule out Futurism because it is very obvious to me that Jesus was referring to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD in Matthew.
Once upon a time, Goldilocks on one fine morning was walking in the woods and came the House of the Three Escatological Bears. The bears were out on their morning walk and in a deep passionate discussion of the fine points of end times. They were so absorbed in their discussion that the bears forgot to shut the door and left their breakfast of porridge on the table.