Has Matthew 24 Been Fulfilled?

Whenever I talk about the rapture, I refer to the events of Matthew 24 as being in the future, as part of what many people commonly call “the Tribulation,” or the last seven years before Armageddon, which is more accurately called Daniel's 70th Week (Dan. 9:24). In recent weeks, however, I have had a number of people ask me whether the prophecies spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24 could have been fulfilled in A.D. 70. This is a widely accepted position, called the preterist position, and bears some comment.

These prophecies in Matthew 24 can be condensed as follows:

"Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor even shall be...Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, 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" (Matt. 24:15–21, 29–31).

Indeed, there are similarities here to the events that occurred in A.D. 70. At that time, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, tore down the temple, and massacred many of its citizens. This was a time of terrible persecution for the first century Christians and Jews. There is also evidence that an eclipse and great earthquake occurred at that time, seeming to coincide with the cosmic signs of Matthew 24:29. Could this have been the Great Tribulation and the fulfillment of Matthew 24?

Some people, including many scholars, believe that the answer is “yes.” Those who take this position are called “preterists,” and this position is taught in many mainstream churches and denominations. However, there are very serious problems with this position, which I will discuss here in brief.

First, the specific events Jesus discusses cannot be completely, and literally, fulfilled by the preterist view. In trying to match the events of A.D. 70 with those in Matthew 24, critical details are either slightly off or are missing entirely. This imperfect match suggests that the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the temple is only a foreshadowing of the very detailed prophecy in Matthew 24, with the literal (sometimes called "partial") fulfillment determined for the end time. The use of a partial fulfillment for a contemporary event, with a complete fulfillment waiting until the end time, is a common technique used throughout scripture. This is what we see here.

Let's look at some of the unfulfilled prophecies in Matthew 24 that require this to be a still future event.

Unfulfilled Signs

1. In this prophecy, Jesus said, “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet...then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains...” (Matt. 24:15-16). In calling this “the abomination of desolation,” Jesus was referring back to an event in 175 B.C., when Antiochus Epiphanes, a Greek conqueror, defiled the temple by slaughtering a pig on the altar (Daniel 11:31), then slaughtered many of the Jews in Jerusalem. When Jesus gave this prophecy, He was telling His listeners that such an event would happen again, as part of the last days. Paul goes on to describe this defiler as one who declares himself to be God, or in the place of God, in 2 Thess. 2:4.

Although the Romans destroyed the temple in A.D. 70 and there was a great slaughter, and many Jews did, in fact, flee to the mountains as Jesus foretold in Matthew 24, there was no such pronouncement of godship and no such defilement of the temple. While the temple was torn down, this event did not fulfill Jesus' prophecy to the letter. It was fulfilling a different prophecy: “Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone [of the temple] shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2). In Matt. 24:15-21, in describing the abomination of desolation and the Great Tribulation, Jesus was clearly referring to a very specific future event that was not fulfilled in A.D. 70.

2. Also as part of this prophecy, Jesus said there would come a tribulation so great that there had been none like it, nor would there ever be one like it again. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21). Jesus was very specific. Nor ever shall be. We know from history that there have, in fact, been much worse catastrophes for the Jews than occurred in A.D. 70, namely the Holocaust, during which 6 million Jews were slaughtered, and the terror reign of Stalin, under which 9 million Jews were killed. The greatest slaughter of Jews in the history of the world did not occur in A.D. 70.

3. The triple sign of the sun turning dark, the moon turning to blood, and the stars falling from the sky did not happen in A.D. 70. There is evidence only of an earthquake and an eclipse. If there had been an astrological phenomenon that caused the moon to appear red and if the stars had fallen from the sky — say a meteor shower of some kind — this would have been recorded. As it was, the historical events of A.D. 70 are far from the sign that Jesus said to look for.

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