Introduction: A Hard Pill to Swallow
1 A Preliminary Caution
2 The Elect: God's Children Throughout the Ages
3 ‘Parousia’—The Royal Return of Our King
4 The Church Fathers Taught Applicability.
5 The Composition of Matthew 24:1–31
6 It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better
7 The Time Frame Established
8 The Arrival of the Son of Man
9 Satan's Campaign of Deception
10 Confusion, Confusion, Confusion
11 Reconciling the Timelines
12 Four Hundred and Ninety Years (Daniel 9:24)
13 Jerusalem's Timeline (Daniel 9:25)
14 The ‘Terminus Ad Quem’ of Jerusalem
15 The Final Act—Yet to Be (Daniel 9:27)
16 Conclusion: The Most Important Implication
Some years ago, the author had one of those unforgettable evenings that often serves as an invitation to attend a home Bible study, he found himself sitting in a circle with about thirty other people. The leader of the Bible study began his lesson. He read the passage of scripture for consideration, then provided instructions to the group. Starting on his left, each person was to answer the question: “What does this passage mean to me?” As a teacher of hermeneutics at a leading Bible college at the time, the author knew he was in for a treat.
With paper and pen, the author listened closely as each person attempted an answer. Sure enough, it was not long before one gave an interpretation that ran counter to another. To the author’s amazement, no one caught it. About an hour or so later, it was the author’s turn. By then, he had recorded at least seven different “meanings” of the text. Only on two occasions did people notice a contradiction between two or more answers.
From the perspective of one who has spent years studying and teaching hermeneutics, the problem arose because the original question itself was problematic. The leader had confused interpretation with application. Before attempting to apply the basic meaning of any text, one needs to first gain an appropriate interpretation of the passage. A passage may have multiple applications, but it can have only one meaning. This is true even for prophetic passages, which may establish a pattern that may occur more than once. In addition, the meaning of a passage may involve several aspects that may, in turn, involve total or partial fulfillments. Yet, fundamentally, a passage still has but one meaning. At the beginning, the Bible study leader should have explained the basic meaning of the passage and then given his class the opportunity to explain how that passage might apply to each of them. This is what he was attempting to do. Unfortunately, he asked the wrong question.
Many commentaries written about Matthew 24:1–31 appear to make the same error. They confuse interpretation with application, primarily because they begin with the wrong question. Only after identifying the best possible understanding of what the text means should we attempt to explain to whom (or for whom) that meaning applies.
In 1989, David L. Turner wrote an article in which he surveyed the possible ways evangelicals interpret Matthew 24:1–31. He wrote,
Evangelical studies of Matthew 24 tend to emphasize either the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem (preterist view), the eschatological return of Christ (futurist view), or some combination of the two (preterist-futurist views).
According to Turner, there are four basic views that capture most modern evangelicals on this passage. The first group, which Turner labels as futurist, “stresses the age-ending return of Christ and finds little if anything in these verses which addresses the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or the current age.” A great majority of futurists argue that Matthew 24:1–31 applies to a generation of Jews living in Israel immediately before the return of Christ. Most see no part of the bride of Christ involved in these events. A second view, the preterist view (which is completely opposite the first) locates the whole of Matthew 24:1–31 in the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. This position sees much of the description given in this passage as highly symbolic, not necessarily requiring a literal fulfillment. Turner classifies the two other views as “mediating positions between the first two.”
Turner, himself, takes the position that Matthew 24:1–31 is best explained by taking “the traditional preterist-futurist view.” Turner’s interpretation of Matthew 24:1–31 is that
[Matthew] 24:4–14 describes the course of the present age, during which “enduring to the end” and “preaching the gospel of the kingdom” are the Church’s duties. In 24:15–28 the “Abomination of Desolation” is understood to refer both to the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem and to the ultimate abomination against God’s people committed by the eschatological antichrist. Christ’s return to earth is described in 24:29–31. Finally, 24:32–41 underlines the certainty of the prophecy’s fulfillment with the assertion that Jesus’ contemporaries will not die before they see his prophecy fulfilled.
With the exception of the futurist view, all views listed by Turner demand that Matthew 24:1–31 deal in one way or another with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
It is our conviction that both preterists of various shades and most futurists have missed the significance of Matthew 24:1–31. Most dispensational futurist and covenantal preterists attempt application before proper interpretation. At a very basic level, the Gospel of Matthew is a set of short stories that biographically tell of Jesus and what He did during His ministry on earth. On a higher level, we have Matthew’s arrangement of the material to argue to a certain conclusion that is important to him about the kingship of Jesus. A final level concerns the Holy Spirit’s design of the material to teach us a deeper significance concerning how God is Immanuel (God with us).
Most scholars recognize that the Gospel of Matthew consists of five books, with a final section devoted to the Passion of Christ. Each book consists of a narrative section followed by a discourse section. Scholars are not in agreement concerning the significance of Matthew’s unique structure. Perhaps it was an easy way for Matthew to arrange the material for his audience to read and remember. Regardless, it is immediately obvious that, at a higher level, Matthew intends for his readers to conclude that Jesus is a true Davidite and that, as such, He can and does fulfill all the promises God gave concerning Abraham and David. Jesus is that long-awaited King who fulfills all of God’s promises to Israel.
At the highest level, the Holy Spirit also designed Matthew’s material to convey the extraordinary measures God undertook to accomplish His eternal plan to come to be among us as one of us, Immanuel. The route that God took is beyond human comprehension. For Jesus to be among us as one of us, He had to have a miraculous conception and birth and a life marked by suffering, rejection, death, resurrection, waiting, and eventual exaltation to reign upon the earth. It is important for any interpreter to keep these issues clear when offering insights into Matthew’s text.
It is our belief that many commentators do not understand Matthew’s use of the eschatological or the Olivet Discourse. The Lord’s primary purpose for giving the discourse to Peter, James, John, and Andrew is not necessarily the same purpose employed by Matthew. In fact, as we discuss in chapter six, Matthew uses the Olivet Discourse to answer an entirely different question than the one the Lord originally answered. The implications for interpretation are profound.
1 David L. Turner, “The Structure and Sequence of Matthew 24:1–41,” GTJ 10 (1989), 3.
2 Ibid., 4.
3 Ibid. Turner writes, “The first of these mediating positions, which will be called the traditional preterist-futurist view, sees a portion of the passage (usually 24:4–14) as a general description of the course of the present age, and another portion as a ‘double reference’ prophecy of position, which will be called the revised preterist-futurist view, sees alternating reference in these verses to the course of the age, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the coming of Christ.”
4 Ibid., 5.
6 Book 1: Chapters 1–4 Narrative; Chapters 5–7 Discourse; Book 2: Chapters 8–9 Narrative, Chapter 10 Discourse; Book 3: Chapters 11–12 Narrative, Chapters 13 Discourse; Book 4: Chapters 14–17 Narrative, Chapter 18 Discourse; Book 5: Chapters 19–23 Narrative, Chapters 24–25 Discourse; The Passion – Chapters 26–28 Narrative. Jerusalem’s destruction and the end of the age…. A second mediating