The Word of Our Lord:
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Mt 24:34).
We have, in the past, mentioned a thorn in our side who continually grieves us with the most vile and hateful criticism of God and faith. This person (known, henceforth, as Lara) is a perfect example of someone possessed by the spirit of antichrist. As John writes:
This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son (1 Jn 2:22).
Lara hates God. It is perplexing that someone could be so filled with hatred for something in which they do not even believe. The animus must certainly be a screen for deeply rooted fear and separation. Lara, and we suppose many like her, vainly attempts to fill the emptiness inside with drugs and alcohol, and the distractions of the world.
Lara’s most recent contention is that Jesus Christ is not, nor did He claim to be, the Messiah. Specifically, her point of argument is the Olivet Discourse (Matthew chapter 24) which she claims is full of unfulfilled prophetic claims thus making Jesus a false prophet. Unbelievers have a very difficult time with the Gospel of Mattityahu (Matthew). It helps us to better understand this gospel by knowing to whom it was written. Matthew (gift of the Lord) was written to a population of Hellenistic Jews who lived outside of Palestine. It provides a firsthand testimony with a Jewish sensibility. For example, Matthew often refers to the kingdom of heaven where the other gospel writers might speak of the kingdom of God as it was considered irreverent by the Jews to even speak the LORD’s name. [See comments below.] Matthew quotes from the Old Testament more than 60 times for the purpose of establishing that Yeshua was the fulfillment of the Messianic line thus he typically refers to Jesus as the Son of David. Whereas Luke traces the genealogical record back to Adam, Matthew specifically charts the lineage of Jesus forward from Abraham to establish that Christ was, indeed, the Jewish messiah.
We might add that Matthew was the recognized author of this gospel as confirmed by the early church fathers Eusebius and Origen; and that his testimony may have been written as early as A.D. 50. (Keep that date in mind for later reference.)
Lara begins her argument back in chapter 16 where Matthew records what some study Bibles note is the prophecy of Christ’s Second Coming:
Truly I say to you, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom (Mt 16:28).
When Christians speak of the Second Coming of Christ they might suggest any number of things from the Rapture of the church to the Day of Judgment. This is a perfect example of interpreting a Bible verse out of context. We need to understand that Jesus was speaking to His disciples for He earlier asked them (Mt 16:13):
Who do people say the Son of Man is?
They answered Him, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets; and Jesus said (Mt 16:15):
But who do you say I am?
And Simon Peter answered:
You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16).
This testimony of Peter is one of the most declarative statements in all of scripture. He is establishing that Yeshua is the Christos: the Christ, Messiah, or Anointed One. His statement was so revelatory that Jesus warned the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ (Mt 16:20).
What, then, can we say about the prophecy of His coming? Clearly, He was speaking to His disciples—some of whom would not taste death until this event came to pass; and it was fulfilled days later when Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ atop the Mount of Transfiguration as witnessed by Peter, James and John.
Moses represented the law, Elijah the prophets, and Christ was the fulfillment of both:
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill (Mt 5:17).
We need to understand Old Testament prophecy in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Are there prophecies yet unfulfilled, or did the New Covenant of Jesus Christ close the book on the Old Covenant of Moses and Elijah? What does it mean that He fulfilled the Law and Prophets? Be mindful that our understanding of scripture rightly or wrongly determines our interpretation.
Because we are 2000 years removed from the actual events it is somewhat curious that the disciples (who were taught by Jesus) still held to certain misperceptions regarding His earthly ministry. They expected the Messiah to defeat their enemies, restore Israel and establish His kingdom. The Transfiguration, as seen by the disciples, was a sign that these things were quickening.
As they were about to enter Jerusalem (Mt 20:17-19), Jesus told His disciples that He would be delivered to the Jewish leaders; condemned to death; handed over to the Gentiles; scourged; crucified; and raised up on the third day. This must have overwhelmed their comprehension.
Matthew then records a series of events and encounters leading up to the Lord’s pronouncement of seven woes upon the scribes and Pharisees which He concludes (Mt 23:33):
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
The disciples viewed all of this as Christ exercising kingdom authority prior to taking His seat upon the throne of David when they figured to be ruling with Him over all of Judea:
You also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28).
The disciples failed to understand that Jesus was talking about a future period of regeneration (paliggenesia), or re-birth of the physical creation (the new heaven and earth); and that His kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18:36).
We come, then, to the controversial chapter 24. As Jesus is exiting the Temple, His disciples point out the beauty and splendor of the buildings, and He said to them:
Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down (Mt 24:2).
Luke records that the disciples supposed the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately (Lk 19:11); and, certainly, the destruction of the Temple would be an apocalyptic sign of the end times. As they sat with Jesus upon the Mount of Olives, they asked Him a probing question (Mt 24:3):
Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?
Study carefully these passages in Matthew for they have caused many people to stumble and lose faith particularly our opening verse of scripture that says this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Lara contends that all of these things did not take place within a generation so she concludes that Jesus was a false prophet.
Our friends at the neighborhood Church of Christ teach that this generation refers to the generation alive at the time these events unfold sometime in the distant future, or end of age. Well, no, Jesus Christ was referring to the generation of those alive during His earthly ministry.
The answer to the first part of the question, then, is these things (that is, the destruction of the Temple) would occur in their lifetime. Recall that Matthew wrote his gospel as early as A.D. 50. Twenty years later the Romans destroyed the temple, and leveled the city of Jerusalem. One million Jews were killed, and upwards of 100,000 were taken as slaves to build the Coliseum in Rome.
When Christ talks about the tribulation of their time, He uses metaphorical language and symbolic expression to reveal the wrath of judgement to come:
Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles will gather (Mt 24:8).
The eagle was a representation of the Roman Empire while the corpse was the remains of Jerusalem.
Secondly, the disciples asked Jesus what would be the signs of His coming; and of the end of the age. Again, there is an interpretive challenge to His answer:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (Mt 24:36).
It is bewildering that Christ (who is God) would not know the time of His return unless you are aware that the phrase nor the Son was not present in ancient Greek manuscripts; but appeared later in both Greek and Latin.
In addition, Jesus compares His coming with the days of Noah (Mt 24:37-41):
…and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be (Mt 24:39).
We are told that two men will be in the field, and two women will be grinding; one will be taken and one will be left (Mt 24:40-41).
Some teach that the ones taken refers to the rapture of the church; but read carefully what Christ said. The ones taken by the flood were the unsaved, while Noah and his family were left behind. Let the reader understand.
Exegesis refers to the critical interpretation of scripture, and hermeneutics is the method by which we interpret the Bible. Much of what is taught in the church today is based on the method of theology known as Dispensationalism, or the eschatology of end time prophecy. Harold Camping and Jack Van Impe are just two recent examples of false prophetic teachers.
Dispensationalism was not taught by the early church although adherents will argue that even the apostles believed in its doctrine. Our study of Matthew clearly reveals that the disciples expected an imminent return of our Lord Jesus Christ. That does not make Jesus a false prophet, but it does belie the weakness of our interpretation. For 2000 years, false prophets have predicted His coming even as Christ warned:
For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect (Mt 24:24).
Whether the first century church believed in the doctrinal theory of dispensation is debatable; but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that John Nelson Darby introduced what is taught today as Dispensationalism; that God has a separate plan of salvation for the Jews including the rebuilding of the Temple; that the 70th week of Daniel will be fulfilled during a seven year tribulation; and that the church will be raptured before the Great Tribulation after which God will deal with Israel, and Christ will reign for a thousand years.
There are so many things wrong with this reasoning. Supposedly, Christ fulfilled the 69th week of Daniel, but not the 70th which the LORD has put on hold for 2000 years reserved for some future tribulation even though Jesus said that we would have trials and suffering and tribulation in the present age (Jn 16:33).
Surely it is sacrilegious, even blasphemous, to suggest the rebuilding of the Temple, and resumption of animal sacrifice; that, somehow, the blood of Christ is not sufficient to cleanse both Jew and Gentile, and reconcile us to God the Father.
Do we ignore the Apostle Paul?
There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly…But he is a Jew who is one inwardly whose circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit … (Ro 2:28-29).
We believe essentially what the church taught for 1500 years; that when Christ proclaimed from the cross, It is finished (Jn 19:30), He fulfilled all of the law and prophets.
We are now living in the church age of the New Covenant as the LORD builds His spiritual temple upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. There will be a last day (which no one can predict, but many have tried) when the dead shall come forth to the resurrection of life, or to the resurrection of judgement (Jn 5:29). Those of us alive on that day will be transformed (1 Co 15:52).
Maybe there is so much agnosticism in the world because there is so much confusion in the church. Though we shall continue to pray for the unbeliever, it might serve the Lord more if we prayed for spiritual enlightenment within the body of Christ.
What Matthew 24 Tells Us About “The End”
Next: I Knew You in the Womb
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