Volume 8, Issue 3: Eschaton
Matthew 24: Prophecies of Destruction - Pt. 2
Jack Van Deventer
In Part 1, I looked at futuristic and preteristic views of Matthew 24 and observed that dispensational futurists tend to be literalists, while preterists preferred a hermeneutic which allowed Scripture to interpret Scripture. For example, the futurist would say the prophecy of the sun, moon, and stars being darkened (Matthew 24:29) has not been literally fulfilled and therefore could not have taken place yet. The preterist would point out that this verse is a direct quote of figurative passages which declared impending judgment in past biblical history (Is. 13:9-10; Is. 34:4; Ez. 32: 7-8; Joel 2:20 which is quoted in Acts 2:20; Amos 8:9, ). Consistent interpretation would require the expectation of fulfillment consistent with the quoted passages, i.e., a widespread destruction such as what occurred in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Preterists maintain their belief that the prophecies of Matthew 24 were fulfilled on the basis of passages such as v. 34: "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled." This verse is a problem passage for futurists who must abandon a literal hermeneutic and claim that "generation" really means "race," even though the term is never used that way in Scripture.
Meanwhile preterists contend that Jesus' hearers believed His message and escaped the wholesale slaughter of Jerusalem. Had not Jesus warned his hearers (v. 15) to flee to the mountains? The parallel passage in Luke is very specific:
"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:20-22).
History records that the Jews, believing they would be safer in the walled city, stayed in Jerusalem while the Christians fled to the mountains. Jewish historian Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) records the following events:
"But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come thither from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men."
Quite literally, Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 such that "not one stone [was] left upon another" (v. 2). However, there are a variety of objections to be considered. Someone might ask "How can Matthew 24:1-34 possibly be understood from a preterist standpoint in light of v. 30 which refers to the Son of Man `coming on the clouds of the sky'? After all, isn't Christ's Second Coming future?" While most preterists are quick to agree that the Second Coming is future, they would also point to numerous occurrences in the Old Testament where clouds are frequent symbols of divine judgment and wrath. Cloud comings are divine judgments against men (Psalm 18:7-15; 104:3; Is. 19:1; Joel 2:1; Nah. 1:2ff; Zeph. 1:14-15).
So, most preterists point to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as a "cloud coming" judgment rather than the Second Coming, but other preterists argue that the Second Coming did occur in A.D. 70 based on, among others, v. 30 (which we've discussed) and verses 36-51. This latter group of preterists (sometimes called hyper-preterists) maintain that the same context that argues for preterism in verses 1-35 (Section 1) also argues for preterism in the verses which follow (Section 2).
Marcellus Kik responds to this objection by pointing out that the two sections are markedly different and stem from the two-part question Jesus was asked in v. 3: "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" Kik writes:
"The careful reader cannot help but be impressed with the difference of content and emphasis between Matthew 24:1-35 and 24:36-25:46. The First Section gives impression of abnormal times: wars, famine, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution and great tribulation; the Second Section of normal times: eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, peaceful employment. The First Section relates specific signs in relation to judgment upon Jerusalem; in the Second such specific signs are absent in regard to the final judgment. The First Section is concerned with "those days"; the Second, with "that day." The First Section limits the judgment to Palestine; the Second embraces all nations... The First pictures a judgment upon earth; the Second, judgment in heaven. All this points to a vivid and clear contrast of content. The two sections have different subject matter."
In summary, though it is often not taught from the pulpits, Jesus' prophecies in Matthew 24 and the parallel passages of the Olivet Discourse are very adequately explained in preterist fashion as God's holy judgment against unbelieving Israel in A.D. 70.