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Originally published in "The Lord's Coming Herald & Wesleyan Bible Prophecy Advocate," Winter Edition 1998

This Generation Shall Not Pass Till All These Things Be Fulfilled

    Jesus has just spoken of the coming destruction of the Temple, and the disciples have just quizzed him concerning those statements: "Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?"

 
   Now we must remember that Jesus had previously instructed his disciples about the end of the world (see Matthew 13:39,49), and about his eschatological coming (see Matthew 16:27), but he has not yet spoken openly to them about the destruction of the Temple.

    What Jesus has made clear to his disciples about these two previous matters is this: his eschatological coming at the end of the age will involve the universal "harvest" judgment of all mankind: "For the son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. . . As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world, The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 16:27; 13:40-43).

    To underscore the significance of the above teaching, Jesus is careful to make sure that his disciples have understood it. So he said to them: "Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord" (Matthew 13:51).

    Now, at the close of His public ministry, the disciples have come to Jesus privately on the Mount of Olives with the question: "Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24:3).

First, it is obvious that the disciples are connecting Jesus' recent statements about the coming destruction of the Temple with his own eschatological coming, and with the general judgment at the end of the age. In other words, they were looking at all three of these items--that is, the destruction of the Temple, Christ's eschatalogical coming, and general judgment at the end of the age--as one and the same event.

    The intent of Jesus in the discourse that follows, then, is to correct his disciples of that very misconception. In other words, Jesus was concerned that his disciples did not make the mistake of connecting the coming destruction of the Temple with his eschatological coming, and with the universal judgment at the end of the age.

The practicality of Christ's concern at this point is quite obvious. If the disciples were allowed to expect Christ's eschatological coming and the general judgment at the end of the age (what he had previously taught them in Matthew 13:39,49 and 16:27) to happen with the overthrow of the Jewish state by the Romans in 70 A.D., and  these events failed to materialize, Jesus knew that his disciples would be disillusioned, their messianic faith would be shaken, and the Christian movement, which was to be built on the integrity of Christ's teachings, would be shattered at its inception.

That the return of Christ did fail to take place in 70 A. D. is evident, for what documentary evidence from the Patristic Fathers is there to prove that the prophesied eschalogical second coming of Jesus Christ was understood by those involved to have been fulfilled at that time? I know that the modern Calvinistic school of "radical preterism" teaches exactly that--i.e., that those events were all fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.,  but, like I do with its rival heresy of dispensational premillennialism, I contend that the radical preterist theory is pure fiction and without adequate historical or exegetical proof.

    Why did Jesus began the Olivet Discourse by warning his disciple so strongly against deception if radical preterism were true? What is there in the mix of ideas that would have motivated that kind of concern? Is it not seen in the fact that they were not to be deceived into thinking that his eschatological coming and the end of the age would happen in connection with the Jewish War of 67-70 A.D? In fact, Jesus had told them plainly that the time would come when they, his contemporaries, would desire to see that very manifestation of the Son of man (as radical preterists imagine), and would not see it (Luke 17:22)!

    We believe that Wesleyan exegete Dr. D. D. Whedon, in his commentary on the New Testament, is right in his demonstration that the internal structure of Matthew 24 is based on a deliberate CONTRAST between the coming destruction of the Temple (what happened in 70 A. D.) and Christ's future second coming (which did not happen in 70 A.D.) Jesus did not say that the great tribulation of Matthew 24:15-22 would end with the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, for we know that Jerusalem was destroyed again in 135 A.D., and that as a consequence of the same, on-going Jewish rebellion.

    True, Jesus did indeed say that "immediately after the tribulation of those days" they—he did not say the disciples!— would see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, but there is nothing in the text of Matthew 24 itself to indicate that the tribulation OF THOSE DAYS upon the Jews spoken of in this chapter was finished AT THE TIME OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE in the first Christian century. In fact, both Daniel, and Jesus following him, have indicated otherwise.

    First, we note that Daniel 12:11-12 indicates that a period of time is to elapse between the destruction of the Temple and the end-time: "And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh to the 1,335 days."

Now Jesus had forewarned his disciples in Matthew 24:15 that when they saw the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet stand in the holy place, they were to flee the country. This event marked the beginning of the great tribulation described in Matthew 24:21. But Daniel had also said that a period of 1,290 days was to extend beyond the destruction of the Temple. In other words, this tribulation period was to last (as is commonly understood) approximately 3 1/2 years, not before 70 A.D., but after it!

   
Later, Jesus communicated that same idea to the Apostle John in Revelation 11:1-2. Judaism (represented by the outer court of the Temple in verse 2) and the holy city of Jerusalem were to trodden under foot of the Gentiles 42 months. Of course, Jesus had said this before, too, in Luke 21:24: "And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times the Gentiles be fulfilled."

    Now we believe that the "times of the Gentiles" mentioned in Luke 21:24 is the same as the "42 months" of Revelation 11:2, the sealed 1,290 days of Daniel 12:11, and the last half of Daniel's seventieth week, which has been elongated, or time-free extended in conjunction with the death and resurrection of the Savior in the midst of that week to embrace the entire period of time now stretching between Christ's first and second advents.

    There is no transition point in Matthew 24 between what happened in 70 A.D. and our future end-time, but there is a deliberate contrast throughout the chapter between the slow, calculated overthrow of the Jewish state in 70 A.D., and the lightening-like coming, in sudden unexpectedness, of the Son of man. (Again, please see Whedon's Bible Commentary under the section on Matthew 24, for a full exposition of that contrast.)

   
When Jesus was satisfied that his disciples understood that the coming destruction of the Temple would not involve his eschatological coming and the general judgment at the end of the age, he returned to answer their original question of verse 3: "Tell us, when shall these thing be [i.e., when will there be left not one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down] ? His direct answer is found in verse 34: "This generation shall not pass, till all these things [i.e., the things he has differentiated in the preceding context] be fulfilled."

   
And it didn't. That generation lived to see exactly what Jesus said.

For further insights upon our on-going debate with radical preterism over the meaning of the Matthew 24:35 text, please see pages 65-66 in our book How To Interpret End-time Bible Prophecy: A Wesleyan View now available under the products menu of this website.

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