Monthly Archives: July 2014

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 6

Part 6 – Has Matthew 24 Already Been Fulfilled? A Response to the Preterist View

Click here for Parts 1-5 –

2ndcoming2When I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, although I heard different views of the end times expressed, they all fell under what would be broadly considered a “futurist” view.  That is, the interpretations given to various eschatological passages of Scripture, whether pre-millennial or post-millennial, whether “pre-trib” or “post trib,” all agreed on one thing: those passages (such as Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation) dealt with events which are still in the future and haven’t happened yet.

Nowadays, however, a different viewpoint is gaining popularity called the “preterist” view.  This view says the events described in Matthew 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke, as well as in the book of Revelation, have already been fulfilled.  The full preterist view says they’ve all been fulfilled.  Most Christians I know who follow the preterist viewpoint, though, consider themselves “partial preterists,” meaning that while they believe much of Matthew 24 and Revelation have been fulfilled, they don’t believe it’s all been fulfilled, and they do believe Christ will come again at the end of the world as we know it.  Full preterists don’t believe in the second coming at all, and so the full preterist view is generally considered heretical.

So why do partial preterists believe these Scriptures have already been fulfilled?  At several points in his ministry Jesus predicted that judgment would come on the Jews of his day because they rejected him.  One such passage is where Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard:

27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!”

31 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘From men’ . . . .” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

12:1 He then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

7 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this scripture:

“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

12 Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. – Mark 11:27-12:12

Another passage that’s even more direct is Luke 19:41-44

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

And of course there are these words from Matthew 24:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (verses 1-2).

Jesus’ prophesied that one day Jerusalem and the Jewish temple itself would be besieged because the Jews of his day rejected him.  Jesus said this would be God’s judgment on the rebellious city and on God’s rebel people.

Jesus’ words came true.  In 67 AD the Romans came and laid siege to Jerusalem, and in 70 the city fell to the Romans and the temple was destroyed.

Quite simply, preterists believe that Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2 (another passage we’ve looked at in this series – see Parts 1, 2, & 4), and the Book of Revelation all dealt primarily with these events in the first century related to the siege and fall of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 67-70 AD.  For this reason preterists believe these Scripture passages have been largely fulfilled, except for the small portions they see as referring to future events.

As I see it, the preterist interpretation of Matthew 24 (and much of the rest of the material in question) hinges on a single all-important verse: Matt 24:34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  Preterists reason that because Jesus seemed to say that his own generation would not pass away before the events described in Matthew 24 took place, therefore Matthew 24 must be about events in the first century.

Preterists contend that the events described in Matthew 24 fit historically with the sack of Jerusalem in 67-70 AD.  As a friend of mine who is a partial preterist said, preterists feel that futurists don’t take Matthew 24 literally enough.  If they did, he says, they would realize it pertains to the events of 67-70 AD.  And indeed, the events predicted in verses 4-25 do fit at least somewhat with the actual historical events that took place prior to 70 AD in Jerusalem.

However, in my view, the problem with the preterist interpretation is that portions of Matthew 24:4-31 have never been fulfilled.  In particular, if verses 29-31 are taken literally, they clearly describe events which weren’t fulfilled in the first century:

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

These verses, understood literally, appear to be describing the literal, visible return of Christ in the heavens at the end of the age.  As if to remove any doubt about this, Jesus says just before that

26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. – Matthew 24:26-27 (emphasis added)

Christ’s appearance in the heavens will be visible to all.  Nothing of that nature occurred in the first century.  In fact, if it had, it’s hard to imagine that it would not be recorded in the New Testament, since some portions of the New Testament were written after 70 AD.

In fact, there is some disagreement among scholars as to when books like Matthew and Revelation were written. Traditionally Revelation has been dated as one of the latest writings of the New Testament, often being assigned a date of composition around 90 AD.  Likewise, some scholars date the book of Matthew to some time in the 70s AD.  If Revelation and Matthew were written or completed after 70 AD, and if Jesus had returned at that time, one would think there would be some record of this in either or both of these books, or in any part of the New Testament that was completed after 70 AD.  And yet we find no such record in anywhere in the New Testament.

Likewise, if these books were written after 70 AD and their authors believed the events described in Revelation and Matthew 24 had already been fulfilled it seems very likely those authors would’ve expressed that belief.  The absence of such interpretations in the books themselves means either the books were both written prior to 70 AD (which seems questionable in the case of Revelation), or else the authors did not see the events they describe as having already been fulfilled at the time the books were written.

However, some scholars do date Revelation and Matthew prior to 70 AD.  In the case of Revelation in particular, this earlier dating seems to be driven at least somewhat by preterist concerns. Moreover, many preterists interpret much of Revelation as having been fulfilled during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, which ended in 68 AD.  However, the early church fathers (who were much closer to the events than us) almost all dated John’s exile on Patmos to the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), which is a big reason Revelation is usually given the later date.

So it seems very unlikely that Matthew 24:29-31 was literally fulfilled in the first century, especially since there is no record of Christ visibly returning in the heavens in the first century.  (Not to mention the fact that if Christ had returned in the first century, would we even be here 20 centuries later, having this discussion? But I digress.)

Preterists explain this problem by interpreting Matthew 24:29-31 symbolically.  They claim that when Jesus spoke of his “coming” in verses 3 and 30-31 he meant a spiritual return only.  They say it refers to Christ “coming” in judgement when the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 AD.

Preterists claim there is precedent in the Old Testament for interpreting such passages symbolically, citing passages like Isaiah 13:9-13, Isaiah 24, Isaiah 34:4, Joel 2:10, and Daniel 7:13 as examples in which similar imagery was used and which (they claim) was never intended to be taken literally, but instead was meant to be viewed figuratively.

However, I myself believe all those verses from the Old Testament also look forward to literal events–maybe even the very same events described in Matthew 24.  I’m leery of interpreting such passages merely figuratively, for it makes one wonder if the passages are being interpreted symbolically simply because they sound too fantastic to be believed by modern minds.  I’m inclined to believe this motif is recurring in Scripture because it refers to something that actually is going to happen one day, and that the prophets kept catching glimpses of it in their visions of the future.

This concludes today’s post.  My next post will continue looking at the problems with the preterist view of the end times, and will pick up where today’s post leaves off.  Please be sure to tune in next time!!

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