Monday, December 24, 2012




            In recent articles, I have described the interpretations of Matthew 24:4-14 by Preterists (represented by J. S. Russell) and Dispensationalists (represented by J. Dwight Pentecost).  I shall now do similar analyses of Matthew 24:15-22.  In this article, I shall present and respond to the views of Russell on this passage.


MATTHEW 24:15-22

            Russell is critical of the interpreters of his day who tried to extract “double meaning” from the Olivet Discourse.  So, when he comments on this passage, he emphasizes there is not a transition from, but“continuity” with the previous material in verse 15 (Russell, page 62).  He also stresses that verses 15-22 have a

strict and exclusive reference to Jerusalem and Judea.  Here we can detect no trace of double meaning, of primary and ulterior fulfilments [sic]…Everything is national, local, and near:  ‘the land is the land of Judea,--‘this people’ is the people of Israel,--and the ‘time’ is the lifetime of the disciples,--‘When YE therefore shall see.’  [original emphasis and British usage] (Russell, page 72-73)

            These comments are typical of the Preterist position.  The whole thesis of that understanding is that Jesus’ Discourse was a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the end of the Jewish religion as a judgment on that nation for its rejection of Christ.

            Verse 15 includes the phrase “the abomination of desolation” (Greek:  tes bdelugma tes eremoseos, “the detestable thing which makes desolate”).  Russell’s comment on this phrase is surprisingly brief.  He concurs with others that this expression referred to the standards of the Roman Legions, which included eagles.  The soldiers worshiped these as idols.  Russell refers to a previous instance when Jewish authorities objected to Roman legions carrying their standards through Judea.  “How much greater the profanation when these idolatrous emblems were displayed in full view of the temple and the Holy City!”  (Russell, page 73)  This, he says, “was to be the signal to all Judea to escape beyond the mountains [verse 16]…for then would ensue a period of misery and horror…”  (Russell, page 73)

            Russell then interprets the “great tribulation” [his usage] of verse 21 to be the “dreadful calamities attending the siege of Jerusalem…”  (Russell, page 73)  He then focuses on the story of the mother who ate her baby as an example of those calamities.  He stresses Jesus’ words in verse 21 “no nor ever shall be” that Jesus was speaking of the historical fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem and not “any subsequent events at the end of time.”  That is, he would take it that “nor ever shall be” would imply a future history of humankind after the “great tribulation.” 

            I believe that I have represented Russell’s commentary on this section of Scripture (Matthew 24:15-22) fairly.  The reader might be a little surprised, because it seems so brief.  In fact, his entire commentary covers pages 72-74 in his book.  So, yes, it is surprising that such a key passage would be given so little attention.



            Russell draws four conclusions from these verses.

1.      That the wording of verses 16-20 is good evidence that the passage refers to events in Judea in the first century.

2.      That the “abomination of desolation” is the presence of the standards of the Roman legions.  These were idols and would desecrate the city and the Temple.

3.      That the presence of these standards was the signal for the Jews to escape from Judea to the mountains “for then would ensue a period of misery and horror without parallel in the annals of time.”  (Russell, page 73)

4.      That the “great tribulation” was the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.


 His first conclusion is a strong point, especially with regard to the local “flavor” of verses 16-20.  His focus on “you” will need to be dealt with in conjunction with discussion of verses 32-35.  I believe that I will need to return to the issues concerning the “Jewishness” of verses 16-20 at another time.  The issues include points raised by the Dispensationalists as well the subject of “double fulfillment” of  prophecy (an idea that Russell abhors).  Instead, I shall deal with the latter three conclusions.  I believe that I make a good argument that those conclusions cannot be supported.  If that is the case, the first conclusion is almost destroyed, and yet it does create problems for any other interpretation.

The Abomination of Desolation

(Russell’s First Two Conclusions)

The following is the wording of Matthew 24:15:


“[Quotation from Jesus] So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”  (all Scripture quotations from English Standard Version unless stated otherwise)


Note that Christ is predicting that a detestable event or thing is going to make something desolate and that it is going to stand in the Holy Place.  This event was to be the signal to flee to the mountains.  We should apply these criteria to various options that would fit the Preterist hypothesis that Jesus’ predictions apply exclusively to the events of AD 70.  I shall consider two options—one is the presence of the troops of Cestius (not Russell’s idea) in the Temple area in AD 66 and the other is the presence of the troops of Titus in AD 70.

Before considering these options, I should comment on the criterion that the event in question served as a signal to flee to the mountains.  Russell states that this was be a signal “to all in Judea to escape beyond the mountains…” (Russell, page 73).  This conforms to his contention that Jesus was speaking to the disciples about Jewish events.  The problem with this reasoning is that the Discourse was spoken in private to the disciples on Mt. Olivet.  These men would live the rest of their lives in a state of alienation from their countrymen because of their devotion to Jesus, so they would not be in a position to spread this word of warning to “all in Judea.”  In fact, there is no record that Jews used this warning from Jesus to flee the Romans with one exception.

The only people who are believed to have heeded this warning is a group of Jewish Christians who took refuge in Pella, just east of Jordan in the Decapolis, at some point during the Jewish-Roman War (SEARCH).  When their flight occurred and how it corresponded to other events is not very clear.  Commentators often cite this flight to Pella as a very satisfactory confirmation that Jesus’ reference to the Abomination of Desolation had something to do with Roman legion standards.  (They also refer to Luke’s term, “Jerusalem surrounded by armies.”—see Russell, page 73)  It seems very likely that Christians were aware of Jesus’ words and took heed by fleeing to Pella.  What event triggered their flight is unknown.  Nor does their flight confirm a Preterist interpretation of the relevant Scriptures.  Four interpretations of their flight are possible. One is that they knew Jesus’ words and understood they applied to the situation at hand (Preterist view).  A second is that they knew Jesus’ words and applied them on their own to the situation.  A third is that they did not know Jesus’ words and simply fled because they recognized the danger.  A fourth is that they understood a double-meaning to Jesus’ words and applied them to the situation, but also understood them to apply to the end times.  We have no way of deciding among these possibilities.

Option 1:  The Troops of Cestius:  Whiston, the translator of Josephus, believed that a set of legion standards that were displayed earlier than the siege of Jerusalem was the signal to flee.  He gives this opinion in a footnote.  In November, 66, Cestius (a Syrian commander) brought Roman legion soldiers into the city in order to subdue the revolution that was threatening to begin.  Whiston believed this was the signal for people to flee to the mountains (Whiston, pages 631-632).  If people were alert to this sign, they may have avoided considerable danger by fleeing, since Vespasian’s legions would begin their campaign in Galilee and Judea in 67.  This “signal” of the troops of Cestius would have been about 3 ½ years before the siege of Jerusalem.  It may well have been the signal heeded by the Christians who fled to Pella.  This signal, though, does not seem to live up to the Abomination of Desolation.  In the historical record, it is a footnote.  The presence of the standards did not seem to create a Jewish reaction as an abomination (as I read Josephus).  In fact, moderate Jews had invited Cestius and his army into the city in order to quell the radicals. 

Option 2:  The Troops of Titus:  Russell focuses on the ensigns (of the legions of Titus) being “in full view of the Temple and the Holy City!”  (Russell, page 73, includes exclamation) as the Abomination of Desolation.

            I have outlined the siege/battle of Jerusalem in a previous article.  The Roman Legions, under Titus, arrived about May 1, 70.  A short time after that, Jerusalem was surrounded by these armies.  By June 4, some Romans were within the city proper and close to the Temple.  By August 29, Romans had entered the outer courts of the Temple complex, and on that same day the Temple was burned.  The city was totally subdued by September 26.  From about July onward, the Romans had cut off all escape from the city.

  Russell is vague whether he regards their presence in the armies surrounding Jerusalem or after they actually entered the city to be the Abomination.  However, he (Russell, page 73) argues that the presence of the ensigns in Judea would be bad enough and that their presence in the siege armies would be “last token which portended that the hour of doom for Jerusalem had come.”  (Russell, page 73)  He cites Luke 21:20 (Jerusalem “surrounded by armies”) as confirmation for his argument.  Note that Russell places more emphasis on the role of the event as a warning signal than he does as an abomination that makes desolate (see below).

            The first question to ask is this:  Did the legions of Titus stand with their standards in the Holy Place and make desolate something?  There are two parts of the question.  The first is:  “Did they stand…in the Holy Place?”  In fact, from a description by Josephus of events in the Temple area August 28-29,70, probably actual standards did not enter the Holy Place (Whiston, page 740).  Russell avoids this question by simply making their presence “in full view of the temple and the Holy City” “a profanation of the law.” (Russell, page 73)  This does not compare in degree to the original Abomination of Desolation.  That event was when Antiochus Epiphanes, in 168 BC, sacrificed a pig on an altar to Zeus within the Temple.  (See NIV Study Bible at Daniel 9:27 and 11:31 and ESV note at Matthew 24:15.)

Did the Roman legion standards make the Holy Place desolate?  If one reads the details of all that went on before and during the siege, one would be struck by the level of violence and betrayal in Jerusalem, including bloodshed in the Temple area that took place at the hands of Jews.   For example, Jewish radicals killed the high priest in September of 66, four years before the Romans laid siege.  Also, the sacrifices had ceased August 5, 70, weeks before the Romans broke into the Temple area.  Moreover, by the time the legion standards were in the Temple complex it was on the verge of burning down.  So, from a Jewish perspective, it is difficult to see how the presence of legion standards would be a decisive desecration of an already degenerate Jewish religious situation.  But, from a Christian viewpoint, the Jewish Holy Place was already desolate.  Jesus spoke of the nation (and not the Temple) in Matthew 23:38 when He said:  “See, your house is left to you desolate.”  (Matthew 23:38)  However, it was true enough that the desolation of the House of Israel was a religious desolation.  When Jesus was crucified, the curtain that divided the two holy places—Holy Place and the Holy of Holies—was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51).  This signaled the end of the old system of worshiping God and the institution of a new and living way into God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19-20). 

The second question to ask is this:  Would anyone in the area of Judea have been warned by the presence of the Roman Legions?  Yes, that is possible in the early days of the siege, since some were escaping.  However, once the siege was in earnest, there would not likely be any escapees.  Moreover, once the Romans broke into the city and the standards were in the presence of the Temple as abominable idolatrous objects, no one outside Judea would have known it.

            The third question to ask is this:  would escape have been of any great consequence once the Jerusalem siege began?  After the destruction of Jerusalem, Roman operations were limited.  There was a siege of the city of Macherus by the Roman legate Bassus, who also totally destroyed the Jews hiding in the forest of Jarden.  Also, many of the Jews of the city of Antioch were killed by the Gentiles of that city as well as being harassed by a turncoat Jew, named, coincidentally, Antiochus.  (Whiston, pages 758-762)  My point is this:  Once the siege of Jerusalem was over, the Roman-Jewish War was essentially over.  The final battle would take place three years later at Masada, but this was the completion of the mopping-up of Jewish resistance.  (Josephus, page 762ff)  It does not appear to me that, for ordinary persons—Christians or Jews—that “escape” from Judea (excluding Jerusalem) during or after the siege would have been an escape from a horrible situation.  Russell himself defines the “great tribulation” of Matthew 24:21 to be the siege of Jerusalem (Russell, page 73). 

            I do not believe that there is a good case for Russell’s conclusions concerning the Abomination of Desolation.  The presence of Roman legion standards would have been an affront to the Jews in an isolated action by Roman authorities.  However, in the heat of the battle in Jerusalem, it would have been “just one more thing” to remind the Jews of their crushing defeat.  Moreover, the standards were there because the legions were there, not as a direct assault by the Romans on the spiritual values of the Jews.  Josephus claims that Titus had a certain respect for the Temple and that its destruction was contra his orders (Whiston, pages 739-740).  (Of course, Josephus’ reporting is suspect, but it is about all we have.)  Keep in mind that the implication of Jesus’ words is that He is predicting spiritual defilement and not physical destruction.  I do not believe that there is an historical record of this sort of defilement by the Romans beyond what would take place in the heat of battle. 

One other point needs to be made.  Although Russell separates the two, I believe there is a twisting together in the minds of many of an event that would signal escape, on the one hand, and the destruction of the Temple on the other.  Russell does not confuse the two, but, because they are so close in time, many do confuse them.  This leads to a discussion of what is the Great Tribulation. 


The Great Tribulation

            Russell’s final conclusion is that the siege of and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is the “great tribulation” of Matthew 24:21.  He reinforces that idea with the horror of a woman eating her baby.  Certainly, the destruction of Jerusalem was a horrible time.  I am not an expert on sieges.  I read an account of the siege of Leningrad by the Germans in World War II.  That, like all sieges, was terrible.  By their very definition, sieges are designed to starve the enemy out of a city or fortress.  Keep in mind that about 650 years before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the Babylonians had done the same.  Lamentations 2:20 and 4:10 tell of mothers eating their children during that siege.  So, whether the siege and destruction of Jerusalem was the worst of all sieges probably could be debated.  Moreover, Jesus’ words in verse 22 indicate that the tribulation He was speaking of would be world-wide, since “no human being” could be saved if those days not be cut short.  Therefore, to assign the Great Tribulation period to the events of AD 70 does not seem to match the Lord’s words.

            In addition, chronology is a problem when one compares Matthew 24:15-22 with the events of AD 70.  If one follows Russell’s reasoning, the following table would apply:


Preterist Scenario
as a signal
Legion standards
around and/or
in Jerusalem
AD 70
May (surrounding
or June (close to Temple)
or Late August in Temple
A repugnant
event that has
spiritual implications
Flight to the
mountains and
its hazards
? Unknown except
Christians’ flight to
Persons are alarmed by this event and flee to the mountains
Great Tribulation
Siege and destruction
of Jerusalem
Siege:  May-August
Destruction:  late August-
There follows a protracted period of terrible trouble.


Note that Russell’s scenario for the Abomination of Desolation overlaps the Great Tribulation so that, about the time the signal to flee occurs, the Great Tribulation is almost over.  If one posits Cestius’ entrance into the city in AD 66, the chronology problem is solved, but one is left with an obscure event.  If one reads Jesus’ words, a scenario far different from the events of AD 70 seems to be implied, as I have indicated in the table.

            One other point needs to be made.  Jesus indicates in verse 22 that those days will be “cut short,” otherwise no one would be saved.  There is no indication that the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem was a day shorter than it needed to be.  Some survived, but only to be sold into slavery or to be imprisoned.

            I do not believe the destruction of Jerusalem is a fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction of the Great Tribulation.



            Russell, a representative of the Preterist method of interpretation, believes that verse 15-22 refer exclusively to the events around AD 70 in Judea, that the presence of the standards of the Roman legions was the Abomination of Desolation, that the legion standards signaled people to flee to the mountains, and that the siege of Jerusalem and its destruction along with the destruction of the Temple was the Great Tribulation.  I believe that the legion standards were not a spiritually significant abomination that desecrated Jerusalem and the Temple.  If one posits the presence of the standards during Titus’ siege and destruction, the timing would not be adequate to warn people to flee from Jerusalem and would be of doubtful benefit to people throughout Judea.  If one posits the standards of Cestius’ troops, it is doubtful that there was any obvious affront to Jewish sensibilities.  Though the siege and destruction of Jerusalem were horrific, it is a debatable question that it would fit Jesus’ description of the horrors of the Great Tribulation.  Overall, the chronological problems and the nature of the hypothetical Abomination of Desolation make it unlikely that there is a “fit” for the events of AD 70 to Jesus’ predictions in Matthew 24:15-22.





Barker, Kenneth L., gen. ed. The New International Version Study Bible.  Grand Rapids, MI: 

            Zondervan (International Bible Society), 2002.

Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 235445-235449). Good      

         News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Russell, J. S.  The Parousia, A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our

            Lord’s Second Coming.  (Google Internet Book)  London:  Daldy, Isbister

            & Co., 1878.

SEARCH (the Society to Explore and Record Christian History) “Escape to

        Pella” in

Whiston, William, trans. The Works of Josephus, by Flavius Josephus.  N. p.:  Hendrickson

            Publ., 1987.


Saturday, December 22, 2012




Saturday, December 15, 2012




            In the previous article, I described and critiqued the Preterist understanding of Matthew 24:5-14.  In this article I shall examine the Dispensationalist viewpoint of the same passage.  I shall focus on the views expressed by J. Dwight Pentecost. 



            Dispensationalism understands God’s dealing with humanity is in seven separate dispensations.  A dispensation is defined as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God” (Scofield, page 5).  The seven dispensations are Innocency, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace, Kingdom (Scofield, page 5).  These may be defined briefly as follows (See Scofield notes at the loci in the Scriptures):

·         Innocency is the human condition in the Garden of Eden until the fall (Genesis 1:28-3:22).

·         Conscience is the period from expulsion from the Garden until the Flood (Genesis 3:23-8:19).

·         Human Government is the period after the Flood until Abraham’s call (Genesis 8:20-12:1).

·         Promise is the period from Abraham’s call to the giving of the Mosaic Law (Genesis 12:1-Exodus 19:7).

·         Law is the Mosaic Law, in effect until the Dispensation of Grace (Exodus 19:8-Christ’s Passion and resurrection).

·         Grace is the period of the offer of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ until the Kingdom comes (Christ’s Passion and resurrection to Revelation 20:4).

·         Kingdom is the rule of God, first through Christ in the Millennium, and, then, in the eternal Kingdom (Revelation 20:4-22:5).

In addition to this framework, Dispensationalism holds to several other principles of interpretation, including the following:

·         The Davidic Covenant (II Samuel 7:12-16) is the basis for the Millennium (Pentecost, page 476).

·         Jesus offered the nation of Israel the Kingdom, but the nation rejected His offer (Pentecost, pages 446-463).

·         Jesus withdrew the offer, temporarily, and, in the church age, developed the “mystery” phase of the Kingdom (Matthew 13).  Although this takes place during the church age, the “kingdom program” of the “Kingdom in mystery form” is directed toward the eventual establishment of the Millennial Kingdom (Pentecost, pages 138-149).

·         The church is part of the “spiritual kingdom” (Pentecost, page 142).  It is not The Kingdom.  It will be married to Christ in heaven before the Millennial Kingdom is established on earth (Pentecost, pages 226-228).

·         Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 “weeks” gives an outline of the history of Israel and the Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27).  This history would include 69 weeks until the time of Messiah.  That period has already been fulfilled.  The 70th Week has yet to be fulfilled.  It is the period also loosely referred to as the Tribulation (Pentecost, pages 247-250).

·         The church will be raptured just before the 70th Week begins (Pre-tribulation Rapture) (Pentecost, pages 193-218, 250).

·         Hence, the church is not present during the 70th Week.  All prophecies related to that period are not directed or relevant to the church (except for certain events that occur in heaven).  Instead, this seven-year period before Christ’s return is relevant especially to Israel.  Therefore, if a prophetic Scripture of events in the present age seems relevant to Israel, it is understood to refer to the 70th week.

I recognize that the characterization I have just given is a heavy-duty introduction to Dispensationalism, but I think it is necessary.  Otherwise, one is left scratching one’s interpretative head as to why the Dispensationalists make certain inferences.  This background will be helpful in the present discussion.  Obviously, what I have given is not a complete description of Dispensationalism, but I hope it is helpful to those who are unfamiliar with this system.

I shall sometimes use the term “70th Week” to refer to the 7-year period before Christ returns.  The term “Tribulation” may also refer to the same period, but sometimes is used to refer to second half of the 70th Week.



            Pentecost reviews several Dispensationalist views of 24:4-8 (Pentecost, page 277-278).  These views include some who believe that verses 4-8 describe the church age toward the end of that time, just before the 70th week.  He implies that all or most Dispensationalists regard verses 9-26 to refer to the 70th week.  Pentecost himself considers that all of 24:4-26 refers to the 70th week:  “Consistency of interpretation would seem to eliminate any application of this portion of Scripture to the church or the church age, inasmuch as the Lord is dealing with the prophetic program for Israel.”  (Pentecost, page 278)  In discussing the withdrawal of the offer of the Kingdom and “a long delay in the kingdom program as it relates to Israel,” Pentecost sees the second advent of Christ as a promise especially to Israel when “the kingdom program with Israel will be resumed (Matthew 24:27-31), and gives the nation [the nation of Israel] signs that will herald His second advent (Matthew 24:4-26).”  (Pentecost, page 464)

He laid the groundwork for this position from two considerations.  First, the Olivet Discourse immediately follows chapter 23.  That chapter includes the “seven woes” against the Jewish religious leaders.  It ends with Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem and a prediction of His return (Matthew 23:37-39).  So, Pentecost concludes:  “Thus, the discourse is set against the background of the rejection of the Messiah…” (Pentecost, page 276)  Second, he agrees with his quotation from Chafer that the Olivet Discourse is “spoken to his disciples who are still classed as Jews and represented a people who will pass through the experiences described in this address, [therefore the Discourse] is directed toward the entire nation and especially those who will endure the trials depicted therein.”  (Chafer as quoted in Pentecost, page 275)  

Therefore, Pentecost’s position is that all the predictions in Matthew 24:4-26 will occur during the seven-year period loosely known as the Tribulation and also referred to as the 70th Week of Daniel.  Although there are some Dispensationalists who differ slightly from this view, it is fairly representative of that school of thought. 

Pentecost also regards verse 4-8 to refer to the “first half of the tribulation” (or 70th Week) (Pentecost, page 278).  To justify this view, he refers to English, who has established a parallel between Revelation 6 and these verses.  I have constructed the following table to illustrate English’s system:


5. Many will come claiming to be Christ
1-2. First Seal: rider on white horse, conqueror (English: a false Christ)
6-7a.  Wars…nations against nations*
3-4. Second Seal: rider on red horse, power to take away peace
7b.  famines
5-6. Third Seal:  Rider on black horse, famine
7c.  Earthquakes (English “and pestilences” in ms)
7-8. Fourth Seal:  Rider on pale horse, named Death
9.  then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death
9-11.  Fifth Seal:  Those slain for the Word

*Some modern translations do not include “famines.”)

                Pentecost believes that the “then” of Matthew 24:9 is a critical turning point:  “The word ‘then’ in verse 9 seems to introduce the great persecutions against Israel that were promised them…”  He then refers to Revelation 12:12-17 (the fury of the dragon against the woman and her children).  (Pentecost, page 279) Pentecost derives an “outline” of the events of the 70th Week as follows, with references to verses in Matthew 24 (Pentecost, pages 279-280):

·         Verses 4-8:  In the the first half of the “tribulation period” (70th Week), Israel experiences some “chastisement” from the events (wars, famines, earthquakes), but has relative safety.

·         Verse 9:  In the “middle of the week” persecution will break out, and this will cause Israel to flee from the land (24:16-20).

·         Verse 11:  Unbelieving Israel will be deceived by the false prophet (Revelation 13:11-18).

·         Verse 12:  Unbelieving Israel will go into apostasy.

·         Verse 14:  “Believing Israel will be a witnessing people carrying the good news that these events herald the approach of the Messiah.”  Elsewhere, he interprets verse 14:  “The good news that the King is about to return will be preached (Matt. 24:14) so that Israel may be turned to their deliverer.”  (Pentecost, page 237)

·         Verse 27:  The 70th Week will end with the return of the Messiah.



OF MATTHEW 24:4-14

            Obviously, to take on Dispensationalism is a huge project.  As I did with Preterism, I will make a few comments relevant to Matthew 24:4-14 and make a promise (that I hope I keep) to critique the entire Dispensationalist system at another time.

            One issue that must be dealt with is:  “To whom is Jesus speaking in the Olivet Discourse—the Disciples as representatives of Israel or the Disciples as representatives of the church?”  Pentecost (and the Preterists, by the way) believes that He spoke to representatives of Israel (Pentecost, page 275, as I discussed above).  However, I believe that is not necessarily true.   There is no direct evidence to this effect.  Moreover, Jesus has already spoken to Israel in Matthew 23.  Also, notice that the theme of the book of Acts is the stepwise turning of the church, led by the disciples, from Israel to the Gentiles.  The mission of the disciples was world-wide (Matthew 28:18-20).  The disciples already had been taught to anticipate the church age (Matthew 16:17-19, 18:17).  The most natural reading of this passage is that it is a discourse spoken to the disciples who had been appointed to be the apostles of the church.

            The scheme of parallelism between verses 4-9 and the first five Seals in Revelation 6 is insightful, though it may not hold up in every detail.  The fact that these two passages describe the same period does not necessarily mean that they are describing events in the 70th Week of Daniel/Tribulation.  Other explanations are possible (I hope to elaborate on this in a future article).  As I commented in my article on the Preterist view, verses 4-8 appear to be broad general developments over an indeterminate time period. 

Notice that verse 4 refers to “many” false christs.  Such deception has gone on throughout the 2000 years of the Christian era.  It is convenient to label this verse as depicting the Antichrist/Beast of Revelation, but it is not an accurate reading of the verse.  John remarked that “many antichrists have come.”  Even in the late first century, Jesus’ prediction was being fulfilled.  The same comments could be made about any of verses 5-8.

            The interpretation of verse 9 creates some problems, I believe.  Pentecost interprets verse 9 to be identical with the period that is described in verse 16-21, which is often called the Great Tribulation, and he characterizes this in this way:  “persecution will break out [against Israel, implied]” (Pentecost, page 280).  This is consistent with the wording of verse 9.  However, there are two forms of trouble that Pentecost identifies during that Tribulation period.

1.      There is trouble for the entire nation of Israel.  Citing Revelation 12:12-17, he describes Satan as making Israel his special target (Pentecost, page 235).  He also refers to this persecution of the entire nation as what was “promised them” in Revelation 12:12-17 and which he identifies as what is predicted in Matthew 24:9 (Pentecost, page 279).  He also refers to Tribulation period as a time of God’s wrath (Pentecost, page 236) against all nations and, specifically, “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) (Pentecost, page 237).  He refers to Revelation 16:9, which implies that God’s wrath will be to bring about repentance.  He understands that this would apply to the unsaved of Israel as well as of other nations (Pentecost, page 295)

2.      At the same time, Pentecost identifies a remnant of Israel that consists of believers in Jesus (Pentecost, page 214).  These believers are the “saints” who are persecuted by the Antichrist/Beast (Revelation 13:7) (Pentecost, page 298).

However, at times he is vague as to whether persecution by the Antichrist/Beast will be specifically against the believing remnant or against all of Israel.  (See, for example, his quote from English on page 309.)  When one considers Jesus’ words, especially, in verse 21, and, when one considers the plagues of Revelation, then verse 9 does not seem to measure up to those predictions.  Moreover, verse 9 is persecution “for my name’s sake,” and this would not be relevant to persecution of the entire nation (number 1 above).  I believe a more natural way of reading verse 9 is that it refers to persecution of the church.  This, of course, would be an extreme rejection of the Dispensational interpretation of Matthew 24. 

            Pentecost’s ignores verse 10 and interprets verses 11 and 12 as follows:  “Unbelieving Israel will be deceived by the false prophet (v. 11; Rev. 13:11-18) and go into apostasy (v. 12; 2 Thess. 2:11).”  The reference in Revelation describes the career of the false prophet with regard to his acts of deception and coercion on behalf of the Antichrist/Beast toward the whole world.  Israel in particular is not mentioned, so this gives us no help in the interpretation of verse 11.  In the same way, the reference in II Thessalonians refers to the activity of Satan to bring about delusion and acceptance of the Man of Sin (Antichrist/Beast) by “those who are perishing” (II Thessalonians 2:10).  That passage does not mention Israel and gives us no help in interpreting verse 12.  In fact, verses 10-12 are much more naturally understood to refer to the church.  I could not find that Pentecost comments on verse 10.  It would be difficult to assign that verse to Israel.  If his scenario is that a large group from the nation of Israel will be saved during the Tribulation (a group he calls the “remnant” (Pentecost, page 214 and 290ff), then the trend for Israel would be just the opposite of what verse 10 implies:  “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” (Scripture quotations from English Standard Version unless otherwise stated)  Moreover, how can Pentecost, referring to verse 12, state that “unbelieving Israel” will go into apostasy?  One has to be at least professing (depending on your theology about eternal security) in the first place to apostasize later.  Verses 10-12 can be “made to fit” the Dispensationalist presuppositions, but a more natural reading is that these verses refer to the experience of the church as the church age progresses.

            Pentecost ties verse 13 to promises of Israel’s salvation in the last days (Pentecost, page 268).  This interpretation is directly tied to his interpretation of the whole passage.  If one assumes the passage refers to the church, verse 13 would also apply to Christians who, despite an environment of apostasy, endure to the end.

            The final verse in the passage, verse 14, is interpreted by Dispensationalists as an encapsulated reference to the work of saved Israelites during the Tribulation period as well as the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3ff.  Pentecost understands the “gospel of the kingdom” to be somewhat different than most evangelicals’ understanding of the term “gospel,” which is the good news that Jesus Christ saves sinners.  The following passage from Pentecost, pages 271-272 gives insight into his understanding:

The tribulation will witness the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.  Matthew 24:14 makes this very clear.  However, the preaching of the cross and the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom are not mutually exclusive…The gospel of the kingdom was the good news that the promised King was soon to appear on the scene to offer the promised kingdom.  In such usage the gospel of the kingdom was not primarily soteriological but eschatological in concept.  The gospel of the kingdom did not offer a way of salvation, but rather offered the hope of the fulfillment of Israel’s eschatological promises, which contained within them the fulfillment of the soteriological hopes [of the Old Testament]…

The emphasis of verse 14 as spoken by Jesus is that the gospel preaching will be a witness to all nations, and Pentecost recognizes that Jesus is predicting a witness to all nations.  However, he especially applies it to Israel:  “The good news that the King is about to return will be preached (Matt. 24:14) [in the Tribulation period] so that Israel may be returned to their deliverer.”  And elsewhere he writes with the same emphasis, as he refers to the original offer of the kingdom to Israel and the re-offer in the Tribulation period:  “The ‘gospel of the kingdom’ as announced by John (Matt. 3:3), by the disciples…(Matt. 10:7), …and by the Lord (Matt. 4:17) proclaimed the good news that the promised kingdom was ‘at hand.’  The Lord indicates that this same good news will be announced again.  [quotes Matt. 24:14]” (Pentecost, page 472)

            There are three understandings throughout Pentecost’s interpretations of verse 14.

1.      As I have already stated, he makes a distinction between the “gospel of the kingdom” and the ordinary use of the term “gospel.

2.      From other considerations he assumes the verse 14 is referring to the 70th Week or Tribulation period.

3.      He assumes a chronology for Matthew 24:9-14 that projects those verses onto Matthew 24:16-21.

I cannot make an elaborate response to the meaning of the term “gospel of the kingdom.”  However, I believe that this term is synonymous with our ordinary use of gospel.  To defend that thesis requires an extended analysis of the relationship of Israel and the Gentiles in God’s purposes and an analysis of the meaning of the Kingdom of God.  I hope to make that analysis in future articles.  Briefly, I believe that God’s intention is to bring together Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22).  I believe that God is going to bring Israel back into the people of God (Romans 9-11), but He is not going do that in a way that violates the whole gist of the New Testament.  Furthermore, my understanding of the Kingdom of God is that it is not something that merely operates to fulfill Old Testament Scriptures.  Jesus said:  “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  (Matthew 12:28)  The Kingdom of God is the power of God which is manifested and operates on behalf of people in the world.  Notice that Jesus is “Christ” [Messiah] for the Gentiles as well as for Israel.  The vision of Israel for Messiah was truncated and the New Testament has not been a parenthesis in the vision, but rather an expansion and deepening of the vision.  Hopefully, these few words will be helpful in getting some notion of “where I am coming from” and why I (reluctantly) have rejected much (but not all) of Dispensationalist teaching.

            As for the chronology of the chapter, my assumption is that verses 9-14 are not to be referred to the period that is described in verses 16-21.  So, I believe that verse 14 terminates verses 4-14, with the anticipatory clause, “and then the end will come.”  I believe that this verse is a prediction that there will be a world-wide preaching of the gospel accomplished before the end of the age.


            J. Dwight Pentecost, a representative Dispensationalist, considers Matthew 24:4-26 to be an outline of the events of the 70th Week or Tribulation period.  He believes that verses 4-8 describe the first half of that period and verses 9-26 describe the second half of that period.  He ascribes the teachings in verses 9-14 to the period also discussed in verses 16-21.  He believes all of these predictions refer to Israel, as its people experience the early ravages of the first half of the 70th Week and the more intense persecutions of the second half.  During that time there will a separation between believing and unbelieving Israel.  The “gospel of the kingdom” will be announced during that time and will announce the return of Christ as King of Israel.

            I have responded by observing that the assumption that the Olivet Discourse is addressed to representatives of Israel is not necessarily true.  I have observed that some applications of the wording to the 70th Week are forced.  A more natural reading of verses 4-14 is that this describes the developments in the world and in the church throughout the church age until “the end.”  Verses 9-14 describe the church as a persecuted church that will begin to apostasize in the majority, but some will endure.  Some will be faithful to preach the gospel so that all the world hears of Jesus.


NEXT:  Preterist view of Matthew 24:15-31



Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 234084-234086). Good

            News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Pentecost, J. Dwight.  Things to Come.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publish. House, 1958.

Scofield, C. I.  The Scofield Reference Bible. New York:  Oxford University Press, 1945.