Monday, January 28, 2013



MATTHEW 24:23-31



Dispensationalists tend to focus on Israel in their interpretations of prophecy.  For example, Pentecost quotes Chafer as follows:

[Christ]…spoke of a hitherto unannounced period between His two advents and indicated its distinctive features (Matt. 13:1-51), and predicted a yet future time of “great tribulation” and defined its character (Matt. 24:9-31). (Pentecost, 129)

In this quotation, the “parables of the kingdom” in Matthew 13 are understood to characterize the period between the two advents from the Jewish perspective as the “mystery” phase of the Kingdom of God.  The fact that the church is present during this period is almost considered to be extraneous.  Then, just before the Second Advent, the Tribulation will take place as a part of the prophetic program for Israel.  The church, Dispensationalists believe, will be raptured out of the world before the Tribulation period starts.  Thus, Pentecost considers the entire Olivet Discourse to be about and for Israel (Pentecost, 278).  The meat of the Discourse, which gives the specific chronology—Matthew 24:4-26—is understood to be “signs [to Israel] that will herald His second advent” (Pentecost, 464).

                Walvoord also understands Matthew’s gospel and especially the Olivet Discourse to be about Israel:

An important note should be made at this point that the rapture of the church is nowhere mentioned in this prophecy…Matthew’s gospel does not discuss the church age as such but rather the whole inter-advent Age from the first [to the second coming]…and therefore deals with the great tribulation at the close of the present age. (Walvoord, pagination not available on Kindle version)

            Pentecost believes that Matthew 24:4-26 is a description of the Tribulation period (Pentecost, 278), which he believes is the “first event in Israel’s program for the end of the age” (Pentecost, 277).  I shall review briefly some terminology.  The term “Tribulation” can refer to the entire seven-year period before the Second Coming of Christ.  This period is also understood to be Daniel’s 70th Week that was forecast for Israel.  The actual period of most intense suffering is understood to take place in the second half of that period.  This is that period of “great tribulation” predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:21-22.  That 3 ½ year period may also be referred to as the “tribulation.”  (See Pentecost on page 170.)  Pentecost believes that Matthew 24:4-8 describes the first half of the 70th Week, and 24:9-26 describes the second half (Pentecost, 278-279).

            Walvoord gives a description of the deception that will take place during the Tribulation period:

There will also be deceitful signs and reports that Christ has already appeared. [Quotes 24:23-24]… According to Matthew 24:26, there will be reports that Jesus has appeared in the desert or has been revealed in the inner room, but believers are urged not to believe this.  (Walvoord, page not available)



Pentecost, for the most part, follows the chronological narrative that Jesus lays out in His predictions:

Following the description of the tribulation period the Lord carries the chronology of events a step forward by describing the second advent (Matt. 24:30-37).   Concerning this second coming several things are mentioned.  (1) It will take place “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29).  The events of the tribulation age continue until the second advent of Messiah, whose coming terminates it.  (2)  It will be preceded by signs (v. 30).  What these signs are is not revealed.  Many signs have preceded this one, as described in verses 4-26, but this is a unique sign which will herald Messiah’s advent.  (3)  This coming will be sudden (v. 27 ) and (4) it will be evident (v. 30), at which time His power and glory will be manifested throughout the earth.  (Pentecost, 280)

Notice that Pentecost creates some confusion in this paragraph when he discusses “signs.”  Why he uses the plural in two sentences and the singular in the following sentence is not clear to me.  It is possible he was thinking about (what I call) the celestial events of verse 29 when he uses the plural and the unique “sign of the Son of man” in verse 30 when he uses the singular.  It does appear that he separates the “sign of the Son of man” from the actual Second Coming.  The following is part of a complex discussion of the “campaign of Armageddon”:

With the King of the South defeated by the armies of the Beast and the northern confederacy defeated by the Lord upon the mountains of Israel, we find two opposing forces drawn up in battle array—the armies of the Beast and the armies of the Kings of the East.  Before this battle can be joined there appears a sign in the heavens, the sign of the Son of man (Matt. 24:30).  What this sign is is not revealed, but its effect is.  It causes the armies to turn from their hostility toward each other to unite to fight against the Lord Himself.  [Quotation from Revelation 19:19]…It is at this point that the armies of the Beast and the east are destroyed by the Lord (Rev. 19:21).  (Pentecost, 357)

Notice that Pentecost understands the sign will occur before the Lord actually comes to earth.  Walvoord, on the other hand, does not separate the two events:

The final sign will be the appearance of Christ Himself in the sky in His return to earth [quotes Matthew 24:30]…Revelation 19:11-16 describes the scene in greater detail. It should be noted that Matthew was not talking about the rapture of the church, which is described in totally different language (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16).  The final sign is the glory of Christ Himself in the skies…The nations will grieve because it is the time of judgment for rejection of Jesus as Savior and Lord.  

            The Second Coming is referred by Jesus in 24:27 as the “Parousia.”  This word is usually translated as “coming.”  Pentecost has an extensive quote from Walvoord on the use of this term (Pentecost, 157).  Walvoord mentions various Scriptures that use the term “Parousia.”  He labels these uses in three categories—“general” use, reference to the Second Coming, and reference to the Rapture of the church.  The following are the Scriptures with his categorization:

1.       General use:  I Corinthians 16:17, II Corinthians 7:6-7, Philippians 1:26

2.      Rapture:  I Corinthians 15:23, I Thessalonians 2:19, 4:15, 5:23, II Thessalonians 2:1, James 5:7-8, II Peter 3:4, I John 2:28

3.      Second Coming:  Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; I Thessalonians 3:13; II Thessalonians 2:8; II Peter 1:16

(Incidentally, there are a few other uses of the term in the New Testament.  These would all fit in the “general” category.)  Walvoord’s point is that “Parousia” is a non-technical term, since he can establish that it has uses in the “general” category.  He believes that, because it is a non-technical term, it can refer to either the Rapture or the Second Coming.  So, the use of “Parousia” in a sentence does not prove that only one particular event is in view.

            As Pentecost analyzes the Olivet Discourse, he is convinced that the Second Coming of Christ will be a literal event of Christ’s returning to the earth in a manner that all can see.  Note this is a pronounced difference from the view of Russell, who identifies the Second Coming (or Parousia) of Christ as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70.  This was an event in which, if Christ was present, He was invisible and not at all obvious.  The following is Pentecost’s assessment of the visibility of Christ’s return:

The second advent will be visible.  Repeated references in the Scriptures establish the fact that the second advent will be a full and visible manifestation of the Son of God to the earth (Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7 Matt. 24:30).  As the Son was publicly repudiated and rejected, He shall be publicly presented by God at the second advent.  This advent will be associated with the visible manifestation of glory (Matt. 16:27; 25:31), for in the completion of judgment the manifestation of sovereignty God is glorified (Rev. 14:7; 18:1; 19:1).  (Pentecost, 393)

Walvoord agrees with Pentecost:  “The point is that the second coming of Christ will be a very visible event.”  (Walvoord)

            Pentecost understands the Second Coming to be an event especially relevant to Israel:  “He promises the second advent, at which time the kingdom program with Israel will be resumed (Matt. 24:27-31).”   (Pentecost, 464)  Also, he says, “This period [70th week] will be terminated by the second advent of the Messiah (v. 27).”  (Pentecost, 280)  This fits into the general scheme of Dispensationalism, which understands that the church will be raptured before the Tribulation and God will then deal with Israel, not only during the Tribulation but also during the Millennium.  However, Walvoord has a bit different emphasis, as we shall see when we consider the concept of the gathering of the elect.

            I shall avoid at this time a consideration of the topic of the “Day of the Lord.”  Pentecost includes the events of the Tribulation/70th Week as well as the Second Coming all in the Day of the Lord (Pentecost, 231).

            Pentecost interprets verse 31 to be the regathering of Israel.  First, he refers to the promises:

A great body of Old Testament prophecy is concerned with the restoration of the nation to the land since the covenants could not be fulfilled apart from this regathering.  That this regathering is associated with the second advent is observed from the words of the Lord:   [quotes Matthew 24:30-31] (Pentecost, 504)

Then, he applies this to Matthew 24:31:

Verse 31 suggests that the event to follow the second advent will be the regathering of Israel.  They had been scattered because of the anger of Satan (Rev. 12:12) and the desolation of the Beast (Matt. 24:15), but, according to the promise, they will be regathered to the land (Deut. 30:3-4; Ezek. 20:37-38; 37:1-14).  This regathering is through special angelic ministries.  The “elect” of verse 31 must have reference to the saints of that program with which God is then dealing, that is, Israel (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27). (Pentecost, 280)

Note that Pentecost uses 4 lines of evidence to come to his interpretation of 24:31.  First, he believes that Old Testament promises indicate that Israel will be regathered to the ancient Land.  Rather than apply these to the gathering of Israel into the modern-day nation, he applies these promises to the time of the return of Christ.  Second, he believes that internal and external evidence demands that the Olivet Discourse be applied specifically to Israel.  Fourth, he applies the mentions of the scattering of God’s people in Matthew 24:16ff and Revelation 12:12 to the condition of Israel at the time of Christ’s return.  Fourth, verse 31 itself refers to a gathering of the “elect,” and he connects this gathering to gathering of Israel to its own land at the time of Christ’s return.          

            Walvoord has a very different understanding of verse 31:

When Christ comes to earth, He will send out His angels to assemble the elect:  [quotes 24:31.  Some have taken the “elect” here to refer specifically to the elect living on earth, but it is more probable that this event will include all the elect, or the saved, including Old Testament saints, saved Israel, the church, and the saints of the tribulation period…Some will need to be resurrected from the dead…At the second coming of Christ no child of God will be left unresurrected or unrestored, but all will share in the millennial kingdom.  (Walvoord)



            Pentecost has an interesting and surprising interpretation of verse 28.  Perhaps this is a verse that invites creativity. 

In the parable of the ten virgins, the Lord is indicating that…the next event will be the judging of living Israel on earth to determine who will go into the kingdom.  This has been anticipated in Matthew 24:28, where unbelieving Israel is likened unto a lifeless corpse which is consigned to the vultures, a picture of judgment.  (Pentecost, 282)

Two things are striking about this interpretation.  First, one wonders why this “anticipation” would be offered by the Lord in the context of different subject matter.  Second, one is struck by how close this corresponds to Russell’s interpretation (see previous article).  Russell saw the lifeless corpse of Israel surrounded by the standards of the Roman legions.  My discussion points to a very different interpretation.


            “Taken as a whole, the revelation of Matthew 24:4-31, with parallel passages in Mark and Luke, answers the questions that the disciples had raised.”  (Walvoord)

            Although this summary statement is not very impressive, it says more than it appears.  In fact, Walvoord believes that the Olivet Discourse does answer the three questions of the Disciples (from his Dispensationalist perspective).  He believes that the Luke account gives additional information not included in Matthew.  Especially, Luke includes the description of “Jerusalem surrounded by armies.”  This, he believes answers the first question of the Disciples:  When would Jerusalem and the Temple be destroyed?  The latter two questions—concerning His coming and the end of the age—are answered by the Discourse as it is given in Matthew.




            In a critique of Dispensational thought, Anthony A. Hoekema (an amillennialist) makes the following observation: 

The really basic interpretative principle underlying Hoyt's essay seems to be this: The Old Testament provides the key for the interpretation of the New Testament. [Herman A.] Hoyt builds his case for the future restoration of Israel as a nation primarily on Old Testament prophecies and then proceeds to interpret the New Testament in the light of his literal interpretation of these Old Testament prophecies. But he ignores New Testament teachings which show that the future of believing Israel is not to be separated from the future of believing non-Israelites.  (Clouse, 107)

This quotation is from The Meaning of the Millennium.  Four Views.  Herman A. Hoyt may or may not be an able representative of “Dispensational Premillennialism,” (as his chapter is titled), but I believe that Hoekema’s critique is close to on target.  The Dispensationalists are very strong on “literal” interpretation of the Bible.  Pentecost begins his book by contrasting the allegorical with the literal method of interpretation (Pentecost, 1-15).  But, Hoekema demonstrates several failings to use literal methods in Hoyt’s essay, especially when it comes to New Testament interpretation.  What Dispensationalists are adamant about is that Old Testament prophecies must be fulfilled literally.  They do this sometimes with the sacrifice of New Testament principles. 

            Moreover, Dispensationalists are adamant in separating God’s program for Israel from the program of the church.  This idea revolves around the idea of the Pretribulational Rapture.  The church, in their view, will be raptured before the 70th Week/Tribulation begins. From that point on, the church is pretty irrelevant in prophecy.  Once this method of interpretation is accepted, then Dispensationalists can, in some cases, be fairly consistent in their interpretations of Scripture.

            However, in many cases, they simply assume that their case has been made on other grounds, and that they are justified in “reading into” (eisogesis) a passage what they believe it means.  Thus, the whole assumption that the Olivet Discourse is really about and for Israel is not established by internal evidence from the passage.

·         The passage is from a Christian gospel, written by a Christian for the Christian church.

·         The Discourse was spoken to a group of Jesus’ disciples who would become the founding Apostles of the church.  They would teach and preach the message of salvation through Jesus.  The evidence is very strong that Peter was martyred by the Romans, indicating he had considerable contact with the Gentile world.

·         I have discussed the practicalities of Jesus’ warning in 24:16-20 having any impact on Israel at large, and this is negligible. 

·         That the passage is a message for the church in the last days—or throughout history—is natural. 

·         There is certainly Jewish terminology in the passage, but this is true throughout all of the gospels.

·         I shall develop in more detail in other places the basis for believing that the Rapture and the Second Coming occur at the same time.

Thus, Dispensationalist belief that the Olivet Discourse is a set of signs FOR ISRAEL of the approach of the Second Coming is not necessarily a correct understanding.

            I do believe that Pentecost and Walvoord have some insights into the passage that are correct.  Walvoord (as I noted) pointed out the deceptions concerning Christ (verses 23-26).  Although neither he nor Pentecost explicitly note this, it is important to get Jesus’ point:  the false reports imply a “hidden” coming of Jesus, when in fact His coming will be an event that no one on earth will miss (verse 27).  As a bolt of lightning lights up the sky for all to see, so Jesus’ sign and His return will be seen by all.  This visibility of Christ’s coming is a point that both Pentecost and Walvoord do not miss.

            I also believe that their understanding of the Second Coming as prophesied by Jesus in verses 27 and 30 reflect a natural reading of the passage.  J. S. Russell and other Preterists try to interpret the “coming” of Jesus as a visitation of judgment on the Jews in AD 70.  Their interpretation would fit in the category of a “hidden coming” of Jesus.  Jesus said there would be no mistake when He returned.  Everyone will know that He’s back.  The Dispensationalists have got that right.

            I find their discussion of “signs” somewhat confusing.  Note that there is some disagreement between Pentecost and Walvoord.  I tend to agree with Pentecost that the “sign of the Son of man” in verse 30 seems to be separated from the actual coming of Jesus.  Walvoord believes the sign and the coming are one and the same.  Whether Pentecost is correct in saying that the sign is what causes the warring factions to join forces against Christ is something I am not prepared to discuss.  However, it does appear that the passages in Revelation and Daniel neither support nor undermine his speculation.

            Walvoord, as he is quoted by Pentecost, tries to make a case that Parousia (used in verse 27) can refer either to the Rapture or to the Second Coming—which he understands to be events that are separated by seven years.  He first makes the point that the word can be used in a “general” sense.  Consider the following (quotations from English Standard Version):

·         I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence…(I Corinthians 16:17)

·         But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus… (II Corinthians 7:6)

·         For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” (II Corinthians 10:10)

·         So that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:26)

·         Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…(Philippians 2:12)

·         The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders…(II Thessalonians 2:9)

These uses shade between “coming” and “presence.”  They employ a Greek word that often was used to describe a visit of a high official.  Incidentally, it is also used in connection with the Lawless One or Man of Sin in II Thessalonians 2:9.

            Walvoord lists—besides its use in Matthew 24—three other instances where Parousia is used in reference to the Second Coming.  They are as follows:

·         I Thessalonians 3:13:  So that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

·         II Thessalonians 2:8: And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

·         II Peter 1:16:  For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you  the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

I notice that Walvoord has a question mark after II Peter 1:16.  He questioned his own judgment.  I believe Peter is referring to the first coming, though the Second Coming may have been in mind. 

            In the other two instances, there are references to the Rapture close by.  In I Thessalonians 4:15, the Rapture is quite evident:  “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”  The other use in I Thessalonians is 2:19:  For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?”  Though Walvoord labels this as referring to the Rapture, it is difficult to see how he distinguishes it from 3:13 (quoted above).  Walvoord considers II Thessalonians 2:8 to refer to the Second Coming, but, in the same chapter, is usage that he believes refers to the Rapture, II Thessalonians 2:1:  “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers…”

            The truth is, Walvoord imposes upon these examples the Dispensationalist theory of the Pretribulational Rapture.  I believe an objective study of these will recognize that a Post-Tribulational Rapture theory will just as consistently fit all of these examples.  When the latter theory is used, the term “Parousia” refers in every case to the same event:  the Second Coming of Christ at which time all believers will be raptured.  If this is the case, “Parousia” is being used as a technical term.  This would apply to its use in Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39.  The fact that it is also used in a general way does not negate its use in a technical sense.  Many words in English are used both technically and generally.  For example, “resistance” has a specific technical meaning in electricity, but also can be used in common speech to mean a hindrance or impediment. 

            Walvoord and Pentecost do not appear to agree on the interpretation of verse 31.  Pentecost believes this verse predicts that living Israelite believers (those who have become believers during the Tribulation) will be gathered back to Israel by angels at the time Christ returns to earth.  Walvoord believes that the “elect” of this verse refers to all those who have been saved—living or dead, Old Testament or Gentiles or Hebrew, church age or Tribulation period.  He is not saying they will all be resurrected at that time.  I would infer (from general Dispensational beliefs) that he envisions that each category will have a separate destiny, but that they all converge at Christ’s return.

·         Church age Christians will be resurrected or raptured just before the Tribulation.  They will return with Christ at the end of the Tribulation at the Second Coming.

·         Old Testament saints and those Tribulation period believers who have died will be resurrected at the Second Coming.

·         Living Israel will be gathered at the Second Coming.

I believe that the term “gather” can include the Rapture of the church.  Notice that the verb form is used in Matthew 24:31 and the noun form is used in II Thessalonians 2:1.  The latter case is considered by Walvoord to refer to the Rapture/Resurrection of the church (as discussed above).  Notice that in Matthew 24:31 Jesus includes elect from two areas:  from the four winds and from one end of heaven to the other.  This could include living Christians (Gentile and Jew) and those who have died in Christ.  All certainly are the elect of God.

            Quite frankly, I am a little taken aback by Pentecost’s take on verse 28.  He says it anticipates the judgment of living Israel to determine whether they will enter the Millennial Kingdom (as quoted above).  As one reads these words of Jesus, they are somewhat strange.  I believe, however, that they cannot be disconnected from what has already been said.  Notice the sequence of His words:

·         Verses 24-25:  false prophets and false Christs

·         Verse 26:  false rumors about a hidden Christ

·         Verse 27:  the vivid visibility of the return of Christ—unmistakable

·         Verse 28:  an adage using a visual picture of vultures circling overhead around above a dead body.

It seems to me that the context points to verse 28 as a reinforcement of what Christ has already said:  He won’t be hidden in the desert or in the city.  Just as vultures can find a dead body and become a crowd of circling birds, so Christ’s return will be an event the whole world will know about.  I recognize this interpretation still leaves one a bit dissatisfied, but I cannot buy into Pentecost’s interpretation.

            I shall comment at another time (when I consider the parallels to Matthew 24) more extensively on Walvoord’s (and Pentecost’s) belief that Luke answers the question about the destruction of Jerusalem and Matthew answers the questions about Christ’s coming and the end of the age.  I believe there may be something to this idea.

NEXT:  INTERPRETATION OF MATTHEW 24:32-35 (especially verse 34—which is an important key in this passage)



Clouse, Robert G. (ed)  The Meaning of the Millennium Four Views. Downers Grove, IL:

            Intervarsity Press, 1977.

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

News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Walvoord, John F.  Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times.

Colorado Springs, CO:  David C Cook. Kindle Edition, 2011.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Thursday, January 10, 2013



MATTHEW 24:23-31

            I thank all of you who have stayed with me as we have been crawling our way through Matthew 24-25.  This present article will study the views of J. S. Russell on 24:23-31 (Russell, pages 75-83).  The reason that I grouped verses 23-25 with verses 26-31 is that the matter of deception in verse 26 appears to be a particular instance of the general warning of deception in verses 23-25.  I agree that, more properly, the earlier verses are a part of the description of the Great Tribulation, but I believe that the subject of deception forms a transition between the Great Tribulation and the Parousia. 

            Russell’s commentary on the whole span of these verses is “hit and miss.” By that, I mean at times he addresses a verse specifically and at other times he simply discusses issues in general and ignores the content of the verse.  He begins by returning to his theme that the whole passage is a unit that focuses on one event that would occur within a generation:  “The very first word [of verse 23] is indicative of continuity—‘then’ [tote]; and every succeeding word is plainly addressed to the disciples themselves, for their personal warning and guidance…[Our] Lord gives them..what they might live to witness with their own eyes…a vivid description of what actually occurred.”  Jesus’ predictions of deception in verses 23-26, he believes, are fulfilled by some examples that Josephus gives of false prophets during the siege of Jerusalem (Russell, page 75).  He emphasizes a very sad example of how false prophets deceived the people that was told by Josephus (Whiston, page 741).  A “prophet” had urged people to come to the Temple area where they would see signs of their deliverance.  About 6,000 people end up in a building where they were burned to death by the Romans.

            Russell also sees a fulfillment of Jesus’ predictions of verses 27-28 in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman legions:  “Our Lord forewarns His disciples that His coming to that judgment-scene would be conspicuous and sudden as the lightning-flash…[and commenting on the gathering of eagles] that is, wherever the guilty and devoted children of Israel were found, there the destroying ministers of wrath, the Roman legions, would overwhelm them.”  (Russell, page 76)

            Russell’s main comment on verse 29 is that it must be understood to connect directly with the preceding material and cannot be construed to apply to a last-days event:  “the phraseology absolutely forbids the idea of any transition from the subject in hand to another…The section before us connects itself most distinctly with the ‘great tribulation’ spoken of in ver. 21…and it is inadmissible to suppose any interval of time in the face of the adverb ‘immediately.’” (Russell, page 77)

            He argues that the phrase in verse 30, which is translated “all the tribes of the earth” (King James Version) should be translated “all the tribes of the land.” (Russell, page 77, see also Tasker, page 230).  The Greek word ges can be translated either as “land” or “earth.”  The Old Testament reference is to Zechariah 12:10: 

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”  (Scripture quotations from English Standard Version unless stated otherwise)


            In his commentary, Russell devotes a great deal of space in quoting and criticizing Dean Alford who attempts to develop a “double-fulfillment” interpretation of the passage.  Russell believes such theories have no scriptural warrant (Russell, pages 77-78).

            He then takes up the problem of the supernatural celestial signs and events that Jesus predicts, especially in verses 29-31.  He poses the question from an imaginary objector:  “How can any one pretend, it is said, that the sun has been darkened, that the moon has withdrawn her light, that the stars have fallen from heaven, that the Son of man has been seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory?” (Russell, page 79)  Note especially that he includes not only the celestial signs but the “coming” of Jesus:  Most of what is predicted in verses 29-31 he explains in his answer to the imaginary objector.  He answers by saying that poetic metaphor and hyperbole, especially using nature phenomena to depict human catastrophe, is the very language of prophecy.  To illustrate his point, he quotes various Old Testament prophets who used such language.  For example, he (Russell, page 81) quotes Isaiah 13:9-10:

Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.  For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.

He argues that the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple—which ended the centerpiece of the Hebrew religion—was so catastrophic that “the imagery employed by our Lord…is not inappropriate to the dissolution of the Jewish state and polity which took place at the destruction of Jerusalem.”  (Russell, page 81) 

            He then reinforces his argument concerning the overall interpretation of the Olivet Discourse.  His argument is centered on the element of time.  So, these predictions of verses 29-31, Russell understands to be events that will occur in the lifetime of the disciples.  He offers as evidence a passage from earlier in the gospel story—Matthew 16, especially 16:27-27:

”For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

This is an “event which he [Jesus] expressly affirms would be witnessed by some of his disciples then living.” (Russell, page 82)  He invites the reader to compare this passage, especially verse 27 with the words of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:30b (“the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”)  He does not, however, specify what event this language refers to other than the destruction of Jerusalem.  He includes both the celestial signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars AND the coming of the Son of Man with power and glory as all “imagery…not inappropriate to the dissolution of the Jewish state…which took place at the destruction of Jerusalem.”  (Russell, page 81)  One is left with the conclusion that Russell considers that the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 is “Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30b

            Finally, Russell offers an explanation for verse 31, the gathering of the elect.  “Again, the sending forth of his angels to gather together his elect corresponds exactly [to]…the ‘harvest,’ at the end of the aeon, as described in the parables of the tares and the dragnet (Matthew xii. [sic] 41-50 [chapter xiii was meant]).” (Russell, page 82)  Russell hammers home his theme of the time element:  “…they alike [the prophecy of Matthew 24 and the parables of Matthew 13] speak of the close of the aeon or age, not of the end of the world, or the material universe; and they alike speak of that great judicial epoch as at hand.  (Russell, page 82)  Two questions come forward from these quotations.  First, what does Russell mean by “great judicial epoch” or “harvest” or gathering of the elect?  Second, why does he say this event (since he equates all three) is at hand?

            To understand how Russell draws these conclusions, we follow Russell back to the preaching of John the Baptist, in which John warns of a coming judgment: 

The existing aeon, therefore, was the Jewish dispensation, which was now drawing to its close.  It is indeed surprising that expositors should have failed to recognize in these solemn predictions the reproduction…of the words of Malachi and of John the Baptist.  Here we find the same final separation between the righteous and the wicked;…the same gathering of the wheat into the garner; the same burning of the chaff…Can there be any doubt that it is to the same act of judgment, the same period of time, the same historical event, that Malachi, John, and our Lord refer to?  …[We are brought to the conclusion that these all] refer to the same catastrophe…when Jerusalem literally became “a furnace of fire” and the aeon of Judaism came to a close in the “great and dreadful day of the Lord.”  (Russell, pages 23-24)

Thus, Russell equates all the predictions—of the Day of the Lord, of the end of the aion (Greek for “age” or “world with respect to the age”), of the “coming” of Christ in power (and judgment)—to the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem (question 1).  In his earlier discussions of these predictions, he had already made the case that this event was to occur within a generation, and so he can make the statement with ease that Christ’s predictions in Matthew 24:29-31 were at hand (question 2).



MATTHEW 24:23-31

            The Matthew 24:34 Trap:  When I first learned about Preterism, through R. C. Sproul and Hank Hanegraaff, I noted that their approach to the interpretation of prophecies of the end-times had a single starting place:  Matthew 24:34, which reads:  “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”  Although Russell does not admit that this verse is a major influence on him, the effect of its influence is evident.  The “trap” begins by making this verse be the controlling factor for interpretation of the Olivet Discourse.  This means that one must look for an event that fulfills Jesus’ prophecies and that occurs within a generation of the Discourse—about 40 years.  The AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple appears to meet that demand. 

            While this strategy appears to solve interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, as well as other Scriptures, in fact it also creates a trap.  The trap is that the single event has the burden of fulfilling every prophecy.  As I analyze Russell’s comments on the passage before us, I believe that trap is quite evident.   The fact is, this trap does not seem to give Russell the least discomfort.  In fact, he maintains with the consistency of a superhero his insistence on using his scheme to explain every prophecy in the New Testament.  Modern followers of Russell are not so brave, and they prefer to call themselves “partial Preterists” (or moderate Preterists).  This allows them to use Russell’s method to explain away prophecies that make them uncomfortable, such as the Great Tribulation.  At the same time, they can cling to prophecies that evangelical consensus holds to, such as the Second Coming of Jesus.  (See Sproul, pages 158-170.)  For a dramatic instance of how the trap affects Russell’s interpretation, see his discussion of the rapture in I Corinthians 15:50-58 (Russell, page 208-211).

            Verses 23-25:  Russell focuses on two points:  the time element and the role of false prophets.  He is correct that the word “then” connects these verses in time with the material in verses 21-22.  He also makes some note of the role of deception.  But he ignores the content of the deception that Jesus predicts.  It is not simply deceiving people.  It is deceiving people about the Christ.  Russell refers to Josephus’ description of false prophets during the siege, but this description makes no mention of Christ or any false Messiahs. 

            Verse 26:  Russell does not address this verse specifically.  In fact, it is an important transition verse.  Verses 23-25 are concerned with deception that goes on during the Great Tribulation.  Verse 26 carries that theme forward to anticipate what comes next.  Although modern translations usually use “so” for the Greek gar, this word is often translated by the strong word “therefore.”  So, Jesus is saying:  “Look, I am warning you that there will be all kinds of deception from false prophets and prophets, trying to get people to chase after a rumor about me or some false Christ.  Therefore, if they say “He is outside the city” or “He is hidden in the city,” don’t believe them and go chasing after those rumors or deceptive teachings.  Because there will be all kinds of false Christs and prophets.”  This sets up what follows.  But Russell, because he is focused on only one event, ignores such details.

            Verses 27-28:  Because of the Matthew 24:34 trap, Russell “doubles back” on the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem as the interpretation of these verses.  Yet, it seems obvious to me that Jesus is giving an account of a series of events.  Verses 21-22 focus on the Great Tribulation.  Russell has interpreted that to be the destruction of Jerusalem.  Verses 23-25 can be attributed to the same time frame as verses 21-22.  However, verses 27-28 now anticipate a new event with verse 26 forming a transition.  To paraphrase verses 26-28:  “There will be deceptive rumors about the location of the Christ, but when He comes, no one will mistake His arrival.  It will be like an enormous bolt of lightning lighting up the sky from east to west.”  I shall grind on this a bit more.  If the deceptions have been going on within the time frame of verses 21-22, then an event that is obvious and public must be a new, unitary event that forms the terminus for the previous time frame.  One cannot say people will be deceived about a hidden Christ if His cataclysmic, lightning bolt arrival has already happened (or is in the process of happening.  The table below illustrates this.

Coming of
Gathering of


I believe Russell blunders in his interpretation.  Careful reading of these verses make it impossible for 27 (especially) to be equivalent to 21-22, because the “hidden Christ” deception cannot occur after the fact of the “lightning-bolt coming.”  He makes this mistake because he is in the Matthew 24:34 trap.  He has only one historical event—the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem—to explain and fulfill every prophecy.  So, he has to keep “doubling back.”  I have ranted enough. 

            Russell ties the eagles of the Roman legion standards to Christ’s saying in verse 28.  First, it appears to me that this saying is an adage that Jesus applies to His point.  Second, the Greek word aetoi (singular aetos) can mean “eagle” or “vulture.”  Since a dead body is mentioned, “vulture” would be the better translation.  The meaning of the adage seems to be:  “Where there is an attraction, it draws a crowd.”  So, Jesus may be reinforcing what He has already said—that His coming will be a very public event.  However, there is another possible view of this verse.  In Luke 17:20-37, there is a brief passage that repeats some of the material in Matthew 24.  In that passage, Jesus talks about two people being side-by-side (in bed, at the mill) and “one will be taken and the other left.”  The disciples ask, “Where, Lord?”  Their question, in context, is:  “Where will the one—who is taken—be taken?”  Jesus answered with the same adage.  He appears to mean that people will be taken in judgment that brings death and a circling of vultures.  So, it is possible a similar meaning applies in Matthew 24:28.  At any rate, Russell’s application to Roman legions does not seem to hold up.  This is especially true since I have already demonstrated that his time frame for verse 27 is incorrect.  

Verses 29-31:  Russell attacks interpreters that try to divorce verses 29ff from the previous material, since verse 29 begins with “Immediately after the tribulation…”  I have no argument with him about that conclusion.

He argues that the word “land” rather than “earth” should be used in verse 30, so that only the land and people of Israel is the subject.  He quotes Zechariah 12:10 as a verse that Jesus may have been referring to.  Although he may be correct in this assertion, it does not necessarily advance his Preterist thesis, as I shall discuss shortly.

His main concern in interpreting these verses is to demonstrate that these are examples of poetic imagery that is common in prophetic Scripture.  He gives an adequate number of examples—some of which are very similar to the language that Jesus uses—to make his point.  However, he ignores the details of the wording of these verses and the flow of chronology that they relate.  In fact, Jesus has been telling a story:

·         Gospel preached to all nations (14)

·         Abomination of Desolation (15)

·         Flight to the mountains (16-20)

·         Great tribulation (21-22)

·         Deception about the Christ (23-25)

·         False reports of the hidden Christ (26)

·         [Commentary anticipating the coming of Christ (27-28)]

·         Celestial signs (29)

·         Sign of the Son of Man (30a)

·         Mourning of the tribes (30b)

·         Coming of Son of Man on clouds with great glory (30c)

·         Sending of angels to gather the elect (31)

The natural understanding of Jesus’ words is that He is giving a sequential account of events.  However, Russell has only one event—the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem—to account for the fulfillment of all of these events.  He is insistent on the significance of adverbs and prepositions such as “then” and “immediately after” to make the point that one cannot separate parts of Jesus narrative from other parts, but that it is one complete narrative.  That is a valid point.  But, at the same time, he ignores the significance of those same adverbs in advancing the narrative through the chronology.  So, the celestial signs are not said by Jesus to refer to the Great Tribulation (which Russell identifies with the destruction of Jerusalem).  Jesus says those sign take place immediately after the Great Tribulation.  “And then,” Jesus says, the sign of the Son of Man will appear and the tribes will mourn and the Son of Man will come on clouds.  These are described by Jesus as separate events, not new symbols to describe the same event that is described in verses 21-22.  So Russell may be correct that a certain amount of symbolism is used in 29-31, but, if that is true, the symbolism is tied to a different set of events than the event of verses 21-22.

            Two additional comments from Russell need to be examined.  One I have already mentioned—his restriction of the tribes who mourn (verse 30) to the tribes of the “land”, i.e. to Israel.  His implication is that the tribes will mourn because of the destruction of Jerusalem.  However, I have already established that this event is depicted by Jesus to occur after the Great Tribulation of verses 21-22.  Thus, whether all the tribes of the earth or only the tribes of Israel mourn at the sign of the Son of Man, they will not be mourning at the time of the destruction of Israel.  Moreover, if one reads Zechariah 12:10, one is struck by the content of that verse.  It says that “when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him…”  This does not correspond to people looking at the destruction of Jerusalem and mourning.  It depicts a people who finally see the truth about the One they had originally rejected and crucified.  It depicts a people who are coming back to the Lord in repentance, not a people devastated and in shock and, yet, with no recognition of the relationship between the destruction of Jerusalem and their rejection of Christ.  So, once again, Russell’s “hand-waving” arguments do not hold up.

The second comment from Russell is his identification of the gathering of the elect with the destruction of Israel.  He is making an equation among three predictions:

Separation of wicked from
Righteous in Parables of
Weeds and the Net
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43,
The gathering of the
Matthew 24:31
The destruction of Jerusalem,
AD 70


Although a case may be made that the two panels on the left are equivalent, exegesis of Matthew 24 precludes their equivalence to the AD 70 event.  I have already made the case that the events of Matthew 24:29-31 happen after the events of 24:21-22.  So even if one accepts 24:21-22 to be the AD 70 destruction, it cannot be the same as the gathering of the elect.  Since the separation of the wicked from the righteous in Matthew 13 bears some resemblance to Matthew 24:31 and no resemblance to 24:21-22, the events of Matthew 13 very likely are not equivalent to the destruction of Jerusalem.

            The climax of the passage:  If one reads the entire passage, Matthew 24:1-31, the obvious climax is found in verses 30-31.  This is the coming of the Son of Man in power and glory.  A natural reading of this passage is that Jesus has given a chronology that leads to this climax.  I have just been arguing that the complex of events of 21-22 is a step along that chronology and not the focus of the passage.  Nor is there any warrant to “double-back” at every turn of the narrative and refer everything back to one event.  The most natural explanation for this passage is that the climax of Jesus’ narrative is His future Second Coming.  This understanding accords with the concept of Jesus’ Second Coming foretold by the angels in Acts 1:11.  I believe that this is the center of gravity of the entire Olivet Discourse and that it should be what governs interpretation of the passage.  I believe that rule for interpretation plays an important role in interpreting the next passage, Matthew 24:32-35.

            In analyzing Russell’s interpretation of 24:23-31, I believe that I have demonstrated that the “Matthew 24:34 trap” indeed trapped Russell into making profound errors of interpretation.  These errors seriously undermine the validity of his entire theory that the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem is the key to understanding New Testament prophecies.

NEXT:  Dispensationalist views of Matthew 24:23-31



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            & Co., 1878.

Sproul, R. C.  The Last Days According to Jesus.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1998.

Tasker, R. V. G. The Gospel According to St. Matthew.  R. V. G. Tasker, gen. ed. The Tyndale

            New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ.

            Co., 1961.

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

            Publ., 1987.