Thursday, February 21, 2013

MATTHEW 24-25, PART 10



MATTHEW 24:36-51


            I shall use the writings of J. S. Russell as representative of the Preterist position.  This passage is straightforward, for the most part, in interpretation.  It lends itself to whatever interpretation has been given to the earlier part of chapter 24.  So, in the two positions which I shall represent, the representatives simply apply their respective viewpoints in interpreting the passage. 

            Russell states:  “All the representations given by our Lord of the coming catastrophe…imply that it would take men by surprise.”  (Russell, 91)  Although the “consummation was to fall within the term of the existing generation,” (Russell, 89-90) the exact day and hour was unknown, even by Jesus.  This “consummation” Russell defines as “the city taken and the temple burnt with fire” (Russell, 90).  So, Russell does not see a challenge in 24:36-51 to his position.  That position is that the “Parousia” of Jesus was the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple within a generation of those living at the time of Jesus’ ministry.

            The “lesson” that Jesus derives from this suddenness of the catastrophe was the need for the disciples and their followers to watch and pray—for their own safety (Russell, 92).  He substantiates his position—that the siege of the Romans was a sudden event—by referring to Josephus.  Josephus gives the number of killed by the Romans as about 1.1 million.  This large number was due, he says, to the fact that many had come to Jerusalem for the Passover at about the time the Romans surrounded the city.  (Whiston, 749)  This confirmed to Russell that those who were “watching” could understand the approaching events and escape in time before “the consummation would fall on the Jews like a trap.”  (Russell, 92-98)

            Russell discusses the warnings to be ready, lest one fall under judgment, in 24:43-51.  He notes that Luke 12:39-46 is a parallel passage, but has a different setting, which he believes is the accurate setting.  Matthew uses these words as part of the Olivet Discourse, but Russell believes that Matthew’s use of it makes it into the “warp and woof” of the Discourse.  He argues that the passage continues Jesus’ discussion of the AD 70 “consummation” and has nothing to do with future judgment:  “The finest instrument cannot draw a dividing line between the parts of the discourse, and assign one portion to the judgment of the Jewish nation and another to the judgment of the human race.” (Russell, 97)      

            In summation, I would say that Russell considers the entire sub-passage, Matthew 24:36-51, to be a continuation of Jesus’ prediction of the AD 70 destruction by the Romans.  The warnings are to His disciples and their followers to be watchful of events and avoid falling into the Romans’ trap.  He sees no reference to future events.



MATTHEW 24:36-51

            Pentecost refers to all or parts of this span of verses several places without detailed comments.  He summarizes the whole passage to be “exhortations” to watchfulness (Pentecost, 281).  The references to Noah’s day depict people who were preoccupied with daily life.  Christ was not necessarily pointing toward licentiousness but their carelessness:  “In each of the three illustrations…the individuals concerned were occupied with the usual round of life without any thought of Messiah’s return.”  (Pentecost, 281)

            Walvoord gives more detailed commentary on the passage.  He recognizes the seeming contradiction between Jesus’ predictions of events leading up to the Parousia and yet saying no one knows the “day and hour.”  (Verse 36)  However, Walvoord says, one can recognize that events are leading up to the Second Coming but “details are not given in such clarity that one can determine the day or the hour.”  Just as there were signs the flood was coming, so there will be signs of the approach of the Second Coming.  (Walvoord*) 

            Walvoord clarifies that, in his view, these signs “are in relation to the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation, not to the [Pretribulation] rapture of the church, which has no signs and is always imminent until it occurs.  (Walvoord*)

            He reviews the approach of the flood in Noah’s day when people “carried on their normal activities” (as Jesus described in Matthew 24:38), yet many signs of the approaching flood (such as animals coming to the ark) were visible.  In the same way, as the Great Tribulation progresses “and those who understand the prophecies of the end time realize that approximately three and a half years have passed, they will…expect Christ to come even though the prophecies are not specifically detailed to allow them to know the day or the hour.  Such people will know the year.”  (Walvoord*)

            He comments on Matthew 24:40-42, which has the familiar “one will be taken and one left.”  “Because this event is somewhat similar to the rapture in that some are taken and some are left, Posttribulationalists almost universally cite this verse as proof that the rapture will occur as part of the second coming of Christ after the tribulation.  However, a careful reading of the passage yields exactly the opposite result.  At the rapture of the church, those taken are those who are saved, and those who are left are left to go through the awful period…Here the situation is just in reverse.  Those who are taken are taken in judgment, and those who are left are left to enter the millennial kingdom.” (Walvoord*)

            Walvoord goes on to contend with Posttribulationalists who argue on the basis of a difference in the Greek words translated “taken” or “took” in verses 39 and 41, etc.  He points to Luke 17:34-35, which contains very similar wording to Matthew 24:40-41.  The verses in Luke are followed by the interchange between the disciples and Jesus:  And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”  (Luke 17:37, English Standard Version)  Walvoord comments:  “In other words, the ones taken are obviously put to death in judgment, in contrast to what will happen at the rapture when the ones taken are brought to heaven. There is no scriptural basis for reading the rapture into Matthew 24. The occasion is entirely different.”

            He comments briefly on the parable of the owner of the house and his need to set a watch:  “Not knowing the exact hour, he would have to watch continuously. Jesus applied this to those waiting for the second coming with the exhortation, ‘So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’ (v. 44).”

            Walvoord comments on the parable of the good and bad stewards (24:45-51):  “The implication of this passage is that belief in the second coming of Christ is linked to belief in the first coming of Christ. If one accepts who Christ was and what He did in His first coming, he will also accept who Christ will be and what He will do at His second coming and, accordingly, will live in preparation.”  It is not clear how the good or bad behavior of the stewards links up to belief in the “first coming” and the “second coming.”  My interpretation of Walvoord’s interpretation is that acceptance of Jesus as the Christ means anticipating that Christ will come a second time to respond to faithful and unfaithful living.




            In some ways there is not much new ground that is broken in the commentaries from these sources.  Each of the writers uses his comments to reinforce his own position.  For Russell, he sees the warnings of suddenness and the need for watchfulness to be appropriate for the “consummation” that came in AD 70.  Pentecost and Walvoord understand the material to relate to the Jews (and other tribulation converts) living in the Great Tribulation who will see the signs of the approaching Second Coming. 

            Russell’s focus is on the practicalities of certain people, having been forewarned, escaping the siege of Jerusalem.  So, he refers to Josephus’ statement that many Jews were visiting Jerusalem for the Passover at the time the siege began and the Romans snapped the trap shut.  Those who were aware of Jesus’ warning would be able to avoid that trap.  However, the warnings of Jesus are really more warnings concerning moral and spiritual living than simply being “in on” the plan to destroy Jerusalem.  It is true that Jesus’ comparison to the people before the flood is not a direct condemnation of their licentiousness (24:36-39), as Pentecost points out.  However, Jesus is commenting on their spiritual obliviousness. 

Jesus goes on to discuss the good and bad servants in 24:45-51.  He directly connects attitudes about delay of the Lord’s coming with behavior.  The good servant displays in his behavior an attitude of expecting the Lord to come at any moment.  The bad servant does not expect that coming and takes that delay as a license to bad behavior.  In the entire span of 24:36-51, Jesus is concerned with heart attitudes and external behaviors.  The idea of the approaching coming of the Lord creates a fervency of love and service to the Lord which is displayed in faithful servanthood.  See I John 3:2-3:  Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (English Standard Version)

These warnings of Jesus do not correspond very well with a group of Christians reading Matthew 24 and watching current events and thus escaping the siege of Jerusalem.  It corresponds better with a more widespread set of warnings to all humankind.  In addition, as I have argued in another article, Russell continuously goes back to a single event, the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, as the fulfillment of all that Jesus says in the Olivet Discourse.  Yet, the Discourse has given a series of events—one can begin, for example, with verse 15—that occur in sequence—the Abomination of Desolation (24:15), the Great Tribulation (24:21-22), the Celestial Signs (24:29), the Parousia (24:30), and the Gathering of the Elect (24:31).  The commentaries in 24:36-51 appear especially to refer to the Parousia and the Gathering of the Elect.  Russell ignores this and continues to hammer on his one theme of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Almost anyone who studies the details of prophecy have a difficult time with 24:36:  But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”  The difficulty is that study of prophecy yields considerable detail about events as the time of the Parousia approaches.  Yet, there is this element of uncertainty.  Walvoord deals with that seeming contradiction, I think, quite well.  His point is that we can know a lot, yet we cannot pin point the date.  And, of course, he would say, we can know a lot about timing once certain milestone events come about.  For example, there are statements about time dating from the Abomination of Desolation.  However, one cannot date the Abomination of Desolation, or any other milestone event from the present.  I shall use an example that may not be tasteful to some.  One may not know when a woman will get pregnant, but, once she is pregnant, one can time with some accuracy when the baby will be born. 

The other issue is that, in the minds of many, this verse (24:36) is talking about the Rapture.  It is the most definitive statement of an “imminent” event in the Scriptures.  (I shall, I hope, discuss that topic in more detail elsewhere.)  Yet, the Dispensationalist who holds to the Pretribulation Rapture rejects this verse as a description of the imminent Rapture of the church.  Walvoord is careful to instruct his readers that Jesus is not talking about the Rapture.  He does not develop proof for that, but takes it as already established.  The consequence is that, in the Dispensationalist/Pretribulation Rapture theory, these words of Jesus—and the whole passage, 24:36-51—are relating to “Tribulation Saints.”  These are Jews and Gentiles who are converted to Jesus during the Tribulation period.  They are the ones who cannot know the “day and hour.”  They are the ones who much must “stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (24:42) and who must heed the warnings to be faithful in 24:45-51. 
The wording of much of this passage makes this scenario difficult to accept.  I encourage the reader to imagine a people who are converts in the Tribulation period.  They, according to most teaching, will have been won by the most dynamic and ardent evangelists in history (including, perhaps, the 144,000).  They will receive and cling to Christ in the face of harsh persecution from the Antichrist/Beast.  Some of them, by some accounts, will be given miraculous safe haven from persecution (as related in Revelation 12:14-17).  It is difficult to make these pictures congruent with the concern of Christ that people may lose vigilance and
become spiritually bankrupt as related in these passages.  Note that Jesus first characterizes those who are “of the world” (as comparable to those who lived in Noah’s day (24:37-39).  Then, he gives warnings to God’s people:  to keep watch (24:42-44) and to be faithful (24:45-51).  It strikes me that the Tribulation Saints would not need these kinds of admonitions.  On the other hand, the people of the church, who have been around for 2,000 years and counting, certainly need these admonitions, to be ready for the Rapture, yes, but also to be ready for the dark days before the Second Coming.  These statements come from a Posttribulation Rapture perspective.

            I want to react to one other comment from Walvoord.  He discusses the word “taken” in verses 39-41.  In verse 39, the Greek word airo is translated “took” to describe the action of the Flood.  In verses 40-41, the Greek word paralambano is translated “taken” to describe the fate of certain people at the time of the Parousia.  The following is Walvoord’s comments on this:


 …posttribulationists sometimes point out that the Greek word airo, used to express “took them all away” (v. 39), is a different word than used in verse 40 and in verse 41 (Gr., paralambano : “will be taken”). Though admitting that in verse 39 at the time of the flood those taken were taken in judgment, posttribulationists claim the change in wording justifies reading the rapture into verses 40–42.


Walvoord argues from context and from a parallel passage in Luke (as I describe above) that the use of the different Greek words is not significant.  Although it is certainly true that the Greek New Testament often uses synonyms in the same passage in what seems to be a way of giving variety, I think a case may be made that the two Greek words used here are not exact synonyms.  I have listed all of the uses in Matthew for paralambano and for airo in the table below.  Note that the uses are really different.  Paralambano is used consistently to mean “take along with” whereas airo is used to mean “get,” “pick up,” “take upon one.”  The first emphasizes the idea of bringing someone with oneself to a place.  The second emphasizes (usually) the physical act of picking up.  See the following table:

Do not fear to take Mary as your wife
Take to yourself X as a wife
Took his wife
Took to himself X as a wife
Rise and take the child and his mother
Take along X
Rose and took the child
Took along X
Rise and take the child and his mother
Take along X
See 2.14
Took along X
Then the devil took him to the holy city
Took along X to…
Again the devil took him to a high mountain
Took X to…
Will take with himself seven other spirits
Take with oneself X
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James…
Take along X
But if he will not listen, take one or two others along
Take along X
He took the twelve disciples aside
Take X aside
One will be taken and one left
Present passage
Present passage
He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him
Took X along
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium
Took X along to
…will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot
Lift up X in their hands
Take your mat and go home
Pick up or carry X
The patch will pull away from the garment
Take my yoke upon you
Put upon yourself X as a burden
Even what he has will be taken from him
Take X from Y
John’s disciples came and took his body
Get, pick up, carry
Disciples picked up twelve basketfuls
Pick up X
Disciples picked up seven basketfuls
Pick up X
Take up his cross and follow me
Pick up X
Take the first fish you catch
Take, get, procure X
Take your pay and go
Take along or receive and keep what you have
Be taken up (NASB) and cast into the sea
X be picked up and thrown
The kingdom of God will be taken away from you
Take X away from Y
Let no one on the roof…go down to take anything out of his house
Get, pick up, procure X
Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak
Until the flood came and took them away
Sweep away, take away by force
Take the talent from him
Take X away from Y
Even what he has will be taken from him
They forced him to carry the cross
Carry, put upon oneself as a burden, take up


I believe that Walvoord is incorrect in dismissing the use of these two words.  In verse 41, Jesus is describing the action of the flood to take the evil people away.  A flood’s action is to float an object off its mooring to the ground, and, then, if there is a current (and there usually is), to push the object away from its original location.  There is a physical picking up and carrying off.  This is very different from taking someone with oneself to another location. 

            We need to inquire:  What is the point of Jesus’ illustration of the flood?  Verses 36 and 37 introduce the illustration.  First, Jesus makes the point that no one knows exactly when “that day and hour” will be.  Second, He says in that day, the times will be as in the days of Noah.  What were those days like?  People were involved in the daily business of life.  They were oblivious to Noah and his ark.  They were oblivious to the signs of their times—that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5, English Standard Version)  So, they were “unaware” (English Standard Version) (“knew nothing about what would happen”—New International Version) until the flood came.  Jesus is saying that people—the people “of the world”—will be like that at the coming of the Son of Man. 

            But Jesus divides humankind into two groups.  Though He uses equal proportions in His illustrations, He does not necessarily imply that the groups will be equal in number.  Some people will be like those of Noah’s day who were oblivious until the Flood came.  But in that day there was a remnant who were not oblivious—Noah and his family.  So, at the coming of the Lord there will be those who will be received by the Lord.

            Having examined the difference in usage of airo and paralambano, I believe that the Lord’s intention is to say that those who are taken are the ones who will be received by the Lord to Himself  and those who are left will experience judgment.  In John 14:3, Jesus said:  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  The word translated “will take” is paralambano.  In a Posttribulation Rapture scenario, Jesus would return to earth and the saints would be raptured and meet Him in the air as He descends to earth.   And “so we will always be with the Lord.”  (I Thessalonians 4:17b, English Standard Version)  Two people will stand side by side; one will be taken along by the Lord and the other left.  I recognize that there are still some unanswered questions in this exegesis.  For example, the Rapture will lift people up to Jesus, rather than Jesus taking them along.  However, if we think of the Spirit participating in the Rapture (He is the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead), then, in a sense, Jesus, by the Spirit, takes the Saints along to meet Him in the air and then He takes them along with Him wherever He may go, so that they will always be with the Lord.

            In this same analysis, Walvoord discusses Luke 17:37 (“Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”).  This passage is similar to 24:37-41.  He makes the point that verse 17:37 proves that those who are taken, are taken in judgment.  However, the use of the term “corpse” and reference to vultures do not necessarily imply judgment.  Jesus uses the same expression in Matthew 24:28 and it does not appear to refer to judgment there.  Rather, it seems to reinforce the idea of the public display of Jesus’ Second Coming.  I think that the expression in Luke 17 is used in the same way.  It is referring to the gathering of a throng around Himself at His coming.

            I do not believe Walvoord’s analysis of the Posttribulationist argument regarding the two words for “take” is adequate.  Nor do I believe his argument that the “taken” are taken in judgment is adequate.  His ideas fit well with his Pretribulation Rapture theory, but do not fully explain the Scripture.  This is also true when one examines the idea that verses 24:45-51 are directed toward Tribulation Saints rather than to the church. 



Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 252650-252654). Good

            News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

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.

Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain

            Times.  David C. Cook.  Kindle Edition.

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

            Publ., 1987.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


MATTHEW 24:32-35

 (English Standard Version)


“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.



MATTHEW 24:32-35

            The verses quoted above are central to the Preterist view of Scriptural interpretation.  I shall use some lengthy quotes in this article, because I believe these quotes represent that view and illustrate the importance that is placed on the Preterist understanding of these verses.  In brief, that understanding is:  Jesus predicted the prophecies of the Olivet Discourse would take place before the total passing away of the generation that He and His disciples were a part of, roughly within 40 years, and this prediction was verified by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. 

            As I include the quotes below, throughout this article (and this is generally my policy), italics and quotations, use of capitalization, etc. are all in the original works that are quoted.  My remarks are in brackets.

            I shall use three authors to represent this position.  J. S. Russell (whom I have referred to extensively in previous articles) wrote in the 19th Century.  He, as far as I can tell, does not start with this passage to determine his interpretative method.  However, it does play a powerful role in his interpretation.  R. C. Sproul is an influential writer of the 20th and 21st Centuries.  His book, The Last Days According to Jesus, focuses a great deal of attention on the issues surrounding this Scripture passage.  Hank Hanegraaff’s book, The Apocalypse Code, also focuses on this Scripture. 

            J. S. RUSSELL ON MATTHEW 24:32-35:

Here the prophecy and the parable [the prophecy is 24:31, the parable is 13:41-50] represent the self-same scene, the self-same period:  they alike 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.  How plainly does St. Luke, in his record of the prophecy on the Mount of Olives, represent the great catastrophe as falling within the lifetime of the disciples:  [quotes Luke 21:28]  Were not these words spoken to the disciples who listened to the discourse?  Did they not apply to them?  Is there anywhere even a suspicion that they were meant for another audience, thousands of years distant…?

            But, as if to preclude even the possibility of misconception or mistake, our Lord in the next paragraph draws around his prophecy a line so plain and palpable, shutting it wholly within a limit so definite and distinct, that it ought to be decisive of the whole question. [then quotes Matthew 24:32-34 and parallels]

Words have no meaning if this language, uttered on so solemn an occasion, and so precise and express in its import, does not affirm the near approach of the great event which occupies the whole discourse of our Lord.  First, the parable of the fig-tree intimates that as the buds on the tree betoken the near approach of summer, so the signs which He had just specified would betoken that the predicted consummation was at hand.  They, the disciples to whom He was speaking, were to see them, and when they saw them to recognize that the end was “near, even at the doors.”  Next, our Lord sums up with an affirmation calculated to remove every vestige of doubt or uncertainty,--[quotes 24:34].

One would reasonably suppose that after a note of time so clear and express there could not be room for controversy.  Ninety-nine persons in every hundred would undoubtedly understand His words as meaning that the predicted catastrophe would fall within the limits of the lifetime of the existing generation.  Not that all would probably live to witness it, but that most or many would…He gave them [the disciples] plainly to understand that His coming, the judgment of the Jewish nation, and the close of the age, would come to pass before the existing generation had wholly passed away, and within the limits of their own lifetime.   (Russell, 82-84)


Russell hammers home the lesson that is so obvious to him, which I have already stated in bold before the quotation:  What Jesus was speaking about would happen within the disciples’ lifetime.  Since Russell contends throughout his book that the Parousia of Jesus is equivalent to the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, this paragraph from Scripture confirms his thesis.  Or, it is just as probable, that Matthew 24:32-35 is the basis for his thesis.  Though he does not overtly make this point, he has used this mention of a time-frame of one generation throughout the book.  He does not always refer to the passage from Matthew 24.  He also refers to Matthew 10:23 (Russell, 26ff) and 16:27-28 (Russell, 29ff), for example.


The time-frame issues, which arise out of Matthew 24:32-35 and similar passages that are mentioned above, are very central to interpretation of prophetic Scripture for R. C. Sproul.  He relates how he encountered liberal higher criticism in seminary and how the Scripture I have in focus in this article played an important role.  He also highlights the criticism of an avowed atheist, Bertrand Russell, who pointed to these Scriptures to prove that Jesus was a false prophet (note that Sproul uses the Mark parallel passage):

The most critical portion of this text [Mark 13:1-30] is Jesus’ declaration that “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (13:30).  When [Bertrand] Russell pointed to this pronouncement, he made two important assumptions.  The first is that “this generation” refers to a specific time-frame that would be roughly forty years.  That is, the terminus for the fulfillment of this prophecy is forty years….The second assumption made by Russell (and others) is that the phrase “all these things” includes all of the subject matter of his future prediction, including his coming in clouds of power and glory. 

            …Since, again according to Russell, the parousia did not take place within this time frame, both Christ and the Bible are wrong.  (Sproul, 16)

This challenge from a philosopher from the outside was matched by higher critics on the inside.  Albert Schweitzer is known as a humanitarian hero, but he also was a Biblical scholar who shook the liberals of his day.  He made the case that Jesus was not merely an ethical teacher but was an apocalyptic prophet who expected the coming of the Kingdom in power and who died in failure.  Schweitzer’s book brought about 20th century efforts by higher critics to deal with Jesus’ prophetic teachings.  This led to a series of solutions—“realized eschatology,” “already and not yet,” and the “D-Day analogy.”  (Sproul, 20-23)

            For Sproul, the moderate and liberal critics are unsatisfying.  Instead, he believes that the best answer to the seeming “failure” of Jesus’ prophecies is the Preterist position, which posits the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple as the fulfillment of those prophecies.

The central thesis of [J. S.] Russell and indeed of all preterists is that the New Testament’s time-frame references with respect to the parousia point to a fulfillment within the lifetime of at least some of Jesus’ disciples.  Some hold to a primary fulfillment in A.D. 70, with a secondary and final fulfillment in the yet-unknown future.  Whatever else may be said of Preterism, it has achieved at least two things:  (1) It has focused attention on the time-frame references of New Testament eschatology, and (2) it has highlighted the significance of Jerusalem’s destruction in redemptive history.  (Sproul, 25)

In the following, he lays out what he believes are the main alternatives in interpretation of the Olivet Discourse and the direction taken by the Preterists:

This problem of literal fulfillment leaves us with three basic solutions to interpreting the Olivet Discourse:

1.      We can interpret the entire discourse literally.  In this case we must conclude that some elements of Jesus’ prophecy failed to come to pass, as advocates of “consistent eschatology” maintain.

2.      We can interpret the events surrounding the predicted parousia literally and interpret the time-frame references figuratively.  This method is employed chiefly by those who do not restrict the phrase “this generation will not pass away…” to the life span of Jesus’ contemporaries.

3.      We can interpret the time-frame references literally and the events surrounding the parousia figuratively.  In this view, all of Jesus’ prophecies in the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled during the period between the discourse itself and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
The third option is followed by preterists.  The strength of the preterist position is found precisely in this hermeneutical method.  (Sproul, 66)


Although Sproul takes comfort in Russell’s interpretation and the Preterist position, he recognizes it presents problems.  The following is his assessment:

            [A problem] posed by Preterism, and by far the most crucial, is whether there remains a future hope for the church.  Is the “blessed hope” for a future, consummate parousia of Christ, and article of faith for historic Christianity, a false hope?  Is the eschatology that includes the parousia to be reduced to an utterly “realized eschatology”?

            These questions require that we distinguish between moderate preterism and radical preterism.  Moderate preterism, though it sees the coming of Christ predicted in the Olivet Discourse as having been already fulfilled, still believes in a future consummation of Christ and his kingdom, based on other New Testament texts….  Radical preterism, on the other hand, sees virtually the entire New Testament eschatology as having been realized already.  (Sproul, 68)

            HANK HANEGRAAFF ON MATTHEW 24:32-35:

            Hank Hanegraaff is the “Bible Answer Man” on the radio.  He strenuously attacks Dispensationalists (as well as teachers of the “prosperity gospel” and others that he sees to be dangers to the church).  His book, The Apocalypse Code, is quite polemical, especially in discussing Tim LaHaye.  The following is at the beginning of his chapter in which he attacks what he believes to be failure to interpret according to ordinary use of grammar and vocabulary:

            Asked under oath to verify his lawyer’s declaration, “There is absolutely no sex of any kind” between the president of the United States of America and White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, William Jefferson Clinton responded, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”  (Hanegraaff, 70)

The following is his direct application of the principle that he is espousing:

            When it comes to interpreting Scripture, we should not suppose that the rules of grammar mysteriously change.  When Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this [sic] generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,” “this” means “this.”

            The meaning of the pronoun you in the context of Christ’s Olivet Discourse is just as clear.  When Jesus says, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars…Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death...” it should be obvious that he is referencing a first-century, not a twenty-first-century generation.  (Hanegraaff, 72)

            Hanegraaff discusses the challenge of skeptics who use Matthew 24:34 for ammunition.  Among others, he cites Jewish critics, as in the following:

            [Gerald] Sigal sums up this sentiment, saying, “No amount of Christian theological acrobatics will ever solve the problems engendered by the historical reality that a promised imminent fulfillment made two thousand years ago did not occur as expected by the New Testament.  Simply stated, Jesus is never coming back, not then, not now, not ever.” (Hanegraaff, 76-77)

            Hanegraaff follows this by pointing to what he believes is a lame defense of the Scripture by a Dispensationalist, as follows:

Although quite clever, Tim LaHaye’s rebuttal, “We believe ‘this generation’ refers to those alive in 1948” is about as believable to a discerning skeptic as Clinton’s quip, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”  In fact, the moment dispensationalists such as LaHaye utter such statements, our baloney detectors must surely flash, “Warning!  Grammatical gyrations ahead!!!”  As the skeptic Gerald Sigal has well said, “This generation” appears fourteen times in the Gospels and always applies to Jesus’ contemporaries. (Hanegraaf, 77)

            Hanegraaff (as do others, such as Russell) cites other instances in which Jesus used “this generation” as evidence for the Preterist interpretation of Matthew 24:34, as follows:

            Just as it is grammatically implausible for Jesus to have meant anything other than the generation to whom he was speaking in this context [Matthew 12:38-45], so too it is grammatically impossible for him to have been referencing anything other than the generation present during his delivery of the Olivet Discourse—as “this” means “this” here [in 12:38-45], so “this” means “this” and not “that” there [Matthew 24:34].  (Hanegraaff, 79)

            Hanegraaff discusses another suggestion that has been made to try to deal with the problem of Matthew 24:34.  That solution is to translate the Greek word genea to mean “race” rather than “generation” (which is a possible meaning of the word).  This same possibility is discussed by the Dispensationalists that I quote below.  The following is from Hanegraaff:

            Legendary dispensationalist Dr. C. I. Scofield suggested that generation did not mean “generation”—it meant “race.”  Thus, in answer to the question, “When will this happen?”  Jesus really meant to say, “I tell you the truth, this race will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened….”

            Scofield went so far as to say that, as “all lexicons” reflect, the Jewish “race…will be preserved…a promise wonderfully fulfilled to this day.”  [Hanegraaff then demonstrates that this is not supported by the lexicons.]

            DeMar goes on to explain that “the Greek word genos rather than geneais best translated ‘race’…”  This reality is reflected in modern translations such as the New King James Version, New American Standard Version…. Scofield’s superstar status, however, has ensured that his equivocation on the word generation persists in the present as a pragmatic method of saving Jesus from the charge of making false prophecies.

            This ploy, however, is seldom satisfying to those who doubt the credibility of the Gospels.  Common sense dictates that [Jesus did not say “this race of people will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”]  Rather, our Lord is delineating the very signs that would precede the judgment of Jerusalem and the end of the age of sacrifice.  (Hanegraaff, 79-81)

Notice that Hanegraaff emphasizes the role of the destruction of the Temple to “end the age of sacrifice.”  This is a major theme that Russell emphasizes also.

            Hanegraaff parallels much of the material in Sproul’s book.  Sproul is more open about the role that various theological positions play in approaches to interpretation than Hanegraaff.  Hanegraaff, quite frankly, is quite pugnacious in places—perhaps having had some personal encounters with certain persons that he singles out for attack.  He also attempts to exalt what he claims is his approach to Scripture (which he describes using the acronym “LIGHTS”).  He is writing for a somewhat different audience that the more irenic Sproul.


MATTHEW 24:32-35

            Pentecost does not give a detailed exegesis of the passage.  The quotation below is the extent of his commentary.  His explanation of the passage, in which he concurs with Chafer, is that its main message is that, as the events predicted in the passage take place, those experiencing them may be certain of the climax, which is the second coming of Christ.  He discusses the issue of the word “genea” by giving three theories:

·         It refers to the generation of Jesus and His disciples.

·         It refers to the generation at the time of the Tribulation.

·         It refers to the race or nation of Israel.

He does not delve into reasons to accept or reject these theories.  Moreover, he does not seem to have any appreciation for the gravity of the issue.  I think it is possible that Preterist thinking was not as prevalent among evangelicals at the time his book was written (1958).  The following is from his book (Incidentally, he gives the span of the passage through verse 36, but uses that verse to start the next section, so the “36” was doubtless in error.):

            The chronology of the events of the end of the age is briefly interrupted in order to give practical exhortation to those who will be witnessing these events.  These instructions are given in verses 32-51.  The parable of the fig tree (vs. 32-36) is spoken to show the certainty of the coming.  Chafer writes:

It is doubtless true that the fig tree represents in other Scriptures the nation of Israel (cf. Matt. 21:18-20), but there is no occasion for this meaning to be sought in the present use of that symbol.  When the things of which Christ had just spoken, including even the beginnings of travail, begin to come to pass, it may be accepted as certain that He is nigh, even at the doors.

The fulfillment of the signs that were given in the preceding verses would herald the coming of the Messiah as certainly as the new shoots on the fig tree heralded the approach of summer.

            There is a difference of opinion over the interpretation of “generation” in Matthew 24:34.  Some have held that it applied to the present generation to which Christ spoke, so all this prophecy would have been fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  Others hold that the word has reference to the future, so that Christ is saying that those who witness the signs stated earlier in the chapter will see the coming of the Son of man within that generation.  It hardly seems necessary to state this fact, inasmuch as it was known that only seven years would intervene between the beginning of this period and the coming of the Messiah, or three and a half years from the appearance of the Desolator to Messiah’s advent.  However, such may be the interpretation.  Still others hold that the word generation is to be taken in its basic usage of “race, kindred, family, stock, breed,” so that the Lord is here promising that the nation Israel shall be preserved until the consummation of her program at the second advent in spite of the work of the Desolator to destroy her.  This seems to be the best explanation.  (Pentecost, 280-281)

            Walvoord discusses the issue of the fig tree.  It is often interpreted to refer to Israel, so many believe that Jesus was referring to the reconstituting of modern Israel in 1948.  So, they say, within a generation of 1948, the Tribulation and, following it, the coming of Christ, would be completed.  Walvoord rejects that notion and gives his reasons in the following:

A common interpretation has been to interpret the fig tree as a type of Israel and the revival of Israel as the budding of the tree.  The fig tree could very well be a type of Israel, but it does not seem to be so used in Scripture.  Good and bad figs are mentioned in Jeremiah 24:1-8; the good figs are those carried off into captivity, and the bad figs are those who remain in the land of Israel….In Judges 9:1-11 fig trees are mentioned but not in relation to Israel….There is no indication in the interpretation of Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-14, 20-26 that relates the fig tree to Israel.  Accordingly, though many have followed this interpretation, there is no Scriptural basis.

            A better explanation is the simple explanation that the fig tree is used as a natural explanation….When the events described in the preceding verses occur, it will be a clear indication of the second coming of Christ being near.  The sign in the passage is not the revival of Israel, which is not the subject of Matthew 24, but rather the details of the great tribulation, which occurs in the three and a half years preceding the second coming.  Accordingly, “all these things” (v. 33) refers not to the revival of Israel but to the events of the great tribulation.  (Walvoord, page not available*)

            Walvoord also discussed the meaning of genea.  In the following quotation, he indicates his interpretation that the reference in 24:34 is to the generation living at the time of the Tribulation:

            Jesus made a further comment on the situation in saying, “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened….” The normal use of the word generation is in reference to the time span between one’s birth and the time when one becomes a parent.  Obviously, the generation that lived in Christ’s day did not see all the things described in the preceding context.  Some have inferred from this that the term generation is a reference to Israel and have asserted that Israel will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.  However, Israel will never pass away.  Still other scholars take generation as an indefinite period of time.

            The most natural meaning, however, is to take it as normally used as a reference to a period of twenty-five to forty years.  But instead of referring this to the time in which Christ lived, it refers back to the preceding period that is described as the great tribulation.  As the great tribulation is only three and a half years long, obviously, those who see the great tribulation will also see the coming of the Lord.  Regardless of how it is interpreted, Christ affirmed, in support of the fulfillment of the prophecy, that His words will never pass away even though our present earth and heaven will ultimately be destroyed.  (Walvoord, page not available*)

*Because of my version of Kindle, I am not able to determine page numbers in Walvoord’s book.



MATTHEW 24:32-35

            This passage is the crux of the Preterist argument.  As Sproul stated, Preterism “has focused attention on the time-frame references of New Testament eschatology.”  It is this passage, and especially verse 34, that has been used to put the time-frame question in focus.  I have dedicated much space in previous articles doing my best to demonstrate that Preterism is not a viable theory.  I believe much of what I have said is valid criticism of that theory.  However, when one comes to verse 34, one must recognize the gravity of the challenge.

            Although I do not always agree with the Dispensational approach, I do have much sympathy for that method of interpretation.  Yet, I was disappointed in the glib manner that was used in dealing with this passage and the Preterist challenge.  I do not disagree with the outcome of Dispensational interpretation of the passage as much as I am concerned that the passage is not taken seriously.

            The following are my conclusions concerning Matthew 24:32-35:

1.      I believe that attempting to use another translation for genea is not warranted.  In the context, it is difficult to force the word “race” or “nation” into the sentence.  The lesson of the fig tree has just been given.  That lesson is that a short period of time will occur between two sets of events.  A comment about the disappearance of a race is not appropriate to that lesson.

2.      Thus, the question comes down to this:  What generation is Christ referring to?  Is it the generation of Himself and His disciples—in first century?  Or, is it a generation at some future time?

3.      The next question is:  Can the answer come simply from the sentence that gives rise to it?  Does the word “this” give sufficient information to answer the question?  Hanegraaff’s sarcastic use of the Bill Clinton example would imply “Yes, anyone can infer that ‘this’ means only one thing in this context.”

4.      Notice that the preceding two verses set up a time frame:  when the fig leaves come on, summer is near.  In the same way, “when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.”** So, there is a set of events that precede the consummate event.  As we progressed through verse 4 through 26, we noted the various developments and events that Christ predicted would lead to His Parousia.                    

·         Events in the world, such as wars and earthquakes

·         Developments within the church, such as persecution, dissension, coldness

·         The world-wide preaching of the gospel

·         The Abomination of Desolation

·         The Great Tribulation

·         Included within that Tribulation would be various kinds of deception, including rumors of a hidden Christ

            I have argued that these predictions were not fulfilled within the first century.  Jesus says

            that, when these events have been fulfilled, then the consummate event is about to take

            place.  Having set that time frame, He then goes on to say “this generation” will not pass

            away until all has taken place.  I believe it is possible, within the paragraph at hand, to

            understand “this generation” to refer to a future generation when the events that Jesus

            predicted will be fulfilled.  **The pronoun subject in the clause “___is near, at the

            gates…” is not explicit.  Some translations give “he” and others “it.”

5.      There is a second line of reasoning to come to the same conclusion.  I have argued that the Preterist interpretations of Matthew 24:4-31 are not valid.  I especially have focused on the attempt by Preterists to assert that all the predictions of Christ in verses 21-31 are fulfilled by the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  The fallacy of that interpretation is that they posit one event to fulfill many predictions.  Whereas it is a natural reading of these verses to infer that several different events take place, they can only name one fulfillment.  The Great Tribulation of verses 21-26 is a different event from the celestial signs of verse 29, and those signs are different from the coming of Christ in verse 30 along with associated gathering of the elect in verse 31.  To try to posit the destruction of Jerusalem as fulfilling all these predictions is not faithful to the text.  In addition, as I stated above, I believe Preterist interpretation of the material in the preceding verses (4-20) also do not fit well with events of the first century.  Thus, if the Preterist interpretation is invalid for the preceding material, then trying to fit the message of verses 32-35 into the first century is also invalid.  The Preterists have tried to use verses 32-35 (especially verse 34) to validate their interpretation of verses 4-31.  In other words, they have made one verse govern the interpretation of the entire two chapters.  It seems a more valid method of interpretation to use the context of the entire Discourse to interpret the one verse.  Since a reasonable interpretation of the Discourse is that it is predicting the future Second Coming of Christ, then “this generation” would refer to the future generation at the time of that Coming.

1.      Although I have not, to this point, considered other prophetic Scriptures, one does eventually have to deal with those Scriptures.  In some of those passages, the events that are predicted are unambiguously in the future.  That would apply, for example, to I Corinthians 15 (the great chapter on the Resurrection).  However, some Preterists, because they are caught in what I have called the “Matthew 24:34 trap,” insist that even the Resurrection of the saints must somehow be interpreted as a first century event (Sproul, 160-167).  This would be an example of reduction to absurdity which the holders of the position have created for themselves.  Instead, when one considers other New Testament Scriptures (for example in I and II Thessalonians, I Corinthians 15, Acts 1:11, and the book of Revelation), the overwhelming evidence is that the Parousia of Christ is in fact a future Second Coming.  The fact that the Parousia is the climax of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:30) leads one to understand that Jesus is predicting events that will take place in our future and not in the first century.  This leads us to interpret verse 34 from that perspective and to consider that “this generation” refers to the generation that will live as the events of the Discourse are being fulfilled or completing their fulfillment. 



Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 235498-235507). Good

            News Publishers.  Kindle edition.

Hanegraaff, Hank.  The Apocalypse Code. Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2007.

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

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.

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

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

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