Nana Yaw Aidoo
In relation to the twenty-fourth chapter of the book of Matthew and the second coming of our Lord, there are two extreme positions held by religious people. On one hand, there is the extreme position, which contends that everything in the chapter is a reference to the literal and future second coming of our Lord in judgment over the entire world. We shall call the proponents of this view, premillennialists. This group of people suggest based on Matthew 24 that all the things happening in the world today are indications that the coming of Christ is imminent. On the other hand, there is the extreme position, which also contends that everything in the chapter was fulfilled in the first century. Therefore, according to this position, the second coming of Christ is already past. We shall call the proponents of this view, realized eschatologists. Those who hold this view, however, do not agree on which point in the first century the chapter was fulfilled. Some proponents of this view claim the chapter was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and some others (like Lynn Louise Schuldt, author of “Prophecy Paradox”) claim the chapter was fulfilled during the volcanic eruption of mountain Vesuvius in AD 79.
Whiles it is true that the coming of Christ is the subject matter of the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, we suggest that both positions are extremes due to the fact that both of these positions fail to discriminate between the various comings of the Lord in Scripture. This is inexcusable and against one of the major rules of sacred hermeneutics, which is contextualization. A word or phrase might be used multiple times in Scripture and yet have a variety of meanings due to its respective contexts. Take for example the word “sin.” In Romans 6:23, it has the general meaning of missing the mark but in Hosea 4:8, it means a sin offering. Same word yet different meanings due to their respective contexts. Again, consider the phrase, “laid his hands upon.” In Luke 13:13 (ASV), this phrase means to heal. However, in Acts 19:6 (ASV), this same phrase means to impart spiritual gifts. Same phrase yet different meanings due to their respective contexts. Reading Scripture in context is critical in our bid to arriving at the right conclusion as touching Matthew 24 and any other biblical doctrine.
Let us now direct our attention to the text.
Two Questions or Three?
As Jesus Christ condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the Scribes in the previous chapter, He made this sad proclamation; “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Matt. 23:38). The temple, which was the house being referred to, due to the constant refusal of the Jews to accept the Christ and come to Him, was no longer God’s house but “your” house, and had now been “forsaken of God and His Christ, and sentenced to utter destruction.” (Wesley). In an apparent response to these bold words of Jesus Christ, the twelve “…came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple” (Matt. 24:1) as if it say to our Lord, “now, you don’t mean this huge and impressive structure, do you?” “And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matt. 24:2). Later on Mount Olives, the twelve who, like the patriots they were, couldn’t get their heads around the temple being destroyed, went to Jesus in private and asked Him; “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3). A closer look at this text and one cannot help but notice that our Lord was asked two questions. First, when shall these things be? that is, when shall the temple be destroyed? and second, what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? that is when shall the world come to an end? The twelve, in their innocence mistakenly assumed that both of these events were supposed to be the same event.
Some good Bible students claim that our Lord was asked three questions and that what I refer to as the second question, is actually two different questions. That cannot be, due to Jesus’ use of the word “but” in the thirty-sixth verse. The word but is a conjunction that introduces an opposing proposition to what our Lord had just spoken about. Thus, even if the twelve had asked three questions, which I deny is the case, the fact that our Lord discussed two propositions as proven by His use of but shows that He considered the questions before Him to be just two. Based on this three-letter conjunction, I submit that the apostles asked only two questions, both of which Jesus Christ answered exceptionally plainly.
A Brief Look at the First Question
Let us now briefly look at what we learn from the Lord’s answer to the first question, which was about the destruction of the temple.
First, He discussed this from the fourth verse to the thirty-third verse.
Second, while discussing this particular subject, the destruction of the temple, He gave signs that would precede this event.
Third, Jesus Christ gave a clue for escape.
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes…But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day. (Matt. 24:15-20).
In the foregoing, our Lord applied Daniel’s abomination of desolation (cf. Daniel 9:27) to the Roman soldiers and said that their presence in the “holy place” that is Jerusalem, was a clue for escape. How do premillennialists deal with this problem, in view of the fact that as touching the final judgement of Christ on the world, it is written “…we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ…” (2 Cor. 5:10)? Pray tell how anybody, no matter how mighty he or she is, can flee something which God says is a must? Yet from the fifteenth verse to the twentieth, our Lord gave a clue for escape. Is this not incontrovertible proof that this judgment or coming is unlike the Lord’s coming in judgement on the whole world?
Disciples of the first century knew what signs to behold and they left the city before Titus and his Roman army leveled the rebellious metropolis. Infidelic Jews perished en masse. Luke tells why, “…because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19:44). They paid no attention at all to what Jesus had said and what Matthew, Mark and Luke already had written years before Rome marched on Jerusalem. Jerusalem was destroyed. Its temple was razed to the ground with not a stone left upon another. About 1,000,000 perished. Close to 100,000 were sold into captivity. The city, which had crucified its own Lord of glory, now found her sons crucified en masse by ruthless Romans. They had chosen Caesar over Christ in John 19, and now Caesar was crushing them minus mercy or compassion.” (Taylor).
Fourth, in the thirty-fourth verse, He told the apostles that this judgement or coming would happen in their generation. Profane history tells us that the destruction of the Jewish temple occurred in AD 70, which was the generation of the auditors of the Lord’s discourse. All who read Matthew 24: 4-33 and think Jesus Christ had 2000+ years in mind are wrong because He who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) clearly said that the generation to which He was speaking to, would“…not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
Friends, the discussion from the forth to the thirty-third verse of Matthew 24 must be distinguished from the event, which is known as the “final second coming.” This coming or judgement was a local event, a coming of Christ in judgement on the Jews and not the final second coming of our Lord in judgement on the whole world.
A Brief Look at the Second Question
We now move on to the second question, which was a discussion on the final coming of our Lord in judgement on the whole world. What do we learn from the Lord’s answer to this question?
First, He discussed this from the thirty-sixth verse to the final verse in the chapter and even to the next chapter.
Second, He used the word but to show that he was discussing something different from what He had already discussed, which is the destruction of the temple. How do premillennialists and realized eschatologists explain this conjunction away since they both hold that Christ discussed only one coming in the chapter?
Third, He stated that only God the Father knows when that day, which is the final coming in judgement on the whole world will be (Matt. 24:36).
Fourth, from the point where He used the word but onward, He stopped giving signs. Rather He said;
Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. (Matt. 24:42-43).
At my previous residence, I was visited a fair few times by thieves and I am certain I would have been glad had they given me signs and a timeframe prior to their coming. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and Peter in 2 Peter 3:10 make the exact same argument as our Lord.
Fifth, our Lord said the days prior to His final coming will be like the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37) in that, life will be going on as usual as it did prior to the global deluge (Matt. 24:38). Prior to the return of Christ, people will be doing their farm work as usually as they always have (Matt. 24:40). Prior to our Lord’s return, people will be doing their grinding as normally as they always have (Matt. 24:41). Let it be known that “…one…taken,…the other left” is not a reference to the rapture, a doctrine, which is falsified by passages like Matthew 25:31-46 and John 5:28-29.
Sixth, since we have been given no signs and timeframe as far as the final coming of the Lord in judgement on all humanity is concerned, we must live everyday of our lives with careful faithfulness (Matt. 24:45-51).
As we have clearly seen, it is a mistake to ascribe everything in the twenty-forth chapter of Matthew to the final coming of Christ in judgement on the whole world. It also is a mistake to ascribe everything in the chapter to the destruction of the temple. Based on the context, the Olivet discourse concerns both of these comings and not one to the exclusion of the other. Both the premillennialist and the realized eschatologist are in soul-damning error.
Taylor, Robert R. Jr. “Shall Not The Judge Of All The Earth Do Right?” Great Questions In The Bible, Ed. Donald W Walker. San Antonio, TX: Shenandoah Church of Christ, 2003, 44-45.
Wesley, John. John Wesley’s Notes On The Old And New Testaments. Power BibleCD 5.1.