Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Matthew 24:29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken."
For the past couple of days we have been exploring Jesus' final words on final things in Matthew 24-25 - what Bible scholars refer to as His Olivet discourse. In part 1 we did an overview of Jesus' teaching about last things (eschatology) in Matthew 24-25, noting that He aimed to answer three questions raised in Matthew 24:3. In Part 2 we briefly sampled other scriptures used by Jesus from the Old Testament and ways in which Jesus' Olivet Discourse possibly set the stage for the New Testament teaching on eschatology (study of last things). In today's blog we will explore parallel passages from Mark 13 and Luke 17 to see what the other Gospel writers recorded about Jesus' final sermon.
How people have interpreted Jesus' Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21
Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at Southern baptist Theological Seminary, has written a very helpful book entitled: "Rose Guide to End Times Prophecy". In the book, Jones covers every conceivable subject in Bible Prophecy or Eschatology, including Jesus' Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13 and Luke 21. He notes two prevailing interpretations of Matthew 24: futurism (viewing every predicted event as in the far future) and a combination of futurism and what is called "preterism" (meaning "past", a view which takes most prophecy to had occured in the first century shortly after Jesus' ascension). I will mentioned a third position of this passage which views all or almost all of Matthew 24 as having taken place in the first century - i.e pure "preterist" and "moderate preterism" positions.
1. Matthew 24-25 has yet to take place (Futurist Interpretation).
As the name implies, a futurist interpreter views all of Jesus' remarks in Matthew 24 to be taking place in the far future.1
2. Matthew 24 is partially fulfilled in the 1st century and completely fulfilled when Jesus returns (futurism + preterist interpretation).
This second type of interpretation views Matthew 24:1-36 and part of Mark 13 and Luke 21 as being Jesus' prediction of events near to Him in the first century, with the remainder of Matthew 24 and 25 referring to events at the end of history when He returns. As we mentioned before, those interpreters who take the events of prophecy to be referring primarily to the past events of the first century are called "preterists" (pre-ter-ist), a word meaning "past". As we already saw, those who see prophetic events as dealing with events in the future are called "futurists".2
3. All or most of Matthew 24 took place with the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D (Radical Preterism and Moderate Preterism)
This third view of Matthew 24 tends to take a totally "preterist" or "past" tense viewpoint of Matthew 24, meaning that everything Jesus spoke in that chapter refers to what would be the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 A.D.3 If we were to visualize these various takes on Matthew 24, here is what we would have:
Futurism---------Partial futurism-----Moderate & Radical Preterism
So what are we to make of these prevailing options of interpretation? They all fit within the mane of conservative/Bible believing Christianity. Obviously some (futurism) are more popular and well known than others (moderate and pure preterism). The Bible student must never interpret scripture by polls, but rather by comparing scripture with other scripture. When we consider the parallel accounts of Mark 13 and Luke 21, we find much aid in understanding Matthew 24-25. In my own study (below), I would contend that how one interprets the Olivet Discourse will regulate how one approaches the rest of Bible prophecy.4
How we can interpret Matthew 24-25 in light of Mark 13 and Luke 21
Mark 13:1-37 is Jesus' Olivet discourse in Mark's Gospel. In this version, we find Jesus not answering three questions but two questions raised by the disciples in Mark 13:4...
1. "Tell us, when will these things be?
2. "and what will be the sign when these things are fulfilled?"
In Luke 21:7-38 we witness the same sermon as recorded by Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In Luke 21:7 we see the disciples raising the same two questions as we see in Mark's version....
1. "Teacher, when therefore will these things happen?"
2. "And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?"
In Mark and Luke's accounts, we see two questions recorded, whereas in Matthew's account, we witness three questions, with the first two virtually identical to Mark and Luke's, but with the third asking about the end of the age. In studying Mark 13 and Luke 21, we can discern a two-fold or two-point outline of Jesus' sermon as recorded by those Gospel writers:
1. Prediction of the Destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. (Mark 13:1-23; Luke 21:7-23)
2. Prediction of future events surrounding Christ's return. (Mark 13:24-37; Luke 21:24-36)
So with these observations from Mark and Luke, what can we conclude about our understanding of Matthew's fuller rendering of Jesus entire sermon in Matthew 24-25? It would seem to this blogger that Jesus is predicting both the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D and the events of His future second coming in Matthew 24 (i.e option #2). Being that Jesus' full sermon is recorded by Matthew for his purposes in Matthew 24-25, the third question about "the end of the age" can be included as referring not merely to the end of the Old Testament nation of Israel, but rather the end of history. As we close today, the following outline of Matthew 24-25 could be rendered as follows:
1. Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D as a warning to his hearers and disciples. I believe he answers the first question as posed by the disciples in Matthew 24:3. (24:1-14)
2. Jesus then transitions, using the impending destruction of the temple as a pattern for what will be the future tribulation and events leading up to His second coming. This corresponds with the second question posed by the disciples in Matthew 24:3 (24:15-25:30)
3. Jesus answer the third question of Matthew 24:3, focusing entirely on the fact that His second coming will bring an end to this current age, as well as emphasizing the fact He will be the Judge. (25:31-41)
1. As Dr. Jones notes on page 200 of his book: "Instead of addressing the destruction of the temple, Jesus taught his disciples about a future tribulation, near the end time as we know it. His focus was on: 1. The calamaties at the beginning of the tribulation; 2. The Anti-Christ's sacrilege in the rebuilt Jewish Temple; 3. The return of the 'Son of Man' to earth."
2. According to Dr. Jones' book, those who avoid totally putting all of Matthew 24 in the future tend to be a combination of both futurists and preterist. As Jones notes on page 201: "This first century judgment pointed forward to the judgment that will come when Jesus returns to earth."
3. I have a book in my library written by Evangelist John L. Bray entitled "Matthew 24 fulfilled" - which by the name alone summarizes a purely preterist view of Jesus' words - i.e every single word of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the first century. The more well know Bible teacher R.C Sproul wrote a book entitled "The Last Days According to Jesus" wherein he proposes a more softened form of preterism.
4. As a Southern Baptist I have read all three of these various interpretations as existing under the umbrella of Baptist life. John Gill, the great 17th century Baptist minister would had been a pure preterist. The First Pastor at 1st Baptist Dallas, whose name escapes me at this moment, would had been perhaps a moderate preterist. His successor, W.A Criswell, was no question a futurist when it came to interpreting Matthew 24 and other prophetic passages.