The Olivet Discourse and “The Days Shall Be Shortened”
It is claimed by those who see two comings of Christ in the Olivet Discourse, that there are a series of powerful contrasts between the so-called first section of Matthew 24-25– Matthew 24:4-35 constituting Jesus’ discussion of the coming judgment of Jerusalem in AD 70– and the “second section” Matthew 24:36- chapter 25. This so-called second section supposedly predicts a yet future “second coming” of Christ at the end of this age.
Jesus said unless the days of the Tribulation were shortened, “no flesh would be saved” (Matthew 24:22). It is claimed that this is not true of the second coming; the elect will not be benefited by the shortening of the days. Here is a classic case once again of petitio principii, begging the question. (There is a lot of that in the supposed contrasts!)
Instead of seeing a consistent eschatology in the New Testament, those who divide Matthew 24-25 see so many ends, so many comings, so many judgments, so many resurrections even, that there really is no way to keep count! Thus, when Jesus said the elect would be aided by the shortening of the days, if another text does not specifically speak of the days being shortened it must refer to something other than A.D. 70. To those who divide the Discourse, for another scripture to be associated with the A.D. 70 event, every constituent element of Jesus’ discussion of that event must be present. Of course, this is a totally misguided hermeneutic and without merit.
Let us look at the concept of the time of suffering and the time being shortened and see if there is any relationship in the New Testament to Jesus’ Olivet Sermon promise.
The Olivet Discourse, Suffering and the Second Coming: A Common Theme
It must be recognized that if the brethren would be experiencing tribulation and persecution and if the Lord promised to bring relief in a short time then this is the same thing as Jesus’ promise in Matthew 24. So, if we find the pattern of persecution with the promise of imminent vindication, we actually have the “first section” of Matthew 24 being discussed, and this has incredible implications! This is true because in many, many texts that futurists appeal to for a future “second coming,” we find exactly that pattern: present persecution linked to the promise of imminent relief and vindication at the coming of the Lord.
In Romans 8:18f Paul referred to the suffering of “this present time” and anticipated imminent relief. This suffering was not cancer, heart attack, or any of the other “common sufferings” of mankind. The suffering was persecution for the cause of Christ (5:1f). And the apostle definitely promised relief soon at the Day of the Lord (Romans 13:11; 16:20).
In 1 Corinthians the apostle was aware of the suffering of the saints (2 Cor. 4:16f). Significantly he said, “our light affliction which is but for a moment.” He also said, “the time has been shortened”; he even said “the world (cosmos) is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29f). Paul was patently echoing the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:22f. Here we find the Cilician apostle stating in the clearest terms possible that the time had been shortened, they were living in the end of the age (1 Cor. 10:10-11); the end of the world – their world, not the cosmological world of modern thought– was imminent.
Was this a different time that had been shortened from that of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 24:22f? If so, upon what basis? If Corinthians does speak of the same time and event as in Matthew, what does this do for the argument that the fall of Jerusalem was so insignificant as to be almost not worth mentioning in Corinth, Athens, etc. If it was so localized why was Paul speaking to the Corinthians about it? See our previous study of the supposed contrast between a “local judgment” i.e. AD 70, and a “universal judgment.” Why was it impacting their lives so much that Paul’s instructions about marriage relationships was colored– even determined– by “the present distress”?
Space will not permit an exhaustive study of the idea of suffering and a “short time,” but the following list should aid the reader in seeing that the New Testament definitely has a pattern of reference to present suffering and the promise of imminent relief at the coming of the Lord.
1. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10–Paul uses the present indicative along with the present participles to speak of the tribulation being experienced by the Thessalonians. But he promises them “relief (from anesis, which is never “reward”) when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.” Of necessity this relief would have to come in the lifetime of the Thessalonians or else Paul’s words of consolation failed.
See my book, In Flaming Fire, for an extensive exegesis of this incredibly powerful text. There is simply no way to extrapolate this text into a promise of a future coming of the Lord!
2. Hebrews 10–The brethren had suffered “the spoiling of your goods”; but the writer urged them on to faithfulness by telling them “in a very little while he who is coming will come and will not tarry” (10:37). The Greek of the text is very powerful and emphatic: it is “in a very, very little while.” Thus, we find here a promise of very imminent coming salvation and relief from persecution. Just like Jesus promised in the Olivet Discourse. The time was truly short!
3. James 5–The Lord’s brother takes note of the suffering of the poor but exhorts them to be faithful “until the coming of the Lord,” and promises “the coming of the Lord has drawn near,” (5:7-9). Clearly, here is a reference to the short time of suffering before the parousia. The time had been shortened, just as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24.
4. 1 Peter 1–The former fisherman knows full well the suffering being endured by the brethren–the elect!, vs. 2– throughout Asia, Cappadocia, and other regions. But he holds before them the salvation foretold by the prophets and says it was “ready to be revealed in the last times.” They would only have to suffer a “little while” before that promised salvation was revealed (v. 5-10). Would the “elect” be benefited by the fact that in a “little while” the Lord was coming to bring them salvation?
5. John, with the other brethren, was enduring tribulation (Revelation 1:9). This was nothing less than the Tribulation of Matthew 24:21f. Yet Jesus promised: “Behold, I come quickly.” In chapter 6:9-11 we find the prayer of the martyred saints, longing for vindication through the judgment of their persecutors “on the earth.” They were promised that the Lord would vindicate them “in a little while.”
Furthermore, in chapter 12, which deals with the suffering of the saints after the initial defeat of Satan, the Adversary is cast out of heaven and has great Wrath to pour out on the followers of the Lamb, “because he knows that he has a short time” (12:12). Could this not be a reference to the Lord acting on the part of the elect during a time of extreme hardship? If not, what is it? Would this “little while” not benefit the elect?
It should be clear that the New Testament writers saw themselves as experiencing the very things foretold by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. To ignore the relationship between the shortened time of the Tribulation and the “little while” of the suffering to be endured by the first century church is to do a disservice to the idea of Biblical exegesis and allow theological bias to control interpretation. If that connection be acknowledged the contention that the Lord’s coming in the fall of Jerusalem and a supposed still future coming must be delineated is a false distinction.
In this article another of the supposed contrasts between the fall of Jerusalem and the Second Coming of Christ has been examined. We have seen that the view that the elect would benefit from the days of the Tribulation being shortened, re: A.D. 70, but this is not true of the “second coming” logically demands that any passage that speaks of the suffering being only for a short time cannot speak of a yet future parousia of the Lord. This demands that almost no text of the New Testament can speak of a yet future coming of Christ since almost every passage predicting the parousia is written in the context of tribulation and the promise of relief / salvation coming very soon! The Olivet Discourse is not divided!