The Olivet Discourse and “Those Days versus That Day”
One of the KEY arguments for a divided Olivet Discourse is that four times in three different verses, Matthew 24:19,22,29, Jesus refers to “those days.” However, we are told, in verse 36 we have a direct contrast when Jesus says “But of that day and hour knoweth no man.”
North says “verse 36 starts with the word ‘but’ suggesting a contrast with what has gone before. Before verse 34, moreover, Jesus uses the plural ‘days’ to refer to his major subject, while after verse 34 he speaks in the singular of ‘that day.’” (Stafford North, Armageddon When? Oklahoma Christian University, 1982, p. 47). Deaver, says “Whereas the Lord has been discussing ‘those days,’ he now makes the reference to ‘that day.’ The Greek says, ‘that day.’ Obviously, this is a transition text.” (Roy Deaver, Premillennialism: Matthew chapters 24 and 25 Do Not Teach It!, Memphis, Tenn, Getwell church of Christ, 1977,18. [emphasis his] The post-millennialist Kik also emphasized this distinction: “The expression that ‘day and hour’ gives immediate evidence of a change of subject matter(Marcellus Kik, Matthew 24, Presbyterian and Reformed Press, 1948,101). Among non-millennialists then, it is obvious the “those days-vs-that day” argument is vitally important in establishing a division in the Olivet Discourse.
One of the reasons a distinction between “those days” and “that day” is seen by many commentators is because of a pre-conceived idea that the disciples asked three questions about two subjects, the destruction of Jerusalem and end of time. With this foundational presupposition unquestioned the interpreter then sees Jesus changing the subject in verse 36.
A basic fallacy in this approach is the failure to observe context. In chapter 23, Jesus had predicted his coming in judgment in that generation (v. 34-39). The disciples, hearing this prediction, immediately called Jesus’ attention to the huge and beautiful stones of the Temple. His response was to repeat his words of doom for that incredible edifice. The disciples then asked when those events would transpire and the sign of his coming.
Where is the contextual evidence the disciples had any other coming in mind than that just mentioned by Jesus–his coming to destroy Jerusalem in that generation? Deaver acknowledges that the disciples “were indeed thinking of one stupendous event.”(Deaver, Premillennialism, 1977, 6). Of course, Deaver also says the disciples were confused and mistaken. I suggest however, that the disciples understood far more than the modern exegetes are willing to grant. It is pure eisegesis to import another coming into this context.
Some claim the disciples could not imagine Jerusalem’s fall without thinking about the end of time. But how so? They knew Jerusalem was completely destroyed in 586 B.C. yet time had continued. They also knew that ‘heaven and earth’ was destroyed at that time, Jeremiah 4:24-25, and that it was the Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1). With this background of knowledge their questions in Matthew 24:3 are perfectly natural. It is the modern concept of a literal cosmic catastrophe that must be called into question.
Were it not for a misguided preconceived idea that the disciples asked about a coming of Jesus to end time there would not be such strained efforts to divide the Olivet Discourse into two subjects.
VARIOUS CONSIDERATIONS ABOUT “THOSE DAYS” AND “THAT DAY”
We ask the reader to carefully consider some evidence that demonstrates the “those days” vs “that day” argument is invalid.
A simple question: Does not logic indicate that “those days” would have a climactic “that day”? Are those who maintain this distinction arguing that the stressful “those days” of the Abomination of Desolation and Great Tribulation (v. 15-22) did not have a final “that day”? Can they not see that “those days” led directly to “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 30)?
Notice the contextual flow: in the days before the coming of the Son of Man there would be persecution, the Abomination of Desolation and the Great Tribulation. But “immediately after” the tribulation of “those days” they would see the “coming of the Son of Man” (v. 30). Jesus said his coming, singular, would happen after “those days,” plural! Patently the coming of the Son of man was the climactic “that day” to which “those days” led. If not, why not?
If the Amillennialist ever admits that “those days” prior to Jerusalem’s demise had a final and climactic “that day” their entire house of cards built on the “those days” vs “that day” distinction comes crumbling down!
THOSE DAYS AND SIGNS
Another inconsistency is seen when it is maintained that if verse 36 speaks of the coming of Christ at the end of the Jewish Age it would contradict Christ’s teaching “that none but the Father knew the time of His coming (Matthew 24:36).” North says, “He had told the disciples…precisely when the destruction of Jerusalem would be: during their lifetime and they could read the sign of the approaching army so closely that they could escape it. But of His coming, no one knows when it will be–neither man, his angels, nor Jesus himself.” Those who use this argument fail to consider some very basic contextual facts.
Jesus gave signs (v. 6-15) whereby the disciples could know his coming was at hand (v. 32-33) and he assured them it would be in that generation (v. 34). He then cautioned them that although they could know the event was NEAR they could not know the “day or the hour.”
Did Jesus say “precisely” when the fall of Jerusalem would be? Precisely means exactly, minutely. Where does Jesus tell the disciples “precisely” when the fall would be? He said they could know it was near; that it was going to be in that generation. But he did not tell them the day or the hour! Had Jesus told them his coming in judgment on Israel was going to be let’s say September 7, AD 70 this would have been “precise.” To say they could tell by signs when it was so near as to demand their flight was not to tell them “precisely” when it would be, and definitely would not contradict “that none but the Father knew the time of His coming.” On the contrary, this is but a continuation of his warnings not to be deceived and sets the stage for his further exhortations to “Watch” (v. 42f).
Jesus could not tell them the day or the hour; but they must be ever vigilant and watch for the signs. The very fact Jesus warned them repeatedly to “Watch” destroys forever the argument that there would be no signs of the coming of the Lord.
Since Jesus’ warnings to watch are to be seen in the context of the signs it cannot be true that there is a contrast between “those days” and “that day.” “Those days” were the days when the signs would appear; “that day” was the day the signs signaled was at hand!
The Olivet Discourse and “BUT OF THAT DAY AND HOUR”
Does the fact that verse 36 starts with “but” signal a contrast in subject matter? Those who divide the Olivet Discourse believe it does. Charles Geiser wrote an excellent tract on the unity of Matthew 24 showing that “but” is a conjunction and not a preposition. As a conjunction “but” is not a word of contrast but joins what has just been said with what is about to be said. The New Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament, Appendix, Part II, page 11 says the conjunctival usage of “de,” “is by far the most frequent use of the particle ‘de’ in the New Testament.”
It should be noted that Matthew 24:36 does begin, not solely with “de” but with “peri de.” This can be rendered as “now concerning” or something similar, but, even in that case, it would have a conjunctival force and not a contrastive meaning. And make no mistake, if it cannot be proven that “but of that day and hour” is not a sharp contrast with what goes before it, then all claims that Matthew 24 speaks of two different comings of the Lord, at two different times, is falsified. The fact is that an appeal to “but of that day and hour” based on a supposed contrast in subject matter is misguided.
BUT OF THAT DAY AND HOUR AND ISRAEL’S FESTAL CALENDAR
The point is that one is hard pressed to place a contrastive definition and significance on the “but” of Matthew 24:36. And there is something else that is almost universally overlooked in discussions of this verse.
Jesus’ language of “no man knows the day or the hour” is taken directly from the cultic language of Israel’s feast days! In fact, in my research so far, I have discovered several citations of Jewish feast day language, part of the “vernacular” of those feast days, in the Olivet Discourse. I suggest that these citations and allusions are highly important as clues for understanding the Discourse. What follows is taken from a variety of sources, among them www.hebroots.org/hebrootsarchive/9807/980705_c.html.
<When Jesus uttered the words in Matthew 24:36, he used a common Jewish figure of speech referring to a specific Jewish Festival. In essence, he said, “I am coming for my Bride on such and such a day. Be watching. What day could the Jewish idiom be referring to? .
Jesus was a Jew and lived a Torah-observant Jewish life. he spoke in Hebrew, in Hebraic ways. He thought and talked like a Jew. He spoke the language and idioms of the day. Those who heard him knew what he was saying and usually what he was alluding to, unless he spoke in parables. Today’s believers struggle to understand his words and concepts.
In Matthew 8:11, Jesus said, “I say to you many will come from the east and west and take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Since we are talking about Jewish idioms, have you ever considered the meaning of these words? Our Lord used and confirmed common Jewish ideas about the Day of the Lord and its relation to the Feast of Tabernacles in Zech 14. Jesus referred to the Festival and its traditional guests of honor, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ushpizin, or seven shepherds, exalted guests, invited into every succah, at the Feast of Sukkot. The seven shepherds were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and King David. By mentioning the feast and three of the shepherds, his audience understood the allusion to the Messianic Age, the Day of the Lord.
In the Gospel narrative of Luke 23:31f, Jesus said, “If men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Jesus pointed his audience, who had portions of the prophets memorized, to verses in Ezek 20:45. Jesus’ hearers knew he referred to Jacob’s trouble in the Great Tribulation and warned his audience what they were to do to him in hardness of heart now, God would do to the nation in judgment later.
God, through Jesus, spoke to the Jews at many times, in many ways (Hebrews 1:1-2) relying on known figures of speech, common expectations and direct thoughts from Pharisaic teachings. Every phrase and word from the mouth of the Lord meant something to his audience. He spoke with precision. With that as a basis, we need to go to one of the most misunderstood Jewish figures of speech, “No one knows the day or hour.” In context, he was referring to the home-taking of his bride, and his reign as King of kings over all the earth.”>
So, Jesus referred to the impending judgment of Jerusalem utilizing the language of Rosh Ha Shanah– the feast day that foreshadowed the Day of Judgment! This is no mere coincidence. It was a cryptic way of giving them a “general time” without revealing “the day and the hour.”
In our next installment, we will look closer at the claim about “those days” versus “that day” in light of Luke 17. But as we shall see, it is specious to divide the Olivet Discourse on this false distinction.
Be sure to read my book, We Shall Meet Him In The Air, The Wedding of the King of kings, for an indepth study of the Olivet Discourse.