The Olivet Discourse: One Coming or Two?
I once believed that Matthew 24 was a divided discourse. As a young man I heard the preachers that I admired proclaim this as an un-contestable fact. To be honest, it never occurred to me for many years that there were problems with this. My father however, a studious man, had serious problems with the traditional view, although as he said himself, “I do not know what the answers are, but the traditional view is not right!” It was not until requested to teach on this great discourse that I dared to tackle the questions that needed to be addressed. When I had concluded a year long study, I was convinced that Matthew 24-25 discusses but one subject–the coming of Christ at the end of the Old Covenant Age of Israel in A.D. 70.
In this series of articles we are examining the evidence advanced by those who insist that the Olivet Discourse is divided. The evidence, presented in the form of so-called contrasts between the coming of Christ in the fall of Jerusalem and the “end of time,” was once accepted by me as valid and conclusive. The trouble was, I had not actually examined the text of Matthew 24; I had not examined the foundational presuppositions upon which the contrasts are built; I had not seen the logical fallacies that are inherent in the contrasts; I had not seen the implications of a divided discourse, inferences that are so palpably false that it is appalling. I had not really studied!
The purpose of this series is to show that the ground upon which the doctrine of a divided discourse is built is shaky. In fact, it is quicksand. Let’s continue.
The Olivet Discourse and the “Delay of the Parousia”
Roy Deaver was one of my “heroes” when I was a young man. He said that in regard to the Lord’s coming against Jerusalem, “it would be within the lifetime of that generation.” But in regard to the Lord’s final coming he insisted that “the emphasis is upon long delay `my Lord tarrieth’ `while the bridegroom tarrieth,’ `after a long time'” (Roy Deaver, Studies in Refutation of Realized Eschatology, Bellview Preacher Training School, Pensacola, Florida, 1977, Unit IV, P. 145). As with the other proposed contrasts, there are a great many “a priori” assumptions behind this assertion.
Could it not be possible that the Lord could definitely predict his coming for a given generation, though not giving the “day and hour,” and that slothful believers, waning in faith, not say, late in that generation: “the Lord tarries his coming” and not give themselves over to wickedness? Is it impossible that believers under persecution and the cares of the world, expecting the parousia “immediately,” and perhaps disillusioned by a perceived failure, would say the Lord had not come “after a long time” and therefore apostatize? Is this impossible? If so, why?
Second, it needs to be realized that in every passage in which the statements “the Lord tarrieth” or “a long time” is used that it is very clear the “long time” and “tarrying” is within the context of the lifetime of the servants in questions. It was still within their generation! There is not one example of the Lord giving his “talents” to one generation of servants and then they pass them on to others and they to others, ad infinitum. The Lord always returned in the lifetime of the servants to whom he entrusted the pounds, talents, etc, (cf. Matthew 25; Luke 19).
Third, consider Hebrews in comparison with the idea of the servant saying, “My Lord delays his coming” (Matthew 24:48). In Matthew, Jesus tells of the servant who because of the perceived delay of return becomes wicked and proclaims either the failure or the delay of the Lord’s coming.
Hebrews was written later in the very generation for which Jesus predicted his parousia. The writer is addressing brethren being pressured to return to the religion of their fathers. The writer exhorts them to faithfulness “you have need of endurance so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry.” Jesus told of those who would proclaim the Lord had delayed his coming. The Hebrew writer declared the imminent return of the Lord and said he would not delay!
In 1 Peter 4:7 Peter said “the end of all things is at hand.” In his second epistle he had to counter those who were denying his inspired decree. There were some who were saying, “where is the promise of his coming. For since the Fathers fall asleep all things continue as they were….” Peter was adamant. He said the believers were “hasting the day of his coming”; this in spite of the unbelief.
The Olivet Discourse and the Coming of the Bridegroom
Matthew 25 also helps us understand the idea of “delay” in regard to the parousia. The ten virgins all waited expectantly for the coming of the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom “delayed his coming” (v. 5). But finally the cry went out “Behold, the Bridegroom comes!”
Question: was the declaration of the imminence of the Bridegroom true or not? Was the cry, “The Bridegroom could come at any moment so you better act as if he was imminent”? Was the cry, “The Bridegroom is so sure to come that we can say it is near even though we do not know for sure”?
This was argued by the late Guy N. Woods, in his commentary on James 5. (Guy N. Woods’ comments in his commentary on James 5, Gospel Advocate Commentary, Nashville, Tn. 1972, p. 274, 277). Woods was adamant that when Jesus and John the Baptizer said, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mark 1:15; 4:17) that this meant the kingdom was objectively imminent! The identical Greek word in the same tense is found in Mark to speak of the kingdom and in James to speak of the parousia. Yet we are to believe totally different things about the two texts! If one can so rationalize away the time statements about the coming of the Lord then he can surely do the same with the time statements regarding the kingdom.
The fact is that the cry went out when the Bridegroom was actually, objectively imminent.
Had the Bridegroom not been truly imminent then the cry of his imminence would have been like the little boy crying “Wolf!” And this raises a very serious issue with the message of the church. We are told that the church must constantly herald the coming of the Lord. Well then, is the message to be, “Behold the Bridegroom comes”? Does not the passing of two thousand years belie that urgent cry? One can hardly give serious intellectual credence to the attempts to speak of a “timeless imminence” or “imminent -vs- soon” or “time words are elastic” and other similar attempts to avoid or explain the time statements of imminence in the New Testament.
In the book of Revelation the cry went out that the coming of the Lord for his marriage (19:6-7) was “at hand”; it “must shortly come to pass”; he was coming “quickly” (1:1-3; 22:6, 10, 12, 20). Is a different marriage contemplated in Matthew than in Revelation? If so, are there two different Brides of Christ? If this is so, then surely one must also posit two different judgments for the two texts.
The fact that the cry “The Bridegroom cometh” was true and accurately reflected the imminence of the Bridegroom demands that we take seriously the time statements of the New Testament concerning the Lord’s appearing. The epistles contain the constant refrain “the coming of the Lord is at hand.” This is tantamount to, “Behold, the Bridegroom comes!” This means that the statements of “delay” in the gospels must be seen in the light of the “at hand,” and “he will not delay” statements of the epistles. Be sure to read my extensive discussion of the Wedding of Christ in my We Shall Meet Him In the Air, the Wedding of the King of kings.
For Deaver’s proposed contrast to be valid he must be able to prove beyond doubt that “the Lord delays his coming” could not be a reference to a delay within that generation. In other words, he must be able to prove beyond doubt that even though Jesus said his coming was for his generation that slothful and wicked believers within that generation could not imagine he had delayed his coming.
Further, for brother Deaver’s suggested contrast to find credence he must be able to explain why the New Testament writers, often combating the very kind of spirit of disobedience as described in Matthew 24:48, constantly stated that the Lord’s coming was indeed “at hand” and the Lord would not delay his coming.
Finally, the contrast can only be substantive if Matthew 25:1-3 and Revelation can be shown to speak of two different comings of the Bridegroom for his Bride and two different judgments. But in his class notes on Revelation, Deaver applied Revelation 19 to the “end of time” (Class notes from the Brown Trail Preacher Training School, on Revelation, Bedford, Tx. July, 1979,54) and his division of the Olivet Discourse also applies Matthew 25 to the future. So, Matthew 25:1f and Revelation speak of the same coming of Christ for his Bride. Revelation says that coming was imminent. This means that the “delay” of the Lord’s coming in Matthew 25 must indeed be seen within the context of Jesus’ generation. This means that Matthew 24 contains no contrast between an imminent coming of the Lord in the fall of Jerusalem and a yet future coming of the Lord. The subject of the Bridegroom and the Wedding proves that the Olivet Discourse is not divided!