The Olivet Discourse| Matthew 24-25: United or Divided? #7
We are examining the assumption of a divided discourse. Men such as Kik and others have postulated a list of so-called contrasts between the A. D. 70 parousia and the final coming which they insist is yet future. These contrasts have been advanced by many different commentators. Please see our previous articles to bring you up to date. Article #1 is here.
The postmillennial apologist Marcellus Kid opined that Matthew 24 is “a storehouse to prophetic students, a perplexity to lay readers, and to others a labyrinth of errant eschatological notions.” (Marcellus Kik, Matthew XXIV, Presbyterian and Reformed Press, 1948, p. 1). This great chapter is indeed almost an enigma to most students. Scholars like Strauss, Schweitzer, Cullman, Bultmann and others, because of a preconceived idea about the nature of the coming of the Lord see in the Olivet Discourse a clear demonstration that Jesus’ predictions failed. Jesus predicted the end of the world for his generation, it did not occur, therefore Jesus failed. This is the conclusion of most “liberal” scholars today.
Others seek to find harmony with Jesus’ prediction by dividing the chapter into two subjects, the fall of Jerusalem, in verses 4-35, and a supposed “end of time” in verses 36-25:46. In fact, it may be safe to say that the entire amillennial– and to great extent the Postmillennial– view of eschatology is dependent upon dividing the Olivet Discourse into two subjects. For if Matthew 24 cannot be divided the great majority of amillennialists and postmillennialists would admit that the great judgment parable of 25:31f belongs to Christ’s A.D. 70 coming.
Significantly, a growing number of Postmillennial writers are accepting the unity of the Olivet Discourse, while still trying to maintain a futurist eschatology. This is truly astounding. Jesus’ eschatological teaching in the Olivet Discourse serves as the fountain for the eschatology of the rest of the NT! If all of Matthew 24-25 applies to AD 70 this strongly suggests that the NT does not teach a futurist eschatology. Yet, Postmillennial writers such as Gary DeMar, and others are now claiming that the entirety of the Discourse was referent to the events surrounding the first century judgment of Jerusalem.
Kenneth Gentry has been vacillating. He is now on record claiming that even if it could be proven that the Discourse were a united discussion of the AD 70 events, this would not seriously impact his futurist eschatology.(See his comments at: http://www.reformed-theology.org/ice/newslet/dit/dit09.98.htm). This is specious in the extreme.
You cannot “surrender” Matthew 24:36-25:46 to an A. D. 70 application without surrendering all futurist doctrines of judgment and resurrection, it is that simple. Interestingly enough, when writing to refute dispensationalism, Gentry says the Olivet Discourse is vitally important to the study of eschatology. So, on the one hand, it does not matter if the Olivet Discourse speaks only of AD 70. On the other hand, it is fundamental to a proper understanding of eschatology! (See my We Shall Meet Him In The Air, the Wedding of the King of kings, page 366, n. 97 for a complete discussion).
Matthew 24-25| What About the Fig Tree and the Thief?
In Matthew 24:32-33 Jesus told the parable of the fig tree to inform his disciple how they could know his coming was at hand. In verses 43f he told the parable of the thief. Commentators suggest that these illustrations are mutually exclusive of each other and prove that Jesus was speaking of two different comings.
The fundamental assumption behind this argument is that the coming as a thief must be sudden and without warning, i.e. no signs given. We have already addressed the question of signs -vs- no signs in article #4. Please refer to that article for more information. Let us turn our attention to the issue of Jesus coming as a thief. The information that follows is edited from my book “He Came As A Thief.” Be sure to get a copy of that.
We shall address two passages that throw great light on Jesus’ coming as a thief. In this article we will examine the thief coming as foretold in Revelation 16.
The Olivet Discourse , the Thief Coming and Revelation 16
In Revelation 16:14-15 the avenging Lord promised that he was coming as a thief. This coming would be the time of “the battle of that Great Day of God Almighty” (v. 14). He encouraged the readers: “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” There are several things to be noted.
First, Jesus unequivocally stated that his coming was at hand and was soon to take place. In Revelation 1:1-3 the apostle was told that the fulfillment of the prophecy of the book was “at hand” and “must shortly come to pass.” In 22:12 Jesus said “behold I come quickly!” Every single reference to the coming of the Lord in Revelation is associated with imminence! There is not an “at hand” coming in Revelation and then a “not at hand” coming”!
Some would attempt to make the “final coming” of Revelation a protracted event by arguing that it was to be at the end of the millennium. The millennium was to be a long time, therefore the coming of the Lord at the end of the millennium must still be future. (See Joseph Vincent’s excellent book on the Millennium, available from our book store). That this need not be true is seen even by opponents of Covenant Eschatology. (Realized Eschatology, otherwise known as Covenant Eschatology, is the view that all prophecy including the Second Coming, judgment and Resurrection occurred at the end of the Old Covenant Age of Israel with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This view says that the Bible view of eschatology, last things, is not concerned with the end of time, but the time of the end, i.e. Old Covenant Israel. Thus, Bible eschatology is about the end of Covenant History, not Temporal History).
Wayne Jackson has observed that the 1000 years may “denote the completeness of the saints triumph.” (Wayne Jackson, Premillennialism: System of Infidelity, Courier Publications, PO Box 55265, Stockton, Calif. 95205, p. 19). Whatever the millennium may represent it is clear that the coming of the Lord was to be at the end of the millennium. It is equally clear that the coming was imminent therefore the end of the millennium was imminent! This is categoric proof of the spiritual/figurative nature of the millennium.
Thus, since every reference to the coming of the Lord in Revelation says it was imminent, what ever the “as a thief” coming may be defined as, it was imminent! But we do not have to wonder about the context for this coming as a thief.
Remember, the coming as a thief was to be “at the Great Day of God Almighty.” This Day would be when God would avenge the saints and prophets persecuted by the great city Babylon (Revelation 16:5-7, 18-19). The Great Day of God’s Wrath would be when those slain for the word of God and their faith would be vindicated (Revelation 6:9-17).
The Great City is “where the Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:8)–none other than first century Jerusalem. Jesus specifically identified Jerusalem as the city guilty of persecuting the saints and the object of his coming in vengeance and wrath in that generation (Matthew 23:31-39; Luke 13:31f).
Here is our argument:
The Lord’s coming as a thief would be the Great Day of God’s Wrath against the city guilty of crucifying the Lord, Revelation 11:8; 16:16).
But the city guilty of crucifying the Lord was Jerusalem.
Therefore the Lord’s coming as a thief would be the Great Day of God’s Wrath against Jerusalem.
A corollary argument would be:
The Lord’s coming against Jerusalem would be in his, the first century, generation (Matthew 23:34-36; 24:29-34).
But the Lord’s coming against Jerusalem would be his coming as a thief (Revelation 16:16).
Revelation 16 is emphatic and irrefutable. Three facts have emerged from our examination of this text and Jesus’ prediction to come as a thief:
1. That thief coming was to be against Jerusalem.
2. That thief coming was imminent.
3.] There were to be signs of that thief coming.
It simply cannot be argued therefore that Jesus’ promise to come as a thief in Matthew 24 excluded his coming against Jerusalem nor can it be argued that there would be no signs of his coming as a thief.
In our next installment we will examine Revelation 3 and demonstrate that the “coming as a thief” was– without doubt– to be in the first century. The Olivet Discourse cannot be divided!