More on the Great Tribulation: How Could AD 70 Have Been The Great Tribulation?
In a previous article we addressed one of the most common objections to Covenant Eschatology is based on the doctrine of the Great Tribulation. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice state their case in their “End Times Controversy,” (Eugene, Ore.; Harvest House, 2005)12)
“What evidence do preterists have that the tragic siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was indeed a fulfillment of Jesus’ description of the Great Tribulation? He said it would be a time that would be worse than any other in history from “the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Matt 24:21). Anyone who reads history must admit that the Inquisition and Hitler’s holocaust were far worse and occurred long after A.D. 70.”
This objection is very common, but is based on several false presuppositions. In addition, the objection overlooks some clear, undeniable facts not only from the Olivet Discourse, but the rest of scripture. Let me offer a four point response:
1.) Jesus undeniably said the Great Tribulation would occur in his generation.
2.) The language Jesus used of the Great Tribulation being the greatest event ever is typical prophetic hyperbole.
3.) In addition to the possibility that the language is prophetic hyperbole, it is distinctly possible there is a sense, a very real sense, in which one might consider the language to be literally true.
4.) The book of Revelation definitively confines the Great Tribulation to the first century.
Point #1– This Generation Shall Not Pass
No matter what one may think of the Great Tribulation, the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:34 must be candidly and objectively dealt with. In discussing his coming, along with the other predicted events such as the fulfillment of the Great Commission, the Abomination of Desolation and the Great Tribulation, Jesus said “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass until all of these things be fulfilled.”
Ice feels the force of Jesus’ words and so claims that what Jesus was saying is that when the Tribulation period arrives after the Rapture, (The Tribulation being a seven year period, per the Dispensational construct), it is that generation that shall see the fulfillment of all of the predicted events. Needless to say, this defines “this generation” as seven years, which is Biblically unprecedented!
Of course, one could rebut Ice’s contention by showing that the predicted events of Matthew 24 did happen in the first century. In my Into All The World, Then Comes The End, for instance, I document that the Great Commission was undeniably fulfilled. In fact, every word (translated as “earth,” “world,” “nations” etc.) used by Jesus to predict or to command the Commission was used by Paul to say it had been fulfilled. This is not mere coincidence. It is prophecy given, prophecy fulfilled!
Ice makes an astoundingly bad claim in regard to Jesus’ use of “this generation”: “The use of ‘this generation’ in all other contexts is historical, but 24:34 is prophetic. In fact, when one compares the historical use of ‘this generation’ at the beginning of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 23:36 (which is an undisputed reference to A.D. 70) with the prophetic usage in 24:34, a contrast is obvious.” (The Great Tribulation past or Future?, Kenneth L. Gentry and Thomas Ice, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999)103.
Space forbids an in-depth analysis of this unscholarly claim, but simply take note of the blatant misuse of the term in his quote. To suggest that Matthew 23– Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem– is a “historical” and not prophetic use of “this generation” is specious in the extreme. In both Matthew 23 and 24 Jesus was predicting coming events! I might add that in several other instances of the use of “this generation” they are prophetic, and applicable strictly to the first century. Again, Ice’s contrast between a “historical” use and prophetic is unwarranted and false.
So, Jesus said that the events he predicted, inclusive of the Great Tribulation, would occur in his generation. Those events did happen in his generation.
Point #2: Jesus Used Typical Prophetic Hyperbole
One of the main problems with the Dispensational claims about the Great Tribulation is their woodenly literal application of the language that ignores the Biblical use of such language. In other words, it is common in scripture for the writers, inspired by the Spirit, to use language that simply cannot be taken in the hyper-literalistic manner of the Dispensationalists.
In 2 Kings 18:5 it says of Hezekiah that there was not another king before him or another king after him that trusted the Lord like he did. However, just a few chapters later, when Josiah is described, it says the identical thing of him! Very clearly, both statements cannot be literally true.
In similar manner, when YHVH was about to bring the Babylonians against Jerusalem in BC 586, He said, “I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like” (Ezekiel 5:8-9). Consider that Jeremiah, when describing that destruction, said: “The punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of Sodom that was overthrown in a moment” (Lamentations 4:6). Was Jeremiah telling the literal truth? Not if one applies the Dispensational hermeneutic of absolute literalism. Sodom was wiped off the map, totally disappearing; Jerusalem wasn’t! Furthermore, the events of AD 70 were, on a purely literal level, far, far worse than the events of the sixth century!
But, no, Jeremiah did not lie. He used the language of pathos from the bottom of his anguished heart, in typical “human” fashion that does not express the rigid literalism of Dispensational thought.
It is not too much to say that the millennial interpreters will not allow the Biblical writers to express themselves like normal human beings. We often say of children, “That is the prettiest baby I have ever seen!” We express ourselves in times of catastrophe, “That is the worst thing ever!” It is the nature of human beings to express themselves in hyperbolic manner. Given the Hebraic tendency toward symbolism, poetic expression, figurative language, etc., one would think that interpreters would at least consider this, but, in the millennial paradigm, this is not permitted.
Point #3– The Covenantal Significance of AD 70
While we reject the rigid literalism of the Dispensational hermeneutic in its application to the physical dimensions of the War, there is another way to look at Matthew 24:21 and the description of the Great Tribulation that might well be taken in a literal manner. That is, Jesus was not speaking or focusing on of the physical horrors of the AD 66-70 war. Rather, he was describing the Covenantal significance of the events, and in this regard, AD 70 does indeed stand as an event unparalleled in history- past or future.
AD 70 was the end of the Old Covenant age, the end of Torah. (See my From Torah To Telos, the End of the Law of Moses, for a full discussion, or, my written debate with Kurt Simmons on the passing of the Law. Both books are available on my website: www.eschatology.org). Gentry was spot on when he spoke of how the significance of AD 70 is far too often overlooked by modern students: “The significance of the collapse of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in AD 70 is little appreciated by modern Christians. But, AD 70 effectively closes out the old, typological era and removes a major hindrance to the spread of the Christian faith.” (Gentry, Tribulation Debate, (64). Sproul says it is imperative that Bible students “take seriously the redemptive-historical importance of Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D.70″ (R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, 26).
Noted Postmillennialist Lorraine Boettner said, “One reason it is so difficult for some people to realize the Great Tribulation had its fulfillment in the siege and fall of Jerusalem is that they do not fully appreciate what a tremendously important event and what a landmark in history the break-up and abolition of the Old Testament economy really was” (The Millennium, Philadelphia, P and R, 1957, 203).
B.F. Dunelm said: “It is no exaggeration to say that the Fall of Jerusalem is the most significant national event in the history of the world.”Quote found at: http://www.preteristarchive.com/whatsnew.html (p.9).
Even Thomas Ice admits the incredible significance of AD 70. Commenting on Luke 21:22 he said:
“Those first century days are called the ‘days of vengeance for Jerusalem is under the divine judgment of covenantal sanctions recorded in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Luke notes that God’s vengeance on His elect nation ‘is in order that all things that are written may be fulfilled.’ Jesus is telling the nation that God will fulfill all the curses of the Mosaic Covenant because of Israel’s disobedience. He will not relent and merely bring to pass a partial fulfillment of His vengeance. Some of the passages that Jesus says will be fulfilled include the following: Leviticus 26:27-33; Deuteronomy 28:49-63; Deuteronomy 32: 19-27; 1 Kings 9:1-9; Jeremiah 6:1-6; 26:1-9; Daniel 9:26; Hosea 8:1-10:15; Micah 3:12; Zechariah 11:6.” (Ice, Tribulation Debate, 98).
Now, in truth, Ice has, in this single quote, surrendered the entire Dispensational paradigm! He admitted that AD 70 was the fulfillment of all of the curses of the Mosaic Covenant, clearly not appreciating the fact that the Mosaic Covenant lies at the foundation of all Biblical eschatology.
Paul said his doctrine of the resurrection was nothing but the hope of Israel, Israel “after the flesh” (Romans 9:3), found in Moses and the prophets (Acts 24:14f). He said he preached nothing that was not found in Moses and the prophets (Acts 26:21f). As I noted in my formal debate with Joel McDurmon, (July, 2012) while the Edenic and Abrahamic Eschatology promises predated Torah, those promises were incorporated into Torah and were to be fulfilled at the end of the Mosaic Age, not at some proposed end of time, or the end of the Christian age. (The book, DVDs, and the Kindle version of that debate are all available from me).
Note that Ice– who, along with LaHaye lodged the objection to preterism under review here- admits that AD 70 was the fulfillment of (among other prophecies) Deuteronomy 32. This is an astounding admission and is the definitive answer to the objection. Here, ever so briefly, is the reason why.
☛Deuteronomy 32 is a prophecy about Israel’s last days (v. 19f; 29f).
☛According to Dispensational theology, Israel’s last days, i.e. the seven year Tribulation period that follows the rapture, were postponed due to Jewish unbelief. This supposed suspension of the prophetic clock absolutely demands that Israel’s last days were not being counted in AD 70!
☛ And yet, Thomas Ice says Deuteronomy 32, a prophecy about Israel’s last days, was fulfilled in AD 70! Did you notice that Ice cited the very verses that posited those events for Israel’s last days, and that he said AD 70 was a “complete,” not partial fulfillment?
Do you catch the power of this?
Deuteronomy 32:19-27 was completely fulfilled in AD 70– Thomas Ice.
But, Deuteronomy 32:19-27 was a prophecy of events in Israel’s last days (v. 19f; 29f).
Therefore, Israel’s last days were present and completely fulfilled in AD 70.
This is incontrovertible. If Israel’s last days were present in AD 70 then the postponement doctrine is falsified. The Great Tribulation belongs to AD 70, and on this basis alone, the objection under discussion is falsified. But, there is more.
If we take Matthew 24:21 in a Covenantal context, it has tremendous implications for all futurist eschatologies. Remember, the fall of Jerusalem was the end of the age and Jesus’ parousia (Matthew 24:3f). Jesus said that event would be the greatest event ever, past or future. This is because there had never been the end of a covenant age before.
For 1500 years Torah and Israel had stood as God’s exclusive covenant and covenant people. That Old Covenant could not bring life or righteousness (Galatians 3:20f), and was pre-ordained to end in order to bring in the New Covenant age of Messiah, and the New Creation. This New Covenant age, in stark contrast to the Old, brings justification, life, righteousness and grace.
So ask yourself this question: Would the end of the New Covenant age of life, righteousness, justification and life, not be worse, far, far worse, than the end of the Covenant that could not give any of those things?
In AD 70 a nation came to an end. Futurist say the entire cosmos will be destroyed.
In AD 70 a covenant of death came to an end. Futurists tell us that some day, the New Covenant age of life, righteousness and grace will come to an end.
In AD 70 God’s exclusive dealings with a single nation came to an end. Futurists tell us that one day, God will no longer deal with mankind in history.
In AD 70 a temporary covenant came to its determined end. Futurists tell us the eternal, everlasting covenant age– that is said to have no end– will in fact come to an end.
Undeniably, if the futurist paradigm is correct, the future end of the age would be far greater, far worse, than the events of AD 70. And yet, this cannot be if Jesus was speaking in Covenantal terms when he said the end of the Old Covenant age would be the greatest event the world had ever seen, or would ever see.
Point #4– The Great Tribulation and the 144,000
For brevity, let me give some bullet points. For a fuller development of the points, see my Blast From the Past: The Truth About Armageddon, book, available on my websites.
In Revelation 7 and 14 John saw the 144,000, who represented the righteous remnant of the twelve tribes.
The 144,000 were the first fruit of those redeemed to God from man (Revelation 14:2-4). Thus, they were the first Jewish Christians. Hang onto that for one moment.
The 144,000 experienced the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:14f)!
Therefore, the Great Tribulation belonged to and occurred in the first century, the time of the first fruit.
Notice that Revelation does not say the 144,000 were the first fruit of the Tribulation period. No, they were the first to be redeemed by the work of Christ. And again, of logical, inescapable necessity, since they experienced the Great Tribulation, then the Tribulation belonged to the very beginning of the proclamation of Christ’s redemptive work!
The first fruit cannot refer to any event in our future, for anyone in our future cannot, by the very nature of the case, be the first fruit of those redeemed to God from man! We today are generations and generations later than the first fruit. Neither we, or any future generation can ever be the first fruit of those redeemed to God.
Thus, the doctrine of the 144,000 definitively posits the Great Tribulation in the first century. Just as does the fulfillment of Deuteronomy, as admitted by Thomas Ice. Just as does the covenantal significance of the fall of Jerusalem, and just as does Jesus’ emphatic declaration that the Tribulation was to be in his generation.
When we take this evidence into consideration, either singly, or collectively, it points us inexorably and irrefutably to the conclusion that the Great Tribulation occurred in the first century. The objection is Over- Ruled!
Be sure to get a copy of my book: Blast From the Past: The Truth About Armageddon. This book is an extremely powerful presentation of the truth that the “Battle of Armageddon” and the Great Tribulation are past!