The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:3 in the Cross Hairs– #1
Which Disciples Were – or ARE- Confused?
It is undeniable that the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) is the key to understanding Jesus’ eschatology. It is certainly his longest discussion of the end of the age and his coming. To say the least, the Discourse is the source of a great deal of perplexity among expositors. For the Dispensationalist, Jesus’ discussion continues to provide fodder for their repeatedly failed prognostications that we are in the terminal generation.
This discussion of the Olivet Discourse will not deal with the verses 4f. We are concerned here about Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple and temple complex, which would mean the City itself, and the questions that Jesus’ prediction elicited from the disciples. It is not too much to say that if one has a mistaken understanding of verses 2-3 that their entire perspective of the Discourse is thereby skewed. The proper understanding of the disciples’ questions is critical to understanding Jesus’ response. Here is why.
One of the most fundamental beliefs concerning the Discourse is that, yes, Jesus did predict the destruction of the temple. This of course is undeniable. However, we are told that the disciples, upon hearing of that awful prediction, mistakenly associated that coming event with the end of the age and Christ’s coming. In a recent (2019) FaceBook exchange with Sam Frost, former preterist, he made the following comment:
“The disciples conflated (Blomberg) all of this (end of the age and the parousia, DKP) into what Jesus announced. Jesus did not announce the passing of heaven and earth. He only announced the destruction of the City and all therein. They, on the other hand, naturally so, would have understood that if Jerusalem is to be razed to the ground, then perhaps this meant also the end of the age. Totally understandable given the climate of the day (Second Temple Judaism).”
(Please take note that Frost admits on the one hand that Jesus did not announce the passing of heaven and earth. And yet, Frost tells us that in Matthew 24:35, Jesus DID announce the destruction of literal heaven and earth!)
So, for Frost, it was perfectly natural and understandable that the disciples linked the end of the age with the destruction of Jerusalem. But of course, per Frost and other commentators, those disciples were clearly confused, ignorant, mistaken, etc.! Mr. Frost can try to avoid calling the disciples “dumb” all he wants to, but the reality is that he undeniably claims that they were mistaken; they were wrong.
What is remarkable about Mr. Frost’s comments here, (dated 12-12-19) is that they flatly contradict what he said on 3-31-19 in another discussion. In that exchange,I asked him to define the age that the disciples linked to the destruction of the temple prompting them to ask when the end of the age would be.
Here is what Frost wrote on 3-31-19 – “They did not “link” any “age” to the destruction of the temple. The temple was “destroyed” and the ages continued to march on….not end.”
So, on the one hand, according to Frost it was natural for the disciples to “conflate” the end of the age with the destruction of the temple. But on the other hand, they did not link (conflate) any age to the destruction of Jerusalem!
One wonders: if the disciples did not link “any age” to the destruction of the temple, why in the world did they ask about the end of the age in direct response to Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple? Were they just randomly interjecting another radically different subject and event into the discussion? Evidently, that is what Mr. Frost thought in March, but of course, he has now changed (supposedly) his view, and says it was perfectly natural for the disciples to link the temple’s destruction to the end of the age.
One would be hard pressed to find a more self-contradictory bit of writing. This is double talk! Unfortunately, this is far too common with Mr. Frost since he abandoned the truth of Covenant Eschatology. Constant vacillation and flip flopping is actually the order of the day.
It is not too much to say that the idea that the disciples were confused, ignorant, or simply mistaken, is one of the most fundamental beliefs about the Discourse. Calvin even stated that the disciples: “did not suppose that while the building of this world stood, the temple could fall to ruins.” (John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, (Grand Rapids; AP and A, vol. 7), 462). This is the idea that lies behind Mr. Frost’s comments above. He is, albeit tacitly, arguing that the disciples must have thought of the end of time, and the destruction of planet earth, when Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple. But this is a specious concept.
It seems not to have dawned on Calvin and those like him, such as Blomberg and Frost that the disciples were acutely aware that the temple had been razed in BC 586, and yet time marched on! Being well aware of that destruction, why then would the disciples have been compelled to think of the end of time in response to Jesus’ prediction? To exacerbate the issue, upon what basis would the disciples have EVER linked the fall of Jerusalem with the end of the “Christian Enterprise,” as Frost labels our present age? (FaceBook, 11-19-19).
Just a few citations from modern representatives of the various futurist eschatologies will suffice to demonstrate how ingrained the idea is that the disciples were confused.
1.) Dispensationalist Thomas Ice says: “The disciples apparently thought that all three items, destruction of the Temple, the sign of Christ’ s coming, and the end of the age would occur at the same time. Yet this is not the cas.”(www.raptureready.com/featured/ice/AnInterpretationofMatthew24_25_2.html). Ice cites other Dispensationalists that likewise affirm that the disciples were mistaken or confused.
2.) Amillennialist Kim Riddlebarger, says, “It would be quite natural for the disciples to wrongly assume that the end of the age and the destruction of Jerusalem would be the same event. But this assumption may not be correct, for the destruction of temple, cataclysmic as it would be, was not the end of the age, nor did the Lord return in AD 70.” (Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, (Grand Rapids; Baker, 2003), 161).
3.) Postmillennialist Keith Mathison says:“The disciples’ question indicates that in their mind the destruction of temple and the close of the redemptive history are closely related in time. They do not conceive of any significant temporal delay between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of redemptive history. Jesus’ response to their question, however, indicates that their understanding is in need of some correction.” (Keith Mathison, From Age To Age, The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology, (Philippsburg, NJ; P and R Publishing, 2009), 372).
All futurist eschatologies are to a great degree reliant on the concept that the disciples were mistaken. In another (2019) FaceBook exchange the claim has been repeatedly made by the opponents of Covenant Eschatology that the disciples were mistaken. The argument was centered on the fact that if / since we know that the disciples were confused and mistaken on other occasions, that this somehow proves they were mistaken in their questions in Matthew 24:3. To say that this is bad logic is an understatement!
In those exchanges I have demonstrated, as I will later, that in virtually all other occasions, the only way, the very way, that we know they disciples were mistaken is because the Gospel writers tell us so – very clearly. When I have challenged those making the claims about the disciples being confused in Matthew 24 to produce the citation where Jesus chided them for their confusion, or where the Gospel authors (Matthew, Mark or Luke) made a retrospective comment (compare John 2:19f) that the disciples had been confused, total silence has ensued. The undeniable reality is that there are no such comments.
Both the Amillennial and Postmillennial paradigms believe that the Discourse is divided into two topics. It is held that in Matthew 24:4-35 Jesus discussed the destruction of the temple. However, we are told that in v. 36 he switched topics and began to discuss his coming at the end of the current Christian age. The Dispensationalists on the other hand, claim that the only verses in the entirety of the Discourse that discuss the destruction of Jerusalem are found in Luke 21:20-24. (I should note that Frost now posits the unique view that Matthew 24:14- 25:46 discusses the “entirety of the Christian enterprise,” what is commonly called the Christian age. To say this is untenable is a huge understatement).
But, what if the disciples were not wrong, or confused to link the fall of Jerusalem with the end of the age and Christ’s coming? What if they were not as eschatologically challenged as modern commentators claim? If the disciples were right to link the fall of Jerusalem to the end of the age, then patently Old Covenant Israel stands at ground zero in God’s eschatological schema. And not only is Israel established as the key to end times understanding, but, eschatological fulfillment is positively confined to the first century. The implications for all of the futurist eschatologies, if the disciples were not as confused as is commonly assumed, are astounding.
The pressing question therefore is, were the disciples wrong to connect the fall of Jerusalem with the end of the age and the Day of the Lord? The unequivocal answer is that, as we will see, unless the apostles lied to Jesus, they were not mistaken or confused. We will establish from Old Testament prophecy that unless those apostles were wholly ignorant of that prophetic background, they well understood the reality that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed at the end of the age. Their question to Jesus was simply When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your presence? They did not question the reality of the coming event. They knew- from prophecy – that it was to happen. They just wanted more “specifics” about when and the sign.
We will establish that as we proceed. In the meantime, get a copy of my book, We Shall Meet Him In The Air, the Wedding of the King of kings, in which I discuss in depth, the question of whether Jesus’ apostles were ignorant, confused, deluded and wrong, when the linked Jesus’ prediction of the end of the age and his coming to the destruction of the city and Temple.