The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:3 In the Cross Hairs- #5
Which Disciples Were (Or Are) Confused?
Jesus to his apostles: “Do you see all of these things? The time is coming in which not one stone shall be left standing on another (Matthew 24:2).
In response, the apostles asked: “Tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
As I shared in the first installment of this series, almost all futurist eschatologies depend on the view that when Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple and City, the disciples connected that event with the end of the age and Christ’s coming. There is a scholarly consensus that the disciples were confused and mistaken in their questions to Jesus. I shared earlier a quote from Craig Blomberg, cited by Sam Frost (2019):
“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).”
But of course, Frost and Blomberg, as so many commentators, tell us that the disciples were wrong. They were ignorant, they were confused. Isn’t it amazing that commentators, living 2000 years after the apostles, can so easily claim that the apostles were so horribly ignorant or confused, even though there is not a word, not a syllable in the Olivet Discourse that would indicate that they were so confused??
This idea, this claim serves as the very foundation of all three futurist eschatologies! Without that foundation, any futurist application of the Olivet Discourse melts away. If the disciples were not confused, if they were not simply mistaken, if they were not in fact amazingly dumb, to make that connection, but were actually correct, then, all futurist applications of the Discourse must be re-examined. If those disciples were not confused, then it is the modern disciples that are the confused ones. Since Matthew 24 is about the end of the age and Matthew 13 is about the end of the age– even using the same identical distinction Greek term for “end of the age” then, as I have proposed, a serious look at Matthew 13 is in order.
There is almost total agreement among commentators that Matthew 13:39f is a prediction of the end of the Christian age– i.e. the end of time. (E. G. Amillenialists (Riddlebarger, Amillennialism, 111). Postmillennialists (Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, (Draper, VA; Apologetics Group, 2009), 263, 325. Dispensationalist, Thomas Ice, Prophecy Watch, (Eugene; Or. Harvest House, 1998), 44f). It is assumed that the prophecy is about the church, and New Covenant promises and is not concerned with the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. The failure to see Jesus’ parables as an expression of the kingdom hope of Israel is the fatal flaw in all futurist eschatologies.
In the FaceBook exchanges with Frost and other former preterists, I have asked the following question, but have yet to receive an answer:
What age did that Jerusalem Temple represent and symbolize? Now, Frost said in March of 2019 that the disciples did not link the end of ‘any age” with the temple’s demise. However, later that year, in fact, just a very short time later, he said it was “perfectly natural” for the disciples to link the end of the (current) age, with the destruction of the temple!
Did it represent the entirety of the Christian enterprise? I have gotten no answer. To suggest that the Jerusalem temple in any way represented the New Covenant, or the current Christian age, is beyond ludicrous. To suggest that the Old Covenant Jerusalem temple in any way represented the current age is simply beyond credibility; it is specious in the extreme.
The reader must catch the power of these probitive questions. To answer these questions Biblically is to destroy futurism.
Let me say this as simply as I can: If the disciples were right to conflate the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple with the end of the age, then futurism is D-E-A-D. It is that simple. It is that undeniable. And as we have seen, the OT contains numerous prophecies of the last days destruction of the city and temple, prophecies that would have been read in the synagogues over and over and over again! Thus, to suggest first of all that there is no connect between the end of the age and the destruction of the temple is specious, and then to say that the disciples would have been ignorant of such prophecies is literally beyond believability.
Let me remind the reader that in Matthew 13, Jesus repeatedly spoke of and to the apostles that they were the ones to whom the mystery of God was revealed. Look at verse 16: “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” But you see, according to those who say that the disciples were actually ignorant or confused in Matthew 24, Jesus could not have said that! And the key thing to remember here is that the context is Jesus’ telling of the parable of the end of the age.
He also told them they were witnessing what the prophets had foretold (but did not understand, 13:17), but, he told them that he told the parables, which included the parable of the end of the age, so that they, his apostles, would understand. So, there can be no denying the fact that Jesus was teaching the apostles about the end of the age so that they would understand. Does this mean that they would understand the precise time or the sign? No, but, it certainly demands that they would understand the connection between the end of the age and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, because those are tenets that are undeniable in Daniel 12.
Now, when Jesus predicted the end of the age (Matthew 13:39-40, 49) he used a distinctive Greek term sunteleia tou aionos. This is the same term that the disciples utilized in Matthew 24:3. The topic is patently the same. The point that we just made is established even further by these facts.
Notice that Jesus said “harvest is at the end of the age” (Matthew 13:40– Remember that this is the harvest that Jesus said the time had arrived for it, in John 4:35). Jesus did not, as the KJV suggests, say that the harvest would be at the end of the world. He was predicting the end of the age. He then said that at that end of the age, “then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the Father” (v. 43). So, the end of the age would be when the righteous would shine.
It is critical to understand Matthew 13:43 is a direct citation / allusion of Daniel 12:3: “Then (the time of the resurrection, (v. 2) and the end of the age (v. 4), shall the righteous shine…”
So, Daniel predicted the resurrection, (which is the harvest), the time of the end, and the righteous shining forth in the kingdom. Jesus predicted the harvest (the resurrection), at the end of the age, and said it would be when the righteous would shine in the kingdom. There is little doubt that Jesus was drawing from Daniel 12.
Note now where fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy is posited by the God of heaven. In Daniel 12:6 one angel asked another when “all of these things” would be fulfilled. He was patently asking about when ALL– not just some– of the things just mentioned would be fulfilled. (Keep in mind that Sam Frost denies this, and inserts a 2500 year gap into the period at the end of v. 1). Verse seven is heaven’s divine answer:
“Then I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever, that it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished.”
There could hardly be a clearer more definitive answer. Let me express my argument succinctly:
Jesus’ prophecy of the end of the age and harvest, when the righteous would shine in the kingdom is the reiteration of the prophecy of Daniel 12.
But, the prophecy of Daniel 12 posited the end of the age and harvest, when the righteous would shine in the kingdom, at the time when the power of the holy people would be completely shattered (Daniel 12:7).
Therefore, Jesus’ prophecy of the end of the age and harvest, when the righteous would shine in the kingdom, would be fulfilled when the power of the holy people would be completely shattered.
There is patently no other time and no other event that fits the description of the shattering of the power of the holy people than the cataclysmic destruction of Old Covenant Judaism in AD 70. If it is true – and it is– that the power of the holy people was their covenant relationship with the Lord, then to say that the resurrection has not happened is to say that Israel’s covenant relationship with YHVH remains valid, and will do so until the time of the resurrection.
On the other hand, if you apply Daniel 12:1 to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, as some commentators do, then you must be able to show how Israel’s covenant relationship with the Lord was shattered at that time. Of course, the undeniable truth is that Israel’s covenant relationship with the Lord was not broken at that time. (For an examination of the incredible significance of the AD 70 catastrophe see my The Elements Shall Melt With Fervent Heat (Ardmore, Ok.; JaDon Management Inc. 2007). The book is available on Amazon, Kindle and this site).
Israel’s covenant relationship with God was not shattered under Antiochus. In fact, one could effectively argue that as a direct result of Antiochus’ actions, there was a revival of Torah observance in Israel! The Maccabees, under Mattathias and his sons certainly envisioned it that way. Not only that, the modern observance of the feast of Hanukkah commemorates that revival of Torah observance and the victory over the Seleucid forces. Thus, to suggest that the Great Tribulation was in the time of Antiochus is untenable. It just does not work. I should also point out that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in BC 586 was exponentially worse / greater than anything under Antiochus.
As an illustration of the power of Daniel 12, in July of 2016, at the Preterist Pilgrim Weekend, I had a formal public debate with Dr. David Hester of Faulkner University, (Montgomery, Al). Prior to that debate I had asked Dr. Hester if, in his view, Daniel 12:2 is the same resurrection as in John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:14-15. His response was that Daniel 12:2 is in fact the same resurrection. Please catch the power of this admission. So, in the debate I noted that Daniel 12 unequivocally posited that resurrection at the end of Torah, not the end of the Christian age.
Dr. Hester’s “response” was shocking and revealing. He jettisoned his own admission that Daniel 12 refers to the final resurrection. When that backfired on him, he changed his position – mid-debate – and simply made the claim, with not so much as a word of proof, that even if Daniel 12 does refer to AD 70 that it is not limited to that time. So, he took three positions in one debate! Hester’s mid-debate flip flopping was literally stunning. (A book of that debate DVDs and Mp3s are available from me).
As another example of such flip-flopping, Sam Frost, former preterist, has changed his position on Daniel 12 no less than three times as well. Amazingly, as we have seen, he applies Daniel 12:1 to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes – in spite of Jesus’ application of that verse to the first century (Matthew 24:15f). Then, he inserts a 2500 year gap into the period at the end of verse 1, and says that verse 2 refers to the end of time! Such tactics reveal the utter desperation of “exegetes”– (you can’t call what Frost does “exegesis). It is glaringly obvious.
Back to Matthew 13. It is important to take note that the apostles asked Jesus why he spoke to them in parables (v.36f ). His response is telling and significant. He said that he spoke to them in parables so that they would understand his teaching! But, according to those who insist on the apostles’ ignorance and confusion in Matthew 24, Jesus’ strategy and plan did not work!
When Jesus told the parable of Matthew 13 the disciples would immediately have thought of the prophecy of Daniel. Matthew 13:43 is a direct echo and citation of Daniel 12:3. As was have shared, some scholars realize that the very form of the disciples’ questions in Mark 13 echoes Daniel 12:7. William Lane this commenting on Mark 13 when he says that it: “Resembles Daniel 12:7. When Daniel asked how long it would be to the end the divine messenger replied: ‘when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things will be accomplished.’” (William Lane, The New International :Commentary on the New Testament, Mark, Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1974), 454).
Amazingly, Thomas Ice, citing Pentecost admits that Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 24:2 caused the disciples (mistakenly of course, per Ice) to think of Zechariah 14 and the prediction of the coming of the Lord at the destruction of Jerusalem. This is a tacit admission that scripture does in fact conflate the end of the age with the destruction of Jerusalem. Those disciples would have known that the end of the age was not the end of the Christian age, but the end of the Mosaic age.
Daniel is not alone is positing the eschatological fulfillment within the context of the end of the Old Covenant world of Israel.
As we have seen in Isaiah 24-27 (a united prophecy of Israel’s last days fate), the time of Israel’s salvation, the resurrection (Isaiah 25:8-9), is posited at the time when the city and the temple would be turned over to foreigners. In chapter 27:9-10, that salvation, the time when Leviathan, the Great Serpent is destroyed at the coming of the Lord (26:21-27:1-2) we are told that Israel would be saved through judgment, once again when the city and the temple would be destroyed. Be sure to read 27:10f particularly.
In Isaiah 65-66 the prophet posits the coming of the New Creation at the time when God would destroy the Old Covenant “heaven and earth” and create a New People with a New Name (Isaiah 65:13-19). And there are many other OT prophecies that likewise foretold the coming of the kingdom and salvation at the end of Israel’s aeon. For the moment however, we will allow our comments on Daniel 12 and Isaiah 24-27 and 65 to suffice.
The fact is that the Old Covenant contains many predictions of the last days, the day of the Lord and the resurrection, and posits those events, not at the end of the (endless) Christian age, and not at the end of time. (I should point out that former preterists such as Sam Frost, Jeff Cunningham and others, on Facebook, are now denying that there was such a thing as the Mosaic Age, and that there is no such thing as the Christian age. Their “justification” for such an unprecedented claim is that the specific terms never appear in the Bible). Those prophecies place those eschatological events at the end of the Old Covenant age, the age represented by the Jerusalem temple, and at the destruction of that Temple. To ignore this is to miss the story of Biblical eschatology. We will demonstrate this as we proceed.
But, once again, I want lay even more ground work for the proper understanding of Matthew 13, and we will do that in the next installment by examining some of Jesus’ earlier predictions of his coming that are inseparably tied to the destruction of Jerusalem and the judgment of Israel / Judah. We have mentioned some of these texts earlier, but too briefly. So, in the next installment we will look a bit deeper at those prophecies before looking deeper into Matthew 13. Stay tuned!