The Olivet Discourse Matthew 24:3 in the Cross Hairs – #6
Which Disciples Were- Or Are– Confused?
We are examining the claim made by most commentators that in Matthew 24:1-2, when Jesus predicted the impending fall of Jerusalem and the temple, that his apostles were stunned. They had no idea that such a thing could ever happen, we are told. They then ignorantly and mistakenly conflated that coming destruction with the end of the age and Christ’s coming. In the previous articles I have shown the fallacy and failure of that claim, by showing that the OT, in numerous places, foretold the AD 70 destruction.
What we want to do now is to examine some of Jesus’ other predictions of the eschaton that the disciples had heard prior to the Olivet Discourse, to see if it is justified to say that they were so horribly confused when Jesus spoke in Matthew 24. IN other words, had Jesus, in his teaching prior to Matthew 24:1-3, linked his coming with the coming judgment on Israel? Surely it will be admitted that what Jesus had said prior to Matthew 24 would have informed the disciples’ understanding as Jesus spoke in Matthew 24. Take a look then at just a few of the passages in Matthew in which Jesus had spoken of his coming.
Matthew 10:22-23 – And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Now, in Matthew 24:9f Jesus warned his disciples that they would be persecuted as they preached the gospel, just as he does here. But, he said the gospel would be preached into all the world “then comes the end” (24:14). What end? Contextually, the only end that had been spoken of was the end of the age at Christ’s coming. So, Matthew 10:22-23 serves as the backdrop for the Olivet Discourse. What Matthew 10 shows us, unequivocally, is that Christ’s coming – ostensibly in the vindication of the suffering of his apostles and in judgment of their persecutors, was to be in the lifetime of those apostles.
Now, if the coming of the Lord in Matthew 10 is the same coming of the Lord in Matthew 24, then this proves, irrefutably, that the coming of the Lord of Matthew 24:29f was to be in the first century, vindicating and confirming the temporal significance of “this generation” in v. 34. (See Scott McKnight’s excellent discussion of Matthew 10, in his A New Vision for Israel, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999), 128f).
Did the apostles, from the time of Matthew 10 until the time of Matthew 24, completely forget (or were they ignoring) the fact that Jesus said his coming was going to be in their lifetime? This demands too much for us to accept.
Matthew 16:27-28 – Jesus had predicted his coming in judgment and the kingdom before all of that current generation died. This coming, as Wright has corrected noted, was to be in vindication of his suffering and that of his disciples. (N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, (Minneapolis; Fortress, 1996), 338). It simply will not do to claim that this prediction was fulfilled just a few days later in the Transfiguration vision. The apostles had not yet suffered, thus, they were not vindicated at the Transfiguration, and the same is true for the suggestion that Pentecost fulfilled Jesus’ words. (See Don K. Preston, Can You Believe Jesus Said This?, (Ardmore, Ok.; JaDon Management Inc. ), for a refutation of the claim that the Transfiguration was the fulfillment of Matthew 16:27-28).
The agreement between Matthew 16 and Matthew 24 is too strong to ignore. This means that we have the twin statements that the events, the coming of Christ, in judgment and the kingdom, were to be in that generation (Matthew 16:28; Matthew 24:34). Now, did the disciples know and understand that Christ said he was coming in judgment of those who were about to kill him, and persecute them, in that generation (Matthew 16:27-28)? If they did, then it surely is difficult to argue that they were confused in Matthew 24 when Jesus had just warned them of the very persecutions mentioned in chapter 16 (and in chapter 23), and then promised vindication of those sufferings (Matthew 23:29-37). The correspondence is perfect, and is a challenge to those who would claim that the disciples were so confused in Matthew 24. If the disciples remembered Jesus’ prediction that he spoke in Matthew 16, and if they even half way understood what he said in chapter 23, then they were not confused in Matthew 24.
Matthew 21:33f – Jesus told the parable of the Wicked Vineyard Husbandmen. The parable contains the elements of persecution of God’s prophets, just like Matthew 16:23f, Matthew 23 and Matthew 24:9f. It contains the promise of the coming of the Lord (v. 40-41), and the vindication of the suffering saints. And, there can be no dispute that the focus of the coming of the Lord in the text, the coming that would crush and grind to dust the enemies of the Vineyard owner, was to be the judgment of the Pharisees and religious leaders. As Jesus predicted the impending judgment that would result in the removal of the kingdom from Israel the text says that the Pharisees “understood that he spoke of them” (Matthew 21:45). This is then, an unequivocal judgment of the coming judgment of Jerusalem.
What is so important is that Jesus’ citation of the OT prophecies of the Stone that would crush the opposition must be viewed within the context of the establishment of the kingdom at the end of the age, i.e. in the last days (Daniel 2:28; 7:13f; Isaiah 8, etc.). The citation of Psalms 118:22f is an allusion to the Messianic Temple that would be established in the last days. So, Jesus’ citation of the OT prophecies of the Stone, in the context of the coming judgment of the Jerusalem leaders for persecuting the saints, must be viewed as an eschatological prediction. Furthermore, it must be seen in the context of the coming of the Son of Man. Once again, notice that Matthew 21:40 explicitly links the coming destruction of the Jewish leadership with the coming of the Lord!
Did the disciples not have a clue about what any of this meant? Those who argue for a confused group of disciples in Matthew 24 must be able to demonstrate that the disciples were likewise confused when Jesus uttered this parable. Of course, the difficulty with this is that Jesus specifically told the parables so that his disciples would understand his teachings (Matthew 13:10-16).
So, in Matthew 21 we find the very elements found in Jesus’ Temple discourse, which of course is what led to the disciple’s questions in the first place. We find the past persecution and the threat of future persecution. We find the promise that God was about to act in vindication of the suffering saints, and that promise would be fulfilled in the coming of the Master of the Vineyard. and that judgment was coming soon. Are we to believe that although the Pharisees and chief priests “perceived that he was speaking of them” in Jesus prediction of the coming of the Vineyard Master to destroy his enemies, that Jesus’ own disciples did not understand that message? Where the Pharisees and chief priests truly more perceptive about Jesus’ message of impending doom than Jesus’ own inner circle? And, did the Pharisees or even the disciples believe that the predicted judgment was to be the end of the time-space world? How would one justify such a claim?
Matthew 22:1f –The Parable of the Wedding– It is somewhat rare when commentators of virtually all stripes agree on a given interpretation. It is significant therefore, to discover that there is virtually no disagreement as to the application of Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22. As Hagner expressed it: “It is virtually impossible for post-AD 70 readers of the Gospel not to see the destruction of Jerusalem alluded to in these words.” (Donald Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33b, Matthew 14-28, (Dallas; Word Books, 1995), 630).
What does Jesus predict in Matthew 22? He chronicles how representatives of the King were sent to the invited guests, to tell them the Wedding (the eschatological hope of Israel, (Hosea 2:19f; Isaiah 62, etc.) was now ready. The invited guests persecuted and killed the messengers. The King sent his servants to destroy the murderers and burn their city. Likewise, in the Temple discourse, Jesus chronicled the sending of YHWH’s servants to Israel, and how those servants had been slain. Now, Jesus said, he would send his messengers who would in turn be slain. But, judgment and vindication would come in his generation. The murderers would be slain, their city destroyed.
These motifs continue right through the Olivet Discourse. Just as Jesus said in Matthew 23:34f that he would send his disciples to Israel, and they would kill his “apostles and prophets and wise men and scribes” in Matthew 24:9f, speaking to those very disciples that he was sending out, he told them “they will deliver you up to persecution” (thlipsis). The persecution of Matthew 24:9f is the persecution predicted in 23:34f.
Just as Jesus said in Matthew 22, the Father would send out His armies to destroy the city of the persecutors. In Matthew 23:34f Jesus predicted the coming desolation of the city that spurned him and his disciples. And in Matthew 24, Jesus predicts the utter desolation of that Temple, and proceeds to explain why: the persecution of his disciples. The parallels are precise.
Did the disciples understand that Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 22? Just how would they have misunderstood it? If they understood from Jesus’ parable that Jerusalem was to be destroyed as a result of the persecution of those who followed him, how could they then become so dense, to use the term, in Matthew 23-24 when Jesus is expounding on those very topics?
So, we have several major texts in Matthew alone in which Jesus, prior to the Olivet Discourse, foretold the impending destruction of Jerusalem, at his coming and the end of the age. This raises the question then about why we should believe (assume) that the disciples were so egregiously ignorant and confused in Matthew 24. And don’t forget, Jesus said he told his parables so that his apostles would understand his teaching!
So, exactly what is it that demands that the disciples were so confused in Matthew 24? But, to help settle this, let’s take another look at Matthew 13 in our next installment. You will be amazed at the clarity and the power of the evidence! In the meantime, be sure to order a copy of my book, We Shall Meet Him In The Air: The Wedding of the King of kings. It has an extended discussion of the Olivet Discourse.