The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:3 in the Cross Hairs – #8
Which Disciples Were- Or Are- Confused?
Be sure to read the previous installments in this important series, beginning here.
I have effectively demonstrated that when the disciples of Jesus asked about the end of the age and the Lord’s coming, in response to Jesus’ prediction of the impending fall of Jerusalem and the temple, that the disciples were not as confused as commentators claim. The importance of this can hardly be over stated since almost all futurist eschatology is, to some degree, based on the claim that the disciples wrongly conflated Jesus’ prediction of the fall of Jerusalem and the temple with Christ’s coming and the end of the age. But, if the disciples were not wrong to make that connection, then it is not an overstatement to say that futurism suffers a fatal blow. Think about it for a moment: The entire futurist view is based on the assumption and the claim that the disciples were confused, mistaken or simply ignorant! Yet, no one sets out to actually prove that they were so confused. That is simply claimed, as if it is indisputable. The reality is that there is NO EVIDENCE that they were confused.
Let me reiterate, in brief form, what we have seen that proves this beyond any possibility of refutation:
★ The Old Testament, in numerous passages, foretold the AD 70 destruction of the city and temple at the end of the age and the time of the resurrection. To suggest therefore, that when Jesus predicted the coming destruction of Jerusalem the disciples had no idea that the temple was to ever be destroyed demands that those disciples, faithful Jews who heard the prophets every Sabbath, had no idea that the Tanakh foretold such an event.
★ I have shown that prior to Matthew 24, Jesus had very clearly foretold the impending judgment on Jerusalem, with his disciples present. Not only had Jesus foretold that event, several times, even the Pharisees understood that Jesus was speaking of the coming judgment on them- that means their generation (Matthew 21). Thus, to suggest that although Jesus had very clearly, and repeatedly, foretold the coming destruction of Jerusalem, at the coming of the Lord, and that the Pharisees understood his teaching but that his own apostles did not understand that teaching, stretches credulity far past the limits.
★ I have shown that Jesus told his apostles that they were in fact living in the very days foretold by the Old Testament prophets.
Not only were they living in the days foretold by the OT prophets, they were witnessing what the OT prophets foretold.
★ I have shown that not only did Jesus say that his apostles were living in the times foretold by the prophets, and witnessing what the prophets foretold, he even said that he spoke to them in parables so that they would understand the mystery of God. That mystery included the teaching of the end of the age.
★ I have shown that not only did Jesus say he was speaking to his apostles in parables so that they would understand, that he told them the parable about the end of the age.
★ I have shown that in the parable of the wheat and the tares, the parable of the end of the age coming of the Lord, that Jesus directly cited Daniel 12:3, which foretold the Abomination of Desolation, the resurrection and the end of the age (Daniel 12:1-4). And in Daniel 12:6, one angel asked another when all (notice, not some, not just a bit, not even most– but when ALL) of the previously mentioned events would take place. Heaven’s response was: “When the power of the holy people is completely shattered, all of these things (again, no some, not a few, not most– but ALL) will be fulfilled.”
Thus, in Jesus’ citation of Daniel in his parabolic teaching about his coming at the end of the age, Jesus applied Daniel 12 to that time and event. But, Daniel’s prophecy undoubtedly posited the fulfillment of those events at the time of the destruction of Israel’s “power”– which was her covenant relationship with God.
So, the apostles heard the parable about the end of the age. They heard Jesus’ application of Daniel to that event. Were they so hopelessly ignorant of the prophets that they did not realize what Jesus was actually saying? Once again, that demands that we assume that the apostles had no idea whatsoever about the meaning of the OT prophecies of the end of the age- and particularly Daniel. (Mind you, we are not saying that they had full knowledge or understanding, but, to suggest that they were as ignorant as most commentators claim is asking too much).
Now, keep in mind that Jesus used the identical distinctive Greek term in Matthew 13:39-40 that the disciples later used when they asked about the end of the age). When Jesus told that parable he then asked the disciples: “Have you understood all these things?” And the disciples said “Yes” (Matthew 13:51). Do you catch the power of that question and answer??
So, we have Jesus teaching about his coming at the end of the age in both Matthew 13 and Matthew 24. In Matthew 13 he applies the prophecy of Daniel 12 to that event, and Daniel is explicit in positing those events at the time of Israel’s destruction. Jesus asked his disciples if they understood what he was teaching, and they said “YES.” This raises several questions.
First of all, did the disciples lie when they said they understood?
Second, did they just think they understood when in fact they didn’t? If this is the case, where is the contextual indicator of that in Matthew 13? Matthew says not one word about any misunderstanding on their part. In light of what we will share below, this is highly significant.
Third, since Matthew 13 and Matthew 24 are about the same issues, the parousia of Christ and the end of the age, and since in Matthew 13 the disciples unequivocally said they understood Jesus’ teaching on the end of the age, what is the basis then for claiming that in Matthew 24, they were confused and in error about those very doctrines? Where is the proof that they were confused or just wrong in Matthew 24? Indeed, where is there any evidence whatsoever that they were confused or wrong?
Let me be clear at this juncture. I am not claiming that the disciples understood every nuance about the end of the age and Christ’s coming. However, when we look at their affirmation of understanding, and compare it with their actual questions in Matthew 24:3 we need not make such a claim. Keep in mind, once again, that Daniel 12 clearly and undeniably posited the resurrection harvest– which is Matthew 13– at the time of the destruction of Old Covenant Israel. Well, in Matthew 24:2 Jesus foretold that very destruction. What did the disciples ask?
Did they ask or say: “Lord, are you serious? Are you actually saying this temple will be destroyed? Where did you come up with that idea? Who has heard of such a thing?” Now, if Sam Frost and William Vincent and others who claim that the disciples had no idea of the possibility of the temple ever being destroyed, then they should have asked questions like these, but, they didn’t.
Notice what the disciples DID ask: “Tell us, when shall these things be?”
There was no denial that it was going to happen.
There was no disputation about it, like they did when Jesus foretold his own death, even. They well understood what he was predicting. As seen, they well understood what the OT prophets foretold, and they knew what Jesus had said in Matthew 13, and in Matthew 21-23.
They asked: “What shall be the sign of your parousia and the end of the age?” Again, there is no question of incredulity about what was predicted. The only questions being asked were, “When” and the “Sign.” They did not even ask Why it would happen. (I strongly suspect that after hearing Jesus’ condemnation of the temple and the authorities for shedding innocent blood (Matthew 23), they well understood the “why” – just as Jeremiah had foretold the BC 586 Temple’s destruction in Jeremiah 2-7. They did not ask How such a thing was possible. Their only questions– questions that did not communicate disbelief in regard to what was predicted – were, When will it happen and what is the sign of it? (Make no mistake, an examination of the parallels of Matthew 24:3 in Mark 13 and Luke 21, shows that the disciples were asking about one event – the impending judgment on Jerusalem. They did not ask about anything but that! I think N. T. Wright is patently correct to say: “The close of the age for which they longed was not the end of the space order, but the end of the present evil age.” (N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, Fortress, 1996), 341; 345-346; see also 361-362).
I would add also that the disciples were patently not asking about the end of the current Christian age. The current age has no end (Matthew 24:35 / Ephesians 3:20-21, etc.). The age they were asking about was the age that the temple represented and symbolized and it is specious in the extreme to suggest the Jerusalem temple represented the Christian age! The age of Christ and his New Covenant has no end. Once a person grasps this simple, but profound point, any and all confusion about what the disciples were asking about disappears.
With these things before us, we are ready now to address the objection that says, “Jesus’ disciples were constantly confused or ignorant and simply dull on many occasions. It is therefore entirely possible– if not probable– that they were confused when they asked their questions in Matthew 24:3.”
This argument sounds plausible, that is until one examines the evidence and the actual testimony of scripture. As we continue this series on the Olivet Discourse, we will turn to examine the disciples confusion and ignorance in our next installment, so stay tuned