Ken Gentry: AD70 and the Second Advent in Matthew 24 (2014)

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Jesus is shifting his attention from the destruction of the temple in AD 70 to his second coming at the end of history. In this and the next few articles I will present more than a dozen arguments for the transition in Matthew 24. 

 By Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
April 30, 2014

The Olivet Discourse (Matt 24–25) is one of Jesus five major discourses structuring Matthew’s Gospel. It is prompted by Jesus’ dramatic denouncement of Jerusalem and the temple (Matt 23:37–38), his ceremonial final departure from the temple (Matt 24:1a), his disciples’ confused question regarding the temple as a beautiful place to worship (Matt 24:1b), and his declaration of its coming destruction (Matt 24:2).

In this discourse Jesus prophecies the coming AD 70 destruction of the temple. But he does more. Let us consider the question of whether or not he also refers to the Second Advent of Christ.

As J. A. Gibbs (Jerusalem and Parousia), R. T. France (The Gospel according to Matthew), and others argue, the Olivet Discourse has a two-part structure which corresponds to the disciples’ two questions in Matthew 24:3:

“As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’”

Their first question asks “when” the destruction of the temple will occur: it is answered in vv 4–31. Their second question regards “what” will be sign of “Your coming”: this is answered in 24:36–25:46.



But how do we know this is the intended structure of the passage? It is one thing to declare a two-part structure while it is another to prove it.

Let us now look at the evidence that Jesus is shifting his attention from the destruction of the temple in AD 70 to his second coming at the end of history. In this and the next few articles I will present more than a dozen arguments for the transition in Matthew 24. For more detailed information please see my book: The Olivet Discourse Made Easy.

1. Argument from concluding statement

By all appearance Matthew 24:34 functions as a concluding statement; it seems to end the preceding prophecy: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

Why would such a statement be inserted one-fourth of the way through the discourse if it were dealing in its entirety with events that were to occur in “this generation”? Such would not make sense. That would be like someone giving a speech, and after fifteen minutes saying, “In conclusion,” then continuing the speech for another forty-five minutes.

Consequently, we must understand Matthew 24:34 as serving to close out one portion of the Discourse. At this point Jesus is announcing that he has answered the disciples’ question regarding “when” these things shall be (Matt 24:3). He still has their next question before him. This then means that the following material relates to events not occurring in “this generation.” Thus, all prophecies before verse 34 are to transpire within the disciples’ own first-century generation.

2. Argument from transition indicator

In Matthew 24:36 we come upon an subject-matter transition device: “But of that day and hour no one knows.” The introductory phrase here in the Greek is: peri de (“but of, concerning, regarding”). This grammatical structure suggests a transition in the passage involving a change of subject. We may see this phrase frequently marking off new material, as in Matthew 22:31; Acts 21:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; and 5:1.

France notes that verse 36 “marks a deliberate change of subject” Elsewhere he states that it is a “rhetorical formula for a new beginning.” John Nolland (The Gospel of Matthew) agrees when he states that peri de functions in Matthew 24:36 as “an introductory piece for 24:37– 25:30.”

What is more, Gibbs demonstrates that the lone preposition peri in and of itself can have a resumptive force. That is, peri (“concerning”) can pick up on a subject broached earlier in a narrative by serving as a sign that the speaker is returning to that issue once again.

Thus, in Matthew 24:36 peri reaches back to the disciples’ second question of the two that were raised in v 3. Having dealt with their first question in vv 4–35, he now returns to consider their second one. By this structuring of the passage we see that v 36 introduces new material differing from vv 4–35. At this point he moves away from his AD 70 prophecy and begins speaking of his second advent at the “end of the age,” which he will cover in 24:36–25:46.

3. Argument from humiliation limitation

Focusing once again on Matthew 24:36 we read: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Here Christ states that in his state of humiliation (the period from the time of his earthly conception within Mary’s womb until his glorification at his resurrection) he himself has no knowledge as to when “that day and hour” will occur. But of what “day and hour” is he speaking?

He must be speaking of his future second advent because in the preceding section of his Discourse he tells his disciples that numerous signs will be given, but that “the end [of the temple] is not yet” (Matt 24:6). This indicates that he definitely knows when that event will occur. He also dogmatically teaches them that these earlier things will certainly happen in “this generation” (24:34). Thus, as Nolland notes: “there is a deliberate contrast between the confident tone of the predictive materials thus far in the chapter, climaxing in v. 34, and the present insistence that only the Father knows.”

4. Argument from temporal markers

As we continue looking at Matthew 24:36 we also note that it lacks any temporal-transition markers to link it with the preceding events. It is wholly unconnected with the preceding material in terms of temporal progression. This is surprising in that in the preceding material we see a well-connected historical progress with recurring “then” statements (24:9, 14, 16, 21, 23, 30), as well as an “immediately after” (24:29) declaration.

But when Christ makes the statement in Matthew 24:36 we hear nothing that links it with the preceding material. We hear absolutely no “then” or “after” nor any other such temporal progress indicator. Thus, as France notes: “its contents stand apart from the historical sequence hitherto described.” This is because it is distantly separated from the events of AD 70.

To be continued (unless the Rapture occurs, in which case I will explain it to you on the way up).


AD 70 AND THE SECOND ADVENT IN MATT 24 (Part 2)

 In this article I am offering a second installment on the question of whether the Olivet Discourse focuses solely on AD 70, or whether it also looks ahead to the Second Advent. I believe that it speaks of both events. Which should not surprise us, since AD 70 is a preview of the Second Advent. Please consult the previous article (PMT 2014-051). See my book The Olivet Discourse Made Easy for more detailed information.

5. Argument from demonstrative distinction

In Matthew 24:34–36 provides further evidence of a subject transition. Jesus contrasts near and far events:

“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt 24:34).

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (24:36)

In this passage “this generation” is set in contrast to “that day.” With these words the Lord looks beyond the signs just given for “this generation” (haute, near demonstrative, 24:34) to the event of “that day” (ekeines, far demonstrative) (24:36). Thus, the Lord’s attention turns to his distant second advent at the end of history.

6. Argument from observational prospects

Before his statement in Matthew 24:34 Christ mentions numerous events that serve as historical signs, events such as: “wars and rumors of wars” (Matt 24:6), “famines and earthquakes” (v 7), “false prophets” (v 11), and so forth. He specifically mentions a pre-eminent sign: “the sign of the Son of Man.”

Thus, he is informing his disciples (who asked him the questions) how they might know the time of the coming end of the temple; it is a predictable event. In fact, the Lord even gives the disciples a parable illustrating how the event coming in their lifetimes can be known, urging them to properly read all the signs:

“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” (Matt 24:32–33)

But after Matthew 24:34 Jesus drops all mention of signs and predictability. Instead he includes statements emphasizing absolute surprise and total unpredictability:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (24:36)
“they did not understand” (v 39)
“you do not know” (v 42)
“if the head of the house had known” (v 43)
“coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (v 44)
“he does not expect him” (v 50)
“you do not know” (25:13)

This indicates that the following section involves an event that is coming at an altogether unknown and indeterminable time. He is no longer speaking of the destruction of the temple in AD 70, but his second coming in the distant future.

7. Argument from multiple days

By the very nature of the case, the numerous events leading up to the Roman military destruction of the temple in AD 70 will require a number of days. Hence, in the portion of his Discourse prior to Matthew 24:36 Jesus mentions “those days [plural]” (v 19, 29) and even comforts his disciples by noting that “those days” will be “cut short” (v 22).

This mention of the days of the tribulation period are set in stark contrast to the singular day — indeed, the exact moment — of the second coming: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt 24:36). After this transition at 24:36 he repeatedly mentions the singular “day” (24:42, 50) or “the day” and “the hour” (25:13). The second advent does not involve a series of historical actions, as is the case with the Roman military operations against the Jews, Jerusalem, and the temple. The second advent is a one-time, catastrophic event conducted by a singular individual, Christ himself.

8. Argument from deception fears

In the first part of the Discourse Jesus repeatedly warns of the danger of deception by those who would “mislead” (planao) :

“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will mislead many.’” (Matt 24:4–5)

“And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many.” (24:11)

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” (24:24)

All of this serves as a significant indicator of a subject shift when we compare this to his teaching after Matthew 24:36. After that point he no longer mentions the danger of deceit: the word planao(“mislead”) vanishes from the narrative. In fact, the second advent will suddenly overwhelm people in the midst of their daily activities: they will be eating, and drinking and marrying (Matt 24:38–39). They will be working in the field (v 40). They will be grinding at the mill (v 41). They will be as surprised as one whose house is broken into without warning (v 43).

Contrary to this, no one would be surprised at the destruction of the temple in AD 70. After all, the Romans took five months of relentless siege warfare to get into Jerusalem and destroy the temple after they encircled Jerusalem in April, AD 70. And even this occurs well after the formal engagement of the Jewish War in the Spring of AD 67 and the early military operations in Galilee and elsewhere.

9. Argument from social contrasts

The social circumstances of the early portion of the Olivet Discourse dramatically differ from those of the latter portion. In the first section (up to Matt 24:36) all is chaotic, dangerous, and confused. This period is laden with wars and rumors of wars (Matt 24:6–7), famines and earthquakes (v 7), betrayal and persecution (v 10), lawlessness (v 12), and great tribulation (v 21). Thus, woe upon woe befalls men in the chaotic first portion of the Discourse.

But in the second section all of this upheaval and danger disappears. Social activities appear tranquil, allowing business as usual while the mundane activities of life continue. People are marrying and eating and drinking (Matt 24:38), working in the field (v 40), and grinding at the mill (v 41). The wholesale chaos leading up to AD 70 stands in stark contrast to the peaceable conditions at the time of Christ’s second coming.

To be continued. Do not go and sell all that you have. More is coming.


AD 70 AND THE SECOND ADVENT IN MATT 24 (Part 3)

 This article concludes a three-part discussion of the question of whether the Olivet Discourse focuses solely on AD 70, or if it also looks ahead to the Second Advent. I believe that it speaks of both events. This should not surprise us, since AD 70 is a preview of the Second Advent, like all the several “Day of the Lord” events in the OT anticipating the final “Day of the Lord.” Please consult the previous articles (PMT 2014-051 and 052). See my book The Olivet Discourse Made Easy for more detailed information.

10. Argument from flight opportunity

In the first section Christ urges desperate flight from the area, clearly implying there will be time and opportunity to flee: “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matt 24:16). In fact, one particular sign — the abomination of desolation — will be the cue to leave the area. Because of this opportunity of flight, many lives of God’s elect will be saved: “unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short” (24:22).

But upon entering the second section of the Discourse we hear of no commands to escape, no opportunities for flight. Indeed, we witness just the opposite. Once again we can read through the warnings of the unpredictable nature of the second advent (as in # 6 given previously) and realize that by the very nature of the case no opportunity for flight will exist:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (24:36)
“they did not understand” (v 39)
“you do not know” (v 42)
“if the head of the house had known” (v 43)
“coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (v 44)
“he does not expect him” (v 50)
“you do not know” (25:13)

11. Argument from narrative function

J. A. Gibbs (Jerusalem and Parousia) notes that when we compare the two sections of the Lord’s Olivet Discourse we may quickly note that the first section issues warnings regarding deception and danger. For instance, we hear: “see to it that no one misleads you” (Matt 24:4); “you will be hearing of wars” (24:6); “they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you” (24:9); and so forth.

The second section of the narrative differs in tone by issuing exhortations related to future judgment and reward, calling upon the reader to exercise faithfulness and diligence. The reader is exhorted to “be on the alert” (Matt 24:42); to “be ready” (24:44), with the result that he will be considered “the faithful and sensible slave” (24:45).

Then in Matthew 25:31–46 the Lord speaks of the final judgment “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him” (Matt 25:31a). Here he “separates the sheep from the goats” (25:32b) based on the evidence of their true conversion exhibited by their love for Christ and his people (25:35–46). Thus, he so frames the final judgment that it serves as an exhortation to continuance in the faith and among God’s people.

Fearful warnings of imminent danger in the earlier section greatly differ from moral exhortations to long-term faithfulness and preparedness in the latter section. This difference demonstrates what we have seen on the basis of other considerations, that is, that these two sections are fundamentally different.

12. Argument from eschatological contrast

Jesus appears to use key terms that distinguish his metaphorical coming in AD 70 from his literal coming at the second advent. In Matthew 24:4–34 ne never uses the word parousia (“coming,” “presence”) — except in v 27 where he intentionally distinguishes his visible second advent from the first-century (24:34) deceptions which claim Jesus is hidden here or there (24:24–26).

This is significant in that the disciples’ original question regarding his “coming” uses the word parousia: “what will be the sign of Your coming [parousia]” (Matt 24:3). Yet Jesus studiously avoids the term to describe events occurring in the first section, though he does use the word erchomenos (“coming”) in the key verse at 24:30: “then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming [erchomenos] on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”

After Matthew24:34, though, he twice uses parousia of that unpredictable coming in the distant future:

“For the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.” (24:37)

“They did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man be.” (v 39)

13. Argument from temporal duration

In the early section of Matthew 24 the time frame is short. The disciples will be facing real dangers that will transpire in “this generation” (Matt 24:34). They are to be on the lookout for various signs, especially that one that occurs within the then-standing temple (24:15), for then they are to flee the area (24:16). This all fits with Jesus’ introductory warning of the judgment that will befall the scribes and Pharisees — also in “this generation” (23:34–36).

In the following section from Matthew 24:36 and into chapter 25 the time frame is much longer. No more do we hear of “this generation,” rather Jesus’ parables anticipate a distant future:

“But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming.’” (Matt 24:48)

“But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.” (Matt 25:5)
“After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” (Matt 25:19)

Conclusion

The exegetical and contextual evidence in the Olivet Discourse strongly suggests that Jesus is separating the disciples’ questions into two separate events: AD 70 and the Second Advent. In their minds, they probably thought the destruction of the temple meant the destruction of the world. Such was their Judeo-centric focus. But Jesus is informing them that AD 70 is a distant adumbration of the larger, world-wide, history ending event: the Second Coming.

You may now go back to whatever you were doing before stumbling upon this three-part study. Be warmed and filled