MATTHEW 24 - A LETTER TO A FRIEND
My response to a question about Matthew 24 I received recently:
Thank you for taking the time to respectfully write and explain your position. I am very familiar with your opinion as an AG Pre-Tribber, and you have stated it quite succinctly. Personally, I hold to a Historical-Contextual Hermeneutic, which means that I cannot make a passage mean something that it could have never meant to the original hearers. Thus I cannot take the Eagle in Scripture and say it means America, because that has no Hermeneutical justification, how do I know that I am interpreting that correctly? Couldn’t there be another nation with an Eagle as its symbol another 500 years from now? Anyway, I use the same hermeneutics that are taught by Dr. Gordon Fee, the most respected Theologian of the AG movement.
When I read Matthew 24 in its Historical-Cultural context, I start further back in Matthew, for example the parables of 21:33-46, and 22:7 speak of an imminent destruction (70AD I believe). Then the entire chapter 23 is Jesus reaming out the Pharisees, ending with 23:33-36 and the declaration that judgment was about to fall upon them within a generation (which historically and contextually would have meant 40 years). Then chapter 24 begins, in context, with the disciples asking about the Temple, which Jesus declares will be destroyed, then the disciples ask their follow up questions regarding the declarations they have just heard.
For the futurist, typically the discussion begins at 24:3 with no context, as if Jesus is sitting around with the guys and they are asking Him about the end of the world. But the truth is that the disciples have just heard Matthew 21-23 communicated and they would have been traumatized and trying to wrap their heads around what Jesus just declared.
Also the KJV has mistranslated the Greek word Aion in Matthew 24:3 as “world” when other translations have rightly translated it as “age.” Which means that the disciples were asking about when the end of the age was going to be, not the end of the world. Also they ask about His coming [in judgment] which couldn’t have been them asking about His second coming because they didn’t even know about His death and resurrection yet!
The end of the age was the end of the Temple age and the system of the Pharisees, which Jesus just judged.
This is historically and contextually why I have arrived at my position and I feel that it is unnecessary to interpret Israel as a fig tree (which normally their symbol is the olive tree, so why would Jesus be saying that here?) in this passage to make 1948 relevant to a discussion about the endtimes that Jesus wasn’t having with His disciples in Matthew 24. To interpret 1948 as eschatological is circumstantial, not hermeneutical.
If you would like to understand Matthew 24 from my point of view, the class has been put on youtube for the public. Also as I studied Matthew 24, I discovered that, throughout church history, most Christians believed that the whole chapter of Matthew 24 occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. In fact, many of the well-known Church leaders have taught this. Here are quotations from a few:
All this occurred in this manner in the second year of the reign of Vespasian [A.D. 70], according to the predictions of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. —Eusebius
Thousands and thousands of men of every age who together with women and children perished by the sword, by starvation, and by countless other forms of death...all this anyone who wishes can gather in precise detail from the pages of Josephus's history. I must draw particular attention to his statement that the people who flocked together from all Judaea at the time of the Passover Feast and—to use his own words—were shut up in Jerusalem as if in a prison, totaled nearly three million. — Eusebius
This was most punctually fulfilled: for after the temple was burned, Titus the Roman general, ordered the very foundations of it to be dug up; after which the ground on which it stood was ploughed by Turnus Rufus...this generation of men living shall not pass till all these things be done—The expression implies that a great part of that generation would be passed away, but not the whole. Just so it was; for the city and temple were destroyed thirty-nine or forty years after. —John Wesley
You will preach everywhere .... Then he added, "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and the end will come." The sign of this final end time will be the downfall of Jerusalem. —John Chrysostom
There was a sufficient interval for the full proclamation of the gospel by the apostles and evangelists of the early Christian Church, and for the gathering of those who recognized the crucified Christ as the true Messiah. Then came the awful end which the Saviour foresaw and foretold, and the prospect of which wrung from His lips and heart the sorrowful lament that followed his prophecy of the doom awaiting his guilty capital.
The destruction of Jerusalem was more terrible than anything that the world has ever witnessed, either before or since. Even Titus seemed to see in his cruel work the hand of an avenging God. Truly, the blood of the martyrs slain in Jerusalem was amply avenged when the whole city became a veritable Aceldama, or field of blood. —Charles Spurgeon
Hence it appears plain enough that the foregoing verses [Matt. 24:1-34] are not to be understood of the last judgment, but, as we said, of the destruction of Jerusalem. There were some among the disciples (particularly John), who lived to see these things come to pass. (Endnote: John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, 4 vols. (Oxford University Press, [1658-1674] 1859), 2:320.)
-John Lightfoot 1658)
And Verily I say unto you; and urge you to observe it, as absolutely necessary in order to understand what I have been saying, That this generation of men now living shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled, for what I have foretold concerning the destruction of the Jewish state is so near at hand, that some of you shall live to see it accomplished with a dreadful exactness.
-Phillip Doddridge (1750) (Endnote: Phillip Doddridge, The Family Expositor; or, A Paraphrase and Version of the New Testament; with Critical Notes, and a Practical Improvement of each Section, 6 vols. (Charlestown, Mass.: Ethridge and Company, 1807), 1:377.)
It is to me a wonder how any man can refer part of the foregoing discourse [Matt. 24] to the destruction of Jerusalem, and part to the end of the world, or any other distant event, when it is said so positively here in the conclusion, All these things shall be fulfilled in this generation. -Thomas Newton (1755) (Endnote: Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies, Which Have Remarkably Been Fulfilled, and at This Time Are Fulfilling in the World (London: J. F. Dove, 1754), 377.)
Christ informs them, that before a single generation shall have been completed, they will learn by experience the truth of what he has said. For within fifty years the city was destroyed and the temple was razed, the whole country was reduced to a hideous desert. —John Calvin
"If Jesus and the early church used the relevant language in the same way as their contemporaries, it is highly unlikely that they would have been referring to the actual end of the world, and highly likely that they would have been referring to events within space-time history which they interpreted as the coming of the kingdom.”– NT Wright
(Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 321)
“In this discourse [Matthew 24] Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews, all of which took place in A.D. 70. The uncanny accuracy of these predictions is embarrassing to higher critics…” -RC Sproul
(From the Foreword of The Parousia by James Stuart Russell. pg. ix)
I hope this helps.