PART ONE
 

 
The Destruction of Jerusalem - 70 A.D.
 

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
Matt 24:15

he above quotation from our Lord was given in answer to a very solemn question from his disciples.  In their commenting on the beauty and grandeur of the Jewish temple, Jesus warned them that a time would soon come in which not one stone of the temple would be left standing upon another.  Naturally the disciples wished to know when these events would take place.

Matt 24:1-3 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to [him] for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age? 

As students of the scriptures, when we come to the material in Matthew 24 – material which has given rise to so many varied and vastly different speculations – it is important that we do not ignore this question to which the remainder of the chapter is so evidently given to answer.  The disciples were concerned with the timing of the overthrow of the Jewish temple, and also the end of the age. 

The study of Bible prophecy is popular in our day, but unfortunately it is a subject about which there seems to be an enormous amount of confusion and misunderstanding.  Our purpose in this present study is to examine and to attempt to answer some basic prophetical questions about which there seems to be the most misunderstanding.  Among these are:  What is the 'great tribulation' spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24? Is it something in the future, the past, or may it be that many Bible expositors have misunderstood the proper application of the 'great tribulation' entirely?  What is the 'abomination of desolation' that Jesus warned of?  What did Jesus mean in Matthew 24:34 when he told his disciples that 'this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled'?

As is the case with most prophetic material, the way these questions are answered is usually influenced by the particular school of thought which the Bible expositor prefers.  In the area of prophecy there are mainly three such 'schools' of interpretation.  These are the Preterist, which deems that most or sometimes even all prophecy has already been fulfilled in the past, the Futurist, which holds that much prophecy remains to be fulfilled in the future, and the Historicist, which believes that prophecy has a continual and linear fulfillment throughout history.

Our purpose is not to concern ourselves with the all the particulars of each of these interpretations, but to attempt to harmonize the Olivet discourse given by our Lord in Matthew 24 with the detailed prophetic material given in Daniel – particularly Daniel chapter 11. It has been my personal observation that while each of the three mentioned ‘schools’ of interpretation have both strengths and weaknesses, one and all prove unsatisfactory in harmonizing all of these prophecies. 

As noted, the disciples came to Jesus asking for information about the timing of a very specific event – the destruction of the Jewish temple.  This is a fact which simply cannot be ignored if we ever hope to come to a better understanding of Jesus' words.  Whatever our position on how the rest of Matthew 24 is to be interpreted we simply must deal with this piece of information honestly. 

If we allow ourselves to admit that in Matthew 24 Jesus begins by answering the disciples' question about destruction of the temple then standing, how then should this affect our interpretation of the remainder of the chapter? 

If we attempt to approach this question from the viewpoint of futurist expositors - believing as they do that the fulfillment of almost all of Matthew 24 lies in the future - many questions immediately arise. If the disciplesí question related to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD (as it unquestionably does), then might also the remainder of the chapter equally apply to the events of 70 AD?  If this is so, then how can the proper application of most of these prophecies lie in the future? Is there a 'dual fulfillment' of this prophecy, once in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the passing of the Old Covenant, but yet a greater future fulfillment culminating in the consummation of the current age and the return of our Lord?  If so how would we know this to be true?  Or, does the passage point to the events 70 AD at all?  Are we to understand a ‘gap of time’ in these prophecies in the same way futurists insert a two-thousand year gap of time in the prophecies of Daniel 2, 7, 9, 11 etc.?  In short, can a futurist interpretation of Matthew 24 ever be entirely satisfying in its efforts to harmonize these prophecies? 

On the opposite end of the prophetic spectrum we have the Preterist interpretation which immediately seizes upon the fact that the disciples asked Jesus a question concerning the destruction of the Jewish temple of the first century and asserts that the answer given in the remainder of the chapter  can only then be rightly understood in that context.  To many Preterists, ALL of Matthew 24 (including the resurrection and the judgment) found its fulfillment in the events of 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Old Jewish covenant passed away. 

But Preterism, while taking seriously the issue that Jesus is primarily answering a question regarding the destruction of the first century temple, is not without its own set of problems. One problem is that Preterists seem to use a wholly inconsistent hermeneutic.  For example:  Preterists hammer on the time texts in scripture, adhering to the strictest most literal sense of their meaning – ‘soon’. ‘at hand’, ‘this generation’, etc mean what they say, and say what they mean in their most literal and obvious sense.  However, this strict literal hermeneutic seems to be confined ONLY to the scriptural time texts and almost nowhere else (unless it suits the preterist interpretation).  When we are told in the same context of MATTHEW 24 that the tribes of the earth would ‘see’ the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory, we are told that this visible coming is not visible at all, but would only be ‘seen’ in a ‘spiritual sense’.  When in Revelation we read that at the coming of our Lord ‘Every eye shall see him’, we are told that this simply means that all would ‘understand’, or ‘comprehend’ that Jesus was ‘present’. (Although we wonder how even this could have been fulfilled in 70 AD).  When the book of Acts instructs us that our Lord would return in like manner as the disciples witnessed him ascend into heaven (personal  and visible), we are told that just the opposite should be expected. But beyond this, enormous amounts of both Old and New Testament scripture are ‘spiritualized’ in this very manner; and for what reason or justification?  So that that the TIME TEXTS, and seemingly they alone, can be allowed the force of their strictest and most literal interpretation.  Because of such a one-sided and inconsistent approach to scriptural interpretation, I also find the preterist interpretation of Matthew 24 to be wholly unsatisfactory. 

A BETTER UNDERSTANDING? 

In trying to come to a better and more satisfactory interpretation for such a very difficult passage of scripture, it is my conviction that we must face once and for all the reality that Jesus begins by primarily addressing the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  It seems contrary to reason that Jesus would answer such a straightforward question by primarily addressing events which would not begin until centuries later.   

Neither am I inclined to believe that Matthew 24 was meant to be understood as having a ‘dual fulfillment’; the ‘near fulfillment’ being the 70AD destruction of Jerusalem, and the ‘far fulfillment’ being a similar series of events at the end of the current age.  While this is not entirely impossible, and while I once favored this position, it now seems to me that this was not to be our primary understanding. Nor does it seem likely to me that there is a ‘gap’ of time or a break anywhere in the prophecy in which two thousand years could be conveniently inserted. And while all this seems contrary to what many have learned concerning the prophecies of Matthew 24 – the popular view in our day being that the fulfillment of most of the chapter lies primarily in the future – I believe that simple honesty demands that we deal with these issues if we ever hope to come to a better understanding of Jesus’ words. 

But all of this raises a very serious question; If the events described by Jesus in Matthew 24 had their primary application to the events of 70 AD then does not this passage also seem to teach that Jesus would return at that time? This is a question that has baffled scholars and casual readers alike.  In fact some, such as Albert Schweitzer, believing that Matthew 24 clearly teaches that Jesus would return upon the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and not being able to accept the Preterist view that he actually DID return then (as the Preterists propose), have concluded that the scriptures are in fact in error.   

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I believe that such confusion is wholly unnecessary and has as its source a fundamental misunderstanding.  As I hope to show, this misunderstanding is once again based on a pre-conceived notion that many of us have heard so many times that it is not easily dislodged, but by seeing beyond it admits of a scriptural and satisfactory solution to this ‘problem’. 

It is my conviction that the scriptures in Matthew 24 do not in fact teach that Jesus would return at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, even though those events are most definitely prophesied in that chapter.  On the other hand, I do not believe that the proper application of most of this prophecy lies in the future either. The 'problem' as well as the solution to this basic misunderstanding lies in whether or not we properly understand the terms used to describe these events.  Terms such as 'great tribulation', 'the abomination of desolation', 'this generation' etc. often call to mind certain preconceived ideas and assumptions which may or may not be correct.  In this study these terms will be extensively examined, and the contexts in which they appear will be diligently compared with other scriptures.  By doing this I feel that their proper meanings can firmly established, and with that we will come to a proper, reasonable, and most of all scripturally harmonious understanding of our Lord's words in Matthew 24.

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