The Destruction of
Jerusalem - 70 A.D.
-PART TWO- -PART
-PART FOUR- -PART
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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
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
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
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 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 disciples’ 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.
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’.
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.
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.