Grace Theological Journal 10.1 (1989) 3-27

          Copyright © 1989 by Grace Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.



            MATTHEW 24:1-41: INTERACTION



                                           DAVID L. TURNER


                        Evangelical studies of Matthew 24 tend to emphasize either the

A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem (preterist view), the eschatological

return of Christ (futurist view), or some combination of the two

(preterist-futurist views). This study evaluates evangelical approaches,

stressing recent treatments. It is concluded that a substantial portion

of the chapter describes the present age. The A.D. 70 destruction of

Jerusalem and the eschatological tribulation are theologically linked,

with the former event serving as a token or earnest which anticipates

the latter. "This generation" (24:34) describes Jesus' contemporaries

who lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem. "All these things (24:34)

is limited by the contextual fig tree analogy to the events

marking the course of the age, particularly the events of A.D. 70.


                                       *        *       *




WHEN will this happen, and what will be the sign of  your

 coming and of the end of the age?" Matt 24:3 (NIV) thus

states the disciples' question occasioned by Jesus' solemn words that

their beloved temple would be torn down (24:2). His answer to their

question has come to be known as the Olivet or Eschatological

discourse. The interpretation of this discourse revolves around the

two events spoken of by the disciples, the destruction of the temple

(A.D. 70) and the coming of Christ at the end of the age. The degree

of emphasis given to either of these events determines one's interpre-

tation of the discourse, since neither Matthew nor the other synoptists

supply an explicit outline of Jesus' answer with the two events neatly

divided. Rather, both events are evidently so intricately interwoven

that no consensus has been reached in the attempt to sort them out

from each other.

This study of evangelical treatments of the structure

and sequence of Matt 24: 1-42 has isolated four basic views of the

passage. The first

4                     GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL



view, which will be called the futurist view, stresses the age-ending

return of Christ and finds little if anything in these verses which

addresses the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or the current age.1

Another view, which will be called the preterist view, is to a great It

extent the opposite of the first view. It sees relatively little of the

passage (only 24:36-41) in terms of the end times. Rather the current

age is in view, with the emphasis on the destruction of Jerusalem.2

Two other views amount to mediating positions between the first two.

The first of these mediating positions, which will be called the tradi-

tional preterist-futurist view, sees a portion of the passage (usually

24:4-14) as a general description of the course of the present age, and

another portion as a "double reference" prophecy of Jerusalem's

destruction and the end of the age.3  A second mediating position,

which will be called the revised preterist-futurist view, sees alternating

reference in these verses to the course of the age, the destruction of

Jerusalem, and the coming of Christ.4

All four of these approaches generally unite in their analysis of

the main sections of the discourse. It is usually agreed that verses 4-14,

15-28, 29-31, and 32-41 comprise four major movements in Christ's answer

to the disciples. Verses 32-41 tend to form a transition


1 Among evangelicals, this view is usually held by dispensationalists. See, e,g,

Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., "Matthew," The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT ed., ed.

John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Victor, 1983) 76ff.; John F. Hart,

"A Chronology of Matthew 24:1-44," Th.D. dissertation, Grace Theological

Seminary, 1986; Walter K. Price, Jesus' Prophetic Sermon (Chicago: Moody, 1972);

James F. Rand, "The Eschatology of the Olivet Discourse," Th.D. diss., Dallas

Theological Seminary, 1954, and “A Survey of the Eschatology of the Olivet

Discourse," BSac 113 (1956) 162-73,200-213; Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the

King: A Study of Matthew (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1980) 266ff.; and John F.

Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago: Moody, 1974) 179ff. For a

comprehensive survey of various views, see George C. Fuller, "The Structure of

the Olivet Discourse," Th.D. Dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary,

1964, pp. 11-52.

2 See, e.g., Harold Fowler, The Gospel of Matthew, 4 vols. (Joplin, MO: College,

1985) 4.389ff.; R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction

and Commentary, Tyndale NT Commentaries (Leicester/Grand Rapids: Inter-

Varsity/Eerdmans, 1985) 333ff.; J. Marcellus Kik, Matthew Twenty-four: An

 Exposition (Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1948); and R. V. G. Tasker, The

 Gospel According to St. Matthew, Tyndale NT Commentaries (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1961) 223ff.

3 E.g., Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theo

-logical Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) 474ff.; William Hendriksen, The

Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973) 846ff.; Anthony T. Hoekema,

The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 114ff.; and George

Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 309ff.

4 This seemingly novel approach is found in D. A. Carson, "Matthew,"

The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 495ff. and

!,:. David Wenham, "This Generation Will Not Pass. A Study of Jesus' Future

Expectation in Mark 13" in Christ the Lord, ed. H. H. Rowdon (Leicester: Inter-

Varsity, 1982) 127-50.




toward the emphasis upon alertness. The rest of the discourse, 24:42-

25:46, seems to turn from the didactic to the parenetic in its repeated

stress upon alertness, faithfulness, and service in view of the unknown

hour of Christ's return. With this in mind, this study will present the

salient features of each of the four major views on each of the four

main sections of the passage. Each view will be evaluated in terms of

strengths and weaknesses. The limited scope of the study precludes

the inclusion of source critical issues relating to the synoptic problem

(Mark 13; Luke 21). Also, there will be no treatment of the vaticinia

ex eventu issue.5  It is assumed that Matthew records a reliable

account of the teachings of the historical Jesus.

It is concluded here that the traditional preterist-futurist view is

preferable. Matt 24:4-14 describes the course of the present age,

during which "enduring to the end" and "preaching the gospel of the

kingdom" are the Church's duties. In 24:15-28 the "abomination of

desolation" is understood to refer both to the A.D. 70 destruction of

Jerusalem and to the ultimate abomination against God's people

committed by the eschatological antichrist. Christ's return to earth is

described in 24:29-31. Finally, 24:32-41 underlines the certainty of

the prophecy's fulfillment with the assertion that Jesus' contemporaries

will not die before they see his prophecy fulfilled.


MATTHEW 24:4-14


Futurist View


This view is generally held by dispensationalists, who understand

this section as a reference to eschatological times just before6 or

during7 the "great tribulation" period. Some go so far as to state that

Matthew does not record Jesus' answer to the first part of the disci-

ples' question about the destruction of the temple.8 Since the pretribu-

lation rapture of the Church has already occurred by the time of the

temple's destruction, the passage is viewed as having only a secondary

application to the Church. Instead, the disciples to whom Jesus is


            5 The question of "prophecy after the event" is raised by some who doubt that

Matthew faithfully reports Jesus' actual teaching here. Instead it is posited that the

"prophecy" originated after the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. For evaluative discus-

sions of this question and the related "little apocalypse" theory see G. R. Beasley-

Murray, A Commentary on Mark 13 (London: Macmillan, 1957) and Jesus and the

Future (London: Macmillan, 1954); Bo Reicke, "Synoptic Prophecies on the

Destruction of Jerusalem" in Studies in the New Testament and Other Early Christian

Literature, ed. D. W. Aune, NovTSupp 33 (Leiden: Brill, 1972) 121-34; and J. A. T.

Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) 13-30.

6 Toussaint, Matthew, 271.

7 Barbieri, "Matthew," 76.

8 Barbieri, "Matthew," 76; Rand, "Survey," 166; and Walvoord, Matthew, 182.

6                                  GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                    


speaking represent Jewish believers during the eschatological tribula-

tion. In fairness it should be noted that some have taken a portion 9 or

all 10 of this section in reference to the Church age. However, these

expositors tend to be exceptions to the trend and even they are not

consistent in their approach.

Such an understanding of 24:4-14 is doubtful on several grounds.

First, the disciples will soon become the nucleus of the Church, so it

is difficult to understand why Jesus would speak to them as representa-

tives of an eschatological Jewish remnant. Matthew cannot be consis-

tently understood as a gospel for such a remnant. It is the only gospel

to use the word e]kklhsi<a (16:18; 18:17). Its topical arrangement of

Jesus' teachings into discourse blocks (chapters 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 23-

25) is especially appropriate for the use of the Church. Most dispen-

sationalists grant that at least some of these discourses are directly

intended for the Church. Also, most would agree that the stirring

mandate for discipleship with which Matthew concludes is incum-

bent upon the Church today. Thus this interpretation does not fit

Matthew's characteristic emphasis.11

            Neither does this view fit the immediate occasion of the dis-

course, the disciples' question of 24:3. Their immediate concern was

the destruction of the beautiful temple precinct which they viewed .

with great pride (24:1; cf. Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5). To assume that

Matthew passes over this aspect of their question is unwarranted.

Indeed, this was the main burden of their question. They seem to

view the end of the age and the coming of Christ l2 as the outcome of

the temple's destruction. Therefore it is very doubtful that Matthew

expected his readers to consult Mark or Luke in order to find an

answer to the first part of their question.13

            This view also has problems with the content of 24:4-14, which

belabors a warning against undue eschatological speculation. False


9 H. A. Ironside, Expository Notes on the Gospel of Matthew (New York:

Loizeaux, 1948) 313-18; Price, Jesus' Prophetic Sermon, 47-60; and Rand, "Survey,"

164. Commonly 24:4-8 is viewed as describing the present age, but even these verses

describe Israel's experience, not the Church's.

10 Schuyler English, ed., The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York:

Oxford, 1967) 1033. Here verses 4-14 are viewed as having a double interpretation

 describing the general course of the age with intensified unrest during the tribulation.

For a similar view see Walvoord, Matthew, 183.

11 Basic to this discussion is the relationship between the Kingdom, the

 Church and the millennium. The view taken here is that the Kingdom is a much

broader entity than the millennium. The Church is the agency of the Kingdom

during this age. Thus there is no antithesis between the Kingdom and the Church.

12 Matthew brackets the nouns shmei?on and suntelei<aj  with one article,

 indicating that they are two aspects of a unified whole. See note 20 for support.

            13 As in Walvoord, Matthew, 182.



messiahs and wars should not alarm the disciples. These things are

included in God's program but are not harbingers of the end (ou@pw

e]stin  to>  te<loj 24:6).  Wars, famines, and earthquakes seem to be

nearly routine events which signal but the beginning of Messianic

woes (a]rxh>  w]di<nwn  24:8). Treachery, persecution, and apostasy will

mark the age, but the disciples must persevere in obedience (24:13)

and gospel proclamation to all nations (24:14). Only then will the end

come. It is evident that all the events spoken of in this section have

been frequently observed throughout the history of the Church. To

suggest that 24:13 describes physical deliverance at the end of the

tribulation14 does not fit either the immediate context or Matthew's

repeated stress upon perseverance as a mark of genuine discipleship.

The attempt to distinguish an eschatological "gospel of the kingdom"

(24:14) from the Church's message today15 is disturbing in view of the

finality of our Lord's redemptive work.

The manner in which dispensationalism has traditional1y handled

this section is thus weak on several fronts. However, this approach to

Matthew 24 is not mandatory for dispensationalism. Contemporary

dispensationalists should rethink this area of NT exegesis.


Preterist View


Those who stress the A.D. 70 destruction of the temple tend to

view 24:4-14 as a warning against premature eschatological specula-

tion.16  In this view there is nothing here about the eschatological

tribulation period. Just the opposite emphasis is found. Jesus is

attempting to discourage his disciples from assuming that the type of

events mentioned here presage the end. Thus it is evident that advo-

cates of this view would echo the concerns expressed above about the

standard dispensational view of the passage. According to France, the

destruction of the temple signals the end of any special status for

Israel but does not indicate the end of all things.17  France seems to

indicate that the events of 24:4-14 refer to Church history in general,

but Fowler takes this section as describing only the days up to the

destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.18  Accordingly, he believes that

the worldwide preaching of 24:14 had occurred before the temple was



            14  Walvoord, Matthew, 184.

            15 Barbieri, "Matthew," 77. Paul Lee Tan is one futurist who argues for an essential

identity of the gospel of the kingdom with the Church's present message. See Tan's The

Interpretation of Prophecy (Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1974) 261, n. 2.

            16 France, Matthew, 337.

            17 France, Matthew, 339.

            18 Fowler, Matthew, 4.427-28.

                  GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                 8


            The strength of this view is clear-Jesus does emphasize that

these events are not signs of the end. Also, the Church's responsibility

to persevere and to evangelize is stressed. However, two problems can

be mentioned. First, France emphasizes that Jesus to some extent

attempted to correct the disciples close connection between the fall of

Jerusalem and the end of all things.19 This may be true to a limited degree.

However, France uses a weak syntactical argument to buttress

his understanding. Alluding to the second part of the disciple’s ques-

tion of 24:3 (kai>  ti<  to>  shmei?on th?j  sh?j  parousi<aj  kai>  suntelei<aj

tou?  au@wnoj) he comments that the disciples equated the coming of

Christ and the end of the age as the same event. While no one would

argue that these two events were widely separated in the disciples’

minds, France overstates the syntactical evidence for his view. The

fact that one article governs both nouns indicates a close connection

or unity between them, but does not necessarily mean that both

words describe the same event.20 In itself this is a small thing, but

France uses it to argue that the disciples were wrong in viewing the

A.D. 70 fall of the temple as the beginning of the end. So this

syntactically weak argument is also suspect from the standpoint of a

widely recognized phenomenon of biblical prophecy, the "foreshor-

tening" of perspective in which "near" and "far" events are viewed

together. This point will be developed later in this study.

            Another difficulty concerns Fowler's insistence that 24:14 was

fulfilled by A.D. 70.21  To support this contention he adduces Acts 2:5;

Rom 1:8; 10:18; and Col 1:6, 23. However, it is doubtful whether

these texts are analogous to Matt 24:14, which doubly stresses the

universality of gospel preaching—e]n  o!l^  t^?  oi]koume<n^ . . . pa?sin

toi?j  e@qnesin.  Acts 2:5 merely mentions that Jews and proselytes from

all nations were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Rom 1:8 con-

cerns the reputation of the Roman church which had evidently spread

(among other Christians?) throughout the whole world ( ko<smoj).

Even Rom 10:18 (Isa 65:2) and Col 1:23, admittedly strong texts for

Fowler's view should be read in view of Rom 15:19; 16:23ff. which

indicate that Paul still wished to take the gospel to previously un-

reached regions (Spain). Such texts do not approximate the breadth


            19 France, Matthew, 337.

            20 See the discussion of this construction, sometimes called the "Granville Sharp

construction/rule" in H. E. Dana and J. R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek

NT (Toronto: Macmillan, 1955) 147; A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek

NT in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934) 785-89;

Herbert W.Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1956) 291;

Nigel Turner, Syntax, vol. 3 of A Grammar of NT Greek (Edinburgh: T. and T.

Clark, 1963) 181-82; and Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek, trans. J. Smith

(Rome: Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1963) 59-60.

            21 Fowler, Matthew, 4.433-34.

           STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-4          9


             Another problem with this approach is hinted at by

France, who indicates that setting a definite time or situation for the

fulfillment of 24:14 would also allow the calculation of a date for the

final consummation at Christ's return (contra 24:36).22


Traditional Preterist-Futurist View


            This approach sees a double reference beginning at 24:15, but

understands 24:4-14 as a general description of the Church's life in

the world. It is probably correct to say that this general approach is

held by a majority of conservative Sources. Also, sources holding this

view represent widely diverging eschatological positions. Gundry, for

one, takes this section's events as "noneschatological characteristics of

the Church age.”23 Similarly, Hendriksen notes that 24:4-14 serves to

correct the mistaken notion that such events as are detailed here

indicate the nearness of the end.24 However, he does believe that

worldwide gospel proclamation (24:14) is a "preliminary sign" of

Christ's return.

             Since this approach to 24:4-14 is similar to that of the previous

view and antithetical to the common dispensational view, its merits

and demerits have already been cited. Little needs to be added here.

Hendriksen may have a point that the worldwide preaching of the

gospel is the most definite "sign" mentioned in this section,25 but even

this is sufficiently vague so as to discourage undue speculation. How

can anyone know with precision when this point of worldwide evan-

gelism has been reached? Additionally, the words "and then" (kai> 

to<te) do not necessarily mean that the end will come "immediately

after" (cf. 24:29) worldwide evangelism.


Revised Preterist-Futurist View


            This view entails an approach to 24:4-14 which does not differ

appreciably from the previous view. This section of Jesus' discourse is

taken to describe the current age of the Church. Carson takes the

"birth pains" of 24:8 as the trials which "stretch over the period

between the two advents" of Christ. Such trials must occur due to the

fact that the age of the Kingdom's inauguration involves conflict and

tension. Only with the consummation of the Kingdom at the second

advent will trials be removed and messianic glories attained.26 In the


            22  France, Matthew, 339.

            23 Gundry, Matthew, 475.

            24 Hendriksen, Matthew, 852.

            25 Hendriksen, Matthew, 856.

            26 Carson, "Matthew," 498.

                       GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL             10


meantime, the Church should realistically expect to experience these

trials as it carries out its mission to the world.

            There is no need to belabor the evaluation of this view since it is

similar to the last view in its approach to 24:4-14. The crucial issues

have already been noted.




            The evaluation of the four approaches to Matt 24:4-14 reveals

two basic approaches. The futurist view takes at least 24:9-14 as a

description of the eschatological tribulation period. The other three

views occupy common ground in understanding this section as a

description of the Church's experience during the current age. It must

be concluded that the futurist view, held by traditional dispensa-

tionalists, is unconvincing. It does not satisfactorily handle the con-

textual emphasis on the fall of Jerusalem and the need for persever-

ance in evangelism. On the other hand, the rather extreme version of

the A.D. 70 view held by Fowler is also unsatisfactory in its limitation

of these events to the period before the destruction of Jerusalem. It

rather appears that the experiences mentioned by Jesus span the past,

present, and future history of the Church.


                                       MATTHEW 24:15-28

Futurist View


            The futurist view of 24:15-28, commonly held by dispensation-

alists, is tied directly to a futurist view of the abomination of desola-

tion in Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11. These texts are taken to be predictive

of the eschatological enemy of God's people, the antichrist.27 2 Thess

2:3-4 and Rev 13:11-18 are adduced as parallels and interpreted in a

strictly futuristic manner. Dan 9:27 in particular looms large as a

precise indicator of the time of the fulfillment of Matt 24:15, the

middle of the seven year eschatological tribulation period. The un-

equalled distress of the period (24:21) is emphasized. Thus Matt

24:15-28 is locked tightly into the second half of Daniel's seventieth

week, with little or no reference to the destruction of the temple in

A.D. 70.

            While it may be granted that the ultimate outcome of this proph-

ecy involves the eschatological tribulation and antichrist, it is doubtful

that this is the sole concern of the prophecy. The futurist view may be

challenged on two fronts. First, as was alleged in the evaluation of the

futurist view of 24:4-14, the immediate concern of the disciples re-

garding the destruction of the temple is totally neglected in this

approach. The disciples become representatives of an eschatological


            27 Toussaint, Matthew, 273-74.



            Jewish remnant, not the Church. All of this is wrapped up in the

mistaken notion that Matthew's presentation of Jesus as King in-

volves a Jewish, not a Church focus.

            A second problem with this approach is its simplistic approach

to Daniel's prophecy of the abomination of desolation. While it may

be granted that Dan 9:27 and 12: 11 refer to the ultimate eschato-

logical tribulation, such is not the case for 11:31, which refers to

Antiochus Epiphanes, as is noted even by recent dispensational com-

mentaries on Daniel.28 Who is to say that Jesus' reference to Daniel

is strictly eschatological? Might he be alluding also to Antiochus

.Epiphanes' intertestamental desolation of the temple as an example of

the coming Roman destruction and of the ultimate eschatological

destruction? An affirmative answer is probable, given other implica-

tions in Daniel.

            Daniel begins with a providentially ordained "desolation" of the

temple by Nebuchadnezzar (1:1-2). Later, Belshazzar arrogantly fur-

thers the sacrilege (5:2-4, 22-23) and forfeits his kingdom. Daniel

demonstrates remarkable faith under trial in praying toward a "deso-

late" Jerusalem (6:10; cf. I Kgs 8:46-51; 2 Chron 8:36-39). Daniel's

vision of the four kingdoms describes the fourth kingdom (generally

taken by conservatives to be Rome) in a manner which implies the

desolation of Jerusalem (7:8, 11, 19-21, 25). The following vision of

the ram and the goat includes an explicit description of the desolation

of temple worship (8:11-14, 23-25). Of course, it is a matter of

considerable debate whether the little horns of Daniel 7 and 8 repre-

sent the same kingdom. Since the goat of Daniel 8 is clearly Greece

(8:21), it is probable that the "desolation" prophecies of Daniel 7 and

8 describe both the third and fourth kingdoms, Greece and Rome. In

the next chapter Jerusalem's "desolation" as fulfillment of covenant

curse and prophetic oracle plays a prominent role in Daniel's moving

confession and petition for restoration (9:7, 12, 16, 19-20). As is well

known, the prophecy of the 70 weeks features the rebuilding of

Jerusalem and its subsequent destruction (9:24-27), and even dispen-

sational commentators agree that the A.D. 70 destruction is in view in


            The upshot of all this is that Jesus' reference to the abomination

of desolation in Daniel calls up a complex typology of prophecy and

fulfillment stretching all the way from Nebuchadnezzar to the eschato-

logical antichrist. There is no warrant for supposing that the abomi-

nation of desolation is a narrow prediction which is fulfilled solely by

the eschatological antichrist. There is good reason to believe that the


            28 John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody,

1971) 268; John C. Whitcomb, Daniel (Chicago: Moody, 1985) 150-52; and Leon

Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973) 301-2.

            29 Walvoord, Daniel, 230-31; Whitcomb, Daniel, 133; and Wood, Daniel, 256.



12                              GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


various historical desolations of Jerusalem and the temple, including

those of Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus Epiphanes, the Roman conquest

(63 B.C.), Gaius Caligula (which was planned but not accomplished in

A.D. 40-41), the zealots (A.D. 68), the Romans in A.D. 70 and 135, all

provide anticipatory fulfillments which lead up to the ultimate deso-

lation of the eschatological antichrist. The futurist approach correctly

stresses the consummation of the prophecy but does not recognize the

anticipatory background. All this argues for some sort of "double

reference," "near-far" approach3O if the prophecy is to be handled ;



Preterist View


            In contrast to the view which sees Matt 24:15-28 as exclusively .

future, this approach interprets it as exclusively past. Just as many .

dispensationalists take the passage as an answer to only the second

part of the disciples' question, so advocates of this view take it as an

answer only to the first part. It is noticed that generalities give way to

specifics in this section. References to Judean geography (24:16,

26) are stressed as limiting the prophecy to A.D. 70.31 The cryptic

words "Let the reader understand" (24:15) are viewed as encouraging

Matthew's readers to apply the prophecy to their own situation.32  The

false prophets and messiahs mentioned here (24:23-26) are viewed as

those who led Israel into the Jewish War. In short, this approach

takes the passage at face value when it describes the abomination as

something which the disciples themselves will experience.

            No doubt there is much which is attractive in this position. The

observation that 24:15-28 contains more precise information than

24:4-14 is correct. The stress upon the disciples' own lifetime in the

first century does justice to the natural meaning of the text. However,

it is doubtful if this section can be totally "deeschatologized." The

relationship between "then the end shall come" in 24:14 and "so when

you see...the abomination..." in 24:15 seems to indicate the end

of the age and Christ's coming in the second part of the disciples'

original question. The stress on the unparalleled nature of this judg-

ment (24:21-22) does not seem to be exhausted by the A.D. 70

destruction, as severe as it was. In fact, such unparalleled judgment is

placed in Dan 12:1-2 in the context of the final resurrection. As

noted in the previous section, Daniel's abomination of desolation -

leads up to the ultimate eschatological antichrist, the final resurrec-

tion, and the reign of the saints with the Son of Man. Therefore the


            30 As in Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 3 I Off.

            3l France, Matthew, 340.

            32 Ibid.



preterist view is inadequate as an explanation of all the details of the

passage. It is argued next that the traditional preterist-futurist view

more adequately handles all these details.


Traditional Preterist-Futurist View


            Advocates of this approach argue that a common feature of

biblical prediction is the complexity of its fulfillment. Several terms,

such as "prophetic foreshortening",33 "prophetic outlook/ perspec-

tive",34 "double fulfillment",35 "comprehensive character",36 and

generic fulfillment,.37 have been coined to describe this difficult phe-

nomenon. Applied to this passage, the idea is that the A.D. 70 destruc-

tion of Jerusalem betokens and anticipates the ultimate eschatological

time of the end. The prophet necessarily uses the particularistic lan-

guage of his own time to describe both the anticipatory and consum-

matory aspects of his prediction.38 The prophet does not perceive the

historic gap between the two aspects of his prophecy. Indeed, to

speak of two aspects is possible only from the perspective of hindsight,

a luxury available only to the modern scholar. Rather the prophet, in

this case Jesus, sees the events as a unity. In this case that unity

centers in the abomination of desolation, which has already been

demonstrated to involve a complex series of events in the book of

Daniel. Jesus' prophecy builds on this Danielic background.

Support for this understanding of 24:15-28 can be drawn gen-

erally from 1 Pet 1:10-12, where prophetic perspective is described as

involving the prophets' desire to grasp more fully the relationship

between the sufferings and glory of the Messiah. In some fashion they

realized that their prophecies would find full significance in the future


            33 Hendriksen, Matthew, 846.

            34 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 315. See also Alva J. McClain, The Greatness

of the Kingdom (Chicago: Moody, 1959) 136-39. McClain's warning that a

"hard and fast chronological scheme" should not be read into the Olivet

Discourse (p. 365) has not been heeded by many dispensationalists.

            35 Gundry, Matthew, 491.

            36 H. N. Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, trans. H. deJongste, ed. R. O.

Zorn (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1962) 497.

            37 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., "The Promise of the Arrival of Elijah in Malachi and in

the Gospels," GTJ 3 (1982) 221-33, following W. J. Beecher, The Prophets and the

Promise (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1963 reprint), especially pp. 127-32. Elsewhere Kaiser

 takes pains to distinguish between "double reference" and "dual sense." He is also

correct that the "double reference" concept tends to mislead if it is taken to imply

that only two foci are involved in the fulfillment of the prophecy. See his "Legitimate

Hermeneutics" in A Guide to Contemporary Hermeneutics, ed. Donald K. McKim

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986) 130-32. The essay originally appeared in Inerrancy,

ed. Norman Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979) 117-47.

            38 Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, 496-97, 525.

                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL         14


Messianic age (1:12). Since the first coming of Christ, additional

revelation and hindsight enable interpreters to understand that this

Messianic age involves two comings of Christ. As Briggs pointed out

long ago,39 just as the first coming of Christ provided the key to our

present partial understanding of OT prophecy, so also the second

coming of Christ will provide the ultimate solution to the problem of

the chronological unfolding of events yet future today. Thus it is not

surprising that there is difficulty in handling the precise chronology of

Matt 24:15-28. Christian interpreters today may grasp the overall

chronological vista of prophecy better than the OT prophets them-

selves did. However, those living "between the times" will need to

exercise humility and patience as they wait for the ultimate clarifica-

tion. In the meantime, it is appropriate to recognize the theological

unity of predicted events both past and present. This is what the

preterist-futurist view of Matt 24:15-28 attempts to do.

            Beyond this general basis, numerous specific examples of this

type of prophetic fulfillment can be adduced. In the passage at

hand, "false Christs" and "false prophets" (yeudo<xristoi) are prominent.

In view of other NT passages, such language should be understood from

 an anticipation/consummation perspective (2 Thess 2:7-8; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 2:18,

22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7; Rev 2:20; 13; 17; 19:20). Further afield, in the OT

prophecy of the Day of the Lord (hvAhy; MOy), current events which

signal eschatological catastrophe are difficult to separate from that :

catastrophe.4O Malachi's prophecy of the return of Elijah (Mal 4:5-6)

is fulfilled to a degree in John the Baptist (Luke 1:16-17; Matt 11:14;

17:12-13), but many would argue that the prophecy is not yet con-

summated (John 1:21; Matt 17:10-11; Rev 11:3ff.).41 Jesus' reference

to Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21; Isa 61:1-2)

also implies the fulfillment of only part of Isaiah's prophecy at the

first coming, leaving the rest for the end times. Peter's understanding

of OT prophecy in Acts 2-3 also seems to demand an anticipatory

fulfillment in the Church which arguably leads up to the eschatologi-

cal turning of Israel to its Messiah.42  James' understanding of Amos


            39 Charles A. Briggs, Messianic Prophecy (New York: Scribner's, 1886) 55.

            40 E.g., the locust plague of Joel I is the basis for the prophecy of the day of the

Lord in chapter 2. A perusal of commentaries on Joel will indicate that it is not easy to

distinguish where the description of the locust plague ends and where the prophecy of

the day of the Lord begins.

            41 See Kaiser, "The Promise," 221-33 for a discussion of the various views.

            42 This is argued by Darrell Bock, "The Reign of the Lord Christ," paper presented

to the dispensationalism study group prior to the national ETS meeting in December 1987.

Copies of this paper and responses to it are available from Prof. Gerry Breshears at

Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR.






(Acts 15:13-18; Amos 9:11-12) should probably be understood in this

manner, along with NT texts which find fulfillment of the OT New

Covenant in the Church. In terms of NT theology, it would seem that

"inaugurated" eschatology, as an alternative to the tunnel vision and

selective use of data which characterize the "consistent" and "real-

ized" schools, is based upon this understanding of the theological

continuity of the two comings of Christ. Finally, many specific details

of salvation history may be understood to flow from the "mother

promise" or protevangelium of Gen 3:15. While the immediate context

of this passage as judgment and its stress upon struggle have often

been neglected or understated in Messianic exegesis, there can be

little doubt that it should be understood as a seminal though cryptic

announcement of a struggle which culminates in the ultimate victory

of the Messiah over Satan (Matt 12:28-29; John 12:31-32; Gal 3:19;

4:4; Rom 16:20; Heb 2:14-15; Rev 12:9; 20:2, 10). In short, those who

take Matt 24:15-28 as a double reference prophecy can appeal to a

wide range of passages which have been understood similarly by a

wide range of scholars.

            Though he grants that this approach is "possible," Carson finds

two faults with it. First, it has difficulties with such time references as

"immediately after. ..those days" (eu]qe<wj de>  meta> . . . 24:29) and

"this generation" ( h[ gene<a  au!th 24:34), and second, it has been held

by some who have attributed error to Jesus in his perspective of the

timing of the parousia.43  On further examination, these two problems

are both due to the chronological complexity of the events which

fulfill the prophecy. Those who demand chronological precision have

occasionally concluded that Jesus' timing was in error. However, this

is unwarranted due to the theological continuity between anticipatory

and consummatory aspects of the prophecy. Those who seek chrono-

logical precision also confuse the nature of biblical prophecy with

modern historiography, implying modern notions of precision that

would have been foreign to the times of the prophet and the genre of

his revelation.


Revised Preterist-Futurist View


             The revised preterist-futurist view comes into its own in its

unique handling of this section of Matthew 24. Verses 15-21 are

taken to refer strictly to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, but verses

22- 28 are viewed as a return to the subject of verses 4- 1 4, the age of

the Church as a time of general distress for believers.44 Thus 24:15-28

alternately describes in 15-21 a special time of tribulation during the


            43 Carson, "Matthew," 492.

            44 Carson, "Matthew," 502.

16                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


course of the Church's history and in 22-28 the general course of the

age. Verses 15-21 are limited to A.D. 70 due to the geographical and

cultural details which fit first century Judea.45 Verses 22-28 are ex-

panded to the general course of the age due to terminology ("the

elect," "all flesh"), themes, and synoptic considerations which tie

these verses back to verses 4-14.46  If one is impressed with the

difficulties of the views already cited, this view becomes an attractive

alternative, though it is not without problems of its own.

            A major difficulty is the sharp break posited between verses 21

and 22. Verse 22 begins with kai> , giving the impression of continuity

with what precedes. The natural and near antecedent to ai[  h[me<rai

e]kei?nai  is  qli?yij mega<lh  in verse 21, and this in turn goes back to e]n

e]kei<naij  tai?j  h[me<raij in verse 19. To break the smooth flow of the

paragraph which comprises verses 15-28 and to seek a remote ante-

cedent involving an entirely different referent seems to be unjustified

if not unjustifiable. It is doubtful whether Jesus' original listeners or

Matthew's later audience would have been able to make such a shift

in perspective given such little warning. To be sure, 15-21 does use

geographically and culturally limited terms. But how else could Jesus

speak meaningfully to his audience? It is commonly recognized that

prophecy involves such limited terms in description of the distant

future.47  If this is so, it is doubtful if verse 21's description of unparal-

leled tribulation can legitimately be limited to the severe though

localized destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, especially when this

language in Dan 12: 1-2 occurs in the context of the final resurrection

and judgment. It may be granted that 22-28 uses broader terms and

themes which cohere with 4-14, but these factors may be satisfactorily

explained from the double reference view without the hypothesis of a

sharp change of subject matter. Finally, there is the admitted novelty

of the view.48 While novelty does not necessarily invalidate an inter-

pretation, it does place upon it the burden of proof. This is Carson's

cogent argument against the common dispensational view, yet it tells

just as well against his own view.




            The discussion of interpretations of Matt 24:15-28 reveals that

the determining factor is the abomination of desolation in 24:15.

Interpreters relate the term to the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem

and to the eschatological antichrist. It is concluded here that those

views which disjunctively interpret the section in terms of either A.D.


            45 Carson, "Matthew,” 499.

            46 Carson, "Matthew,” 502.

            47 Briggs, Messianic Prophecy, 45, 55-56.

            48 Carson, "Matthew,” 495.



70 or an eschatological situation are inadequate. Rather both events

are in view here. The standard preterist-futurist view, termed "double

reference," is preferable to the revised approach which sees alternating

reference between the specific event of A.D. 70 and the general course

of the age.


                                   MATTHEW 24:29-31

Futurist View


             In keeping with their general approach, dispensational advocates

of this view understand this section to be a description of Christ's

second coming to the earth. The "tribulation of those days" (24:29) is

viewed strictly as the eschatological seventieth week of Daniel. Thus

the posttribulational coming of Christ to judge the nations (cf. 25:31-

46), not the pretribulational rapture of the Church, is in view in

24:29-31. Much is made of the differences between these two phases

of Christ's return, sometimes in terms of a strong distinction between

Israel and the Church.49

            While there are general doubts about dispensationalism's strict

futurism and its rigid Israel/Church distinction, most interpreters

would agree with dispensationalists that Christ's second coming to

earth is described here. However, it is doubtful that the tribulation

language in the discourse is strictly eschatological. For Matthew,

persecution in this life is to be expected by believers (2:13; 5:10-12,

39-48; 10:16-33; 12:14; 13:21; 16:18, 21; 17:12; 20:18-19; 21:33-41;

22:6; 23:29-37; 26:4, 45; 27:12; 39-44). Thus qli<yij (24:9), qli<yij

mega<lh (24:21), and th>n  qli?yin  tw?n  h[merw?n (24:29) should

not be assumed to refer only to the time of eschatological trouble.

Rather the tribulation which is the general experience of believers in

this age will be intensified to an unparalleled extent in eschatological

days. It may be granted that the eschatological intensification is

stressed in 24:21, 29, but it is against the background of the general

tribulation, including that pertaining to the A.D. 70 destruction of

Jerusalem, which anticipates it.

            Since the real issue in the interpretation of 24:29-31 is raised by

the advocates of the preterist view, the discussion now turns to that



Preterist View


            In contrast to the strict futurism of the preceding view, propo-

nents of this view continue to stress the A.D. 70 destruction of Jeru-

salem as the event described in 24:29-31. France in advocating this


            49 Toussaint, Matthew, 277; Walvoord, Matthew, 190.

                        GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL        18


view grants that this language "to modern ears sounds like a descrip-

tion of the 'parousia and the close of the age' (i.e., the second part of

the question in v. 3).“50  However, there are several factors which lead

France and others away from this widespread approach. It is first

recognized that the genre of the OT language alluded to here is

apocalyptic. Thus one should not press the details in a woodenly

literal fashion. There are also contextual factors which influence the

view, chiefly the "immediately after" phrase which introduces 24:29.

Obviously the second coming of Christ did not occur immediately

after the destruction of Jerusalem, but there is a sense in which the

heavenly vindication of Jesus did. Also it is noted that 24:30 does not

use parousi<a but instead e]rxo<menon to describe Christ's "coming,"

and that there is no mention of the "earth" as Christ's destination.

Therefore these verses describe the heavenly glory of the ascended

Messiah (29-30), along with his worldwide program for evangeliza-

tion (31). The passage should be understood "as a highly symbolic

description of the theological significance of the coming destruction

of the temple and its consequences."51

            Since the other three views discussed in this study tend to agree

that 24:29-31 describes the second coming of Christ to the earth, it is

necessary to analyze this disparate approach carefully. Some of its

arguments are plausible and deserve attention. Perhaps the founda-

tion of the view is its understanding that Daniel 7, alluded to in 24:30,

describes a scene of heavenly vindication with no connection to the

return of Christ to the earth. However, the vision of Daniel 7 shows

how the Kingdom of the Son of Man forever supplants the reign of

earthly kings (7: 17). The Son of Man is vindicated in order to

exercise universal and everlasting rule over all the human dominions

under heaven (7:14, 27). Thus it is difficult to see Christ's ascension to

heavenly glory as the ultimate fulfillment of Daniel 7. Though it is

true that the earth is not mentioned explicitly as Christ's destination

in either Daniel 7 or Matt 24:29-31, it is clear in both passages that

the sphere of his rule is the earth. For that matter, the earth is not

even mentioned in 24:37, 39, 42, 44! Thus this line of argumentation

is weak in that is depends upon silence. Though the apocalyptic genre

of Daniel 7 and the other OT passages alluded to must be noted, one

need not handle these texts in a literalistic fashion to demonstrate

that the earth is the sphere of the Messiah's reign.

            The preterist view is also suspect in its handling of Matthew's

context and theology. Since Jesus has just mentioned the nature of

his parousia in 24:27, it is natural to assume that the events of 24:29-

31 continue to describe the parousia. If "the tribulation of those days"


            50 France, Matthew, 343.

            51 France, Matthew, 345-46.



in 24:29 cannot limited to the A.D. 70 events, as argued earlier,

then there is no reason to understand 24:30 merely as a heavenly

commg. Besides, Christ's heavenly session began 35-40 years before

the destruction of the temple. The Gentile mission also began long

before the destruction of the temple, so it is difficult to substantiate

the theological connection asserted in this view. Further, to view

Christ s coming with glory and angels as a reference to the Church's

mission would be foreign to Matthew's use of these ideas elsewhere in

his gospel. Three other passages (16:27, 19:28, and 25:31) connect a

glorious coming with angels to the return of Christ to judge and rule

the earth. The fact that these passages all use forms of e@rxomai, not

parousi<a, to describe this coming carries no weight at all, since the

latter term Occurs only in Matt 24:3, 27. On the other hand, forms of

e@rxomai regularly describe both the first and second coming of Christ

to the earth (11:3; 21:9, 40; 22:11; 23:39; 24:44, 46, 50; 25:19; 26:64).

Therefore this approach to 24:29-31 cannot be sustained.


Traditional Preterist-Futurist View


            There is nothing particularly unique about this position's han-

dling of this section. In agreement with all the positions except the

preterist view just discussed, this approach views 24:29-31 as a pre-

diction of Christ's glorious return to the earth for judgment. Premil-

lennialists holding the view will speak of the beginning of the millennial

reign at this juncture. Others will speak of the general resurrection

and the last judgment.

            The evaluation of this approach will be determined by one's

appraisal of the argumentation of the last section on the preterist

view. Those who hold that position make much of the heavenly

vindication of the Son of Man in Daniel 7. It would appear, however,

that the traditional preterist-futurist view is well able to handle Daniel

7 as implying both the heavenly inauguration and earthly consumma-

tion of God's Kingdom. The inauguration stage began at the ascen-

sion, as other texts in Matthew may imply (10:23, 16:18-19, 28; cf.

Acts 2:29-36; I Cor 15:20-28; Rev 5:9-10). The consummation stage

will begin at the second coming. In the meantime, the ascended,

glorified, authoritative Messiah sends his Church forth with his com-

mission (28:l8-20}!This truth is sometimes neglected in strict futuris-

tic approaches. It appears that only an inaugurated eschatology can

handle the legitimate insights of both the preterists and the futurists,

and that the preterist-futurist or double reference view best fits this

sort of eschatology.

            The preterist-futurist view is also able to handle the problem

occasioned by the "immediately after" of 24:29. In deference to an

orthodox Christology, traditional dispensationalism handles 24:15-28

20                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


as strictly futuristic. Thus the return of Christ to earth immediately

follows the eschatological tribulation. The same doctrinal compunc-

tions underlie the preterist view, which handles 24:29-31 in a fashion

which matches its handling of 24: 15-28: Christ's heavenly vindication

immediately follows the destruction of Jerusalem. In contrast to both

of these approaches, the preterist-futurist view holds that the antici-

patory A.D. 70 destruction was not clearly distinguished from the

consummating eschatological judgment in the prophetic perspective.

Thus the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem, the eschatological judgment

of the world, and the return of Christ, are seen as one great unified

whole. Ridderbos' comments to this effect are provocative: :


                    Instead of applying such a historicizing exegesis, we must try to

            gain an insight into the character of the prophetic way of foretelling the

            future. And it should not be forgotten that this is something different

            than a diary of future events. Prophecies are not based on a partial

            transference of the divine omniscience to man. Jesus explicitly states

            that even the Son does not share in the divine omniscience with respect

            to the time of the end. The function of prophecy is consequently not

            that of a detailed projection of the future, but is the urgent insistence

            on the certainty of the things to come. This explains why, at the end of

            the vista, the perspective is lacking. The prophet sees all kinds of events

            that will come and he sees in all of them the coming of God. But he

            cannot fix a date for the events, he cannot distinguish all the phases in

            God's coming. To him it is one great reality.52


Revised Preterist-Futurist View


            This approach to 24:29-31 does not differ appreciably from any

of the main views except the preterist view. These verses are taken to

describe the return of Christ to the earth. The problem of "immedi-

ately after" in 24:29 is relieved since this approach takes 24:22-28 as a

description of general events throughout the age of the Church. Thus

"the tribulation of those days" refers all the way back to the generic

tribulation of 24:9, not to the "great tribulation" of 24:21. In other

words, the entire interadvent period is in view,53 and the second

coming immediately follows this indeterminate period of time.

            This approach handles 24:29-31 more successfully than does the

preterist view. However, its manner of alleviating the problem of

"immediately after" in 24:29 depends upon its identification of "the

tribulation of those days" as the entire interadvent period. And this

identification depends upon the alternating reference given to 24: 15-

28, with 15-21 describing the A.D. 70 destruction and 22-28 describing


            52 Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, 524-25.

            53 Carson, "Matthew," 504-5.



the Church age. The difficulties of splitting the reference of 15-28 at

verse 22 have already been discussed in that section of this study.

Suffice It to say here that such an interpretation of "those days" in

24:22 seems to go against the flow of the immediate context and

chooses a remote antecedent for the expression. Therefore, this ap-

proach to 24:29-31 is dubious in this respect.




             The most obvious distinction between the four views of 24:29-31

is that the preterist view is alone in denying that these verses refer to

the second coming of Christ. It is concluded here that the other views

are correct; the arguments for taking 24:29-31 as a symbolic descrip-

tion of the theological significance of the destruction of the temple are

not convincing. Beyond this basic matter, the preterist-futurist view

best handles the relationship of 24:29-31 to 24:15-28.


                                                MATTHEW 24:32-41

Futurist View


             Though some futurists have succumbed to the allure of date-

setting,54 most take the implications of 24:36 seriously and speak of

the imminent, "any moment," return of Christ. Most of the discussion

among dispensationalists seems to be concerned with whether 24:40-

41 speaks of those believers "taken" in pretribulational rapture or of

those unbelievers "taken" in judgment. Those who look to the near

context for analogy point out that those "taken" in the flood were

judged (24:39). However, this analogy may be disputed since "took"

in 24:39 is h#ren and "taken" in 24:40-41 is paralamba<netai. Those

with a broader approach to the analogy note that the angels will

gather the elect and leave the non-elect (24:31). The former judgment

view is generally held today,55 and it better fits the perspective of

traditional dispensationalism that the entire discourse has only a

secondary application to the Church. Thus the emphasis upon alert-

ness is intended for the people of God living during the tribulation,

though it can have secondary application to the Church.

            Problems with traditional dispensationalism's view that this dis-

course concerns Israel, not the Church, were addressed in the first


            54 The furor surrounding Edgar Whisenant's 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could

be in 1988 is the most recent example of the dangers of datesetting. Though Hal

Lindsey's approach was mild in comparison to Whisenant's, it is profitable to consult

Samuele Bacchiocchi, Hal Lindsey's Prophetic Jigsaw Puzzle (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical

 Perspectives, 1985).

Reviewed by David L. Turner in GTJ7 (1986) 252-54.

            55 For the view that the rapture is not taught here see Barbieri, "Matthew," 79;

Toussaint, Matthew, 281; and Walvoord, Matthew, 193-94.

20                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


major section of this study. The need for alertness is the Church's

primary duty, not merely a secondary application. The preoccupation

of some dispensationalists with the intricacies of who is taken and

who is left seems to miss the urgent appeal of the passage for

alertness. As Carson says, who is taken and who is left "is neither

clear nor particularly important,"56 since the crucial point is alertness

in view of the unexpected separation which Christ's return will swiftly

bring. One tends to wonder whether traditional dispensationalism's

strict futurism has muffled the urgent ethical appeal of the passage.

            The most pressing problem in this section for all of the views is

the meaning of "this generation" (h[  genea>  au!th), which "will not pass

away until all these things are fulfilled" (24:34). Generally futurists

take "this generation" as either the Jewish nation57 or as the eschato-

logical generation alive at the time of the fulfillment of this prophecy.58

Therefore the verse is taken either as a promise that the nation of

Israel will be preserved to the end or as a warning that those who see

the fulfillment begin will live to see its consummation.

            These approaches to "this generation" must be scrutinized care-

fully. Ridderbos is correct that the verse is turned into a truism if

"this generation" refers merely to Israel as a nation or even to those

alive at the end.59  What is more, Jesus' use of genea< in Matthew does

not support such an idea. Thirteen of the forty NT uses of genea<

occur in Matthew. It is doubtful if any of them mean anything other

than "the sum total of those born at the same time,…contem-

poraries.”60  Matt 24:34 is one of six texts in Matthew which couple

genea< with the demonstrative pronoun (11:16; 12:41, 42, 45; 23:36;

24:34). It is virtually certain that in all these Matthean uses the

meaning is simply Jesus' contemporaries. Though at times a qualita-

tive nuance is attached implicitly or explicitly (12:39, 45; 16:4; 17:17),

the word never loses its quantitative or temporal force. Therefore,

lexical support for the idea that the word means "nation" or "kind of

people" is marginal of not nonexistent, in spite of assertions to the

contrary sometimes found in the commentaries. Of course, traditional

dispensationalism's view of genea< is constrained by other factors. If

genea< refers to Jesus' contemporaries, and Jesus pronounces that they


            56 Carson, "Matthew," 509.

            57 E. Schuyler English, Studies in the Gospel According to Matthew (New York:

Revell, 1935) 179; William Kelly, Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew (New York: Loizeaux,

1911) 451-53; and Rand, "Survey,"205-6.

            58 Barbieri, "Matthew," 78; and Toussaint, Matthew, 279-80.

            59 H. N. Ridderbos, Commentary on Matthew, trans. R. Togtman (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987) 450.

            60 BAGD, 153-54. cr. Matt 1:17 (4x); 11:16; 12:39,41,42,45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34.



will not die before the great tribulation, then Jesus was wrong, and

that is unthinkable. So to remove the tension it is convenient to

redefine genea<. However, the better part of wisdom is to rethink the

strict futuristic grid which dispensationalists have traditionally placed

upon 24:1-34.


Preterist View


             In this view Jesus announces that his contemporaries will live to

see the destruction of Jerusalem. Since the second coming to earth,

the topic of the second part of the disciples' question of 24:3, has not

yet been mentioned, all that is involved here is the Roman destruction

of Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70. Jesus' listeners will still be

alive when that event occurs. Thus the preterist view has a simple

answer to the problem of "this generation" in 24:34. In fact, it may

not be an overstatement to say that this view is chiefly motivated by

the desire to avoid this problem. The normal meaning of the word is

accepted with great gusto, and sometimes other views are accused of

basing their exegesis upon a preconceived theological bias: "Were it

not for prior commitments to a particular eschatolgoical [sic] view,

the common reader would understand Jesus to mean that His own

contemporaries would live to witness the great events He predicted.”61

            While the above stricture is not lacking in force, in reality every

view of this discourse is unavoidably influenced by theological pre-

suppositions. The preterist view commendably takes genea< in its

normal sense, but in order to maintain a high Christology it handles

24:29-31 in a highly questionable fashion, as already indicated. There

is a better option, one which attempts to read 24:29-31 and genea< in

24:34 naturally, all the while preserving a high Christology.


Traditional Preterist-Futurist View


            The traditional preterist-futurist approach to this section gen-

erally stresses the urgency of Christ's warning about alertness. Since it

takes 24:29-31 as a reference to Christ's second coming, it is faced

with tension when it comes to "this generation" in 24:34. Proponents

of the view handle this tension differently. Hendriksen supplies six

reasons why he takes genea< as a reference to the nation of Israel.62

Gundry first seems to favor the normal view of genea< as "contem-

poraries" but then shifts to a qualitative emphasis on genea< as a

"kind" of people who will experience the tribulation Christ predicts.63


            6l Fowler, Matthew, 4.509.

            62 Hendriksen, Matthew, 868-69.

            63 Gundry, Matthew, 491.

24                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


This leaves the temporal extent of the word open. Ridderbos flirts

with genea< as "contemporaries" and seems to accept this temporal

view in the recent English translation of his Matthew commentary.

However, in The Coming of the Kingdom he leans to the qualitative

view after a long discussion.64  In his understanding genea< refers to an

objectionable mentality which rejects the very prophetic word which

it will ironically experience in its own lifetime.65 Thus he interprets

genea< much like Gundry.

            The problem with this exegesis is its lexical base. While it is

granted that genea< may take on qualitative force from its context and

modifiers, it cannot be demonstrated that a temporal force is ever

absent in its NT usage. Carson does not overstate the case when he

speaks of "highly artificial" attempts to overthrow the normal tem-

poral meaning of the word, a word which "can only with the greatest

difficulty be made to mean anything other than the generation living

when Jesus spoke.”66 But is it possible to maintain the normal tem-

poral meaning of genea<while interpreting 24:29-31 as a reference to

the second coming of Christ? Some have attempted to do this by

limiting pa<nta  tau?ta in 24:34 to only the signs which came before the

second coming of Christ. A case can be made for this based upon the

use of pa<nta  tau?ta in 24:33 as a reference to the budding of the fig

tree which signals the nearness of the summer in 24:32. After all,

seeing the buds (preliminary signs) is not the same as seeing summer

(Christ's return). This case can be strengthened by once again stressing

that prophecy is not merely history written before it occurs. Prophetic

perspective involves the union of individual events in a coalesced

whole. By additional revelation and hindsight believers today can

differentiate many of the individual events. Ridderbos expresses

this well:

                  Here again we are confronted with the condensed and undifferen-

            tiated character of Jesus' portrayal of the future....The starting point

            for His whole speech was the coming destruction of the temple. Since

            from the perspective of prophecy this event was telescoped with the

            Lord's great future, Jesus could say that the generation that witnessed

            the destruction of the temple "certainly would not pass away until all

            these things have happened." He thus regarded the future in an undifferen-

            tiated manner. Later, in the light of fulfillment, it became evident that

            "all these things" would not come at once, and that they therefore

            would be seen only in part by the generation of Jesus' day. On a factual

            level, there is no difference between this interpretation and the view


            64 Ridderbos, Matthew, 450-51; The Coming of the Kingdom, 500-502. .

            65 Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, 502.

            66 Carson, "Matthew," 507.



            that the phrase "all these things" referred only to the signs. The two

            views are not identical, however, for in my interpretation Jesus did not

            use the phrase with that restriction in mind. Exegesis has to assume a

            historical viewpoint in places like this and base its conclusions on the

            prophetic nature of eschatology....67


            It is concluded here that the traditional preterist-futurist view

best serves three important considerations in this text: (1) its genre as

biblical prophecy, (2) the more natural understanding of 24:29-31,

and (3) the lexical meaning of genea<. Jesus' contemporaries will see

"all these things," at least in their anticipatory fulfillment at the A.D.

70 destruction of Jerusalem. In Jesus' perspective (24:36) his second

coming to earth could have occurred immediately after the A.D. 70

conflagration. From a modern perspective these events are best related

in a theologically unified anticipation/consummation framework. The

passage is Hebrew prophecy, not modem historiography.


Revised Preterist-Futurist View


            Carson's articulation of this approach to 24:32-42 differs little

from the above articulation of the traditional preterist-futurist view.

The word genea< in 24:34 is taken to refer to Jesus' contemporaries,

who are repeatedly and pointedly warned about their need to be

prepared for his return. "All these things" in 24:33-34 is interpreted

to mean the preliminary signs of 24:4-28 which characterize the

general course of the age. This is based upon the distinction between

budding and summer which is observed in 24:32. Thus the signs

during the course of the age demonstrate the certainty and nearness

of the return of Christ but do not permit one to pinpoint its date


            The strengths of this position center in its exegesis of "this

generation" and "all these things." Both are handled with due defer-

ence to lexicography and immediate context. Only two quibbles need

be mentioned. First, as argued earlier, Carson's semi-preterist ap-

proach to 24:4-28 is problematic in its handling of 24:15-21 as

referring only to the A.D. 70 events, and in its hypothesis of a remote

antecedent for "those days" in 24:22, which results in 24:22-28 refer-

ring to the entire interadvent age, not to A.D. 70 and the eschatological

tribulation. This leads to a second concern related to the question of

prophetic genre. It seems that Carson's approach to 24:32-42 would


            67 Ridderbos, Matthew, 451.

            68 Carson, "Matthew," 507. Agreeing that "all these things" in 24:33-34

refers to the signs, not the return of Christ, is C. A. Briggs, The Messiah of the

Gospels (Edinburgh: T. and T, Clark, 1894) 159-60.

24                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


only be strengthened by acknowledging some sort of double reference

scheme, as this study has advocated. While a double reference per-

spective is incompatible with his exegesis of 24:4-28, it fits nicely into

his exegesis of this section.




            The examination of the various views of 24:29-31 reveals a

common thread of Christological concern. The point of departure is a

high Christology requiring the absolute veracity of his every word.

The tension is due to the "this generation" saying in 24:34. Futurists

have traditionally resolved the tension with an extremely doubtful

definition of "generation." Preterists have resolved the tension with

an extremely doubtful interpretation of 24:29-31. Both the traditional

and revised preterist-futurist views take the generally accepted under-

standings of 24:29-31 and "generation" in 24:34. The tension is re-

solved by relying upon the genre of biblical prophecy and/ or by

limiting the antecedent of "all these things" in 24:33-34. These last

two approaches involve considerable overlap and are generally much

more successful in handling the tensions of the passage.




            Since conclusions have been inserted into each of the main

sections of this study, there is no need to repeat them here. It has

been suggested that the traditional preterist-futurist view is the most

promising solution to the exegetical difficulties of this passage. It is

believed that such a perspective is true to the genre of OT prophecy,

and that Jesus' discourse is in generic and theological continuity with

the OT prophets. However, two concerns arise. First, the term "double

reference" is problematic, and current alternatives are not much of an

improvement. Second, and more crucial, the genre of biblical proph-

ecy is not grasped sufficiently. It is good news that Hendrickson

(Peabody, MA) plans to reprint Briggs' Messianic Prophecy. How-

ever, fresh studies are needed from a current evangelical perspective.69

            A point which calls for reflection concerns the relationship be-

tween exegesis and systematic theology. It is interesting to note how a

particular exegesis of an individual passage comes to be linked with a

certain theological system as if the exegesis is required by the system.

No doubt this is the case at times, but not as often as is commonly

assumed. John Martin has recently shown that "there is no single


            69 Perhaps Walter Kaiser's recent work, Back Toward the Future: Hints/or Inter-

preting Biblical Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989) will make a positive contribu-

tion to this area of study.



dispensational approach to the Sermon on the Mount."70 With this I

would concur, and I would add that there is no compelling reason for

dispensationalists to take the futurist view of the Olivet Discourse. It

appears that dispensationalists must come to terms with Matthew as

a Gospel for the Church of all ages, not merely for an eschatological

Jewish remnant. And since the similarity between Matthew 24 and

Revelation 6 is often noted, it may be that dispensationalists should

rethink their standard approach to this passage also.

            The eschatological discourse of Christ in Matthew 24-25 stretches

the interpreter to the limits of human understanding and Christian

obedience. One must come to terms with two genres of biblical

literature, narrative and prophecy. One must permit one's eschato-

logical notions to be scrutinized and hopefully refined in the inevitable

hermeneutical circle/spiral. One is confronted by the authoritative

words of Jesus the Messiah to be alert and ready for the end, but

these words tend to lose their force when read by affluent American

Christians who have imbibed not a little of today's yuppie mentality.

Why be so concerned about the end when things are going so well in

the present?

            A quick reading of Christ's eschatological discourse reveals that

only about one third of it (perhaps as little as 24: 1-31) is expressly

didactic in nature. The rest (24:32-25:46) is parabolic and parenetic.

The disciples on the Mount of Olives legitimately wanted to know

about God's plan for the future, and so do we today. However, Jesus

spent only half as much time on the bare facts of the future as he did

on the implications of those facts. Those who emphasize theoretical

reflection should be reminded to reflect upon duty as well. We have

only begun when we have mastered the "what?" of the text. We

complete our duty when we have served the "so what?"


                                    "Therefore keep watch,

            because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."


            "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine,

                                                            you did for me."


            70 John Martin, "Dispensational Approaches to the Sermon on the Mount," in

Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, ed. S. D. Toussaint and C. H. Dyer (Chicago:

 Moody, 1985) 35.


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            Winona Lake,  IN   46590

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