Grace Theological Journal 10.1 (1989) 3-27
Copyright © 1989 by Grace Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
THE STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF
MATTHEW 24:1-41: INTERACTION
WITH EVANGELICAL TREATMENTS
DAVID L. TURNER
Evangelical studies of Matthew 24 tend to emphasize either the
A.D. 70 destruction of
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
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
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
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
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
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.,
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,
1964, pp. 11-52.
2 See, e.g., Harold Fowler, The
Gospel of Matthew, 4 vols. (
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 (
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 (
Varsity, 1982) 127-50.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 5
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
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.
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
originated after the A.D. 70 destruction of
sions of this question and the related "little apocalypse" theory see G. R. Beasley-
Future (London: Macmillan, 1954); Bo Reicke, "Synoptic Prophecies on the
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 (; ). 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 (
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
10 Schuyler English, ed., The New Scofield
Reference Bible (
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.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 7
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.
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
destruction of the temple signals the end of any special status for
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
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,
attempted to correct the disciples close connection between the fall of
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’
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
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; ; and
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
cerns the reputation of the Roman church which had evidently spread
(among other Christians?) throughout the whole world ( ko<smoj).
Even Rom (Isa 65:2) and
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 (
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 (
(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
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.
"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
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
rather appears that the experiences mentioned by Jesus span the past,
present, and future history of the Church.
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; ; . These texts are taken to be predictive
of the eschatological enemy of God's people, the antichrist.27 2 Thess
2:3-4 and -18 are adduced as parallels and interpreted in a
strictly futuristic manner. Dan 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
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.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 11
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 and refer to the ultimate eschato-
logical tribulation, such is not the case for , 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-
vision of the four kingdoms describes the fourth kingdom (generally
taken by conservatives to be
the ram and the goat includes an explicit description of the desolation
of temple worship (-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
(), it is probable that the "desolation" prophecies of Daniel 7 and
8 describe both the third and fourth
the next chapter
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
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
John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (
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
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 ;
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
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.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 13
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-
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 -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 (). 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 ,
22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7; ; 13; 17; ). 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 -17; Matt ;
-13), but many would argue that the prophecy is not yet con-
summated (John ; Matt -11; Rev 11:3ff.).41 Jesus' reference
to Isaiah in the synagogue at
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
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
Conservative Baptist Seminary,
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MTTHEW 24:1-41 15
(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 -29; John -32; Gal ;
4:4; Rom ; 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.
he grants that this approach is "possible,"
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
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
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
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
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
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.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 17
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.
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
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 (; -12,
39-48; 10:16-33; ; ; , 21; ; -19; -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
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
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-
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
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 (). The Son of Man is vindicated in order to
exercise universal and everlasting rule over all the human dominions
under heaven (, 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.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 19
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 (, , 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 (, -19, 28; cf.
Acts 2:29-36; I Cor -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
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
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.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 21
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.
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-
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 (
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
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
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
generation" refers merely to
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 (; , 42, 45; ;
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 (, 45; 16:4; ),
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.
E. Schuyler English, Studies in the
Gospel According to Matthew (
Revell, 1935) 179; William Kelly, Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew (
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.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 23
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
In this view Jesus announces that his contemporaries will live to
see the destruction of
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
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.
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
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.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 25
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
TURNER: STRUCTURE AND SEQUENCE OF MATTHEW 24:1-41 27
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
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
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 (
Moody, 1985) 35.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com