By Joe Torosian
(If you don’t agree, you won’t lose your salvation and neither will I. Just trying to expand the thinking on this subject.)
“It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”—C.S. Lewis speaking of Mark 13:30 in “The World’s Last Night” (1960)
(Luke 21:32, Matthew 24:34)
“I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.”
Jesus was putting a bow on his message (Olivet Discourse) about the signs of the end of the age.
Matthew 24 follows the discussion and interaction Jesus and his disciples had in Matthew 23. In chapter 23, Jesus tears the Pharisees to shreds. He outs them as horrible, awful, and that their time will soon be over.
As the conversation transfers into chapter 24, the disciples ask Jesus about the buildings. The gorgeous, wonder of the world, buildings, and Temple.
Jesus says not one stone will be left on another, that all of it will be thrown down.
As they went to the Mount of Olives, a hill overlooking the Temple, the disciples asked when? What will be the sign of his coming and the end of the age?
Remember this is still the same conversation.
Jesus then shares a list of things that are going to take place and answers the questions.
But somewhere along the way, scholars came to believe Jesus went from talking about the end of the Temple in the first century to end of the world and his second coming 2,000 years later.
We were taught growing up that Matt. 24 was written directly to us as if we were its first audience. So that we would be properly scared and ready for either the Rapture or official Second Coming.
However, what transition did we miss within these Scriptures? One moment he’s talking about the end of the Temple and then the next he’s talking about events 2,000 years later? All within the same conversation?
The biggest mistake—among many we can make—when reading Scripture is to forget who was the audience, who were the first listeners. The disciples’ questions are based around the world they lived in, not the world we live in. And while all Scripture remains beneficial in the present day, we cannot assume that all Scripture is speaking to us as the first audience or listeners/readers.
Let’s go to the million dollar question. When the disciples asked about his coming it was in the context of that first-century generation. When they hear about his “coming” they are working from a reference of the Old Testament that meant when the Lord came, he came in judgment.
Babylon, Nineveh, Egypt, Jerusalem and the first Temple’s destruction in 586 BC…These were all judgment comings of the Lord. Also, read about the seven churches in Revelation. He warns a couple of those churches that if they don’t clean up their acts, he’s going to come—in judgment.
So when Jesus, in about 30 AD, said, that a generation wouldn’t pass away before his return, it was true. The end came when Jesus returned in judgment in 70 AD.
This kind of thinking sounds like heresy to ears conditioned to always look to the Bible and its prophecies the way Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and Jack Van Impe have. And heaven help us if we disagree with Lindsey, LaHaye, or Van Impe.
Because what they say (over and above Scripture) is that there has to be a Rapture, there has to be an Antichrist, there has to be a 7-year-Tribulation, there has to be a one-world government, a mark, and a final battle of Armageddon.
…And all of this is in our future.
To get to this, we have to ignore every time marker the Bible gives us.
Let’s start by looking at last week’s FaithView cliffhanger:
Matthew 24:14— “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Do you remember receiving lessons that when every nation and tongue on earth heard the Gospel message that Jesus would return? This was the key verse of that lesson. Except, Jesus used the word oikoumene not kosmos. By the end of Paul’s ministry, the Gospel had reached the known world and beyond. So the question begs; why didn’t the end come?
Oikoumene: known, civilized world.
Kosmos: entire world, universe, total.
The end did come. It came with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD.
Here are some straight forward verses containing time markers we largely ignore:
John 21:21-22—(Changing the perspective from 2,000 years away to 70 AD puts a new light on Peter’s question about John’s future and Jesus saying, “If I want him to remain until I return what is that to you?”)
1 Corinthians 7:31
1 Corinthians 10:11
Hebrews 10:25, 37
1 Peter 1:20
1 Peter 4:7
1 John 2:18
Revelation 1:1, 3
Revelation 22:6-7, 10, 12, 20
***There are many more (Please read the ones in Revelation) they talk about a significant world changing event that is going to take place in the lifetime of the first-century audience.
The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Not only was this a huge economic center and a wonder of the ancient world, but it was also the home to Judaism. When the Temple was destroyed, the Old Covenant was gone forever. There could be no more sacrifices made. No more atonement for their sins. The system was destroyed because all of Israel’s records and genealogies were destroyed, meaning it could never be restored. All priests had to come out of the line of Levi, and without records, there was no longer any way to trace that. The Rabbinical Judaism of today is not the Judaism of the Temple age.
When you hear talk of a third Temple being built, pray it never happens. All a third Temple would do is lead people astray and be an affront to God and the work of Jesus on the cross.
Hebrews 8:13: “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”
But did Jesus’ words come true?
Matthew 24:4-5—“Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”
***World-class Jewish historian, Josephus—not a Christian by any stretch— wrote that during this period 120 people claimed to be Christ.
Matthew 24:6-7a—“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
***There have always been wars…So what’s unique about what Jesus said in Verse 6? …When Jesus spoke these words, it was during the period of the Pax Romana/The Roman Peace…Rome had conquered the known world, there were no wars or rebellions going on…But by the mid-60s of the first-century revolts were beginning to break out in the empire and rumors of wars started to spread.
Matthew 24:7b—“There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”
***In Acts 11:28, Agabus predicts a great famine will come upon the world—the known world, the oikoumene. And we have accounts of Paul and Barnabas raising an offering to send to Jerusalem because of this great famine.
***Regarding earthquakes? The language says in “various” places, but it doesn’t say there will be an “increase” of earthquakes.
Today the tiniest earthquake in the world can be measured. We’ve always had earthquakes. Why should we be alarmed now by a major quake and believe it has some prophetic significance? Think about this; the day Jesus died there was an earthquake. Three days later there was another earthquake. Acts 4:31 records the place where they were meeting for prayer was “shaken.” Paul is in jail, and there’s an earthquake (Acts 16:26). There was a major earthquake in Italy in 62 AD. Without gadgets and sensors this stretch of time, the first century into the second, was viewed as a very shaky time.
Matthew 24:9—“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”
***In its infancy Christianity was viewed as another sect of Judaism but as time went on it began to stand out. History records that when Rome burned in 64 AD, Nero blamed the Christians and began attacking/persecuting Christianity. The things Nero did are well-recorded.
Matthew 24:10—“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other…”
***The message in Hebrews is all about warning Jewish Christians to not go back to the old system but to keep their new faith in Christ. That if they turn back to the law, they will, essentially, die with Jerusalem.
Matthew 24:11—“…And many false prophets will appear to and deceive many people.”
***Two notable false prophets that history records are.
1.) “Simon” the Egyptian, who led a small army into the desert claiming liberty and that God would show them signs. Liberty being liberty from Rome…He was crushed.
2.) John Levi (cliffhanger/future FaithView) is someone Josephus talks about as being persuasive and terrible. He set himself up in the Temple just before its destruction as God…He plays a key part in the deaths and destruction that take place when Jerusalem is destroyed.
Matthew 24:13-14—“…But he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
***Jesus says if you stand firm till the end you will be saved. What end? The end of the world (kosmos)? Or the end of the Age…The end of the Old Covenant, the old system, the whole business of the Temple.
Matthew 24:15-17—“So when you see standing in the holy place, ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak.”
***Remember this is all the same conversation. Who is Jesus talking to? Is he suddenly talking directly to us 2,000 years before we were born? Or is he talking to his audience on the Mount of Olives?
***”Abomination That Causes Desolation”… We were usually taught this had something to do with the Antichrist setting himself up in the third Temple as God…But what we were never taught and history makes clear…Is that when the Jews revolted in the mid-60s they had initial success, and then a Roman army came to Jerusalem. After a short battle, the Romans backed off…and the Jews thought God was on their side…Jesus is saying; ‘When you see this, head for the hills! Don’t look back, don’t go down into your house, run across those flat roofs until you are out of the city.’
***If Jesus is talking to us…what does it mean for him to say let no one on the roof of us his house go back down? What good would it be to flee to the hills? Apparently, people in Kansas are in big trouble. Unless you read this in the context of the first audience. The disciples in front of him, Jerusalem before them, and in the first century it makes no sense. How much time do we spend on our rooftops? What do you do if there are no hills? Jesus is talking about those who will be in and around Jerusalem at that time. Judea.
Matthew 24:21—“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”
***Jesus then goes on to give another warning about false Christs and false prophets…
***Matthew 24:29 talks about the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light, stars falling from the sky, and the heavenly bodies being shaken.
***It’s all about the end of the world, right? No…It is about the end of the age. The symbolic language of verse 29 is about nations and kingdoms coming to an end. The same language is used repeatedly in the Old Testament—after all, how many times can the stars fall from the sky?
***We got Jesus specifically talking about his “coming” in a passage specifically dealing with judgment.
***In verse 21 it states that nothing like this will ever happen again. So that must mean he’s talking about our Last Days? Well…
It’s been a nice try for the last 180 years to get us to think this way…And Lindsey, LaHaye, and Van Impe have done good work in making this a mainstream evangelical tenant for the last 50 years…But…
***But the end of the Old Covenant, the destruction of the Temple, the records of the tribes, in a manner that can never, ever, be restored was the end of the world for these people. While the Holocaust was horrific it didn’t end Rabbinical Judaism, it recovered. What happened in 70 AD destroyed Biblical Judaism forever…And the nation was gone…The land was no longer theirs. No greater calamity could have happened to them.
***Josephus records that 1.1-million people died in Jerusalem.
***He records pestilence and starvation. Starvation to the point of mothers killing and eating their children.
***When the Roman General Titus entered the city, it was recorded that there was no place to place his foot without stepping on a corpse.
***The rooftops were piled with heaps of bodies.
***Survivors who swallowed their gems and jewelry and tried to escape the city were captured and cut open to retrieve the treasure.
***Others were crucified, and Josephus records that 91,000 were sold into slavery.
The stones of the Temple, covered with gold, were taken down one by one and burned to retrieve the gold.
Matthew 24:30—“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”
***Is this the Second Coming we’ve been told about all of our lives?
***The word used in Greek for nations is Phulé (foo-lay) and it means Tribes…So all the tribes of the earth will mourn…Not exactly…the Greek word used for earth is Gé (ghay) and it means…Land…. So re-read Matthew 24:30 and you get a different context: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the tribes of the land will mourn…”
***So we are not talking about a world-wide kosmos event…but a regional event that occurred some 2,000 years ago…And while it still impacts us greatly…It should also alter our view of the future we’ve been taught.
So much more to add to this…but one thing we can be clear on…And at least argue for without being declared heretical, misled, or out of our mind is that Jesus’s words in Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32, and Matthew 24:34:
—“I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.”—
…were truthful and have come to pass.
This Scripture has not come to pass…
“‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same you have seen him go into heaven.’”—Acts 1:11
If you’d like to complain about this column, Joe T. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org