Sunday, August 25, 2019

Why I believe there’s going to be a future “abomination of desolation” in a rebuilt Jewish temple (Part Three)

The future temple and “abomination of desolation” prophesied by Christ

As argued in part one of this study, the commonly-held Christian belief that a re-instituted sacrificial system and rebuilt Jewish temple would lack divine approval (or even be an “abomination” to God) is based on a misunderstanding concerning the purpose of sacrifices performed in accord with the law given by God to Israel. Even after Christ’s death for our sins, there has never been anything inherently wrong with, or “abominable” about, Israel’s sacrificial system, or the temple associated with it (in fact, as we’ll see shortly, that which Christ considered an “abomination” will not involve the commencement of sacrifices in the temple, but rather the cessation of them). Although Israel’s temple and sacrificial system has no direct relevance to we who are in the body of Christ, it is also not something that we can simply dismiss as having no importance or significance whatsoever. It was an important part of God’s relationship with his covenant people in the past, and I believe that it will play an important role in his relationship with Israel in the future as well.

In Matthew 24:15-16, we read that Christ declared the following to his disciples while they were gathered together on the Mount of Olives: “Whenever, then, you may be perceiving the abomination of desolation, which is declared through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him who is reading apprehend!); then let those in Judea flee into the mountains.”

The “holy place” in which we're told the “abomination of desolation” will be “standing” refers to the first division of the Jewish tabernacle and temple (the second division being the “most holy place”). In support of this understanding, consider 1 Kings 8:6-8 and Hebrews 9:1-3 (cf. Acts 6:12-13; 21:28):

1 Kings 8:6-8
Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day.

Hebrews 9:1-3
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place.

As noted in the last passage, it was in the holy place that the golden lampstand and the table for the bread of presence (as well as the altar of incense) were present. But what, exactly, is the “abomination of desolation” that Christ said would be “standing” in the holy place at some future time?

Notice that Christ said this “abomination” will be something that was ”declared through Daniel the prophet.” There are several verses from Daniel in which the phrase “abomination of desolation” – or some similar, related expression – is found. For example, in Daniel 11:31 we read, ”Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.”

Most scholars understand this prophecy to have been fulfilled in 168 BC when the Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, put an end to the daily sacrifice in the temple and set up an altar to a Greek god (probably Zeus) in the most holy place, thereby polluting the sanctuary (see 1 Maccabees 1:48, 54). This is the view to which I hold as well. However, according to Christ’s prophecy in Matt. 24:15, there is another “abomination of desolation” that is “declared through Daniel the prophet,” and which will be “standing in the holy place” at a yet-future time. And it is this prophesied event that I believe is in view in the remaining verses from Daniel that refer to the “abomination of desolation”:

Daniel 8:13
Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot? 

Daniel 9:27
He will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator.

Daniel 12:11
And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.

Notice that, in all four of the above verses, the abomination of desolation (or “transgression that makes desolate,” in the case of Dan. 8:13) is inseparably connected with the cessation of sacrifice and offering. In fact, the clear implication of each of these verses is that the setting up of the abomination of desolation is something that either coincides with (or shortly follows) the cessation of sacrifice/offering, and that both of these related events will be occurring on the same day (this is especially evident from Daniel 12:11, where it's revealed that the taking away of the regular burnt offering and the setting up of the abomination of desolation will occur 1,290 days before another related event takes place). This point should be kept in mind by the reader when coming to the words of Christ in Matt. 24:15, and should inform our interpretation of this important prophecy. For in light of this background information, we can conclude the following: in order for something to qualify as the prophesied “abomination of desolation” that Christ had in view in Matt. 24:15, it must be part of an event that involves (1) the cessation of sacrifice and offering and (2) the setting up of an abominable thing “in the holy place” (i.e., the first division of the temple) on the same day. Moreover, in light of the historical event involving Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC, it's reasonable to conclude that the future “abomination of desolation” will also be associated with idolatry, or the worship of some false god (which, when occurring in the temple, would be considered a terrible abomination by any devout Jew). 

Now, a common view among preterists is that the surrounding of Jerusalem by encampments” (or armies”) that we find referred to in Luke 21:20 is the “abomination of desolation” referred to by Christ in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 (this view also presupposes that the encampments” or armies” Christ had in view belonged to the Romans, and that this event occurred sometime before the siege of Jerusalem). For the sake of argument, let's assume that the encampments” or armies” Christ had in view in Luke 21:20 belonged to the Romans, and that the event in view is one that occurred sometime before the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Is it at least possible that these encampments” or armies could've been the fulfillment of the the “abomination of desolation” referred to by Christ in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14? No. 

As already shown, in order for something to qualify as the prophesied “abomination of desolation” that Christ had in view in Matt. 24:15, it must be part of an event that involves (1) the cessation of sacrifice and offering and (2) the setting up of an abominable thing “in the holy place” (i.e., the first division of the temple) on the same day. However, there is no evidence from history that this occurred in the first century. Even if we were to grant, for the sake of argument, that “the holy place” referred to by Christ in Matt. 24:15 could refer to something other than the first division of the Jewish temple, what we read in Mark's account is inconsistent with the abomination of desolation being a reference to the encampments” or armies” referred to by Christ in Luke 21:20. For in Mark 13:14, Christ clearly spoke of the abomination of desolation as a singular thing or object that would be standing in the holy place (hence the words, “...the abomination of desolation, declared by Daniel the prophet, standing where IT must not...). The term translated “encampments” (or armies”) is, of course, plural. Thus, the “encampments” or armies” Christ had in view cannot be the singular thing that will be “standing where IT must not. 

But is there any other passage of scripture that refers to the abomination of desolation that Christ had in view in Matt. 24:15? I think so. In Revelation 13:14-15, we read the following concerning a certain individual who is elsewhere referred to by John as the “false prophet” (and who will be acting on behalf of another individual – i.e., the “wild beast” – and the political/religious system that this figure represents and heads up):

And it [the false prophet] is deceiving those dwelling on the earth because of the signs which were given it to do in the sight of the wild beast, saying to those dwelling on the earth to make an image to the wild beast which has the blow of the sword and lives. And it was given to it to give spirit to the image of the wild beast, that the image of the wild beast should be speaking also, and should be causing that whosoever should not be worshiping the image of the wild beast may be killed.

Now, I realize that there are many who will scoff at the idea that any detail found in the above passage should be taken literally, or that what’s being described will be fulfilled at some future time through actual, historical events that will involve the creation and worship of an “image” of some world ruler (or an image connected with the political/religious system headed up by this person). However, if there is anything referred to in the New Testament that could be understood as referring to the “abomination of desolation” that Christ said would be “standing in the holy place,” then the “image of the wild beast” is surely it.

Now, notice that, at some point after the “image of the wild beast” has been made, those who refuse to worship it will begin to be put to death. This fact is alluded to in Revelation 20:4 as well, where we read of the souls of those executed because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who do not worship the wild beast or its image…” The fact that the making of the “image of the wild beast” will lead to the execution of those who refuse to worship it ties right in with the immediate context in which we find the abomination of desolation being referred to by Christ. In Matt. 24:16-22, we read that the setting up of the abomination of desolation in the holy place will be a sign indicating that a time of “great affliction” is about to begin:

Whenever, then, you may be perceiving the abomination of desolation, which is declared through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him who is reading apprehend!); then let those in Judea flee into the mountains...for then shall be great affliction, such as has not occurred from the beginning of the world till now; neither under any circumstances may be occurring. And, except those days were discounted, no flesh at all would be saved. Yet, because of the chosen, those days shall be discounted.

According to Christ’s exhortation in this passage, as soon as those dwelling in Jerusalem and the surrounding area become aware of the “abomination of desolation…standing in the holy place,” they must flee the region. No matter what they happen to be doing at the time, their safety will depend on evacuating the area as quickly as possible and “fleeing into the mountains.” For the setting up of the abomination of desolation in the holy place will mean that a time of “great affliction” is about to begin. So terrible will this time of affliction be that “no flesh at all would be saved” if it were to continue beyond the limit set by God. Moreover, when we let Rev. 13:14-15 inform our understanding of Matt. 24:15-22 (and thus interpret scripture with scripture), it’s reasonable to conclude the following: those who are being admonished to flee into the mountains will consist of believing Jews who, in defiance of the command that will go forth after the abomination of desolation has been set up, will refuse to worship “the image of the beast.”

Another passage from Revelation that I believe sheds light on the event of which Christ was prophesying in Matthew 24:15-22 is Revelation 12:6, 13-16. In these verses we read the following:

And the woman fled into the wilderness, there where she has a place made ready by God, that there they may be nourishing her a thousand two hundred sixty days…And when the dragon perceived that it was cast into the earth, it persecutes the woman who brought forth the male. And given to the woman were the two wings of a large vulture, that she may be flying into the wilderness into her place, there where she is nourished a season, and seasons, and half a season, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent casts water as a river out of its mouth after the woman, that she should be carried away by its current. And the earth helps the woman, and the earth opens its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon casts out of its mouth.

In part two of my 2017 study on Revelation 12 (”Identifying the sun-clothed woman”), I argued that the “sun-clothed woman” being referred to in this passage represents the believing Jewish remnant that will be dwelling in the land of Israel at the time when the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week is reached, and will include the 144,000 referred to in Rev. 7:2-8 (in contrast with this company of believing Israelites, I believe that those referred to in Rev. 12:17 as “the rest of her seed” will be comprised of believing Israelites who will be dwelling outside the land of Israel at this time, and who are described by John as “a vast throng which no one was able to number” in Rev. 7:9). As soon as those comprising this believing Jewish remnant perceive the abomination of desolation “standing in the holy place,” they will heed Christ’s exhortation to flee into the mountains. And in this way, the future event which John saw being symbolically represented by the sun-clothed woman fleeing into the wilderness will be fulfilled.

Here, then, is the chronological sequence of events being prophesied by Christ in Matthew 24:15-22:

1. The “abomination of desolation, declared through Daniel the prophet” will be “standing in the holy place.”
2. Those who heed Christ’s exhortation to quickly escape the city and surrounding region when this event takes place will “flee into the mountains” (where they will be protected for 1,260 days, or 3 ½ years).
3. During this time there shall be “great affliction, such as has not occurred from the beginning of the world till now.”

So what are the implications of this? Well, in light of the above considerations, we can conclude that the events of which Christ prophesied in these verses (and which are symbolically depicted in Revelation 12) have not yet occurred. For since the time that Christ uttered the words recorded in Matthew 24, there has never been an event involving the termination of sacrifice/offering and the setting up of an abominable thing in the holy place that has preceded a time of “great affliction.” There is simply no historical record of this having ever taken place, and no scripture-based reason to believe that it has taken place.

In fact, not only is there no evidence for this event having already occurred, but – in light of what was argued in part two of this study – we can know for a fact that this event is yet to be fulfilled. How so? Well, we know that those Jewish believers who will be “perceiving the abomination of desolation…standing in the holy place” will also go through the time of “great affliction” referred to in v. 21. We also know that this time of great affliction has not yet occurred (since Christ’s “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory” will take place “immediately after” this time of great affliction, and will involve the “deliverance” of the believers who will be living through it; see Luke 21:27-28). From this it logically follows that the prophecy concerning the abomination of desolation in Matt. 24:15 is just as unfulfilled as the coming of Christ itself. Thus, both the “abomination of desolation” and the “holy place” in which it will be standing belong to a yet-future time.

Seated in the Temple of God

In my refutation of preterism in part two, I quoted Revelation 11:1-2 to demonstrate how long the “eras” (or “seasons”) will be during which the nations will be treading Jerusalem after the abomination of desolation comes to be “standing in the holy place.” In addition to revealing this bit of information, these verses also provide us with further confirmation that the Jewish temple is going to be rebuilt before this eon concludes. Here, again, is the passage:

“And a reed like a rod was given me, and one said, “Rouse, measure the temple of God and the altar and those worshiping in it. And the court outside of the temple cast outside, and you should not be measuring it, for it was given to the nations, and the holy city will they be treading forty-two months.

One would, I think, have to perform some pretty impressive interpretive gymnastics of an allegorical nature to view the “temple of God,” the “court outside the temple,” the “altar” and the “holy city” spoken of in these verses as referring to anything other than literal structures and places (which is what a straight-forward, natural reading of the text communicates to the reader). Given the fact that the “temple of God” referred to here should be understood as a reference to a literal building located in the city of Jerusalem (in conjunction with the fact that the period of “forty-two months” during which we’re told the nations will be treading the holy city is still future), these verses provide further evidence for a rebuilt Jewish temple.

With the words of Revelation 11:1-2 kept in mind, the last passage that I want to consider in support of the view that a third Jewish temple is going to be constructed before Christ’s return is 2 Thess. 2:3-4. In these verses we find the following prophecy from Paul:

“No one should be deluding you by any method, for, should not the apostasy be coming first and the man of lawlessness be unveiled, the son of destruction, who is opposing and lifting himself up over everyone termed a god or an object of veneration, so that he is seated in the temple of God, demonstrating that he himself is God?”

As with what we read in Revelation 11:1-2, I submit that the most plain and straightforward meaning of the words “temple of God” in v. 4 is that of a building that’s intended for the worship of the one true God by his covenant people, Israel. Moreover, when we compare Paul’s words here with certain prophetic passages found in Daniel concerning a future wicked world ruler who will exalt himself, blaspheme God and oppress God’s people (e.g., Daniel 7:23-25, 8:9-12 and 11:36-39), Paul’s words harmonize with, and fit right into, this broader prophetic context. Consider, especially, Daniel 11:36-39:

“And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all.”

That Paul had this prophecy from Daniel in view when he wrote what he did concerning the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess. 2:4 seems clear. When we read Paul’s prophecy in light of Daniel’s prophecy, the most reasonable conclusion at which to arrive is that the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thess. 2:3-4 and the “willful king” of Daniel 11:36-39 are one and the same. What’s more, in Daniel’s prophecies concerning this future lawless ruler, the focus is clearly on events that will be transpiring shortly before the kingdom of God is established on the earth (which is to occur at the time of Christ’s eon-terminating return). Both Daniel and Paul also refer to the demise of the lawless ruler (Dan. 7:11, 26; 11:45; 2 Thess. 2:8). There is even compelling evidence from Daniel (especially when read in conjunction with Christ’s words in Matthew 24:15-16) that the wicked world ruler who will be persecuting the saints just prior to Christ’s return will put an end to the daily sacrifice and desecrate the temple in some way reminiscent of what Antiochus IV Epiphanes did shortly before the Maccabean revolt (Dan. 8:9-13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; cf. Matt. 24:15-16) – something which would, of course, be consistent with what we know about the character of the man of lawlessness (as well as where we’re told he’ll be sitting in 2 Thess. 2:4).

These considerations notwithstanding, one fellow believer with whom I’ve discussed this particular passage on a public forum (and to whom I’ll be referring by his initials, R.L.) expressed his disagreement with this interpretation of this passage, and suggested that our understanding of the “temple of God” referred to here should be informed by what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 and 6:19 (where Paul figuratively referred to those in the body of Christ as the “temple of God”). Here is what R.L. wrote:

From my understanding of what God calls a temple of God, my thoughts are this lawless one is indeed standing in the temple (his own body) of God. The lawless one(s) may not know they are a temple of God (some think they are God), but, according to what a temple of God is (humans) described by Paul, they are standing in a temple of God. And the lawless one(s) will continue to stand in a temple of God, calling him/herself God, until God brings him/her into a realization that he/she is in fact the temple of God.”

In contrast with what is said by R.L. in the quotation above, Paul didn’t say that the man of lawlessness will be “standing in the temple of God” (although, assuming he’ll have use of his legs at the time, he’ll probably be “standing” in the temple before he eventually takes his seat in it!). It also seems clear that, in contrast with R.L.’s use of the plural “lawless one(s)” (and the plural pronoun “they”), Paul had a single individual in view in this prophecy. This is evident from the fact that he referred to him as the “man of lawlessness,” the “son of destruction” and the “lawless one,” and used singular personal pronouns (“he” and “himself”).

A bigger problem with R.L.’s view is that, unlike in 2 Thess. 2:4, it’s clear from the context that Paul was using figurative language when he referred to those in the body of Christ as “the temple of God” in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 (cf. Eph. 2:20-22, where similar figurative language is used). Paul wasn’t, of course, redefining the expression “the temple of God” here (no more so than he was redefining the word “body” when he figuratively referred to the believers to whom he wrote as “the body of Christ”). Rather, Paul was simply using metaphorical language to express the idea that believers are like the temple of God (in that we, like the temple of God, are holy, and are indwelled by God’s spirit). Similarly, in 1 Cor. 6:19, Paul makes it clear that he’s referring to each believer’s literal body (i.e., the “organic substance” that constitutes us as human beings) as a “temple of the holy spirit.” As with Ephesians 2:20-22, there is no question that Paul was using metaphorical language in these verses to refer to something other than the literal building in Jerusalem that was, at that time, being used by the Jews to worship God.

Moreover, although R.L. seems to believe that humans, in general, can figuratively be considered a “temple of God,” this view cannot be derived from what Paul wrote in these passages. What makes the figurative “temple of God” imagery of 1 Corinthians 3 and 6 appropriate and true is that Paul had believers/saints in view, and not humans in general. Not all human beings are “holy” or have God’s holy spirit in them in the sense of which Paul wrote in these passages; rather, the “holy spirit” that Paul had in view in these verses is something that is, at present, “making its home” in believers only (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Gal. 3:2, 14; etc.). And assuming that Paul did have in view a person’s spirit-indwelled body when he referred to the “temple of God” in 2 Thess. 2:4, then what does it even mean to say that the man of lawlessness will be “seated in” his own holy spirit-indwelled body? I’m sitting down right now as I type this, but I would never think of (or refer to) myself as “sitting in my own body.” Not only would that be a highly unusual and bizarre way of speaking, it really doesn’t make any sense. Or even assuming that the “temple of God” in 2 Thess. 2:4 is a figurative (and enigmatic) reference to believers, collectively, what does it even mean to say that a certain lawless man will, at some future time, be “seated in” believers, collectively, and demonstrating that he himself is God? Again, such an interpretation not only requires that one disregard the larger prophetic context in which Paul wrote what he did in these verses, but it doesn’t even make sense.

I would be more sympathetic to R.L.’s interpretation of Paul’s words in 2 Thess. 2:3-4 here if it actually served to clarify, and make better sense of, what Paul wrote here. However, this it does not do. Rather than bringing clarity to the meaning of what Paul wrote, R.L.’s interpretation only results in head-scratching confusion. The ordinary, straightforward meaning of what Paul wrote makes perfectly good sense (and to quote David Cooper, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense”). In contrast with what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 or 6:19, no such qualification or explanation is to be found in 2 Thess. 2:4 concerning the nature of the “temple of God” that Paul had in view. There are no contextual indicators provided by Paul in 2 Thessalonians (either in the immediate or broader context of this letter) that would lead one to believe that Paul was referring to either believers collectively or to their bodies when he referred to the “temple of God” in which the “man of lawlessness” will be “seated.” And without such contextual indicators, I submit that it’s far more reasonable to understand Paul to have had in view the same sort of temple of which we read in (for example) Matthew 21:12, 23:21, Acts 2:46, 3:1, 5:42 and Revelation 11:1-2. Moreover, as already noted, the immediate context in which 2 Thessalonians 2:4 occurs clearly has far more in common with the prophetic, “eschatological” context in which the “temple of God” is referred to in Revelation 11:1-2 than it does with what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 or 6:19.

In conjunction with the above considerations, the last point I want to make is this: if the position for which I argued in part one of my study on the timing of the snatching away in relation to the 70th week of Daniel is sound, then the spirit-indwelled believers who constitute the body of Christ will not even be present on the earth when the “man of lawlessness” is unveiled. As I argued in this study, the “era” that will commence with the lawless one’s unveiling is the “day of the Lord,” and the saints in the body of Christ are going to be snatched away to meet the Lord in the air before this era of divine indignation arrives. Thus, those that Paul figuratively referred to as the “temple of God” in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 will not even be present on the earth when the man of lawlessness is unveiled, and later takes his seat “in the temple of God, demonstrating that he himself is God.”


Why I believe there’s going to be a future “abomination of desolation” in a rebuilt Jewish temple (Part Two)

A Refutation of Preterism

In addition to the objections to which I responded in the previous installment of this study, there are some Christians who think that all (or most) of the prophesied events that I believe to be relevant to the subject of a rebuilt temple and the “abomination of desolation” actually occurred during the events surrounding the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. In fact, some readers may find it surprising that, shortly after I came to a realization of the truth of Paul’s gospel and the salvation of all (which was in the early 2000’s), I myself believed this to be the case, and – for a couple of years, at least – counted myself among those who hold to the “eschatological position commonly referred to as “preterism.”

The reasons I had for holding to this doctrinal view at that time were varied and, in some ways, rather complex (although this fact didn’t prevent me from attempting to persuade others of my position on various occasions). However, the reason I was originally drawn to the preterist position is pretty simple, and could be summarized as follows: After coming to believe in the truth of the salvation of all, I found myself drawn to books on the subject that were written by 19th century American Universalists (such as Walter Balfour, Thomas Whittemore, Hosea Ballou, Thomas Thayer and Sylvanus Cobb). And according to the view of these “early modern” believers in the salvation of all, every prophesied event in the New Testament except the salvation of all had already been fulfilled (or was in the process of being fulfilled). Given my admiration and appreciation for these early pioneers of the truth of universal salvation in the United States (as well as an understandable suspicion of anything smacking of “mainstream” Christian theology), it was only natural that I became sympathetic toward – and eventually came to adopt – their eschatological position.

Fortunately, I eventually came to suspect that something was amiss with how I was interpreting much of scriptural prophecy, and began to reevaluate what I believed on this subject. Around this time I was introduced to the writings of A.E. Knoch and others associated with the “Concordant Publishing Concern” (along with related groups/ministries), and came to realize that my prior method of interpreting scripture (if one could even call it a “method”) was inconsistent and arbitrary. After coming to adopt a more consistent method of interpreting scripture (which is commonly known as the “grammatical-historical method”), I began to seek to understand what an inspired author wrote according to the plain, ordinary and straightforward meaning of what was being communicated unless I had good reason to believe that figures of speech were being used, or that the speaker/author intended something to be understood in a way other than how it would normally or ordinarily be understood. In other words, I came to believe that we should approach scripture just as we approach other forms of non-fiction literature, and should seek to understand it in accord with the normal rules of communication.[1]

This interpretive methodology proved devastating to the eschatological position to which I’d previously held. I was no longer able to just sweep prophetic passages under the rug of “highly figurative language” just because the event being prophesied didn’t fit with anything that had already occurred in history, or explain away portions of scripture that I’d found puzzling (such as nearly two-thirds of the book of Ezekiel) by appealing to some “allegorical meaning” that I figured it had to have. And so, when I arrived at Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24:26-31 (which is part of his so-called Olivet Discourse), I couldn’t simply dismiss his inspired words as being some sort of “highly figurative” reference to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (or any other historical event). In these verses we read the following:

“If, then, they should say to you, ‘Lo! in the wilderness is he!’ you may not be coming out; ‘Lo! in the storerooms!’ you should not be believing it. For even as the lightning is coming out from the east and is appearing as far as the west, thus shall be the presence of the Son of Mankind. Wheresoever the corpse may be, there will the vultures be gathered.

Now immediately after the affliction of those days the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not be giving her beams, and the stars shall be falling from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Mankind in heaven, and then all the tribes of the land shall grieve, and they shall see the Son of Mankind coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory. And He shall be dispatching His messengers with a loud sounding trumpet, and they shall be assembling His chosen from the four winds, from the extremities of the heavens to their extremities.”

That Christ had in mind a personal, bodily coming and presence is evident from the fact that he contrasted the event referred to in v. 27 and 30 with certain hypothetical statements of false teachers/prophets (who are represented as falsely claiming that Christ is present in some hidden location). Unlike what these false prophets are represented as claiming, Christ’s presence will not be hidden, or secret. Following the occurrence of the celestial signs referred to in v. 29, there will be no need for anyone to go to some secret location in the wilderness (or “in the storerooms”) to verify that Christ’s coming has, in fact, taken place. Instead, Christ’s presence will be just as visible as when ”the lightning is coming out from the east and is appearing as far as the west.” Christ’s coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory will be an obvious and undeniable fact when it takes place.

Further confirmation that the coming of Christ referred to in this passage will be an event involving the bodily presence of Christ and his physical return to earth is found in Acts 1:9-11:

And saying these things, while they are looking, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him up from their eyes. And as they were looking intently into heaven at His going, lo! two men stand beside them in white attire, who say also, “Men! Galileans! Why do you stand, looking into heaven? This Jesus Who is being taken up from you into heaven shall come thus, in the manner in which you gaze at Him going into heaven.

Christ ascended bodily into heaven and – according to the promise of the messengers – he will come “in the manner in which” the disciples gazed at him “going into heaven.” Now, let’s compare the words of the messengers with the following words of Peter in Acts 3:20-21 (which, in v. 12, we’re specifically told were directed toward “Israelites”):

“Repent, then, and turn about for the erasure of your sins, so that seasons of refreshing should be coming from the face of the Lord, and He should dispatch the One fixed upon before you, Christ Jesus, Whom heaven must indeed receive until the times of restoration of all which God speaks through the mouth of his holy prophets who are from the eon.

Based on the words, “heaven must indeed receive him until,” some have erroneously assumed that this coming of Christ refers to the same event as that which we find referred to by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:16 (where we read that “the Lord himself shall be descending from heaven with a shout of command…”). However, as in Acts 1:11, the “heaven” referred to by Peter in v. 21 should be understood as including the atmosphere above the earth that is visible to humans (cf. Acts 2:2, 5, 19; 4:24; 7:55; 9:3; 10:12; 11:6; 22:6; etc.). Thus, in Acts 3:21, “heaven” should be understood as referring to (or at least as necessarily including) this relatively large expanse above the earth. Understood in this way, the coming of Christ which Peter had in mind here will not be fulfilled until after Christ has returned to earth (as prophesied in Zechariah 14:4).

In contrast with this fact, the “heaven” to which Paul was referring in 1 Thess. 4:16 is the location from which Christ will be descending, and is thus to be understood as distinct from the cloud-filled, atmospheric location to which we’re told Christ will be descending (and where all in the body of Christ will be meeting him after we’ve being snatched away from the earth). The location from which Christ will be descending prior to the “meeting in the air” should, therefore, be understood as the realm in which Christ is presently located (i.e., the “highest heaven,” where Christ is seated at the right hand of God).[1] Thus, there’s no good reason to equate the coming of Christ to which Peter was referring in Acts 3:20-21 with that which was being prophesied by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-17.

Peter’s prophecy that Christ will be dispatched from God and return to earth after Israel has repented echoes an earlier prophecy from Christ himself in Matthew 23:37-39 (which he declared shortly before his Olivet Discourse in chapter 24):

“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! who art killing the prophets and pelting with stones those who have been dispatched to her! How many times do I want to assemble your children in the manner a hen is assembling her brood under her wings-and you will not! Lo! left is your house to you desolate. For I am saying to you: You may by no means be perceiving Me henceforth, till you should be saying, ‘Blessed is He Who is coming in the name of the Lord!’

According to Christ’s prophecy in this passage, it is not until after Israel has repented and come to embrace Jesus as the Messiah (thus recognizing him as the one who “is coming in the name of the Lord”) that they will be perceiving him again. Until this time comes, “heaven must indeed receive” Christ.

Other verses in which this future coming of Christ are referred to could be provided, but the above prophecies should suffice. There’s simply no good reason to understand the coming of Christ referred to by Christ in Matt. 24:30 and that which was referred to by the messengers in Acts 1:11 (and by Peter in Acts 3:20-21) as two separate events. And since the coming of Christ referred to in Acts 1:11 and 3:20-21 is clearly one that will involve Christ descending to the earth with the same immortal, glorified body with which he ascended to heaven, it follows that the coming of Christ prophesied in Matt. 24:30 has not yet occurred.

In light of these considerations, we can conclude that the coming of Christ “on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory” prophesied in Matt. 24:30 did not take place in 70 AD. Instead, this event belongs just as much to the future as the event prophesied by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:51-52, Phil 3:21 and 1 Thess. 4:15-17 (i.e., Christ’s coming for the body of Christ, which – as I’ve argued elsewhere – will be occurring at least seven years before the eon-concluding return of Christ to earth that we find prophesied in Matthew 24).

Moreover, since Christ also prophesied that his “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory” would be witnessed by those who see the preceding celestial/atmospheric signs referred to in verse 29[2] – and since these signs will be taking place immediately after the affliction of those days” (v. 29) – it must further be concluded that the time of “great affliction” that Christ had in view in verses 15-22 is future as well. It would be unreasonable and absurd to believe that the “affliction of those days” was fulfilled in 70 AD while, at the same time, believing that the coming of Christ referred to in v. 30 is a yet-to-occur future event. Such an interpretation of Christ’s words would either entail that Christ was completely mistaken, or would empty the words “immediately after” of any intelligible, understandable meaning. Consider the following argument:

1. The coming of Christ referred to in Matthew 24:30 is a future event.
2. This future event (which will be witnessed by those who see the preceding celestial signs) will occur “immediately after” the days of “great affliction” referred to in Matt. 24:15-22.
3. The days of “great affliction” referred to in Matt. 24:15-22 did not occur in the first century (or at any subsequent time).

It’s common among preterists to claim that the scenarios referred to by Christ in Matthew 25:15-21 do not make sense outside of a first-century context. However, there’s no good reason to believe this. In modern-day Israel, many of the houses in the old city of Jerusalem have retained many of the features of first-century Israel (including a flat roof on which people can walk and perform other activities). It is just as possible today for people to navigate across the old city by walking on the housetops as it was in Christ’s day (however, it should be noted that Christ’s point is not that anyone will, in fact, be on their roof when the event referred to in v. 15 takes place; rather, he’s simply giving instructions on what to do if one happens to be on one’s roof, in order to emphasize the urgency of the situation).

Concerning Christ’s words about the difficulty with which pregnant and nursing mothers will have at this time, this would be just as true today as it would’ve been in antiquity. It would be no less challenging for a pregnant or nursing mother to quickly escape the city of Jerusalem and “flee into the mountains” today than it would’ve been 2,000 years ago. Similarly, escaping from the city and the surrounding area in the winter or on a Sabbath would only increase the difficulty of the escape because of the added restrictions that these times pose. The winter in Israel is the rainy season, which increases the hazards of navigating the Judean hills and mountainous terrain to which Christ exhorted people to flee (the creeks and rivers would provide an obstacle not present during other seasons).

As far as fleeing the city of Jerusalem on the Sabbath, it should be noted that there was never a written prohibition against travelling on the Sabbath (Christ traveled and did sacred work on the Sabbath and he, of course, kept the law of God completely). However, in present-day Jerusalem, normal business/communication is shutdown on this day, creating additional travel restrictions that would not be in force on the other six days of the week (and which would pose a real problem to the observant Jew). In addition to all public offices, banks, and most stores and businesses being closed, public transportation (i.e., trains and buses) do not operate on the Sabbath.[3]

But what about what Christ declared in Matt. 24:32-34? In these verses we read the following:

“Now from the fig tree learn a parable: Whenever its bough may already be becoming tender, and the leaves sprouting out, you know that summer is near. Thus you, also, whenever you may be perceiving all these things, know that He is near–at the doors. Verily, I am saying to you that by no means may this generation be passing by till all these things should be occurring.”

The point of Christ’s “fig tree” parable is simply this: just as one could know that summer was near when the bough of a fig tree became tender and the leaves began sprouting, so one can know that Christ’s return is near when one begins perceiving all the things of which Christ prophesied in the Olivet Discourse (understood in this way, the term “near” implies that the coming of Christ will be occurring within the lifetime of those who will be “perceiving all these things”). But what about verse 34? Wouldn’t a “futurist” interpretation of the Olivet Discourse make Christ mistaken for saying that “this generation” wouldn’t be “passing by till all these things should be occurring?”

When I was a preterist, I considered Matt. 24:34 to be a “knock-down argument” against the futurist interpretation. If “all these things” referred to by Christ didn’t occur before the generation to which his disciples belonged passed away, then Christ would’ve been mistaken (or so I thought). Since I didn’t believe Christ was mistaken, I concluded – like all consistent preterists – that everything concerning which Christ prophesied in the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the first century. However, what I failed to consider at this time was the fact that the words “this generation” don’t necessarily refer to the generation that was alive on the earth when Christ was speaking to his disciples. Instead, the words “this generation” can simply be understood to mean, “the generation of which I’m speaking.”

According to this understanding, “this generation” simply refers to the generation that Christ believed would “be perceiving all these things” (v. 33). In other words, the generation that sees the commencement of the “beginning of pangs” (v. 8) – and which will later perceive “the abomination of desolation…standing in the holy place” (v. 15) – will be the same generation that sees the celestial signs referred to in v. 29, and the subsequent eon-concluding coming of Christ referred to in v. 30. Thus, the generation that Christ referred to as “this generation” in v. 34 is the generation that will be alive on the earth when “all” of the things of which he prophesied in this discourse “should be occurring.” And since all of the things of which Christ prophesied in this discourse have not yet occurred, it follows logically that the generation which will see “all these things” take place was not in existence when Christ spoke to his disciples on the Mount of Olives.

Consider the following argument:

1. Christ’s ”coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory” is part of the “all things” that Christ believed would be occurring before the “passing by” of the generation that he had in view in Matt. 24:34.
2. The coming of Christ on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory has not yet occurred.
3. The generation of which Christ was speaking in Matt. 24:34 has not yet passed by.

Preterists, therefore, have it completely backwards when they attempt to use Matt. 24:34 to support their position. Rather than starting with the assumption that the generation that Christ had in view must’ve been the one to which his disciples belonged (and then concluding that the coming of Christ referred to in Matt. 24:30 must’ve already occurred), we ought to start with the premise that the coming of Christ referred to in Matt. 24:30 has not yet occurred, and then conclude that the generation which Christ had in view has not yet passed by (and, therefore, wasn’t the generation to which his disciples belonged).

Preterists sometimes point to Christ’s use of the pronoun “you” in verses 33-34 (and which also occurs throughout the Olivet Discourse) and claim that Christ must have believed that the disciples to whom he spoke would witness the occurrence of the events being foretold in this discourse. However, it was not uncommon for prophets to address their contemporaries as if they would be among those to witness the fulfillment of a prophecy being revealed to them, even when the actual fulfillment of the prophecy would not be occurring until thousands of years later (see, for example, Deut. 18:14-19 [cf. Acts 3:19-26; 7:37] and Deut. 30:1-6). Thus, as with the “this generation” argument, this argument also fails to provide evidence for a past fulfillment of the prophecies found in Christ’s Olivet Discourse.

Another common strategy used by preterists involves an appeal to Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse. In Luke 21:20-24, we read:

“Now whenever you may be perceiving Jerusalem surrounded by encampments, then know that her desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee into the mountains, and let those in her midst be coming out into the country, and let not those in the country be entering into her, for days of vengeance are these, to fulfill all that is written. Yet woe to those who are pregnant, and to those suckling in those days; for there will be great necessity in the land and indignation on this people. And they shall be falling by the edge of the sword and shall be led into captivity into all nations. And Jerusalem shall be trodden by the nations, until the eras of the nations may be fulfilled.”

Although some would disagree that the above passage refers to the same time period as that which we find prophesied in Matthew 24:15-22, I think it’s reasonable to believe that these passages are, in fact, parallel. In any case, I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that these passages are referring to the same general time period. If they are (as I believe them to be), it can be inferred that, in v. 20, Christ was providing his followers with another sign to look for that is distinct from, but related to, the setting up of the abomination of desolation in the holy place (although it's a common belief among preterists that the surrounding of Jerusalem by encampments” or armies is the “abomination of desolation” referred to by Christ in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, I'll be demonstrating why this view is mistaken in the next installment of this study). Apparently, around the time that the abomination of desolation will come to be standing in the holy place, there will be military forces surrounding Jerusalem (perhaps in anticipation of what's about to occur in the temple, and the negative response it will inevitably provoke from the Jewish people). 

Now, preterists believe that the same time period is in view in both Matthew 24:15-22 and Luke 21:20-24 (i.e., the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD). But this means that the preterist's interpretation of Luke 21:20-24 runs into the same exact problem as their interpretation of Matt. 24:15-22. For, as already noted, the celestial signs preceding Christ’s coming “on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory” will occur “immediately after the affliction of those days” (Matthew 24:29-30). Since the celestial signs that will be occurring at this time will be seen by those who will witness the coming of Christ referred to in Matthew 24:29-30 and Luke 21:25-27 – and since this event did not occur in 70 AD – we must conclude that the events being foretold by Christ in Luke 21:22-24 have not yet occurred.

Rather than being a prophecy concerning the events of 70 AD, I believe that Luke 21:20-24 foretells a yet-future event that had earlier been prophesied in the book of Zechariah. In Zech. 13:8-9 and 14:1-4, we read: 

And it will come to be that in all the land, averring is Yahweh, two divisions in it shall be cut off and shall decease. Yet the third shall be left in it. And I will bring the third into the fire. And I will refine them as silver is refined. And I will test them as gold is tested. It shall call in My Name, and I shall answer it. I will say, ‘My people is it.’ And it will say, ‘Yahweh is my Elohim.’ Behold, a day is coming for Yahweh, and your loot will be apportioned among you. Yet I will gather all nations to Jerusalem for battle, and the city will be seized, and the houses rifled, and the women, they shall be ravished. And half the city will go forth into deportation. Yet the rest of my people, they shall not be cut off from the city. Then Yahweh will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights in a day of attack. And His feet will stand in that day on the Mount of Olives, Which is adjoining Jerusalem on the east.” 

The striking similarities between the above passages from Zechariah 14 and Luke 21 cannot be mere coincidence. Both passages describe Jerusalem as coming under siege and being occupied by the enemy forces coming against it. In Zechariah 14:2 those coming against Jerusalem are explicitly said to be “all the nations,” whereas in Luke 21:20 the involvement of all nations at this time can be inferred from the verses that follow. Both passages foretell that many of Jerusalem’s citizens will be forcefully removed from the city. Both passages also end with a description of events that will take place at the conclusion of the eon, when Christ returns to establish the kingdom of God on the earth. Given these shared prophetic facts, a reasonable conclusion to draw would be that both passages are referring to the same future time period.

Moreover, it’s clear from Zechariah’s prophecy that the event being described will take place during the future day of the Lord. In this passage the day of the Lord is referred to as “a day coming for Yahweh,” and is then repeatedly referred to in the remainder of the chapter as “that day” (significantly, this “day” includes events which will clearly take place during the eon to come; see Zech. 14:8-21). From this fact alone we can conclude that the events prophesied by Christ in Luke 21:20-24 (which we’re explicitly told by Christ will involve “indignation”) will take place during the earlier part of the day of the Lord – specifically, during the final 3½ years of Daniel’s 70th week. It is the same period referred to by Christ as “the day in which the Son of Mankind is unveiled” (Luke 17:22-37).

That Luke 21:20-24 (and thus Zech. 14:1-2) refers to the future 3½ years of “great affliction” is further confirmed by what Christ said concerning Jerusalem’s being “trodden down by the nations, until the eras of the nations may be fulfilled (Luke 21:24). The word translated “eras” in this verse is kairoi, which is the plural form of the word kairos’ (“seasons,” or “appointed times”). When we compare Christ’s words in v. 24 with what John wrote in Revelation 11:1-2, we find just how long the “eras” during which the nations will tread the city of Jerusalem will last: “And a reed like a rod was given me, and one said, “Rouse, measure the temple of God and the altar and those worshiping in it. And the court outside of the temple cast outside, and you should not be measuring it, for it was given to the nations, and the holy city will they be treading forty-two months.

Here we discover that the “eras” or “seasons” during which Jerusalem will be trodden down by the nations will constitute a period of 3 ½ years. This same period of time is also in view in Rev. 12:6, where it’s said to be the number of days that the “woman” (i.e., the Jewish remnant) will be nourished in the wilderness after fleeing the city and surrounding area. In Rev. 12:14 this same period of time is referred to as “a season, and seasons, and half a season” (with the words translated “season” and “seasons” being kairos’ and kairoi, respectively), and likewise refers to a period of time lasting forty-two months, or 3 ½ years. We also know that this will be the exact period of time during which the “wild beast” will have authority to “do what it wills,” which will involve blaspheming God as well as violently persecuting and “conquering” the saints (Rev. 13:5-7).

Not only is the forty-two month time frame prophesied in Rev. 11:1-2 inconsistent with the “ongoing fulfillment” view that’s commonly applied to Luke 21:24 (according to which the “eras of the nations” have lasted nearly 2,000 years), but it’s contrary to the past fulfillment view of preterists as well. We know from history that Titus controlled Jerusalem completely after only six months of siege, from February to August of 70 AD (and, of course, no coming of Christ ”on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory” occurred “immediately after” this period of time).





[1] Concerning the heaven from which Christ will be descending at the time of the snatching away (which is not to be equated with either earth’s atmosphere or “outer space”), we read the following in Hebrews 8:1-5 and 9:23-24:

“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man…Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

Moreover, if the “heaven” referred to by Peter in Acts 3:21 is to be understood as referring exclusively to the transcendent realm in which Christ is presently located at God’s right hand, then it would mean that Peter’s prophecy concerning the “times of restoration” was fulfilled when Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6; 22:6-10; cf. 1 Cor. 15:8). But that’s clearly not the case. And given this fact, what we read in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 is perfectly consistent with the view that the coming of Christ for his body (which I believe to be imminent) is distinct from Christ’s eon-terminating return to earth, and will not involve the commencement of the “times of restoration of all which God speaks through the mouth of His holy prophets who are from the eon.” For at the time of the snatching away, there is no indication that Christ will descend any further than the highest point in which clouds may be found. 

[2] It’s common for preterists to claim that the prophecy concerning stars “falling from heaven” must involve figurative language. However, the term translated “stars” can also refer to comets or meteors (i.e., “falling stars” or “shooting stars”). Understood as a reference to this kind of literal atmospheric phenomena, it’s reasonable to conclude that, in conjunction with the darkening of the sun and the moon just prior to Christ’s coming, a great meteor shower will also take place.

[3] See, for example, the information and advice provided on the following tourism webpage: https://www.touristisrael.com/shabbat-in-jerusalem/11023/. Another thing to consider is that, if this is how things are now (when there is no temple) imagine how much stricter it will become after a third temple begins to be built in Jerusalem, and the sacrificial system is reinstituted. The zeal for Torah-keeping (both written and oral) among the Jews dwelling in Israel at this time will probably be more intense than it has ever been since the first century.