Religious history is filled with date-setters. William Miller, a member of what later became the Seventh Day Adventist, was one such. In 1843 he set a date for the Lord’s return. The predicted year of His return was to be 1844. The year 1844 came and went, but Jesus did not return. He then set a date in 1845 for the Lord’s return. People sold their homes and farms. They quit their jobs. They climbed to the tops of trees, hills, and barns and sat and waited for the Lord’s appearance. He didn’t come. Many of these, with their faith broken, never trusted in God again.
Another date-setter was Charles T. Russell of the Jehovah Witnesses. He set the date for the Lord’s return to be October 1914. October 1914 came and went without the Lord’s return. He then changed the date to 1918. He was wrong again.
In my office I have a book entitled, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988” (by Edgar C. Whisenant). I do think the writer missed it. No doubt, he also shattered many’s belief in God. They think God let them down!
One of the key chapters that these date-setters appeal to is Matthew 24 (along with parallel accounts in Mark 13 and Luke 21). In this article, we wish to examine briefly, but carefully, this chapter.
I submit to you that Matthew 24:1-35 concerns not the end of time, but the fall of Jerusalem. Consider this: (1) All spoken of up to this point was to occur in that generation (Matthew 24:34). (2) Matthew 24:16 speaks of fleeing to the mountains for safety. What good would this do at the end of time? At the end of time, fleeing to the mountains would do you no good. The mountains will be burned up with fervent heat, in that day (2 Peter 3:10-11). (3) Whatever day is spoken of, we know that it would be especially difficult to flee to safety in the mountains if it was in the winter, if one had a small child, or was pregnant, or if it were in a Sabbath day (Matthew 24:19-20). What difference could these things possibly make if we are speaking if the end of this earth? But, if we are speaking of physically fleeing the city of Jerusalem before it fell, such would make a difference (i.e. – the city gates were closed on the Sabbath Nehemiah 13:19-22; on women with children, compare with Luke 23:28-29). (4) The disciples questions do seem to concern the Temple and Jerusalem’s fall (Matthew 24:1-3; Mark 13:1-4; Luke 21:5-7).
Next, Jesus sets forth various Pseudo / or weak signs. (1) False Christs (Matthew 24:4-5). Josephus and others of old claim that many such did come forth prior to Jerusalem’s fall. The Bible also hints at such (Acts 5:34-37; Acts 21:38). If this is a sign of the end of time, it is not much of a sign, for many have claimed over the years to be such (e.g. David Koresh). (2) Wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6). At the time the word of Matthew 24 were spoken, the world had relative peace. But, Roman internal difficulties would soon come. Four emperors (Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) would come and go within 18 months. Strife and uprisings would soon cost 20,000 Jews their lives at Caesarea; 13,000 Jews would be killed by soldiers at Scythopolis; 50,000 Jews were killed in an uprising in Alexandria; another 10,000 would die similarly in Damascus. Caligula demanded that his statue be erected in the Jewish Temple. When they refused, he threatened war (the war never happened though historians differ as to whether it was diplomacy or his death that prevented such). They were not to be disturbed by such things, and neither should we be. If one is looking at wars, and rumors of wars being a signal for the Lord’s return, he indeed has the weakest of signs. There have been more than 290 major wars known in human history. In fact, it is said that in the last 3,421 years of human history, only 268 have seen no war! (3) Natural disasters (Matthew 24:7). There certainly were many such occurrences from 30 – 70 A.D.. In those years there were great earthquakes in Crete, Rome, Phrygia, Laodicea, and all over Asia Minor. Pestilence occurred in the days of Claudius Caesar; 30,000 Romans suffered death. Famines also occurred between 30 and 70 A.D. (see Acts 11:28; Romans 15:26). These things were at best weak signs to those alive then (Matt. 24:6, 8). (4) Persecutions of Christians (Matt. 24:9). Surely I do not need to detail the scriptural references to demonstrate that this did occur prior to 70 A.D. (the year of Jerusalem’s fall). Why anyone would want to look for fulfillment of these things 19 or 20 centuries later is a mystery to me. It is shocking, a shocking disregard of history. All of these things have occurred long, long ago.
Now, we move to the true / or strange signs Jesus gave. (1) The Gospel would be preached to all of the world (Matt. 24:14). Has this occurred? Indeed, it has! In fact, it was fulfilled as early as 63 A.D. (Colossians 1:23, also se: Colossians 1:6; Romans 1:8; Romans 16:26). This did occur prior to Jerusalem’s fall. (2) The Abomination of Desolation (Matthew 24:15-16; cf. 23:38). Admittedly this language could be difficult. But, things become rather simple when we go to the parallel record of Luke 21:20. The reference is to the Roman army surrounding the city (such was an abomination to the Jews). This has occurred many generations ago. We need not look beyond the events prior to 70 A.D..
It seems to me that in Matthew 24:23-26, Jesus warns that even Jerusalem’s fall and the events preceding it does not mean that Christ is actually returning to this physical earth. “Believe it not,” He says Matthew 24:23, 26.
Bryan, doesn’t Matt. 24:27-30 refer to Christ’s second coming? No! it is clear by comparing the language here with the prophetic writings of Isaiah 13;19; 34; Ezekiel 32; Joel 2 etc. This is merely prophetic language referring to the downfall of nations.
But, someone says, “It speaks of Christ’s coming” (Matthew 24:30). Yes, yes it does; but, this does not prove the reference is to the final coming. There have been various comings mentioned in scripture: (1) There was the first coming, when He came to live among men (John 1:11; 10:11; Luke 19:10); (2) Another coming occurred on Pentecost (Matthew 16:28); (3) A coming in Judgment is spoken of to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 2:16; 3:20); (4) And here, in Matthew 24:30, His coming is a reference to His coming in Judgment upon Jerusalem.
Another says, “Well, it does talk of salvation” (Matthew 24:13). Yes, the reference though is not to spiritual salvation. But, it is a promise of physical salvation to all who would remain true and faithful to Him. Look at Matthew 24:16. Just as the faithful of Noah’s day were saved, even so, were the people of that day who remained faithful. God was providentially with them. Not one Christian died in Jerusalem’s fall. If one would read carefully Luke 21:17-21, it is apparent that the reference is to physical salvation.