Matthew 24 - When Shall These Things Be?
*Updated with a correction (the last book of the Hebrew canon is 2 Chronicles)
Though in the past I heard and accepted pre-tribulational rapture teachings, I have since renounced that belief, as I have written. While some individuals major on eschatological events, it is not something I have spent much time on, until recently. There are many false teachings in the world related to salvation, sin, and suffering, and I have spent years studying soteriology and then theodicy. My studies have led me to search out the truths of eschatology, and as someone that values truth over conformity, I have found myself moving away from even more of the futuristic interpretations. For example, I have had doubts about the popular understanding of the Beast of the Book of Revelation and the mark of the beast. I have found it implausible that taking the mark of the beast is a one time event in which all people are forced to choose between submitting to God or taking a physical mark so they can buy, sell, and trade. It has seemed more likely to me that the mark of the Beast corresponds to the mark of God, also referred to in the Book of Revelation. Speaking of the mark of the Beast or the mark of God is symbolic speech for the allegiance that characterizes someone's life. No, I do not think there will be microchips implanted in foreheads or hands, I think that people every day are choosing to submit to the world system or to God, taking on the mark of the Beast or the mark of God by their behavior. By the fruit of their lives they are known. Be that as it may, I consider this to only be an application of the writings of John in the Book of Revelation, for I find it most likely that the majority of the Book of Revelation was in the future for John, but is now history for us. Moreover, though I have previously accepted the futurist interpretation of Matthew 24, and have written about it, through further investigation I consider the events of Matthew 24:1-35 to have been in the future for the Lord’s listeners, but that they are now in the past.
I don’t remember what initially set me down this trail, but I recall hearing the preaching of Chuck Baldwin as he pointed to the idolatry of Zionism, and this led me to read more of his writings and to listen to more of his preaching. He too held to pre-tribulational rapture teachings for decades, but he has rejected it as false teaching. He has also repudiated the futuristic interpretation of Matthew 24. I haven’t heard him use the terms “preterism” or “partial preterism” to describe his views, but these terms signify the belief that all of the so-called end time events have been fulfilled (preterism) or that most of them have been fulfilled, but not all (partial preterism), for we are waiting on the Lord’s return. I accept the latter. We have our doctrinal differences, but Pastor Baldwin’s preaching made much sense to me on this topic. Since that time I have read portions of Victorious Eschatology, a book written by Harold Eberle and Martin Trench in which the two men, who also held to the pre-tribulational rapture teaching in the past, now argue that partial preterism is the biblically consistent view. Their breakdown of Matthew 24 and explanations throughout the book are impressive, and quite convincing. Like Baldwin, they point to the fact that the pre-tribulational teachings of the Church were introduced by John Darby and popularized by the CI Scofield “Study Bible.” They also refer to the writings of Christians in history (John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Origen, and others) and how their interpretations align with the partial preterist understanding of the scriptures.
Eberle and Trench start out by looking at the three questions the disciples ask the Lord Jesus in Matthew 24:3.
“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, (1) when shall these things be? and (2) what shall be the sign of thy coming, and (3) of the end of the world?” (numbers added)
According to Eberle and Trench, the Lord answers their first question in Matthew 24:4-28, their second question in Matthew 24:29-35, and their third question in Matthew 24:36 – 25:46. The Lord declared to the religious leaders that the judgment for the blood of every righteous person from Abel to Zechariah (Genesis to 2 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew canon) would come upon them and on their generation. I believe the Lord meant what he said. The Book goes on to explain how verses 4-28 describe the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. I won’t go into all of the explanations at this time, but I encourage anyone who is interested to read the book. The explanation of the Roman Empire, ruled by Nero, being the Beast of Revelation is especially convincing as it relates to the reign of terror of Nero for 42 months (Revelation 13:5) (Nero reigned from the middle of November in AD 64 to the beginning of June in AD 68 - then he committed suicide) and the numerical value of his name (Revelation 13:18).
In summary, I believe the only events we are waiting for are the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection, and the catching up of the resurrected and living saints to meet the Lord in the air, at which time we will immediately accompany him back to the earth for the millennial reign. I do not believe that we are waiting on a certain antichrist to appear, or that we are to be looking for certain signs (wars, famines, earthquakes, etc.) or that the Church will be raptured before a time of Great Tribulation on the earth, and I do not affirm that the modern day State of Israel is the Israel of the Bible. Certainly, some of these teachings have application to our time, for there are many antichrists, there are warmongers aplenty, food shortages arise, and we must deal with disasters, however, I consider the teachings of Matthew 24:1-35 and most of the Book of Revelation to have been future events for the writers and their immediate audience, but as of today, the specific events are in the past.
Though the people of God have faced many tribulations over the centuries, and will continue to face tribulation until the Lord returns, I believe the specific tribulation period referred to in the scriptures took place in the past when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70, within a generation of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:34). The tribulation was a judgment visited upon the unbelieving Jews for their sins and rejection of their Messiah (Matthew 23:35; Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). The judgment on the Jewish nation was executed by the Roman armies - "the abomination of desolation” spoken of by Daniel the prophet. As for the Book of Revelation, it appears that much of what was written, while having application for Christians since that time, had to do with Rome, the Caesars (particularly the tyrant Nero) and their persecution of Christians. From today’s perspective, Revelation deals with past judgment upon the Jews in chapters 7-11(fulfilling Matt. 21:33-43 and Matt. 23:34-38), then the past judgment of the Roman Empire in chapters 12-14 (the destruction of Rome occurred in AD 410 and the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476), then the future judgment of the whole world in chapters 19-22. Christ will return, he will reward the righteous, he will judge the wicked, and the new heavens and new earth will be created.
Go here to read about the first question asked by the disciples in Matthew 24:3 and the Lord's response.