Matthew 24 – The Question of When

Matthew 24 is one of the more difficult passages to interpret mainly because there is a question of when this scripture would be fulfilled.  Some apply this chapter mainly to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, some apply this chapter mainly to the second coming of Christ, and some apply portions of this chapter to either one or both.

The purpose of this teaching page is to consider how to properly interpret this passage of scripture.  There is a tension between two phrases in this passage and also a geographic tension that must be considered.  This tension is what creates the interpretive challenge.

The phrases that create the tension are, “This generation” and “the coming of the Son of man.”  The phrase, “this generation”, is used 5 other times in Matthew previous to its usage in Matthew 24:34.  In each of these other 5 uses of this phrase it refers to the generation living at the time of Jesus earthly ministry.  Also, the parallel passages in Mark and Luke also refer to the generation living at the time of Jesus earthly ministry.

The phrase, “the coming of the Son of man”, used in Matthew 24:27, 24:37 and 24:39 and also the similar uses in Matthew 24:30 and 24:42 all refer to the physical return of The Lord Jesus Christ at the second advent.  In fact, there is no scripture that refers to His coming as some symbolic or spiritual event.  His “coming” is His literal return.

Since it is very obvious that Christ did not return in 70 AD after the destruction of Jerusalem the phrase, “the coming of the Son of man”, would place Matthew 24 in the future or yet to be fulfilled.  Hopefully, you can see the tension created by the uses of these two phrases.  One phrase pulls you to the past and one phrase pulls you to the future.  Other verses must be considered in this passage to get its interpretation right.

There is a geographic tension in Matthew 24.  Verses 15 – 20 clearly have a local geographic application to Judea.  Other verses apply to the entire world.  Verse 7 talks about nation rising against nation.  Verse 14 says, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”  Verse 30 says, “then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn.”  Verse 31 says, “from one end of heaven to the other.”  The local geographic section of scripture pulls you to applying Matthew 24 to a 70 AD fulfillment while the verses that refer to the entire world geographically pull you to a future fulfillment.

Cross referencing other scriptures in Matthew 24 will help us to focus in on the correct interpretation of Matthew 24.  Matthew 24:4-8 have a clear parallel passage in Revelation 6:1-8 but also have fulfillment in the book of Acts leading up to 70 A.D.  Revelation was written after 70 A.D. by John the Apostle and Acts describes events leading up to 70 A.D.

Matthew 24:28 has a clear parallel passage of scripture in Revelation 19:17-18 and then also in Job 39:30.  The passage in Revelation is at the time of the second advent.

Two verses before the phrase, “this generation”, Jesus said to learn the parable of the fig tree.  The fig tree mentioned is Israel and their religious system.  Luke 13:6-9 makes this identification.  The fig tree putting forth leaves (no fruit) is the restoration of national Israel in 1948 predicted many places in scripture (see Ezekiel 37 as one example).  Several people placed the rapture of the Church in 1988 because they falsely assumed that a bible generation was forty years.  The bible does not give an exact amount of years to define a generation.  There were 40 years from the time Jesus spoke Matthew 24 until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  He was crucified in 30 A.D.  The restoration of Israel as a nation in one day (May 15, 1948) should have put the world on notice that the time of His return was near.

After considering the tensions in the passage and using other passages for cross referencing, I believe the correct interpretation is a dual fulfillment.  The passage points to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as its near fulfillment and then points to the second advent as its ultimate fulfillment.  The horrific destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is a type of the destruction of all the Lord’s enemies at His return.

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