Mistakes Which Evangelicals Keep Making
Mistake One: Not Recognising that "The End Times" Began in the First Century AD.
Mistake Two: Not Recognising That the 'Coming in Judgement' (Matthew 24) Was Primarily Upon Jerusalem and Fulfilled Within a Generation.
The Truth About the Destruction of Jerusalem
Prophecy of Jesus Perfectly Timed
Evangelicals need to more closely study the calamity which came upon Jerusalem in AD70. It signalled the termination of God's working with Israel as a national, fleshly people. Jesus had warned the early Christians based near Jerusalem that the city and temple would be totally devastated within a generation of His warning. His warning is clearly recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.
Spectacular Signs Witnessed
During this dramatic period of time spectacular signs were noted by Josephus (who was not a religious man). These included a star resembling a sword seen in the sky, a strange light seen shining around the altar and the temple, and a vision of chariots and soldiers running around among the clouds above the city and some of the other towns of Palestine. Priests also heard the sounds of a great multitude saying, "Let us remove hence." This was when many Christians successfully fled to Pella.
A Complete Plunder, Slaughter and Routing
The Romans plundered the temple and brutally slaughtered an estimated 600,000 people in Jerusalem including many of the Passover visitors who had been trapped there for the 143 days during the Roman siege. Many of the people who were not killed by Roman soldiers were shipped off to the gladiatorial games, Roman mines, and otherwise exiled from Judea and scattered throughout the Roman empire and other nations. Josephus records that the Romans put the city and the Temple to the torch and that these fires were still burning a month later. In AD73, a remnant of Jews who had escaped to Masada were caught and this led to the famous mass suicide of 960 Jews who preferred to die rather than be taken captive or destroyed by fire. Now all traces of a self-ruling Jewish nation completely disappeared.
I just received an (entirely unrequested) email from a typical teacher of the above kind. After bemoaning many of the things in modern society which all of us would agree are bad and unchristian, his email concludes with the usual dire warning that "..the end times are now obviously very near," and - later on in the same email - "according to Scripture these signs show that we are rapidly approaching the time of the end." So here New Testament phraseology is being used yet not being used in a New Testament manner. I have to admit that this sort of thing makes me cringe! Of course, this approach is sensationalist so will draw an audience but should not such teachers strive for more accuracy?
Fact is: many prophetic and apocalyptic type preachers, writers and websites persist in applying a very narrow focus to this "end time" topic which ignores accurate New Testament scriptural teaching. They insist on seeing the 'end times' as the period immediately prior to Christ's second coming, even though this is scripturally unsound, as we are about to see.
So what do the Scriptures actually say on this topic? Now let's clarify this. Oh, I am going to be referring to both the NIV and NKJV here not only because of the common error of believing that only the KJV is a "godly translation," but also because a term like 'the last days' could vary a little from translation to translation. Occasionally we will also note other translations to see if there is any major divergence on Scriptures of major importance and impact. We will be casting our net quite wide.
Here we go: In Acts 2:17 Peter clearly teaches that "the last days" (NIV and NKJV), were the present time period which witnessed the first Christian Pentecost - that is, the time in which Peter lived, taught and preached.
Then, the writer of Hebrews states this,
"But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." (Hebrews 1:2; Phrase 'in these last days' occurs in both the NIV and NKJV).
The writer of Hebrews (9:26) is also in no doubt that it is entirely appropriate to refer to the period in which Christ first appeared in world history as "the end of the ages" (NKJV), "the end of the world" (KJV), or "the culmination of the ages" (NIV). This clearly refers to the first coming – not the second! To ensure that we are explaining this correctly and not twisting the context, lets pick up this whole verse in the KJV,
"For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 2:26, KJV).
In James 5:3 James also writes of "the last days" (NIV and NKJV), as a current reality, that is, a reality in the days in which he was writing his epistle.
In 1 Peter 1:20, Peter writes of the "last times" as a current reality, that is, when he was actually penning his epistle. Notice it here:
"He was chosen before the creation of the world, but he was revealed in these last times for your sake." (Phrase 'in these last times' occurs in both the NIV and NKJV).
In 1 John 2:18, the evangelist writes, "Dear children, this is the last hour..." (NIV), "..It is the last hour..." (NKJV). Jude is also quite clear that the phrase "the last times" applied to the days in which he lived! This can be simply established by considering Jude 17-19. Let us do that:
'But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.'
(When Jude said, "These are the men who divide you" he was clearly speaking of the time in which he lived – not the far future). The only conclusion which we can draw from all of this is to recognise that 'the last days,' 'the last hour' or, 'the end times' commenced with the sacrifice of Christ and continues on into the present. It is the period when false teachers and perverters of the Word of God are especially active. So these expressions clearly refer to our present time period. This then is not an expression which applies exclusively to a certain period immediately before Christ's second coming! It refers to the entire Christian age.
The Misuse of Matthew 24
Teachers who say things like "there are unmistakable signs that we are about to enter the last days," also almost always seem to be the same teachers who misuse Matthew 24, suggesting that it entirely refers to our present times, or to the immediate future. The majority of that chapter, however, very clearly refers to the torrid events of AD66-73, but especially to AD70. This is so clear that even many dispensationalists and other prophecy futurists now freely admit this. Very importantly, Jesus Himself clearly tells us the time period of His Matthew 24 prophecy:
Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24:34; NIV).
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. (KJV).
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (ESV).
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished. (ASV).
I assure you and most solemnly say to you, this generation [the people living when these signs and events begin] will not pass away until all these things take place. (AMP).
I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. (CEB).
How much clearer could Jesus have been?
We can be fairly certain that Jesus spoke these words about AD30-33, definitely somewhere within those years. From AD66-73 terrible suffering came upon Jerusalem including the destruction of the temple in AD70. AD30 to AD70 is forty years = a Jewish 'generation.' So Jesus Himself told the disciples the time setting for the terrible events of Matthew 24. Unfortunately too many modern evangelicals don't seem to know their first century AD history, neither have they (apparently) ever read Josephus and his graphic descriptions of the horrendous sufferings which came upon Jerusalem at that time, too often they seem to think that the events of AD70 was just some sort of Jewish/Roman skirmish. Many also seem to be oddly unaware of the time-specific prophecy of Matthew 24:34. But now let us notice the general setting and context of Matthew 24:
Context and Setting
1. Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2. 'Do you see all these things?' he asked. 'Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.' (Matthew 24:1-2).
Notice at once that Jesus was telling of a coming destruction upon Jerusalem. When He said, "...not one stone here will be left on another," he referred to the coming destruction of the temple. Maybe He had already hinted at this soon-coming destruction of the temple and city to the disciples, in view of what certain of the disciples said soon after. Let's pick it up:
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. 'Tell us,' they said, 'when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?' (Matthew 24:3).
Properly Understanding 'Parousia'
'Coming' (Matthew 24:3), Greek word:'parousia.' Word G3952 in Strongs Concordance. Meanings: 'coming,' 'return,' 'presence.' The use of this Greek word does not necessarily denote the final parousia (or, return) of Christ to execute justice upon the entire earth. This was a 'coming' in judgement upon Jerusalem. The sense of the word 'parousia' is often a sudden, dramatic intervention for judgement, although it can also refer to 'coming' in a looser sense. Back then it did indeed end an 'age,' or era, the age in which God was working with just one nation of people. Some evangelicals have been very wrong in only associating this Greek word with Christ's return in glory to execute judgement upon the entire world at the end of time. In 2 Corinthians 7:6 for instance, Paul states that he was encouraged by the 'coming' (parousia) of Titus.
So a 'coming' in judgement upon Jerusalem is the focus in Matthew 24. The disciples (rightly or wrongly) assumed that He referred to 'the end of the age,' and - in a very real sense - it would be that to those living in and around Jerusalem at that time since the horrible events to unfold within 'this generation' would underline the very conclusion of God's working with just one nation of people - the peoples of Israel.
We Need to Face it: The Jewish Authorities Wanted Jesus Murdered
We must remember that it was the Jewish leaders who colluded to have Jesus murdered - Pontius Pilate wanted nothing to do with it! Moreover, the Jews themselves accepted full responsibility upon themselves and upon their children for killing Jesus and preferring to preserve the life of a robber, one Barabbas:
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. (Matthew 27:20, my emphasis).
All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!' (Verse 25).
Notice at once that it was the Jewish religious authorities who actively incited the crowd to reject Jesus. They also accepted any punishment, guilt and culpability for this hideous act upon the Jewish people and upon their children. To ensure there is no misunderstanding here, let us compare verse 25 in several English translations:
All the people answered, "His blood is on us and on our children!" (NIV)
All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and our children!" (ISV)
And all the people answered, "Let [the responsibility for] His blood be on us and on our children!" (AMP)
And all the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" (NASB)
Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. (KJV)
Everyone answered, "We and our own families will take the blame for his death!" (CEV)
Then all the people answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" (MEV)
And all the people answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" (ESV)
Then all the people answered and said, His blood be on us and on our children. (JUB - 2000)
All the people answered, "His blood is on us and on our children!" (CJB - Complete Jewish Bible)
In the companion Scripture to Matthew 24 which is primarily Luke 21 (also Mark 13), we learn more. Note this:
20. "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. (Luke 21:20-22).
Notice again the very marked geographical setting for these events - this is not about the Final Second Coming, nor about destruction being visited upon the entire world, this was a 'coming' - or dramatic intervention - to exact judgement upon Jerusalem. It is Jerusalem which is under discussion and the events would be fulfilled within a generation. But why was Jerusalem being "compassed (or surrounded) by armies" significant? This is historically significant. Although Judea was controlled by the Romans in Jesus' day, they were very careful to keep their armies and troops outside of, and well clear of the city; they allowed the Jewish civic and religious authorities to control the city - under their (Roman) overall control, of course. However, the Jewish/Roman war broke out in AD66, leading to a horrendous siege of the city in which many died and eventually to the final destruction of the city and temple in AD70. When the Roman armies finally surrounded Jerusalem, this was a prophesied sign, we are told that there was a short period of time when people could escape and it is known that many Christians fled to Pella in AD69. So this prophecy of Jesus was very clearly fulfilled at the time of the Jewish/Roman War. This should surprise no one for - once again - Jesus had said that these things would occur within a generation - they did. Jesus had said that when the city is surrounded by armies, then comes the time to flee, there was indeed such a brief window of escape as historian Josephus later noted.
But Is Matthew 24 Fully Exhausted?
Of course, the Mount Olivet Prophecy of Matthew 24 is written in apocalyptic language, this can confuse but, without question, this prophecy was substantially fulfilled around AD70, but does this rule out a further fulfillment, or partial fulfillment yet to occur? No, it doesn't, not necessarily. Look at this:
30. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:30-31).
These words pretty much complete the prophecy and certainly point to the final parousia (Second Coming), yet a 'coming' in judgement upon Jerusalem and the Jews certainly occurred back in the first century AD, just a generation after the warning of Jesus.
Tribulation Upon Israel Aspect Often Lost Today
So here we learn that - first of all - the peoples of Israel, commonly known today as Jews (although 'Jews' were originally only those of the tribe of Judah), accepted full responsibility upon their own people for what they did to Jesus. Sure, it was God's will that the Son of God should provide the perfect sacrifice for all mankind, but that does not absolve the physical peoples of Israel from their responsibility and culpability. Now God would turn to the Gentiles and Christians would be looked upon as 'spiritual Israel.' - See Isaiah 65:1-3; Luke 14:15-24; Romans 2:28-29; Romans 10:19-21; Galatians 3:7, 26-29; Galatians 6:15-16. Of course, it is still open to individual Jews to repent and to turn to Christ.
The second point is that in our day Christians have developed a tendency to only see the Mount Olivet Prophecy as pertaining to events just prior to the Second Coming, but it is not. As we have seen, the main focus of the prophecy was the events of the Jewish/Roman War. As my 2009 article 'Jerusalem, AD70: The Worst Desolation Ever?' stated,
Josephus (a personal witness to the events) claims that over 1,100,000 people were killed during the initial siege, of which a majority were Jewish. 97,000 were captured and enslaved, and many fled to areas around the Mediterranean. Titus reportedly refused to accept a wreath of victory, as there is "no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God." During the siege, there was mass starvation in which cannibalism widely occurred with, it is believed, some mothers even devouring their own children. Later, there were even mass crucifixions to the degree that wood eventually became unavailable.
In these modern, politically-correct days people are super-sensitive about any charge of anti-semitism but nothing here is anti-semitic, this is plainly Bible teaching.
Jesus Himself told us when the events and calamities warned of in Matthew 24 were to occur. All the great Christian historians and writers of the past (until the late 19th century) accepted that this substantial fulfillment occurred between AD66-73, including the major historian of the early church, Eusebius (who died 339-340 AD). So for many hundreds of years AD70 was considered the pivotal prophecy focus of the Church. Only in the late 19th century were new theological concepts introduced, especially in a new, adventuristic approach to Bible prophecy and a revival of the 'high view' of national Israel. This new approach came from several adventist-type sects and from John Nelson Darby's Dispensationalism. The new trend necessarily led to a perspective which effectively reduced the importance of the Church, the physical peoples of Israel were again magnified, even though Scripture plainly teaches that God had divorced them (Jeremiah 3:1-8)! The new Dispensationalism started to teach that God's main concern continued to be national Israel and the Church (apparently) was only something God was temporarily occupying Himself with since He was surprised and hurt by Israel's rejection of the Messiah. But after an 'interlude' of working with the church, God would later get back to His main concern of national Israel (all of which, of course, turns Scriptural teaching completely on its head).
Robin A. Brace. August 17th, 2016