Monday, May 01, 2006

End Times Date Prediction

Tribulation to start in -1940 Years!

NOTE: This is a slight variation of a post from a couple years ago. I gave it as a Sunday School lesson yesterday, so I thought I might as well repost.

The Olivet Discourse: Preterist View of Matthew 24.

Preterism refers to the view that many of Jesus’ prophecies found the gospels as well as in the apocalyptic books such as Daniel and Revelation, including what is commonly referred to as the Great Tribulation, have already been fulfilled. In a nutshell:
  • Unlike Dispensationalism (the futurist view with the rapture, the seven year tribulation, the rise of the antichrist, and the 1000 year earthly kingdom), preterism does not view the "Kingdom of God" as something occurring in the future, but as something that has already been initiated. The Gospel references to the Kingdom of Heaven, (or Kingdom of God), when given with an accompanying time frame, teach of the imminence of the Kingdom (c.f., Matt 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 12:28; Mark 1:15, 9:1, 12:34; Luke 9:27, 10:9-11, 17:20-22).

  • Preterism attaches great prophetic and redemptive significance to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

  • Preterism presents a harmonious explanation of the Olivet discourse, taking the time references at their plain meaning and references to cosmic cataclysm as prophetic poetry. This is both its greatest success (for all other explanations of the Olivet discourse suffer from some sort of difficulty in the time-related aspects) and its greatest provocation, for the preterist must acknowledge that the Parousia (second coming, or more accurately the Coming of the Son of Man) has already happened. The "sense" in which it has happened, and whether or not there is still a future glorious return of Christ in the clouds and a resurrection of the saints, separates hyper-preterism from partial or moderate preterism.

  • The Olivet discourse contains timelines, apocalyptic prophesy, and descriptions of the fulfilling of prophesy. In some sense, preterists and dispensationalists (futurists, left-behinders) choose opposite hermeneutics: The preterists take the time references literally and the apocalyptic descriptions as imagery, while the dispensationalists do the reverse.

  • The preterist views the Olivet discourse as a continuous exposition on a single time period: from the time Christ spoke the words to about one generation (40 years) later (when some of those present would still be alive). The terminus of the discourse’s prophesy is AD 70 when the Temple was destroyed.

  • The most important thing to keep in mind is that to the preterist, everything discussed in the Olivet discourse happened within about forty years after Christ delivers the prophecy.

  • Because the preterist sees the great tribulation as something in the past, he tends to be more optimistic about the future. Thus you see a strong correlation between preterism and post-millennialism—the eschatology that teaches the world will be dominated by Christianity before Christ’s return.
The Olivet Discourse

Now, on to the scripture (Taken here from Matthew 24):
1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
There is universal agreement that this refers to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. This is such an amazing prophesy that biblical critics argue that it "proves" that either the gospels were written after the event or that its description was a later redaction designed to give Christ more credibility.
3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
According to preterism, The disciples are asking about closely related events, or different aspects of the same event: these things refers to what was just discussed, the destruction of the temple, your coming refers to the Parousia, and the end of the age refers to the end of the Jewish dispensation. (note: the word at the end of v. 3 [aion] is more properly translated as age, rather than world [kosmos].) Calvin (who was neither a preterist or a dispensationalist, but a historicist) taught that the disciples, finding the destruction of the temple to be utterly inconceivable, erroneously assumed that it would not happen until the end of the world. Preterists disagree, pointing out that Jesus took no steps to correct the false assumption, and indeed He answers as if these events occur in a single time frame.
What age is being discussed? Scholars know that Jewish apocalyptic literature of this era divided history into two great ages—the age of the law and the age of the Messiah. What is ending is the age of the law—or the Jewish age. N. T. Wright comments:
The present age was a time when the creator god seemed to be hiding his face; the age to come would see the renewal of the created world. The present age was the time of Israel's misery; in the age to come she would be restored. In the present age wicked men seemed to be flourishing; in the age to come they would receive their just reward. In the present age even Israel was not really keeping the Torah perfectly, was not really being YHWH's true humanity; in the age to come all Israel would keep Torah from the heart. (N. T Wright, New Testament and the People of God, 299-300.)
Let’s move on to Jesus’ answer.
4 And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, "I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Preterists point to historic accounts from the 1st century historian Josephus and other contemporary writers affirming that all these things occurred in the vicinity of Palestine during the period in question. For example, Josephus writes,
Now, as for the affairs of the Jews, they grew worse and worse continually; for the country was again filled with robbers and impostors, who deluded the multitude. (Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.5)
Calvin agrees that all these events happened in the approximately 40 years from the time Christ spoke these words until the destruction of Jerusalem, but points out that they all would happen to some degree in virtually any 40 year period. I think what Calvin was really saying is that for the Lord to give a specific warning about such matters, they must not be, for example, your garden variety false Christ but deceivers extraordinaire. The preterist response (in regards to the false prophets) is that while in its infancy, the church was extremely vulnerable to false prophets and so a specific warning is in order, whereas today the maturity of the church makes it less susceptible to such an attack.

Preterists also point out that Christ says Take heed that no one deceives you. The plain reading is that "you" refers to the disciples, not some far future group of believers. This is further evidence that Jesus is talking about something imminent, and has not segued into a discussion of far distant prophesy.
9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. 15 "Therefore when you see the "abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened. 23 "Then if anyone says to you, "Look, here is the Christ!' or "There!' do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 "Therefore if they say to you, "Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or "Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
There is more in this part of the discourse about false prophets, to which the previous comments once again apply. More importantly, this passage talks about what is usually believed to be the great (and future) Tribulation with a capital 'T'. However, to the preterist, this tribulation refers to the persecution endured prior to the "coming of the Son of Man" (again: about 40 years hence, to the preterist). Verses 9-11 offer no problem; surely a case can be made that such things happened during this period.

It is useful to remind ourselves just how horrific was the Roman response to the Jewish Rebellion. Jack Van Deventer lists some of the atrocities committed by the Romans in a “dateline” manner, most of the information gleaned from the writings of Josephus:
  • Jerusalem (June 3, 66 A.D.)--"So the [Roman] soldiers did not only plunder the place they were sent to, but forcing themselves into every house, they slew its [Jewish] inhabitants; so the citizens fled along the narrow lanes, and the soldiers slew those that they caught, and no method of plunder was omitted; they also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first chastised with stripes, and then crucified. Accordingly, the whole number of those that were destroyed that day, with their wives and children (for they did not spare even the infants themselves), was about 3,600."

  • Cesarea (66 A.D.)--"Now the people of Cesarea had slain the Jews that were among them. . . [I]n one hour's time above 20,000 Jews were killed, and all Cesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants; for Florus caught such as ran away, and sent them to the galleys."

  • Scythopolis and other cities (66 A.D.)--"The people of Scythopolis watched their opportunity, and cut all [the Jews'] throats, some of them as they lay unguarded, and some as they lay asleep. The number that was slain was above 13,000, and then they plundered them of all they had." "Besides this murder at Scythopolis, the other cities rose up against the Jews that were among them: those of Askelon slew 2,500, and those of Ptolemais 2,000, and put not a few in bonds; those of Tyre also put a great number to death, but kept a greater number in prison."

  • Alexandria (66 A.D.)--These [Roman] soldiers rushed violently into that part of the city which was called Delta, where the Jewish people lived together [The Jews were] destroyed unmercifully; and this their destruction was complete, some being caught in the open field (Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. (Matt. 24:40).), and others forced into their houses, which houses were first plundered of what was in them, and then set on fire by the Romans; wherein no mercy was shown to the infants, and no regard had to the aged; but they went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, till all the place was overflowed with blood, and 50,000 of them lay dead upon heaps…"

  • Jotapata (July, 67 A.D.)--"[T]he Romans slew all the multitude that appeared openly; but on the following days they searched the hiding places, and fell upon those that were underground, and in the caverns, and went thus through every age, excepting the infants and the women, and of these there were gathered together as captives twelve hundred; and as for those that were slain at the taking of the city, and in the former fights, they were numbered to be 40,000.
The widespread slaughter of the Jews continued for several years. Many of the Jews fled to Jerusalem for safety.
24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" 25All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" (Matt. 27:24-25)
The Jews asked that the blood be upon their hands. And so it was. In Jerusalem alone, Josephus records that 100,000 were captured, and 1.1 million killed. This does not include the Jews killed in other cities (as described above) as the Roman juggernaut pushed forward.

After the Roman armies reached Jerusalem a lengthy siege ensued. The Romans bombarded the city with 90 pound stones hurled as far as 1200 feet by catapult.

When the food ran out, civil war broke out among three Jewish factions. Murder and starvation were rampant. Josephus wrote that civil war inside the walls of Jerusalem wrought more carnage than the conquering Romans. People who were thought to have consumed food were sometimes killed and disemboweled in search of food within their stomachs. There were many reports of cannibalism. Many tried to escape starvation by sneaking out of the city. Most were captured by the Romans, killed on the spot and disemboweled: the Romans believed that the Jews hid their valuables by swallowing them. If a father was killed searching for food, his wife and children became targets within the city.

Josephus also described a scene of horror concerning a starving mother (remindful, once again, of the warnings in Matthew 24). In the midst of the famine she suddenly withdrew her nursing infant from her breast. She killed, roasted and ate half the child, and offered the rest to the horrified bystanders.

It is interesting to read Josephus’ accounts of the events leading up to the war. In addition to "rumors of wars", Josephus records that there was a rise of false Christs and prophets.
There was also another body of wicked men gotten together, not so impure in their actions, but more wicked in their intentions, which laid waste the happy state of the city no less than did these murderers. These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration…. But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives…( Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 2.13.)
Note that the Egyptian false prophet appears to be corroborated by the bible, Recall that Paul was arrested in his last trip to Jerusalem. The commander mistakes Paul for the false prophet Josephus described: "Do you speak Greek?" he replied. "Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?" (Acts 21:38).

Vespasian arrived to lead the Roman response in the spring of A.D. 67. Nero was emperor (he dispatched Vespasian to squelch the revolt). In A.D. 68, Nero died at his own hand. The following year was a bad one for Rome, the "year of the four emperors" viz. Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and finally stability with Vespasian. When Vespasian returned to Rome, his son Titus took over the military campaign. It was Titus who led the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The siege began in April A.D. 70 and by the end of August the Temple was first occupied then destroyed. Josephus describes the actual attack on the temple:
WHILE the holy house was on fire, every thing was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity, but children, and old men, and profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner;

AND now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy. And now all the soldiers had such vast quantities of the spoils which they had gotten by plunder, that in Syria a pound weight of gold was sold for half its former value.
The preterists argue that the advice provided in Matthew 24—flee to the mountains, leave your belongings, etc., is more appropriate as instructions for refugees fleeing the conquering Romans—that what the dispensationalist believes—that it is for those caught by surprise by the trumpet announcing the second coming.

How does the preterist claim a fulfillment of verse 14, that the gospel will be preached in all the world? He claims it is substantiated by none other than the Apostle Paul:
5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; (Col 1:5-6)
if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1:23)
Whatever Paul meant by “all the world” and “every creature under heaven” used in the past tense, indicates that Paul taught that Matthew 24:14 was already fulfilled.

As for the tribulation, preterism draws this conclusion from verses 14-27: it is localized in the region of Judea (culminating with Roman invasion). References to those who are in Judea and the holy place (the temple) and the overall description bespeaks of a localized, imminent event, not a far-off world-wide cataclysm.
The parallel passage in Luke strengthens this view:
They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)
Luke anticipated a fulfillment in terms of Jerusalem only -- the final Diaspora, and the trampling down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles.
In v. 22, the argument given by dispensationalists is that no flesh would be saved means “no flesh in the world”, and hence this points to a world-wide tribulation. But biblical analysis shows that this needn’t be the case, we read in Jeremiah:
Upon all the bare heights in the desert destroyers have come, for the sword of the LORD devours from one end of the land to the other; no flesh has peace. (Jer. 12:12)
This similar passage, it is agreed by all, refers to the Jews only.

As for the coming of the Son of Man, the preterist view varies, but I think the most common view is that the destruction of Jerusalem is in some sense the result of "the coming of the Son of Man". Whether there is a future, literal return in-the-clouds is part of what separates hyper from moderate preterism. In any case, preterists of all stripes agree that for preterism to be the self-consistent exposition it claims, then everything in the Olivet discourse including "the coming of the Son of Man" had to have occurred within a generation. For support, they turn to some other scripture:
When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matt 10:23).
This verse states that the Son of Man will come when the disciples had visited the cities of Israel. That would seem to be a task that would fit nicely into the timeframe of a generation and not require thousands of years.

Another relevant passage is:
27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Matt. 16:27-28)
Here the preterist can again assume a plain reading: some of the disciples would still be alive when they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom, which is in fact the end of the Jewish age and the onset of "The age of the gentiles" (Matt. 21:43).

Non-preterist views of this passage sometimes border on (in my opinion) the absurd. For example, many argue that in this context the "Son of Man coming in His kingdom" refers to the transfiguration, which occurs about six days later. (Some bibles inject, between verses 16:27 and 16:28, a heading: The Transfiguration.) But this interpretation implies that verse 16:28 can be paraphrased: "Some of you will still be alive six days from now" which hardly seems worthy of divine mentioning.

The preterists claim that the carcass of verse 28 is the Jewish dispensation which is about to end, and the eagles refer to the agent of destruction, specifically the standard of the invading Roman legions.

The end that will come is not the end of history resulting in the eternal state, but the end of the Jewish age.
29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will 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 great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
This is assumed to be the biggest problem for the preterist. While historians of antiquity have given accounts of false prophets, earthquakes, famines, and wars, no one has described what would seem to be an unraveling of the space-time fabric of the universe. Josephus has no description of the cosmological upheaval alluded to in verses 29-31.

Here is where the preterist appeals to poetic language. The destruction of Jerusalem, according to preterists, is so "big" that it requires, in the tradition of the East, apocalyptic symbolism. As proof, they site strikingly similar passages from the old testament, for example regarding the destruction of Babylon:
9 Behold, the day of the LORD comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine. (Isa. 13:9-10)
Therefore I will shake the heavens, And the earth will move out of her place, (Isa. 9:13).
Add to this, the destruction of Bozrah:
3 Also their slain shall be thrown out; Their stench shall rise from their corpses, And the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. (Isa. 34:3-4)
If the destruction of Bozrah warrants such language, then even more so, says the preterist, the destruction of Jerusalem.

We will conclude with the next passage from the Matthew 24:
32 "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near--at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
The preterist is on the highest of his high ground here, for he accepts the phrase this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place as having its simple meaning: generation means generation, not race or type of people as some viewpoints require. Preterists point out that wherever else Christ used the word generation, he meant it in the plain sense of those living at that time. (c.f., Matt. 11:16, 12:39, 12:41, 12:42, 12:45, 16:4, 17:17). The fig tree analogy also implies near term fulfillment.

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