by Roger McCay
31 January 2021
Sermon Passage: Matthew 24:29-44
Link to Audio Version
Confusion as to times and fulfilments of the last days, given by Jesus, is a problem among Christians. Indeed, much misinformation has been absorbed by many in the evangelical community from popular, sensational, yet very misleading end-times books sold on the Christian market, such as The Late Great Planet Earth and The Left Behind Series. The result of the evangelical community having absorbed many of the purely imaginary ideas put forward by such books into its collective consciousness is confusion. Kenneth Gentry states it plainly:
Among the vast majority of evangelicals this passage [The Olivet Discourse] is as absolutely confused as it is immensely popular. Indeed, the average evangelical approach to the Olivet Discourse is so seriously misconstrued that it places its fulfillment at the wrong place in history, misses Christ’s whole point entirely, applies its judgments to the wrong people, and spreads its catastrophes far beyond it’s intended focus. Thus, the popular conception has the wrong time, purpose, objects, and scope for its judgments.
Such confusion is rather ironic, as the Olivet Discourse was Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ confused question, correcting their misconceived assumption with purposeful distinctions.
However, clarity, concerning the Discourse, does exist. There is a balanced, scripturally harmonious, historically consistent, orthodox, and logical understanding of Jesus’ words. This position holds that some of what Jesus taught would happen in the generation then living, and some would happen at an indefinite later time. Among those holding this view, variations exist in identifying certain verses with near events or far events. In other words, identifying which verses were fulfilled during AD 33-70 and which refer to Jesus’ second coming, his Parousia at the end of history. In particular, some take vv. 29-31 as a reference to his second coming. Then others see that event as a coming, but not the final Parousia, understanding vv. 29-31 as referring to the coming of judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70.
As it is, back in 2018, when I preached Mark’s version of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13), my thoughts were that the equivalent verses in Mark to vv. 29-31 in Matthew referred to Jesus’ second coming. However, further study of the Scriptures has developed my understanding (a phenomenon I hope we can agree happens to all of us in our continued Scriptural studies). So, I’ve come to be convinced that while vv. 29-31 refer to a coming, that coming is the glorified Christ’s coming of judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70. After that, Jesus then refers to his second coming, starting in v. 36.
Last week we looked at how, in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25), Jesus was answering the question of his disciples, correcting their misconception. Their question in 24:3, really two questions, “when” and “what,” was asked due to Jesus’ statement concerning the temple being destroyed in v. 2. Jesus then answered them in detail, answering the question “when” (starting in v. 4 and going all the way through v. 35), concerning the things that would happen before the generation that was then living would pass away (v. 34), including the temple’s destruction. These various events Jesus mentions were not signs of Jesus’ second coming, including the great tribulation of AD 70 (v. 21). Indeed, he is specific in v. 27, that when people are desperate for the conquering Christ to come and save them from their tribulation and are drawn to various false-Christs, to not be fooled. Jesus’ physical return (his Parousia, bringing the consummation of his Kingdom) was not to be during that time. For, when he returned at his second coming, it would be an unmistakable event for everyone.
Today, we pick up at v. 29:
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Here, Jesus gives another time reference, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days.” This statement places the event he is about to describe as happening immediately after the days of the great tribulation in AD 70 Jerusalem that he had just described. He is not referring to some event at an unknowable future time.
Despite this clear time reference, some point to v. 29 and say this is proof that Jesus is referring to something that is yet in the future, as such calamites have not happened. If they had, we’d know about it, right? However, such misconceptions are due to a failure to recognize that Jesus is using language that is typical Old Testament prophetic, apocalyptic language—language that his disciples would have been steeped in and would have immediately recognized. He draws his “words from Isa. 13:10 and 34:4,” which, as R.T. France explains,
Of these the first is a description, in the symbolic language of apocalyptic, of the fall of Babylon, and the second of God’s judgment on ‘all the nations’, but particularly on Edom. Similar language is used elsewhere of God’s judgment within history on cities and nations (e.g. Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10; Amos 8:9).
Consider the language of Isaiah’s prophecies: God’s judgment coming upon Babylon (Isa. 13:10) – “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.” God’s judgment coming upon the nations and Edom (Isa. 34:4) – “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.”