In recent years I have read and studied the eschatological beliefs of the Reformers and of Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) as well as Henry Grattan Guinness (1835 – 1910). As a result I have changed my view of Bible prophecy from the futurist view to that of a historical view, where I now see that a lot of prophecy has already been fulfilled.1
A lot of Matthew chapter 24 has been fulfilled but one very important aspect–the Return of Christ in final judgment–still remains unfulfilled. (All bold are my emphases added. Square brackets [ ] indicate meanings of words. King James Version Easy-Reading Bible (KJVER)2 used.)
Matthew 24:1,2 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and His disciples came to Him for to show him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, See you not all these things? verily I say to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. (All bold are emphases added)
Here Christ predicts the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, around which all Jewish life revolved. This was fulfilled exactly in 70 A.D., which is 40 years after His death on the Cross and is within what we could call the generation of those He was speaking to—His disciples.
Matthew 24:3 And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world?
The disciples asked a specific question in relation to Christ’s Second Advent, His return to Earth to rule. Jesus does not answer the question of ‘when’ but answered in a way that predicts events from not just those that that generation will experience but on into the future for thousands of years until His Second Coming.
Matthew 24:4,5 And Jesus answered and said to them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
After Christ was resurrected, in the Early Church, there were many false Christs, many usurpers who came in His Name saying they were the Christ. Just like in our generation we read of many false Christs, people claiming to be either Jesus Himself or a messiah of some kind.
However since this chapter deals with the time following Christ’s First Advent and continues up to His Second, there is one line of false Christs that one cannot overlook—the Papacy ruling in the false Church. The Pope claims to be the Vicar of Christ on Earth, which means Christ’s representative or replacement on Earth. The Greek word ‘anti’ means both ‘opposite’ and ‘in place of’. Those false Christs Jesus speaks of are antichrist, therefore, the Papacy fits both as opposite to Christ (in doctrine and action) and as a substitute for Christ on Earth. Henry Grattan Guinness wrote:
“…The pope is as God on earth (papa est QUASI DIAS IN TERRA).” That which was claimed by Boniface VIII in the thirteenth century has been claimed ever since by a succession of popes down to Pius IX and Leo XIII in the nineteenth century. The pope speaks today as the vicar of Christ, as God’s vice-regent. The great ecumenical council of 1870 proclaimed him such, and declared him to be INFALLIBLE! A professor of history in the Roman university, writing on the council of 1870, uses the following language, which strikingly expresses the Papal ideal: “The pope is not a power among men to be venerated like another. But he is a power altogether Divine. He is the propounder and teacher of the law of the Lord in the whole universe; he is the supreme leader of the nations, to guide them in the way of eternal salvation; he is the common father and universal guardian of the whole human species in the name of God.3
Matthew 24:6 And you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
The wars that endured after Christ died were very great. Under General Titus, son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, 30,000 troops Roman troops marched into Jerusalem and began a systematic slaughter of the Jews and the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Roman troops slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people in Jerusalem. The Temple was looted and burned. The Romans pulled stone from stone and history tells us that this was to get to the gold that had melted and run between the stones from the heat of the fire. These fires were so hot that the gold fittings, and the gold gilding inside and on its outside walls melted and ran into the cracks between and in the stones.
Matthew 24:7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
At Jesus death on the Cross an earthquake occurred and the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom. This was to show the Jews that there was no need of the Temple worship after Christ had made universal atonement for sins. Then God waited 40 years before judging the unbelieving Jews by the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D..
The 100 years after Christ’s crucifixion had many wars and is very well described by the phrase ‘the beginning of sorrows.’ For many years (66 A.D and 135 A.D.) the Jewish-Roman wars were fought and as a result the Jews were largely exiled from their lands.
Matthew 24:9, 10 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
Under pagan Rome, Jews and Christians were hunted and slaughtered. The persecution of Christians went on for hundreds of years under different pagan Roman emperors.
Matthew 24:11-13 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. 12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. 13 But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
This portion of the prophecy covers the period of time from the death of Christ until the Second Advent at still some future time. Many false prophets have come and gone during that time. Many have falsely prophesied the end of the world. It failed to happen at all, let alone as they expected.
Based on his interpretations of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, William Miller, a Baptist preacher, proposed that Jesus Christ would return to the earth during the year 1844. The specific date of October 22, 1844, was preached by Samuel S. Snow.4 This was based on the 2300 day prophecy of Daniel 8 starting in 457 B.C.. By adding 2300 years it was expected that Christ would return in 1844 A.D. But quite obviously Christ did not return then. Those that followed him were called Millerites.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses had prophesied the end of the Gentile Times and establishment of Messiah’s kingdom in 1914. They prophesied World War I would terminate in Armageddon and the rapture of the “saints” in 1918. Messiah’s kingdom would be established in 1925 and bring worldwide peace. 1975 would be “appropriate” for Christ’s thousand-year reign to begin.5 But none of those events have occurred yet. More false prophets.
There have been too many false prophets to even begin to do the subject justice. But let me mention one more that I know very well and very personally. As a young Christian I was involved with the Children of God. Their leader, David Brandt Berg, in about 1970 prophesied that Jesus would return in 1993 and that he (Berg) would die in 1989. Berg died before Jesus returned alright but in 1994 and Jesus has yet to return to Earth. Clearly and most definitely this was a false prophecy.
I learned some good things from the Children of God, like a zeal for witnessing, and I know we were used of God at that time (the 1970’s) but the above proves anyone can become lifted up in pride or, in some other way, be carried away with their own lusts. All men are subject to their own sins.
I have seen the love of many become cold, some who I thought were strong believers became cold in their faith and some became haters of God. They did not endure to the end.
Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
In my life I have seen the enormous spread of the gospel message throughout the world by all means of communication, in an enormous number of languages. Some of those messages had been perverse and corrupted but thankfully a lot of them have been faithful to God’s Word.
Matthew 24:15 When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso reads, let him understand:)
The Romans in 135 A.D. built their own temple to their god Jupiter on the Temple mount, where the Second Temple had stood. In 325 A.D. the Christianised Emperor Constantine tore down the temple of Jupiter and built an octagonal church. In 700 A.D. Muslims occupiers built on those foundations the mosque the Dome of the Rock, which we see there today. See Daniel 9 study.
Matthew 24:16-21 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: 17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: 18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19 And woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck [are nursing] in those days! 20 But pray you that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
Here Jesus speaks very specifically about those living in the land of Judaea, around Jerusalem. The great tribulation is the persecution of not only Christians by the invading Roman army but also of all Jews who were slaughtered by the Romans in the hundreds of thousands and eventually exiled. The Jewish-Roman wars lasted for about 70 years particularly between 66 A.D and 135 A.D. resulting in the exile of most Jews from Jerusalem and Judaea.
Here the message is very clearly focused on those around Jerusalem, not anywhere else in the rest of the world. So this is not for some future time. But Jesus says that that persecution will be the greatest tribulation of all time. Thus after that time any persecution and tribulation of the church will not be as bad as this one.
Those Christians back then who headed Christ’s warnings here were able to flee the city and thereby avoid death at the hands of the Romans.
In Luke 21 we read a verse that is not found in Matthew 24.
Luke 21:20 And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is near.
Certainly this is fulfilled prophesy. It was the Roman armies at that time. But some modern scholars tell us that since Israel is surrounded today by hostile Muslim armies we are waiting for this fulfilment still. That is part of the futurist view of prophesy and clearly wrong based on the great tribulation discussed above.
And these armies are definitely Roman (Gentile armies) as in Luke 21 it speaks of the Jews being led away captives into all nations, which is what happened.
Luke 21:24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
The Jews were held in other nations until their return prior to the establishment of the new nation of Israel in 1948.
Scripture makes reference to a time called Jacob’s trouble:
Jeremiah 30:7-9 Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. 8 For it shall come to pass in that day, says the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and will burst your bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: 9 But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up to them.
This is in reference to the nation of Israel. Their deliverance could refer to their deliverance from captivity in Babylon. But the phrase used implies a period of great tribulation like none other, so that,
Matthew 24:22-24 … except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. 23 Then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Here is a description of the tribulation of the saints during that Roman rule particularly the period of the great tribulation.
But what followed after over a period of more than a thousand years under the Latin Roman Church Empire of the popes? More persecution. But God always preserved for Himself a true believing remnant. And the papacy has claimed to be Christ on Earth. They would show great signs, false miracles, like bleeding statues of Mary or Jesus, which the masses would believe to be true signs. The bones and other relics of supposed dead saints were claimed by the Roman Church to have power to do miracles.
Henry Grattan Guinness wrote:
Bishop John Jewell, of Salisbury, wrote in the sixteenth century: Of the first sort of false miracles, we have seen an infinite number in the days of our fathers in the kingdom of antichrist. Then was there an appearance of spirits and visions of angels: our lady came swimming down from heaven; poor souls came creeping and crying out of purgatory, and jetted abroad; and kept stations, casting flakes of fire, and beset highways, and bemoaned their cases, the pains and torments were so bitter.6
Matthew 24:26,27 Wherefore if they shall say to you, Behold, He is in the desert; go not forth: behold, He is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 27 For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even to the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
When Christ does return there will be no doubt. He shall be seen by all people everywhere on earth, not only in one place. It will not be a secret return—no secret rapture—but as lightning in the sky.
Matthew 24:29,30 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
After two thousand years or more of the true church enduring tribulation Christ shall return at a time no one knows, but these verses are not about his bodily return but about His judgment on Jerusalem at the time of the Roman wars and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.. The language in verse 29 is symbolic of demise of the rulers in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders, and their judgment by God for their part in the nation’s rejection of Christ and His crucifixion. Verse 30 states ‘the sign of the Son of man’ which does not mean physical return but a sign of His judgment on Judea. The text ‘the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven’ is symbolic language for the power of Christ’s judgments on the wicked at Jerusalem.
When Jesus eventually does return there will be great signs in heaven and He will return in great majesty. But that has not yet happened. The true Church will always suffer tribulation somewhere up to the time when Christ returns. But that tribulation is not the same tribulation as experienced in Jerusalem that Jesus called great tribulation (Matthew 24:21), which was greater than any other throughout all time.
Note that the text of Matthew 24 up to verse 36 is in relation to this great tribulation period of the Jews–Jacob’s trouble–when Christ symbolically returns in judgment upon Jerusalem. But from verse 37 (‘as the days of Noah’) onward it is about the bodily Second Coming of Christ.
Matthew 24:31 And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
At the sound of the 7th trumpet in heaven (Revelation 11:15), Christ will gather His elect, those saved from all over the planet not just in one place. In these and the following verses Jesus is not talking about the end of days when He returns, but of the Early Church, the generation of His disciples. His chosen believers who died in faith from all over the known world are taken up to His abode in heaven. See Matthew 27:52,53.
Matthew 24:32-34 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When its branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near: 33 So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34 Verily I say to you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
This is the generation of His disciples here. The fig tree refers to them, the tender leaves of the Early Church. These verses support the view that verses 29-31 are a reference to the period of time of great tribulation under Roman persecution. See The AntiChrist and Great Tribulation for more details.
Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
This expression is a Hebraism, meaning that it is easier for heaven and earth (= the whole Universe) to decay away than for God’s words to fail (see Luke 16:17). Christ promised that every one of His words shall be fulfilled. We can trust that what we see has happened gives us confidence that what has not yet happened will be fulfilled exactly as He has said. Nevertheless, no one on Earth knew when those events would occur.
Matthew 24:36 But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
No pre-tribulation rapture
There can be no pre-tribulation rapture because the tribulation started in 70 A.D.. And if you defined the great tribulation as the second 3½ year period of the 70th week of Daniel, that occurred with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple then for all time since then is post-tribulation.
In regards to when Jesus will bodily return, which is the subject of the disciple original question, Jesus now begins His answer.
Matthew 24:37-39 But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, 39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Jesus aptly describes the world just like before the Flood in Noah’s day. (Note: Jesus implicitly accepted the Flood as a global judgment, a global flood.) But next time the flood will be God’s judgment on the world for their sins, not physically by water but by fire, actually hell-fire (2 Peter 3:7) and the final great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11). And the ungodly won’t see the signs of Christ’s return.
Matthew 24:40-43 Then shall two [persons] be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41 Two women [original Greek ‘persons’] shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 42 Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your Lord does come. 43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken up.
In a description of His return in Luke 17, Jesus said,
Luke 17:26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
Luke 17:30-33 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. 31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
Christ is saying we must never look back but also the passage has the spiritual meaning of never doubting but always obeying God’s commandments. The only way to save your life is to give it in God’s service. But the following message here is proof that this event is global in nature
Luke 17:34-36 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men [persons] in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 35 Two women [persons] shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 36 Two men [persons] shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
The time periods of these activities in Matthew 24:40-42 and Luke 17: 34-36 involve periods of night and day simultaneously in their local time zones. This is supporting evidence that Jesus is now speaking of His future return, not of the events local to the great tribulation in Jerusalem and Judea alone. In regards to the meaning of the words ‘taken’ and ‘left’ (behind) see At the resurrection who is left behind?
Revelation 1:7 Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.
Just like the global flood in Noah’s day Christ’s return shall be seen globally, even by those already dead indicated by those who ‘pierced’ or killed him. They are watching events from the spiritual dimension, in Hell. Therefore the notion of ‘coming in the clouds’ must also be symbolic language. It must be a reference to Christ’s power at His return.
To be clear Jesus cannot be in a physical body on a spherical planet, even in the clouds above, in one location, for example above Jerusalem, and be observed physically by all humans, even those on the other side of the planet (even with very good television/ internet coverage). Therefore ‘every eye shall see Him’ must means His return is recognised by all humans, both living and dead. Spiritually God reveals this fact to all. What follows is the great white throne judgment, when all shall see Him in judgment.
Matthew 24:44-47 Therefore be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man comes. 45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has made ruler over his household, to give them meat [food] in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing. 47 Verily I say to you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
The message is to the believer. Be ready, but stay busy serving God, preaching the gospel until He comes.
Matthew 24:48-51 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delays his coming; 49 And shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looks not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, 51 And shall cut him asunder [into pieces], and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites [pretenders]: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But to the false church, and the false shepherds and false pastors He gives a strong warning. They will not see Christ coming but they will be cast into Hell because they have lied to the Holy Ghost and have led some of His church astray. Verses 50, 51 refer to that final judgment after Christ’s return. See The Return of Jesus Christ.
References and Notes
- I have been asked if I am a preterist. From the wiki definition, partial preterism might come close but actually not really. As outlined in this study and in studies of the books of Daniel and Revelation I believe much of the prophecies were fulfilled in the 1st century A.D. and in the later centuries, under pagan Roman rule up to the 4th century A.D., and under the Latin Roman Church Empire led by the Anti-Christ Papacy (‘the little horn speaking great things against the most high’). In terms of persecution of the true Church and hence great tribulation, the line of the popes overshadowed the worst pagan Roman emperors like Nero, Domitian etc. But I believe firmly that the Second Advent of Christ has yet to be fulfilled in His literal return (as Isaac Newton also believed) and the great white throne judgment sometime in our future. So under the usual classification I have an historical or continuous view of Bible prophecy. It was the Jesuit Ribera who tried to divert the evangelical church’s vision from that to some hypothetical future, as-yet-unseen, antichrist power that would arise. He was pretty successful too. See also here.
- Bible version KJVER (King James Easy-Reading Study Bible used unless otherwise indicated).
- Henry Grattan Guinness, Romanism and the Reformation, p. 8, THE DANIEL FOREVIEW OF ROMANISM, available here.
- Henry Grattan Guinness, Romanism and the Reformation, p. 28, PAUL’S FOREVIEW OF ROMANISM, available here.