I argued in parts one and two of our study in Mt. 24 that the Olivet Discourse is concerned primarily with the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, both of which occurred in 70 a.d.
The issue that must next be addressed is the problem posed by vv. 29-31. Here it appears that Jesus says his second coming will occur "immediately after" the tribulation just described in vv. 15-28. Mark renders it, "But in those days, after that tribulation" (13:24). The problem is this: if vv. 15-28 refer to the events of 70 a.d., why didn't Jesus return at that time? Several possible answers have been suggested:
1) Dispensational scholars simply insist that vv. 15-28 do not, in point of fact, refer to the events of 70 a.d. They refer to a yet future tribulation period immediately preceding the second coming of Christ. This period is usually identified with the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy, hence 7 years in duration.
2) Liberal theologians have simply concluded that Jesus was mistaken about the time of his return.
3) Yet another interpretation is that the "tribulation of those days" (v. 29) refers not simply to the events of 70 a.d. but also to this entire present age between the two comings of Christ. Thus it would hold true that "immediately after the tribulation of those days" (70 a.d. and the present age), Jesus will return in glory. D. A. Carson advocates this view in his commentary on Matthew.
4) Others, who embrace an extreme version of the preterist interpretation, insist that the second coming of Jesus was, in fact, his return in 70 a.d. His second coming was a coming in judgment against Israel in the destruction of city and temple, but not a visible return to the earth. This view is espoused today by a growing number within the Church of Christ and is called by its advocates, Covenant Eschatology. See especially the writings of Max King. J. S. Russell put it this way:
“We are compelled, therefore, by all these considerations, and chiefly by regard for the authority of Him whose word cannot be broken, to conclude that the Parousia, or second coming of Christ, with its connected and concomitant events, did take place, according to the Saviour’s own prediction, at the period when Jerusalem was destroyed, and before the passing away of ‘that generation’” (The Parousia, [2nd. ed. 1887], 549).
5) Another possibility is that v. 29 does not refer to what will occur in conjunction with Christ's second coming at the end of the age. Rather, it is a figurative or symbolic description of the present age itself, the last 1,900 years or so following the events of 70 a.d. In other words, v. 29 describes the characteristic features and course of events throughout the present church age. Therefore, vv. 30-31 alone describe the actual second coming of Jesus at the close of the age.
6) Finally, a somewhat more moderate version of the preterist view, is that vv. 29-31 are not a literal description of the second coming but a symbolic description of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. It was a “coming” of Jesus in judgment. Unlike those who embrace 4) above, these preterists believe in a yet future “coming” of Christ to consummate the redemptive purpose of God. See the commentary on Matthew by R. T. France, as well as the writings of N. T. Wright, Peter Walker, David Chilton, Kenneth Gentry, and Gary DeMar. This is the view that I will now seek to explain and defend.
The “70 a.d.” Interpretation of Matthew 24:29-31
R. T. France represents a growing number of scholars (N. T. Wright, Peter Walker, Kenneth Gentry, among others) who insist that vv. 29-31 do not refer at all to the second coming of Christ at the end of age but rather to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. He and others make the following interpretive points:
1. Mt. 24:15-25 (Mark 13:14-23), as already shown, describe the events connected with the siege of Jerusalem but without describing the actual fall of the city. “This leads one to expect a further section which will complete the prophecy by stating that the city will actually be destroyed, and mentioning the significance and effects of this destruction. When one begins to read [Mark 13] verse 24 – ‘But in those days, after that tribulation, . . . ‘ – the impression is virtually irresistible that one is about to be introduced to the catastrophe to which [Mark 13] verses 14-22 have been leading up. The Matthean addition of ‘immediately’ only strengthens this impression, and lays a heavy burden of proof on those who suggest that [Mark 13] verses 24-27 refer to anything other than the fall of Jerusalem” (Jesus and the Old Testament, 232).
2. When one reads Mt. 24:29-30, and in particular v. 29, he/she may at first glance have difficulty seeing in it a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. This is due, in part, to the fact that Matthew's language is compressed. It is also because his language sounds like what most people believe will occur at the second coming. Phenomenal events involving sun, moon, stars, and the powers of heaven don't sound to the 21st century mind like a description of what happened in 70 a.d. The reason for that is because we mistakenly seek to interpret and understand prophecy by reading the New York Times or Newsweek or watching the evening news rather than by reading the Bible. Remember:
Jesus was speaking to a people saturated by Old Testament language, concepts, and imagery. From the earliest days of their lives they memorized and were taught the OT. Thus, when Jesus spoke to them of things to come he used the prophetic vocabulary of the OT which they would instantly recognize.
Consequently, if we are to understand the meaning of Mt. 24:29-31 and its parallel in Luke 21:25-26 we must read and interpret them through a biblical (i.e., OT) lens.
Luke refers to "signs" in sun, moon, and stars. Matthew says "the sun will be darkened, the moon lose its light, and the stars will fall from the sky." Are these literal, physical, astronomical events that one might see with the naked eye? I don't think so.
In the OT, such language was used to portray not what is going on in the heavens but what is happening on the earth. Natural disasters, political upheaval, turmoil among the nations, etc., are often described figuratively through the terminology of cosmic disturbances. The ongoing and unsettled, turbulent state of affairs among earthly world powers is portrayed symbolically by reference to incredible events in the heavens. In other words, astronomical phenomena are used to describe the upheaval of earthly dynasties as well as great moral and spiritual changes. As one author has put it: "In prophetic language, great commotions upon earth are often represented under the notion of commotions and changes in the heavens" (Clarke). As we shall see, when the sun and moon are darkened or the stars fall from heaven, the reference is to the disasters and distresses befalling nations on the earth.
Some examples of how cosmic events are used as symbolic portrayals of earthly realities (whether blessing or cursing) include Isa. 60:20; Amos 8:2-9; Zeph. 1:4,15; Isa. 5:30; Jer. 4:23,28; 13:16; Joel 2:10.
In Isaiah 13:9-10 we read of the impending judgment of God on Babylon, which he describes in this way:
"The stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shed its light."
Former Dallas Seminary professor John Martin acknowledges that the language is figurative:
"The statements in 13:10 about the heavenly bodies (stars . . . sun . . . moon) no longer functioning may figuratively describe the total turnaround of the political structure of the Near East. The same would be true of the heavens trembling and the earth shaking (v. 13), figures of speech suggesting all-encompassing destruction" ("Isaiah," The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1059).
Concerning the destruction of Egypt, Ezekiel wrote,
"I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon the land . . . I shall make the land of Egypt desolate" (Ezek. 32:7-15).
The destruction of Idumea (Edom) is described in this way:
"And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine, or as one withers from the fig tree. For My sword is satiated in heaven, behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom, and upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction" (Isa. 34:4-5).
William Kimball summarizes:
"When Israel was judged, or when Babylon was subdued by the Medes, or when Idumea and Egypt were destroyed, it was not the literal sun, moon, and stars that were darkened. The literal stars of heaven did not fall from the skies, and the literal constellations were not dissolved or rolled up as a scroll. These figurative expressions were clearly presented in a purely symbolic manner to characterize the destruction befalling nations and earthly powers” (166).
In summary, “it is crass literalism,” notes Wright, “in view of the many prophetic passages in which this language denotes socio-political and military catastrophe, to insist that this time the words must refer to the physical collapse of the space-time world. This is simply the way regular Jewish imagery is able to refer to major socio-political events and bring out their full significance” (Victory, 361). Again, “the dramatic and (to us) bizarre language of much ‘apocalyptic’ writing is evidence, not of paranoia or a dualistic worldview, as is sometimes anachronistically suggested, but of a creative reuse of Israel’s scriptural, and particularly prophetic, heritage” (Victory, 513). In summary, Mt. 24:29 is stock-in-trade OT prophetic language for national disaster. “Jesus is not predicting that strange astronomical events will occur; he is predicting the judgment of God on the Jewish nation” (234).
3. France points out that nowhere does Jesus use the term parousia in this passage (as he does in vv. 27, 37). The Greek word translated “coming” is erchomenon, which could mean either “coming” or “going”. Be it noted, however, that even if parousia were used, it need not point to the second coming. One cannot simply assume that the later, technical Pauline, use of that term is in view here. Says Wright:
“But why should we think – except for reasons of ecclesiastical and scholarly tradition – that parousia means ‘the second coming’, and/or the downward travel on a cloud of Jesus . . .' Parousia means ‘presence’ as opposed to apousia, ‘absence’; hence it denotes the ‘arrival’ of someone not at the moment present; and it is especially used in relation to the visit ‘of a royal or official personage’” (Victory, 341).
For the ordinary sense of “arrival,” Wright points to 1 Cor. 16:17; 2 Cor. 7:6,7; 10:10; Phil. 1:26; 2:12. From this, he concludes, “the most natural meaning for the word as applied to Jesus would be something like ‘arrival on the scene’, in the sense of ‘enthronement’” (Victory, 341, n. 95).
Here the "coming" of the Son of Man in v. 30 is an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14 which speaks not of a "coming to earth" from heaven but of a "coming to God" in heaven to receive vindication and authority. This "coming" refers to an event "whereby the authority of Jesus is vindicated over the Jewish establishment which has rejected him" (344).
See esp. Mt. 26:64. “Here the Lord informs the high priest and the other members of the Jewish Sanhedrin that they will ‘see’ His coming. Obviously, they are not still alive today! Jesus must be referring to an event in their first-century life spans” (Gentry, 53). Wright explains:
“Jesus is not . . . suggesting that Caiaphas will witness the end of the space-time order. Nor will he look out of the window one day and observe a human figure flying downwards on a cloud. It is absurd to imagine either Jesus, or Mark, or anyone in between, supposing the words to mean that. Caiaphas will witness the strange events that follow Jesus’ crucifixion: the rise of a group of disciples claiming that he has been raised from the dead, and the events which accelerate towards the final clash with Rome, in which . . . Jesus will be vindicated as a true prophet. In and through it all, Caiaphas will witness events which show that Jesus was not, after all, mistaken in his claim, hitherto implicit, now at last explicit: he is the Messiah, the anointed one, the true representative of the people of Israel, the one in and through whom the covenant God is acting to set up his kingdom" (Victory, 525).
Again, France writes:
"Jesus is using Daniel 7:13 as a prediction of that authority which he exercised when in AD 70 the Jewish nation and its leaders, who had condemned him, were overthrown, and Jesus was vindicated as the recipient of all power from the Ancient of Days. . . . Jesus, exalted after his death and resurrection to receive his everlasting dominion, will display it within the generation . . . by an act of judgment on the nation and capital of the authorities who presumed to judge him. Then they will see . . . for themselves that their time of power is finished, and it is to him that God has given all power in heaven and earth” (JOT, 236).
Here, notes G. B. Caird, “as in the book of Daniel . . ., the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven was never conceived as a primitive form of space travel, but as a symbol for a mighty reversal of fortunes within history and at the national level” (Jesus and the Jewish Nation, 20-22). Wright summarizes:
“The days of Jerusalem’s destruction would be looked upon as days of cosmic catastrophe. The known world would go into convulsions: power struggles and coups d’etat would be the order of the day; the pax Romana [peace of Rome], the presupposition of ‘civilized’ life throughout the then Mediterranean world, would collapse into chaos. In the midst of that chaos Jerusalem would fall. The ‘son of man’ would thereby be vindicated. That would be the sign that the followers of this ‘son of man’ would now spread throughout the world: his ‘angels’, that is, messengers, would summon people from north, south, east and west to come and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of YHWH” (Victory, 362-63).
4. I believe that a mistranslation of v. 30 has contributed to a misunderstanding of what Jesus said. Literally, v. 30 reads as follows:
"And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then will mourn all the tribes of the land and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
In other words, Jesus was not telling his disciples that He would appear in the sky. Rather, "He told them that they would see a sign that proved He was in heaven, sitting at His Father's right hand (Acts 2:30-36). Those who would witness Jerusalem's destruction would see the sign of Jesus' enthronement when they saw Jerusalem's destruction" (Demar, 159). In other words, the "sign" of the Son of Man being enthroned and vindicated in "heaven" is the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple “on earth”. It is the sign that appears, not the Son of Man. What does the sign signify? It signifies that the Son of Man is in heaven, exalted, vindicated, and enthroned at God’s right hand.
5. This "coming" of Christ to God the Father (in heaven) by which he is vindicated and his authority established, will be greeted by the "mourning" predicted in Zech. 12:10-14. France explains:
"All the tribes of the earth is better translated 'all the tribes (families) of the land', for in Zechariah 12:10-14 the mourning is explicitly restricted to the families of Israel. What is in view here, then, is not so much a world-wide lamentation, but the response of Israel when they see the vindication of 'him whom they pierced'" (345).
Two important interpretive points need to be made:
·The word translated “tribes” (phule) has Israel in view. France points out “that the reference in Zechariah 12:10-14 is explicitly to a mourning of the tribes of Israel, the tribes of David, Nathan, Levi and Shimei being specified, and a final ‘all the families that are left’ extending the scope to the whole nation” (237).
·The Greek noun translated “earth” (ge) can refer generally to the tangible ground, the earth, or more specifically to a particular land area. Often in the NT ge refers particularly to the “land” of Israel, i.e., Palestine (see Mt. 2:6,20; 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 4:25; 21:23; John 3:22; Acts 7:3).
This “coming” is not a visible, physical appearance by which Jesus returns to earth (although that will most assuredly occur at the end of history). Rather, they will “see” him in the sense that they will “understand”, i.e., spiritually perceive that he is the vindicated and enthroned King. For “seeing” = “understanding”, see John 12:40 (Isa. 6:10); Acts 26:18; cf. 1 Kings 8:29,52; 2 Kings 2:16; 6:20; 19:16; Isa. 35:5; 42:7,16; see also Luke 24:31; also note Mark 1:44; Luke 17:22; John 3:3,36; Rom. 15:21. “This actually refers to Jesus’ ascension [not his second advent]. In the destruction of the temple, the rejected Christ is vindicated as the ascended Lord and shown to possess great power and glory” (Gentry, 61).
6. The word "angels" (v. 31) literally means "messengers" and refers to human preaching of the gospel throughout the world. In the Greek version of the OT (the Septuagint), the Greek word angelos is often translated as “messenger” (cf. 2 Chron. 26:15,16; Haggai 1:13; Mal. 2:7; see also Mt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:24,27; 9:52; James 2:25). Gentry contends that “even if we apply this to angels . . . it would then refer ‘to the supernatural power which lies behind such preaching.’ Then it would teach that the angels of God attend our faithful proclamation of God’s Word” (63).
7. The reference to the “trumpet” is perhaps an allusion to the means by which the OT Jubilee was announced: “Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land” (Lev. 25:9). The point of its use here is to declare that with the destruction of the Temple the ultimate Jubilee Year has arrived. That is to say, “by employing imagery from the typological Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25, the Lord here speaks about the final stage of redemption, which is finally secured as the temple vanishes from history” (Gentry, 61). Jesus himself announced the fulfillment of the Jubilee law in his ministry when he quoted from Isa. 61 in his synagogue sermon (Luke 4:17-21). The ultimate deliverance of God’s people and liberation from all “indebtedness” has come in the person of Christ.
8. The "gathering together" (v. 31) of God’s elect is not a reference to the end-time harvest but "to the world-wide growth of the church" (France, 345) that is on-going throughout this present age. It includes both the gathering of the saints into local assemblies or churches (Heb. 10:25; James 2:2) and the universal assembling of the saints into the body of Christ, the universal church (see Mt. 22:7-13). Gentry explains:
“Through Christ-commissioned gospel preaching by faithful messengers, God gathers the elect into His kingdom from the four corners of the world (Matt. 28:19; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 13:47; 17:30). The phrase ‘from one end of the sky to the other’ does not indicate that the place of the action is in the sky (or heaven) above. The phraseology often signifies nothing more than ‘horizon to horizon’ (Deut. 30:4; Neh. 1:9; compare Matt. 8:11; Luke 13:28-29). Thus, it speaks about evangelistic activity spreading throughout the earth. In fact, it parallels ‘from the four winds,’ that is, the four points of the compass. This, of course, Jesus promises in His ministry, despite the failure of His own people: ‘And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness (Matt. 8:11-12; Luke 13:29 speaks about all four points of the compass)” (64).
Likewise, Wright points to Deut. 30:2-5, which speaks of God’s regathering his children “from all the people among whom YHWH your God has scattered you. Even if your exile is from the extremity of the heaven unto the extremity of the heaven, from there YHWH your God will gather you . . .” Wright contends that the language of this text, echoed in the Olivet Discourse, “suggests strongly that the . . . passage refers, not to a ‘supernatural’ or ‘heavenly’ event, but to this-worldly [evangelistic] activity” (Victory, 363).
Thus, according to this view, Jesus does not address the issue of his second coming at the end of history until v. 36. Therefore, “all these things” (v. 34) which must take place before “this generation” (v. 34) passes away refers to everything described in vv. 4-31, i.e., events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d.
Still at the center of attention is the question the disciples had asked Jesus back in v. 3. a) When will "these things" be, i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple as prophesied in 23:35-36,38; 24:2? b) When will you return and consummate the age? The disciples thought the two events would be simultaneous. Jesus says, "No, the destruction of Jerusalem will be in your lifetime. I'll even give you a sign that will warn you of its nearness. But the day of my second coming will not be preceded by signs. It will come only after a period of delay of undetermined duration. Everyone of this present generation will be aware of when Jerusalem will fall, but not even I know when the second coming will occur."
To make this point, Jesus employs a parable (v. 32).
The fig tree in Palestine loses its leaves in winter and blossoms late in the spring. As they sat on the Mt. of Olives, a place famous for its fig trees (some of which grew to 25 ft.), Jesus perhaps reached up and plucked from one of the trees a branch. After all, he delivered this sermon just before Passover and the fig tree would have been in precisely the condition described in the parable. He pointed out to them the tenderness of the branch as the sap was moving into it and the sprouting of its leaves. His point was: these are indications that summer is close at hand. The application of this to the subject at hand will become evident as we examine each part in turn.
·The "fig tree" (v. 32) does not refer to the nation Israel (some argue that the budding of the tree refers to the rebirth of the nation in 1948). But: (1) there is nothing in the context to indicate he is equating the fig tree with Israel; (2) this theory is based on the assumption that Mt. 24 is future; hence, all the arguments for taking Mt. 24 as referring to events preceding and including 70 a.d. weigh equally against identifying the fig tree with Israel; (3) most believe Jesus is appealing to Isa. 34:4 as a basis for his use of the fig tree; in other words, he was simply using what was close at hand to illustrate his point; (4) Luke 21:29 makes it clear that any tree would have made the point; Jesus is simply drawing a lesson from nature; (5) "this generation" (v. 34) points away from a reference to future Israel and to events in their own lifetime.
·The phrase "all these things" (v. 33a) refers to events described in vv. 4-28 (perhaps even including vv. 29-31). "All these things" = those distinctive events which that generation of Jewish Christians would see in conjunction with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. When you see "these things", especially the Abomination of Desolation (vv. 15-22 = Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem) you may safely conclude that Jerusalem's destruction is near.
·The phrase "He is near" could as easily be rendered "it is near" (v. 33b). The Greek is ambiguous. It can be either masculine or neuter. If masculine, it refers to the vindication of Jesus as seen in his coming in judgment. If neuter, it refers to the desolation, desecration, destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
·As noted before, "this generation" (v. 34a) refers to the contemporaries of Jesus who would live to see the events he describes.
In summary, Jesus says: "I want you to be alerted to the approach of Jerusalem's destruction. Here is how you can know when its fall is impending. It will as surely follow the Abomination of Desolation as summer follows the budding of figs. But, on the other hand, when it comes to the timing and proximity of my return and the end of the age, not even I know when that day will occur."
Matthew 24:35 (Mk. 13:31) records Jesus’ words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Most commentators have given scant attention to the significance of this statement in its context, simply assuming that our Lord had in mind the destruction/collapse of the space-time cosmos at the close of history. However, Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis has put forth a compelling argument “that ‘by heaven and earth’ is meant the Jerusalem temple and the Torah constitution at the center of which the former stands. . . . [Thus the phrase ‘heaven and earth shall pass away’ refers] to the imminent end to the social, religious and economic structure of Israel’s covenant relationship with God with the attendant destruction of the temple” (“The Destruction of the Temple and the Relativization of the Old Covenant: Mark 13:31 and Matthew 5:18,” in Eschatology in Bible & Theology: Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium, edited by Kent E. Brower & Mark W. Elliott [Downers Grove: IVP, 1997], 146). Although this may sound strange to modern ears, he compiles an impressive amount of biblical and extra-biblical evidence that the temple was thought of “as the point at which the creation had taken place and around which it now revolved – the Navel of the Earth (Jub. 8:19; 1 Enoch 26:1; cf. Ezk. 38:12); the meeting point of heaven and earth – the Gate of Heaven” (157). More important still “was the belief that the temple was regarded as the ‘epitome of the world, a concentrated form of its essence, a miniature of the cosmos’. The temple was far more than the point at which heaven and earth met. Rather, it was thought to correspond to, represent, or, in some sense, to be ‘heaven and earth’ in its totality. The idea is readily grasped if its three-fold structure, the sanctuary (supremely the Holy of Holies), the inner and outer courts, are allowed to correspond to heaven, earth and sea respectively” (157; see Ps. 78:69; Isa. 65:17-18 “where the new heavens and earth are related to the restoration of Jerusalem”). If Fletcher-Louis is correct, we would find in v. 35 additional support for the view that finds the fulfillment of Jesus words in Mt. 24 in the destruction of temple and city in 70 a.d.
Whereas the parable of the fig tree makes it possible to know the nearness of Jerusalem's fall, nothing will help you fix the date or proximity of Christ's return. Here, then, is our Lord's answer to the second half of the disciples' question (v. 3). "That day" (v. 36) refers to the second coming at the end of human history. This, then, is a major transition verse in the Olivet Discourse. Observe the contrasts:
·"But", with which v. 36 opens, implies a contrast between v. 36 and what has previously been said. Our Lord is clearly moving from the subject of Jerusalem and its temple to that of his Parousia. France explains that in v. 36
“we are introduced, it seems, to a new subject. There is, first, the fact that whereas the preceding verses have described an event shortly to occur, and definitely within a generation, this verse introduces an event of the date of which Jesus explicitly disclaims any knowledge. Further, the phrase peri de tes hemeras ekeines (‘but of that day’) is as clearly as possible setting the day it describes in contrast with what has preceded. The phrase he hemera ekeine (‘that day’) is a new one in this chapter [Mark 13]. The events of 66-70 have been described as tauta panta (‘all these things’), and as ekeinai hai hemerai (‘those days’) (verses 17, 19, 24; and Mt. 24:22), but the singular has not yet occurred. The inference is clear that a new and distinct day is being described” (JOT, 232).
·The change in subject is also attested by the issue of signs. In the first half of the sermon, Jesus gave specifics concerning events preceding and leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem; he gave instructions on how to escape; he even gave them one sign in particular that would unmistakably indicate the imminence of the city's fall. But now, in response to the second half of their question, he says: "No one knows or can know; not even I."
Thus, one event was close at hand (Jerusalem's fall). It would happen within the time span of that generation and would be immediately preceded by the sign of the A of D. The other event (the parousia) would transpire in the future at a time unknown even to the Lord. No signs will point to that day. Perhaps Jesus spoke this way to keep us "from presumptuously assuming that every new international crisis, natural catastrophe, or season of natural upheaval was the clear sign of His coming" (Kimball, 214).
Question: "Did Jesus provide any information at all of what the last days would be like?" Yes. He does describe some of the features of that time.
There will not be unprecedented global catastrophes, unparalleled calamities, that will point people to the impending return of Jesus. Rather, humanity will be immersed in the routine affairs of life. It will be like it was in the days of Noah. The world will be caught completely off-guard by the coming of Christ. People will be engaged in normal, routine occupations of life: farming, fellowship, marriage, etc.(Cf. Luke 17:28-30; 1 Thess. 5:3.)
Jesus will come at a time of widespread indifference, normalcy, materialistic endeavors, when everyone is thoroughly involved in the pursuit of their earthly affairs and ambitions. Cf. 2 Pt. 3:3-4,10. His coming will occur at a time so unexpected, so unannounced, that it will catch people in the middle of their everyday routines. See vv. 40-41. When will Jesus come? Jesus will come at a time when his coming is the farthest thing from people's minds!
Here Jesus uses two illustrations.
1) Vv. 42-44 - Has a thief ever called your home to tell you when he planned on breaking in? Did he say, "Hey, I'm coming to steal everything you've got at about 3:30 a.m. Be sure you leave your back door unlocked!" Of course, Jesus is not comparing himself to the character of a thief but to the coming of a thief. Both a thief in the night and Jesus' coming are unannounced and unexpected: so be ready!
2) Vv. 45-51 - Watching does not mean sitting quietly and passively as you gaze into the skies. It means serving, being diligent to help others, obeying God.
[Wright, however, contends that not even vv. 36ff. refer to the second coming but rather are an extended warning to the disciples to be prepared for impending judgment. Luke’s version of this warning (17:26-36) refers both to the days of Noah and Lot,
“times when devastating judgment fell on those who were failing to heed divine warning. Their times were perfectly ordinary, with no special signs of imminent disaster: they ate, they drank, they married and were given in marriage. But when YHWH acted in judgment there was no time to waste. Only those who got out and fled . . . were saved. . . . While they were waiting for the moment to arrive, however, there would be many voices urging that Israel’s vindication was to be found in this or that new movement. They would long to see one of the days of the ‘son of man’ [Lk. 17:22], but would not see it, and would be an open prey to invitations to look at this or that conspiracy or uprising as the way towards vindication. But when it happened there would be no mistaking it: it would be like lightning flashing from east to west, and on that day . . . they should not stop to pack and get ready, but simply run” (Victory, 365-66).
He contends that “being ‘taken’ in this context means being taken in judgment. There is no hint, here of a ‘rapture’, a sudden ‘supernatural’ event which would remove individuals from terra firma. Such an idea,” says Wright, “would look as odd, in these synoptic passages, as a Cadillac in a camel-train. It is a matter, rather, of secret police coming in the night, or of enemies sweeping through a village or city and seizing all they can. If the disciples were to escape, if they were to be ‘left’, it would be by the skin of their teeth” (Victory, 366).]
In conclusion, my argument that Mt. 24:4-31 refer immediately and primarily to the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. does not necessarily exclude the possibility that the end of the age is also in view.
It may well be that future events associated with the second advent of Christ at the end of the age are prefigured by the destruction of the temple and the city in 70 a.d. James Edwards argues “that events surrounding the destruction of the temple and fall of Jerusalem are a type and foreshadowing of a final sacrilege before the eschaton” (The Gospel According to Mark, 384). Thus, the temple is understood as a microcosm of the cosmos, so that its destruction becomes a prophetic or proleptic paradigm for what will occur in the macrocosm at the close of history.
The mistake that many make, however, is in trying to project the historical details of 70 a.d. into a comparable and proportionate conflagration in literal, historical Jerusalem at the end of the age. They want to suggest that essentially everything that literally happened in the period 33-70 a.d. will literally happen again on the same scale in the same part of the world: Palestine. They fail to realize that the events of 70 a.d. are a prototype on a microcosmic scale of what will occur on a macrocosmic scale when Jesus returns. In other words, the events of 70 a.d. portray in a localized way what will happen globally at or in some way associated with the second advent.
Therefore, my opinion is that the pattern of events that transpired in the period 33-70 a.d., leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, functions as a local, microcosmic foreshadowing of the global, macrocosmic events associated with the Parousia and the end of history. The period 33-70 a.d. provides in its principles (though not necessarily in all particularities), a template against which we are to interpret the period 70-Parousia.