The Olivet Discourse
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Mat. 24:34
C.S. Lewis’ comment that Matthew 24:34 is “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible” can only be the result of a cursory reading or common misunderstanding of prophecy in general. But given the amount of time over more than a decade of intense study that I have personally pursued to come to my present understanding, I am not surprised that anyone so engaged in other pursuits could come to a similar conclusion as Mr. Lewis.
Understandably, Matthew chapter 24 is perhaps one of the most confusing prophetic passages in the Gospels:
Obviously, Mr. Lewis believed that at least some of the prophecy was not fulfilled in “that generation”. How embarrassing for Jesus. I however differ in my understanding. I believe that the Word of God is infallible. If there is anything that is embarrassing, it would be my understanding or the translation that would be at fault. I certainly do not believe that Jesus got it wrong when he spoke those words to his disciples, regardless of how they may appear to my understanding as they have been transmitted to me several thousand years later in a different language. Was the original wording the same as what has been transmitted to me in the English? Can I find a clue to a better understanding by looking deeper into the text? Can the seemingly obvious error be reconciled and the honor of Jesus’ divinity be vindicated? Upon deeper investigation, I believe the text itself resolves the issue completely: Let us step back in time – into the sandals of the disciples…
The Two Questions.
The disciples are pointing out the magnificence of the buildings of the temple when Jesus, to their astonishment, prophesies their destruction:
“See ye not all these things…there shall not be left here one stone upon another…”
They ponder his reply in stunned silence as they slowly walk over to the Mount of Olives, leaving the crowds behind. Jesus anticipates the questions that are coming, he gathers his small troop around him. Matthew records two questions asked by Jesus’ disciples when they finally reach the Mount of Olives.
Notice the first question is differentiated by the phrase, “these things” and the author uses this key throughout the text to separate the two answers.
Imagine the reality of Jesus with His disciples around Him going back and forth between these two questions, conveying with a look exactly which question He is referring to at any given moment. If you were there, there would be little confusion. But we were not there, and Jesus was not speaking to us, thus the key “these things” is necessary in the written account, to differentiate the answers as the conversation vacillates between the two questions.
I have highlighted the first question and its direct answers in yellow-(rounded box), the second question in blue-[square box]. “These things” also begs the question: What things? The answer is in the previous verse, the “buildings of the temple”. The buildings of the temple were standing when Jesus was there. This does not include the outer wall or retaining stones of the Temple Mount itself. Jesus knew what was going to happen in 70 AD: The Romans (the people of the prince that shall come) burned the Temple and all of the gold overlay melted and seeped between the stones of the Temple itself so that the Roman soldiers turned over every stone of the buildings to extract that gold, completely fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy to the letter.
Question 1: when shall these things be? In other words, when shall there not be left here one stone upon another of the (antecedent) buildings of the temple?
Question 2: what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
Jesus and his disciples are leaving the Temple Mount where Jesus briefly comments on the coming destruction of the buildings there. After they travel the short distance to the Mount of Olives, they engage in a private conference where the two question are asked.
In verses 15 through 22, Jesus directly answers the first question in relation to events including the annihilation of Judea, the Temple and the Hebrew Nation, which culminated in the 70 AD desolation, by addressing the disciples directly, “ye therefore shall see…” then he broadens the scope to “them which be in Judaea” with instructions to follow the signs for that generation.
You will notice that the text only includes us parenthetically, (whoso readeth…). If we were included with those who would see the “abomination of desolation”, then the text would have been stated, “Whoso or whosoever shall see”.
This is a singular distinction of the King James Version of the bible: The translators at great pain attempted to only present a word for word meaning from the original Greek, whereas most modern versions attempt to interpret the text for you – but whose interpretation are they giving you but their own, and that is decidedly Futurist. For instance, ye in the old English refers to everyone present, which at this instance were only the disciples, whereas thou refers to an individual. Whoso or whosoever can refer to anyone anywhere at any time, depending upon the context. The newer versions, using the same word, you for every instance is actually less precise and the root of much confusion.
Jesus continues, and in a very conversational mode broaches general instruction for the entire last days era in verses 4-14 and 23-26. In these sections Jesus expresses conditions that are applicable to the entire end times, this age, including the time from his ascension until he returns. These are more of a warning and instructional in quality as an addendum to the subject questions, and not specific to either question, therefore I have not highlighted those.
Jesus then closes this section (v.22) with a promise that the tribulation of that time, which they would see, would be shortened because it was necessary for the elect to survive to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world. Remember that the first century Christians were a sect or offshoot of the Hebrew religion, and the Hebrew Nation was then experiencing the wrath of the Roman Empire. This is why Jesus instructed His followers to flee Jerusalem and Judea. Many try to apply v.22 to the days preceding the Return of Christ, but it is not necessary for the elect to survive through His return because we will all be resurrected at that time, not to mention that the Revelation explicitly states that many will suffer beheading for rejecting the Mark of the Beast in the era leading up to His return.
Also compare this Roman desolation with the prior Babylonian desolation: Many of the Jews were spared and allowed to prosper in exile and eventually returned to the land as a nation; the Roman desolation however was complete, with the prophesied death of the people and nation and dispersion for almost two thousand years — it was indeed worse than anything National Israel had ever or I believe will ever again experience.
The end time tribulation is only mentioned in v. 29 (“the tribulation of those days”) also notice that the duration is never mentioned, but I believe we are in it now and will be until the seventh millennium begins.
In verses 27-31 the conversation wanders to specifically address some points of the second question about his return and the end of the world (or age). The apocalyptic language of verse 29 coincides with the dissolution of the political world powers, or rulers of evil, at Jesus return. Jesus then wraps up question #1 in verses 32-34 before he continues to finish the topics of question #2.
Our key is in the term “these things” from the Strong’s Greek 5023. When searched for occurrences of the G5023, I find a universal indication to things present, or we could say “these present things” but never is it used to reference things far off or belonging to a future generation.
Of necessity, this rule of grammar is followed very closely in this chapter as indicated by the introduction of “these things” in the first question and its inclusion in the answers specific to “This generation”.
Also notice the exclusion of the phrase in the second question and all of those things which are specifically ascribed to Jesus’ return and the end of the age.
This understanding when applied should clear up all the confusion from the text, at the same time controvert most of the popular Dispensational Futurist eschatology and interpretation of this passage. When applied we should be able to rightly divide this passage and the two questions of text to gain a clear understanding without conjecture or other added presupposition. Matthew was a firsthand witness upon this occasion, the parallel passage in Luke is a hearsay account therefore may be used to verify Matthew. The Historical Grammatical method requires us to give Matthew’s account primary weight in interpretation.
The Abomination of Desolation.
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: (Matthew 24:15-16)
Jesus is telling “ye”, his disciples, that they will see the abomination of desolation in the midst of answering the two questions from them. He would have said “whosoever” if he were speaking to a future generation. He also expands the warning to “them which be in Judaea”, to those who were living at that time. They would also see the abomination that he spoke of. He is not telling us that we will see it, but the author only includes us in the parenthetical note (whoso readeth, let him understand:) This is an explicit instruction for everyone to look in the book of Daniel to understand exactly what it was Jesus was telling those inhabitants of Judaea that they would see.
So we find the word abomination twice in the Book of Daniel:
(Dan 11:31) And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.
(Dan 12:11) And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.
Daniel 11:31 is part of the prophecy/history leading up to the end of the 70 weeks era, and specifically here, a reference to Antiochus Epiphanies among other acts, slaughtering a pig on the alter, in the Temple, so here we get a definition: An abomination that maketh desolate is a wrong sacrifice in the Temple. In this instance it did not bring about the desolation of the Temple as it was not the Hebrew Nation which was directly responsible for the act, nor was it made a “standing” practice.
Daniel 12:11 is the direct reference to what Jesus was telling those in Judaea to be on the lookout for. When was this wrong sacrifice set up as a “standing” practice in the Temple? I will show you in the scripture:
Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: (Hebrews 9:6-8)
This (underlined) was the authorized sacrifice for sin, the blood of goats and calves, until the Messiah came and sacrificed Himself.
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:11-12)
John’s witness is that Jesus said, “it is finished” before he gave up the ghost. Matthew records:
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; (Matthew 27:50-51)
What was finished? And what does the renting of the veil in the Temple represent? The sacrifice for sin, once for all was finished when Jesus gave up the ghost. The veil being rent in the temple signifies that Jesus was the way into the holiest of all so that the blood of goats and calves was no longer an acceptable sacrifice for sin. He caused the sacrifice and the oblation to cease in the middle of the week just as the Prophet Daniel foretold. He caused the sacrifice and the oblation to cease by the sacrifice of himself. If anyone does not understand this — then they do not understand the gospel.
And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate. (Daniel 9:27)
And he did confirm the covenant:
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)
Now if Jesus was the messenger of the covenant as foretold in Malachi, who better to confirm the covenant than the one who was to fulfill it, even the messenger of the covenant? When Paul was brought to trial before the Pharisees and the Sadducees he testified to the hope of the resurrection as a primary point of contention between the two religious sects. Jesus told the Saducees, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” in answer to their direct challenge of the resurrection of the dead. Without the resurrection any hope in any point of the covenant does not extend beyond the grave, making the resurrection the most important point of any covenant God made with Abraham or Israel. By His sacrifice and his own resurrection from the death of the cross, Jesus confirmed the most important of all the promises of God, thus confirming it as an everlasting covenant.
Nineteenth Century Jewish author, Alfred Edersheim writes in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah:
“And now a shudder ran through Nature, as its Sun had set. We dare not do more than follow the rapid outlines of the Evangelistic narrative. As the first token, it records the rending of the Temple-Veil in two from the top downward to the bottom; as the second, the quaking of the earth, the rending of the rocks and the opening of the graves.., while the rending of the Veil is recorded first, as being the most significant token to Israel, it may have been connected with the earthquake, although this alone might scarcely account for the tearing of so heavy a Veil from the top to the bottom. Even the latter circumstance has its significance. That some great catastrophe, betokening the impending destruction of the Temple, had occurred in the Sanctuary about this very time, is confirmed by not less than four mutually independent testimonies: those of Tacitus, of Josephus, of the Talmud, and of earliest Christian tradition. The most important of these are, of course, the Talmud and Josephus. The latter speaks of the mysterious extinction of the middle and chief light in the Golden Candlestick, forty years before the destruction of the Temple; and both he and the Talmud refer to a supernatural opening by themselves of the great Temple-gates that had been previously closed, which was regarded as a portent of the coming destruction of the Temple.” (p.610)
The immediate continuation of the animal sacrifice in the temple as a standing practice was The Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel the Prophet and Jesus. It was an unacceptable or wrong sacrifice set up or standing in the holy place. The Religious Establishment and National leaders rejected God’s final provided sacrifice, the blood of the Messiah.
And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days. (Daniel 12:11-12)
What happened a thousand two hundred and ninety days later? Three and a half years later the Seventy weeks of Daniel comes to its end. The extra 30 days must be an indication that one of the last three and a half years had an extra month, a second Adar which was inserted seven of nineteen years as instructed at the Exodus.
In Daniel there is also pronounced a blessing on those that come to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days: I believe this is a reference to the Holy Spirit Falling on the Gentiles, making of one the entire Ecclesia, Spiritual Israel, a Holy Nation by the seed of faith, the blood of the Messiah, apart from National Israel of the flesh whose determined days as an exclusive set apart nation had reached its end. There are other interpretations available for the students consideration, but this is the only one I have seen that actually fits into history fulfilled.
Matthew Henry confirms:
“because it is said that in the midst of the week (that is, the last of the seventy weeks) he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, they end three years and a half after the death of Christ, when the Jews having rejected the gospel, the apostles turned to the Gentiles.”
You will notice that Henry never asserts a futurist Antichrist interpretation into the debate, but upholds the Reformation/Historical Grammatical position that the seventy weeks were contiguous and completely fulfilled in the four hundred and ninety years allotted to them without controversy. The futurist counter view is based solely upon conjecture and the end result of the counter-reformation work of the Jesuit Priest, Francisco Ribera.
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture
is of any private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)
Rapture or Resurrection?
Mat 24:40-41 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
In context these verses, in the words of Jesus, have to do with “the coming of the Son of man” and are in answer to the second question opening the chapter. This event cannot be a Secret Rapture, as the individuals being taken, are caught up at His return to be changed and meet Jesus together with those that are resurrected from the dead.
1Th 4:13-18 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. (14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. (16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (17)Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
It is unfortunate that the singular resurrection event has been supplanted by the multiple raptures of dispensationalism, and the scriptural language all but forgotten when referring to this blessed event, upon the speculation that it is a separate event – the Secret Rapture.
The word “resurrection” is found 41 times in the New Testament. The novel word “rapture” is found nowhere, but is only wrested from the Latin Vulgate for the singular purpose of upholding counter-reformation dispensationalism. This, in my view, is a clue as to the origin of the doctrine for which it has only recently (less than 200 years) been applied. As sons and daughters of the Protestant Reformation, I believe it would be wise to extirpate this unbiblical word from our vocabulary in exchange for that which God has given in His Word to us: Resurrection!
Mat 24:44-46 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. (45) Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? (46) Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
May we all thus be blessed.
 Notice the word “privately”, v. 3.
“…neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered: but having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see.” THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER. Preface to the King James Version 1611
 Dan 9:24
The above posting is an excerpt from the updated text of my Sep 2020 book, Reformed Prophecy Interpretation, chapter 4.