PMT 2014-052 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
The Olivet Discourse (Matt 24–25) is one of Jesus five major discourses structuring Matthew’s Gospel. It is prompted by Jesus’ dramatic denouncement of Jerusalem and the temple (Matt 23:37–38), his ceremonial final departure from the temple (Matt 24:1a), his disciples’ confused question regarding the temple as a beautiful place to worship (Matt 24:1b), and his declaration of its coming destruction (Matt 24:2).
In this discourse Jesus prophecies the coming AD 70 destruction of the temple. But he does more. Let us consider the question of whether or not he also refers to the Second Advent of Christ.
As J. A. Gibbs (Jerusalem and Parousia), R. T. France (The Gospel according to Matthew), and others argue, the Olivet Discourse has a two-part structure which corresponds to the disciples’ two questions in Matthew 24:3:
“As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’”
Their first question asks “when” the destruction of the temple will occur: it is answered in vv 4–31. Their second question regards “what” will be sign of “Your coming”: this is answered in 24:36–25:46.
Olivet Discourse Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)
Verse-by-verse analysis of Christ’s teaching on Jerusalem’s destruction in Matt 24
See more study materials at: KennethGentry.com
But how do we know this is the intended structure of the passage? It is one thing to declare a two-part structure while it is another to prove it.
Let us now look at the evidence that Jesus is shifting his attention from the destruction of the temple in AD 70 to his second coming at the end of history. In this and the next few articles I will present more than a dozen arguments for the transition in Matthew 24. For more detailed information please see my book: The Olivet Discourse Made Easy.
1. Argument from concluding statement
By all appearance Matthew 24:34 functions as a concluding statement; it seems to end the preceding prophecy: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Why would such a statement be inserted one-fourth of the way through the discourse if it were dealing in its entirety with events that were to occur in “this generation”? Such would not make sense. That would be like someone giving a speech, and after fifteen minutes saying, “In conclusion,” then continuing the speech for another forty-five minutes.
Consequently, we must understand Matthew 24:34 as serving to close out one portion of the Discourse. At this point Jesus is announcing that he has answered the disciples’ question regarding “when” these things shall be (Matt 24:3). He still has their next question before him. This then means that the following material relates to events not occurring in “this generation.” Thus, all prophecies before verse 34 are to transpire within the disciples’ own first-century generation.
2. Argument from transition indicator
In Matthew 24:36 we come upon an subject-matter transition device: “But of that day and hour no one knows.” The introductory phrase here in the Greek is: peri de (“but of, concerning, regarding”). This grammatical structure suggests a transition in the passage involving a change of subject. We may see this phrase frequently marking off new material, as in Matthew 22:31; Acts 21:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; and 5:1.
France notes that verse 36 “marks a deliberate change of subject” Elsewhere he states that it is a “rhetorical formula for a new beginning.” John Nolland (The Gospel of Matthew) agrees when he states that peri de functions in Matthew 24:36 as “an introductory piece for 24:37– 25:30.”
What is more, Gibbs demonstrates that the lone preposition peri in and of itself can have a resumptive force. That is, peri (“concerning”) can pick up on a subject broached earlier in a narrative by serving as a sign that the speaker is returning to that issue once again.
Thus, in Matthew 24:36 peri reaches back to the disciples’ second question of the two that were raised in v 3. Having dealt with their first question in vv 4–35, he now returns to consider their second one. By this structuring of the passage we see that v 36 introduces new material differing from vv 4–35. At this point he moves away from his AD 70 prophecy and begins speaking of his second advent at the “end of the age,” which he will cover in 24:36–25:46.
3. Argument from humiliation limitation
Focusing once again on Matthew 24:36 we read: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Here Christ states that in his state of humiliation (the period from the time of his earthly conception within Mary’s womb until his glorification at his resurrection) he himself has no knowledge as to when “that day and hour” will occur. But of what “day and hour” is he speaking?
He must be speaking of his future second advent because in the preceding section of his Discourse he tells his disciples that numerous signs will be given, but that “the end [of the temple] is not yet” (Matt 24:6). This indicates that he definitely knows when that event will occur. He also dogmatically teaches them that these earlier things will certainly happen in “this generation” (24:34). Thus, as Nolland notes: “there is a deliberate contrast between the confident tone of the predictive materials thus far in the chapter, climaxing in v. 34, and the present insistence that only the Father knows.”
4. Argument from temporal markers
As we continue looking at Matthew 24:36 we also note that it lacks any temporal-transition markers to link it with the preceding events. It is wholly unconnected with the preceding material in terms of temporal progression. This is surprising in that in the preceding material we see a well-connected historical progress with recurring “then” statements (24:9, 14, 16, 21, 23, 30), as well as an “immediately after” (24:29) declaration.
Importance of Eschatology (1 CD) by Ken Gentry
A sermon on Titus 2:11-14. Exposits the theme of the “blessed hope” from a postmillennial perspective.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
But when Christ makes the statement in Matthew 24:36 we hear nothing that links it with the preceding material. We hear absolutely no “then” or “after” nor any other such temporal progress indicator. Thus, as France notes: “its contents stand apart from the historical sequence hitherto described.” This is because it is distantly separated from the events of AD 70.
To be continued (unless the Rapture occurs, in which case I will explain it to you on the way up).
Tagged: Matthew 24:36, Olivet Discourse, transition text
That was a fantastic article! I know I always struggled with some of the language in the latter part of Matthew 24 being as events occuring prior to 70AD but I like how you broke down the two questions at the beginning of the chapter and pointed out the strange “insertion” of the “this generation” passage as a concluding remark to the previous portion. It is so obvious now, but they were asking two SEPARATE questions with v. 34 clearly concluding the question of the Temple. I believe this makes the rest of Matthew 34 much more palatable then claiming it is all about the pre-70AD events (like Gary DeMar believes).