PMW 2018-019 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Matt. 23:39 is a favorite statement by Jesus that dispensationalism cling to as evidence of the future conversion of Israel. Read through their lens, it seems to state that Israel will one day be converted, and only then will the great tribulation begin (according to the order of verses following Matt 23:39). They hold that this would confirm dispensationalism and undermine preterism and postmillennialism.
Matthew 23:39 read:
“For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Unfortunately for dispensationalism, this statement does not suppose a future conversion of Israel that precedes the great tribulation. I do believe Israel will one day be converted to Christ. After all, I am a postmillennialist who believes that we are to “disciple all the nations” (Matt 28:19). And that we are to confidently trust that “if I be lifted up I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). And Israel is certainly one of the nations. In fact, Rom 11:25 is a powerful NT statement to this end.
So then, is the Lord’s statement in Matt 23:39 teaching that Israel will be converted before the great tribulation? I do not believe this is the case.
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Verse-by-verse analysis of Christ’s teaching on Jerusalem’s destruction in Matt 24. Show the great tribulation is past, having occurred in AD 70.
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In this regard note the following quick observations:
First, the connection made
The word gar connects this statement with the preceding context. The preceding context is one of unrelenting denunciation, ending with judgment. The “for” must introduce something other than a spiritual praise of Christ by the Jews, for such a sudden statement in this passage would be wholly unexpected.
The passage is dominated by the seven woes of Christ against the scribes and Pharisees, who were prominent leaders in Israel. And toward the end of the Lord’s denunciation, and just before Matt 23:39, he declares:
“Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matt 23:34–35).
And after this he laments:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (Matt 23:37–38).
These strong statements do not sound like a lead-in to Israel’s salvation. And especially when we read the judgment upon the temple and Jerusalem in the Olivet Discourse that follows.
Second, the possibility presented
The phrase “from now on” (Gk. ap arti) is indefinite, holding out only an uncertain possibility. Thus, it does not declare as a matter of fact: “you will see me.” Jesus is denouncing the Jews, not offering them hope. He is about to be crucified by them amidst Israel’s strong rejection and their affirmation of Caesar: “As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, ‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar’” (John 19:12).
In fact, the whole statement says includes an important second clause: “from now on you will certainly not see me until [heos an.]” R. T. France puts the matter well (The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT, p. 885): “the subjunctive makes this in effect what grammarians call an unreal condition: if you were to do this, you would see me, but whether you will do so remains unknown. . . . It is remarkable that so many interpreters can find a positive prediction in what is in fact an emphatically negative prediction (ou me with subjunctive) with only an indefinite possibilty (ho an) set against it.”
Matthew 24 Debate: Past or Future?
(DVD by Ken Gentry and Thomas Ice)
Two hour public debate between Ken Gentry and Thomas Ice on the Olivet Discourse.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Third, the praise declared
The praise uttered here (“blessed is he who comes”) is not necessarily a voluntary, loving, humble praise. It could well be a constrained praise. The Scripture often speaks of the sinner’s constrained praise of God. We see this, for instance, in:
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10–11).
“For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God’” (Rom 14:11).
Consequently, given the context, the praise to be uttered by the Jews appears to be constrained and with reluctance. He is speaking to those Jews in that day. They will soon see him in chains and then mounted on a cross to die, while they cry out “Crucify! Crucify” (John 19:6) and “His blood shall be on us and our children!” (Matt. 27:25). They will soon strike him and spit upon him. But he is not the feeble man they believe him to be. He will turn the tables on them in AD 70 when he comes against them in clouds of judgment.