MATTHEW 24:3 AND OLIVET’S STRUCTURE

PMW 2019-047 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse is significantly different from Mark’s. It does not differ, however, through contradiction, but by supplementation. Thus, it does not conflict with Mark’s version, but augments it.

This is not unusual in the Gospels. For we know that in the Gospels, recorded sermons do not appear verbatim in word-for-word fullness, but are summaries. Otherwise, Jesus would be traveling from place-to-place delivering one-minute messages, as in Matt. 11:20–24; Matt. 11:25–30; and 13:1–9. And sometimes after crowds were with him for three days (Matt. 15:32)! Furthermore, John the Baptist would have people coming from all over Judea (Matt. 3:5) to hear a sermon that lasted for only two sentences (Matt. 3:2–3).

We must note that Matthew’s additions in the Olivet Discourse are not created by Matthew out of whole cloth. Rather, they are his fuller summary of Jesus’ own words (which he himself heard, Matt. 24:3). And they are important for better understanding this dramatic discourse, which is the Lord’s closing major discourse.

The Olivet Discourse differences

The differences between Matthew and Mark’s versions of Olivet are quite obvious. For instance, Matthew’s version requires two full chapters of ninety-seven verses (Matt. 24:1–25:46). Whereas Mark’s is found in only one chapter containing just thirty-seven verses (Mark 13:1–37).

This size differential results from Matthew also including several parables not found in Mark’s version. This additional material includes the parables of the thief (Matt. 24:42–44), the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13), and the talents (Matt. 25:14–29). He also includes Jesus’ extended discussion (not parabolic presentation!) of the Final Judgment (Matt. 25:31–46). Many further differences could be listed.

The Olivet Discourse Made Easy


Olivet Discourse Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)

Verse-by-verse analysis of Christ’s teaching on Jerusalem’s destruction in Matt 24. Shows the great tribulation is past, having occurred in AD 70, and is distinct from the Second Advent at the end of history.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


However, one other crucial — and vitally important — variation is Matthew’s recording an alternative version of the disciples’ question that sparked the whole discourse. Matthew’s record of their question does not differ so much in its length (as is the case for the Olivet Discourse itself). For it has sixteen words in Greek while Mark’s has fourteen. But it does use different words, presenting a different angle on their concerns. Notice the different versions of their question:

Mark 13:4 reads: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”

Matt. 24:3b reads: “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

But what is the significance of these differences?

The disciples’ question differences

Two key issues Matthew includes in his version of the disciples’ question anticipate the fundamental structure of the whole discourse. Both Matthew and Mark have a transition passage that draws a distinction between AD 70 and the Final Judgment (Matt. 24:34–36; Mark 13:30–32). This is important in that AD 70 is a pointer to, a harbinger of the Final Judgment rather than the Final Judgment itself. Thus, Matthew’s version is clearer and leads to a fuller insight into their concerns.

The disciples’ actual question was apparently longer than either recorded version, as well as being summarized differently by Matthew and Mark. Such a practice is common in the Gospel record. For instance, this is much like the several Gospel versions of the inscription Pilate orders to be placed above Jesus on the cross (cp. Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19). We have to read all four inscriptions in order to discover the full statement. There is also an apparent “contradiction” between Mark’s version of Jesus’ statement on divorce (Mark 10:11–12) and Matthew’s version (Matt. 19:19). Mark’s seems to forbid all divorce, whereas Matthew’s allows divorce on certain grounds. However, these can be read together in a complementary way that does not involve contradiction. The same is true in the disciples’ question leading to the Olivet Discourse.


An Eschatology of Victory
by J. Marcellus Kik
This book presents a strong, succinct case for both optimistic postmillennialism and for orthodox preterism. An early proponent in the late Twentieth-century revival of postmillennialism. One of the better non-technical studies of Matt. 24. It even includes a strong argument for a division between AD 70 and the Second Advent beginning at Matt. 24:36.

For more Christian educational materials: www.KennethGentry.com


In Matthew’s version of the disciples’ Olivet question we see that they are actually asking two distinct questions. And they are doing this based on their mistaken understanding of Jesus’ recent comments (those in Matt. 23:1–24:2). [1] Their confusion leads to Jesus’ repeated warnings for them not to be deceived (Matt. 24:4, 6, 8, 11, 23, 26, 36). They wrongly believe that their two questions refer to the same historical event: the temple’s destruction. Their first question is “when will these things be?” Their second is: “what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” [2]

Their first question clearly responds to the Lord’s prophecy of the temple’s destruction, which he has just stated (Matt. 24:2). But the second is rooted in their confusion regarding his teaching. They wrongly import into their question a reference to the Second Advent and the consummation of history, which Jesus has not mentioned in the foregoing context. Thus, they erroneously assume that the temple’s destruction occurs at the end of history.

Their second question is my concern in this article. The first of the two phrases in this question employs the word parousia (“coming”). This is not a always technical theological term in the New Testament, for it can speak of the coming of men to a certain region (cf. 1 Cor. 16:17; 2 Cor. 7:6, 7; Phil. 1:26). But it is a word that is often invested with special theological significance in several New Testament passages. In those it speaks of the Second Coming (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 2 Pet. 1:16). Significantly, Matthew is the only Gospel writer who uses the term — and he uses it only four times, with each one appearing solely in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39). He seems to record it here to help the disciples see a distinction between his AD 70 judgment-coming (a metaphor for the destruction of the temple) and his Final Judgment coming (a literal event concluding history).

The second phrase refers to the consummation of history: “the end of the age.” The word for “end” is sunteleia, which appears only once in the whole discourse (here in Matt. 24:3). However, Matthew uses it elsewhere in important final-eschatological passages that speak of the end of history (e.g., Matt. 13:39, 40, 49; 28:20). Another word translated “end” in the discourse is telos, which in this context refers to the end of the temple (Matt. 24:6, 14). [3] This, of course, is the very issue that prompts the disciples’ question (Matt. 24:2).

The Apostle’s record’s significance

Thus, the Apostle Matthew’s version of the disciples’ question is not only lexically distinct from but theologically deeper than Mark’s version. By his recording both their use of the word parousia and their concern with “the end of the age,” he is showing their confusion of the destruction of the temple with the end of history. Though the destruction of the temple in AD 70 is theologically-linked to the Second Coming and Final Judgment at the end of history, it is historically distinct. This is just as types and antitypes are theologically-linked while being historically distinct.

Consequently, the way that Matthew presents the disciples’ question prepares his reader for the coming transition-passage in vv. 34–36. The disciples’ error requires Christ to deal with both issues, while keeping them distinct. To properly understand Jesus’ discourse, we must understand its structure.


Notes

1. Their confusion and general tendency to being mistaken (see PMW 2019-002, 003, 004, 005) leads to Jesus’ beginning the discourse with a warning not to be deceived (Matt. 24:4–8). Then, because of his deep concern for his stumbling disciples, he repeats this later for emphasis (vv. 24–26). And after his initially warning his disciples against possible deception, he states that they will clearly see the temple’s fast-approaching destruction (v. 15), which should have the practical effect of prompting them to flee the area (vv. 16–20). Calvin well notes on Matt. 24:3: “since they had considered from childhood that the temple would stand to the end of time and had the idea deeply rooted in their minds, that they had not thought that the temple could fall down as long as the world’s created order stood. So as soon as Christ said the temple would perish, at once their minds turned to the consummation of the age…. They link the coming of Christ and the end of the world with the overthrow of the temple as inseparable events.”

2. The two interrogative particles in Greek (pote, “when” and ti “what”) show that two questions are being asked, not three. And the second question has three features that show that it is only one additional question that is being asked: (1) The second particle (ti) governs the remainder of the sentence (“what will be the sign of Your-coming-and-of-the-end-of-the-age”). (2) The singular form of the word “sign” (semeion) applies to two aspects of one event: “the sign … of Your coming and of the end.” (3) And the feminine singular genitive definite article tēs controls both the words parousia and sunteleias (“the … sign of Your coming and of the end”), with the second term sunteleias lacking a resumptive article. Thus, Jesus’ parousia is linked with “the end of the age,” i.e., the end of temporal history, which gives way to the “age to come” (the eternal, consummate state).

3. Telos also appears in v. 13. But there it is probably used in the mundane sense of “finally.” That is, there it speaks of enduring to the end of one’s period of suffering, which may or may not end with the temple’s destruction. After all, some disciples will die before that event (v. 9; cp. Matt. 16:28). We see similar mundane uses of the Greek phrase eis telos in Luke 18:5; John 13:1; 1 Thess. 2:16.


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One thought on “MATTHEW 24:3 AND OLIVET’S STRUCTURE

  1. kristafal June 11, 2019 at 11:41 am

    Thanks for offering the distinction as you see it in Matthew and Mark’s rendering of the disciples questioning that precedes the Olivet Discourse. I have read many of Gary DeMar’s books on this eschatological question who offers a slightly different perspective on whether or not the final judgment is in view. Both of your writings, as well as Bahnsen’s, have aided my own understanding—saving me from the error of Dispensational Pre-Millennialism. I appreciate the teaching.

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